74. Minutes of Meeting of the National Security Council1

[Omitted here is discussion of Korea and a briefing by Helms on China.]

The President: We have always assumed that the Chinese are hard liners and the Soviets are more reasonable. But I think this is open to question. Look at what actually happened. Can we sustain this judgement?

Director Helms: No. The facts don’t support it.

The President: Ceaucescu2 says that the Soviets are tougher and more aggressive than the Chinese. We must look at China on a long term basis. This must be very closely held. We must look at it in a bilateral context. China can’t stay permanently isolated. To me, China [Page 226] uses the dispute with Russia for internal use. But to me the Soviets are more aggressive.

Director Helms: Border incidents don’t prove anything, but the Soviets have moved from 15 up to 30 divisions to China’s border. They now have 3 new missile sites with a range of 500 miles along the border. The Soviets fear they will soon lose their first strike capability vis-à-vis China.

The President: We must recall the Brezhnev doctrine and the invasion of Czechoslovakia. The Soviets continue to move forward and act aggressively when progress is threatened. They are a tough group. We should relook at our own estimates. They may have a “knock them off now” policy developing with respect to China.

Now, in terms of our role, I am not sure if it is in our long term interest to let the Soviets knock them off. We must think through whether it is a safer world with China down, or should we look to keeping China strong? These are rhetorical questions. The Asians fear the Soviets first, and don’t want a collective security arrangement. They question this. They don’t want the Soviets as their protector. We must look at China after Vietnam.

Director Helms: I think the Soviets are doing well. They are very active in Europe and also in the Middle East. They talk softer but act much tougher. The Chinese have been stalling.

Secretary Rogers: No one at State would favor a Soviet takeover of China. They also feel that the Chinese threat is greatly overemphasized. This may suggest an aggressive Soviet attitude but I am not certain.

Assistant Secretary Green: China is still feared by the Asians. It is their principal fear. They want us to remain but they might accept the Soviets as an alternative.

The President: I don’t want to overdraw this, but these countries don’t want the Soviets in.

Assistant Secretary Green: The Soviets are certainly probably tempted to surgically remove the Chinese nuclear threat.

(The meeting ended at 12:10 P.M.)

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 312, Meetings, National Security Council. These minutes were revised by Haig and contain his handwritten changes. The time of the meeting is from the President’s Daily Diary, which also indicates that Nixon, Kissinger, Agnew, Rogers, Laird, Mitchell, Lincoln, Wheeler, Richardson, Helms, Halperin, Haig, Lynn, Holdridge, and Green attended the meeting. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files) Nixon’s notes on this meeting are in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVII, 1969–1972, Document 25.
  2. Nicolae Ceausescu was the President of Romania.