162. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1

    • The Soviet Party Congress

There seems to be a consensus that the 24th Soviet Party Congress, which opens on March 30, will be a rather dull affair. In part, this is because much of the business will be devoted to a discussion of the next five year economic plan.2 It also may seem routine because some of the real business is done behind the scenes. Moreover, shifts in policy that do occur are often not apparent on the surface. In historical terms, Soviet Congresses have in fact often marked major milestones in policy, but this has only become apparent to outside observers much later.

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It is thus possible that this Congress, too, will usher in a new period of domestic or foreign policy.

The Internal Situation. Of immediate interest, of course, is whether the top leadership will undergo any important changes.

  • Brezhnev’s position does not seem to be in any danger; at this Congress, however, he may try to break out of the confines of collective leadership by promoting some of his closest colleagues, or stating some new policy positions.
  • —Some turnover at the top is almost inevitable because of the age of the Politburo. This will provide us some indication of the balance of forces; the more important changes, such as a new Premier, might come later, but might be reflected in the Congress promotions and demotions.

Many observers have the impression that Brezhnev is a man in a hurry. They are impressed with the fact that he personally signed the new draft Five Year Plan, rather than going through the normal Central Committee approval (which only came this week). Thus, it is possible that his main report to the Congress will have a programmatic character, since he may feel this is his last Party Congress (he would be 68–69 at the next Congress four or five years hence). If so, Brezhnev may decide to play up the new benefits to the consumer, and he may want to emphasize tangible gains in foreign policy.

Economic Plans. The general evaluation of what we know of the new economic plan is that it is a rather sober document, with growth rates set at fairly realistic (i.e. modest) targets. Five years hence, if the plan is realized, the Soviet economy will not look much different in its basic structure. The gradual shift to consumer goods industry will continue, but not at severe cost to heavy industry or the military complex. Over a longer term, however, the growth of consumer goods production, especially durables, will generate additional demands for a substructure of servicing. For example, by tripling automobile output, the Soviets must face at some point the need for better roads, for service stations, repair facilities, etc. At this point the squeeze on military resources may be felt more severely.

Of interest is the political signal given in the plan. For the very first time light and consumer industries are scheduled to grow faster than heavy industry. This could indicate the regime is more sensitive to popular pressures than we realize.

Social Discipline. But while more responsive to material needs of the population, it seems fairly certain that the increasingly repressive social policy will not be reversed and may indeed get worse. We are likely to hear much about vigilance, social discipline etc. Indeed, the very responsiveness to material demands imposes on the regime more rigid disciplinary policies.

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Foreign Policy. Related to a harsher internal discipline, the foreign policy parts of the Congress will almost certainly have to contain some rhetoric about “imperialism” and United States aggressiveness, etc. This is more or less normal, and no General Secretary can afford not to engage in a certain amount of polemical outbursts.

For us the more important aspect will be Brezhnev’s assessment of the future of Soviet-American relations in particular and the state of international affairs in general. The very fact of the Congress and his obligation to justify his stewardship forces Brezhnev to define the so called “general line” of the party at this historical juncture.

In the past such definitions have often heralded new policies. For example, the post-Stalin expansionist policies were based on the doctrinal proclamation of the end of capitalist encirclement. In March 1939, Stalin’s speech turned out to contain a key signal that opened the way to the Nazi-Soviet Pact.

The main points that Brezhnev will emphasize are probably along the following lines:

  • —He will want to indicate that inside the communist camp, there are still problems that require discipline, vigilance, etc., but that compared to five years ago, the USSR has recovered to some extent from the disarray created by Khrushchev’s anti-Chinese campaigns.
  • —He will probably imply that the Chinese have been taught a lesson during the 1969 border crisis, and there is hope for a long term rapprochement.
  • —He will probably cite the agreement with West Germany as a major turn in the European situation regardless of whether the treaty is ratified.

Thus by implication he may be laying the foundation for claiming that the Soviets have gained some new freedom of action, tempered by caution over the situation in Eastern Europe.

The Nixon Doctrine. The Soviets recently published an interesting symposium of Soviet “Americanists” discussing the Nixon Doctrine.3 Though containing diverse appraisal and some contradictory conclusions by the participants, the discussion seems to indicate that the Soviets are trying to assess the effect of the changes they now acknowledge in American foreign policy on their own interests.

  • —Their overall conclusion seems to be that we are adopting more “flexibility” in our posture because our capabilities are being reduced.
  • —They suggest that this will mean a change in the “balance of forces” in their favor, eventually, but could pose some dangers in the short run if it became “adventuristic”.
  • —They assign a high value to domestic factors, which they expect will force us to improve relations with the USSR.
  • —In turn, they indicate that there is an opportunity for “constructive collaboration” with the US but no prospect for basic improvement of relations.

In dealing with the US at the Congress, Brezhnev’s general line is not likely to be clear cut:

  • —He will have to emphasize that our policies in some respects are dangerous and the Soviet-American relations have not changed basically.
  • —At the same time, Brezhnev will want to demonstrate that unlike his predecessors, he is dealing with the US on the basis of equal status and as a world power. He will probably make the classical dialectical point that while acting more dangerously the US in fact is being forced by “realities” to retrench.
  • —Thus, he is likely to want to point to some tangible gains from the Soviet position of at least co-equal status—agreements on SALT and perhaps Berlin and the Middle East would be such evidence.

Continuing Problems. What Brezhnev will not dwell on will be some of the longer term problems that still face his leadership and indeed the Soviet system as such:

  • —While there can be further economic advance at home, longer term problems become aggravated by granting shorter term benefits; attempting to impose social discipline runs counter to the initiative that must be permitted to provide the incentive for greater individual productivity and innovation called for in a period of growth through intensive development.
  • —The situation in Eastern Europe will remain inherently unstable and could grow worse in a period of détente, initiated by the Soviets as an effort to consolidate their position in Eastern Europe.
  • —China remains an unpredictable factor, especially in a period when our relations with Peking offer the Chinese more room for maneuver.
  • —Finally, as Brezhnev improves his power position he actually becomes more vulnerable to hostile coalitions, as Khrushchev did. (This seems to be a “law” of the post-Stalin dictatorship.) To the extent policies reflect his personal views, his age and political vulnerability make longer-range analysis more uncertain.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 714, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XII. Secret. Sent for information. Sonnenfeldt forwarded a draft of this memorandum to Kissinger on March 24 (see footnote 1, Document 153). The memorandum was pouched to the President, who was in San Clemente from March 26 to April 5. According to a note and an attached correspondence file, Nixon saw it on March 30.
  2. See footnote 11, Document 153.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 153.