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

    • The Brezhnev Report:2 First Impressions—Brezhnev as the Architect of Peace

The summary of Brezhnev’s six hour report suggests that his main theme is “a policy of active defense of peace and strengthening of international security.”

To document this general line, he revives a number of old Soviet proposals concerning disarmament, and claims that the “greatest achievement” of Soviet foreign policy has been that the USSR has lived in peace for the last 25 years. For a regime with proclaimed revolutionary and internationalist goals this is a rather narrow claim for Soviet policy. It is also self-serving in that Brezhnev seems to be taking credit for a “generation of peace,” which embraces the Khrushchev and Stalin periods, but is a theme responsive to the natural desire of the Soviet people. He adds that “one cannot consider the threat of a new world war to have been completely eliminated,” but the “vital cause” is not to permit this threat to become a reality. He warns that people must not become “accustomed to the idea that the arms race is an unavoidable evil.”

The New “Program

In other words it seems that Brezhnev is adopting a “peace” platform with special emphasis on disarmament and the political solution of international crises. His six point program includes:

settlement of Indochina and the Middle East, as well as “full use” of the UN and repudiation of threat or use of force on the basis of regional and bilateral agreements;
a radical turn toward détente in Europe, including recognition of territorial changes, an all-European conference, and dismantling of the Warsaw Pact and NATO;
conclusion of treaties (note plural) putting a ban on nuclear, chemical and bacteriological weapons, and end to nuclear testing everywhere by anyone, nuclear disarmament of all states, and the con-vocation of a Five Power conference to this end;
to “invigorate the struggle to halt the race in all types of weapons,” including convocation of a world disarmament conference, dismantling of foreign bases, reduction of armed forces and arms in area of military confrontation, “above all in Central Europe,” reduction of the probability of accidental war or deliberate fabrication of armed incidents, and reduction of military expenditures;
abolition of colonial regimes;
deepening of relations of mutually advantageous cooperation in every sphere with states which for their part seek to do so with the USSR; including settling problems of environment, developing power and natural resources, etc. (This is new, and may be responsive to your foreign policy report.)

This is not a new program by any means. Most of these proposals date to early 1960s or late 1950s. Some were made at the last Congress. What is important is their collection into a new “programmatic” statement which Brezhnev describes as the “struggle for peace and international cooperation.” In the past the unveiling of such a program has sometimes masked a turn toward a more aggressive policy (e.g. 1957–58). This time, however, there is some additional evidence that lends substance to Brezhnev’s rhetoric.

For example, Dobrynin told Secretary Rogers last week that the USSR was prepared to resume the dormant discussion with us on the peaceful nuclear explosions; and he took a sounding on an Indian Ocean deal.3 He has told me of the intense Soviet interest to resume discussions on the Middle East4 and he has practically invited a Vietnam initiative.5 At the Geneva Disarmament Conference, the Soviets reversed their long standing opposition to a separate treaty on BW.6 While this brings them into line with our position, they probably [Page 483] wanted to make this shift to save the Conference and special U.S.-Soviet Co-Chairman arrangement, particularly as they consider the prospects that China may enter the UN. (By separating BW from CW, the Soviets also strengthen their case for separating ABMs from offensive weapons.)

Brezhnev’s revival of non-use of force agreements—regional or bilateral—is mildly interesting. Just a day ago there was an obviously inspired press story out of Vienna that the Soviets were going to offer the U.S. a non-aggression pact. The idea goes back to the 1955 summit and in January 1956 the Soviets actually sent President Eisenhower the draft of a treaty. This was rejected by us at the time because it would merely duplicate commitments under the UN Charter and would be used to undermine NATO etc. Subsequently, in connection with the test-ban negotiations in 1963 the Soviets pressed for a NATO–Warsaw Pact non-aggression treaty, which commanded some sympathy in the Kennedy Administration. (Harriman maintains he made a commitment, under JFK’s instruction, to Khrushchev to pursue the idea.)7 The Soviets may thus be planning to revive this whole vacuous business if only to stir up some domestic U.S. disputes but perhaps to hold out the possibility of another “easy” agreement in a year when, in their judgment, this might prove appealing to us.

There is an obvious Chinese angle evident in the nuclear disarmament proposals. At the same time, by emphasizing that all the nuclear powers must participate in actual disarmament, as opposed to arms control, the Soviets strengthen their case for initial limited and partial agreements in SALT with us alone.

The question worth considering is why Brezhnev should move to this position as the active proponent of agreements, conferences, disarmaments, etc. Perhaps it is connected with his own statesmanlike “image” in the leadership. It might reflect the concern, evident in Brezhnev’s speech, that the situation in Eastern Europe is unstable. It might be intended to preempt the peace issue within the leadership. Whatever the motive, Brezhnev, much like Khrushchev, has staked out the peace issues for himself and will tend to be committed to showing some tangible results. It could set the stage for a major effort at détente with us.

Relations with the U.S.

Brezhnev does not dwell on relations with the U.S. at any great length. The passages devoted to bilateral relations, however, seem [Page 484] designed to protect him from any unexpected turns, while holding out the “possibility” of improved relations. He claims, for example, that “recently the American administration has hardened its position on a number of international issues,” and that the conduct of American affairs was complicated by “zigzags” because of domestic politics.

One prominent theme in discussing relations with the U.S., as well as international events, is that the USSR is sufficiently strong to deal with the capitalist world and the U.S. on a basis of equality. Thus, he says, SALT could be successful and avoid another round in the missile race only if based on “equal security.”

There is, of course, some sharp rhetoric, especially on Vietnam, but in general there does not appear to be a new line of belligerence or aggressiveness. Nor is there any new doctrinal pronouncement (in the summary) concerning the relations with capitalism that would indicate a sharper turn in Soviet policy.


The attempt to appear statesmanlike and play down crises is evident in his balance between criticism of China for its ideological position and his simultaneous offer to continue the normalization of relations. Indeed, he claims that “signs of normalization” have appeared, and pledges the USSR to continue to seek not only normal relations but to restore friendship with China.

In an apparent jibe at the Chinese, reflecting the recent dispute over Vietnam, Brezhnev calls for “joint action” of socialist countries, and mentions that the intensification of US “aggressiveness” is due to the failure to take a united stand among the socialist countries.

Eastern Europe

A more ominous tone is reflected in Brezhnev’s discussion of the Warsaw Pact countries and the dangers of “nationalism.” He defends the Czech invasion at some length and repeats in diluted form the justification of the Brezhnev doctrine. He also speaks of “further integration” of the Warsaw Pact economies and alludes to the “regularities” which must be observed in the building of socialism for “all” the socialist countries.

Thus, he seems to be saying that the USSR is not prepared to accept increasing diversity in Eastern Europe, and if need be will invoke the Brezhnev doctrine. While he may be thinking of Poland, there is also an overtone for Romania in his discussion of the anti-Soviet tendencies reflected in nationalism.

Western Europe

As expected Brezhnev defends the German treaties as a major breakthrough, “confirming” the inviolability of borders. He notes the division in Germany over these treaties, but insists that they must come [Page 485] into force “more rapidly.” He also states that “the problems connected with West Berlin must also be settled” and forecasts that they will be settled if the Four Powers proceed from “respecting Allied agreements, which determined the special status of West Berlin,” as well as respecting the sovereign rights of the GDR and the interests of the West Berlin population.

There could be a nuance here reflecting recent talks in our channel.

If Brezhnev’s proposal for reduction of armed forces in Central Europe is taken at face value, we may soon be confronted with a MBFR proposal.

The Middle East

There is nothing here that has not been said before, but the tone seems somewhat more aggressive in discussing the consequences of failure to reach a political settlement. For example, Brezhnev prophesies that the longer a political settlement is postponed the deeper the hatred of the Arab people, and the greater the harm inflicted on Israel by its rulers. Brezhnev does add, however, that the USSR is prepared to take part in “creating international guarantees” for a political settlement, after which “further steps” would be possible to strengthen peace in the Mediterranean. Presumably this does not commit the USSR to participate physically in the guarantees.


The treatment is quite short, though Brezhnev returns to Indochina from time to time to document imperialist aggression. One point of interest: in laying out future tasks he mentions both the Middle East and Vietnam in terms of political settlements and states that the “United Nations too must be used in full measure”—thus seeming to allow for the UN to engage the Indochina affair (this is not altogether clear in summary, however).

These are the highlights only. The full text of such a speech often reveals much more than the summaries, which are designed to focus attention on those parts that appeal to foreign consumption.8 Of course, [Page 486] the Congress is only beginning and it will be worth watching how other leaders react to the Brezhnev report, which parts are emphasized, etc. The next major address will be Kosygin’s report on the economy.9

Comment: The thrust of this speech is consistent with the plans we have been discussing with Dobrynin. The speech all but commits the Soviet Union to a major effort at détente.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 714, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XII. Secret; Nodis. Sent for information. Drafted in Washington by Sonnenfeldt (see footnote 1, Document 163). Nixon and Kissinger were both in San Clemente. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) A notation indicates that the President saw the memorandum. Nixon wrote the following message for Kissinger in the margin: “K—Our stuff is pretty dull compared to his! (Though admittedly more honest.)”
  2. For the full English text of Brezhnev’s report, see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXIII, No. 12 (April 20, 1971), pp. 3–13; No. 13 (April 27, 1971), pp. 1–15; and No. 14 (May 4, 1971), pp. 1–12, 37.
  3. See Document 158.
  4. See Document 149.
  5. See Document 154.
  6. For documentation on the Geneva Conference of the Committee on Disarmament and the March 31 tabling of a Soviet draft of a Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, and Stockpiling of Bacteriological Weapons and Toxins and on Their Destruction, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–2, Documents on Arms Control and Nonproliferation, 1969–1972, Documents 221 ff.
  7. Harriman visited Moscow in July 1963 to settle the final terms of the Limited Test Ban Treaty. During his final meeting with Khrushchev on July 26, Harriman agreed to reconsider the Soviet proposal for a non-aggression pact. See Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, volume XV, Berlin Crisis, 1962–1963, Document 201.
  8. In a memorandum to Kissinger on April 3, Eliot forwarded the Department of State’s analysis based on the full text of Brezhnev’s speech. The memorandum concluded: “The speech was balanced in the sense that it spoke both of progress and complications within the Bloc and the international communist movement. While critical of the U.S., Brezhnev also expressed hope for an improvement in relations. He pointed to some signs of normalization in government-to-government relations with China, but did not ignore Moscow’s deep-seated differences with Peking. Strengths as well as weaknesses in the Soviet economy were discussed.” According to an attached correspondence profile, Hyland decided that “no action” on this analysis was required, since the memorandum on the “highlights” of Brezhnev’s speech had been forwarded to San Clemente on March 30. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 715, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XIII)
  9. In a memorandum to Kissinger on April 6, Sonnenfeldt remarked: “Premier Kosygin’s long report on the five-year economic plan seems to break no new ground. What little interest there is in this rather dry recital of statistics is in his accompanying emphasis and in discussion of consumer goods, defense, and the growth of industry.” (Ibid.)