167. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

    • Gromyko’s Party Congress Speech2

On the basis of the full Tass summary of Gromyko’s speech, it appears he added some interpretation and amplification of Brezhnev’s report3 to sharpen the criticism of the US .

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  • —He cited Vietnam, the Middle East and Berlin as three instances in which the US had either disregarded treaty commitments, or was encouraging aggressive policies.
  • —On Berlin negotiations he cited this specifically as an example of Brezhnev’s phrase of the “zigzags in US policy.” (Oddly, however, Brezhnev attributed the zigzags to domestic factors.)
  • —He claimed that ratification of the German treaties, the “settlement” of West Germany’s relations with the socialist states, the con-vocation of a European conference, and the conclusions of talks on West Berlin had to be implemented in “parallel.” (Nevertheless, he did say that the conclusion of the West Berlin talks was an important step that had to be taken, thus supporting Brezhnev’s phrase that the problems of West Berlin must be solved.)

The most interesting aspects of his speech, however, was the curious defensiveness (1) in explaining how carefully the Politburo managed and supervised the day-to-day conduct of foreign affairs; and (2) in defending the policy of solving international problems through negotiations.

  • —He seemed to pass the buck to the Politburo as a whole as the organ responsible for foreign affairs (e.g., “the Politburo always deeply concerns itself with problems of foreign policy, insuring that decisions that are adopted are timely and look far ahead”).
  • —This kind of talk is unusual; there was nothing of this sort at the last Congress.
  • Gromyko referred to the search for agreements with those states carrying out a different policy, and said that the question is raised “How dependable is this (policy)? How realistic is the making of agreements” if those agreements are “not always honored”.
  • —This question he said was sometimes posed “provocatively” in a way that suggested “an agreement with the capitalist states” is almost a “plot”.
  • —He mentioned the plot thesis twice and went to some length to defend the search for agreements.

The question is why should Gromyko be on the defensive. (Five years ago, at the 23rd Congress, he made a vague reference to people who wanted to “slam the door” on agreements, suggesting that at that time, too, there was Soviet ambivalence about dealings with the West. But this year’s tone is a good deal more polemical and immediate.)

  • —It could be related to his personal position. If, in fact, he had been considered for promotion to the Politburo, he may have run into criticism, and feels the need to pass the responsibility back to the whole Politburo. This would suggest, however, high level resistance to Gromyko.
  • —It could mean that Brezhnev’s record (and by implication Gromyko’s) has come under attack for something that has already occurred; the German treaties would be the most likely candidate as an agreement not “honored.”
  • —Or it could mean that some current issues involving an agreement with the US (probably SALT, but possibly the Middle East) was under debate, and Gromyko was either defending a position, or perhaps trying to prevent the opposition’s case.

Whatever the reason, this strange speech, taken together with the rather cool treatment of Brezhnev’s foreign policy “program”, suggests that there is some internal problem over foreign policy. The remainder of the speech does not add much substance. There is, however, one significant advance over the last Congress, at least rhetorically. Five years ago Gromyko said there was no international problem that was not “of interest” to the USSR. This time he made a much more expansive claim:

There is not a single question of any importance which would at present be solved without the Soviet Union or against its will.

This is in keeping with the more confident tone that Brezhnev sought to convey. But the other parts of Gromyko’s speech suggest the very conditions that give rise to this confidence may also have produced new difficulties in the formulation of foreign policy.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 715, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XIII. Confidential. Sent for information. Kissinger initialed the memorandum.
  2. For a condensed English text of Gromyko’s speech on April 3, see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXIII, No. 17 (May 25, 1971), pp. 33–34. In a memorandum to Kissinger the same day, Sonnenfeldt assessed a “very brief TASS summary” of the speech: “Like Brezhnev, Gromyko’s message to the U.S. is that the Soviets want ‘normalization’ but that the U.S. should come to the USSR with deeds rather than words and stop ‘fencing.’ The message to China is much the same: you make the concessions and then we can do business. In short, apart from general advocacy of good relations—and thus presumably commitment of Brezhnev and Co. to good relations—the Soviets seem to feel no need at Party Congress to signal any give on their own position on matters under negotiation. In practice, of course, they have, in Geneva, and on marginal issues at Vienna signaled willingness to do real business. But this may well be designed to put the heat on us to be more pliant on gut issues.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 715, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XIII)
  3. See Document 166.