235. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

  • SUBJECT
    • US-Soviet Incidents at Sea

Late last month when you were flying to California with Navy Under Secretary Warner, I reported on the status of the interagency study for proposed bilateral talks (Warner will head US Delegation) with the Soviets on avoiding incidents at sea.2 The previous Administration had suggested these talks in 1968, and late last year the Soviets finally responded favorably.

The interagency study has now been received (Tab B)3 and all interested agencies have formally approved it. Since there was no disagreement among the agencies, I approved the study as the basis for the talks, and have requested the Under Secretaries Committee to assume responsibility for the detailed preparation and coordination (Tab A).4

The main US objective in the talks will be to obtain Soviet agreement to interpret the Rules of the Road in such a way as to impose a duty on Soviet ships to stay well clear of US ships conducting air operations, underway replenishment, underwater operations and maneuvering in formation. In return for Soviet agreement on these points, we would agree that our aircraft and ships would keep further away from Soviet surface ships (but not to a point which would seriously impair our intelligence capabilities).

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There will be third-country interest in these talks (NATO, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, Korea, Philippines, Spain and Iran). The paper proposes that we consult in NATO and brief our other allies prior to the talks. The British, who have had naval incidents with the Soviets, would receive a special advance briefing.5

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–224, National Security Decision Memoranda, NSDM 110. Secret. Sent for information. A note on the memorandum and attached correspondence profile indicate that the President saw the memorandum on May 26. Sonnenfeldt forwarded two drafts to Kissinger on May 19: a memorandum for action, recommending that Nixon approve NSDM 110; and this memorandum for information, notifying Nixon that Kissinger had approved the NSDM on his behalf. “The Soviets had recently inquired informally about the talks,” Sonnenfeldt added, “expressing the hope that we will give an early and positive reply to their proposal for talks.” (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 197.
  3. At Tab B is an undated and unsigned interagency paper, entitled “Response to NSSM 119.” NSSM 119, dated February 19, is entitled “U.S.-Soviet Incidents at Sea.”
  4. At Tab A is NSDM 110, which Kissinger signed on May 26 and sent to the Secretaries of State and Defense. “[T]he Under Secretaries Committee should review the detailed agency comments on the NSSM 119 study,” the NSDM directs, “and assure the most appropriate sequence of events for advance allied consultations, response to the Soviets and scheduling of the talks.”
  5. In a June 17 memorandum to Kissinger, Sonnenfeldt reported that implementation of NSDM 110 was already “proceeding according to plan.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–224, National Security Decision Memoranda, NSDM 110) The United States and Soviet Union announced in October 1971 that they would begin to negotiate an agreement to avoid future “incidents at sea.” See also Winkler, Cold War at Sea.