5. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to Secretary of Defense Laird1

    • Black Sea and Baltic Sea Operations
    • Secretary of Defense Memorandum of October 10 re above subject

In light of recent changes in the factors favoring such action, the President has approved your recommendation that the United States Government not go ahead with a Baltic Sea operation. For the same reason, the President has also decided that you should not modify regularly scheduled and normally configured Black Sea operations.

Henry A. Kissinger
[Page 20]

Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Laird to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)2

    • Black Sea and Baltic Sea Operations

In response to your request,3 plans for an expanded presence in the Black Sea and a show of naval force in the Baltic follow:

Black Sea Operations

I propose that we expand our Black Sea operations moderately by sending two destroyers into the area on 23 October for a period of six days and attempt to arrange a port visit to Constanta, Rumania, during this cruise. Our previous operations have been of three or four days duration (in 1964 a 9–day cruise was made with port visit to a Turkish Black Sea port), and since 1968 have been limited to areas south of Latitude 43–30N at the request of the State Department. State now has agreed to raising this to Latitude 44N for the next scheduled operation. As Constanta is at Latitude 44–15N, the port visit in conjunction with the increased cruise duration would comprise a step-up in our naval operations in the Black Sea. In the event that the Constanta visit cannot be arranged, I propose that the destroyers operate up to Latitude 44N. I would further propose that during subsequent operations in the Black Sea we consider expanding the area of operations further to the north and increasing the number of destroyers to three or four. I believe it may be useful to reserve the increase in number of ships as an [Page 21] option for further expansion of our activities should we find that desirable. This approach would also place less strain on Sixth Fleet resources which, as you know, are already stretched tight.

The only coordination specifically required for this operation would be compliance with the provisions of the Montreux Convention4 requiring notification of the Turkish Government at least eight days prior to transit of the Turkish Straits. Although the Montreux Convention states that a prior notification time for non-Black Sea powers of fifteen days is desirable, and this has been our past practice, I would propose that for this occasion we consider reducing the notification time to the Turkish Government to eight days to exercise and keep available our legal right to do so.

The remaining provisions of the Montreux Convention concerning maximum number of ships, tonnages, and gun calibers would not be exceeded by this operation. Notification to the Turkish Government of the expanded nature of the operations would be desirable to forestall possible adverse reaction.

Baltic Sea Operations

The JCS proposal provides that a cruiser from the Atlantic Fleet be joined by a missile escort ship from the Sixth Fleet to conduct a cruise in the Baltic Sea during the period 26–31 October, remaining in international waters at all times except during port visits. Port visits could be made to any one or a combination of the following: Helsinki, Kiel, Copenhagen, and Oslo, in the priority listed. No coordination would be required other than arranging for port visits. Advance notification to our European allies would be advisable.

Pros and Cons of these concepts are as follows:


  • —Will demonstrate U.S. willingness and determination to counter expanding Soviet naval presence in the ocean areas of the world.
  • —Would be essentially consistent with the existing pattern of recurring U.S. operations in the Black Sea.
  • —The Rumanian port visit would make a strong signal to the Soviets and other European Governments, yet would not depart markedly from the pattern of U.S. actions in the recent past.
  • —Would, against the background of the Presidential trips, indicate our will to maintain a strong posture on NATO’s Southern Flank.
  • —Will demonstrate U.S. capability to conduct expanded naval operations on short notice in widely dispersed sea areas in spite of continuing heavy commitments in the Western Pacific and expanded commitments in the eastern Mediterranean.
  • —Would satisfy a request by the U.S. Ambassador to Finland for further U.S. Navy ship visits to Finland. Visits in 1969–70 were highly successful.
  • —Would demonstrate to U.S. European Allies and the Soviets alike U.S. capability to conduct operations on short notice in the NATO northern flank area.


  • —As this concept represents some increase in the scope of U.S. Black Sea naval operations, it could trigger Soviet harassing actions against U.S. ships conducting the operation.
  • —It may precipitate a Soviet diplomatic reaction accusing the U.S. of further provocative actions exacerbating Middle East tensions.
  • —Concern over Soviet reaction may engender an adverse reaction on the part of the Turkish Government.
  • —Request for a visit to Constanta could put the Rumanian Government in a difficult position, particularly in light of the Prime Minister’s forthcoming trip to the U.S.
  • —Montreux Convention requirements for 8 days advance notification (15 days desirable in the case of non-Black Sea powers) as well as the need to arrange the Constanta visit with the Rumanian Government create pressing time constraints for meeting the proposed October schedule.
  • —Visits to Baltic ports could trigger adverse Soviet reaction and pressure on countries visited.
  • —The operation in the Baltic and proposed visit to Helsinki, just before the scheduled resumption of the SALT talks, could influence Soviet actions and impinge on the talks.
  • —This action would constitute an additional drawdown of major units available for Caribbean contingency operations.
  • —These U.S. operations could trigger increased Soviet naval activities in the Caribbean. This could lend substance to Congressional criticism of our concern over Soviet activities at Cienfuegos as being a response to U.S. provocations.
  • —These actions could weaken our case for protesting Soviet activities in the Caribbean.

In conclusion, I understand the fundamental purpose of this operation to be to demonstrate to the Soviets, our allies, and neutrals that [Page 23] the U.S. will not remain passive in the face of Soviet attempts to change the strategic situation in various areas of the world. In particular, such initiatives on our part will alert the Soviets that lack of restraint on their part in the Caribbean and elsewhere may have counterproductive consequences. There are, of course, some risks involved, as delineated above. On balance, however, I think that such operations as these are a considered step which will accomplish desired objectives at an acceptable risk.

I recommend proceeding with the plan for the Black Sea operation as indicated in this memorandum.

I recommend not going ahead with the Baltic Sea operation at this time. Sudden and unscheduled deployments of this nature cause personnel difficulties and hardships to dependents, and are expensive with respect to immediate costs and to the downstream effect on overhauls and maintenance requirements. I believe that the potential benefits to be gained do not justify the major disadvantages entailed in this case.

Melvin R. Laird
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 405, Subject Files, USSR US Ships in the Black Sea (Silver Fox). Top Secret. According to an attached copy, Kissinger and Haig drafted the memorandum; a “blind copy” was sent to Eliot.
  2. Kissinger initialed the memorandum and wrote: “OK.”
  3. No record of the request from Kissinger to Laird, either in writing or by telephone, has been found. The two men, however, discussed the proposal by telephone at 4:15 p.m. on October 13. Laird reported that he had just sent Kissinger a memorandum on the proposed Black Sea and Baltic Sea operations. Although he had not yet seen the memorandum, Kissinger agreed to postpone the latter and modify the former. According to a transcript, the conversation included the following exchange: “K: I wouldn’t increase the force in the Black Sea now. L: No, some time we may want to do that for a good reason and we don’t have one now. Should we even go ahead with the two destroyers? K: Yes, that’s regular. L: And just go ahead on a regular basis. K: Good. L: I was worried about the memo. K: No, I agree with you. But I wouldn’t weasel on what happened in Cuba. I’d take the position that it was damned serious. L: Oh I have.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 7, Chronological File)
  4. The Convention Regarding the Regime of the Turkish Straits signed at Montreux, Switzerland, on July 20, 1936, by the so-called Black Sea powers, Turkey, Great Britain, France, Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Greece, Germany, and Yugoslavia, as well as several other nations, provided for free passage of the Dardanelles and Bosporus in peacetime, but allowed Turkey to close the Straits in time of war. For the text, see League of Nations Treaty Series, Vol. CLXXIII, p. 213.