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

  • SUBJECT
    • Brezhnev’s Remarks on Foreign Policy and their Implications

Brezhnev devoted the foreign policy part of his speech of November 29 to Vietnam, the Middle East, and the situation in Europe.2 No new proposals or commitments emerged, but some of his formulations and discussion of the issues suggest that the Soviets are trying to strike a fairly conciliatory pose on the Middle East and Berlin, while making strong noises on Vietnam.

Vietnam; Guinea

Brezhnev took up our air strikes against North Vietnam3 and denounced them as “unprecedentedly impudent” attempts to usurp the [Page 173] right to do whatever we please in the “territory and airspace of other states.” He went on to comment generally on the so-called “bloody crimes” of imperialism in connection with not only Vietnam but also the “bandit attack on Democratic Guinea.”4 He concluded that it was becoming “increasingly clear what an acute danger the present policy of imperialism represents to all peoples …”

He avoided all mention of the raid against Son Tay and any detail on what was in fact going on in Guinea. In this latter connection, there are reports of the landing of two Soviet transport aircraft in Conakry, and intercepted Soviet messages that the USSR will replace whatever arms are used by Guinean forces. A Soviet destroyer may also be going there. Thus, the Soviets may be building up more than the usual propaganda on “imperialist” interventions and violations of territory as they themselves begin to inject themselves into situations like that in West Africa on the basis of their now substantial naval and air lift capabilities.

The renewed Soviet commitment of support to the Vietnamese communists was routine. Thus, there is no suggestion that recent events have led to a change in Soviet policy in Southeast Asia (there is no mention of Laos or Cambodia).

Middle East

In contrast to the militant anti-US tone on Vietnam, and, more broadly Guinea, Brezhnev’s comments on the Middle East are more restrained. After dutifully noting that Israel is becoming more isolated and the forces of the National Liberation movement in the Middle East are growing stronger, Brezhnev confessed it was “difficult to predict with precision how events will develop.” He concludes, however, that conditions are favorable for liquidating the Middle East “hotbed,” and that all “peace loving” forces should increase “moral and political pressures on the aggressors.”

What is significant in this commentary is Brezhnev’s careful use of the phrase “moral and political pressures” which seems to say that military pressures, whether from the Arab states or the fedayeen should be avoided for the present. As regards the latter, he seemed to be hopeful of greater Soviet influence.

[Page 174]

Europe

Most of Brezhnev’s speech is devoted to Western Europe where he asserts there are “fairly good grounds” to say that changes are for the better. In a recent speech in Budapest,5 Brezhnev had also spoken positively of developments in Western Europe. He cites in the first place the “struggle” within Germany over the German-Soviet treaty, and in describing these contending forces within Germany “and beyond” he is notably favorable to those (i.e. Brandt and the SPD/FDP) who show “true concern for peace.”

On the Berlin issue Brezhnev more or less accepts that the situation in Europe depends on a Berlin settlement though in line with the Soviet position he refers only to “West Berlin.”

What is noteworthy, however, is his prediction that an “improvement of the situation” is quite “feasible,” and that all that is needed is to work out decisions that meet the “wishes of the people of West Berlin” and “take into account the legitimate interest and sovereign rights of the GDR.”

This is a rather weak formulation of the Soviet position, in that it acknowledges, although without precision, the “wishes of the West Berliners” and only calls for “taking account” of the GDR’s rights. Given the adamant insistence in the four-power talks that the USSR cannot negotiate for the GDR, and that it cannot give the GDR a four power mandate to negotiate on access arrangements, this rather mild turn of phrase might be a signal of some softening. In light of the severe harassments of civilian traffic to Berlin,6 however, Brezhnev’s statement may simply be window dressing. A forthcoming Warsaw Pact meeting later this week and before the next four-power Ambassadorial meeting in Berlin may produce indications whether the USSR will move and whether Ulbricht will acquiesce.7

The Two-Tier Policy Toward the West

The rather conciliatory tone of the speech on Europe also extends to Brezhnev’s positive mention of relations with Britain, France and Italy, but direct commentary on over-all relations with the US is totally [Page 175] absent. The implication for Soviet readers, of course, is that Soviet policy is gaining ground in Western Europe and the US is becoming isolated. The one area which Brezhnev might have touched on in US-Soviet relations is SALT, but he ignored it, as have all Soviet leaders in recent speeches.

The speech seems a striking confirmation that Soviet policy in Europe is more and more détente oriented, replying heavily on German Ostpolitik and its effect on others in Europe to “race to Moscow”, and that one of the principal objectives is to divide us from our European Allies. It is worth noting in this respect that in the middle of the harassments over Berlin, the Soviets made a separate private approach to the French, who failed to inform us until they had not only answered the Soviet’s complaint rather mildly, but had registered a protest in Bonn over the West German meetings that began in West Berlin on Monday, November 30.

In Soviet eyes this policy of separating their relations with Europe, on the one hand, from the relations with the US on the other, must seem to be paying dividends.

The Warsaw Pact meeting scheduled this week may reveal the further steps the Soviets will take to increase interest in their proposals for a European Security Conference. In the broader context, movement along the lines of a European rapprochement will, in the Soviet’s view, eventually also increase pressures on the US to move on a Middle East settlement, and perhaps even in SALT as well, lest we become isolated on positions which have no support from our principal allies. (Even the UK, for example, still strongly favors a MIRV ban and ABM limitations, because without these the costs of the UK strategic force, if it is to be kept effective, rise sharply.)

Meanwhile, the Soviets evidently expect economic benefits from their West European policies. While Moscow will have a continuing problem of adjusting to the Common Market and is highly schizophrenic about East European economic cooperation with Western Europe, it appears to anticipate substantial economic assistance for itself from Germany, Italy, France and the UK. Even the most conservative Soviet leaders welcome this because they hope that new infusions of capital will enable the USSR to avoid fundamental reforms which would be both ideologically obnoxious and politically risky since they would involve greater decentralization. In addition the Soviets do not of course object to having the Europeans help them finance their military competition with the US and their expensive military buildup in Central Asia and the Far East. In fact, if it were up to the Soviets, they would not even object to US business playing this role.

There is not in Brezhnev’s speech any hint of the private Soviet approach to us via SALT for joint actions against “provocative” third countries. This theme continues to appear in Helsinki and the Soviets [Page 176] no doubt still have some hope to make the proposition attractive to us. While at one level it runs counter to Moscow’s current approach of softness toward Western Europe and toughness toward us, at another it is not inconsistent with longer-term, recurrent Soviet efforts to involve us in a condominium deal, and with their hope to accentuate differences in interests between ourselves and the Europeans.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 714, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XI. Confidential. Sent for information. According to an attached note, the President saw the memorandum on December 10. Sonnenfeldt forwarded the memorandum, with FBIS summaries of Brezhnev’s speech attached, to Kissinger on November 30 and noted: “Attached (Tab A) is the analysis you requested for the President of Brezhnev’s recent speech. While the speech is not all that exciting, there are interesting nuances on the Middle East and Berlin. But perhaps the most interesting point is the fact that Brezhnev continued to limit major comment on the US to the context of Vietnam and to a few bromides on imperialism.” (Ibid.)
  2. Brezhnev delivered the speech on November 29 during the “Armenian Jubilee” at Yerevan in Soviet Armenia. For excerpts from an English translation of the text, see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXII, No. 48 (December 29, 1970), pp. 1–4.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 54.
  4. On November 22, mercenaries from Portuguese Guinea invaded neighboring Guinea by sea. President Sékou Touré immediately appealed to the international community for assistance. The Soviet Government issued a statement the next day, calling the invasion an “open attempt” by Portugal to “strike a blow at the national liberation movement in Africa.” Although Portugal denied responsibility, the United Nations Security Council voted on December 8 to condemn the attack—which by then had been repulsed—and called on “all States to abstain from giving economic and military assistance to the Government of Portugal.” (Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, December 26–31, 1970, pp. 24353–24355)
  5. On November 24, Brezhnev addressed the Congress of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party in Budapest. For excerpts from his speech, see Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXII, No. 47 (December 22, 1970), pp. 5–7.
  6. See footnote 2, Document 55.
  7. The Political Consultative Committee of the Warsaw Pact met in East Berlin on December 2. The communiqué issued at the end of the meeting included the following passage on Berlin: “the hope was expressed that the talks now under way on West Berlin will be concluded by the achievement of a mutually acceptable agreement that corresponds to the interests of a détente in the center of Europe, as well as to the requirements of the population of West Berlin and the legitimate interests and sovereign rights of the G.D.R.” (Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXII, No. 49 (January 5, 1971), pp. 1–3)