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

    • Cuba, Credibility and Dobrynin

Following our brief chat after the Yugoslav film today;2 I learned that Dobrynin will be one of the guests at Lucet’s this evening (along with Secretary Rogers, etc.).3 This may not be a propitious occasion for you to get into the Cuban business. But I thought it might be helpful to you if I briefly put down some ideas relating to the President’s press conference statement on Cuba.4

The problems with the President’s brief answer are of course manifold and complex. For one thing, those in Washington who thought an artificial crisis was being manufactured by the “White House” for some ulterior purpose will feel themselves confirmed in that view. It just seems very suspicious in an election year to have a grave situation in September and early October, an “understanding” involving a seeming Soviet backdown later in October and then, in December, even though the press has been fed a steady stream of information about continued Soviet activities, no threat to our security at all.

More serious than this, may be the impression left with the Soviets. If I am correct in believing that until August–September the Soviets had reason to believe that their military activities in the Caribbean were tolerable to us, it may be valid to say that they were genuinely surprised when they suddenly found us making a major issue of them. And now, when they are doing at least as much as they did in August–September, they hear that this is no threat to our security. I do not, of course, know for a fact whether the “understanding” is actually being abided by, since I do not know its terms and do not know [Page 187] how well the Russians understood these terms. I take it, however, that Soviet activities today have the same potential for servicing Y-Class submarines as in September, even though this has not occurred, either now or in September. For Moscow, therefore, it would appear that we had reverted to the posture of toleration and that September/October was a temporary aberration. Moscow, too, must ask itself about the reasons for the aberration: was it in fact authorized by the President, if so, why?

For some audiences, the President’s remark may carry the inference that if Soviet military activities in the Western hemisphere carry no threat to our security then similar activities in more distant places could hardly be seen by us to carry such a threat and to justify costly countermeasures. (The doves in Congress may use this very argument.)

For all these and other reasons, I do feel that some gloss on the President’s statement would be desirable.

I think a case could be made that Soviet activities so close to us do in fact carry less danger to our security in military terms than, say, Soviet naval activities in the Indian Ocean for the simple reason that we enjoy overwhelming military superiority in the Caribbean. I also believe, as I suggested in my memo on the Indian Ocean,5 that we have done too much glamorizing of the Soviet Navy and have thereby given its activities political and psychological bonus effects which we have long since ceased to obtain from our own naval activities. It may also be desirable to still give the Russians the opportunity to pull back gracefully.

With these points in mind, my suggestion for getting the President’s statement into a more coherent relationship with what happened in September and October (and with the fact that some Soviet naval activities have increased in this area since then) would be as follows:

We should let it be known that—Soviet activities have remained under close scrutiny to determine whether they exceed or violate limits established by the understandings reached in September/October;

  • —the evidence still remains ambiguous;
  • —in any case, for the moment, the most worrisome aspects of the Soviet activity remain potential rather than actual;
  • —the President addressed himself to the situation as of the date that he was being asked the question;
  • —in any event, the President was answering a question relating to a threat to our security; he did not address the broader question [Page 188] as to whether we consider our interests adversely affected; nor did he address the question of whether Soviet actions help or hinder the process of finding a modus vivendi based on mutual respect for interests;
  • —clearly, apart from our judgment as to whether our security is threatened we must judge Soviet behavior by these broader considerations;
  • —consequently, it remains our position that actions by one superpower designed to gain unilateral or tactical advantages at the expense of the other are incompatible with the era of negotiations and could, if carried beyond acceptable limits, lead to a major crisis.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 780, Country Files, Latin America, Cuba, Vol. II. Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Kissinger initialed the memorandum, which is marked “Personal.”
  2. According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger attended that afternoon a screening of a Yugloslav film on the President’s recent trip to Yugoslavia. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76)
  3. Kissinger and Rogers attended a dinner that evening hosted by Charles Lucet, the French Ambassador, in honor of Hervé Alphand, the former Ambassador and then Secretary of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (Sally Quinn, “Old Party, New Guests,” Washington Post, December 12, 1970, p. C2)
  4. See Document 59.
  5. Dated December 8; printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXIV, Middle East Region and Arabian Peninsula, 1969–1972; Jordan, September 1970, Document 47.