7. Editorial Note

On October 14, 1970, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger sent President Richard Nixon a briefing memorandum for a meeting of the National Security Council that morning on the Ostpolitik of West German Chancellor Willy Brandt. In the memorandum, Kissinger addressed the implications of Brandt’s Eastern policy not only for German politics but also for Soviet diplomacy. “The West Germans assume that the Soviet Union will accommodate to Bonn’s policies,” he explained, “because of the problems with China and because of the intense Soviet desire to gain greater access to Western technologies.” Kissinger, however, questioned this assumption:

Brandt’s willingness to recognize the status quo as the starting point for changing it and expanding German influence in Eastern Europe and over East Germany runs directly contrary to the imperatives of Soviet policy, which surely must be to freeze the status quo, to contain German ambitions and consolidate Soviet hegemony in East Germany, while Germany remains divided; the result could be stalemate and frustration inside Germany.”

The situation was further complicated by the linkage Brandt had established between ratification of the Moscow Treaty and a “satisfactory” settlement in the quadripartite talks on Berlin. “The consequences of this turn of events,” Kissinger argued, “are that we gain some greater bargaining leverage, but, at the same time, there will be even greater pressures on the Germans to see to it that a speedy solution is reached.” Kissinger was skeptical that such leverage would impress the Soviets: “On Berlin, I feel that our present tactical position is sound enough but that we should be quite wary of German desire to speed up the talks or draw us into uncertain and unexplored territory. It seems highly doubtful that we will obtain an agreement, especially on access, that will be invulnerable to Soviet pressure.” The full text of the memorandum is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XL, Germany and Berlin, 1969–1972, Document 125.

President Nixon chaired the meeting of the National Security Council at 9:35 a.m. in the Cabinet Room. Kissinger first briefed the attendees on the general issues involved:

“The West German policy is not new. What has changed is that in the previous government the Eastern policy envisaged and sought a closer relationship with the East European satellite countries leaving the USSR aside. This failed. Brandt therefore concluded that the best approach was to concentrate on improving relations with the USSR. The focus of German policy is now on the USSR and to rely on the existing territorial arrangements; this amounts to their de facto [Page 30] recognition. The objective is a lessening of tensions weakening the ties between the East and the USSR.”

Kissinger turned to Martin Hillenbrand, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, to present the “latest details” on the Berlin negotiations. Hillenbrand reported that the results had been “indeterminate”:

“After the German-Soviet agreement the FRG thought that the linkage with Berlin would soften the Soviet position on the Berlin negotiations. The opposite was the result. The talks are not at an impasse necessarily. Why the Soviets are now holding a tough line is not clear. Some people think it is a general toughening of the line across the board.”

Hillenbrand observed that the United States was “in a good tactical position; we have given away nothing.” “If Gromyko shows any give in his talks with the Secretary of State this week and with the British later,” he added, “we may have an inkling of where to go.” Kenneth Rush, Ambassador to West Germany, was more pessimistic, especially on the subject of Soviet intentions. “[T]he Soviet effort is to drastically change the status of West Berlin,” he argued. “They are determined to destroy the viability of West Berlin and to destroy its links with the FRG and the West.” Rush also issued a warning: “We must avoid having the onus of a breakdown of negotiations or of Ostpolitik rub off on us—we must shift it to the Soviets.” The memorandum of conversation is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XL, Germany and Berlin, 1969–1972, Document 126.