15. Editorial Note

On December 1, 1971, the National Security Council met to discuss the related issues of Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions in Europe (MBFR) and the Conference on European Security (CSE). While the upcoming Brussels meeting of the North Atlantic Council, December 8–10, 1971, was the immediate reason for the discussion, the role and motivation of the Soviet Union were a principal concern. Assistant to the President Henry Kissinger summarized the work of the Senior Review Group on MBFR and CSE as culminating in their meeting of November 23, 1971. The record of that meeting is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–112, SRG Minutes, Originals, 1971. At the National Security Council meeting, Kissinger stated:

“First, MBFR. The idea goes back to the 1950s, when it was called ‘disengagement.’ It has been taken up in recent years for a variety of reasons, which have consequences for determining the strategy for dealing with the issues. It was initiated by the previous administration as an argument against pressures from the Congress for force reductions. Secretary General Brosio then picked it up as a means of forestalling unilateral reductions by the U.S. The Soviets, for some reason not entirely clear, became interested.

“But until your administration, Mr. President, there was no systematic analysis done. There was no idea of the impact of mutual reductions on the military balance. In the interagency group we have done several studies in depth. We reviewed 15 cases of possible [Page 56] combinations of reductions, with such elements as limits on stationed forces, limits on indigenous forces, and various combinations.

“We have studied four categories:

  • “—First, small symmetrical reductions, of say 10 percent.
  • “—Second, larger symmetrical reductions of 30 percent.
  • “—Third, a common ceiling.
  • “—Fourth, a mixed package, though in this case we have not done as much work as in the others.

“The following conclusions have emerged from our analysis: Though there is considerable debate over methodology, the conclusions do not differ. A reduction on the order of 10 percent or less cannot be verified. We would not know if the other side had actually reduced. This size of reductions would minimize the deleterious military effects. There would still be a deleterious effect, but not a major one. Any other percentage reductions will make the situation worse; the larger the cut the worse the effects.”

After Kissinger distributed charts showing the relative strengths of the NATO and Warsaw forces under these categories, he suggested that both the mixed package and the common ceiling were not negotiable, but stressed that it was not necessary to choose one solution since the Soviets were not yet prepared to negotiate. He then stated:

“The major point to stress to the Allies is to analyze what the effect is on security. If the work is driven by a desire for negotiations, there will be a consensus for a percentage reduction, but this is the most deleterious. The danger is that MBFR will become a political debate. We have done serious work in analyzing the effects, but the others want MBFR for détente, for a bargaining chip, or because of their own internal domestic opinion. It is in our interest to force the European Allies to focus on security in order to have an understanding of the military consequences; otherwise we are in a never-never land. At the NATO meetings, Secretary Rogers could say that we will follow up our studies with more presentations, including models submitted by Secretary Laird.

“Let me turn now to the European Security Conference.

“This is a nightmare. First, it was started with the idea of including all security issues. Then Berlin was broken out; then MBFR. Now the Soviets want an agenda with three issues: (1) renunciation of force and respect for frontiers, (2) expansion of economic, cultural and other contacts, and (3) establishment of some permanent machinery. On our side we are proposing similarly vague general principles. The good paper developed by State opens the way to addressing the security issues, to give concreteness to a conference.

“If we look at the enormous effort the Soviets have been making for a conference—including Gromyko’s talks with you, Mr. President—and compare their effort with the conceivable results, there must [Page 57] be some objective beyond trade and cultural relations. They will use a climate of détente to argue that NATO is unnecessary. A permanent security organ would be offered as a substitute for the alliances. Now, Brandt is already in hock to the Soviets, to show progress in Ostpolitik. The French have two motives: first to outmaneuver the Germans in Moscow, and second to take the steam out of MBFR. The danger is that we will get both CES and MBFR.

“The problem of the substance of a Conference is whether in addition to the general topics we can incorporate security issues. The pro is that it makes the conference more concrete; the con is that a conference is probably not the forum to deal with issues of monitoring force movements, for example.

“Before dealing with an agenda, however, we have the question of how rapidly to move. The French and Germans are committed. The Soviets are pressing for preparatory talks. Normally, preparatory talks could be used to delay, but the issues do not lend themselves to delay. Up to now we have said that a Berlin agreement is a precondition for preparatory talks. But once the inner-German talks are finished, this may be a tough position to hold. But we can say Berlin must be completed. There will be enormous pressures if we say this, because this will bring pressure on the Bundestag to ratify the treaties.

“In summary, we can use Berlin to delay further preparations, and we can use the argument that we need a unified Western position and should have a Western Foreign Ministers’ meeting. Third, we can delay in the preparatory talks, but there are divided views on how to string out these talks.

“It is premature to debate what would be in a conference until we decide how to string out the timing.”

The President then asked how long before the Berlin talks were wrapped up. Secretary of State Rogers answered that it would take the Bundestag 2–3 months to ratify the Moscow treaty and the United States could be dilatory. Rogers stated that he told the Soviets “it was unrealistic to think of a conference in 1972. There are pressures for preparatory talks, but we can fend them off.” Kissinger suggested that, “The Soviets are playing into our hands in linking Berlin and the treaty.” Rogers suggested that after the President’s visit to Moscow, “We could show interest in holding talks, but hold a Deputy Foreign Ministers meeting some time after signing the Final Quadripartite protocol.” The President asked if the United States could do nothing and delay beyond 1973. Rogers replied affirmatively, noting that he already told the Soviets there could be no conference in 1972. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–110, NSC Minutes, Originals, 1971)

As a result of this meeting, the President issued National Security Council Decision Memorandum 142 on December 2, which stated that [Page 58] the United States was not prepared for decisions on MBFR or CES and should proceed slowly with the principal criterion for any MBFR proposal being the maintenance of Western military security. The United States could not support any single approach to reductions, but would tell the Allies that it supported the concept of a sequential approach to negotiation. The Allies should also be assured that there would be no negotiations with the Russians on bilateral reductions and that an exploratory phase was required before multilateral reductions. As for CES, the United States insisted that the final Quadripartite Protocol on Berlin be signed before any preparations for a conference which would be proceeded by a meeting of NATO Deputy Foreign Ministers. Western preparations were not developed enough for multilateral East-West contacts and the United States had no interest in a conference before 1972. Finally, the United States maintained its position of keeping MBFR and CES separate. (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 364, Subject Files, National Security Council Decision Memoranda)