240. Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Staff1


Summitry occupied a prominent place in Soviet wartime and postwar diplomacy. In part this was because of the peculiar personalities of the Soviet leaders, both Stalin and Khrushchev, who preferred to deal at the highest level and had considerable confidence in their ability to prevail in personal encounters.

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After the fall of Khrushchev, however, Soviet interest in high-level diplomacy lessened, perhaps because the structure of the leadership did not lend itself easily to head-to-head talks. While Brezhnev was clearly the most powerful of the Soviet troika in the 1960s, he was not a specialist in foreign affairs, and Kosygin was left with much of the higher level contacts with foreigners.

More recently, Brezhnev, for various political and personal reasons, has taken charge of foreign policy, and his visit to France marked his public emergence on the world stage. More fundamental, however, events in the last 18 months or so have made a summit not only more desirable but in a sense a necessity. The Soviets have been willing to accept our thesis that a summit should not occur until a certain substantive foundation had been laid. While they have played the Berlin negotiations, SALT and other bilateral talks on their merits, the Soviets have also been influenced by the prospect of a summit as a result of a series of successful negotiations.

The real turning point was your trip to Peking. This put the visit of the American President to Moscow in a different light. A successful meeting in Moscow became more urgent and perhaps an end in itself.

A second factor in shaping the Soviet approach to the meeting is the development of Moscow’s German policy. Assuming that the treaties are ratified (and this is a major uncertainty hanging over the Moscow meetings), the Soviets will have achieved a long standing goal, and will be moving into the next phase of building a European détente on their terms. The US role in Europe, they realize can be crucial. Thus, the summit is an opportunity to explore the US attitude on the shape of East-West relations in Europe. The Soviets probably recognize by now that “selective détente” can be a useful tactic but is difficult to maintain over an extended period.

Finally, of course, the USSR has an interest in many of the bilateral negotiations. Taken together these agreements (scientific exchanges, maritime regulations, space cooperation, etc.) establish a matrix of arrangements that tend to “normalize” Soviet-American relations and create the impression of unique areas of common interest between the superpowers. In addition, specific benefits will accrue, particularly in gaining access to American scientific techniques and technology and in facilitating an expansion of economic relations, if the political issues of MFN and credit are resolved.

The Soviets thus have several major objectives at the summit:

  • —to arrange a visible demonstration by your presence in Moscow that the USSR enjoys a more intimate and substantive relationship with Washington than Peking can command;
  • —to buttress this general demonstration with a specific accomplishment that underscores the unique superpower relationship, i.e., signing a SALT agreement during the summit;
  • —to further the evolution of a European détente by gaining US endorsement of a European Conference on Cooperation and Security, and, if necessary, breaking the deadlock over negotiation on Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions;
  • —to suggest, perhaps only by indirection, that a US-Soviet dialogue may be initiated on the Middle East, and that the prospect for a settlement is somewhat more favorable as a result of your conversations;
  • —to sign or agree in principle to a series of bilateral accords, already under negotiation; both in number and content these agreements will create an impression of progress even if major international issues remain deadlocked;
  • —to establish some institutional and political basis for a more permanent relationship through statements of principles or agreements on periodic consultations.


One Soviet objective at the summit will be to probe the US about the state of its relations with China and its further intentions there. Brezhnev’s keen interest showed through in public in his speech on March 20, when he said of Sino-US relations that “the future, perhaps the near future, will show us how matters stand.” Privately, he displayed a good deal of nervousness. This will be a delicate matter, in which the Soviets will not want to appear overanxious, but they will surely listen attentively to anything you may volunteer about what transpired in Peking. If they receive little satisfaction, they may pose direct questions. Beyond that, their concern is so great that it is not impossible that they will take occasion to warn their visitors about the dangers of closer dealings with China. They have already tried to persuade various Americans of the frustrations in store for anyone expecting reasonable behavior from Peking, citing their own experience. And Brezhnev has warned that only China will gain from a failure of US-Soviet détente—a reflection of his anxieties.

Western Europe

Europe will be an area of priority concern to the Soviet leaders during their talks with you. Their most immediate and pressing objective is to secure West German ratification of the Soviet-West German treaty, and the Soviet mood in late May will be influenced in large degree by the outlook for ratification at that time. This is particularly true because of Brezhnev’s close personal association with the treaty. The Soviets can be expected to try to use the summit to influence internal debate on the treaty within West Germany if this is still an issue, and gain your personal endorsement of the treaty.

One likely topic will be a Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). Moscow will press to obtain a clear US commitment to early actions to convene a CSCE. Moscow holds the US largely responsible for the delay in movement toward such a conference. They [Page 934] may offer limited concessions and clarifications on other issues—quite possibly a gesture with regard to starting talks on force reductions, or a specific understanding on the relationship between CSCE and force reductions—in order to obtain a definite US commitment to beginning CSCE. (Brezhnev has indicated as much privately to me.)

We know from intelligence reports that Brezhnev has expressed a preference for a particular CSCE format. In the sequence envisioned by Brezhnev, multilateral preparations would be followed by a conference of foreign ministers that would establish various commissions and working groups. In the final stage the CSCE would be reconvened “at the highest accepted level.” The Soviets also hope that a CSCE would establish permanent bodies to continue its work. These Soviet concepts are calculated to complement French positions—part of the “special relationship” Brezhnev feels he has established with France.2

The only remaining formal obstacle to beginning CSCE preparations is NATO’s insistence that a Berlin agreement, interpreted to include signature of the Final Quadripartite Protocol, comes first. This will present no problem to the Soviets if their treaty with Bonn seems likely to be ratified. If ratification looks like a sure thing after the Bundestag vote, the Soviets may even begin to probe the US on the possibility of signing the Protocol in a ceremony which could be linked to your visit.3

The Soviets have shown no enthusiasm for the subject of mutual balanced force reductions (MBFR), which they view primarily as a Western precondition for other détente moves. Initially they will probably take the line that MBFR is something for “us” to settle. To date, Soviet thinking on procedures for conducting talks on MBFR has been even less clear than on CSCE. Their preference appears to be for MBFR to be handled by one of the working groups to be set up by the CSCE—and therefore to be subordinate to CSCE—but their attitude on this is probably not rigid.

At present, MBFR is at a procedural stalemate because of Soviet unwillingness to receive Brosio, NATO’s designated “explorer.”4 In return for concessions in other areas, such as CSCE, the Soviets may offer a way out of this impasse. In a sense, you will be replacing Brosio as explorer; the Soviets may make some sort of commitment that will enable MBFR to get on the track.

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The Middle East

The Soviets do not expect that the long deadlock over a Middle East settlement can be broken at the summit. They will want to keep this problem subordinate to their interests in bilateral relations, China, and Europe. They see no profit in pushing their Arab clients to make further concessions. While making a record of fidelity to the Arab cause, however, they may propose some way of giving new impetus to the negotiating process, intimating in the process that without this it may be difficult to prevent new warfare.

The USSR [is] concerned that the Egyptians might conclude that only the US is capable of inducing some flexibility in the Israeli position and that Cairo must therefore turn to Washington for a settlement. The Soviets have been sensitive to US efforts to facilitate an interim settlement and proximity talks, and they are suspicious of the implications of renewed dialogue between Cairo and Washington. It is important for Moscow to have—and to be seen to have—a major role in deliberations affecting the Arab-Israeli conflict. Hence the Soviets may try to use the summit to return to bilateral discussions on the Middle East, seeking to foster the impression among the Arabs that some new diplomatic momentum has begun. They may put some scheme of this kind in the context of a proposal for regular US-Soviet consultations.

The Soviet leaders will be prepared to deal with any US suggestion on mutual restraint on arms shipments to the Arabs and Israelis. They will probably consider themselves in a rather good tactical position on this issue in view of the overall decline in Soviet military deliveries to Egypt over the past several months.

Moscow can be expected to call attention to this and to stress the defensive nature of the weaponry provided to the Arabs. The Soviets may point out, for example, that Egypt’s bomber inventory remains smaller than it was prior to the war in 1967. In fact, the Soviets have at this point delivered, broadly speaking, all the arms Egypt can absorb and more, while withholding advanced offensive weapons that might touch off a new round of major fighting.

The Soviets would probably not be willing, however, to agree to any proposal for a formal, explicit, Soviet-US agreement on curbing arms deliveries to the Middle East. Moscow would expect a vitriolic Arab reaction to such an arrangement as long as Israel is occupying Arab territory. The USSR would be afraid that such a move could endanger the advances that it has made in the area over the past several years—gains made largely by virtue of its role as arms supplier. It will therefore not want to go beyond, at most, a general understanding that would stop well short of verifiable commitments. As an inducement to us, Brezhnev will hold out hopes of an agreement on arms shipments and of a reduction in Soviet military presence after a settlement.

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Brezhnev and his colleagues got involved in Vietnam in early 1965. They originally increased Soviet support for the North Vietnamese in an effort to place themselves in a better position to compete with China for the allegiance of foreign Communists and other “progressives,” and to refute Chinese charges that Moscow had sold out to “imperialism.” Since last summer, however, Peking’s own overtures toward the US have dissipated the sting of Chinese charges of “Soviet-US collusion,” and it is now less important for the Soviets to be able to disprove Chinese allegations. Thus Moscow’s priorities are no longer what they were when it became involved in Vietnam seven years ago, although the Soviets’ basic commitment to Hanoi remains in force and cannot be easily abandoned.

Developments in Vietnam obviously are a cloud over the entire visit, and it cannot be foreseen how the interaction of our measures and the NVN offensive will affect the content and tone of the summit.

The Soviets have to balance their own national interests in such areas as strategic relationships and European security against the effect of Vietnam on their position in the Communist world, their competition with China and their interests in Southeast Asia and the future development of Asian politics in the wake of Vietnam. In pure power terms Vietnam is not vital to the USSR, but in political terms developments there can directly affect the standing of the USSR in the Communist world.

The various Soviet dilemmas over Vietnam have led them to support a political settlement at different times, and the burden of their advice to Hanoi probably has been that they could achieve a political takeover once the US was totally disengaged. At the same time, the Soviets see benefits in prolonged fighting in terms of what it does to the US political fabric and the ability of the US to conduct a comprehensive foreign and defense policy.

If by late May the Vietnam situation is escalating, the Soviets’ first order of business will be to try to wring some concessions from the US on the terms of a cease-fire or a political settlement. Only if they can demonstrate that the US has yielded something significant, is the USSR likely to exercise effective influence in Hanoi. Even then, it will be limited unless accompanied by the reduction of Soviet military support. And even then its effectiveness will depend on the balance of forces in the North Vietnamese Politburo.

Whether the Soviets would make this one move—to restrain the shipment of supplies—remains a question. The Soviets would assume that the Chinese would in this event increase their supplies, and the USSR would be exposed to the charges of perfidy. Of course, US measures may produce the objective effect of reducing Soviet support.

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On balance the Soviets may hope that the summit can be insulated from Vietnam, at least as long as US actions do not directly challenge the USSR. But the situation is sufficiently fluid and dangerous that the Soviet leaders must be increasingly concerned that they will face an abortive, or less than successful meeting.

The Consequences

There are palpable risks to the USSR in the summit. A number of Soviet officials have indicated that a combination of failure of the German treaties and escalation in Vietnam may lead to an unproductive meeting. If so, the Soviets would have to begin reassessing their own position. Brezhnev, in particular, might find his power position weakened. He, and others, would be in the painful position of having to acknowledge the failure of the USSR’s “general line” over the past year. Pressures on the Soviet leadership as the summit approaches are no doubt growing because, unlike previous summits, the Soviets not only want the atmospherics but certain tangible benefits in bilateral relations and in their international posture.

In short, despite the uncertainties over Vietnam, we have certain elements of strength in dealing with the Soviet leaders, not the least of which is the fact of your trip to Peking and Brezhnev’s personal investment in the concept that a better relationship with us is feasible.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 487, President’s Trip Files, For the President’s Personal Briefcase, May 1972, Part 2. Secret. A notation on the paper indicates the President saw it. This is a separate briefing paper for the summit sent to the President after the summit briefing books.
  2. In October 1971 Brezhnev paid an official visit to France, where he and President Pompidou issued a joint declaration and signed a statement entitled “The Principles of Cooperation between the U.S.S.R. and France” on October 30.
  3. For information on the signing of the final protocol of the Berlin agreement, see Document 239, footnote 2.
  4. For information on Soviet rejection of a proposal for exploratory talks on MBFR in Moscow with a delegation led by Manlio Brosio, former Secretary-General of NATO, see Document 45, footnote 3.