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


  • Some Indicators of Soviet Behavior

Soviet conduct in the Indo-Pak crisis has been deeply disturbing, but it can be explained to a large extent by their calculation of their [Page 106] regional interest in the subcontinent and relations with China. We cannot conclude that there has been some fundamental change in Moscow in their interest in a limited improvement in their relations with us. Nevertheless, reviewing a number of diverse Soviet activities underscores that Soviet policy continues along lines that are inimical to our interests, could become highly dangerous, and cut across our own efforts to reach a more durable relationship with the USSR.

The following is a catalogue of some disturbing Soviet actions and attitudes though there is no certain pattern in them.

Middle East

Within the last month we have seen (a) the shipment of medium jet bombers, armed with air-to-surface missiles; (b) the reported remarks by the Soviet Ambassador in Cairo that if the solution chosen by the UAR is war, then “we support you so that it is a war with minimum losses”; (c) a tour of the Middle East and Persian Gulf by Minister of Defense Marshal Grechko, and there are unconfirmed reports that one of his purposes is to nail down an agreement on a Soviet naval base in Somalia. (There has also been a report of renewed Soviet support of the guerrilla movement against Portuguese Guinea.)


Castro’s provocative seizure of the vessel off the Bahamas might suggest he has some Soviet support, or at least feels that he can embark on such dangerous actions with impunity. Moreover, while remaining within the technical limits of the understanding of last year, the Soviet flouts its spirit by (a) sending a cruise missile submarine to Havana; (b) prolonging their current visit of an attack submarine and cruiser and conducting almost daily exercises from Cuba.

A recent CIA report2 claims that the Soviets accepted a Cuban offer in 1970 to establish a base in Cienfuegos, but planned to use it sporadically to give us the impression that it was only a rest and relaxation stopover. The Soviet plan called for visits to be increased to the point where there would be a Soviet flotilla constantly in port.

Criticism of the US

During his visit to Denmark, Kosygin is reported to have told the Danish Prime Minister that he knew of no country where domestic conditions play so important a role in foreign policy as in the US. In commenting on your visit to Moscow, Kosygin added that he saw US domestic factors as the chief motivating force. Reports from the Embassy in Moscow on public Soviet orientation lectures concerning Soviet foreign [Page 107] policy reiterate this theme. In other words, the Soviets view our policy not as motivated by intrinsic national interests but by calculations of domestic political expediency.

While the Soviets have not sharply increased their accusations against us for “collusion” with China, nevertheless, this theme has become more prominent as the public explanation for various events, especially in the UN. The Soviet Ambassador in Tokyo, while taking a moderate line in general, told our Ambassador that Moscow believed your trip to Peking would be a failure. If this is actually the operative estimate in Moscow, the Soviets may feel they have less reason to build up your trip to the USSR. (A sidelight on Soviet attitudes was the menacing tone of Kosygin’s remarks in Norway, where he is reported to have warned the Norwegians against permitting any increase of US naval activities off their own shores.)


There has been no abrupt change in the negotiations, but the tone seems to be degenerating somewhat. The Soviets persist in putting forward their proposals in the most one-sided fashion, in terms they can be virtually certain we will resist. Moreover, they make claims about the status of their forces (i.e., that we both have approximately the same number of ICBMs) that we know to be wildly inaccurate. Most important, one suspects that the Soviets may have made a decision to proceed with the expansion of their ABMs, and want to codify this in SALT under the guise of insisting on equality (this too could be another Soviet bargaining ploy).3

The Soviet Press

Usually, the Soviet press is some guide to the intensity of Soviet policy. While not unusually different in its treatment of the US, there does seem to be very little effort to credit our good will or intentions, [Page 108] even prior to the Indo-Pak crisis. You personally, are excluded from criticism, but by various euphemism the Administration is belabored almost daily.

The Soviet Leaders

The Kremlinlogists are satisfied that Brezhnev is still out in front, and the recent party and government meetings on the new five year plan seems to confirm this. However, since last Wednesday, all of the politburo has been out of Moscow in various cities participating in unusual regional meetings. This has only occurred three times since 1964. Almost certainly, the participation of the top leaders in regional briefings means the subject is one that either is quite complicated, or likely to create unease or resistance from the rank and file. No one knows exactly what is involved, but my guess would be the subject is foreign policy and probably China.

Summing up, it seems fair to speculate that Soviet interest persists in better relations with us, as manifested in both Berlin and SALT and even evident to some extent in handling of their contacts with us in the Indo-Pakistan crisis, but is offset by other interests which can draw them into dangerous situations. Moreover, China is so predominant in Soviet thinking that one wonders whether another Sino-Soviet crisis similar to the border incidents in 1969 is not almost certain in the wake of the Pakistan crisis and in light of what the Soviets may see as an internal weakness in Peking. (CIA has at least one report4 that there were some in Moscow who would have welcomed Chinese intervention on Pakistan’s side so that Moscow would have had a pretext for “delivering a blow” against China.)

In addition, there is the chance that having acquiesced, if not encouraged, the war in the subcontinent, the Soviets will find that they cannot very effectively argue against the use of force in the Middle East.

In both instances—a deliberate Sino-Soviet crisis or a Middle East confrontation—the Soviet leaders would have to weigh seriously the effect on the summit or on our general relations with them. In doing so, they may now attach somewhat less importance to their relations with us than three or four months ago.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 717, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XVII, November–31 December 1971. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information. A notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it. Sonnenfeldt sent this memorandum to Kissinger under cover of a December 17 memorandum with a recommendation that he sign it. Sonnenfeldt noted: “It is a catalogue of diverse activities which struck me as disturbing. No sweeping conclusion should be drawn from the listing, but it seems worth bearing in mind that whatever their motives for wanting a better relationship with the US, other Soviet interests (including internal Soviet politics) will continue to work in the other direction.”
  2. Not attached and not further identified.
  3. On December 20 Director of Politico-Military Affairs Ronald I. Spiers sent Rogers a memorandum outlining the unresolved issues from the just completed SALT session at Vienna. Spiers summarized the month-long session: “Although the USSR acceded to our demand that there be a serious discussion of offensive limitations as a first priority at Vienna, significant differences remain with respect to both ABMs and the offensive freeze.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 18–3 AUS (VI)) On December 23 the Verification Panel met to review SALT policy. The Panel agreed that Kissinger should seek from Nixon “some interim guidance for the Delegation prior to its return on January 2. This will include, at a minimum, a decision whether the ABM agreement should be a treaty and the modification of our position on SLBMs to permit the replacement of old SLBMs with new models.” The SALT working group would prepare an options paper on modifications to the U.S. ABM position, whether inclusion of SLBMs was “make-or-break proposition,” and the duration and withdrawal propositions of both proposed agreements. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–107, Verification Panel Minutes, Originals, 1969 thru 3/8/72)
  4. Not attached and not further identified.