65. Editorial Note

In a March 20, 1972, speech before the Soviet Trade Union Congress, General Secretary Brezhnev reviewed the overall foreign policy of the Soviet Union and offered a wide–ranging assessment of current issues that Soviet policymakers faced. Among U.S. Government circles, the speech was viewed as having cast a positive light upon the impending Moscow summit. In Intelligence Note RESN–35, March 20, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research noted that Brezhnev’s “concluding endorsement of the upcoming summit emerges as an endorsement of a calculated policy step, taken without illusion and without weakness, in the interest of a higher good.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 1 USSR) In a March 20 information memorandum from Executive Secretary of the Department of State Theodore Eliot to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger, the Department of State noted:

Brezhnev expressed a positive view of the President’s forthcoming trip to Moscow. The overall message is that the Soviet Union has digested the Peking trip and is still approaching the Moscow summit, as Brezhnev put it, from ‘businesslike, realistic positions.’ He made a positive statement about SALT, and went on to hope for other ‘fields of cooperation’ to ‘give Soviet–American relations a more stable nature.’ This seems to us a Soviet response to the President’s and your own recent foreign–policy messages to Congress, and expresses a cautious Soviet hope—and need—for specific agreements before and during the Moscow summit.” (Ibid.)

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The Department of State also transmitted an additional assessment of the Brezhnev speech in telegram 50559 to the U.S. Delegation to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Embassies in Germany, the Soviet Union, France, and Britain, March 24. (Ibid.)

In a March 21 memorandum to President Nixon, Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs Haig placed the speech in a slightly different context:

“The speech is fairly good evidence that despite many concerns of the past several months the Soviets intend to at least go through the summit meeting in Moscow before considering any major changes. Brezhnev was, in effect, calming the waters, and denying suggestions of a crisis on Soviet policy, while saying that if the German treaty failed or Chinese problems got worse, it was not the fault of his policies. At the same time, this speech is some confirmation that pressures may be growing on Brezhnev to vindicate himself, and his first reaction is to offer some concessions, rather than turn to a much tougher line.” (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 718, Country Files, Europe, U.S.S.R., Vol. XX, March 1972)

In a March 2 memorandum entitled “Brezhnev and Soviet Foreign Policy” from National Security Council staff members Helmut Sonnenfeldt and William Hyland to Kissinger, which both Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Alexander Haig and Kissinger agreed was an “excellent analysis,” the two National Security Council staff members concluded:

“Summing up, one can see evidence that Brezhnev policies are in some jeopardy. He is vulnerable to a major setback in Germany (and so are we) and he has already suffered a reversal in China. He is subject to the more general critique that as Khrushchev, he has mortgaged too much of the U.S.S.R.’s freedom of action to the good will or policies of opponents.

“More speculatively, Brezhnev might be in some trouble because of developments in the U.S. and relations with Washington. Critics could point to the Indo–Pak crisis, Chinese–American ‘collusion,’ and perhaps Soviet yielding to American pressure. More recently, they could point to the decision on ULMS as pressure to make an unfavorable SALT agreement, and they could use the Foreign Policy Report as evidence that Brezhnev misjudged the alignment of forces in the U.S. Such an attack, of course, would be more serious if Brezhnev had in fact argued earlier that he could do business with the U.S. and the Soviet’s power position was such that the U.S.S.R. could do so from a position of strength. (He came close to such an argument last June in a speech.)

“This is not to say that he is in any real danger of losing his position or under the kind of serious attack that would force him into positions he firmly opposed. Indeed, despite the criticisms that may have been leveled at him, the main lines of his policy still seem intact. It will be after the next phase, centering around the summit, that his course could become open to major change.

“In short, as he moves toward the summit meeting with the President, Brezhnev has lost some of his flexibility but also some of his leverage over us. At bottom, he needs a successful summit, at least as much as we do, and perhaps a shade more.” (Ibid.)