35. Message From the Soviet Leadership to President Nixon 1

It is perfectly obvious that a Treaty between the USSR and the US on the non-use of nuclear weapons would be of major consequences not only for the relations between our two countries, but also for the development of international situation as a whole. Therefore it is important to reach a clear understanding of the substance and scope of obligations which would be undertaken by the parties under that Treaty. It is our conviction that the more definitely the essence of the idea, for which the USSR and the US are concluding that Treaty, i.e. prevention of a nuclear collision between them, is expressed in it, the more important the Treaty would be. It is from this angle that we approach the questions raised by the American side in the conversation with our Ambassador on July 21, 1972.2

1. The most serious of those questions is the following. If to presume that the USSR Warsaw Treaty allies or the US NATO allies are attacked with only conventional weapons by the US or the USSR respectively (alone or together with their allies), does the other nuclear side have the right to use nuclear weapons for repelling such an attack? As we understand, the US Government believes that the answer to that question should be in the affirmative.

We also believe that with regard to such a situation (which, of course, is a purely hypothetical one) it is not possible to deprive one of the right to turn, for defensive purposes, to the use of nuclear weapons in order to fulfill appropriate allied obligations. That possibility is contained in Article III of our draft Treaty. However, admitting in principle such a possibility, we would like to emphasize that the idea of the [Page 94] Treaty would be served by such a mode of actions in that presumed situation when both the USSR and the US firmly proceed from the necessity to localize the use of nuclear weapons and undertake nothing that could increase the danger of our two countries mutually becoming objects of the use of nuclear weapons.

All this line of reasoning should be supplemented with a very substantial argument. The situation which we consider, so as to have common understanding of the Soviet-American draft Treaty, which is being worked out, would be far less probable or rather even practically excluded if this Treaty is signed and becomes one of the new and most important factors of international life.

2. As for the other two questions raised in the abovementioned conversation, the answer to them, in the opinion of the Soviet side, can only be negative.

If to assume that the USSR or the US might use nuclear weapons (Middle East was mentioned as an example) also to assist states with regard to which neither the USSR nor the US have direct treaty obligations, this would devalue our Treaty. In particular, it would render worthless Article II of the draft Treaty which is the one that provides for prevention of a situation when, as a result of actions by third states, the USSR and the US may find themselves drawn into collision with the use of nuclear weaponts.

These same views and arguments of ours may be fully applied as well to a third situation, which the American side termed as seriously upsetting the global balance and to illustrate which a most hypothetical example of introduction of Soviet or US troops into India was used.

Thus, the Soviet side believes that the Treaty should exclude a possibility of using nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union and the US against each other in the two situations outlined above. Otherwise, such a Treaty would be almost pointless. It would be even natural to ask oneself a question: in what situations would it be valid at all?

3. On our part we could also mention situations the emergence of which—though they do not look very real—cannot be completely excluded. Say, one of the US allies (there are nuclear powers among them) will attack a Soviet Union’s ally. The kind of reaction of the USSR with regard to the state that made such an attack, is not to be questioned—it will be determined by the allied duty of the USSR. But a question suggests itself—how in that situation matters would stand directly between the USSR and the US, having in mind that the Treaty on the non-use of nuclear weapons would be in effect between them?

We mentioned this example as yet another illustration of the complexity and versatility of the whole problem. It is the very nature of the problem that makes us to emphasize that a true criterion for the working out the Treaty is rather the will of our countries to solve the [Page 95] task of preventing a nuclear war between them and to develop their relations proceeding from the solvability of that task and its historic importance than attempts to foresee in advance various situations—possible and impossible.

4. We proceed from the assumption that all this strictly confidential exchange of views serves on this stage only one purpose: a more precise and more profound understanding by the Soviet leaders and President Nixon of the contents of the Treaty being worked out.

It is expected in Moscow that President Nixon would consider, taking into account L.I. Brezhnev’s message of July 20, 19723 and our present additional clarifications, our new draft Treaty, forwarded to him, in a positive manner.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 79, D: Nuclear Understanding, Exchange of Notes. No classification marking. A handwritten notation at the top of the paper reads, “Handed to HAK by D, 7 Sept. 1972.” According to Kissinger’s Record of Schedule, he and Dobrynin met briefly in the Map Room of the White House from 5:15 to 5:17 p.m. on September 7. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1967–76)
  2. See Document 17.
  3. Document 15.