42. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Leonid I. Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU
  • Andrei A. Gromyko, Foreign Minister
  • Anatoli F. Dobrynin, Ambassador to USA
  • Georgi M. Korniyenko, Chief of USA Division, Foreign Minister
  • A.M. Aleksandrov, Assistant to the General Secretary
  • Viktor M. Sukhodrev, Interpreter
  • Soviet Notetaker
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, NSC Senior Staff Member
  • Winston Lord, NSC Staff
  • William G. Hyland, NSC Staff
  • Comdr. Jonathan T. Howe, NSC Staff


  • Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons

Dr. Kissinger: I delayed so long on the other subject [trade and lend-lease] to avoid discussing this.

[Page 128]

Brezhnev: But this is a very important matter. No other question could do so much to improve the situation and political atmosphere as this. No agreements on gas, on maritime shipping, can do so much to restrict war. No other leading statesmen will go down more in history than the one who signs this [agreement]. The question is how to approach it. Our draft is a good one. We could go to lunch if you accept it. We took into account your draft;2 I decided to send you a draft3 so you could discuss it with the President before you left.

Dr. Kissinger: I have no draft from you.

We had an opportunity to discuss the issue with the President, and we sent you some of our considerations, prior to coming here.

Brezhnev: In fact we began discussions on this here in Moscow.

Dr. Kissinger: In April . . .

Brezhnev: After preliminary discussion with you and at the summit, we sent you a draft treaty.4 We have confirmed that there is general agreement and a desire to reach a solution. It is one of the decisions of paramount importance for our relations. It will be a great contribution to world détente and greater security not only for our people but worldwide. A good beginning was made in Moscow. Now the task is to elaborate and finalize a treaty. You gave us a draft and we gave a draft and received modifications from you. Now it is clear that our countries will never allow the use of nuclear weapons against one another, but we must give a clear-cut commitment on the way to act in possible situations.

[Noting paper in his hand] I was reading your paper and thought it was ours!

We can reply to your questions. Other questions are merely theoretical and will not arise in practice. One could think of 20 hypothetical questions of this kind, but they will never arise in practice. We should avoid those that never arise in practice.

A most important consideration is the use of force against each other and against each other’s allies—as expressed in Article III. I agree with the President that the treaty must not look as if the two most powerful nations are dictating to the world. But this is between our two nations. The entire tonality reflects this. We proceed from the assumption that each has allies, you the NATO allies and we the Warsaw Pact allies.

Thus, if you agree we can go through the text. We can constitute an internal drafting commission. If we honestly fulfill our obligations the [Page 129] other nations can be reassured. Your initial draft, as I recall, made an obligation “to create conditions in which use of nuclear weapons was not justified.” This formulation is not specific. After all we could say this and there would still be war. But our own draft says no interference in the internal affairs of the other . . .

Dr. Kissinger: This is not in your draft.

Brezhnev: Your formulation is too loose. It is not binding. We need a document to present to parliaments. Of course some countries may not like it. Britain, France, Germany, China, Korea, whatever. But if our two countries agree, the UN will not find reason for criticism. We retain the right of self-defense. These are important pronouncements, in the interest of the U.S. and the Soviet Union that this be preserved. If only “every effort” is made, the results have less value, and give rise to doubts.

One idea came to me yesterday. Even if we sign an agreement on nuclear weapons, we might fight a conventional war. We could have 150 divisions and you 150 divisions and we could fight to a standstill. We could follow up this treaty with a treaty on non-use of force generally. If we two enter into a treaty, there can be no nuclear war in the future. Because no other power would resort to nuclear war. If we do not use nuclear weapons, no one else would dare to launch them. Certainly not France but they are not military allies of yours. If we now can proceed further, we could turn ourselves into editors and make a draft. Let us agree that bargaining is impossible. This does not relate to rubles. This is a matter of four points.

Alexandrov: The interpreter left out an important statement, that France is not likely to attack you!

Brezhnev: I have a suggestion. To enable you to have free time and attend an important function, we might have a break. We could meet at 5:30 and go to 10:00–11:30. We missed a meal yesterday but we felt light without our dinner.

Dr. Kissinger: What else will be discussed?

Brezhnev: SALT.

Gromyko: European Security.

Brezhnev: There was a party official named Svirsky. During the period when we took young people from villages to go to the countryside, not all were enthusiastic, and each gave reasons for not going. They came in for a hearing and explained their reasons. Svirsky said, I am in favor and you are against; we agree; you will go!

[The meeting adjourned until 6:00 p.m.]

Brezhnev: Why did Gromyko take so long to feed you?

Dr. Kissinger: He gave us a preview of his UN speech.

It took only two minutes.

[Page 130]

Brezhnev: We will not send him and save money.

Dr. Kissinger: He also agreed that when he makes the speech, he will wear a Nixon hat.

Brezhnev: He cannot wear a Nixon hat unless he gets paid. We will make some money. [To Gromyko:] Split 50–50.

We are in a better mood. When we get a settlement the mood improves. Why don’t we follow this procedure: You say that all the questions that came up you agreed to. We are serious, not selfish; we do not seek any advantages.

Dr. Kissinger: But I make simple problems complicated.

Brezhnev: I have noticed that you have a special talent. If any question needs solving we can call on Dr. Kissinger to make it complicated and then settle it.

Dr. Kissinger: In that way I get the credit. You invent problems and then remove them. This is a political art.

Brezhnev: The complications are never explained, but the solutions are. I am happy to see Dr. Kissinger looking so well as when we started. I remember our discussing this with you the first time.

Dr. Kissinger: Those were important discussions.

Brezhnev: Yesterday and today . . . When I went down to see you [last night] I thought I couldn’t come out [without talking to you] . . .

Dr. Kissinger: We were very close. We had to find ways to start a new initiative in all fields.

Brezhnev: We feel that the basic principle is to lay a foundation, that we began in the course of our bilateral discussions. It would have been quite improper to embark on the summit without looking ahead to see what the prospects were. We were right in splitting up the tasks and having separate discussions. In May we decided to have this question [non-use of nuclear weapons]. The question is quite complicated. There have been many decades in building up tensions, and it is leading to bring matters back to normalcy, or better.

I endeavored in a rough way to set out the basic principles on the non-use of nuclear weapons. Let me not make a secret of the fact that it would not be justified to delay too long. I am not humoring you. But to add this to what has already been achieved would enhance the prestige of our two nations.

Dr. Kissinger: The President believes that our relations should be, and are, developing on the principle of reciprocity and equality in the interest of the peace in the world. He devotes more time to this than any other foreign policy question. We look at every problem, not only on its merits but on the basis of its contribution to the objective of relaxing tensions and developing cooperation. We have as a cardinal principle of our policy not to take advantage of tactical situations, but [Page 131] to show restraint in every respect and to take account of the interests, principles and concerns of the Soviet Union. These basic principles will motivate our policy in the next Administration. A beginning was made at the Moscow summit. We can give a greater impetus in these discussions, and when the General Secretary visits the United States, this can be an event not only of social importance, but of tremendous historical significance. We would like that visit to be marked by the same order and scope of significance as the Moscow summit. As a general objective we could bring these discussions to a culmination during the visit, but before we can do that we will require precision.

First, with respect to preventing nuclear war, there are absolutely no differences. We believe nuclear war would be a catastrophe for our two peoples. Nobody understands this better than our two countries, because we are the only countries equipped to understand. We sometimes read in the press who is ahead or who is behind. A basic strategic advantage is impossible. Victory in a nuclear war is unobtainable. To engage in a nuclear war would be suicidal and an act of criminal folly. This is your objective, and we agree with this objective. Indeed it is a noble one.

At the same time, if we concede that our two countries are the two strongest nations, then our relations have significance beyond formal statements. As we look at the past, rightly or wrongly, many nations have feared military aggression and they believed they were free of this fear because of the protection of nuclear weapons. A treaty of this kind would have profound significance for these countries. While banning use between us, we do not want to create the impression that it is permitted against third countries. This is not your view.

Third, the General Secretary spoke of the problem that after banning nuclear war, there would remain the possibility of conventional war. He flatters us by saying we could have 150 divisions in our country. We do not have the population to man the headquarters that would be required. [Brezhnev on translation of this does not understand, but when explained that we have such large headquarters, he said the staffs are never in the front line.]

We do not want to give the impression that conventional war is permitted nor give the impression that under the protection we have from the non-use of nuclear weapons against one another, we could use conventional weapons. That is why we referred to the condition listed in our second paragraph. The General Secretary called attention to the vague language in Article I. It is drafted so vaguely that it is meaningless, he said. If we set a goal and fail to achieve it we have nothing. As he pointed out, we could still have the conditions but also a nuclear war. This could be strengthened by saying “They have an obligation. . .”

[Page 132]

We are not drafters, but I agree we could strengthen this paragraph.

Brezhnev: [interrupting during the translation] Maybe vague was too strong a word. He might say too indefinite.

Kissinger: . . . and then use other parts of our draft. My understanding of the General Secretary’s remarks—I do not recall this exactly—is that we should attempt to compare texts and have a drafting commission. I discussed this with the President and we are prepared to do this in principle. We should attempt to set as our goal a document that achieves the objectives the General Secretary set forth, and if we can, this will be one of the most fundamental documents of the post-war period. Therefore, it must be treated with extreme care and precision.

[At this point Brezhnev asked that no notes be taken, and proceeded to relate a story about a dog race in America. The dog’s owner was exhorting the dog to win, and the dog kept replying, “Don’t worry.” As he rounded the grandstand, running last, the owner shouted at him, but the dog merely replied, “Don’t worry.” Finally, the race ended and the irate owner asked the dog what happened, and the dog replied, “Well, it just didn’t work out.” Brezhnev continued that the dog made “every effort” but failed, and this was his point in relation to the discussion on nuclear weapons: We cannot just make “every effort.”]

Brezhnev: There are two points: As for our side there is no hesitation in our desire to reach an agreement. We have no ulterior motives. Our position is based on a sincere desire to create confidence and obligations which the Soviet Union and the United States will never allow war to break out in general, and nuclear war in particular, between our two countries. This approach was the basis of our Party Congress. The last Congress, the 24th, underlined this desire.

We earnestly believe in, and are aware of, the immense historical importance that both the people of the Soviet Union and the United States and all people attach to peace. This is why we are convinced advocates of a solution. Now when it is clear and obvious that we are indeed mighty powers and have means to destroy each other completely, we must devote prime attention to military fears, but proceed from humane desire for the entire world to breathe a sigh of relief. From all the utterances of the President and from what we have said, our basic objectives coincide and we are both guided by a noble desire to finally see this problem settled.

This is the basic desire that underlies our proposal to incorporate this basic idea in clear-cut language, without wishy-wishy formulations after which we would have to say “we tried but it didn’t work” [referring with gestures to the dog story].

[Page 133]

I am trying to think about the reasons for doubts or hesitation. There may be still doubts or distrust of the Soviet Union in your minds. If so, it is impossible to address a solution of this problem. If we deal on the basis of mistrust, this is an insincere approach. I do not believe this is so. The President and the American people are aware of the horrors of war in this era. They do not want to end their days in bunkers. They want to see agreement.

Or is it a question of allies or allied commitments? The fact is that the allies are 100 times weaker than the United States and do not possess nuclear weapons, and it is natural for them to want the cover of the United States. If the Soviet Union solemnly declares that we will not use nuclear weapons against the United States, you can be 200 percent certain that we will not use conventional weapons either, against the United States or its allies. Such a prospect would be completely contrary to the declarations of the Party Congress of our party. So the prospect of the Soviet Union using nuclear weapons against the allies drops away.

There remains the possibility of accretions of a historical nature. Perhaps people like the UK want to dissuade the President from taking steps on such important measures. If we listen to the whispering of our allies we cannot move forward. I say this and try to discuss possible ulterior reasons because there must be an explanation for concluding an agreement and for not concluding one. The basic idea of reaching an agreement is rooted in the minds of all people. If we do not reach agreement, we sow suspicion and in the minds of all the people.

I am proceeding from this motive and I made reservations on clauses that do not contain clear-cut commitments. That is why I jokingly mentioned the story about the dog race.

I certainly believe sincerely that during the President’s Administration there cannot be war. We believe this cannot happen. But who knows who comes to office? Anything can happen. If we accomplish something, it will be effective not only for President Nixon’s time but in the future. We can show all nations that nuclear weapons will not be used, because our two countries will not allow it. This will reflect noble global policies of peace. Whether this goal is achieved under the present or future leadership, the people will erect a monument to those leaders who achieve it.

On other aspects, amendments and modification are quite possible to take into account the observations of the President, made recently, and to prevent the impression that we two want to rule the world. In taking account of allies, we should give careful thought to the way to formulate the document to make it effective. But the basic goal is most important. I have elucidated an assessment of these goals. We will not [Page 134] go back on these because they reflect the basic nature of our Party. Despite slanders from some quarters, we are dedicated to peace.

As for possible attempts to frustrate our efforts from other quarters—those who might be anti-U.S. or anti-Soviet, or vested interests, we must not be prone to influence by them. If we do not confront these influences and not make concessions to them we will not succeed. Compromise is possible in elections but no compromise is possible in this aspect. As for allied warnings, we must create respect for our motive. But these are not basic aspects, only to be borne in mind. That is our basic thinking to be conveyed to the President.

[During translation Brezhnev excuses himself.]

Dr. Kissinger[to Dobrynin]: It is possible to strengthen paragraph one, if you take account of our paper.

Gromyko: We will work out a formulation, but the crucial point is the first one in our draft. Will it be a treaty?

Dr. Kissinger: We have not fully decided on the form it will take.

Gromyko: A declaration is not an obligation.

Dobrynin: But Dr. Kissinger now says either an agreement or a treaty.

Gromyko: It should be one solemn document.

Dr. Kissinger: The whole concept is revolutionary and shakes the foundation of the post-war world. That is why we have a two-stage approach. In this way many of the countries concerned will become used to the change from the first to the final stages. The next stage could move forward right away.

Gromyko: Both stages should be prepared and agreed at the same time.

[Brezhnev returns]

Brezhnev: How do you see it?

Dr. Kissinger: We just had some preliminary exchanges with the Foreign Minister. What you have said is truly of fundamental importance. You want our two countries to take the lead in overturning the military basis of the post-war period. Since we took the lead in creating the conditions, we have an obligation in removing the military confrontation. We do not quarrel with your objective of removing the danger of a nuclear war.

It is also true that the consciousness of nations proceeds unequally. We are concerned that this document contribute to international stability and not create such a sense of insecurity in the world that would have a totally unsettling effect. That is why I asked your Ambassador if there was any objection if we talked to our allies, not to give them a veto but to give them some sense of the impact.

[Page 135]

Second, that is why we think it important at least to consider proceeding in stages. In April, I was surprised at the revolutionary and startling document you gave me.5 But if it is culminated in two stages, while the first stage suffers from vagueness, the world would be used to the idea that something more fundamental was to follow. The second stage would be a more basic document. We are not determined on this but advance it for your consideration. We believe your document emphasizes obligations at the expense of considerations. Your document almost describes how nuclear war could come about rather than how it could be prevented.

Consideration should be given, again, to two stages, first, a more general declaration, and later, at the time of your visit a more formal document. If we find it more desirable we could work on both documents. We will undertake to give more specificity to paragraph one and not like the dog story. You should look over our paper to take account of our considerations. We could take both documents and compare them in a businesslike way and decide how to proceed. As for other countries you mentioned, France wants the benefits of an alliance without the risks. Perhaps you may have allies like this. We have to take their views into account. In the past, if a measure genuinely contributes to world peace and is of benefit to everybody, we have found that the allies will support it.

It is inevitable, that we, as the two strongest powers, encounter suspicions. This is the price we pay for the opportunities before us. We should not settle this in the abstract, but solve it concretely, in the way I have indicated. I propose that we follow this procedure.

Brezhnev: [referring to Dr. Kissinger’s statement on overturning the military basis] You are quite right, because your and our military must reappraise their doctrines. Until now everything planned against each other. But now we must reappraise their requests which are all based on one overtaking the other, more and more money. I am being frank in the utmost but that is true picture.

[Referring to maintaining the confidential channel:] When you [Sonnenfeldt and Lynn] were in the Crimea, I did not mention this subject. I can guarantee, however, that if this subject came up tomorrow, each and every one of our allies would raise no objections. Of course we have seven, you have 11.

Gromyko: Fourteen.

Brezhnev [brushing the numbers aside]: Speaking frankly, I cannot agree with you. I guess for the time being I do not have the possibility of talking Dr. Kissinger into this. What can I do?

[Page 136]

Gromyko[interrupting]: He does not agree with idea of two stages, but wants one solemn document.

Brezhnev [continuing]: You should pass my request to the President to look into our intention and aims in pursuing and continuing to work on a clear document. If we split it into stages it would look like we were kicking it aside into a commission, even though our aim is clear. We feel there is a fundamental understanding; I am referring to the first clause, as we see it. As regards the other clauses, there could be other work. Efforts should be made to persuade the allies, but proceeding stage-by-stage sows seeds of doubt in the document, and would mobilize opposition. Let those who want to, criticize a signed document. There would be all sorts of talks and conjectures in The New York Times, practice shows this to be true. I recall the clamor about the summit meeting, whether it should be held. There was clamor from China and Korea and others, and from your allies. If we had hesitated, there would have been no summit. But we were firm and carried the day.

Gromyko: We have given careful consideration to formulations you conveyed through our Ambassador for some preliminary stage in the process. And you reached the same conclusion that you repeated today. If we take into account the need to prepare public opinion for a treaty that both sides undertake not to use nuclear weapons, that was already achieved last May. [Reading from Soviet-American Principles:] “Therefore they will do their utmost to avoid military confrontations and to prevent the outbreak of nuclear war.” Judging by the reaction in the world to this clause, it was highly assessed. I think, therefore, that, bearing in mind the documents signed in May, public opinion has already been prepared for bolder steps. The preliminary task is resolved. It is better to prepare for the next step, that is to sign a treaty. Lastly, we understood that you are suggesting not categorically two stages. If we understood you correctly, we should take the most concrete path.

Dr. Kissinger: The arguments you have advanced are very persuasive. There may be difficulties in either approach, formal or not. I would like to discuss this with the President. When you come to Washington on October 2, we will give you an answer on the direction to follow. It is possible to begin to work on a formal document, and then come back to a declaration, when we see what the final document looks like. I will speak to the President and give you an answer on October 2, but in a private meeting.

Brezhnev: I would ask that you report to the President the following consideration. The stage-by-stage approach is unacceptable because if an initial document is adopted time needs to pass, until there is a special occasion to explain why there is a need to take the next step. We will be adopting a vague document, and then passing to a more specific one. Under your system four years pass and President Nixon [Page 137] leaves. That is why we need a more definite document. Additional work can be done to finalize it, to ensure that there is no diktat over others. If we reach an understanding on basic principles, then after your report, work can go on in the private channel.

The question is where and when the document is to be signed. I take it that you want to sign at the time of our visit. We have taken no decision on this. We are most appreciative of the invitation. But this is a general question not connected to the visit. President Nixon signed important documents and I must consider what is signed in Washington. The documents signed in Moscow were welcomed, despite some opposition in the Senate. It is important that appropriate conditions be created for the visit to Washington, but the most important is to work for peace.

Dr. Kissinger: To take the last point, we are looking forward to the visit. Without offending others in your leadership, the President expects to receive the General Secretary. The results must be at least of the same magnitude as when the President visited Moscow. We will sign agreements of great importance. We are prepared to begin work on the agenda. Something in this [the nuclear] field would be appropriate to your visit.

I am impressed by the force of your arguments, and I will speak to the President. If he decides to forego the intermediate stage, we can work on a more formal document. We will let you know through the channel, but it is my impression that we can proceed in the sense that the General Secretary outlined.

Brezhnev [interrupting translation]: Concerning the visit, after the President’s departure, we had an informal exchange, but no formal decision was reached. The opinion was voiced that it would be expedient for me to make the visit. We still have quite enough time to make a public announcement. Quite frankly, something on the Middle East and Vietnam would lead to a better atmosphere surrounding the visit, and would be more propitious for US-Soviet relations.

Dr. Kissinger: We can settle on a mutually agreed time, so that your visit will make a contribution. We can announce it, but not wait until just before your arrival.

Brezhnev: We can complete our discussion and agree with the view you expressed. You will report the logic of our arguments. We want to act on the basis of confidence and decency in our mutual interests and in the spirit of the aims discussed in Moscow. We can continue through the channel with the aim of reaching agreement.

Parallel with the practical preparations for the visit, we should be preparing and coordinating practical agreements to be signed at that time, as President’s visit to Moscow [was prepared]. As for courtesy, I [Page 138] have no doubts. I prefer businesslike talks, jokes, discussion man-to-man and productive results rather than ceremonial aspects.

We have made progress in these discussions.

Dr. Kissinger: I think we have made a step forward. We will tell the Foreign Minister our answer, and I think we certainly can proceed as I have said. On our behalf we want to make your visit a significant event and an historic occasion. We will do for you no less than was done for the President, in very difficult circumstances for you. Washington is not characteristic of the United States. The President hopes that you will visit California and Florida. A visit to Florida is obligatory, since that is where the hydrofoil is. This will be an opportunity to visit the first Soviet installation in the United States! But I will not bother with details. We will do our utmost to make the visit not only politically, but humanly and symbolically successful. The President asked me to say this, and I took the liberty of interrupting our discussions.

Brezhnev [interrupting translation]: A Soviet naval installation in the USA! This is important in itself.

Please thank the President, I agree to practical preparations being started. I can say this now. In the course of those preparations we will define what specific documents will be agreed; since we have agreed on the start of preparations we have accomplished 50 percent of the job.

I don’t doubt the courtesy; the most important thing is the results.

Let me add one point: The President in his discussions expressed the thought that such visits might take place more frequently—not formal, but brief meetings. We might take a few days off, and see other places, but have businesslike talks and agreements, if not as momentous as ones of last May.

Dr. Kissinger: We agree with that.

Brezhnev: And we do not rule out requests to allow Dr. Kissinger to come here from time to time to take part in talks.

Dr. Kissinger: I am counting on it.

Brezhnev: I say this from past experience [of our talks].

Dobrynin: Then you can see the ballet.

Brezhnev: I thought of taking you into the country, in Zavidovo, where I have a place. We could have some shooting. Do you shoot?

Dr. Kissinger: Not much experience.

Brezhnev: Well, we can agree and continue through the channel.

[The meeting then ended.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 74, Country Files—Europe—USSR, HAK Trip to Moscow, Sept. 1972, Memcons (Originals). Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place in the Council of Ministers Building inside the Kremlin. Brackets are in the original.
  2. Tab D, Document 30.
  3. Brezhnev is apparently referring to the undated message from the Soviet leadership to Nixon, Document 35.
  4. See Document 17.
  5. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Documents 159 and 221.