77. Note From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


Attached is a memorandum on the nuclear non-use problem together with some new drafting.

I have not in this paper attempted to relate this issue explicitly to the more complex problem of balancing our overall Soviet relations with our Chinese relations since I cannot very confidently judge what it may be desirable to do with respect to the former in the light of the most recent developments in the latter. Your trip2 and its results and consequences may of course make it desirable to inject some momentum into our Soviet relations—although it is not self-evident that the initiative in this respect needs or ought to be all ours. Undoubtedly, the Soviets are edgy, not only because of your China trip but because many aspects of our relations are beset by problems: CSCE and MBFR are moving slowly or stalled because we cannot easily control Allied behavior3 (itself a reflection of Allied suspicions and anxieties about our Soviet relations and of uncertainties in our European relations due to economics); SALT is stalled over a seemingly basic incompatibility of interests and objectives; the gas deals are hung up because of our uncertainties over energy policy and bureaucratic snarls; the US-Soviet Commercial Commission is stalled because we have not appointed a successor to Peterson. I cannot judge how maneuvering over the Middle East interacts with all of this. Brezhnev is almost certainly in an uncomfortable position with his colleagues and he must worry about the outlook for his trip to the US. (The fact that other, less central aspects of our bilateral relations are doing reasonably well is not enough to offset the various difficulties cited above.)

The Soviets will undoubtedly try to turn the non-use issue into a catalyst that breaks the logjam on other matters and as the center-piece of what might be accomplished during a Brezhnev trip. But this is precisely our dilemma: this issue almost certainly cannot be solved by us [Page 264] without either doing grave damage to our Chinese relations or further complicating those with Western Europe.

Perhaps, before you go further on any of the alternatives suggested in the attached paper, we should try to talk all this out.

Helmut Sonnenfeldt


Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)5


  • The Nuclear Non Use Proposal

From the outset the Soviet proposal raised a series of the most delicate and dangerous problems for us. The stipulations in their first few drafts would have left the Allies and China exposed to Soviet attack and even implied that we engage in joint action against third countries. In the drafting and redrafting we have managed to soften these implications by adopting “presuppositions” about the general renunciation of force (Article II) and by limiting any joint obligations (Article III) against third party conflicts to generalities—“make every effort.”

Soviet concessions in the remainder of the draft—agreeing to our “create conditions” language and our “presuppositions”—are linked to the adoption of the central Soviet proposition. Every Soviet draft begins with a straightforward renunciation of the use of nuclear weapons. No American draft has gone this far.

Thus, the central dilemma has not been resolved. There is still a conflict between our respective perceptions of the effect of this document on the international community. We wish to leave the impression that should there be a conventional conflict we would not be barred from nuclear use. Obviously no piece of paper restricts us in wartime, but to create the impression in peacetime that we are limited to a conventional conflict strikes at the heart of our nuclear guarantees for our Allies. On the other hand, to the extent that we try to protect the option [Page 265] of using nuclear weapons we create a China problem. Peking’s fear is that the Soviets will gain a US endorsement of the legitimacy of using nuclear weapons against third parties that commit “aggression” by conventional means. At least this was the principal argument in the bitter Sino-Soviet debate on this at the UN last fall.6

There is probably no way to reconcile these two aspects. The outcome of our exchange with the Soviets, no matter how clever the drafting, will tilt us toward protecting NATO and leaving China uncovered, or protecting China but leaving Western Europe unprotected. Moreover, we may get the worst case—alienating both NATO and China. This raises the question of what could compensate us?

The Soviet Angle

It is apparent that the Soviets attach great weight to this project. Obviously, they realize that from their standpoint it is a winner—whatever the outcome, the very nature of the subject may cast doubt on our Allied commitments or give the impression of a freer Soviet hand against China. By tying the agreement to the Brezhnev visit, they have sought to impress us with the seriousness of the project and have raised the stakes. Even if they have other reasons for deferring a spring visit, they are now less likely to back away from the linkage of this project and the outcome of the next summit.

For Brezhnev it would probably represent the crowning achievement of his “peace program.” Considering the various political undercurrents in the Soviet leadership (the Shelest affair and Polyansky’s demotion)7 and the aggravating political strains of the economic situation, it may be that Brezhnev can sell further détente only if he can show more tangible results vis-à-vis China or Europe. If so, this gives us some tactical leverage in terms of negotiating a better document, but it also reduces Soviet ability to defer or abandon it altogether.

The Allied Problem

By discreetly airing this project with some of the Allies we have conditioned them to accept something of this sort this year. At the same time, the UK reaction indicates a deep concern over the entire affair.8 They grudgingly agree that the document they helped draft might be published at the summit, and then “confidential and unpublicized” [Page 266] discussion continue. They are operating, however, from an outdated draft that was artfully obscure. (In fact, I am not sure that we ever actually gave the British draft to the Soviets.) In any case we have now gone beyond that draft, and the British (and French) reaction to the latest US draft would probably be even more reserved. As the British memorandum points out this affair could blow up in public. Even if it does not, awareness of the existence of the negotiations probably deepens the suspicions in the Alliance that the US is subordinating its Allied commitments to a larger understanding with the USSR.

This has to be seen in the context of the infection that seems to be setting in among the Europeans. A series of seemingly marginal issues in MBFR and CSCE, following the surprises of the May summit, the leisurely and vague discussions of FBS, are all accumulating to transform what might have been tactical misunderstandings into a major malaise. Adding this non-use project at this time, before another SALT agreement, or the completion of CSCE and a round of MBFR could intensify the trouble. (I am not arguing the rights or wrongs of these European anxieties or of the other issues like Vietnam, on which we and the Europeans have differed. The observable fact is that the Alliance has not learned to manage the psychological aspects of détente.)

Our Options

Our strategy has been to gain time and to envelop the basic Soviet proposition with a series of conditions that avoid binding commitments and project the final agreement into the future. The Soviets have accepted some of this, but without giving up their central demand for a clear renunciation of nuclear use.

The UK suggested something along the lines of continuing study, and this seems to raise the question of a commission. The commission idea, however, works two ways: (a) a commission would seem to put an agreement even further into the future, but (b) it might also reinforce anxieties over a private Soviet-American dialogue on a subject of overriding importance to Europe, Japan and China.

We seem to have the following choices:

1. To postpone the project on the grounds that it is still premature; we would propose reconsidering after another SALT agreement, after CSCE and at least some progress in MBFR. This has some logic; a properly caveated agreement to consider “binding obligations” might seem a plausible follow on to SALT II and would be more palatable in the relaxed atmosphere of post-CSCE Europe. The Soviets would not take this setback gracefully, and it might have to be coupled with some new SALT proposals.

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2. Alternatively, we could fold this problem into SALT. Since we have had the accidents agreement,9 and have the SCC,10 we could announce that non-use of force including nuclear use, was being considered in the context of a permanent agreement. One advantage is that by linking the two issues we gain some more leverage on SALT—it might even be a way out of FBS problems—i.e., non-circumvention combined with removing the danger of nuclear war being two principles that might be agreed to under the rubric of “restraint.” It has the advantage of the strictly bilateral SALT context.

3. Alternatively, we could use the commission concept to reduce the entire project to a very brief hortatory declaration, devoid of the details in the existing draft. The declaration would, as at present, declare the goal of removing the danger of nuclear war, state agreement to work toward establishing binding obligations, and establish a commission to examine the matter; the SALT SCC could be the commission since it is charged with certain strategic topics, or a special Joint Commission could be created.

—This has the advantage of avoiding some of the disputation on the non-use of force and the use of nuclear weapons that are subject to differing interpretations. It could be presented to the Allies as a minimal step, worth considering. We could then consult with them openly, with no implications that policies have changed.

—It might placate the Soviets—though this is uncertain.

—We could tell the Soviets that the existing drafting could be used to produce a declaration at a later time.

—It is consistent with our “phased” approach which we have tried to sell to Brezhnev.

4. We could insert the commission into the current drafts, presumably using the creation of the commission as the rationale for going into the detail contained in the current drafts. We would set forth some of the propositions as subjects for the Commission to examine rather than agreed principles.

—As noted, the Commission does not work entirely in our favor. A new Soviet-American institution to deal with nuclear strategy and use cuts across our Allies’ planning.

—On the other hand, the existence of a commission placates the Soviets, without forcing us to make an outright commitment.

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At Tab A is a redraft of our existing paper, with the Commission inserted and the old draft suitably modified. At Tab B is the short hortatory declaration, which focuses on the establishment of the Commission. Tab C is a possible SALT announcement.11

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 67, Country Files—Europe—USSR, Map Room, Aug. 1972–May 31, 1973 [1 of 3]. Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only.
  2. Kissinger visited China February 15–19 as part of an 11-day trip to Asia.
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXIX, European Security, Documents 127 and 129.
  4. Sonnenfeldt initialed above his typed signature.
  5. Sent for action.
  6. See Document 66.
  7. Pyotr Shelest, head of the Communist Party in the Ukraine, was ousted on May 25, 1972. (“Shelest is Removed as Ukraine’s Leader,” The New York Times, May 26, 1972, p. 5) Dmitri Polyansky was demoted from First Deputy Premier to Agricultural Minister. (“Soviet Farm Minister Out; His Superior Demoted,” ibid., February 3, 1973, p. 5)
  8. See footnote 2, Document 25.
  9. For the text of the agreement on measures to reduce the risk of outbreak of nuclear war, signed at Washington September 30, 1971, (22 UST 1590; TIAS 7186), see Department of State Bulletin, October 18, 1971, pp. 400–401.
  10. See Document 70.
  11. Tabs A–C are attached but not printed.