17. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Ford
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Lt. General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

[Omitted here is discussion of Saudi Arabia, Cyprus, and Cuba and Rhodesia.]

Kissinger: On the Soviets—we are brutal when they step over the line. They will test you and we should keep this in mind. LBJ dosed out power; I believe if we use American power it should be massive.

In 1970 they started building a submarine base in Cienfuegos. State wanted to wait until the base was finished. Nixon told me to make a strong statement and put a destroyer off the base.

Our experience is hit them early and hard when they threaten.

Their power structure is cumbersome. You have much more flexibility.

Scoop doesn’t understand—he thinks you can keep squeezing them.

Cyprus is another humiliation—it is being settled without their participation. We send them letters so they can’t say we are freezing them out. Their frustration has to rise. That is where the trouble comes in. Dole it out so it eases the problem but doesn’t make a strategic difference. The Dulles idea of talking tough can’t be sustained in practice. We talk softer than our actions. The Left is strong in Europe; we paralyze them by talking soft. That is what you are up against with McClellan.2

The President: If I were the Soviets, I would use the Congress.

Kissinger: These numbers games on SALT miss the point. The firm approach means we must sustain a 10 to 15 percent budget increase, be prepared for crises like Berlin, and so forth.

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I wanted to use this peculiar year—with liberals going conservative—to get a ceiling on strategic forces beyond which we wouldn’t go anyway.

We couldn’t sustain an arms race.

The President: Without a direct threat.

Kissinger: The Liberals will soon say we have too much. If we need more, it is in the tactical area.

[Omitted here is a brief exchange on defense policy and personalities.]

[Kissinger:] On CSCE—we never wanted it but we went along with the Europeans. It includes some basic principles, something on human contacts, no change of frontiers, and what they call “confidence-building measures.”

The Soviet Union wants it as a substitute for a peace treaty. They more or less have that. The big hang-up is on freedom of movement. It is meaningless—it is just a grandstand play to the left. We are going along with it.

What you will face is whether to conclude it at the summit level or foreign minister level. My guess is the Europeans will decide on a summit. We have positioned with the Soviet Union, so we look like we are ahead of the Europeans.

The President: What is the timetable?

Kissinger: Maybe next March. The Soviet Union wants it this year, but that is not possible. If you meet Brezhnev in December, they won’t want it before that.

There are no decisions to make now.

When you meet Gromyko the end of September you should give him the impression we are trying to be helpful.

There is no implementation in the treaty.

On MBFR—we made an absurd proposal which couldn’t fly. Now we are modifying it. The Soviets should cut more than us, but not so much. Then we should add the nuclear package—32 Pershings, 54 F–4, 1,000 nuclear warheads. It is strategically insignificant, but it does have the consequence of establishing some ceiling on our nuclear forces.

But we don’t have targets for the nucs anyway.

Also we have to take care of FBS. To do it in SALT causes alliance problems. If we could get the Soviets to do it in MBFR, it would satisfy our allies and give the Soviet Union a facesaving way out.

Your coming into office will give a big boost. They will be looking for a success, especially if you make a meeting in December conditional.

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The President: I have told Brent MBFR is more popular here than SALT.

Kissinger: At the VFW, you might give a tough Defense-oriented speech.3 It would be good for the Soviets.

The President: I have been doing that, and with no apologies.

Kissinger: We can probably get a 15–20,000 cut in MBFR. Maybe in December. We will have to manage with the allies so it doesn’t look like bilateralism.

I will focus with Dobrynin on SALT and MBFR.

[Omitted here is a brief exchange on Israeli military capabilities.]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–1977, Box 5. Secret; Nodis. The meeting was held in the Oval Office. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting lasted from 9:18 to 10:30 a.m. (Ibid., White House Office Files)
  2. Senator John L. McClellan (Democrat, Arkansas). On August 13, McClellan, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Defense of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced cuts in the Department of Defense appropriations bill, including reductions in military assistance to Vietnam and in the research, development, and procurement of air defense aircraft. (“2 Senate Panels Cut Funds for Arms and Foreign Aid,” Leslie H. Gelb, The New York Times, August 14, 1974, pp. 1, 15)
  3. Ford addressed the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Chicago on August 19. For the text of his address, see Public Papers: Ford, 1974, No. 16.