227. Memorandum From the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Lord) to Secretary of State Kissinger 1

Beyond Détente

Five months after the Helsinki summit, the state of détente remains the focal point of domestic criticism of US foreign policy and the election year just ahead is likely to intensify partisan debate. In our relations with the major international players, détente is a key measuring rod. It was of course the well publicized centerpiece of our two recent visits to China, will be the principal topic at this week’s NATO ministerial and may be affected significantly by your upcoming talks in Moscow with Brezhnev.

I have felt for some time that we needed a fresh overall look at where we have been and where we should be headed in East-West relations. This judgment has been reinforced by our recent visits to China, by S/P discussions of détente2 and by the grumblings of Congressmen and newsmen [Page 872] that we should be more specific and less rhetorical about past achievements and future aims of US détente policy.

The attached paper, 3 which was written by a member of my staff, addresses both of these questions in some detail. It is candid, contains a number of frankly controversial judgments and several specific suggestions. While it has not been circulated around the bureaus, the author has discussed the topic with a wide range of officials in State and other concerned agencies. Focusing on Europe, it provides a highly useful perspective for the restricted meetings at NATO, the London Chiefs of Mission conference and the Moscow talks. I hope you can read it on the plane to Brussels.

Like Gaul, the paper is divided into three parts. A brief opening summary is followed by detailed analysis of how détente policy has and has not affected the basic realities of the post-war European security system—the German question, Soviet control of Eastern Europe, the strategic armaments race, the military confrontation in Central Europe, and the strength of West European communists—as well as the issue of Soviet restraint. It then goes on, starting on page 14, to look beyond détente to the next phase of East-West relations.

The paper strikes the following general balance sheet on past negotiations:

—both sides have accomplished their vital aims in the specific negotiations and neither side has significantly prejudiced either crucial interests of the other or the longer-term scenario for East-West relations in Europe;

—the product of these negotiations has taken the form of a limited albeit important modus vivendi rather than a qualitative change in the nature of East-West relations;

—a certain political balance has been reached which has both enhanced stability and security in Europe and accorded a heightened measure of legitimacy to the international system;

—this balance could serve East and West fairly well for a number of years and provides a plateau on which to build;

—on the other hand, progress to date has been tentative and still lacks the roots necessary to assure enduring stability in East-West relations.

In formulating policy for the next phase of East-West relations, we will be operating within both foreign and domestic political constraints. The paper sets forth the following conclusions concerning likely parameters of future policy:

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—the subject matter of “détente” now is moving closer to the real marrow of East-West relations—i.e. basic foreign policy interests rather than practical understandings will be increasingly involved in negotiations such as MBFR and SALT Three;

—the period of great breakthroughs is behind us and our policy has begun to collide with its initial parameters;

—this is because it has substantially fulfilled its objectives;

—we need to build a broad domestic political consensus in order to consolidate and continue the policy of improving East-West relations; and

—in building that consensus, we should drop the abstract term “détente” from our public lexicon, make a major effort to clarify what has and has not so far been achieved, carefully explain our future policy objectives and, in doing this, restrain our rhetoric to match our aims.

As to the future, the paper recommends a short- to medium-term policy of consolidation, implementation and concentration:

—The first task is to hold our ground and to consolidate past gains in the face of domestic political skepticism, the elections next year at home, in Germany and Japan and the upcoming succession in Russia, China and perhaps Yugoslavia.

—We need next to ensure that Soviet treaty obligations are adhered to and that agreements are filled with life. This applies to SALT One but also to CSCE undertakings and US/Soviet bilateral framework agreements. Such a policy is essential in assuring domestic support for improved East-West relations. The question of implementation also holds the key to how we handle CSCE follow-up at Belgrade and beyond. The paper suggests a policy on this matter.

—Thirdly, we should concentrate our efforts on a few key security negotiations—especially SALT and MBFR . We also should make a major effort to resolve the emigration/MFN-credits deadlock and should continue the careful step-by-step development of more normal political and economic relations with Eastern Europe.

—Finally, we need to make better use of our China card in dealing with Russia. The more restrained line recommended in the paper would be welcomed in Peking. It could be presented most profitably in the proposed Presidential Foreign Policy Report and in a major speech by you or the President.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Lot File 77D112, Policy Planning Staff (S/P), Box 359, Director’s Files (Winston Lord), 1969–77, Dec. 1–15, 1975. Secret. Drafted by Philip S. Kaplan (S/P) on December 9. No evidence has been found to indicate that Kissinger read the memorandum; he attended a NATO Ministerial meeting in Brussels December 11–12.
  2. See Document 218.
  3. Drafted by Kaplan on December 8; attached but not printed.