91. Memorandum From Laurence Lynn of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Provocative Attacks

Yesterday Semyonov gave Smith (at a concert!) a paper expanding on Soviet views on “provocative” attacks and previously described as a “formula for agreement” on the subject (Tab A).2 It makes it all the clearer that the Soviets’ sense of the “political” character of this problem is very far-reaching indeed.

The key passage of the Soviet paper is this:

“We advocate that the [two]3 sides, upon availability of facts about a provocation being prepared, inform each other of this in a timely manner, so that, if necessary, measures could be taken to prevent provocative use of nuclear weapons, and in the event that provocative acts take place, both sides obligate themselves to take retaliatory action against the country which committed the provocation.” (emphasis added)

[Page 305]

Semyonov is speaking of nothing less than a U.S.-Soviet agreement to

  • —exchange intelligence on Chinese preparations for war;
  • —facilitate preventive strikes on Chinese nuclear installations if a Chinese attack seems imminent;
  • —take joint retaliatory action against a Chinese attack.

(Strictly speaking, Semyonov’s proposals would apply only to “provocative” attacks, not “open” ones, but the distinction would be almost impossible to draw in practice.)

Indeed, other third countries than China are involved. Semyonov, in his plenary statement on provocative attacks yesterday referred to “the possibility … that in some country forces could come to power who would attempt to seek advantage for themselves by organizing military provocations for the purpose of causing a nuclear conflict between the U.S. and the USSR” and to “the well-known striving of this sort of adventurist forces to gain access to nuclear weapons.” These could pertain to China, but they presumably also embrace “revanchist” forces in Germany and other “adventurists, e.g., Israel.”

The implications of this proposal are immense and affect not only our relations with China but with our allies and friends as well as with the USSR. There is a need for a prompt decision on what course to follow in this area, in the light of these implications. Even if we make no affirmative response, the very act of listening to such proposals for very long may lead the Soviets (and the Chinese and other third countries, if they learn of these discussions) to assume a U.S. receptivity to these ideas.

From the point of view of SALT itself, if there is to be an effort to reach a fairly quick agreement on “central systems” limits, we may need to act promptly to make it clear to the Soviets that we don’t want that effort linked to any such far-reaching measures involving third countries.

(One cannot help observe the coincidence in time between this rather vigorous Soviet pressure for a U.S.-Soviet deal on preventing catalytic war and what is happening on the Suez Canal.)

Hal Sonnenfeldt concurs.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 878, SALT, SALT talks (Vienna), Vol. XI, July 1–19, 1970. Top Secret; Nodis.
  2. Attached but not printed at Tab A is telegram USDEL SALT 212, July 8. Also attached but not printed at Tab B is telegram USDEL SALT 210, July 7, which provides the translation of Semenov’s plenary session statements of July 7 on provocative attacks.
  3. Brackets are in the original.