7. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs (Korologos) for the President’s Files1
- Meeting with Senator Milton Young (R–ND), and Senator John McClellan (D–Ark) of the Senate Appropriations Committee
- The President
- Senator John McClellan (Chairman)
- Senator Milton Young (Ranking Republican)
- Tom C. Korologos
- Roy Ash
[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to national security policy.]
The President then turned to the military budget in general and to NATO specifically. The President told the Senators that he has a meeting with Leonid I. Brezhnev of the USSR coming up this summer2 [Page 26] and he was going to a NSC meeting immediately after the breakfast to discuss the next SALT II moves.3 He said the next SALT II meeting would be very important.
In the first one4 we got a freeze on defensive weapons and we are now going to try and get a cutback in the SS9’s5 and in the offensive weapons, he said. He told the Senators that there was going to be tough bargaining ahead but he was confident that we could succeed. He said that around July 1, (and the date has not been agreed upon yet), when Brezhnev is here, the President would be greatly dismayed if Congress were to cut defense or cut NATO.
This “would seriously erode our bargaining position” the President said. He urged McClellan and Young to hold the line on the military budget and not cave in to the anti-war Doves who would want to slash it way back. On the question of NATO troops, he said we are not going to talk to the Soviets about cuts just yet. He said we are already talking to our European allies about a Mutual Balance Force Reduction and we are trying to get a common position before the U.S. and our NATO allies go to the Russians to present them a proposition on cutbacks. He told McClellan and Young that if we were to cut our troops in NATO before the Soviets do, again, serious negotiations would be hampered and it could have a very harmful impact on our success.
The President understood fully the balance of payments situation and those areas, but he said that the name of the game is, “to get the Soviet military cut down” and this is the best way he knows of doing it. He said to McClellan and Young that if the negotiations fall apart, he will certainly tell them so that they can act accordingly. But, for now, we have the talks with the Soviet Union on the overall question, and the talks with our allies prior to going to the Soviet Union on the European question.
He urged them again not to weaken our bargaining position because he feels we are going to do well. He told them that the Soviet Union wants to do business with us in the worst way and Brezhnev wants to succeed in his summit meeting when he comes to Washington, and “we are going to make him pay a hell of a price for that success”.
The discussion then turned to a very sensitive conversation about the U.S. relationship with the People’s Republic of China as well as the Soviet Union. The essence and the bottom line was that in our negotia[Page 27]tions and dealings with both the Soviet Union and the Chinese, “we must deal from strength”.6 He told McClellan and Young that our defense budget is “enough” and we are doing our best to negotiate downward the offensive and the military budgets both here and in the Soviet Union. However, if Congress decides unilaterally, to reduce the American military budget then we are in deep trouble. The President told the Appropriations Committee leaders that “if we cut our defense budget, Brezhnev is likely to roll over me. We have got to have that threat in our hands.”
McClellan told the President that he has been strong for defense and he is willing to go as strong as necessary to help the President.
“However, we have got to have some tactics”, McClellan said, “and we must take a stance of trying to reduce some of the military budget.” McClellan told the President that we could be confronted with a majority vote against the defense budget and pointed out a generally discouraging picture of possible success.
He said that we must talk to the House too and see how we are going to do and somehow see if we can come out with some good figures from the Conference.
McClellan said if we just go in and insist on all our military figures we are going to lose the whole thing. We must make some sacrifices. The President argued back that if McClellan were to give in, the dike is likely to burst. The President said “they’ll say McClellan says they can cut 3 or 4 billion dollars, and then they will end up taking 10 billion dollars. Hold back,” the President plead with McClellan, “until the bargaining days are over.”7
[Omitted here is discussion of the situation in Southeast Asia.]
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, Staff Member and Office Files, President’s Office Files, Box 91, Memoranda for the President—Beginning March 4, . Secret. The breakfast meeting, held in the private dining room on the first floor of the White House, lasted from 8:27–9:48 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)↩
- Nixon met with Brezhnev in the United States, June 18–23, 1973. Records of their conversations are printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. XV, Soviet Union, 1972–1974, Documents 123–127 and 131–132.↩
- Nixon met with the NSC to discuss SALT on March 8, 1973, from 10:10 until 11:30 a.m. The minutes of the meeting are in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. XXXIII, SALT II, 1972–1980, Document 14.↩
- See footnote 3, Document 2.↩
- A Soviet ICBM carrying a nuclear warhead first deployed in 1967.↩
- During a Cabinet meeting held on March 9, 1973, Nixon offered a similar defense of the military budget, saying that successful negotiations with the PRC and the USSR depended upon a high budget and the image of United States strength it conveyed. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Box 91, Memoranda for the President—Beginning March 4, )↩
- On March 6, Nixon also discussed the defense budget during his meeting with Secretary Rogers and senior Department officials. Fighting domestic critics required “a united front for maintaining adequate defense and foreign assistance. We must get across the point that to have the US turn inward would be dangerous.” He continued, “The day the US ceases to be a formidable defense and diplomatic power, economics will not be enough to hold it together. It is a dangerous situation,” the President repeated. “The old isolationists and the new isolationists could be a majority. Our failure to succeed could lead to a period when we could draw away from our responsibility. We must inform the country that, having ended the war and with our new initiatives in China and the Soviet Union, this is the time for the US to continue to play a forceful role in the world—militarily, economically, and diplomatically.” Nixon added, “With the Vietnam war over, we must inspire the American spirit and accept the role of world leadership.” The record of the meeting is ibid.↩