75. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Ford
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State
  • Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense
  • Brent Scowcroft, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

Kissinger: If we say the trend is going against us, that is bad enough. The impression that we are slipping is creating a bad impression around the world.

Rumsfeld: But it’s true.

Kissinger: Then we have to define our goals. It is inevitable that our margin since ’60 has slipped. Are we trying to maintain the same margin as we had in 1960 or to maintain adequate forces?

Rumsfeld: But it is true. We have been slipping since the ’60s from superiority to equivalence, and if we don’t stop, we’ll be behind.

President: I don’t think the President should say we are slipping. I can say we need to redouble our efforts. I don’t want to say we are getting behind. I’ll say we have a challenge, we have rough equivalence and we’ve got to keep up.

Kissinger: I think the posture to take is that Reagan doesn’t know what he’s talking about and he’s irresponsible.

President: I set the tone in California2 and that I want to follow—to hit the Congress on Defense. It is a line which will pay off.

Kissinger: If the Cubans pull off another military adventure in Africa, no matter how just the cause, it will be perceived as such a power shift—that will really do it.

President: I notice that Kaunda3 denied permission for the Cubans to cross to Mozambique.

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Rumsfeld: I think we will kill ourselves if we make threats and the Congress passes a resolution forbidding any action.

President: I don’t think we should say what we will do, but I think we should be prepared to take affirmative action. I don’t want the Communists to get the idea that we would not take drastic action.

Rumsfeld: I tried to follow your line yesterday, but I am Secretary of Defense and all these stories of invasion coming out of State . . .

Kissinger: Nothing is coming out of State.

[Small argument]

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to national security policy.]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, Box 18, March 29, 1976—Ford, Kissinger, Rumsfeld, Scowcroft. Secret; Nodis. All brackets, except for those inserted by the editor to indicate omissions in the text, are in the original. The meeting was held in the Oval Office.
  2. Ford made several references to defense during a campaign swing through California, March 26–27. On March 26, he told a group of political supporters in San Francisco that under his administration “the United States will never, never be other than at the very top. And when I say the top, I mean not only in military capability but economic capability, industrial might, agricultural production. This is what we have to look at as we talk about the United States being number one.” (Public Papers: Ford, 1976, vol. I, pp. 817–818)
  3. Kenneth David Kaunda, President of Zambia.