14. Editorial Note

General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Leonid I. Brezhnev arrived in the United States on June 16, 1973, for a summit meeting with President Richard Nixon. The two leaders en[Page 67]gaged in a series of talks June 16–23 in Washington; Camp David, Maryland; and San Clemente, California. Records of these conversations are printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XV, Soviet Union, June 1972–August 1974, Documents 123127 and 131132. During a June 18 private conversation with Brezhnev, Nixon commented: “We, we both—we must recognize, the two of us, that I for 3½ more years in this office and the General Secretary, I hope, for that long or longer, we head the two most powerful nations and, while we will naturally in negotiations have some differences, it is essential that those two nations, where possible, work together. And the key really is in the relationship between Mr. Brezhnev and myself. If we decide to work together, we can change the world. That’s what—that’s my attitude as we enter these talks.” The full record of this conversation is ibid., Document 123.

During the summit, Nixon and Brezhnev signed 11 agreements, including an agreement on the prevention of nuclear war and an agreement on basic principles of negotiations on the limitation of strategic arms (Ibid., Document 129). The texts of these agreements are printed in Department of State Bulletin, July 23, 1973, pages 158–175. In a June 7 letter to Brezhnev, Nixon foresaw the importance of these forthcoming agreements: “Altogether, the agreements which will be concluded during your visit due to the serious and constructive preparatory work that has been done under direction by our representatives, will add new momentum to our relations. They will ensure that your visit will have both symbolic importance and real substantive significance.” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XV, Soviet Union, June 1972–August 1974, Document 120)

Throughout the summit, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger held several news conferences. During one on June 22, the day that Nixon and Brezhnev signed the agreement on the prevention of nuclear war, Kissinger remarked: “The principal goal of the foreign policy of this administration ever since 1969 has been to set up what the President has called a structure of peace, by which we mean an international system less geared to the management of crises, less conscious of constant eruptions of conflict, in which the principal participants operate with a consciousness of stability and permanence.” (Department of State Bulletin, July 23, 1973, page 141)

The agreement, he concluded, “could mark a landmark on the road toward the structure of peace of which the President has been speaking and can be seen as a step toward a new era of cooperation in the relations of all nations and of lifting from them increasingly the fear of nuclear war and of war in general.” (Ibid., page 142)

In response to multiple queries as to the viability of such an agreement, Kissinger stated:

[Page 68]

“If either of the two signatories wants to find an excuse to go to war, it will find an excuse to go to war. This has been the history of the postwar period. We are talking here of restraint on significant military actions; and what endangers international peace and security is not determined by the unilateral declaration of the country going to war but also by the reactions of other members of the international system, because this is what produces the threat to international peace and security.” (Ibid., page 144)

Kissinger, during his final summit press conference in San Clemente on June 25, responded to comments intimating that the nuclear war agreement was nonbinding and not self-enforcing. Kissinger underscored the reality that a successful agreement depended upon the willingness of both parties to observe and enforce the terms, asserting:

“This agreement is no different from any other agreement in that respect. When great powers make an agreement with each other, they of course have the capability of not observing it unless the other side is prepared to draw extreme consequences. But the violation of this agreement would have serious consequences for the whole context of U.S.-Soviet relations, and conversely the observance of this agreement can mark, as I said on Friday [June 22], a milestone in the achievement of self-restraint by the major countries, a self-restraint which is by definition the essence of peace and which we intend to observe, which we expect the Soviet Union to observe, and which can therefore provide the foundation for a new international relationship.

“Of course history is replete with changes of course and we must be vigilant and prepared for such an occurrence; but it is the belief of the President that this period has a unique opportunity to create a new and more peaceful system. It is an opportunity that has come about partly as a result of the enormity of the weapons that would be used in case of a conflict, partly by the depth of human aspiration toward peace, partly as a result of the complexities of a world in which the ideological expectations of any side have not been fully met.

“But whatever the reasons, we consider the summit as a further advance along that road, that as these meetings become a regular feature of international life and as we come to take them more and more for granted, the results will follow paths that will come to seem more and more natural, and we would consider that one of the best signs that a peaceful world is coming into being.” (Ibid., page 149)