15. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

Kissinger: Jack Anderson 2 writes implying that not everything the Board does goes to the President. Every report of the Board does go to the President. Don’t judge your influence by the frequency of meeting with us.

I think what is going on is an unmitigated disaster in foreign policy. In April our foreign policy was in excellent shape. The Chinese-Soviet triangle was operating for us. Everyone wanted to be associated with us. Now people are holding off. It is nothing bad yet, but sometimes someone will make a run at us. We have established a reputation for hard and unpredictable action.

There are two choices—use force or don’t. If we use it, use enough to succeed. In the India crisis, we moved things—carriers—around so people would say “If they do this over Bangladesh, what would they do over the Middle East?”

In 1970 we were to the brink of war over Jordan without a complaint from Congress.

It’s in this way that Watergate is a disaster. Everything is a little harder now and takes a little longer now—Europe, China, etc. All but the USSR. It is a national obligation to get Watergate behind us so we can be seen as an operating government. Nothing yet has really gone wrong—I am talking about the potential.

We must get over Watergate. I speak without prejudice to the facts of it.

Internationally, the big fact is the Sino-Soviet involvement. We have so far pushed the Chinese as a sentimental thing, but let’s not kid ourselves: China wants us as a counterweight to the Soviet Union. It is a pleasure to do business with them. They are tough, they’re our best NATO ally! But if they think we are going through our cultural revolution, they won’t even run the ideological risk of being tied up with us. They are not sentimental.

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A successful Soviet attack on China would overturn the world balance of power. If it is a disarming attack to which we don’t respond, if they couple it with seizing Manchuria, the effect on Europe and Japan would be disastrous. We will try to avert this.

It is alleged we have antagonized Japan by neglect, etc. It would be easy if that were so, because we could correct it. They are hard to deal with. They leak everything. You must assume that a country which (through intelligence) fears the most diabolical things of others, must be capable of diabolical things themselves. The Japanese are a potentially corrosive role internationally. Take energy. They are international scavengers. It is narrow, cold-blooded, etc. But they are tuned to survival, so as long as the international structure is favorable, they are okay. Only if things go wrong will they desert.

Europe: They accuse us of condominium, of hegemony, of weakening the deterrent, of asking for their buildup.

The danger is that relations with adversaries become easy and those with friends acrimonious.

Also the emergence of the EC is creating some problems. There is a danger they’ll push themselves into confrontation with the US.

The Middle East: Israel is so much stronger that the dilemma is on the Arabs. Right now Israel is asking for their immediate surrender, and the Arabs are asking for a miracle. We want to help, but we will not put out a plan for both to shoot at. We are trying to get both sides, or one side, to put out something which will get negotiations going.

A______:3 What is the Soviet attitude toward China?

Land: If we are out, would Japan jump to the Soviet Union or to China?

Kissinger: A year ago I would have said China, now perhaps the Soviet Union. It depends on the timing.

Teller: What will happen after August 15?4

Kissinger: We had a negotiation going. The Chinese and Sihanouk must be as upset with the bombing halt as we are. (Gave pitch on the situation.)

I came out in January thinking we had won the war. In June, it was very different. We only had to keep Cambodia confused, so nothing could crystallize.

If China does nothing after a Soviet surgical strike, China is irrelevant; if they attack Russia, they will lose several armies.

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I have given you the problems we face. On the other hand, we can make it tough on the Soviet Union and make them hesitate on China. We are pushing them in the Middle East; in Europe there may be confrontation but it will come out all right.

A______: Why has Europe not supported us in the Middle East?

Kissinger: The maximum we can get out of Israel will be less than the radical Arabs want, so we should make Syria sign it. Don’t bring Saudi Arabia in.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1027, Presidential/HAK MemCons, MemCons April–Nov 1973 HAK & Presidential [3 of 5]. Secret; Nodis. All blank underscores are omissions in the original. The luncheon conversation took place aboard the Presidential yacht Sequoia.
  2. Syndicated newspaper columnist.
  3. Presumably George Anderson, Chairman of President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
  4. The Case-Church amendment to the Department of State authorization bill required the cessation of bombing in Cambodia after August 15.