101. Memorandum for the Record1


  • Meeting Between French Minister of Defense Michel Debre and Dr. Kissinger, Friday, July 7, 1972, 9:50 a.m. at the Western White House. (Also present were French Ambassador Jacques Kosciusko-Morizet, Political Advisor to Minister Debre, Serge Boidevaix, and Helmut Sonnenfeldt)

[Omitted here is discussion of matters other than the European security conference or MBFR.]

Debre said he next wanted to share his preoccupation—MBFR. His first question was what, practically, is involved? Secondly, he has sensed for over a year the feeling among Europeans that all U.S. forces [Page 312] were going. He had seen Defense Ministers all over Europe. Nolens volens, this will bring reductions everywhere. Dr. Kissinger asked if this was true of the FRG. Debre said that the FRG was a special problem. In any case, defense budgets everywhere were under the pressure of personnel cuts. And there was a drop in this “spirit of defense” which MBFR merely reinforced. Debre asked Dr. Kissinger how he saw all this. The French saw it with great misgivings.

[Omitted here is discussion of matters other than the European security conference or MBFR.]

As regards MBFR, Dr. Kissinger asked whether it would contribute to a lowering of defense attitudes? He said that to some extent it would, although this trend was taking place anyway. But it was contributed to more by the European Security Conference than by MBFR and, with respect, the French were pushing the former more than we were. We have always been dubious about it. Dr. Kissinger said we have no illusions about the world today. We fully recognize that one possible Soviet goal is to use détente for offensive purposes and to achieve the Finlandization of Europe and, as all of us do, we also have a tough domestic situation. We have to maneuver and by participating in the process move it in a constructive direction. Dr. Kissinger asked Debre to look at the history of MBFR. The Europeans invented MBFR to stop unilateral US reductions. When we picked it up the Europeans invented the European Security Conference to kill MBFR. No one told the truth to anyone and we were stuck in a miasma.

On the practical side, we had, in this Administration, conducted many studies. We concluded that we have to go about the subject in a technically meaningful way, otherwise there would merely be a unilateral reduction, except perhaps in France. We are trying to trade something that will happen anyway for something that is technically competent and that doesn’t diminish security.

Some people who are opposed to defense are now advocating “simple cuts”—10%, 20%, 30%. As in SALT, we have been doing very detailed work and concluded that a straight percentage cut is bad. A cut of less than 10% is unverifiable and one of more than 10% is disadvantageous, although of course the Europeans might drive us into it. We need the French intellectual contribution. We want to put together a package that is more complex and that will not weaken defense. Once the subject gets technical, it will become boring to the public, although it would still of course have symbolic importance. This, Dr. Kissinger said, was our strategy and after November it would become even more effective. (After November, Dr. Kissinger said we will have our cultural revolution.)

Debre said that he was struck by the point that MBFR had been invented by the Europeans to stop Mansfield. Dr. Kissinger said that [Page 313] this had been right as an effort to prevent unilateral cuts, but then it took on a life of its own. Debre asked how far we were going to go on MBFR. Dr. Kissinger said that he had told many Europeans that they should be careful about what they proposed because one day we will accept it. The old luxury was gone where Europeans could make proposals and rely on the US to be tough and take the heat. How far would we go on MBFR? If McGovern were elected, of course, all would be changed. But as far as this Administration was concerned, we would go as far as we think security permits. We will not cut unilaterally or use MBFR for condominium. We want negotiations in which we can talk realistically to the Europeans.

Dr. Kissinger then referred to the utter confusion in NATO military policy. Some of it is a nightmare. There were supposed to be stocks for 90 days but in fact this was not so. No ally had the same stocking pattern and there were different expenditure rates. (Debre interjected that the French had three weeks.) The conclusion to be drawn from this was nightmarish and if Mansfield got ahold of it he would prove that we are hostages to the Europeans, or maybe could not even fight ourselves. Mansfield could kill us. We have to get a credible defense that people believe in. We will not reduce unless the threats to us are reduced. The only problem was whether the Europeans are going to be realistic. Dr. Kissinger said that he was speaking frankly and assumed Debre was reporting only to President Pompidou. Debre confirmed this, adding that the Ambassador was a close friend of Pompidou’s. Dr. Kissinger said he knew this and hoped soon to have a talk with the Ambassador. Debre said the French were interested in bilateral exchanges with us on this subject. Dr. Kissinger said we were prepared to discuss it with the French bilaterally and wanted to get their opinions, but until November it was best not to get it into the bureaucracy. Debre said he understood.

[Omitted here is discussion of matters other than the European security conference or MBFR.]

The Ambassador said he wanted to comment about the European Conference and détente. It was true the French pushed it but not as a way to cut defenses. On the contrary, the French want strength. Dr. Kissinger said he worried about it because the Conference involved such vagueness and so many pressures. How could one measure success? But MBFR was so technical that nothing would happen for two years and people would forget about it. Debre said that the European Conference should really be thought of as appealing to the nations of the East. Dr. Kissinger said that that aspect was all right. But the danger that the French saw in MBFR, we saw in the Conference. Debre repeated that the Conference should not be seen as a pretext for diminishing defense. Dr. Kissinger referred to our experience with SALT. For [Page 314] years we had published figures regarding the adverse trend in strategic weapons. The New York Times said we were using them to scare people. Now that the figures were enshrined in the SALT agreement and an international fact of life, people finally took them seriously. Senator Stennis was an example. We need the same thing with MBFR if the Europeans cooperate. Think for example of the impact of the fact that the Soviets have 13,000 tanks in Europe. The Ambassador said that in strategic weapons there was a balance but in Europe the Soviets already have an overwhelming superiority. How could this be handled? Dr. Kissinger said we have to make serious proposals that deal with this and have a serious defense posture, if the Europeans cooperate.

[Omitted here is discussion of matters other than the European security conference or MBFR.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 678, Country Files, Europe, France, Vol. IX. Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Sent for information. Drafted by Sonnenfeldt on July 11.