103. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Sir Burke Trend, Secretary to the Cabinet
  • Lord Cromer, British Ambassador
  • Brian Norbury, Private Secretary to Trend
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff

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

Trend: Then on the European Security Conference, I told the President that our only anxiety is that your wise and very proper concern for getting into preparations for it first could slip imperceptibly into being the conference itself.2 This is what worries the people in Whitehall. He said he would welcome very private Prime Minister to President talks between you and us on this thing.

Kissinger: Right. Very certainly.

Trend: Without the French and Germans.

Kissinger: And our bureaucracy.

Frankly, our only reason for a preparatory conference is to delay the substantive one. We frankly don’t want a European Security Conference but we couldn’t fight it in the face of our European allies. So we paid what had already been given.

Trend: It is very fair to point out that we had pressed for it.

Kissinger: You have.

Trend: He made two other points. One, he wants to see the Prime Minister. And second, he said, we are not going back on our European policy. We are not going back on NATO. He is not in favor of unilateral détente.

[Page 319]

Cromer: He touched on MBFR.

Kissinger: What he said on the European Conference applies to that too.3

Cromer: Also the monetary area.

Kissinger: If You’re talking interest rates, then talk to Shultz. If You’re talking system, then I have to know about it. There’s no problem; there’s no problem between Shultz and me.

Trend: What does what he said about NATO imply for the future?

Kissinger: We won’t withdraw troops for the sake of withdrawing troops. I can’t say the number is sacred—but we have no plans in fact to do it.

If we get reelected the authority of this government will be much greater than it is today. So many of the pressures will be lessened. But nevertheless we have to have a rational defense policy we can justify. Frankly I have to tell you if we don’t do this there will be unilateral pressures to withdraw. NATO’s policy is an amorphous mess. We will work with you for several years to develop something that makes sense. We have no deadline. We have every incentive to do this cooperatively.

What I have gone through just in looking at MBFR. Our work was resented as interference in NATO prerogatives. On 90 days’ supplies, it turns out we don’t have 90 days across the board. The Germans have 37 days’ supply. The Belgians have a different number. Then they say they have different accounting methods. This is what I come up against whenever I try to get an intellectual grip on it.

Our strategy tells us that in the current strategic balance it is insanity to rely on nuclear weapons alone. We are only now looking at our targeting, after three years of pressure from this building.

Trend: What do we mean by Europe? What will it mean for the UK to have an impact? We have to know what Europe will be like. Certainly Europeans will not always do things the way you like.

Kissinger: On defense, it is easy. On the commercial side it is different.

Cromer: On the procurement side, it is somewhat competitive. Your salesmen are somewhat aggressive.

Kissinger: I wouldn’t be surprised!

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Trend: If we can get it across to the Europeans that you have no intent to withdraw unless forced to by their inability to agree ….

Kissinger: That’s exactly our policy.

Trend: The problem is how to get it into people’s minds.

Kissinger: We have to try to work together, you and we, on MBFR.

And also on the European Security Conference. I’m even more worried about MBFR.

Trend: Will the two be caught up together?

Kissinger: The Russians won’t want it. I’m afraid with respect to the European Security Conference that with so many participants who don’t know anything, it will be hard to take reasonable positions.

Trend: MBFR will have a smaller number of participants?

Kissinger: Hopefully with participants who know about the issues. Trend: When will you be ready for MBFR?

Kissinger: On the general principles, where we should begin, we will be ready by next spring. For preparatory discussions.

The Russians before the Summit asked us for a bilateral understanding on an equal percentage cut. We rejected it.

Trend: You still believe a cut smaller than ten percent is unverifiable and useless, and that cuts greater than that are increasingly dangerous?

Kissinger: Yes. What we’re now looking at is a percentage cut on our side and a ceiling on their side.

Trend: You would have absolute numerical equality on both sides.

Kissinger: Yes.

Cromer: It is a fairly pious hope, isn’t it?

Kissinger: The main thing is to have a proposition we can believe in. I don’t care if the Soviets accept it or not. If they don’t, we will at least have a position we can analyze, so we know what to move off of.

Trend: You’re talking of a percentage cut in your forces?

Kissinger: In NATO forces. Then we can talk about indigenous versus stationed forces. This we can talk of among ourselves.

If we took a 20 percent NATO cut, we would want a 29 percent cut in Warsaw Pact Forces to achieve symmetry.

In theory all forces would be cut.

Trend: But the balance would be affected by forces outside the covered area.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Trend: You say you are ready to talk procedures by next spring. How do you want to go about discussing this with us?

Kissinger: We should have an intellectual meeting, not a policy meeting, soon.

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Trend: You want to talk to us before it goes to the NATO Council?

Kissinger: We would be very happy to.

Trend: Let’s set it up.

Kissinger: We would be very happy to.

Cromer: We probably should elevate it to a higher level than the talks going on already.

Kissinger: In principle we agree to it, and we want your help.

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

Kissinger: [Omitted here are unrelated comments.] Where do we stand on the MBFR studies, Phil?4

Odeen: We are just going over the main papers today. The papers are a mess. The JCS did a lousy job.

Kissinger: Then we should talk at the end of August, and discuss SALT and MBFR together.

Trend: Good.

Kissinger: We will want to go to NATO with MBFR after we talk to you. We may send the study papers earlier, which just lay out options. What we and you should do is agree on what we prefer.

We will not fall for any strategy that isolates us from the Europeans.5

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

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 62, Memcons, Chronological Files, 1972. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The first part of the conversation (10:20 a.m.–2:30 p.m.) took place in the British Embassy Residence, and the second part (2:30–4:50 p.m.) took place at Kissinger’s office at the White House.
  2. Trend called on the President from 2 to 2:20 p.m., along with Kissinger and Cromer, in the Oval Office. Trend told the President that he had come to Washington to hear U.S. views on SALT, the European Security Conference, and MBFR. Trend said: “The only British anxiety on the Security Conference was that our wise and very proper concern for having preparatory discussions for it could slip imperceptibly into being the conference itself.” (Memorandum for the President’s File by Kissinger, July 28; ibid.) The full text of the memorandum is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. XLI, Western Europe; NATO, 1969–1972.
  3. Kissinger’s memorandum for the President’s file reads in part: “After opening greetings and pleasantries, the President pledged to Sir Burke and Ambassador Cromer that the United States would not go off bilaterally with the Soviets on any issues which concerned our allies, for example a European Security Conference. That could be a dangerous gimmick, the President said. We and the British had to cooperate not only on substance but also on the propaganda.”
  4. Philip Odeen of the NSC staff.
  5. The following day, July 29, Kissinger had a telephone conversation at 12:35 p.m. with Trend, who was still in Washington. According to a transcript, Kissinger told Trend: “On MBFR and SALT and European Security Conferences, the President—I talked to him this morning—I just read to him what you had taken as your understanding of what he had said and he confirmed that you had understood him correctly.” Kissinger continued: “on MBFR, we will be in some sort of shape by the end of next week and say the week after, [if] you wanted to send somebody, you would probably get one round ahead of NATO.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry A. Kissinger Telephone Transcripts (Telcons), Box 15, Chronological File)