110. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • (CSCE) Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe

This memorandum includes a review of CSCE, a talking paper for your use in Moscow (Tab A), and a longer analytical summary (Tab B).2

I. Where We Stand

The Conference will begin its preparations about November 22 in Helsinki. More than thirty nations will appear. The time, place and agenda for the actual conference will be agreed. In the Soviet scenario the Foreign Ministers will then convene the actual conference, make speeches, commission working groups, and go home. The working groups will work out some sort of agreed statement on each topic, the heads of State will then convene, make more speeches, and ratify the results. They will go home, and perhaps some hapless committee will remain in permanent session until another conference is held.

The results are almost foreordained:

  • —There will be a declaration of principles of European security and cooperation; it will be an amalgam of platitudes, but will confirm [Page 334] that no European state is going to challenge the status quo. It will imply, but certainly no more than imply, that the Brezhnev doctrine is illegitimate. It will renounce force, confirm territorial integrity, promise arms control, and greater contacts among people.
  • —Some minimal restraints may be adopted on military movement, e.g. advance notification of maneuvers.
  • —The West will press for freer movement of people and information. The East will parry with a general promise not to interfere with movement of people and information. This will be hailed as an important beginning. Nothing much will change.
  • —Highly technical debates will occur in the economic subcommittees. All will pledge a greater effort to facilitate trade. Some practical improvements for Western businessmen may result.
  • —A grab bag of other issues—cultural exchange, scientific cooperation, environmental protection, will be discussed and declarations issued. Northing much will change.

This is by way of saying that the fact of the gathering probably far exceeds its substance.

From the Soviet view point, a long cherished objective will finally be realized when the conference convenes.

  • —There will be an immediate upgrading of East Germany.
  • —Boundaries in Europe will be confirmed, force renounced, and the spirit of détente advanced.

From the Western point of view some debating points may be scored; the Eastern bloc will be exposed as a closed society; the Brezhnev doctrine will be indirectly challenged, and, hopefully, a feckless exercise will be finished without serious splits in the Western camp or significant damage to real security.

II. The Issues

Some years ago a European Security Conference might have been a serious East-West debate or confrontation. Now, the key aspects of European security are being or have been handled independently through bilateral arrangements (Germany) or specialized forums (SALT, MBFR). The conference has been reduced to a symbolic act, more important for its psychological atmospherics than its content.

As a reflection of this change in the conference character, the West has no grand strategic options—our approach is almost purely damage limiting, with some marginal positive goals in the realm of “freer movement.” Moreover, we, the United States, do not have great tactical flexibility. The conference is of more immediate importance to our Allies than to us. In a coalition of 14, we can only lead so far, without dictating on issues that are of secondary importance to us.

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The main issue for the United States, therefore, is one of Alliance management rather than East-West bargaining or debating:

  • We must come out of this exercise with a minimum of illusions and a maximum of Allied unity.
  • This means being willing to defer to a European consensus in NATO.
  • It also means carefully resisting the natural temptation to cook the results of the conference with the Soviet Union, privately behind the backs of our friends. On some matters this might be justified but certainly not the miserable European Conference.

This perspective is justified if we consider what the Soviets see in the conference.

  • —It may be that the Soviets have lost some of their original enthusiasm for this project—since much of its substance is already subsumed in their bilateral dealing with us and with the Germans. But it is still important to their general European strategy.
  • —They still want an atmosphere of political relaxation in the West that will erode any collective sense of concern over the predominant Soviet power position. They want to spin a web of overlapping interests in maintaining this relaxation for their own national aims: to prevent a growth of a strong, unified Western camp that can challenge the USSR in Eastern Europe, and to gain the time and political freedom to deal with the threat of communist China.
  • —The European Conference, played out on a grand stage of foreign ministers conferences and meetings of heads of State will evoke images of the great 19th Century Congress of the concert of Europe, détente, and so forth. This imagery is irresistable to the Russian leaders, and if only for this reason they will pursue the conference with tenacity.

There are four main areas of substance in the conference:

  • —Principles Governing European States
  • —Military Confidence Building
  • —Freer Movement
  • —Economic Cooperation
  • —Post-conference Machinery

A. Principles

As the longer paper (Tab B) indicates there is considerable common ground in so far as the language of a declaration of principles is concerned.

The real issue is one of conflicting political objectives. At the risk of overworking an old cliché, the Soviet objective is to confirm the results of WW II—the inviolability of frontiers, the renunciation of force, [Page 336] territorial integrity—in a document that has a binding legal status. Over the years, and especially in the last three years, the West has conceded most of the Soviet formula, mainly because West Germany, the potential revisionist power has adopted a strategy that builds on rather than challenges the status quo.

All that remains to be settled, and it is by no means an insignificant aspect, is the validity of the Brezhnev doctrine of limited sovereignty, which the Soviets consider part of the status quo. In other words, the West is asked to concede spheres of influence by the device of agreeing to principles that do not in specific terms challenge the limited sovereignty doctrine.

It is the Western notion, however, that the declaration can lay some inhibitions on the practice of the doctrine. The tactical issue is how far the West can press this without jeopardizing the conference itself, which almost certainly the Western Europeans do not want to do.

For the US, the issue is whether, in light of our relations with the USSR, we want to appear as the leading advocate and champion of the anti-Brezhnev doctrine thrust, or begin now to retreat from any untenable positions.

B. Confidence Building—Stabilizing Measures

Everyone agrees that a Conference on Security ought to deal with military problems. But in practice none of the major powers want to subject their military dispositions to the whims of 30 nations. Therefore, there is a sort of tacit understanding that military issues will be given an optical polish, but will not be negotiated.

The result is a Western scheme that calls for all countries to adopt certain very limited obligations (a) to announce in advance their maneuvers, and (b) to permit some observers at the maneuvers. The theory is that if all states renounce force they should take these measures as an earnest of good intentions.

The issue is whether the Soviet agree. Our intelligence suggest they may be willing to adopt something along the lines of confidence building measures. Certainly the East Europeans have an interest.

The tactical issue for the US is not to allow this slight opening to be enlarged into a full scale negotiation on MBFR principles, which some Allies still want and which may appeal to neutrals as well.

C. Freer Movement

This may be the crunch. The underlying Western philosophy which we have subscribed to and promoted is that “liberalization” of the Eastern bloc is the only road to the reconciliation of Europe and that liberalization flourishes when exposed to the nourishing influence of Western societies. There is something to this theory. But we are not [Page 337] likely to trick the USSR into opening its doors to a free flow of people, in or out, or to an inundation of Western literature and broadcasts.

In fact, the Western approach is cynical. No one expects to achieve much, but in pursuing the issues the East is to be exposed as the obstacle to European “cooperation.”

In sum, this takes on the character of psychological warfare and the issue, therefore, is whether the state of East-West relations justifies such an approach.

  • —Do we really want to “expose” the USSR, or one of its allies?
  • —Do we want to drive wedges between Romania and the USSR?
  • —Do we want to lay out broad schemes and ambitious projects, and then abandon them while pointing the finger of blame on the other side?

Our Allies are becoming very skeptical of this exercise and are leaning on us to scale down the terms. (We are the main supporters; through bureaucratic inertia we have not really re-examined this since 1969, when it might have been tactically justified as a measure to badger the Soviets.)

In short, we can achieve some very limited practical improvement in freer movement—which might be feasible in light of the loosening up in Eastern Europe—but not if our aim is polemics.

D. Economic Cooperation

The subject matter is too technical to develop any real basic issues but this is what is lacking—an agreed Western philosophy. At this stage no one knows what would be the outcome of the economic issues. There is a justified suspicion that the Europeans want to use the conference to “legitimatize” the EC and the CEMA interlocutor and perhaps to make some concessions to the East, out of fear of new US competition in Eastern Europe and the USSR. In practice, the conference will be the first channel for some sort of dialogue (since the USSR is excluded or passive in all other European economic institutions).

Our interests are difficult to define. In NATO’s preparatory work, we have taken the lead in a fairly tough position. However, we cannot oppose some cross fertilization between East and West institutions. We cannot oppose some reduction of barriers to trade. What we might oppose, should it develop, is a Europeanization of the issue that discriminates against the non-EC countries. In practice, however, we may be stimulating this trend by dealing bilaterally with Poland and Romania, and above all, by our prospective deals with the USSR.

What is needed now is a bureaucratic scrubbing down of the economic aspects of the CSCE so that some concept of our interests will emerge; nevertheless there does seem to be little chance that CSCE will make much progress.

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E. Permanent Machinery

In their various European security proposals, the Soviets have always included some notion of a permanent body that would be established by the Conference and remain as a bridge to the next conference in “two or three years.” They have blown hot and cold on their interest. Gromyko told the UK that the USSR had no “special interest” in such a body but one ought to be established. Some Eastern Europeans, however, have said that it is a prime objective.

Whatever the Soviet view of what or how the machinery would function, it seems clear that we and the Western Alliance have no interest in it. Once we thought it might have some value as another inhibition on the Brezhnev doctrine—a sort of European Security Council, but this is far too ambitious. Now we hope to head off any such institution but the outlook is not at all clear—many neutrals may join the Soviets on this one.

Our main concern is that we not participate in the creation of an illusory “system” of security which would be developed through periodic European Conferences and permanent machinery. The net result would be to dilute the value of the Alliance, and tempt some of our Allies and neutrals to build up the new mechanisms as an alternative to NATO.


There are two scenarios: ours and the Soviets.

  • —We assume “careful preparations,” and by this we mean that the substantive issues for the agenda be resolved beforehand at the preparatory level. The French and Soviets disagree and view the preparations as mostly procedural. The British are not enthusiastic about our approach on the grounds that they cannot preempt the position of their foreign minister!
  • —Nevertheless, we do have Soviet agreement, in the US-Soviet communiqué, that the conference should be “carefully prepared.”
  • —After “careful preparations,” the next step should be to convene the actual conference at the Foreign Minister level. Our concept is that this would be the last step that the Ministers would agree to the outcome of the conference. The French foresee two Ministerial level meetings, and the Soviet variation is for the last meeting to be at the heads of state level.
  • —We are isolated on restricting the CSCE to one Ministerial level meeting: our choice is between another foreign minister meeting, or a summit gathering.
  • —Finally, we have to decide, fairly soon, how to respond to the Finnish invitation for November 22, but we cannot accept the date until we have a firmer commitment to MBFR.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Office Files, Box 73, Country Files, Europe, USSR. Secret; Sensitive.
  2. Tabs A and B are attached but not printed.