115. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • French Foreign Minister Schumann
  • French Ambassador Kosciusko-Morizet
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt

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

Kissinger: [Omitted here is an unrelated comment.] I saw a report that you had doubts about our Moscow talks on the European Conference and MBFR.2

Schumann: Well it looks like you agreed not only on preliminary talks but on the full conference. Don’t you think that is a problem?

Kissinger: Well that was a Soviet note and those were target dates.3 They are not agreed. In the White House we have no overwhelming [Page 356] urge to have a conference but we were driven to it by the Allies including you.

Schumann: Guilty.

Kissinger: For us the dates on MBFR are very useful with the Congress. They buy a year or even two and take us through a whole Congressional session. To get that we are willing to talk about June for the European Security Conference. But if you or others at Helsinki say that the conference is not warranted I can assure you you will not have a US-Soviet condominium. But my impression is that since the business of the agenda will not be too tough there probably will be a conference. But you won’t be confronted by us with a decision.

Schumann: Abrasimov said about the dates that there was no agreement but there was an understanding.

Kissinger: That just isn’t true. You recall the conversation our Ambassador Beam had with Kuznetsov.4 After that conversation we faced the problem that we didn’t want a European Conference without MBFR. So we wanted some parallel phrasing in the communiqué and the question was how to break the deadlock. So I told them that they should make us a proposal for what would happen next year so we could take it up with our allies and they did. We told them how we would interpret the question of the force reduction area but that this was subject to the views of the allies. If the Helsinki preparatory talks do not go well we are ready not to have a conference. But I think the Soviets won’t let it fail. So we should go with the attitude of what is it we want, since the Soviets will probably meet it rather than with the idea that a US/Soviet agreement already exists. What I am afraid about is that we will end up with the European Conference but not get MBFR.

Now in regard to MBFR. I sympathize with the French views. In fact, we have assisted you to be an independent military power. And maybe we can do even more after the election. I have always been, as you know, sympathetic to you on this. I also understand your worry about MBFR being a cover for unilateral troop reductions. Of course, if McGovern is elected all bets are off anyway. But assuming the President is reelected, which is now probable, we want the conference on MBFR mainly to prevent unilateral cuts. Secondly, it is an educational device for the Europeans about the real military balance and what changes might be tolerable. I’ll tell you, it has been the best educational device for us. We discovered that the threat may be a little less than we thought but also that NATO is much weaker than we thought. The idea to get at is not what’s negotiable but what’s best for security. For that reason we resisted on proposals for quick small cuts, for a 10% [Page 357] cut. We want painstaking work, detailed concrete work, and not the psychotherapeutic approach of the Scandinavians or the Belgians. And we want you in this because you take defense seriously—you are the only ones, and Britain. What we want is the basis for a middle term US commitment without having it challenged every year. How France associates itself with this is up to you. I told President Pompidou we will give you all our data and our thinking. So send someone over and we will give them to him and talk to him. A10 to 15 percent cut is very dangerous but we don’t want to say it publicly. But if you say “cut 10% by individuals” you are actually saying nothing because of the margins of error in the intelligence. The basic point is that we want to have detailed careful technical negotiations. Your position would be closer to ours than that of anyone else—if you took a position. We would like to see you mitigate your opposition without giving up your anti bloc-to-bloc approach. Your forces might not even be involved if the cuts turn out to be in the 10 to 15 percent area. But even if you don’t associate yourself with MBFR you should not have reservations, because our whole purpose is to strengthen the alliance.

Schumann: This is very important. I must discuss it with Debre. You know, he is very anxious to improve relations with you. But he is afraid of any neutralization of a special area in Central Europe.

Sonnenfeldt: This could only happen if the reductions were drastic.

Kissinger: We should use the next four years to put our relations on a basis that cannot be shaken by a change in Administrations. The Soviets obviously want to create a mood of détente to undercut defense efforts, but we should find a solid basis for working together.

Schumann: You know I am not sure Debre is right about neutralization. That reminds me of Malraux who has always said that the Russians want to swallow Europe.

Kissinger: That is just what the Chinese say.

Schumann: Well, I am not so sure. The question is whether they want to have a secure Western Europe because of China or whether they want a neutralized Western Europe. The discussion on FBS in SALT may give some kind of a clue.

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

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 679, Country Files, Europe, France, Vol. X. Secret; Nodis; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at the French Ambassador’s Residence.
  2. Document 113.
  3. Regarding the Soviet note, see footnote 3, Document 113. Kissinger made a similar comment in a backchannel message to Bahr: “You already know through other channels about CSCE/MBFR. The Chancellor should understand that the document the Russians gave me is open to consultation among the allies before we make a response. In particular, while on the whole the time schedule envisaged by the Russians seems all right, we will not automatically agree to the full CSCE unless the preparatory talks in Helsinki warrant it. You understand of course that we do have an interest in the Soviet commitment to talk about MBFR because this is of great help to us in dealing with the pressures for unilateral reductions.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 424, Backchannel Messages, Europe 1972)
  4. See Document 106.