118. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Laird to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • MBFR

I am deeply concerned over the almost universal sense of disquiet and suspicion my counterparts at the NPG have expressed to me with regard to our MBFR motives. If these attitudes are representative of a broad allied consensus (and I believe they are), we may well be witnessing a fragmentation of the Alliance which will bode ill for us as we proceed down the MBFR road.

In my discussions with several of the Defense Ministers, they have, to one degree or another, emphasized the following points:

  • —bilateral USUSSR understandings on MBFR would be intolerable;
  • —your most recent visit to Moscow, and the way in which the US Government has performed in NATO since then, has created an impression that bilateral agreements with the Soviets were, in fact, reached;
  • —a clear statement from the USG on how it views the MBFR process, and what it hopes to achieve from that process, is absolutely essential if Alliance cohesion is to be maintained;
  • —until the allies have some comprehensive statement of our MBFR views, distrust and suspicion will continue and grow;
  • —thus, relatively minor issues, such as the recent participation problem, will continue to be the focus for expressions of allied discontent, and could set the stage for long-lasting Alliance discord.

I did my best to allay these fears. I emphasized that we have no intention of negotiating MBFR bilaterally with the Soviets; I described the detailed analyses we have done and are doing on various options; and I expressed my absolute conviction that we will make no agreements [Page 366] which would undermine NATO military security. I have, I believe, reassured most of my colleagues, but I must tell you in all candor that I very much fear that an unraveling process is beginning which, if not halted soon, could have extremely serious consequences for us.

Thus, I strongly recommend that the USG move quickly—preferably in advance of entering into explorations with the Pact—to put before the Alliance a general statement of our MBFR approach and objectives. To delay much longer will only make our ultimate task more difficult.2

Mel Laird
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 247, Agency Files, MBFR and CSCE, 1972. Secret. Sonnenfeldt forwarded Laird’s memorandum to Kissinger under a covering memorandum of November 10. Sonnenfeldt wrote: “Certainly the Secretary is reflecting some of the disquiet in Europe that undoubtedly exists and has indeed grown since the Moscow summit. It is also true that we are encountering more and more tactical problems with MBFR. There is a certain needling to this memorandum, and it is also part of the Secretary’s protracted campaign to force the US to take a clear stand on MBFR, presumably along the line he has proposed for well over a year.”
  2. On November 17, Kissinger replied to Laird in a memorandum drafted by Sonnenfeldt: “You were quite right to reassure your European counterparts that there is no bilateral understanding or agreement with the USSR about MBFR. I recognize that as the initial talks draw nearer, there will be growing concerns, and whatever you can do to dispel this disquiet will be invaluable. Our Allies must understand that their problems will not be solved if we stake out a comprehensive position in Washington for their adoption. We need to go through a systematic review of the security implications with them so that the consensus that finally emerges is one they can support because it serves their interests. This is one reason that the initial talks with the Soviets should not go into issues of substance that can only reveal the differences within the Alliance.” (Ford Library, Laird Papers, Box 19, Document 466)