135. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Nixon
  • William P. Rogers, Secretary of State
  • Elliot Richardson, Secretary of Defense
  • Dr. James R. Schlesinger, Director of Central Intelligence
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • James Farley, Deputy Director, ACDA
  • Amb. Donald Rumsfeld, US Ambassador to NATO
  • Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Kenneth Rush, Assistant to the President
  • Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs


  • NSC Meeting on MBFR

The President: We are faced with a situation where any reduction is probably to our detriment. If we don’t show some movement, the structure of NATO will come apart because of the lack of U.S. support.

We will have a hell of a time maintaining the military budget against Mansfield and the others.

We are keeping one step ahead of the sheriff. We can’t say any agreement is better than none, though.

We have got to show movement; we have got to have something come of it.

SALT is somewhat like that. It may be good on its own—although there are lots of problems, like cheating, military cutback, etc. But the mood of the country is such that if we don’t move in this context, we will cut unilaterally.

We still have some hawks; the polls are good. I talk hawkish, but let’s face it.

Let’s analyze the realities coldly, then see what it is we can live with.


Schlesinger: (Briefs)

The President: Elliot?

Richardson: With Congress, we have devoted a lot of effort to show that NATO forces are capable.

The President: On the trip wire thing, say that if there is a confrontation, it will be nuclear. That is the best argument for a conventional capability.


Kissinger: This is a superficial analysis. The Germans were inferior in two wars and nearly won. We should not kid ourselves that we have a balance.

Richardson: The Soviets have the same sort of interest in stability in Europe that we do. But we have to show that we don’t have to depend on the trip wire.

Rogers: Henry’s analysis, if you believe it, would indicate that our leadership is worse than the Warsaw Pact.

Kissinger: Elliot is correct about the Congressional presentation of the situation. But as things stand, we do not have a cohesive alliance. We have the dilemma of MBFR versus force improvements.

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Rush: Europe is afraid we are leaving NATO. NATO is making force improvements and we should push for more, but not tied to MBFR.

Rogers: NATO is afraid we have already made a deal with the Soviet Union.

The President: I don’t think the Soviet Union is too keen on MBFR.

Rogers: There is agreement in the government on how we should proceed.

The President: Henry?

Kissinger: (Begins his briefing at 10:33 a.m.)2

The President: Let’s have no illusion—the whole thing fails if we don’t keep our contribution level. We must show that if we keep strong, we can reduce later; and Europe must do its share.

Richardson: Arends has a study that is favorable to NATO and against unilateral reductions.

Kissinger: (Resumes his briefing, which is completed at 10:58 a.m.)

Rogers: I think we are generally agreed. We want to get going, show seriousness, and show that we haven’t made a deal.

I like the two proposals,3 plus implicit linkage and the force improvements.

Richardson: I think we should present both, but express a preference for reduction of stationed forces at as high a percentage as is negotiable.

We can also introduce the nuclear component,4 as an illustrative approach.

The President: Tom?

Moorer: We should have in our minds how we want to come out.

On the Soviet side, all the stationed forces are Soviet; on ours they are British, Canadian, and U.S.

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The first step should be a U.S. cut of ten percent and a Soviet cut of eighteen percent. We shouldn’t get into the structure of the forces to be withdrawn.

Richardson: Collateral constraints could be important, like stationing of observers.

Farley: There will be lots of discussion.

Rumsfeld: We should say we may have a preference, but our final preference will depend on the final alliance consensus.

The President: Good point.

Kissinger: Agreed.

The President: We must recognize we must take the lead, without appearing to sell our position.

Rumsfeld: It should include the nuclear option, and collateral constraints.

Kissinger: With Hungary in, you can’t have a common ceiling cut, only a percentage. A percentage cut is detrimental to NATO.

The President: We have no illusion but that improvement of forces must go along with MBFR. It is essential for support here at home. We have a tough selling job here. I have yet to talk to a NATO leader who talks in terms of selling to his people a strong NATO. There is no guts in the European elite.

Heath has problems. He wants to be strong, but has economic problems.

Brandt has problems. Look at their attitude toward our troops. Brandt is a muddle head anyway.

In Europe we have a bunch of ward heelers, not international leadership. They would want to be but their public won’t allow it.

The old bipartisan leadership has gone. It’s lost its guts. Unless we step up to the problem, no one will.

Rumsfeld: The argument that cuts leave us only with a nuclear option should be persuasive. Even peaceniks shouldn’t want to be on that side of the argument.

The President: Kennedy had an overwhelming superiority. He didn’t need other options. Now we have parity—so now we need an option other than all or nothing.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–110, NSC Minutes Originals 1971 through 6/20/74, 2 of 5. Secret; Nodis. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room. In preparation for this NSC meeting, the Verification Panel met on March 29. In the meeting minutes, the Panel approved the following “summary of conclusions”: “It was agreed that: 1) Two issues will be put to the President at the NSC meeting on April 12: a) whether we should or should not link force improvements to MBFR; b) whether we should present only our preferred position or two or three options to our NATO allies for discussion. 2) The Working Group will develop an illustrative model of the elements from the nuclear option that might be incorporated into the other options. 3) Following the President’s decision, we will go to NATO with our approach during the last ten days of April.” (Ibid., Box H–108, Verification Panel Minutes Originals 3–15–72 to 6–4–74, 4 of 5)
  2. Kissinger’s talking points are ibid., Box H–033, NSC Meeting MBFR 4/12/73.
  3. Kissinger’s talking points presented two main options. The first was “a common manpower ceiling to be reached in two phases: first, a reduction of stationed forces, then indigenous forces; NATO would reduce its force levels by ten percent and the Pact would come down to a common manpower ceiling with NATO.” The second option was a “bilateral U.S. and Soviet reduction of ground forces stationed in the NATO Guidelines Area reducing U.S. by 32,000 and the USSR by 64,000—in effect, a one-sixth reduction on both sides. The net result would be an approximate manpower parity in overall NATO and Warsaw Pact ground forces in the reduction area.” (Ibid.)
  4. Kissinger’s talking points presented a third option: “a reduction of dissimilar threatening forces, called a mixed package, in which approximately 20 percent of U.S. theater nuclear capability in West Germany and [less than 1 line not declassified] would be withdrawn in return for removal of approximately 20 percent of the Soviets’ forward armored capability.” (Ibid.)