136. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Secretary General Luns of NATO
  • Van Campen
  • a secretary
  • Dr. Henry Kissinger
  • Donald Rumsfeld, US Ambassador to NATO
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, NSC Staff
  • Kathleen Ryan, NSC Staff

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

Sec. General Luns: Can we talk a little about the non-circumvention clause?2 You know my private opinion. The advisability that when we come to some sort of agreement with the Soviets that you could keep the option of having a non-circumvention clause. That you keep the option open …

Dr. Kissinger: There is no issue about that. There are two issues; should Hungary be part of the discussions and second, should there be a non-circumvention clause in the agreement. I think if you study the logistics, it is easier to move troops from Germany to Russia than from Germany to Hungary.

Should Hungary be part, and what is the substance of the negotiation. The participants have no way of knowing the subjects or proposals of the United States. Within the next two or three weeks we will present two or three possible ways of approaching the subject. We have never discussed it with the Soviets. There will be no question that we will have a non-circumvention clause in any agreement.

[Page 420]

Sec. General Luns: We will run into trouble if there is a general non-circumvention clause, because some of the countries, like Turkey, refuse to have it.

Dr. Kissinger: We are willing to have a non-circumvention clause that applies to Hungary. Our objective concerns the fact that European leaders, I am talking frankly, especially from the Low Countries, are saying that Kissinger made a private deal with the Russians. Some Belgian will say ‘ah ha’ no deal with Hungary because that is the best way to frustrate the Americans.

Sec. General Luns: That is no issue. NATO is unique, all is frank.

Dr. Kissinger: Certainly since Rumsfeld has been there. (laugh)

Sec. General Luns: My deep conviction is that discussion is a good thing. There is no thought of being unpleasant to the United States, rather there is a general wish to conform to the United States.

Dr. Kissinger: I am not saying in the NATO Council. There is this general feeling in Europe, I think the British do it in the discussions, and I have said this to them. What is the situation in respect to MBFR?

First, take the case of SALT, I am talking about our problem with SALT. We have been harassed by the leftists and peace groups. So we made it an issue, but a technical one. Thus we were better able to argue with them, as we were better informed. And in three and a half years we came up with an agreement. This is an example of what we want to do with MBFR. The only thing that is helping us now is that the Russians have not used their press and pushed us to reduce our forces.

Sec. General Luns: We say no.

Dr. Kissinger: If the Russians say reduce by 20% … Are we going to talk for another year about Hungary?

Sec. General Luns: Not in the preliminaries, is that going to place a deadlock in NATO?

Dr. Kissinger: We are willing to present our ideas on a substantive position. It is not in our interest to have Hungary in. What we want to propose is a common ceiling, which means we have to reduce less. They cut 80,000 and we cut 30,000 and add Hungary, they cut 150,000 and we cut 30,000. I doubt if that can be negotiated. Then we will be driven to a straight percentage cut. Say 10–15%.

Sec. General Luns: The Hungary question is settled. The noncircumvention clause of Hungary is acceptable to all. What is unacceptable is to have Italy dragged in with regard to the non-circumvention clause.

Dr. Kissinger: We have always said that you have every right to insist on that as part of the substantive position. I am in favor of a noncircumvention clause, especially applicable to Hungary.

[Page 421]

Sec. General Luns: You will find NATO can be easy.

Amb. Rumsfeld: This is what I have been saying all along: that the United States agrees that if MBFR is successful, the US does not want a way to circumvent what has been agreed to.

Dr. Kissinger: All we want is that they should want it. I will give you a paper analyzing it.

Sec. General Luns: What makes the negotiations in NATO not so easy is, for one reason, you came up with your projections a little late. We have already done two studies.

Dr. Kissinger: Our government is run with a collection of sovereign departments, thus we have to get some consensus.

Sonnenfeldt: He is just a Secretary General here.

Dr. Kissinger: We made some very serious studies, which did not satisfy everyone and which were to the disadvantage of NATO. We have now come up with an approach—we believe that MBFR can be used as a device to have a serious discussion with NATO.

Sec. General: Then there are two things: NATO, and the hope that the US will have its study very soon.

Dr. Kissinger: You will have it by the first of May.

Sonnenfeldt: We should get out of Vienna as soon as possible so all of us can concentrate on substance.

Dr. Kissinger: How does one do this before agreeing on a position?

Sec. General Luns: There is the problem of the Turks, who feel very exposed. They are militarily weak. They feel there will be some sort of agreement that will not give them any advantages, but rather will be to their disadvantage.

Sonnenfeldt: You can’t make any agreements with debating points.

Dr. Kissinger: If you could help us convince the Allies that we are really serious. We have every intention of coming up with a position that is satisfactory to every country.

We have consistently wanted to exclude the flank countries.

Sec. General Luns: Next Thursday at our luncheon I will make the point.

De Staercke has been around for the last 28 years, 5 years before NATO was founded.

In the discussion, Monsieur Van Campen, wouldn’t you agree there is an understanding of the American position. Therefore, I don’t think I would be wrong if I said that I understand things at the back of your mind. Your ultimate aim is to go to Congress and say that we have now arrived at an agreement where we can withdraw. Am I right?

Dr. Kissinger: No. We don’t want to go to Congress just with that. We want to show that there is a rational defense policy. First, we have [Page 422] to put the whole Atlantic relations on a fresh basis, in order to gain a substantive agreement we need new American elite support. The supporters of the present policy are men of the 50s and 60s. We don’t have the sort of broad based support we want. We would like broad based economic negotiations. What we want to do is remove the malaise where it is said here that Europe is taking advantage of us. This can’t be handled on a purely economic basis.

Second, we need some considerations; every Ally is conducting some kind of relations with the Russians. People are thinking of a condominium. Europe used to say “you are causing a war!” And Harold Wilson used to be here three times a year on how to conduct a European Security Conference. We didn’t invent this trend.

Third, the security conference cannot change the fact that we are now approaching nuclear parity. What we need is a strategic agreement among the Allies. It is essential to show conventional forces are more important. Then you can go to the countries and ask do you want general nuclear war? We are in a very curious position. Force reductions have to be related to the need to maintain the defense of Europe. If our troops leave Europe they will most definitely be demobilized.

We are most prepared to have serious discussions with the Europeans. What I would like to tell you as an old personal friend—the Europeans can no longer behave like spoiled children. For the Europeans to attack the President is nonsense, total nonsense.

Sec. General Luns: I agree. You have shown great restraint.

Dr. Kissinger: Europe nearly destroyed the alliance: what was an affair of the heart is now an affair of the head.

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

Sec. General Luns: I had a long conversation with Bahr, and I talked to the Chancellor. I had an excellent talk with Leber.

Bahr talked and gave me an insight which frightened me. He said, “It is obvious.” I said, “What is obvious?” “Could you be a little more precise? Will they leave Europe this year?” Bahr said, “No, not this year.” I said that the United States will remain in Europe if we do our part. I then said that it was not very wise to say the things he was saying. He then talked about other possibilities; the dissolution of NATO, that there would no longer be two military blocs in Europe, and some arrangement to make this possible.3

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I then saw Leber, a great man. I know that Bahr made some remarks during the plane flight. He thinks that Germany is about to make deals with the Russians.

Dr. Kissinger: They always have romantic ideas.4

Sec. General Luns: They have the option to become another Finland. I am rather comforted because the German Chancellor is a decent man. So is Schmidt.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, he is alright.

Sec. General Luns: I agree, and Leber too. The ideas of Mr. Bahr are not the ideas of the German government.

Dr. Kissinger: Will his ideas become the ideas of the government?

Sec. General Luns: I don’t know, I was all day with Leber. We talked about military and general matters.

Dr. Kissinger: The Germans are really insane. They have nothing to offer the Russians. The only thing they have left to offer the Russians is to wreck NATO. After that is done they will have nothing to offer them. The Russians will never permit a powerful bloc in Central Europe led by Germany. Only if Bonn becomes like Helsinki …

Sec. General Luns: Norway, France and the northern Benelux countries.

Dr. Kissinger: We are not worried.

Van Campen: But he is now insistent. Bahr said these things three years ago.

Sec. General Luns: He finally said, “You may be right and I am a little over optimistic.”

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Dr. Kissinger: To get to our original problem again, if the Germans go that route they will be crushed. If there is one basis to unify Western Europe, it is on an anti-German basis.

We want to achieve what you and I have discussed in some way for the last several years. We want some conspicuous achievement in US-European relations, some new declaration of friendship, not endless argments.

Sec. General Luns: What about some sort of summitry?

Dr. Kissinger: Maybe, I don’t want 500 cables running around the embassies.

Sec. General Luns: Tomorrow I see the Dutch press. I will be very general. I am concerned about the state of mind of American lawmakers that Europe is not pulling its weight, and American resentment that they are being attacked.

Dr. Kissinger: Don’t give any concrete ideas. I am sorry but I have to give a speech tonight, and we will have to break off.

Sec. General Luns: I want to show you what I got from the Russian government. “Tab A”5

Sonnenfeldt: MBFR and military policy, we want to show we are reducing our troops with a credible defense policy for Europe.

Dr. Kissinger: If we have troop reductions, they are not an objective in themselves. Our objective is the defense of Europe. It is essential and the context should be at the minimum level.

Sonnenfeldt: We don’t want to simply defeat the Mansfield resolution, which we can do—but to have a concept.

Dr. Kissinger: You take it up with Richardson. Or you can get in touch with Don, who is an old associate of ours and absolutely discreet.

Sec. General Luns: I will do that.6

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1027, MemCons—HAK & Presidential, April–November 1973, 5 of 5. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in Kissinger’s office.
  2. Telegram 1998 from Vienna, March 13, reported that the Belgian representative to the MBFR talks, Andreanessen, told Yuri Dubynin during the latter’s visit to Brussels in February “that the main Allied interest in Hungary was not in Hungarian direct participation or in reductions of either Hungarian or Soviet forces, but in a non-circumvention agreement which would prevent the Soviets from introducing new forces into Hungary after an MBFR agreement was signed. According to the Belgian rep, Dubynin professed interest in this proposal and stated he thought it should not be too difficult to meet the Belgian interests.” The telegram commented: “The Belgian rep, as with recent statements by the Netherlands rep, has unfortunately undercut the Allied tactical position in Vienna by putting to the Soviets a position which in its essence might be acceptable to Belgium and also to the US but which, being based on the premise that Hungary would be a special participant, goes beyond what the NAC has approved as an alliance position.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 6 EUR)
  3. Sonnenfeldt wrote in a memorandum of April 12 about a “plan” that Bahr had allegedly discussed in an interview with West German journalist Otto Hahn in January 1969: “Bahr allegedly outlined a four-step Ostpolitik scenario consisting of: (1) Recognition of the GDR; (2) Nonviolence agreements and diplomatic relations with the East European countries; (3) Warsaw Pact–NATO negotiation on cutting American and Soviet forces in the two Germanies; (4) Creation of a Pan-European security system of the non-nuclear countries of Central Europe, whose territorial integrity the nuclear powers would guarantee. In response to a Hahn question about the last step, Bahr thought that the two alliances would have to be dissolved, being replaced by bilateral relationships between the two superpowers and between the remaining countries outside the security system. The opposition and right-wing press in the Federal Republic have hopped onto this answer to say that Bahr wants to dissolve NATO.” (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 263, Agency Files, NATO, Vol. XIII)
  4. Sonnenfeldt wrote in his memorandum of April 12: “Hahn goes on in his article to note at length the supposed consistency of German Ostpolitik since 1969 with Bahr’s plan. He speculates about the possibility of a prior understanding with eastern partners, about Bahr’s larger national reunification objectives implicit in it, and about similarities between Bahr’s conceptions and Bismarck’s definition of Germany balancing between East and West, German romantic nationalism, and German propensities to overestimate their ability to control events in Europe.”
  5. Not attached and not found.
  6. Luns also met with President Nixon in the Oval Office at 11:30 a.m.; they discussed MBFR, along with other topics. According to a memorandum of their conversation for the President’s files, Nixon told Luns that “there would be no deal with the Soviets at the expense of our Allies. The Soviets would like to use MBFR to undermine the alliance, but the United States would oppose this.” The memorandum continued: “Secretary General Luns agreed that MBFR must not be used to undermine confidence in America. He cited the tactical difficulties in Vienna, where there was a passionate discussion about MBFR.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 280, Presidential File, Memcons)