140. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Sir Burke Trend
  • Sir Thomas Brimelow
  • Ambassador Cromer
  • Mr. Richard A. Sykes, Minister
  • Patrick Nairne
  • Charles Powell, First Secretary
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, NSC Staff
  • William Hyland, NSC Staff
  • Kathleen Ryan, NSC Staff

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

Sir Trend: [Omitted here is an unrelated comment.] What about the military thing and MBFR?

Dr. Kissinger: We do feel agreed about MBFR.

Our grievance is that we simply do not accept the proposal that Hungary is a major consideration of the West. We agree that Hungary should be protected by a non-circumvention clause.2 I don’t agree with the view of Luns that Hungary will be a repository for the Soviets.3

There is no dispute on our side that Hungary should be covered by a non-circumvention clause. You have seen the options that we have developed. You will see that we are aiming not for a big cut, but we want a common ceiling established. I have seen that we need a general approach, and I think that a common ceiling is the best approach. The common ceiling requires a disproportionate cut by the Soviets of 11/2 to 1 or 2 to 1. If you include Hungary and insist on a common ceiling, you have 5 to 1. You are, therefore, driven to percentage cuts. Then you will not get into very dangerous levels of cuts. We believe the maximum cut would be around 15% and we prefer around 10%. This would affect 7–8,000 troops in Hungary. Nobody can tell us that these troops affect the security of Western Europe. The insistence [inclusion] of Hungary makes it difficult to insist on a common ceiling, and forces us to make percentage cuts, which are not in our interest.

We have made a serious attempt to deal with MBFR as a security problem. We will not use it as the European vehicle of Vietnamization. We will use it for a security debate and to quiet down our domestic situation. I do so at the minimum level we consider realistic. We realize that at the precise time when it most important, all our governments are under pressure to dismantle. We think it is imperative to address the security debate.

Amb. Cromer: We think it was you who introduced Hungary anyway.

Dr. Kissinger: That may be.

[Page 432]

Sir Brimelow: I have here the reply of Sir Alec (Douglas-Home). He reads … (re Hungary in MBFR)4

Dr. Kissinger: We will accept this.

Sir Brimelow: This is terribly important.

Dr. Kissinger: We have never questioned that. We have never had the view that Hungary should be excluded.

Sir Brimelow: This is a matter in which our Ministers are interested. They do attach much importance to bringing Hungary into MBFR.

Dr. Kissinger: They don’t have to be at the table to have the area covered by a non-circumvention clause. This would certainly be a legitimate subject of discussion.

Sir Brimelow: Would you like to keep that? (refers to reply of Sir Alec Douglas-Home—[Tab A])5

Dr. Kissinger: Yes.

Sir Brimelow: I think that letter calls for a reply from Secretary Rogers, not Kissinger.

Sonnenfeldt: Your people certainly stonewalled in Brussels.

Sir Brimelow: Yes, as you say, they have stonewalled. Ted Peck6 wrote “as foreseen, we are in the minority of one,” and we will have to consider how to reply to Luns’ appeal.

Dr. Kissinger: If you can’t give way gracefully …

Sonnenfeldt: How much can we put ourselves formally on paper?

We have to give some assurance that we are serious.

Dr. Kissinger: We will develop a common position before the negotiations.

[Page 433]

Sir Trend: We are disposed to reconsider our attitudes.

Sir Brimelow: Sir Alec will reply to Secretary General Luns unless you want a further discussion.

Dr. Kissinger: Let’s get an answer to Sir Alec.7

Sir Trend: When we reach substantial negotiations, you will insure that Hungary will be covered by the non-circumvention clause?

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, we accept what Sir Alec has said. What we want to do now is to debate on how to phrase the non-circumvention clause.

Amb. Cromer: You can use my good office.

Sonnenfeldt: We are half way there with the unilateral Western statements made in Vienna.

Sir Brimelow: We are not happy with the unilateral statements made in Vienna.

Dr. Kissinger: We have never questioned that the substance of the issues relating to Hungary should be part of the actual negotiating position, which I assure you will be a common one.

Sir Brimelow: Sir Alec has said that he would be ready to accept it, but would do so with some misgivings.

Dr. Kissinger: Someday tell me what you are trying to achieve.

What is it you are giving up with misgivings?

Sir Brimelow: “The attitude which we have hitherto adopted.” (laughter)

Sir Trend: Now, MBFR.

Dr. Kissinger: With respect to MBFR, we will put before the NATO Council a paper boiled down,8 but what your people saw. There are two options for third countries in a separate status. We should use the nuclear option as a building block. We do not believe that this can be presented as the only Western option. I don’t think the Soviets would accept it. Therefore, we have two options; do we want to operate in two stages by the usual U.S. cut in regard to Soviet forces. Or do we want simply a cut of U.S. to Soviet forces where percentage equilibrium leads to a common ceiling on both sides.

Sir Trend: What do you favor?

[Page 434]

Dr. Kissinger: In the first option you have 10 and 10.9 I favor the second option where the number of forces cut is slightly less. Option one is a 38,000 cut. We don’t like indigenous force cuts. Look at what would happen in the countries concerned, we would be trading good German divisions for second rate Czech divisions. We would on the whole prefer the second option, but we are not going to press it.

Sir Trend: How will the Russians react?

Dr. Kissinger: I have no feeling for this. Prior to the Summit they offered a 5% US-Soviet cut.10 We refused to discuss it and we have never had a serious discussion on MBFR. My impression is that they are very badly organized in this and find it difficult to find a bureaucrat to propose anything.

On the nuclear package, which is not a separable package, one can make arguments for both. We have many more than can possibly be ever used. We have 5,000 in the Central Front. They can be used as a compensation for some inequality of number.

Amb. Cromer: These are ten times more than the last time we have discussed it.

Dr. Kissinger: Ten is the number that NATO has agreed on. I have my futile task to get the President to understand this. We are not going to press that at all. What is your view?

Mr. Nairne: We like the common ceiling approach and the great emphasis on European security. Where is the starting point? How do you see this beginning?

Dr. Kissinger: You mean the starting date of negotiations?

Mr. Nairne: Yes.

Dr. Kissinger: If I were to conduct a negotiation I wouldn’t say anything about nuclear war first. Then you make options, and they [Page 435] will scream at inequality. After a deadlock we could introduce nuclear elements.

Mr. Nairne: The percentage element would be quite low to begin with?

Dr. Kissinger: Not just to begin with, this is the only negotiation. We would pick a draft that would result in a common ceiling.

Sonnenfeldt: What preliminary proposals do you start with?

Dr. Kissinger: I hate to give up the common ceiling, I might start at that and stick at that. If you say ten, then you have yielded a principle that is dangerous.

Amb. Cromer: A common ceiling means sixteen.

Sonnenfeldt: It happens to be the only way you can get it.

Dr. Kissinger: You have the advantage of an equal cut and an equal outcome.

Amb. Cromer: But you are really in a heading position.

Dr. Kissinger: But if you start yelling about inequality where we get rid of a little more than they in the specialized weapons …

Mr. Nairne: We want something from them.

Sonnenfeldt: Obviously.

Dr. Kissinger: Our military had one option which was 40 Pershings and 60 RF–4s for 140,000 Russians. Unfortunately, we don’t have the personnel to be able to negotiate this.

Mr. Nairne: The whole way that Europe looks upon tactical nuclear weapons is part of the strategy.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, but what we would do with them and their number might inhibit the President from using them at all.

Mr. Nairne: I think 15% would be a high figure.

Sir Trend: Have you contemplated what would happen if no agreement is made with the Russians?

Dr. Kissinger: If we have used it to put before our people as a policy that makes sense, and we can put this before the Soviets … We will fight for it. If we can put before Congress and the public a rational plan, elaborate what our defense strategy is and the reason the Soviets won’t accept it, we will be o.k.

I believe the tide is going to turn, again if it weren’t for Watergate …

Sir Trend: There isn’t much sign of this in Europe.

Dr. Kissinger: Look at the POWs. This is not a defeatist country.

Unfortunately our intellectuals are out of whack.

Sir Trend: Is there, then, a rational defense policy?

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, and this we want more than a rational MBFR policy.

[Page 436]

Mr. Nairne: This raises a dilemma.

Dr. Kissinger: In this country we believe we can do both. I don’t know if the European Allies can do both.

Mr. Nairne: We would like to, but the prospect of MBFR makes one believe that one will have a tremendous task.

Dr. Kissinger: The great danger will be if the whole détente policy makes people think they don’t need defense at all.

(There is general agreement among all present.)

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

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 27, Geopolitical File, Great Britain, Chronological File. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The conversation took place at the British Embassy.
  2. Anon-circumvention clause would prevent the re-stationing of forces withdrawn by the Warsaw Pact and NATO as part of an MBFR agreement in other NATO or Warsaw Pact countries outside the reductions area.
  3. See Document 136.
  4. Douglas-Home’s note, addressed to Rogers, is not attached. The text of the note was sent to London in telegram 76685, April 24, and reads in part: “I hope that you do not think that we have been unreasonable about Hungary, but the issue seems to us of real importance.” Douglas-Home voiced the opinion “that the outcome of the discussions in Vienna pre-judges the Hungarian issue in favor of the Warsaw Pact” and that “the ground lost will be very difficult to recover later on.” “Hungarian exclusion from any MBFR agreements,” he added, “could have considerable impact on the Balkans, and in particular Yugoslavia.” He continued: “I think it very important that we should as a minimum objective stick to the decision taken in the Council on 12 March that the Warsaw Pact countries should not be free to circumvent MBFR agreements, for instance by building up Soviet forces in Hungary, and that the question of Hungary’s inclusion in a constraints area should be kept open.” Douglas-Home wrote that “in this case I would be ready to accept in the interests of Alliance solidarity the recommendation of the Allied negotiators in Vienna. I would do so with some misgiving.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 730, Country Files, United Kingdom, Vol. 8)
  5. Brackets are in the original.
  6. Sir Edward Peck, U.K. Permanent Representative on the North Atlantic Council.
  7. Rogers’s reply to Douglas-Home, sent to London in telegram 76685, April 24, reads: “I agree entirely that the Soviets should not be free to circumvent or undermine MBFR agreements by augmenting their forces in Hungary. To this end, we will join fully in Allied efforts to achieve agreement with the Warsaw Pact participants in the negotiations themselves on provisions designed to preclude circumvention of MBFR agreements reached. With regard to Hungary’s inclusion in the constraints area, I agree that this issue should continue to be kept open.”
  8. See Document 137.
  9. See footnote 2, Document 137.
  10. No record of the Soviet offer has been found. In a memorandum to Kissinger on April 12, 1972, Sonnenfeldt provided information for Kissinger’s next meeting with Dobrynin. Under the heading “MBFRSonnenfeldt wrote: “My recollection is that you owe some sort of response. We now have a paper on principles which you will get shortly. It is based on what is already common ground with the allies. You may want to indicate that the President will be prepared to discuss principles in Moscow. (The other two possibilities—an effort to agree on a ‘quick and dirty’ reduction, and an understanding on negotiating procedures—have many problems and pitfalls.)” In the margin of the memorandum, Kissinger wrote, “5%.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 67, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Sonnenfeldt Papers, 1 of 2) According to the memorandum of Kissinger’s conversation with Dobrynin on April 12, the only topics of conversation were Vietnam and Kissinger’s forthcoming trip to Moscow. (Ibid., Files, Box 493, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger 1972, Vol. 10) For the full text of Sonnenfeldt’s memorandum and Kissinger’s memorandum of conversation, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Documents 93 and 94.