152. Editorial Note

Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev visited Bonn for four days of talks with West German Chancellor Brandt May 18–22, 1973. Among the topics they discussed were the European security conference and MBFR. At the end of the visit on May 22, Brandt invited Ambassador Martin J. Hillenbrand to Palais Schaumburg to discuss his talks with Brezhnev. The same day, Hillenbrand reported Brandt’s comments in telegram 7381 from Bonn:

CSCE. Brezhnev pressed for rapid movement on the security conference, asking why it would not be possible, after the conclusion of Phase I, for the experts simply to stay on and begin their work right away. This would make it possible to hold the final session of the conference l(which Brezhnev wanted held at the level of heads of government) before the end of the year. Brezhnev did not insist that the first phase begin before the end of June; on the contrary, he indicated that a slight delay might be desirable from the Soviet standpoint since Gromyko would just have returned from the visit to the U.S. and would need a little time to organize himself. In view of this, he suggested that the 3rd of July might be a reasonable opening date. Brandt said he tried to calm Brezhnev’s eagerness for rapid movement by pointing out that it would make sense to begin the committee phase only after summer vacation, say, in September. Brezhnev showed no understanding for this, arguing that summer vacations should not be allowed to interfere [Page 472] when truly great things are afoot. Brandt also made clear to the General Secretary that the FRG preferred to remain flexible as to the level at which the final act of the conference should take place. Ascribing these views to Foreign Minister Scheel, Brandt told Brezhnev that the level should perhaps depend on the success of the first two phases: if the results were excellent, they should perhaps indeed receive the imprimatur of heads of government; but if they were only mediocre, attendance of the foreign ministers at the final session might have to do. As for the site of the final conference, Brezhnev appeared to have no strong preferences. He mentioned Paris but said he was open to many alternatives including even Bonn or Moscow. However, he was opposed to Helsinki. Brandt said the FRG had a certain preference for Vienna for the final stage and thought that Geneva would be suitable for the committee phase. However, these were not strong preferences. In pressing for greater urgency on CSCE, Brezhnev told Brandt that the U.S. had agreed that it was important to get this conference behind us. Brandt said his reply to this was that the FRG would not put itself in the position of being responsible for a failure to complete the CSCE process this year.

MBFR. Brandt said Brezhnev had made clear that, although preparations in Vienna could continue, genuine negotiations on MBFR could only begin after all phases of CSCE had been concluded. In discussing the substance of MBFR, Brandt said, Brezhnev was extremely specific about confidence-building measures and rather vague about reductions as such. He obviously attributed great importance to the former and went into considerable detail in talking about the value of having observers at maneuvers and exchanging information on troop movements of any significant size. (In this connection, Brandt mentioned that Defense Minister Leber had been pointed out to Brezhnev on the first evening of the visit as the man who had claimed that the Soviet Union was introducing large numbers of new military units into the Central European area. Brezhnev said that this illustrated why it was important for the two sides to keep each other mutually informed.) As for reductions proper, Brandt said that Brezhnev had taken a very cautious approach—even more cautious than the one the Germans understood he had taken in his recent talks with Mr. Kissinger, as reported to Allies by USDel NATO. He said that initial reductions had to be regarded as symbolic in character, and that further reductions could only be made in stages over a long period. It was important to preserve the existing balance between stationed troops and indigenous troops. Brezhnev pointed out that one area, that of strategic weapons, had to be discussed bilaterally between the USSR and the U.S.; he also made clear, however, that he did not mean to include tactical nuclear weapons under this heading. In response to a question from me, Brandt said that Brezhnev had not touched at all on the subject of forward based systems (FBS).” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)

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Bahr also reported on the discussion of CSCE and MBFR during the Brezhnev visit in a backchannel message to President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Kissinger, received in Washington on May 22: “The Russians aroused the impression that they are fairly united with the USA that the third phase of the CSCE should take place still in this year. The Chancellor was very reserved; he is of the opinion that this is impossible on practical grounds, but he nevertheless said: This will not fail on our account if the others reach an understanding on it.” Kissinger thanked Bahr for the update in an undated backchannel message and stated: “We have no agreement with the Russians to complete CSCE this year. As you know, however, the White House has never viewed CSCE with great enthusiasm and therefore would just as soon see it over with. We will of course be guided by the consensus of the Allies on this question. Meanwhile, we will continue to stick to the position that MBFR must begin no later than the end of October, whatever the status of CSCE at that time.” (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 424, Backchannel Messages, Europe, 1973)

On May 26, Brezhnev wrote a letter to President Nixon on his visit to Bonn; the Soviet Embassy delivered the letter, along with a cover memorandum from Ambassador Dobrynin, to President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs Scowcroft on May 28. In the letter, Brezhnev informed Nixon about his Bonn discussions on CSCE and MBFR:

“Considerable attention was paid at the Bonn negotiations to the discussion of the issues, related to strengthening European security and specifically to the preparation of the forthcoming all-European conference.

“Our side expressed its firm conviction that the Conference should not only be started but also completed this year. Otherwise the interest of the peoples in the most important problem of securing lasting peace in Europe may decrease and the whole work in that direction will be regarded as a bureaucratic long-drawn-out procedure of small importance. Such turn of affairs, as we think, should not be permitted. We also talked about the desirability to start the second stage of the all-European conference (committees work) immediately after the Ministers’ meeting in order to complete it within one month or one month and a half. Chancellor Brandt assured me that the FRG Government will not object to the speediest holding of the Conference with the view of completing all its stages already this year. The West-German side also agreed in principle that the third stage of the Conference be held at the highest level and that at the outcome of the Conference there will be created a consultative organ which could become a link with consequent all-European forums. The FRG representatives noted, however, that both those questions should be more precisely determined with the results of the second stage taken into account.

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“In the talks we exchanged also certain general considerations with regard to a possible reduction of armed forces and armaments in the area of Central Europe. Chancellor Brandt reaffirmed his opinion, expressed earlier, that such a reduction should cover both foreign and national troops of appropriate states. Our side expressed conviction that the reduction can be successful only when it does not actually cause damage to the interests of either side and does not change the existing alignment of forces. We told the Chancellor that for the begining we could agree to a small symbolical reduction of armed forces and armaments. The specific sizes and forms are yet to be agreed. It is important that the peoples receive confidence in the seriousness of our intentions and feel that certain results have already been achieved.

“Chancellor Brandt expressed the opinion that, though this question was complex and the talks might be quite prolonged, there was still a prospect for reducing the general level of armaments in Europe so that none of the affected states would have a diminished sense of security.” (Ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 68, Dobrynin/Kissinger, Vol. 17)