16. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Balanced Force Reductions in Europe


  • Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin
  • Acting Secretary Richardson
  • Mr. James F. Leonard, ACDA
  • Mr. Lewis W. Bowden, EUR/SOV

The Acting Secretary said he would like to mention one other matter. He said he assumed the Ambassador was aware of a reference in the recent NATO declaration2 to balanced forces reduction (BFR). We think this subject offers the possibility of fruitful negotiation and that, among other things, it would supplement our efforts in the strategic arms field and make a real contribution to the reduction of tensions in Europe.

Dobrynin asked whether we were linking the two matters in any way and Mr. Richardson assured him we were not, but we did see one action could be complementary to the other.

Dobrynin said that the Soviets had had nothing in the way of a reply from us to their démarche of November 19 on European Security3 except the recent NATO declaration and communiqué. Mr. Richardson observed that the military people in NATO are now working on possible packages of balanced forces reductions which are to be considered in June by the Defense Ministers. The earliest time, therefore, that we could make a formal proposal to the Soviets on this subject would be after the June meeting.

Dobrynin queried as to why we had raised the matter now in the absence of a concrete proposal. He agreed that in general the idea of force reductions in Europe was a good one, pointing out that both the [Page 38] Soviets and the Poles have made proposals in this field for many years. He said that if we would give them a concrete and reasonable proposal they would give it the most serious consideration. The Acting Secretary replied that we had raised the matter at this time to indicate to the Soviets the great seriousness we attach to it and thought that they might want to give some thought to what their approach would be before any formal proposals were made.

Dobrynin stated that the Soviets would be prepared to give us an opinion on any specific proposals. They did not accept the raising of BFR in the NATO declaration as a counter-proposal to their proposals on a European Security Conference. The Ambassador indicated the Soviets considered the mention of BFR at Brussels as essentially a propaganda response to their moves on European Security, observing that we are now apparently putting off an answer to their proposals until after June.

Once again Mr. Richardson repeated that we were indeed serious about this subject. As the Ambassador knew, the subject was very complicated and the formulation of specific proposals was extremely difficult. Dobrynin said he had told Secretary Rogers how the Soviets felt about European security and had asked for our comments. At the time we had replied that the State Department would need to examine his proposals before replying. Then came the NATO communiqué but the Soviets had gotten no official reply from us on their European security démarche. Dobrynin said he could not understand why we now raised only one particular issue related to the European context, and he thought the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would find it difficult to put our approach up to the Soviet Government unless it were somehow more closely related to the larger concept of European security.

The Acting Secretary said that he did not necessarily connect BFR and a European Security Conference. Dobrynin quickly agreed, saying that the Soviets were not anxious either to combine these two issues. They had, however, got the impression from the NATO communiqué that we were attempting to do exactly that.

Dobrynin said he found another aspect of this problem difficult to understand. He pointed out that the Pentagon and others have announced US plans to keep our forces in Europe at their present strength until 1971. If we had therefore already decided on our deployment what would we negotiate about? Mr. Richardson acknowledged that Administration policy was to maintain US force levels in Europe but indicated that plans can be changed through successful negotiation. The reductions must be on both sides, however, and it is obvious that if we both pull troops out of Europe the Soviets have a shorter line of return than we do. Our great problem is how to work out reasonable standards of comparability. That is essentially what the negotiations would be about.

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Dobrynin repeated that if we come forth with serious proposals they will give them the most serious consideration. He thought perhaps we could reach an agreement privately about parallel actions, but did not specify further.

Ambassador Leonard explained that studies were going forward at the present time in ACDA on this problem and that it was very complex. He assured Dobrynin that we had studied carefully previous Soviet and Polish ideas on force reductions, but that a complete new review was called for because so much time had passed since those proposals. He also mentioned that the verification aspect of any troop reduction agreement would pose many problems.

Dobrynin cautioned that one should not over-emphasize the distance factor in talking about withdrawal of forces from Central Europe because dimensions are quite different now with our new transport system from what they used to be. Ambassador Leonard acknowledged that may be true but said that was only one factor, there being other problems of comparability that arose at every step.

Dobrynin said finally that they would be waiting for our proposals after the June meeting and that if we had any interim thoughts on this subject he would send them on to Moscow and be prepared to discuss them with us. He observed that heretofore this subject has been “mixed up” with political matters when it should stand on its own merits.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 711, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. VI. Secret; Exdis. Part II of V. Drafted by Bowden, concurred in by Leonard, and approved by Morton Abramowitz (U) on December 31. The meeting was held in the Under Secretary’s office. At the top of the first page is a handwritten notation, “SonnenfeldtFYI.”
  2. The Declaration of the North Atlantic Council, approved by the Foreign, Defense, and Finance Ministers of the NATO states at their Ministerial meeting in Brussels, December 4–5, 1969, is in North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO Final Communiqués, 1949–1974, pp. 229–232.
  3. See Document 11.