166. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • NATO Ambassadors (See Attached List)2

Secretary General Luns opened the meeting by asking Dr. Kissinger if he would care to make a statement.

Dr. Kissinger: With this group it might be better for me to answer questions rather than make a formal presentation. I am glad to have the opportunity to meet with you. I have been talking with the Secretary General from time to time and he suggested that I meet with the Council. I am pleased that we are meeting earlier than I had anticipated.

Let me make a few observations on some key problems. I have read the cables about the discussion in this group on the agreements we concluded with the Soviet Union and the discussions on MBFR.3 Incidentally, the discussion on the participation of Hungary in MBFR nearly destroyed my sanity. Let me make some fundamental points. First, there is an underlying feeling in Europe that perhaps the U.S. is working toward a condominium with the Soviet Union and attaching less importance to the Alliance and that, conditions having changed, we are reassessing our alliance. Conditions have in fact changed, and I want to state the position of this Administration in regard to NATO, to Europe, to the Soviet Union. From the first day of this Administration we have considered relations with Europe central to American foreign policy. That is why the President’s first trip was to Europe and to [Page 503] the North Atlantic Council. We also have had to consider that we are conducting foreign policy under extremely difficult circumstances. We did not invent the new strategic balance. We inherited a changed strategic relationship. Whereas the Kennedy Administration dealt with the Soviet Union when the Soviets had 80 ICBMs that were liquid fueled and took ten minutes to prepare, we face over 1,000 ICBMs that can be fired immediately. This is a fact of life.

Second, you are all aware from our domestic press of the growth of isolationist sentiment in this country. The very group that carried out our post-war foreign policy, and the very people who founded NATO, are now neo-isolationists. It is not this Administration that wants to reduce our forces in Europe. It is absurd to think that we would use MBFR to obtain a bilateral deal to get us out of Europe. If we wanted to do this we could simply wait and let ourselves be raped by the Congress. We have trouble enough getting our legislation through the Congress without complicating it by deals with the Soviet Union.

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

As for MBFR there has been a lot of talk about the title and what happened to the word “balance.”4 I want to put this to you bluntly. The future of the negotiation will not be determined by whether “balance” appears in the title, but by what elements of security lie behind our proposals. We must be sure that we do not weaken security in these negotiations. We say that American forces must be kept in Europe, so when you criticize us on MBFR you are fighting the wrong enemy. At the same time, the only way to deal with the pressures from our Congress is to transform these negotiations from an abstract dispute into a concrete discussion of security issues. Then we can tell the Congress we are in the midst of serious negotiations on security and we can also handle on this basis any Soviet proposals.

When this Administration came into office people wanted us to move fast on SALT. In fact, everything that was being said about SALT at that time one can now read about MBFR, e.g., that we should move [Page 504] faster, we should limit our forces, etc. We resisted on SALT because we said it was a technical issue and once the debate was transferred to technical grounds we could handle our critics because we knew what we were talking about.

We were troubled by the Hungarian issue. There were only 5,000 troops, more or less, involved but we were concerned because what we wanted to do was to concentrate on security issues, to become very concrete so that we would get on a level that we could negotiate with the Soviet Union. I can tell you we have made no private deals with the Soviet Union on troop levels. Indeed, we would not need to make such a deal. We must define a concrete security position and be able to defend it so if the Soviet Union makes what appears to be a reasonable offer we will be in a position to preempt it and to defend our position in public. In the forthcoming discussions with you we will be urging very concrete agreements.

On the European Conference, we had not wanted it. We were driven into it and we have been willing to participate. Our aim is to keep it from becoming a cosmic confrontation so that people will not think something of major substance has been achieved. However, you will not be under any pressures from us. All we want is to keep the Conference from becoming a massive affair so people will not believe something of great importance has been achieved.

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

Secretary General Luns: [Omitted here are unrelated comments.] I agree that it is not the letter “B” that is important, but the contents. I read in your communiqué with the Soviets the stress on undiminished security.5 You say the U.S. had no interest in the CSCE, so that it will not lead to a success and euphoria. But there are countries in Europe that believe it can achieve meaningful results. The danger of euphoria, of course, is present. Finally, I want to stress that the timely information to the Council and consultations in the Council remain of great value to our security, meaning the feeling of security on the part of the Allies.

Dr. Kissinger: One word on the CSCE. You correctly stated our attitude, though it is hard to separate our views from the concrete issues before the Conference. We do not believe, however, that the USSR will be pried out of Eastern Europe by inadvertence or by declarations. If we sometimes do not push an issue it is because we do not want a cosmic confrontation. We are in favor of ending the Conference sooner rather than later and avoiding deadlocks whose resolution would be considered a great success but not warranted by the substance.

[Page 505]

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

Menzies: I would like for you to comment on the MBFR negotiations. In light of your discussion with the Soviet Union, what incentives do you believe there are for Soviet reductions and what approach should we take to the negotiations?

Dr. Kissinger: On the substance, we gave the Soviets no encouragement that they could discuss substance with us until NATO was prepared to negotiate. They have indicated in various places that they wanted bilateral discussions. But we have not done so. The only clue we have is that Brezhnev said he was thinking of rather small initial cuts, but he did not get into numbers or percentage, and the question was dropped on the negotiations. We think they must be on a multilateral basis. But there must be a better way of resolving NATO differences more expeditiously and less legalistic debate. The practical issue is if in multilateral negotiations we show the Soviets a concrete position, they will try to split us. Our purpose is to preserve our commitments and not allow the Soviets to drive a wedge.

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

Dr. Kissinger: I would doubt they would bargain about troops and trade. In any case, the amount of troops involved is fairly small as far as savings are concerned. One factor may be, however, to use MBFR to bring pressure on China.

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

At the summit meeting, if you carefully read every agreement made, you will find no agreement last year or this year that did not take in account the preeminence of our Alliance. They were not at the expense of others—whether in SALT, MBFR or the European Conference. This was clearly understood, and rather vigorously discussed last week, but in the context of negotiation rather than confrontation. Brezhnev knows, and I know that we can take no action at the Soviet-American level, at the expense of others; or take action without consulting our allies. Your concerns are expressed at the MBFR date, which we got, or at the CSCE which was difficult. These were all decided together with you. [Omitted here is discussion of matters other than the European security conference or MBFR.]

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 280, Presidential File, Memoranda of Conversation, 1973. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Western White House.
  2. The list is not attached. According to the list provided by Sonnenfeldt (see Document 164), present were Luns, NATO Deputy Secretary-General P. Pansa Cedronio, and the following Permanent Representatives to the North Atlantic Council: Andre de Staercke (Belgium), Albano Nogueira (Portugal), F. Catalano di Melilli (Italy), Franz Krapf (FRG), Thomas A. Tomasson (Iceland), Rolf T. Busch (Norway), Arthur R. Menzies (Canada), Peter Buwalda (Deputy Permanent Representative, Netherlands), Orhan Eralp (Turkey), Donald Rumsfeld (United States) and F. De Rose (France). The United Kingdom, Greece, Luxembourg, and Denmark were represented by their Chiefs of Mission in Washington: Lord Cromer (UK), Ambassador Ioannis Sorokos (Greece), Ambassador Jean Wagner (Luxembourg), and Minister-Counselor Hans J. Christensen (Denmark). Also present were General Johannes Steinhoff (FRG), Chairman of the NATO Military Committee; Stoessel, Sonnenfeldt, and Hyland. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1336, Unfiled Material, 1973, 10 of 12)
  3. Attached to Document 164; see footnote 1 thereto.
  4. Telegram 126546 to all NATO capitals, June 28, reported on Rogers’s briefing to the NAC on Brezhnev’s visit to the United States. It reads in part: “MBFR: The question was raised whether the Soviets had explained why they object to the word ‘balanced’ in the phrase ‘mutual and balanced force reductions.’ The Secretary said that the Soviets have avoided accepting the word for some time because they claim they do not understand precisely what it means. The important issue is not the word itself, but the concept, which is that reductions should not be to the advantage of either side. The title for the talks used in the communiqué is the one worked out in Vienna: ‘negotiations on the mutual reduction of forces and armaments and associated measures in Central Europe.’” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)
  5. See Document 163.