18. Editorial Note

On January 19, 1970, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs G. Warren Nutter wrote in a memorandum to Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird: “There seems to be a decided difference of view between State and DoD with regard to BFR; most particularly in the speed and vigor with which it should be pressed by the U.S. at this time.” Nutter, citing Acting Secretary of State Elliot Richardson’s meeting with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin (see Document 16) as evidence, wrote: “During the course of that meeting Mr. Richardson brought up the subject of BFR and expressed his interpretations of U.S. and NATO enthusiasms for early movement in that direction, implying NATO readiness to present concrete proposals after the May Ministerial.” After suggesting Laird read the memorandum of conversation, Nutter stated that Richardson’s interpretations “run counter to our impressions of USG agreed policy, which we understand to be that of moving cautiously toward BFR by stages, with active negotiations only after careful evaluation of NATO studies now in process and impossible to complete by, or even soon after, the May Ministerial. We consider this to be a sound approach, and that pressing for early negotiations is both unsound and dangerous.” (Ford Library, Laird Papers, Box 2, NATO, Vol. III)

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In a follow-up memorandum to Laird on January 30, Nutter wrote: “In addition to Under Secretary Richardson’s approach to Ambassador Dobrynin, two developments last week have further emphasized the need for clarifying this issue with State. In a speech in Chicago, Mr. Richardson stated that, ‘One of the most promising areas of potential progress with the Eastern European nations lies, we believe, in reaching agreement on mutual and balanced force reductions.’ Ambassador Ellsworth during his visit to the Pentagon revealed that he believes he had been the ‘dynamo’ on MBFR in NATO, a role which would appear inconsistent with State-Defense agreed guidance on moderating any rush toward MBFR.” (Attachment to letter from Laird to Rogers, February 8; ibid.) A memorandum of Ambassador Ellsworth’s January 20 conversation with Laird at the Pentagon, dated February 2, is in National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 6 NATO.

On February 8, Laird sent Secretary of State William Rogers a letter drafted by Nutter: “With NATO now embarked on the development of Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions (MBFR) models and the question of further movement likely to loom large in the May ministerials, I think it would be useful to make sure that Defense and State share a common understanding of our policy on the question.” Laird suggested that U.S. policy, as stated in telegram 165553 to USNATO (see Document 7), “called for a moderate signal on MBFR in the December NATO communiqué” and that the ongoing U.S. examination of MBFR had to be completed before assessing the “desirability and timeliness of further movement on the issue.” Laird wrote: “I must say that I am not convinced that we can complete this examination in time to permit a considered decision to move ahead on MBFR at the May Ministerial. I think that in keeping with the agreed policy sketched above, our basic stance on MBFR is one of caution and reserve.” (Ford Library, Laird Papers, Box 2, NATO, Vol. III)

On February 23, Acting Secretary of State Richardson replied in a letter to Laird drafted by James Goodby of the Office of NATO and Atlantic Political-Military Affairs: “After reading your letter of February 8 regarding mutual and balanced force reductions in Europe, I think I can safely say that our two Departments are in general agreement on this question. If there are any differences, I would judge that these lie in the area of tactics rather than substance. Certainly the Department of State has reached no conclusions with respect to the desirability of any specific MBFR arrangement.” Richardson continued: “We have made it clear to all concerned that the United States has made no decisions on these matters. I believe, therefore, that our future decisions have not been prejudiced by our past actions, except for the effect produced by three separate NATO declarations expressing an interest in MBFR. These declarations have put the Alliance on record as at least predisposed in favor of mutual and balanced force reductions, provided an acceptable [Page 44] arrangement can be devised and can be negotiated. This does not mean that we are committed to negotiations or to advancing any proposals for consideration by the USSR or anyone else. It does mean, in our view, that we can take a positive attitude towards the principle of mutual and balanced force reductions, while reserving judgment on the desirability of any specific MBFR arrangement.” Richardson concluded: “I understand that the NATO Military Authorities have started the studies which we have asked them to undertake in this field. Nevertheless, I also can well anticipate, as you suggest, that these studies may not be as far advanced by May as I think we all would like. In that case, I can assure you that the Department of State would not expect the Allies to move into an immediate negotiation on any specific MBFR model.” After offering to expand further on “any areas of difference or imprecision,” Richardson reminded Laird “that there also will be NSC discussions on NSSM 83 and subsequent decisions by the President that will further clarify the matter.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 6 NATO)