20. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • NSSM–83,2 European Security—May NATO Ministerial Meeting

Though the Review Group on this study is, unfortunately, several weeks away, I thought you might want to familiarize yourself with this [Page 49] study. The attached package includes an analytical summary (Tab A), the study and its summary (Tab B), a box score done by State of the various Western ideas that have been floating around (Tab C), plus a copy of an earlier memo on German views which are becoming of special importance (Tab D).3

As a basic examination of policy options, the paper itself suffers from several defects. It does not present an in-depth discussion of the broad concepts of European Security and how they might be achieved. Nor does it take up the German and Berlin issues. It also does not go into the problems of conducting a strategy review, on the one hand, and conducting an active (or passive) European Security policy, on the other.

Thus, the study is largely a tactical-procedural paper. Nevertheless, the tactical issues have become quite important. This study is probably the only way to get an NSC framework for and some Presidential control over the decisions that will be made in NATO in May on a European conference and a proposal on balanced force reductions. You will recall that Brosio mentioned to you how important it was for the other Allies to know the US position well before May.4

As it now stands, the schedule does not permit an NSC before early May. Thus, some policy will again be made by cables. Since Secretary Rogers will be personally involved in the Rome meeting, an NSC meeting would be the proper vehicle to involve the President. If it slips beyond the first week in May, I see no way to intervene in the dialogue between Brussels and the Department, which by then will be fairly frantic in any case.

One alternative might be to squeeze in a Review Group meeting and send an agreed memo to the President concentrating on the question of a conference and balanced force reductions, with some expanded argumentation and background.

[Page 50]

Whatever you decide, it seems to me that these will be the issues to lift out of the paper and present to the NSC or the President:


Do we still want to try to impose certain preconditions to any multilateral conference:

  • —if so, on what issues should we insist on progress: Berlin, Bonn’s negotiations?
  • —is there any action on our part called for?

Is it in our interest to allow balanced force reductions to become the central negotiating issue, assuming the Soviets can be brought around?
  • —if not, how do we defuse it without causing a great conflict with the Allies?
  • —if we do want to move forward, is it for psychological reasons (i.e., to provide excuses not to make unilateral cuts) or for serious purposes; the difference would matter in developing a negotiating stance.

We will be in a somewhat better position after the military analysis of balanced force reduction models by the Military Committee is finished on April 20. But it seems likely that we will face a State-Defense split with State wanting to move ahead for political reasons and Defense rejecting any BFR proposals that might be negotiable. This is another, and perhaps the most important reason for putting the issues under Presidential aegis.


That you consider speeding up RG consideration of this paper.
That you consider requesting State to forward promptly a supplementary paper on the issues to be resolved before the May NATO Ministerial meeting.6

Tab A7


(Analytical Summary)


  • —There are as yet few hard indications the Soviets would agree to proposals acceptably settling the central issues of European Security.
  • —We and our Allies do not want to ratify the present bisection of the continent or permanent Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe.
  • —Relations today are at an uncertain half way point.
  • —Negotiations for the near future are likely to center on discreet, and well-defined subjects that are essentially peripheral to the basic political and security problems of Europe.


By setting the stage in this manner, the paper, as will be seen, is reduced to essentially tactical-procedural issues. There is an opportunity if not a real need, to discuss at some length differing concepts of European Security. The study states we have no interest in ratifying the “bisection” of Europe. If so, then it would be worth exploring the supporting arguments, including the German view that the only road to rapprochement between East and West Europe is through acknowledgement of the “realities.” After such exploration, conclusions could be drawn.

The statement that negotiations are likely to center on discreet and well defined peripheral subjects has no supporting foundation. Is it because we do not want to take up more central issues (if so, why not), or because they are being dealt with by the Germans, or because the Soviets are resisting an expansion of an agenda, or, finally, because the objective situation makes any other approach unfeasible?

These are the real issues of any European Security paper.

I. The Setting

Antecedents to Today’s Negotiating Situation.

Current Soviet/Eastern European Approaches to European Security.

Comment: These are standard and present no great problems. At the same time they are so superficial as to be of no value.

Current Western Approaches to European Security.

US Goals.

  • —A stable and peaceful situation effectively guaranteeing the independence and sovereignty of all European states, based on a military equilibrium sufficient to ensure that this settlement is on terms satisfactory to the US and its Allies;
  • —strengthened prosperous Western Europe;
  • —resolution of the German question;
  • —peaceful and constructive relations with the USSR and Eastern Europe;
  • —diminution of Soviet control in Eastern Europe and gradual liberalization of regimes.

Comment: If our prime goal is stability, then some of the other goals are obviously in conflict: guaranteeing the “sovereignty” of all European [Page 52] states is not necessarily compatible with stability, nor is a resolution of the German question. Diminution of Soviet control in Eastern Europe and peaceful constructive relations with the USSR would be quite a trick.

In short these goals (taken from the Summary paper used at the NSC meeting with Wilson) are too vague to be of any particular meaning for this study.


Tripartite and FRG Approaches to the Problems of Germany and Berlin.

The German question and the status of Berlin lies at the heart of European security.”

Comment: This is the last you will read of Germany-Berlin issues. They are not discussed any further in the paper. “This German policy (of Brandt’s) contains few risks for the West and even the achievement of limited successes would be in our own interest. The danger of substantial weakening of FRG ties with the West as it seeks to improve its relations with the East seems remote.”

Comment: These statements are open to serious challenge. If, as the study acknowledges, German-Berlin issues are at the heart of European security, then one would assume that a discussion of possible options would be warranted—especially if limited success is in our interest. If the Western position is to insist on progress on concrete issues, there should be a discussion of what constitutes such progress: would a Soviet-German agreement qualify? the settlement of the Oder-Neisse?8 If so, should we have a position other than watchful waiting?

The risks in Brandt’s policies are well known to you. Yet State adamantly refuses to acknowledge any. You will recall that when we prepared a paper on European issues, they criticized it for being “anti-German.”9 Yet the same points are being made forcefully by the French. In any case, relations between the two Germanys are changing, and this should be a major consideration in any discussion of European security.

Other Western and Neutral Initiatives.

NATO Initiative.

[Page 53]

Comment: A factual recitation. This would be the place for more elaboration of European attitudes, which are frequently cited as one of the motivating forces behind Allied interest in a conference of some kind.

II. The Issues

This section summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of the specific Options as related to issues to be considered at the May 1970 NATO Ministerial Meeting.

Comment: In other words, only the tactical or procedural issues are covered. While these should be sorted out for the President before the Ministerial Meeting there should also be organizing concepts for discussion.

A. Basic US Approaches to Resolution of East-West Issues



Negotiate settlement directly with the USSR, not in consultation with our Allies.

Comment: It is difficult to treat this one seriously as written. If reformulated as an emphasis on US-Soviet stability, it might deserve more serious consideration.


Conserve the present balance and territorial division, not seeking a resolution, eventually agreeing to a new Locarno type treaty.10

—Conceding the status quo reduces friction, but would nourish a tendency toward neutralism, encourage Warsaw Pact adventurism, and reduce our security by reducing our influence in Europe.

Comment: One faintly suspects that the authors of the study do not like this Option very much. Yet, it touches on a major subject: should the status quo be accepted and formalized in some treaty or understanding, or otherwise institutionalized. There are some in Europe who believe that this is now the only realistic approach. Moreover, the Locarno idea should probably not be dismissed so airily.

Moreover, in the Berlin negotiations it would seem that we are considering “conserving” the status quo; indeed, the Germans are prepared to trade an acknowledgement of their ties to West Berlin for virtual recognition of the incorporation of East Berlin into the GDR. Similarly, for an improvement in humanitarian concerns, we presumably [Page 54] will not challenge the political status quo. This is not necessarily wrong, but it points up that the Option cannot be readily thrown out, especially with specious arguments about increasing Warsaw Pact “adventurism.” One would suspect that the Warsaw Pact would be well satisfied and would hardly become more aggressive in the military sense.

Adopt a leading role in resolving issues looking toward a comprehensive plan (similar to the Herter Plan of 1959)11 with appropriate consultations in NATO and among the four powers.
  • —Would strengthen NATO as an instrument of cooperation, put pressures on the USSR to make progress to reduce East-West tension.
  • —Allies would view as premature, and negotiations on plan acceptable to the US would not succeed.

Continue pragmatic efforts along present lines to make bilateral and multilateral progress on concrete issues where and when possible.

  • —Dealing individually and flexibly with issues allows them to be used to probe Soviet intentions, advance our interests in Eastern Europe, take advantage of openings for genuine if perhaps unspectacular progress without necessarily linking negotiation or involving euphoria.
  • —Thus far this approach has had limited appeal to European public opinion.

Comment: Obviously this is the Option preferred by the study, and its description and the supposed advantages are clearly slanted. The main fault is that it has no real meaning; translated from NATO communiqué-style language, this Option means to do very little and leave it largely to the Germans, as things now stand.

B. Basic Approaches to a European Security Conference

We would favor a carefully prepared ESC which deals with meaningful issues; benefits would depend on price Soviets willing to pay to convene a conference and on the outcome in terms of real gains in resolving issues.

Comment: This too is baffling, since we are not proposing to consider major “problems of security” nor do we seem very clear what the price is that the Soviets are expected to pay.


Continue present policy, retaining ESC as long term objective.
Accept view that some progress in East-West negotiations and inscription of one or more “concrete” security issues on the agenda represents a sufficient precondition for convening a meeting.
Agree to an early conference to discuss issues not central to European security.
Indicate to our Allies that we do not object to early ESC, but will not participate ourselves.

Comment: Support for Option 1 among the Allies is waning, and their approach is now Option 2. No one is supporting Option 3 though it has some attractive advantages in terms of adding something from East Europeans. After insisting on our participation as a major condition, it would be difficult for us to back off now though this could combine with Option 3, i.e., a conference on trade, exchanges, etc., limited to Europeans.

The problem is that there is not much analysis to support a choice, but merely whether to move ahead, stand still, or pedal backward.

C. Basic Approach to Negotiating Modalities other than a European Security Conference


Standing Commission on East-West Relations (SCEWR) the UK plan;12 composed of NATO, Warsaw Pact reps, and neutrals:
  • —would receive public support, provide private forum for continuing discussion;
  • GDR participation creates difficulties; not enough progress on issues to give meaningful work to such a commission.
Encourage greater use of Group of Ten;
  • —nobody really cares about this Group.

Continue present ad hoc utilization of various appropriate forums;

  • —avoids an ESC and its risks;
  • —does not provide adequate psychological counter to the “public appeal” of the Warsaw Pact proposal; gives impression NATO is dragging its feet.

Comment: It does not seem that these are three separate Options; one could adopt No. 3, and encompass the other two. The issue here is whether we want to move toward some institutionalization, as the British propose, or stay loose.

[Page 56]

D. Issues for Possible East-West Negotiations

The following have been identified by the Allies.


Mutual East-West Force Reductions Balanced in Scope and Timing Decision on the future direction of MBFR should await the outcome of the NATO studies currently underway.

Two generalizations are possible:

  • BFR would be preferable to unilateral cuts;
  • —advantages and disadvantages would vary with the terms of an agreement:
    Asymmetrical reductions, larger cuts for Warsaw Pact would be advantageous in ensuring security, but probably not negotiable.
    Large, equal percentage cuts (30 percent) could reduce confrontation, but NATO area probably could not be defended with forces remaining.
    Small cuts could make the military disadvantages less severe and allow some savings in costs, but would be difficult to verify and there would still be some military disadvantages.

Outline of Possible NATO Proposals

Illustrative basic elements:

  • —geographic area involved would be West Germany and Benelux, GDR, Poland, and Czechoslovakia;
  • —all indigenous and stationed (foreign) forces involved;
  • —conventional, nuclear and dual capable forces involved;
  • —air reductions proportionately less than ground;
  • —agreed limitations as a first step, but conditional on a reduction agreement;
  • —vertification needs to be adequate to detect breaches.

Background Note: The NATO Working Group has developed one symmetrical model and four asymmetrical models, which have now been submitted to the Military Committee; the MC will issue a report to the Senior Polads on April 20, they, in turn, will provide political comments, and prepare recommendations for the Ministers to consider in late May in Rome.

Symmetrical model is 30 percent reduction of ground force and 10 percent air force in geographical area noted above.

Four asymmetrical models break down along the following lines:

  • —same area, all NATO reductions are 5, 8, 10 percent, Warsaw Pact either 15, 30, 40 percent, or 10, 20, 30 with special emphasis on reduction in tanks; air force cuts of Warsaw Pact only 15 percent;
  • —area covered expanded to include Baltic, Byelorussian and Carpathian military districts of USSR, NATO cuts the same, but Pact reductions 10, 20, 30, or 10, 15, 20 with special emphasis on tanks; air force cuts of 20 percent for Warsaw Pact in former case, or 15 percent in latter.

[Page 57]

In sum, all asymmetrical models call for minimum five percent NATO reductions against minimum 10–15 percent Warsaw Pact reductions, plus Pact air force reduction only, with area covered varying.

—The central dilemma is that these asymmetrical models are probably non-negotiable, while symmetrical ones might jeopardize NATO security.

In this light these are Options presented in the study:

Kill the MBFR project by studying it to death.
Attempt to develop a consensus to kill it.
Continue studies, analyses, etc., with objective of explorations with USSR/Warsaw Pact after May meeting in order to provide a basis for assessment of desirability and timeliness of negotiations.
Press forward with study to decide in May on negotiating proposals.
If NATO study aborts, consider other approaches to balanced force reductions (i.e. mutual example, US-Soviet cuts only).

Comment: As you can see these are strictly tactical options. No discussion, evaluation of the concept, our interests, the positions of the Allies, etc., relationship to other issues. There are no criteria for deciding whether to press forward, slow down, kill, etc.

The fact is that we are fairly close to being committed to make some concrete proposals to the USSR, as a result of conversations with Dobrynin13 and the past record. The chances are, however, that the Military Committee will only endorse those studies which confer major advantage to us. This will not provide any basis for an exploration of Soviet intentions.

In any case, as you know, this entire scheme creates problems. If the Soviets turn around and move toward a BFR conference or negotiations, we are probably in major trouble.


Lesser Disarmament and Confidence Building Measures

NATO has endorsed several for discussion: exchange of observers at maneuvers, advance notification of military movements and maneuvers, observation posts and joint study of methods of inspection.

The issue seems to be whether to develop negotiating proposals together with or separate from balanced force reductions.

[Page 58]


Unilaterally frustrate a conclusion of NATO studies.
Keep work in phase with MBFR.
Independently work on BFR, press forward with studies on confidence building measures.

Comment: It is difficult to know whether to press forward or backward if there is no discussion of the merits of any of these issues in some pattern. The pros and cons are in terms of whether we make BFR more or less complicated.


Joint East-West Declaration of Principles

(This is not a very live issue at present.)


Not pursue it further.
Ask Eastern countries to subscribe to our principles without negotiations.

Seek Allied agreement to negotiate with East on joint statement.

  • —Not pressing would please most of Allies, but would “deny West” issues for possible negotiations.
  • Unilateral declaration would provide evidence of Allied willingness to seek East-West accords (sic), but East might respond by proposing European security conference to discuss it.
  • —Negotiating joint statement would have same advantage, but negotiations could create false impression of greater security.

Comment: The critique of this is self-evident.


Stimulating Trade and Other Cooperation

NATO is on record for freer movement of peoples, goods and ideas. Central issue is how far to go in pressing trade issues in view of tight controls over our exports.


US Bilateral


Maintain present permissive but not promotional attitude toward trade with the East.
Stimulate contacts with the East to maximum extent feasible within bounds of current legislation.
Attempt to obtain Congressional approval for further loosening of selective restrictions on trade.

Comment: All of this would seem out of place in this paper, which is not the place to decide major trade policy.


Multilateral Efforts

Option: Stimulate enhanced East-West trade through ECE and greater use of OECD and GATT.



Option: To pursue actively East-West cooperation in environmental studies through ECE; through proposals put forward by OECD, and eventually through NATO CCMS.

—Would provide opportunities for joint endeavor but could politicize environmental issue.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–166, National Security Study Memoranda, NSSM 83, 1 of 4. Secret. Sent for action.
  2. Document 12.
  3. Tabs B–D are attached but not printed. Tab B is the draft response to NSSM 83, prepared by the Interagency Working Group on Europe, on February 24; it apparently updated the January 26 response (see footnote 2, Document 12).
  4. Amemorandum of a conversation between Kissinger and Brosio, March 20, reads in part: “On East-West relations, Brosio noted the growing sentiment in favor of a conference. He pointed out that the German position was crucial. Brandt seemed to feel that he could facilitate his Eastern negotiations by supporting a conference, specifically one that would take up force reductions.” According to the memorandum: “Brosio urged that the US make known its position on an East-West conference well before the May Ministerial meeting, rather than at the last minute. The other Allies would be influenced by the position we took. Brosio noted the Belgian idea for exploratory East-West talks and felt that this might be an acceptable fallback. He did not think that the British idea of a commission was a good one.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 259, Agency Files, NATO, Vol. VIII)
  5. Kissinger initialed his approval of both recommendations.
  6. Jeanne Davis wrote in the margin next to Recommendation 2: “State Jim Carson, EUR/IG uniformed, 3/31—JWD.”
  7. Drafted by the NSC staff.
  8. In February 1970, the FRG entered into negotiations with Poland on renunciation of force with regard to the Oder-Neisse line.
  9. Reference is to a draft version of the response to NSSMs 60, 65, 79, 83, and 84, which originally included a section on Bonn’s Ostpolitik. At a meeting of the NSC Review Group on January 23, Hillenbrand criticized the draft, prepared by the NSC staff, for being “loaded with anti-German assumptions.” At the end of the meeting, Kissinger decided to drop Germany from the subjects to be discussed by the NSC on January 28. For information on the paper and the Review Group meeting, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XL, Germany and Berlin, 1969–1972, Document 49.
  10. In the Treaty of Locarno of October 16, 1925, Germany, France, and Belgium recognized their mutual borders resulting from the Treaty of Versailles (1919), which had ended World War I. Great Britain and Italy offered a security guarantee to the three main signatories. Presumably, Sonnenfeldt is referring to this arrangement, rather than the fact that the treaty left open the issue of Germany’s eastern borders with Poland and Czechoslovakia.
  11. Popular name for the Western Peace Plan submitted to the Geneva Foreign Ministers Meeting on May 14, 1959. The plan, named after Secretary of State Christian Herter, provided for the unification of Germany by stages, parallel to disarmament measures in Central Europe. The Soviet Union rejected the proposal. For the text of the proposal, see Documents on Germany, 1944–1985, pp. 624–629.
  12. See footnote 8, Document 19.
  13. See Document 16. Secretary Rogers also spoke briefly with Dobrynin about an ESC during a conversation on January 30. Telegram 16128 to Moscow, February 3, contains a record of the conversation. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL USUSSR)