26. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • MBFR


  • Under Secretary Elliot L. Richardson
  • Ambassador Dobrynin

After preliminary remarks, I handed Dobrynin the MBFR guidelines.2 He then asked me a serious of questions which I answered in substance as follows: The NATO allies have no fixed views as to the composition of the group of countries which should participate in [Page 67] MBFR negotiations. I illustrated a possible grouping on our side as comprising the countries having forces in Central Europe and including the UK, France, FRG, US, plus, say, one country from each of the NATO flanks, e.g., Norway and Italy. Two or more neutrals might perhaps be included as observers. With respect to the forces and weapons systems included, I said that this might depend in part on the definition of “strategic weapons” agreed to in SALT: if this definition were ultimately to exclude forward-based aircraft, IR/MRBMs and SLCMs, then the latter could be covered in the MBFR talks. In any case, reductions could optimally embrace a total combat slice from forward ground troops back to supporting aircraft and tactical nuclear forces. Alternatively, initial negotiations might focus on troop strength per se. In response to my remark that the subject is, in many respects, at least as complex as SALT, Dobrynin pointed out that, in the case of SALT, we are dealing merely on a bilateral basis, whereas here much greater additional complications would be introduced by the necessity for each of us to get our allies’ agreement.

Dobrynin asked how we could propose that there be no political preconditions on MBFR when, as he understood it, we had been putting preconditions on a possible Conference on European Security. I explained that in the case of the CES we have wanted to assess progress in the Quadripartite talks, the bilateral talks between the FRG and the USSR, GDR and Poland, SALT, etc., in order to assure that the CES was not held simply for propaganda effect but rested rather on a basis of genuine progress toward détente. In the case of MBFR, however, we consider the subject as one meriting negotiation on its own terms without reference to progress or the lack of it in any other context.

To the question why we made a distinction between the “forum” and the “participants,” I said that both words were used in order to reflect our awareness of such possible alternatives as dealing with the matter through a specially convened ad hoc body or, conceivably, through a commission or subcommittee established at a CES. (I had previously identified useful progress in exploratory talks on MBFR as one of the things which, in some combination with the others mentioned above, could help to justify holding a CES.) In response to a crack by Dobrynin that our military representatives must be pretty lazy because they’ve had all the time since Reykjavik and still haven’t produced an MBFR model, I said that nothing would speed them up so much as to have a full-dress conference set for next October 15. Dobrynin said that this would be a little too soon even for the USSR. In general, however, his questions were straightforwardly directed toward eliciting information and in no sense reflected a negative attitude.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL USUSSR. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Richardson on June 10. The conversation took place during lunch at the Soviet Embassy. On June 16, Hillenbrand forwarded a copy to Ellsworth. In an attached letter, Hillenbrand wrote: “Our telegraphic summary of that conversation was somewhat abridged because—as you will see from the full memcon enclosed—the Under Secretary’s remarks, while illustrative in nature, do break new ground and go somewhat beyond what has thus far been agreed among the Allies. I am not sure how you would wish to handle those elements of the RichardsonDobrynin exchange which we left out of the telegraphic summary. The best course might be to wait and see whether the Soviets play them back to the Allies. If they do, you could then confirm, if appropriate, that the ideas in question were put forward on an illustrative basis but not as the formal position of the US government.” (Ibid., DEF 6 NATO)
  2. See Document 28.