327. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Ford1


  • Meetings with Brezhnev

Your Purposes and Basic Line

This is a crucial encounter for two reasons; first, it will largely determine the future course of the SALT talks, and, therefore, the [Page 952] prospects for Brezhnev’s visit; second, and equally important, it will be the opportunity to reestablish a mutual commitment, at the highest level, to improve Soviet-American relations as the basic policy of both sides. The latter is not a question of atmospherics, but a substantive problem in light of growing criticism of détente on both sides.

  • —Your aim is not so much to reassure Brezhnev about your policies, but to explain frankly and candidly that the relationship has reached the point where problems are emerging, as they inevitably would in any such attempt to alter the basic character of Soviet-American relations as they were shaped for over two decades of bitter hostility.
  • —Your main point is that détente must, in fact, be reciprocal, a two-way street, that you are committed to this course, but must defend it against a strong residue of suspicion that détente is being exploited; thus Soviet-American relations must be given new momentum; this means progress in SALT and MBFR, a real effort to implement CSCE, and a reaffirmation of the principles contained in the 1972 and 1973 summit agreements.
  • —You should stress that Soviet leaders should not be dismayed or surprised that certain segments in the US are skeptical, indeed, hostile to better relations with the USSR; after all, a complete turnaround in public and political opinion, whether in the US or USSR, cannot be2 expected in two or three years; the key is to demonstrate by deeds that the new course of relations is grounded in specific accomplishments benefitting not only the American and Soviet people, but international stability in general.
  • —This means that détente cannot be a cover for aggravating tensions, for regional advantage, or for applying differing criteria to various aspects of relations.

    At these meetings with the General Secretary you want to accomplish three objectives; (1) to review the course of Soviet-American relations, both bilateral aspects and their impact on international issues; (2) to break the back of the SALT issues, if possible, by referring to the Geneva negotiations a number of issues where positions coincide or are quite close, and by discussing frankly those issues, like cruise missiles, where important differences remain; (3) to discuss the General Secretary’s visit to the US and the accomplishments that can be achieved by the time of, or during that visit.

  • —On this last point of the General Secretary’s visit, you will want to emphasize the critical importance of tying it to substantive accomplishments, particularly in the arms control, so that it will be clear in [Page 953] both countries that the regular summits are a stimulus for reach [real?] achievements.

Brezhnev’s Position

Brezhnev will probably be in a somewhat buoyant mood;3 whatever the criticism abroad, CSCE in his eyes must seem a successful achievement denied all his more illustrious predecessors. Being center stage with a host of his European colleagues cannot fail to appeal to his innate vanity and his pretentions to world statesmanship.

But, at the same time, and more basically, he knows that the Conference has become a contentious issue in the West and that this is symptomatic of a disenchantment with détente. He can only add the controversy over CSCE to a series of events that cause him and his colleagues to question the future potential for the so-called “peace program” which he initiated at the 24th Party Congress in March 1971.4

In his view the setbacks to the trade bill last December, following so closely an unexpected criticism in the US of the Vladivostok agreement initiated a trend which he probably regards as ominous. He may point to such occurrences as Secretary Schlesinger’s remarks on a preemptive strike and first use of tactical nuclear weapons,5 the intelligence activities of the US that have received a great deal of publicity, the outcry against Soviet grain purchases, the anti-Soviet campaign that he cannot fail to see in the publicity to the Soviet base in Somalia,6 the reception given Solzhenitsyn, the debate over alleged Soviet SALT violations, the attacks on CSCE, our recent statements on the Baltic states, and our policy in the Middle East which seems aimed at the exclusion of the USSR.

In short, Brezhnev must wonder whether the support for détente in the US is weakening to the point that either you will abandon it, or be replaced with a more militant successor.

From his standpoint, however, you are his best bet, and he cannot afford to gamble that other events will weaken the US to the point [Page 954] where he can resume a forward, offensive policy if we back away from détente. Brezhnev’s problem is that he must, in effect, face his constituency in February at the 25th Party Congress; he must defend a foreign policy record that is tied to détente in Europe and with the US, that promises benefits in the encirclement of China, and the strengthening of Soviet influence in Asia and the Middle East.

  • —In defending his policies, Brezhnev must also recognize that he will almost certainly be making a farewell appearance before his party; he may retire of his own volition, or be asked at some point to step aside, or simply be thrown out. With his ingrained sense of historical perspective, he wants to bind his successor, and define Soviet policy for the next period, and preserve his own positive image in the history books.
  • —He cannot do this, if his policy is in a shambles; thus SALT, the US visit, the impact on China, the Middle East outcome, US-Soviet economic relations, all assume an importance in the perspective of his Party Congress.

All of this means that you have a strong bargaining position; Brezhnev needs to restore the momentum to détente, he cannot afford to abort his visit or leave SALT stalemated, unless he is also prepared to inaugurate a wholesale shift in policy next spring.

This does not mean, of course, that he can readily make a series of concessions; he must face his colleagues, and his position—for reasons of health and because he is in effect a lame duck—is more circumscribed than in previous summit meetings.

—He is still in charge and can make decisions on the spot, but he must be more solicitous of the collective in Moscow, lest he risk the fate of Khrushchev.

Nor can he fail to see elements of strength and opportunity for the USSR in the fact that there is a weakening of the western coalition, especially the southern perimeter, that the industrial west is in some disarray, that Europe is shifting to the left, that there is a debate in the US over the control of foreign policy, and that there continue to be openings in the Middle East and Southeast Asia for the expansion of Soviet influence.

Nevertheless, in a broad sense, your objectives and Brezhnev’s coincide: he wants to make progress on SALT, though not at any price, he hopes for a successful visit to the US (though he may be very wary of his public reception), he wants to demonstrate that détente is reciprocal and that it brings gains to the USSR.

In sum, Brezhnev may be apprehensive, even somewhat truculent about the course of relations since you met him at Vladivostok; but objectively, he has no major options, other than to pursue this course, but he will do so in a more sober manner, looking for weaknesses that can be exploited.

[Page 955]

Substantive Issues


The issue here is not so much the wording of documents or who won or lost, but what happens in the future: the Soviets no doubt have a different appreciation of CSCE and a different interpretation of it than we do. For them it is, in fact, a general postwar settlement recodifying the status quo politically and territorially. We can expect Brezhnev to make these points, however subtly, in his address to the conference though no doubt he will clothe his remarks in high-sounding phrases about peace and progress.

  • —You will want to explain that CSCE should be a guide to future relations, and in this sense a yardstick for measuring conduct.
  • —We expect to be attacked for signing what appears to many to be a meaningless document, and, as the General Secretary knows, we cannot constitutionally treat these documents as solemn treaty commitments.
  • —Nevertheless, you will stand behind the results and defend their value in the US, but you will do so in the sense that they establish standards for behavior that should be translated into practice through implementation of bilateral agreements.
  • —You should remind Brezhnev that we have no territorial issues in dispute and that we long ago accepted the existing borders, subject to our special rights and obligations for Germany and Berlin.
  • —We have played a key role in this conference, and sought to cooperate with both the Soviet Union and our allies.
  • —Now that it is completed, it is time to look to the other key negotiations—on mutual and balanced force reductions (MBFR). You may wish to say that we recognize Soviet motives for not proceeding in the MBFR talks until CSCE was completed, but that if MBFR now remains deadlocked, it will only increase the skepticism in the US about the value of European security negotiation.7
  • —You are prepared to initiate some changes in our position, in the direction of meeting Soviet complaints about reduction in nuclear systems, but this must be reciprocal—the Soviets must be prepared to respond to your initiative.
  • —In particular, the goal of these talks must be one of rough parity, rather than codifying existing imbalances.8 Moreover, the US and [Page 956] USSR must assume a special responsibility by making reductions first in the first phase.
  • —You and the General Secretary ought to take this occasion to emphasize the necessity for progress on what he calls “military détente” to provide the substance of the political détente of CSCE.

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

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Trip Files, Box 14, July 26–August 4, 1975, Europe–General (16). Secret; Sensitive.
  2. Ford highlighted the paragraph up to this point.
  3. Ford underlined “buoyant mood.”
  4. See footnote 4, Document 49.
  5. During a breakfast meeting with reporters on July 1, Schlesinger said that the United States had not disavowed the first use of nuclear weapons, especially tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, if it was facing defeat in a conventional war. He said: “If one accepts the no-first-use doctrine, one is accepting a self-denying ordinance that weakens deterrence.” (John W. Finney, “Schlesinger Says U.S. Is Willing to Use Nuclear Weapons First,” New York Times, July 2, 1975, p. 8)
  6. Telegram 81064 to Mogadishu, April 9, reads in part: “Articles appeared in New York Times (April 7) and Washington Post (April 8), attributed to ‘Defense Department officials’ and ‘Pentagon spokesman,’ respectively, concerning Soviet cruise missile storage facility at Berbera.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)
  7. Ford highlighted this paragraph.
  8. Ford underlined “rough parity” and “codifying existing imbalances” in this sentence.