34. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • Secretary General Manlio Brosio
  • Dr. Kissinger
  • Ambassador Ellsworth

Brosio opened the conversation by stating that the Alliance’s main problem at the moment is the problem of U.S. force levels. A unilateral cut, other than in an MBFR context, would be disastrous. The President interjected that he appreciated that and agreed with it.

Brosio went on to say that there were three points he would like to make in connection with the question of US force levels:

First, he thought it was important to stress, politically and publicly, the possibility of serious discussions on MBFR—quite apart from any tie or link with the possible Conference on European Security—as a way to hold force levels against unilateral cuts.
Second, Brosio felt that the AD–702 exercise, which he had instituted in response to the President’s foreign policy report of last February,3 would provide a rationale for the Europeans to maintain and [Page 82] even possibly increase their military support and readiness for the Alliance strategy, which would also provide a modern rationalization for keeping forces at an appropriate level of strength; and
Third, Brosio felt that the Europeans should be pushed, and pushed hard, to do their best, not only in terms of picking up some of the financial burden as far as US forces were concerned, but also and primarily, to improve their own military efforts—and Brosio hoped this would help the President keep U.S. forces strong in Europe.

In response, the President said that we would welcome MBFR—that is what we have to say politically, especially in Europe. With regard to a possible Conference on European Security, such a Conference would not be useful for us, although we have to agree to hold it. Pending the development of MBFR, however, there can be no reduction of NATO forces, the President added, because that would leave us with nothing to bargain. Meanwhile, the Soviets keep increasing and improving their strength in Europe, so we cannot cut. Any force reductions in Europe must be mutual.
On burden sharing, the President said that we would welcome budgetary sharing but of course it could not be put on a mercenary basis. Actually, it would be better for the Europeans to increase the readiness of their own forces. In the final analysis there would have to be a combination of effort from the Europeans, with primary emphasis on increases in European military efforts—although, of course, as both he and Brosio know, the Germans represent a special case for a variety of reasons.

The President said that, as far as actual cost sharing is concerned, the main significance of that would be political not military.

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

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 467, President’s Trip Files, Presidential European Trip, MemCons, September 27–October 5, 1970. Secret; Nodis; Sensitive. In a backchannel message to Kissinger, September 19, Ellsworth wrote: “For more than a year now, the Alliance has been in the throes of trying to decide how to handle Warsaw Pact proposals for a CES. Throughout the debate we have taken an extremely reserved position, arguing that the proposals, if accepted, would strengthen the international position of the GDR and split the alliance.” Ellsworth noted he had prevented an “unseemly rush to an early and unstructured conference, but pressure from our more détente-minded allies (particularly the Scandinavians and Benelux) has pushed NATO ever closer to agreement to begin ‘exploring’ the possibilities of a CES with the East.” Ellsworth noted: “Brosio is personally opposed to a CES, and has done what he can to slow things down.” (Ibid., Box 466, President’s Trip Files, Presidential European Trip, Vol. I)
  2. The Defense Planning Committee of NATO commissioned a study in May 1970, “Alliance Defense Problems for the 1970’s,” known as AD–70, to discuss the problems the Alliance would face in the next decade, determine priorities for the Alliance, and propose solutions.
  3. On February 18, in his First Annual Report to the Congress on United States Foreign Policy for the 1970’s, Nixon stated: “In choosing a strategy for our general purpose forces for the 1970’s, we decided to continue our support for the present NATO strategy. And the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense announced at the NATO Council meeting in December that we would maintain current U.S. troop levels in Europe at least through mid-1971. At the same time, we recognized that we must use this time to conduct a thorough study of our strategy for the defense of Western Europe, including a full and candid exchange of views with our allies.” See Public Papers: Nixon , 1970, p. 129.