341. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Lord Carrington, Defense Minister of the United Kingdom
  • Mr. Richard A. Sykes, Minister of the British Embassy
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Mr. Helmut Sonnenfeldt, NSC Senior Staff
  • Miss Kathleen Anne Ryan, NSC Staff Notetaker

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

Kissinger: Then who is holding us up on MBFR?

Carrington: To keep you on your toes. There is no suspicion on the administration but on what it might be pressured into doing.

Kissinger: Our journalists are now engaged in proving everything that is wrong with the administration, even in foreign policy—the agreement with the Russians, etc. Everytime that happens our Congress has to draw the conclusion that if the Europeans feel that we are selling them, why help them.

[to Sykes:] You see our press.

Sykes: I am perfectly certain that nobody hears it in official circles.

Kissinger: We keep hearing from the British that we are selling détente too cheaply. We should get bigger concessions, MBFR, SALT.

Carrington: We put in a paper on MBFR.2 It doesn’t say that at all.

[Page 995]

Kissinger: Let’s not argue about that.

Carrington: I feel cautious about it.

Kissinger: I also feel cautious about it. Then there was this insane Hungarian debate. I find it too early to judge where we stand.

Carrington: All this is in the paper. We would prefer to see judgments in terms of combat effectiveness rather than in numbers.

Kissinger: We need a formula. My experience with the Russians is that they are bloody minded, petty and untrustworthy. The worst mistake is a horse trading position. Then we are caught in an endurance test where they can play on our down situation. The major thing is to find some theory which you can get them to accept. Then there are still bloody fights, but it is easier.

Percentage cuts—if we say equal percentage cuts we prefer to get down to a common ceiling. Percentage will give them a disproportionate cut, also in numbers. I got from Dobrynin that they are willing to have percentage cuts by 5%.3 But if the cut is too small, it won’t do for us domestically. If it is too large, it will get us into trouble.

Carrington: The initiative should be in terms of combat effectiveness rather than in terms of numbers or tank divisions which seems …

Kissinger: Our position was leaked to the Russians. Dobrynin gave it to me briefly and asked if it was accurate. How many days ago did we table it?

Carrington: When?

Sonnenfeldt: A week ago.

Kissinger: Fairly accurate.

Carrington: The last paper.

Sonnenfeldt: Yes.

Carrington: My feeling is that if you start with what you want to end with, you won’t get it.

Kissinger: The Soviets are not eager to make large cuts.

[Page 996]

Carrington: So they won’t push you up to greater cuts.

Sonnenfeldt: The irony is that it won’t help us here.

Kissinger: If we say 5%.

Sonnenfeldt: Especially if the margin of error is more than 5% for inspection.

Kissinger: That is right.

Sonnenfeldt: We are talking about the concept of an outcome.

Kissinger: The best would be if we get something that required a number of years to get it done. The plan is 10% of ours and 15% of theirs.

Sonnenfeldt: In the second stage the common ceiling forces are larger than ours. The difference between us is 10,000—19,000 to 29,000.

Carrington: All I am interested in is combat effectiveness.

Kissinger: He [Dobrynin] said he had heard we wanted a disproportionate percentage then in the first stage. I just had lunch with him. He didn’t give me the exact figures. He is pushing 5%. I said we have to think about something higher. We have defended the theory. Dobrynin said I understand we have to cut 5% more than you in the first stage. He asked what the theory is. I said, “Why don’t you ask your people who gave it to you?” He said, “They can’t explain it.”

Sonnenfeldt: Actually the President’s report to Congress4 mentioned a common ceiling.

Kissinger: The 10% NATO cut and the common ceiling of the Warsaw Pact would be a 10% US cut and a 15% cut for them. And the second phase will be both sides. Take the difference between the 10% US and the 15% Soviet that can be composed of both Soviet and other forces. The second phase the Germans explained to them.

Carrington: I talked with Leber after he talked with you.5

Kissinger: I like him.

Carrington: He is a good man. He seemed quite happy about indigenous forces only mentioned.

Kissinger: What is your view?

Carrington: I like the idea about the security; I don’t know about the figures.

Sonnenfeldt: Our military is not happy with the size.

Carrington: The military are always going to say that.

Kissinger: We sneaked a good number out during the Vietnam war and this administration has replaced them. They were not missed.

[Page 997]

Sonnenfeldt: This can be worked out within NATO.

Kissinger: What can we do about the leak problem if they know about it a week after our position is stated.

Sonnenfeldt: It could be a mechanical problem.

Kissinger: You think so?

Carrington: Then you start unworthy suspicions.

Kissinger: In this town you can be paranoid and have your suspicions found true. [Laughter]

Carrington: We shouldn’t have a repetition of the first talks.

Kissinger: There it is, but this other thing NATO has to recognize—the Russians will not roll over and accept it. I think our position in its numerical form will prove unacceptable to the Soviets. And they have to take a 62,000 cut to 29,000 and tanks against nothing. No Soviet negotiator can sell this to the Politburo. I don’t mind having this as an opening position. We have to keep in mind the elements of a nuclear package or another package. We can’t have another brawl, saying that I have worked it out secretly with Brezhnev or that the United States is double crossing its allies. If we can get a Soviet tank army and tanks out, probably we will have to get something out.

Carrington: This could be said except for the problem of security.

Sonnenfeldt: We have said in NATO what it might be.

Sykes: We have looked at it and taken bits of all three parts. Parts of it was one of our ideas.

Kissinger: This is not a bilateral US/UK undertaking, but we need your help.

Sonnenfeldt: You want a common ceiling defined as “combat capacity” and we want numbers which we consider the same.

Carrington: Depending on what you are doing.

Kissinger: We have to get some work done within NATO.

Carrington: How do you want to see NATO changed to make it more realistic?

Kissinger: Now there are 7,000 nuclear weapons in Europe; [1 line not declassified]

Sykes: A little more.

Sonnenfeldt: [1 line not declassified]

Kissinger: I have every confidence that Goodpaster has ideas if a war starts.

Carrington: I hope so.

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

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of Henry Kissinger, Entry 5403, Box 25, CATC Natural, 1974, Arab-Israeli War. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The conversation took place in Kissinger’s office at the White House. All brackets, with the exception of those indicating omitted and still classified material, are in the original.
  2. In telegram 8745 from London, July 30, the Embassy reported that “Tickell asked Embassy officer to call July 30 to receive copy of British paper on MBFR, which he said British will circulate in NATO today and leave copies at the Dept.” The telegram continued: “Commenting on US MBFR paper of July 27, Tickell said his observations were tentative and preliminary; British are doing a thorough analysis of new US approach.” Tickell, the Embassy reported, made several points: “A. Overall Allied reductions of ten percent are too high. US forces in the guidelines area should not be reduced by more than ten percent”; “B. US paper does not examine problem of withdrawn Soviet forces, which end up in western military districts of USSR”; “C. The US paper by its own logic commits Allies to a second stage more strongly than British think desirable, especially given their conviction that reductions of European forces should not be negotiated until the results of US-Soviet reductions and related measures have been assessed”; “D. As to second phase, British feel strongly that when and if it is reached, no US forces should be included”; and “E. Allied negotiating program should not be presented to the East even in skeleton outline at the early stages of negotiations.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 730, Country Files, United Kingdom, Vol. 8)
  3. On July 16, Kissinger wrote to the President about a meeting between himself and Dobrynin on July 10: “On MBFR he [Dobrynin] asked our reaction to a comment he said Brezhnev made to you in the helicopter to El Toro—that we should begin with modest cuts and then stop for a couple of years. I said we hadn’t realized it was meant as a proposal, but I would give him a reply next week. He said they were thinking of simply an informal understanding to work along those lines.” On July 30, Kissinger reported in a memorandum to Nixon that during a “very cordial luncheon meeting with Dobrynin” on July 26, Dobrynin had “again urged a U.S.-Soviet agreement in principle in advance of the negotiations” on MBFR. Kissinger continued: “He [Dobrynin] suggested a simple 5 percent cut. I replied that the matter was still before NATO, but that we were thinking of 10–15 percent cuts leading to a common ceiling, and less simple formulas than they had suggested.” (Ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 68, Dobrynin/Kissinger, Vol. 18)
  4. For the relevant section of the President’s Fourth Annual Report to the Congress on United States Foreign Policy, May 3, 1973, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1973, pp. 498–500.
  5. No record of Kissinger’s meeting with Leber has been found.