343. Editorial Note

Throughout the month of August 1973, Soviet officials approached U.S. diplomats regarding mutual and balanced force reductions (MBFR), and it also became a topic of conversation between President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Kissinger and Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin. On August 1, Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council staff wrote in a memorandum to Kissinger: “A Soviet First Secretary, Bykov, has approached Jock Dean, supposedly on instructions from the Ambassador, to discuss MBFR. I have told Dean to stall. Given Allied sensitivities and state of the NATO debate—just beginning on our latest paper and substantial disagreement with the British—this is obviously a very delicate moment at which to begin any kind of substantive exchanges with Dobrynin. You could, however, make the following substantive points to feed into the Moscow machinery: [Page 1000]

  • “—As they know, we have made extensive studies; our goal has been to devise possible agreements that would enhance each side’s defensive position—or reduce each side’s offensive capacity—and thus enhance stability;
  • “—We have found that small ‘symbolic’ cuts do not satisfy those criteria, be they in absolute figures or in percentages. Moreover, given differing political circumstances, small symbolic cuts would be to our disadvantage and thus violate the principle of undiminished security. Further, equal absolute cuts work to our disadvantage since we start with a lower base; so would straight percentage cuts;
  • “—For these reasons, as indicated in the President’s last annual report to Congress, we have concentrated our efforts on achieving outcomes that produce substantial equality of forces, i.e., the common ceiling approach;
  • “—We must also take account of geographic inequalities that favor the USSR, for this reason we have given thought to ways whereby any limitation agreement confined to a specific area in Central Europe would not be vitiated by actions taken in areas adjacent to the limitation area, i.e., the idea of non-circumvention. The Soviets should realize this is a very serious problem for us and should, in their turn, give thought to this problem.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 68, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Map Room-D)

Kissinger discussed MBFR in a luncheon meeting with Dobrynin on August 2. A memorandum of their conversation reads in part: “K[issinger]: Now, one of your First Secretaries, Bykov, has been trying to talk to Dean about MBFR. D[obrynin]: By who? Who was it? K: Jock Dean, the one who is in Vienna. D: About what? K: He wants to discuss MBFR—the force reductions. The Vienna negotiations. D: [omission in memorandum] K: Basically, Dean won’t tell you anything that I haven’t. D: [omission in memorandum] one of my First Secretaries meet someone, [omission in memorandum] specifically doesn’t come from me.” The memorandum continues: “K: Anatol, the only reason it comes to me is because all our people are under instructions when—and therefore, I just wondered whether there was any particular thing here. D: No. K: Okay. Dean won’t really tell him anything so it doesn’t make any difference.” Kissinger continue D: “I am seeing Lord Carrington this afternoon—British Defense Minister—and he has just seen our paper. D: Yeah. K: I could tell you what we are thinking because sooner or later you will hear it anyway. D: Yes, but—K: Let me wait. Definitely next week we will devote half an hour to that point, and I will give you a pretty good outline of our thinking. D: Because [omission in memorandum]K: What basically we are thinking is that in that category of 10–15% for our forces and then reducing the Warsaw [Page 1001] Pact forces to the level that will then be achieved after we cut back 10–15%—D: [omission in memorandum] first stage I understand. But what is second stage? K: Second stage is—D: Because our mutual [omission in memorandum] K: After we have both cut—D: Yes. [omission in memorandum] 10%? K: No. What we want to do is to get after the first cut the forces on both sides to be equal. D: Yeah. So you mean ours or the NATO-Warsaw? K: No. NATO-Warsaw. D: Yeah. K: But actually according to our calculations, that means we have to cut about 10–12% of our forces and you may have to cut about 14% of yours. It is not a big gap. D: Yeah. But you mean [omission in memorandum] forces or not with NATO or Warsaw? K: NATO and Warsaw, Soviet and American forces, or foreign […] What I am trying to say is what we can do most—and this is why I am a little uncertain yet—it may not be a totally symmetrical cut.” The memorandum continues: “D: Is there [omission in memorandum] proposals then or is just discussed going on his side proposals [omission in memorandum] You have proposed something? K: We have not. D: You haven’t?” The memorandum continues: “K: I think what we should do, Anatol, is to work out between—is to see if you and me can come to some general figure and then conduct a negotiation—D: Yeah. K: In Vienna in a way that’s compatible with this agreement; otherwise it is going to be [omission in memorandum].” (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger and Scowcroft West Wing Office Files, Box 29, USSR, The “D” File)

On August 4, Sonnenfeldt wrote Kissinger in another memorandum for “prompt information”: “Following an earlier approach by First Secretary Bykov, Soviet Minister Vorontsov has now asked Stoessel on instruction concerning US intentions in regard to bilateral consultations on MBFR (Tab A). He said Dobrynin was prepared to meet with the Secretary or Stoessel to discuss our respective approaches. Stoessel said we were still preparing our position and he could not comment on the Soviet suggestion.” Kissinger wrote at the bottom of the memorandum: “We want to keep MBFR in my channel. Please put in talker for D[obrynin] lunch.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 248, Agency Files, CSCE and MBFR)

In an undated memorandum, Kissinger informed President Nixon about his luncheon conversation with Dobrynin on August 9. Kissinger wrote with regard to MBFR: “I explained to Dobrynin conceptually how we were approaching the MBFR question, that is to say, that we were thinking of an overall percentage NATO reduction which would lead to a common ceiling for both NATO and the Warsaw Pact, perhaps to be reached at two stages, the first stage of which might be a ten–fifteen percent reduction of Soviet and U.S. forces. Dobrynin said, did I mean foreign forces? I said that it was still open whether other [Page 1002] countries would join us. In the second stage, then, the composition between stationed and indigenous forces would be left to the negotiation. Dobrynin said for the Soviet Union it was more important to know what the end figure would be than what the percentage would be. Dobrynin wondered what end figure we were talking about. I told him I would have to let him know. And I pointed out to him also that this was still tentative thinking not fully approved by NATO.” (Ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 68, Dobrynin/Kissinger, Vol. 19)

Kissinger and Dobrynin also discussed MBFR in a meeting on August 16. Kissinger wrote in another undated memorandum to Nixon: “On MBFR, Dobrynin asked if there already existed an allied position. I said no, but that I was pretty sure that what I had outlined to him before would meet substantial agreement. Dobrynin asked what we really had in mind as between the first and second stages—what time should the first stage be agreed, and how much later after that the second. I said it was our idea that the first stage might be completed next year and that we might then take another year-and-a-half to two years on the second. Dobrynin indicated that this might be reasonable.” (Ibid.)

On September 13, the Soviet Embassy delivered a letter to Kissinger. It reads in part: “Dr. Kissinger’s considerations on some aspects of the forthcoming talks on reduction of the armed forces and armaments in Central Europe have been attentively studied in Moscow, and a confidential exchange of opinion with the US side on this problem is considered therefore as useful. On our part we would like now to express the following. We note the existence of a common understanding between us as to the importance of working out a coordinated approach towards main aspects of the forthcoming talks in Vienna.” The letter stated that the Soviet Union would “proceed from the premise that the reductions should not lead to an upset of the developed balance of forces in Central Europe, but rather should ensure maintaining security in this area.” The letter further stated that “in this connection Moscow shares the point of view that the reductions of equal percentage constitute a just and realistic approach” and that “we do not exclude the possibility of an initial, symbolic reduction.” (Ibid.)