353. Editorial Note

In December 1974 and January 1975, the Ford administration discussed at the highest levels when and whether to introduce a nuclear option at the mutual and balanced force reduction (MBFR) talks in Vienna. At the beginning of December 1974, in response to Secretary [Page 1034] of Defense Schlesinger’s letter of December 3 (Document 352), Secretary of State Kissinger discussed with Schlesinger the timing for introducing a nuclear option. At a meeting on December 7 with President Ford, President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs Scowcroft, and Schlesinger, Kissinger said: “At NATO, I would hold the nuclear package for now. About March would be best. I think Brezhnev might be ready to move on MBFR in preparation for the summit.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 431, Subject File, Schlesinger, James R., Memoranda of Conversation) Jan Lodal of the NSC staff wrote in his log on December 7: “Schlesinger and Kissinger met this morning. Kissinger talked Schlesinger out of telling the rump NPG session that we were considering reducing nuclear weapons. He also talked him out of moving on MBFR until March.” (Ford Library, NSC Program Analysis Staff, Jan Lodal Convenience Files, Box 70, Daily Log)

On December 10, Lodal sent a White House telegram (Tohak 2) to Kissinger, who was en route to the December 12–13 NATO Ministerial meeting in Brussels. The telegram reads in part: “Two items concerning nuclear elements in MBFR showed up in the press today from Brussels. You should be aware of them. Upon arrival in Brussels on December 9, Schlesinger had the following exchange with newsmen, in part: ‘Q: Mr. Secretary, what do you see as the focus of the ministerial meetings at this time? A: The focus of the ministerial meetings will be to achieve a long range strategy for NATO. [omission in the original] I might mention the result of the Vladivostok conference. I think from the standpoint of Western Europe that the results are interesting not only in terms of the agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union to have equality in terms of the number of central strategic systems, but perhaps more significant is the willingness of the Soviet Union to abandon a position that it has maintained for some years that would require forward based systems to be included in considerations with regard to central strategic systems. Forward based systems were dropped from any discussion with relation to the central strategic systems, and to the extent that there will be any discussion of forward based systems, it would take place within the discussions going on [regarding]mutual and balanced force reductions. This has been a matter of concern to our European allies for some years, and therefore it is particularly noteworthy that the results of the Vladivostok conference have given them cause to rejoice on this particular issue. In addition, I might say that the decision to establish a common ceiling with regard to strategic delivery vehicles would be a harbinger of a decision to accept a common ceiling with regard to forces in Central Europe.’” Lodal commented: “Schlesinger may have been trying to reassure the Europeans that no FBS deal was made with the Soviets as per your conversation on December 6. However, his remarks are certain to be interpreted by some [Page 1035] as an admission that we agreed with the Soviets to discuss FBS in MBFR. As you may know, there has been a good bit of speculation on this point in the European press for the past week or so. In addition to Schlesinger’s comments, the Netherlands’ Defense Minister Vredeling told the Eurogroup that the Dutch would propose to the NATO ministerial meeting Thursday that ‘the alliance’s tactical nuclear weapons be considered a bargaining counter’ in the MBFR talks. West German Defense Minister Leber objected to this proposal, calling it ‘bad and unwise.’ He commented that ‘if the East wants to bring up such a point, it should say what it is willing to reduce.’ All of this has been reported in the press.” On December 11, Scowcroft wrote to Kissinger in telegram Tohak 11: “I mentioned the Schlesinger comments about MBFR to the President (Hakto 1). The President agrees completely with you that such talk should stop, and I am so informing Schlesinger.” (Both in the Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Trip Files, Box 7, December 14–16, 1974, Martinique, Tohak 12/10–13/74)

Telegram 492 from the United States delegation to the MBFR talks, December 10, recommended “that the US decide to introduce Option 3 into the MBFR negotiations in the near future and begin specific consultations with the Allies on it by the beginning of January with a view to introducing Option 3 in Vienna early in the next round.” Telegram 271497 to the U.S. delegation to the MBFR talks, December 11, responded: “The Secretary has read reftel. He will consider arguments presented therein further and review the matter in Washington. Meanwhile, he wants no discussion of Option III with foreign representatives. The Secretary has noted speculation that dropping of the FBS in SALT by Soviets in Vladivostok involved some deal on use of Option III or even understanding on unilateral US nuclear cuts in Europe. This is of course totally false. It also makes timing of any use of Option III that much more sensitive.” (Both ibid., Presidential Country Files for Europe and Canada, Box 1, Austria, from SecState–Nodis)

On December 20, Kissinger gave a deep background briefing at a MBFR negotiations? Secretary: I have told my associates never to discuss this in the negotiations. One should not make compromises on matters of national interest until thirty seconds before midnight. The Nunn amendment was not a wise move. If the Soviets know we are being forced to withdraw our nuclear weapons, they will not give in.” The memorandum continues: “Question: When do you expect an MBFR agreement? In the spring? Secretary: I gave no April one deadline to our NATO colleagues in Brussels. The timing is bad as it is too soon after Vladivostok to see a conclusion of the negotiations.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P–7425337)

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On January 16, 1975, the Verification Panel met to discuss Option III. Schlesinger also attended. Lodal described the meeting in his daily log: “We had an MBFR VP meeting in the afternoon. I met briefly with Kissinger before the meeting (Scowcroft and then Sonnenfeldt joined later). Kissinger started off by saying, ‘Can you tell me what this meeting is all about?’ He wanted to know what the political situation was—why was Schlesinger all of a sudden getting excited about MBFR. Brent and I explained that he wanted to take out warheads from Europe. Kissinger snidely remarked, ‘Take the nucs out of Europe—he’s really the tough guy.’ Sonnenfeldt then came in and digressed about what Ikle would talk about. Kissinger said that if Ikle had suggested it, the one thing we would be sure about is that the idea was no good. He then asked a couple of questions about what the Nunn Amendment issue was, and I explained. Sonnenfeldt told him he had to make a decision. Schlesinger came to the meeting itself, which went very well. Kissinger went through the major options. Schlesinger indicated his willingness to go along with Option III. Resor and Dean did not know what our air manpower position was when asked directly by Kissinger—extremely embarrassing. We came out of the meeting with a fairly clear consensus that we would play Option III and try to get the tank army for it, but not agreement to the common ceiling. Everyone agreed we would have to pitch in [to?] Europeans to get agreement to the common ceiling.” Lodal’s log continues: “Kissinger was quite humorous at the VP meeting—joking with Schlesinger by saying that ‘if people who know something about the issues start coming to these meetings, it will disrupt the entire process.’ Schlesinger also did well—after pointing out that Leber is the German peacetime commander-inchief, he said this was an idea which ‘would receive some support in this country.’ Kissinger said he thought we were already there. It was quite a humorous exchange.” (Ford Library, NSC Program Analysis Staff, Jan Lodal Convenience Files, Box 70, Daily Log)

The minutes of the Verification Panel meeting included the following “summary of conclusions”: “It was agreed that: Defense will prepare a new Option III package; an NSC Meeting will be scheduled the week of January 20, 1975; [and] the options to be decided by the President are: play Option III for a Soviet tank army and agreement on a common ceiling for Phase II; [or] play Option III for both a Soviet tank army and a common ceiling in Phase II, but the Europeans must agree to take token Phase I reductions.” (Ibid., NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–110, Verification Panel Meeting Minutes, Originals)