363. Memorandum From William Shinn of the Office of the Counselor of the Department of State to the Counselor (Sonnenfeldt)1


  • Current Status of MBFR

A series of events in recent weeks has conspired to bog down the MBFR process. Three key issues in Brussels have as yet proved unyielding of resolution. Meanwhile, the EC meeting of October 6 produced added complications which threaten to hamstring the NATO clearance process. The Europeans suspect that we are in the midst of a reappraisal—a feeling which was abetted in large part by Lehman’s conversations in Europe.2 Schlesinger’s talks with Leber 3 further fanned speculation that we were cooling on MBFR and the DPQ leak has added to European apprehensions over the entire exercise. Finally, the talks themselves which resumed September 26 are largely in a holding pattern with the Soviets waiting for our long-expected move.

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German Attitudes

Van Well told Hillenbrand on October 9 that opposition was building in the FRG against MBFR.4 He also said that he was now the chief German policymaker on this subject. The British have told us that Van Well argued at the October 6 meeting for greater EC activity in preserving European interests and called for a study to be made.5 He reportedly voiced special concern over:

  • —Military limitation in a partial region of Europe, and
  • —The possible foreclosure of future European defense options.

Although he subsequently assured Hillenbrand that the EC had no intention of producing a common position on MBFR, he admitted that the goal of the discussions was to formulate criteria which could be used in NATO. The danger is that a CSCE type caucus could emerge and that this would produce the very kind of restrictive guidelines which you cautioned Van Well against in your conversation of September 17.6 Luns, of course, is acutely aware of this danger and fearful that NATO’s role in the MBFR process will be diluted.

The principal substantive issue at Brussels which bothers the Germans is the problem of Alliance equipment. Our position all along has been to avoid reductions and limits on Alliance equipment, but we have been reluctant to make binding pledges regarding Phase II. (We have likewise resisted a hard and fast prohibition against any future possibility of supplementing our nuclear offer with additional US elements.) In your talk with Van Well on September 17, he seemed to assume that we wanted a noncircumvention provision on both non-Soviet Warsaw Pact and non-US NATO equipment. This is not our position. We continue to hold that limits on allies’ equipment are not acceptable. Nevertheless, the FRG anticipates that the Soviets will call for such limits and they have put forward a scheme of seeking to reassure the East against non-US NATO equipment increases by arguing that the manpower ceilings would preclude this. We have pointed out that this argument simply doesn’t work when applied to systems such as aircraft and missiles which require relatively little manpower (3,000 men for our entire Option III package), and that it is a de facto agreement that some kind of limit is required. To resolve the impasse on this entire issue, we have submitted compromise wording which continues to state that limits on allies’ equipment are unacceptable in Phase I. We [Page 1067] have also agreed to an inter-allied assurance to the FRG that there should be no reduction in non-US allied equipment in Phase II, but on the condition that this not be conveyed to the other side. To introduce Phase II issues such as this into the talks would make phasing impossible, but we are prepared to reassure the Germans that we will not allow the destruction of their equipment in either phase.

The UK and the Common Ceiling

The British have been cool to the use of the EC forum, but at Brussels they have remained firm on the issue which Hattersley raised with you last summer.7 In brief, the UK continues to argue that there should be a numerically agreed definition of the common ceiling in exchange for our Option 3 proposal in Phase I. This of course reflects the continued British interest in “conflation” of the two phases and this is why we object to it. It would open up a Pandora’s box of Phase II issues. Our most recent compromise proposal which the British currently have under consideration is as follows:

The Allies should insist that a Phase I agreement should contain a clear understanding as to the levels of all US and Soviet military personnel in the area of reductions, except for Naval personnel. They should seek a common understanding with the East on the aggregate level(s) of ground and (air) force personnel of both sides in the area of reductions following the Phase I reductions. If the course of Phase I negotiations makes this feasible, the Allies could in addition seek a common understanding with the East as to the numerical level of the common collective ceiling to be reached following the Phase II reductions.

Their initial reaction has been to note that we are still hedging in our language which is of course true. However, they have told us they consider it an acceptable basis for Alliance discussion and compromise.


At the October 6 EC meeting, DeRose listed five French concerns over Option III.8 They are as follows along with a suggested rebuttal.

The Soviets will press for inclusion of European Tac Nukes. [Page 1068]
  • —Our position is to resist such demands.
A ceiling on non-Soviet Warsaw Pact tanks will be necessary and will lead to a ceiling on European and US tanks.
  • —We can’t have this both ways. If we are concerned over Pact circumvention of tank reductions, we would indeed have to face similar Soviet demands on European tanks. However, our position has been that the danger of Soviet circumvention through its Pact allies is not sufficient to warrant raising the issue with its invariable consequences. If non-Soviet Warsaw Pact countries increase their tanks, the West Europeans would be free to do likewise.
The non-verifiability of warhead reduction would set a dangerous precedent.
  • —As you recall, DeRose raised the verification argument in your exchanges with him last spring. Your reply then still holds. We believe the Soviets have means of monitoring reductions of our nuclear warheads as well as the withdrawal and remaining levels of aircraft and launchers. In any case, we doubt they would denigrate their own verification ability by arguing later that they had signed an agreement which could not be verified.
Inclusion of nuclear capable F–4’s is inconsistent with the principle of reduced asymmetries.
  • —We actually have a superior nuclear-capable aircraft force in Europe; the reductions we are contemplating in Option III will have little effect on the nuclear balance and are well worth the improvements in the conventional balance which they are designed to facilitate.
Option III could be the first step for denuclearization of Europe.
  • —We have no intention to denuclearize Europe. Our rationale for Option III is to use an asset which we have in surplus to reduce Soviet armor which is a destabilizing element.

The Reciprocity Issue

As a result of Lehman’s trip, the Europeans are aware that we are reviewing our position on reciprocity. That position states that the Soviets “would not increase their armaments analogous to those withdrawn by the US in such a manner as to undermine the basis of the agreement.” At Brussels, only the FRG has failed to clear this wording and the FRG has asked only for clarification. This we could easily provide as OSD has carefully examined possible formulations ranging from a freeze on equipment to a broad noncircumvention pledge.

On October 20, John Thomson told Lodal that the British saw both sides of this issue.9 On the one hand it could be argued as more important [Page 1069] to retain Western flexibility on tanks than to tie down the East on nuclears. On the other hand, it would be difficult to limit the West but not the East in the politically sensitive area of nuclear arms. Thomson said the British did not feel strongly but would be willing to drop reciprocity if we made it doubly clear that there would be no limits on allies’ equipment. He said that they would be extremely upset if we dropped reciprocity and then later started asking for limits on alliance equipment.

Despite what John Lehman was told in Europe, chances are that we could clear our current position on reciprocity at NATO. However, the issue has now been mooted in the USG and will probably require VP consideration later this month. To bring you up-to-date on the bureaucratic infighting, on October 16 Schlesinger cleared the OSD position personally,10 calling for retention of the current US position and deferral of any reassessment until after the “pause,” following our initial presentation of Option 3 at Vienna.

Recent intelligence findings indicate the Soviets are building up and modernizing their nuclear forces in the guidelines area. This not only creates a military rationale for reciprocity, but strengthens the political case as well. When this information becomes known, it will be difficult to defend an agreement which failed to take it into account.

Themes to Stress in the Discussion

  • —As the President has said, we are anxious to move forward in MBFR and to table Option 3. We are not undertaking a major review of our position. There is nothing up our sleeve. Our position is what we have described it to be at Brussels.
  • —We have said all along that we have no objection to discussion by the Europeans of European issues in MBFR, but NATO should remain the primary focus.
  • —We remain aware of the pitfalls of the MBFR process and of Option 3; in particular, we have long recognized the possibility that MBFR might be seen as leading to a special zone of military limitations in Central Europe; however, there is little danger of this given the modest dimension of the measures being proposed. Our objective has always been to reduce the instabilities and hazards of the current balance of forces in this region and hence enhance its security as well as the security of all NATO partners committed to the common defense.
  • —Option 3 is a logical move to further this objective by bargaining forces we don’t need against the Pact superiority in men and armor which is threatening and dangerous.
  • —This move will be complemented by the planned modernization of our forces, both nuclear and conventional, to make them more effective and credible.
  • —It is possible that the Soviets may elect to defer a response to Option 3 until SALT is wrapped up. However, we see no reason to delay putting Option 3 on the table at the current session in Vienna.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Office of the Counselor, Entry 5339, Box 3, HS Official, Chronological. Secret.
  2. Lodal and Sonnenfeldt wrote in a memorandum to Kissinger, October 3: “John Lehman has made a trip to Europe during which he discussed privately with Haig and several officials in the FRG and UK the idea of dropping reciprocal constraints from our Option III proposal. (These discussions could prove troublesome later.) Lehman claims that SACEUR, UK, and FRG would follow our lead immediately if we propose that the language in the draft guidance on reciprocal restraints be dropped. Ikle would like to change the US position before NATO clears it and asks that the VP address the matter.” (Ford Library, NSC Program Analysis Staff, Steve Hadley MBFR Files, Box 61, Ikle/Lehman Reciprocity Initiative, Sept. 1975 (2)) On October 11, Higgins and Richard T. Boverie of the NSC staff also wrote in a memorandum to Scowcroft that “John Lehman convinced Ikle that the US position on reciprocity should be changed and Ikle signed out a memo to HAK on September 4 requesting a VP to reassess the issue” and that on “the following Monday (September 8) we held a VPWG on the subject at which each agency representative stated a willingness to reopen the issue in the USG, but all agreed that we should not change the US position now since that would serve to delay the NATO process of clearing Option II.” They continued: “Lehman then went to Europe where he talked ‘unofficially’ with Haig and with several UK and FRG officials about changing the US position. Upon his return he informed us that Haig and the Europeans would go along if we changed our position and that he no longer wanted to try to clear the current US language.” (Ibid., Sept. 1975 (4))
  3. Schlesinger met with Leber in Bonn on September 28. According to a memorandum of their conversation, October 16, Schlesinger told Leber: “No one can guarantee that MBFR is riskless; if the negotiations continue for a lengthy period, it may not be bad. With respect to Option III, some elements are not costly to give up and others we’d give up with considerable reluctance. But we have to be careful because we should just be prepared to say ‘no’ to some of the Soviet offers.” (Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–78–0058, Germany 333)
  4. Telegram 16657 from Bonn, October 10, provided a summary of Van Well’s conversation with Hillenbrand. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)
  5. Telegram 15692 from London, October 10, provided a British report on the EC–9 meeting and Van Well’s comments. (Ibid.)
  6. A memorandum of Sonnenfeldt’s conversation with Van Well is ibid., Records of the Office of the Counselor, Entry 5339, Box 5, Germany, 1975.
  7. On June 18, Sonnenfeldt wrote in a memorandum to Kissinger about a conversation with Hattersley: “In the subsequent discussion of MBFR, Hattersley reiterated UK fears that we are weakening on the common ceiling. I stressed that this remained our firm objective and that we would insist on the concept being accepted in some manner in a stage one agreement. The British seem to want a very precise agreement on the substance of the common ceiling in a stage one agreement, but I could not establish whether there is in fact a real difference between us. We agreed that NAC’s eventual guidance to the Vienna negotiators should put Option III in the context of our total negotiating position, including the common ceiling. Hattersley also left a paper on ceilings and constraints which reiterates UK proposals for avoiding common ceilings on US and Western tanks. We will staff this through the VPWG and respond to the UK later.” (Ibid., Box 12, Daily Activities Reports) A memorandum of Sonnenfeldt’s conversation with Hattersley is ibid., Box 4, Britain, 1975.
  8. Telegram 15692 from London, October 10, reported on De Rose’s expressed concerns at the EC–9 meeting. (Ibid., Central Foreign Policy Files)
  9. No record of this conversation has been found.
  10. Aletter from Michael, October 16, to the Chairman of the Verification Panel Working Group citing Schlesinger’s endorsement is in the Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Subject Files, Box 13, MBFR (21).