365. Briefing Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Hartman) and the Director of the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (Vest) to Secretary of State Kissinger1

MBFR—A Status Report


The MBFR negotiations in Vienna are essentially stalemated. In an effort to stimulate some progress in the negotiations, the U.S. has proposed to the Allies that NATO offer to reduce a package of U.S. nuclear elements. Since June, the Alliance has engaged in prolonged debate over several facets of this offer. Last week, in an effort to conclude the debate, the U.S. offered a series of proposals designed to meet the remaining Allied concerns over:

  • —reciprocal limits on Soviet nuclear systems;2
  • —limitations/reductions of non-U.S. Allied equipment; and
  • —the form of Phase II reduction commitments.

We also gave an indication of our views on timing.3 Preliminary Allied reactions have been encouraging. However, we cannot say with certainty whether or not the Alliance will be in a position to table the offer in Vienna before the Christmas break.4

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The Option III Deliberations in Brussels

Last week the US proposed to the Allies a series of compromises designed to resolve differences on major outstanding issues and permit prompt completion of work on the Option III Guidance and Position Paper.5 If the US proposals are accepted, the Allies at the technical level will have completed all the work necessary for tabling Option III in Vienna. The next question, then, will be one of policy—whether and when to table. Some of the Allies want to make the proposal to the Soviets prior to December 18, the end of the current MBFR round. In any event, the policy question promises to be a prominent item for discussion at the forthcoming NAC Ministerials.

On timing, the US has stated that we would like to have the option to table the offer during this round. However, a clear US statement that we wish to proceed promptly would be very helpful if we do indeed wish to table the offer before the Christmas break. In general, the FRG seems prepared to go ahead this round while the UK has not yet given a clear response. The British have asserted, for example, that the US would probably not wish to proceed with Option III because of the difficulties in SALT. Moreover, some Allies may have developed the impression that the US is not very anxious to pursue MBFR. They may have based this impression in part on their reading of high level attitudes in the USG. In addition, the reservations long harbored by many Allies over MBFR’s implications have begun to manifest themselves in a variety of ways—most notably through the FRG-inspired inauguration of EC–9 consultations on MBFR.6 Since the Allies recognize that tabling Option III in Vienna could propel the talks into a far more active stage, we expect them to approach the decision to table with caution.

The principal outstanding issues, on which the U.S. offered compromises last week, include:

  • —whether or not to seek reciprocal limits on Soviet nuclear systems analogous to the U.S. systems being reduced under Option III;
  • —the acceptability of limitations and/or reductions for non-U.S. Allied equipment and the tactics for handling the question; and
  • —whether the Phase II manpower reduction commitments of the Western direct participants would be collective or national.


This issue has been vigorously disputed internally within the USG. The initial U.S. position, currently in the Option III Draft Guidance, was a bureaucratic compromise which called for preventing increases of Soviet nuclear systems of such a magnitude as to “undermine the basis of the agreement.” The FRG challenged this language as dangerously vague, and asked us to clarify it.

Subsequently, ACDA, JCS, and State (with the Deputy Secretary’s approval) reopened the issue within the USG with a view to dropping our demand for reciprocity. These agencies argued that seeking such limits would lead to limits on U.S. tanks and buttress WP demands for limits on non-U.S. Allied equipment. Other elements of the government resisted such a change, basing their case on the “presentational” difficulties a total lack of restraint could have in Western parliaments.

Ultimately, the issue was resolved through another compromise. As a result, the U.S. told the UK and FRG7 that:

  • —the U.S. was opposed to limits on U.S. tanks (a logical concomitant of reciprocity); and
  • —the U.S. would defer a decision on whether or not to seek reciprocal limits on Soviet nuclear systems pending a Soviet response on Option III. Such a position would require removing the demand for reciprocity from the guidance.

This U.S. position on reciprocity has thus far only been discussed with the FRG and UK. The Germans stated they could accept the position at the working level8 and anticipated no difficulties with their senior officials. The UK has accepted the position at the ministerial level.9

Limitations/Reductions of Non-U.S. Equipment

Avoiding the limitation or reduction of non-U.S. NATO equipment has been a prime Allied desideratum throughout the Option III debate. The U.S. has agreed to meet the Allies’ demands substantively but has attempted to secure Allied agreement that the WP need not be informed of the unacceptability of such limits or reductions, particularly with regard [Page 1075] to Phase II, at an early point in the Option III negotiations. The Allies, by contrast, have wanted to inform the East that limitations on non-U.S. equipment are non-negotiable from virtually the outset.

The U.S. recently proposed a compromise10 which would:

  • —codify internal Allied agreement that the reduction on non-U.S. Allied equipment is unacceptable to NATO in either phase;
  • —instruct NATO negotiators to “firmly resist” Eastern attempts to secure such reductions;
  • —require the negotiators to parry questions regarding Phase II with the statement that Phase II issues will be addressed only in Phase II; and
  • —authorize the negotiators to state at a fairly early point in the Option III negotiations that limitations on non-U.S. Allied equipment are unacceptable to the West, while leaving ambiguous whether this phrase refers to both phases.

Phase II Reduction Commitments

A central FRG concern in MBFR has been to avoid the establishment of so-called national sub-ceilings (i.e., a specific, codified limitation on the size of the Bundeswehr). The Alliance has adopted such a position and has repeatedly told the East that national sub-ceilings are unacceptable.

However, the FRG fears that should the Western direct participants formally accept commitments to reduce by specified amounts in Phase II, this could act as a backdoor to national sub-ceilings. Thus, in the course of the Option III debate, the FRG has sought to secure adoption of a NATO position under which the Alliance would collectively undertake an obligation to reduce by X amount in Phase II. The East would be informed of the national breakdown of these reductions only after the Phase II agreement is signed.

The U.S. has now offered to accept the FRG proposed language on this issue (it skirts the issue of when the WP will be informed of the national breakdown of the NATO reductions). In contrast to the German position, however, the U.S. proposal would preclude revealing to the East during the Phase I negotiations that NATO’s Phase II reduction commitment must be collective in nature.11

Allied Reactions

The Alliance as a whole has only addressed the Phase II reduction commitments issue and the reductions portion of the reductions/limitations question. They have basically accepted the explicitly [Page 1076] substantive aspects of our proposals. However, they, with the exception of the UK, are balking at our desire to preclude Allied negotiators from exposing these NATO positions to the East with respect to Phase II. (Bonn’s preliminary reaction is at Tab 5 and the SPC discussion is reported at Tab 6.)12

The UK and FRG have welcomed our proposals on limitations. With respect to timing, the UK is manifesting some reluctance to table the offer this round, but other Allies seem more anxious to proceed (Tab 7–USNATO 6476 and 6512).13

State of the Negotiations in Vienna

The Vienna talks have made very little progress since their inception in October 1973. Both sides tabled proposals at the outset and with modest exceptions have generally been content to rest on those positions. NATO has offered the East a series of assurances designed to increase the attractiveness of our proposals on phasing and to meet their concerns that air force manpower will be totally unrestrained. The Pact, on the other hand, has proposed a series of cosmetic rearrangements of the basic elements in their opening position but has made effectively no substantive moves in our direction.

During the current round of talks, which began in September, the East has made it quite clear that they are content to await the West’s forthcoming nuclear offer. Recently, the Soviet representative told our representatives in Vienna that it would be very useful if the West could make its proposal before the Christmas recess.14 Aconsidered response to a Western initiative, he stated, would take several weeks to develop and would require the presence of the Soviet Delegation in Moscow.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Office of the Counselor, Entry 5339, Box 3, HS Official, Chronological. Secret. Sent through Sonnenfeldt. Vest initialed for Hartman. Drafted by John W. Salmon (PM/DCA); cleared by Vincent Baker (PM/DCA), Goodby, Gerald Helman (EUR/RPM), and Philip S. Kaplan (S/P). In an attached note to Kissinger, November 28, Sonnenfeldt wrote in part: “I have made clear to David Bruce and Resor that we are not to press for a deadline, although our various suggestions on how to resolve the remaining issues may well speed up the NATO work on Option III in the next week. If it turns out that the Alliance does indeed complete its work—finally, after months—next week, I will send you a message to give you a further opportunity to review this issue.”
  2. Telegram 276242 to USNATO, November 21, contained the guidance. (Ibid., Central Foreign Policy Files)
  3. Telegram 277369 to USNATO, November 22, contained the U.S. proposal on timing equipment reductions and Phase II reduction commitments. (Ibid.)
  4. Sonnenfeldt and Kissinger discussed the timing of the tabling of Option III in a telephone conversation on November 21. A transcript of their conversation reads in part: “S[onnenfeldt]: On the Callaghan thing about the MBFR timing. We are making major effort in NATO to get some of these issues resolved. I wanted to check with you that you still agree that if we can get this done before this session of the MBFR that we should get Option 3 on the table before recess for Christmas. K[issinger]: What do we gain by that? S: I would not kill myself to get it done, but you recall Callaghan says they would like to do it before the defense estimates in February. K: Could we not do it before the beginning of next session? S: We could, but I am not exactly sure of the timing of it. The theory is the Soviets would have time to mull it over during the recess, and we would not have to answer so quickly so many questions which might not be easy to answer. K: My instinct is to do it at the beginning of the next session though I am open-minded about it. They must know pretty well what we are going to do. S: The issue is how to deal with the questions the British are raising. K: I would not want us to be driving too hard. S: We are going to make suggestions that supposedly take care of what the British and Germans want.” (Department of State, Electronic Reading Room, Kissinger Transcripts of Telephone Conversations, http://foia.state.gov/documents/kissinger/0000BCFA.pdf)
  5. For texts of Guidance and Position Paper, See Tabs 1 and 2. For texts of US compromise proposal, see Tabs 3 and 4. [Footnote in the original. Tabs 1–7 are not attached.]
  6. See Document 363.
  7. The proposal was transmitted in telegram 276242 to USNATO, November 21. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)
  8. Telegram 19212 from Bonn, November 25, reported the West German reaction. (Ibid.)
  9. Telegram 18074 from London, November 24, reported Thomson’s acceptance. (Ibid.)
  10. Not found.
  11. A note in the margin next to this paragraph, written in an unknown hand, reads: “inaccurate.”
  12. Telegram 19212 from Bonn, November 25, and telegram 6514 from USNATO, November 28, are in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files.
  13. Telegram 6476, November 26, and telegram 6512, November 28, from USNATO are ibid.
  14. No record of this conversation has been found.