366. Editorial Note

On December 5, 1975, Counselor of the Department of State Sonnenfeldt sent an action memorandum to Secretary of State Kissinger, who was departing China, in telegram Tosec 230225. Sonnenfeldt wrote: “While I realize your preference was to wait until January before tabling our nuclear offer at Vienna, the completion of consultations at NATO [Page 1077] has created a situation propitious for going ahead before Christmas.” The telegram continued: “Final NAC approval is expected prior to the NATO ministerial and all the Allies expect timing to be discussed there. At Vienna we have proposed to end the current round on December 18. This would give us just enough time to table our proposal before the break. The guidance provides for a pause after our initial presentation, and this would coincide with the period between sessions. The Soviets have told our delegation at Vienna that they will need to return to Moscow in any case to consider the proposal they have so long been anticipating. They said they would need 4–6 weeks to give us a response.” (National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Office of the Counselor, Entry 5339, Box 11, POL 3 MBFR Cables)

On December 8, Kissinger met with Sonnenfeldt, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs James G. Lowenstein, and other officials from the Bureau of European Affairs to discuss arrangements for his trip to Europe for the NATO Ministerial meeting from December 11 to 12. In the course of their conversation, Sonnenfeldt raised the issue of Option III. A memorandum of the conversation reads in part: “Sonnenfeldt: We also need a decision on MBFR. The issue is whether to table now or later. The Secretary: Since it will leak anyway, you may as well table now. Sonnenfeldt: I agree. The British slightly prefer waiting until January to table. A Soviet rejection before that could mean trouble when they publish their defense estimates. The Secretary: Well, I don’t think the Soviets will reject it right away. Sonnenfeldt: Also, if you prefer, I recommend that we flag our preference to the British and the Germans in advance. The Secretary: Don’t flag it. Let’s wait. Otherwise, the Germans and British will leak it. We can deal with it when we get to the Ministerial. What do you think? Lowenstein: We agree it should be tabled now in Vienna. Sonnenfeldt: Also, the Germans are worried. They have asked us to let them know in advance. If our judgment on balance is that we table, we should let Allies know. The Secretary: OK, go ahead and tell the Germans and British.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 275, Memoranda of Conversation, Chronological File)

On December 9 and 10, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld participated in a meeting of the Defense Planning Committee of NATO in Brussels. Kissinger subsequently attended the NATO Ministerial meeting, December 11–12, also in Brussels. For communiqués of both meetings, which referred obliquely to the introduction of Option III at the MBFR talks, see the NATO Online Library (http://www.nato.int/docu/comm.htm).

On December 11, journalist Drew Middleton wrote from Brussels in an article in the New York Times, “NATO Group Cool to Kissinger Plan”: “Western defense ministers ended a two-day meeting here today on a note that appeared to presage difficulties for a key proposal [Page 1078] of Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger. This proposal, which will be on the agenda when 15 foreign ministers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization meet tomorrow, calls for the withdrawal of 1,000 United States tactical nuclear weapons from Western Europe in return for the retirement from Central Europe of a Soviet tank army, normally 1,700 tanks and 65,000 men. Ten days ago, according to NATO military and civilian sources, the proposal had an excellent chance for approval by the foreign ministers. It was seen as a means of reviving the moribund East–West talks in Vienna on mutual and balanced force reductions in Europe. […] Several factors have promoted opposition to the proposal among even those NATO delegations, such as that of West Germany, that supported it at the outset. […] One is the detailed description of Soviet military strength provided the defense ministers by NATO intelligence. The ministers, according to the communiqué, expressed their grave concern at current trends altering the relative military strengths of NATO and the Warsaw Pact.’ Donald H. Rumsfeld, the new United States Secretary of Defense, warned about the expanding Warsaw Pact military capability’ and stressed the need for the provision of adequate military resources for NATO. […] A second, less generally understood factor arguing against acceptance of the Kissinger proposal is that the modernization of the United States Air Force in Europe will inevitably lead to a reduction of its tactical nuclear potential. Defense Department spokesmen believe the Secretary of State was unaware of this when he outlined his proposal last summer. The Air Force will introduce the F–15, a sophisticated fighter designed to win air superiority over the battlefield, within the next 18 months. The F–15’s do not have a nuclear capability. The F–4’s they will replace do.” (New York Times, December 11, 1975, page 9)

On December 11, President Ford met with Rumsfeld and President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Scowcroft in the Oval Office. A memorandum of their conversation reads in part (brackets are in the original): “Rumsfeld: I had good bilateral meetings with the Defense Ministers. The sessions went well—with pluses and minuses. [He gave the President a Leber memo.] MBFR was discussed almost not at all. Scowcroft: Did you see Drew Middleton’s article in the New York Times? It discussed Option III and the DPQ. Rumsfeld: No. President: I did. It is very interesting. It talks about all these things. Rumsfeld: [discussed nuclear modernization, etc., and the dangers of giving the impression of denuclearizing Europe.] I have felt for years that we needed to get our own tactical nuclear strategy put together here and presented to the Europeans on an orderly basis. Haig has the same fears as Henry, Brent, and I are having. The Europeans are gaining the impression of denuclearization. We planned a paper for the NPC which should be revised—maybe into a paper for improving nuclear strategy. If we can agree on what we want to do and then start talking to NATO, [Page 1079] we could defuse the Congress (Pastore, Nunn, etc.) over nuclear weapons in Europe. We could present it to NATO bilaterally, through Haig, or by me in June in Hamburg. President: What would this do to MBFR? Rumsfeld: We would have to handle it in a way that it would have no adverse impact on MBFR. President: If we tabled Option III, and the Soviet Union accepted, what would be the reaction in NATO countries? Rumsfeld: I have stayed out of the tactics. That is Henry’s turf. Defense is involved in developing the US position, but it is up to Henry and you to decide on the negotiations. President: We talked MBFR at Rambouillet and Wilson brought up the point about reducing German forces in the first or second phase. Scowcroft: [Discussed the play on manpower reductions and phases].” Scowcroft summarized the conversation in telegram Tohak 12 to Kissinger in Brussels, December 12. (Ibid., Box CL 221, Geopolitical File, Rumsfeld, Donald, 1975–76)

On December 11, Scowcroft signed a message to be sent to Kissinger in Brussels as Tohak 13. It reads in part: “I also talked to Rumsfeld about the Drew Middleton article. He claimed not to have seen the article nor to be familiar with Drew Middleton. He said he did not know him and had not talked to him or any other member of the press. He agreed readily that Option 3 was not your proposal; in fact, he says he thinks he was first to think of it a couple of years ago. He had no answer at all with regard to the reference to a Defense spokesman and said that he had taken along only a press technician—not a press spokesman. He said that he did not know what you were or were not aware of with regard to nuclear modernization, but that Option 3 was floated long before last summer as claimed in the article. He maintained absolutely there could be no malicious intent, at least within his knowledge. I also discussed the matter with Wickham, who confirmed the essentials above and said with respect to the Defense spokesman reference in the article that Ellsworth had given a backgrounder. He called back later to say he had gone over the transcript of the Ellsworth backgrounder and there was nothing in it which could remotely be construed into what Middleton wrote.” Scowcroft’s message continued: “I see no reason why you should not set the record straight in your press conference tomorrow if you wish to do so, though I do not think association with Option 3, even when inaccurate, is anything one should shun, and I would not discuss the issue in a way which would bring into prominence an obscure article in the Times and give the impression that there may be more there than meets the eye. While there is no way of knowing without doubt, both Don and Wickham addressed the issue with an earnestness which lent credence to their statements.” (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger Trip Files, Box 16, 12/10–17/75, Europe [Brussels, London, Paris, Nuremberg], Tohak [1])

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Kissinger did not discuss MBFR or Option III in his news conference after the North Atlantic Council meeting. However, the issue of withdrawing tactical nuclear forces did come up in his interview with German television on December 12. The transcript of the interview reads in part: “Q.: The NATO states will make the offer in Vienna also to withdraw nuclear weapons from Western Europe. Isn’t this a dangerous concession? Secretary Kissinger: Let me explain it in English. I do not believe that it goes too far, because we will be offering a category of weapons of which, due to modernization, some have become dispensable, in return for withdrawal of substantial Soviet ground forces. But the United States remains firmly committed to a strong local defense in Europe, and the United States will under no circumstances participate in anything that will lead to the denuclearization either of Europe or of any part of Europe.” (Department of State Bulletin, January 12, 1976, pages 53–54)

On December 12, Executive Assistant to the Secretary of State Eagleburger wrote to Kissinger in telegram Tosec 240119: “Vorontsov just called to say that Dobrynin has noticed in press reports that NATO has adopted new MBFR proposals which will be presented to the Warsaw Pact next Tuesday. Dobrynin asked that I flag for you that it was the Soviet understanding that you had indicated to Gromyko that before any further MBFR proposals were adopted by NATO you would consult with Gromyko. ‘Now,’ said Vorontsov, ‘this seems to have slipped.’ Vorontsov went on to say that they could report from the newspaper articles today on the MBFR proposals, although they would ‘lack substance,’ but that perhaps I could ask if you had any detailed information that you wished Dobrynin to transmit to Gromyko. This, Vorontsov hoped, could be done before the proposals are officially put to the Warsaw Pact on Tuesday. Vorontsov closed by saying the Soviets were anxious that there be no break in the ‘continuity’ of consultations begun between you and Gromyko on MBFR and this was the purpose for his request for any information you might wish to pass on.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 218, Geopolitical File, Soviet Union, Dobrynin, Anatoliy, Chronological File) Sonnenfeldt wrote to Kissinger in a memorandum on December 18: “MBFR. We made our presentation in Vienna. Hyland did a preview with Vorontsov here.” (National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Office of the Counselor, Entry 5339, Box 7, Soviet Union)