370. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft) to President Ford 1


  • Soviet Response to Our MBFR Nuclear Proposal (Option III)

At the regularly scheduled informal meeting between Eastern and Western MBFR negotiators on February 17 in Vienna, the Soviets presented a counterproposal to our Option III nuclear offer.2 This new proposal combines certain elements of our Option III offer with the basic Warsaw Pact equal reduction approach laid out in earlier sessions.

We had earlier proposed a two-phased approach in which the USSR would withdraw a tank army consisting of 68,000 men and 1,700 tanks and the U.S. would withdraw a proportionate number of soldiers, about 29,000, in the first phase. In the second phase, both sides would make further reductions of about 180,000 Pact soldiers and 60,000 NATO soldiers to reach a ground force common ceiling of about 700,000 men. Our Option III offer of 1,000 nuclear warheads, 54 Pershing missile launchers, and 36 F–4s was intended as a make-weight to offset the unequal manpower and tank reductions we were asking of the other side.

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The Soviet proposal corresponds closely to the position which Brezhnev forecast to Henry last month:3

  • —Reduction during 1976 of from two to three percent of total NATO and Pact forces, to be taken in U.S. and Soviet forces only. (At two percent, the reduction would be about 20,000 U.S. and 23,000 Soviet men; at three percent, about 30,000 U.S. and 35,000 Soviet men.)
  • —Withdrawal of equal numbers of specified U.S. and Soviet equipment items, including 300 tanks, 54 nuclear-capable aircraft, an unspecified number of ballistic missile launchers, and 36 air defense missile launchers for each side. Warheads associated with these systems would also be withdrawn.
  • —A freeze on remaining NATO and Pact manpower, and a commitment, by all other participants in the negotiations, to reductions in 1977–78 such that at the end all parties will have reduced their manpower and equipment by an equal percentage.

The Soviets’ proposal has some positive elements. They appear to have accepted the Alliance two-phased approach calling for withdrawal in the first phase by U.S. and Soviet forces followed by reductions by all participants in a subsequent phase. They have also accepted the Alliance position that only selected equipment should be specified for reduction and limitation rather than limiting all equipment items as they had indicated in their earlier proposals. Finally, this new position accepts the Alliance proposal that Allied forces on each side should be frozen during the period between the two phases. However, the new Soviet position indicates little flexibility on the central issue of whether reductions in MBFR should be essentially equal or should lead to an essentially equal outcome in Central Europe.

Before responding to the Soviet counterproposal, we will have to carefully examine several of its implications:

  • —Withdrawal and limitation of Soviet nuclear systems similar to those in our Option III offer would strip Option III of its value as a trade-off against the larger Soviet reductions of manpower and tanks which we sought in Phase I, and would undermine the central element of the Alliance position, the common ceiling on manpower.
  • —The proposal would only take out about one Soviet division plus some other units in the first phase rather than the three to five divisions of a Soviet tank army which we had sought as a first phase Soviet withdrawal.
  • —The proposal would reduce and limit U.S. tanks which are now at very low levels and would prevent us from ever approaching Soviet tank levels.
  • —The reductions proposed would in effect codify in the Warsaw Pact’s favor the present disparities in manpower, tanks, and nuclearcapable aircraft in Central Europe.
  • —The proposed commitment by Allies to essentially equal percentage reductions in a subsequent phase would very likely lead to national subceilings on individual alliance members, an outcome which the Germans, in particular, strenuously oppose.

The Soviets have told us they intend to table this proposal formally at the plenary session in Vienna on February 19.4 They have also indicated they will respond more fully to our Option III proposal in subsequent sessions in Vienna.

We will be examining the Soviet proposal and working out our response options in the Verification Panel and its Working Group and will provide further details and analysis later.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Subject Files, Box 13, MBFR (4). Secret. Ford initialed the memorandum. Boverie drafted the memorandum and forwarded it to Scowcroft on February 18. (Ibid., NSC Institutional Files, Box 33, 7600946, Soviet Response to Our Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions Nuclear Proposal, Option III)
  2. Telegram 51 from the delegation to MBFR, February 17, reported on the meeting. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)
  3. See Document 368.
  4. Telegram 60 from the delegation to MBFR, February 19, reported the tabling of the Soviet proposal. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)