38. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • MBFR and the NATO Ministerial

The Current Commitment

At the Rome meeting in May we took a fairly large step forward in issuing a separate statement on MBFR. This statement invited interested states to hold exploratory talks on MBFR in Europe, with special reference to the Central Region. Further, we agreed that in such talks we would put forward the following considerations:

  • MBFR should be compatible with vital security interests, should not operate to the disadvantage of either side.
  • —Reductions should be based on reciprocity, and a balance in scope and timing.
  • —Reductions should include stationed and indigenous forces and their weapons systems.
  • —There must be adequate verification and controls etc.

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Following the “exploratory” bilateral talks, the Alliance would then determine what further individual or joint exploration might be useful. The overall exercise was directed toward “developing in detail the criteria and objectives” for substantive negotiations to follow “at an appropriate stage” and “in a forum to be determined.”2

The Pact Response and the Exploratory Talks

On June 24, the Warsaw Pact responded by finally picking up MBFR in the context of their proposal for a European Security Conference.3 But they did so only by including on the Conference agenda a discussion of the question of establishing an “organ to deal with question of security and cooperation.” In this context, they proposed a discussion of “reduction of foreign armed forces in the territories of European States,” but this item would be taken up by the organ proposed to be established at the ESC.

After some preliminary sparring, the Soviets confirmed that “foreign” meant non-indigenous, rather than non-European (e.g., American, Canadian). But the Soviets in all the bilateral conversations have continued to resist strongly MBFR as a separate and distinct negotiating issue and forum.

It must be noted, however, that the Soviets, over the summer and fall, have made some progress in softening up opposition to the European Conference, not only by this formal proposal on MBFR (which is especially attractive to the British who dreamed up the permanent organ) but also to the French, when Pompidou was in Moscow, to the Germans in connection with the Moscow treaty negotiations, and most recently when Gromyko was in Rome.4 Moreover, the Soviets have pressed hard for “preparatory” talks on CES, including the Finnish proposal for an Ambassadorial tea party.5

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A related development that will be important at the Ministerial in December, is the shift in the German position on both CES and MBFR. The Germans now have formally informed us and NATO collectively that they want to see progress not only in Berlin but on the inner German modus vivendi as well before moving ahead with any multilateral preparations for a European Conference. They have also said that while there should be no strict preconditions for MBFR, they now want only to continue bilateral contacts on MBFR, and should multilateral contacts later seem to be worthwhile, to decide on the basis of the political atmosphere prevailing at the time whether progress on the Berlin talks, the inner German talks, and the SALT discussions revealed a genuine preparedness by the East for negotiation.

This in effect, puts some major conditions on moving ahead on MBFR; if this is your inclination, it is manna from heaven.

  • —There are some hookers, however.
  • —The Germans also want to endorse the specific idea of cuts in stationed forces, provided the reductions are linked to reductions in indigenous forces in a later phase.
  • —Most of the Allies are going to be favorable in this last proposition (indeed many want to go much further because they want to appear responsive to the Warsaw Pact).

The Issues

In light of the post-Rome developments we seem to face the following issues:

Do we want to maintain MBFR as an issue distinct and separate from a European Security Conference?
  • —The overwhelming sentiment in NATO is to maintain the separation; but we should recognize that sentiment for a European Conference is gaining ground little by little, and if there is no MBFR because of Soviet resistance for another 6–12 months or because of our lack of preparations, there could be a shift in favor of putting MBFR squarely on the CES agenda and going to a conference on this condition only.
IF we maintain a separate MBFR, do we want to remain general in our commitments and endorsements, or move to a more specific and defined approach, such as emphasizing a negotiating position on stationed forces:
  • —This issue, of course, is related directly to the work we have done in NSSM–92.6
  • —If we want to opt for a strictly political approach, we could have it with no trouble in the Alliance; indeed if we do not want it one task will be to stonewall against the easy political gesture.
  • —If we want to study further the corrective approaches, it follows that we do not want to go beyond the commitments in the Rome meeting.
  • —We must face up to the fact that in so stalling MBFR, we will have to be willing to obligate ourselves to take the lead in NATO studies, and this means turning over to the NATO Working Group a major input from what we have done so far (in a sanitized version) and making another input later in the early spring before the May Ministerial. By then we will have to have a negotiating proposal.
Assuming we decide to remain general in our approach and to continue studies, do we, nevertheless, want to move from bilateral to multilateral contacts:
  • —At first glance the answer would seem, clearly, no; moving to multilateral “contacts” is close to beginning substantive negotiations and we are not ready.
  • —On the other hand, willingness to move in this direction might pacify many of the smaller NATO members and give them a role; it might force the Soviets to respond, if that is really what we want.
  • —On balance it would seem imprudent to open the door to multilaterals.

In sum, I assume your game plan would be along the lines that follow:

  • MBFR as a separate issue, mainly to counter pressures within and outside the Alliance for the Grand Conference.
  • —Ageneral commitment to continue with our studies, but no new definition of principles or new specific MBFR proposals. The Germans are now pressing for a “building block” approach in the internal NATO studies, and we could join them in this approach as the opening wedge to a corrective proposal. On the other hand, many of the smaller NATO allies want to dump all asymmetrical studies, while the British have put in a tentative paper on reduction of foreign (stationed) forces.

In short, the NATO model building exercise has all but collapsed as it should have.

  • —On this basis, continuing bilateral explorations, but no multilaterals, perhaps considering the German formula which poses further conditions to multilaterization.

The bureacratic problem is that State and ACDA will argue that we must be forthcoming. They will say there is a rising tide for more active movements, that we have been footdragging, that the Europeans want a political approach, that we should also, since asymmeterical is non-negotiable. All of this is justified by détente.

Frankly, I doubt that MBFR is all that urgent (that also seemed to be the view at the NSC on November 19).7 Most Europeans will be so [Page 99] pleased and dazed by our NSSM–84 posture8 that MBFR will recede into the background for a time. I suspect that the real problem will come when the Soviets, learning the outcome of our NSC deliberations, will finally wake up to MBFR and begin making their European Conference a prime forum for MBFR.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–049, SRG Meeting, MBFR, 11–23–70. Confidential. Sent for information.
  2. See Document 24.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 30.
  4. Gromyko visited Rome November 10–12.
  5. In a November 18 memorandum, Sonnenfeldt summarized for Kissinger a conversation that he had held with Ralph Enckell, Finland’s Roving Ambassador on European Security: “He [Enckell] explained the latest Finnish idea, which is to hold a ‘gathering’ of Ambassadors in Helsinki to talk about a conference. The theory is that this might serve as a catalyst, and only in this way could one really know if there was any prospect for a more formal meeting that might have a chance of success. He reports growing enthusiasm, except for British coolness, and, he implied, American skepticism. He stressed that his effort was not at Soviet behest, and in fact, reported that the Finns during Kekkonen’s visit to Moscow had to warn the Soviets off of embracing the Finnish idea lest Soviet endorsement turn it into a Warsaw Pact proposal. He said the Finns would soon send formal notes with their proposal to all interested states.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 673, Country Files, Europe, Finland, Vol. I)
  6. See Document 21 and footnote 4, Document 32.
  7. See Document 37.
  8. NSSM 84, “U.S. Strategies and Forces for NATO,” November 21, 1969, is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XLI, Western Europe; NATO, 1969–1972.