39. Minutes of a Senior Review Group Meeting1


  • Military [Mutual] Balanced Force Reductions


  • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
    • John N. Irwin
    • George Springsteen
    • Leon Sloss
    • Seymour Weiss
  • Defense
    • David Packard
    • G. Warren Nutter
    • John H. Morse
    • Philip A. Odeen
  • CIA
    • Richard Helms
    • Bruce C. Clarke
  • JCS
    • Lt. Gen. Richard Knowles
    • Col. Robert E. Fiss
  • ACDA
    • Philip J. Farley
    • David Linebaugh
  • NSC Staff
    • Mr. Sonnenfeldt
    • Dr. Smith
    • Mr. Hamilton
    • Col. Kennedy
    • Jeanne W. Davis
[Page 100]


It was agreed:

to form a Working Group, with CIA chairing and representation from DIA, to analyze our ability to monitor an MBFR agreement and whether and how our intelligence capabilities should be strengthened for this purpose; this group would compile our sources of information, the kind of information we get and the kind we need;
to develop an illustrative plan, or the elements of a plan, for asymmetrical cuts;
that, at the December NATO Ministerial Meeting, we would approach the question of MBFR informally on an exploratory basis, express our interest in the matter, stress the need for clarification but avoid being too specific or taking any substantive position;
to examine the political procedures for mobilization in various countries to determine how quickly our allies could be expected to act on receipt of warning of mobilization by the other side.

Mr. Kissinger: This will be a brief meeting to review where we stand on MBFR and agree where we go from here. We have identified a number of approaches: 1) an approach that is basically political; 2) an arms control approach which attempts to preserve or enhance our military position through asymmetrical cuts. I have the impression from our work on NSSM 84 and the NSC meeting that there is a general consensus that symmetrical cuts of any significant size are not very desirable from the security point of view. The only symmetrical cuts that would not be undesirable would be so small as to be symbolic, and even these might run counter to attempts to improve our posture. This leaves us with an attempt to develop an asymmetrical approach. Conceptually an asymmetrical approach represents a tough problem. Contrary to the SALT exercise, we have developed no criteria for comparison—we have no yard-sticks. Nor have we worked out questions of collateral restraints, either symmetrical or asymmetrical. Our biggest problem is related to the mobilization date. Ideally, we should develop constraints designed to give maximum warning or to impede mobilization and reinforcement. We haven’t yet worked out what specific constraints would be most effective. (to Mr. Helms) We haven’t had a systematic analysis of how our intelligence capabilities could be strengthened to help us monitor an agreement. This is a tough problem.

Mr. Helms: I agree that this should be done for MBFR in the same way as it was for SALT, but I don’t know how long it would take us. We have only taken a swat at it in big chunks as I indicated in my NSC briefing—we have determined that we can do this better than that with current resources.

Mr. Kissinger: I have an NSC staff paper which discusses our intelligence capability in East Germany and in Western Russia. We seem [Page 101] to be fairly well off in East Germany, but very poorly off in Western Russia.

Mr. Helms: I agree.

Mr. Kissinger: At what point could we relate the situation in Western Russia to movements in East Germany, particularly if they restrict the travel of foreigners so we do not have reports of troop trains moving, etc?

Mr. Helms: We did an exhaustive study of the intelligence aspects of the move into Czechoslovakia. That would help some.

Mr. Kissinger: Did they restrict the travel of foreigners at that time?

Mr. Helms: I think not but I’m not sure.

Mr. Springsteen: They put some restrictions on in East Germany.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Wayne Smith) Let’s get a working panel to work on this, chaired by CIA with DIA representation.

Mr. Packard: That’s a good idea. Also, we have some new capability which we are looking at as an independent matter.

Mr. Kissinger: [2 lines not declassified]

General Knowles: It gives us a general idea.

Mr. Kissinger: We need a compilation of all the sources of our information, what sort of information we get and what sort we need. For example, I noticed a reference to the fact that if the Soviet forces were returned to the Moscow and Kiev Military Districts this wouldn’t help us. Why would it not help us somewhat to have Soviet forces moved 1000 miles back? Why would it be necessary for them to go beyond the Urals? I can see the relationship of a move 1000 miles back by the Soviets to a 3000 mile move by the U.S., but it should help some. (to Wayne Smith) Let’s get this compilation.

Mr. Irwin: At least we would get an idea of the time span of our uncoverage.

Mr. Helms: The idea of a task force is first class.

Dr. Smith: Has anyone done any work on the recent Warsaw Pact exercises in this regard? We could learn something from it.

Mr. Packard: We have done some work but nothing very detailed.

Mr. Kissinger: We must try to be as concrete as possible. For example, we speak of troops being disbanded. Do we mean that these troops would go into reserve status; would their weapons be destroyed; if not, where would their weapons be moved? We must know what we are talking about. We can’t hold our allies together if we start down this road on the basis of abstract discussions.

Mr. Packard: We can’t get this done before the NATO Ministerial Meeting.

Mr. Irwin: No we can’t. There are two important considerations in that connection: 1) the Secretary would like to go the Ministerial with [Page 102] some flexibility in the sense of being able to take a positive position but not indicating either a symmetrical or asymmetrical approach; he would like to take the third position (in the State Department paper on specific issues for the NATO Ministerial Meeting)2 in which he would refer to the June Budapest Memorandum and indicate our willingness to discuss reductions but not their kind or extent; and 2) he would like to be able to exchange studies with our allies.

Mr. Kissinger: I think we should go further with our own studies before we start exchanging them. In SALT we knew what we were talking about. It would not have been wise to exchange some of our preliminary drafts.

Mr. Irwin: I agree. We can say we will exchange information with our allies but give no indication as to the timing.

Mr. Packard: I think we could take a very informal approach in the initial stages. We could exchange ideas but not get to specific proposals. We need time to develop anything we could feel secure about.

Mr. Irwin: I have some question as to whether we would be better off with symmetrical or asymmetrical cuts depending on whether asymmetrical cuts were negotiable.

Mr. Kissinger: Everything depends on what is negotiable.

Mr. Irwin: I am talking only about the elements of the packages. We have no packages.

Mr. Kissinger: I haven’t seen any asymmetrical plan so I don’t know how we would do it. I think the agencies should come up with an illustrative scheme or at least the various elements of a plan and see how they might be put together. They would not be committed to anything. Some studies indicate that a fixed percentage cut favors the offense and those with more rapid mobilization capability. This, of course, is the USSR. We have two problems: 1) symmetrical cuts of any significance don’t appear too promising for us; and 2) cuts so small as to be meaningless might inhibit real improvements that might be within reach. I haven’t seen enough on asymmetrical cuts to make any judgment.

[Page 103]

Mr. Irwin: If it should develop that asymmetrical cuts are nonnegotiable, we could be better off with straight percentage cuts.

Mr. Kissinger: We might be better off with no cuts in these circumstances.

Mr. Irwin: There is some difference between no cuts and the political advantage of symmetrical cuts. State tends to feel that symmetrical cuts might be advantageous politically.

Mr. Kissinger: The Secretary denied State was thinking of symmetrical cuts.

Mr. Irwin: State is leaning toward that possibility.

Mr. Kissinger: We would have to define what our political position is.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: The Secretary may have taken that line as a way to defend against the European Security Conference idea. The Russians say that MBFR has to come after ESC.

Mr. Kissinger: But that doesn’t mean we have to have symmetrical cuts.

Mr. Farley: There is an important difference between preparations for MBFR and for SALT. SALT was a bilateral exercise, and MBFR involves our allies. NATO has been studying MBFR for a year or more. Some of these studies aren’t bad, but I think they need some input from us to keep them more realistic. Some people say MBFR undercuts any move to get force improvements.

Mr. Kissinger: I am only talking now of various proposals on purely political grounds, saying we should weigh the political gains against the political losses. On grounds of security, we must make sure we know what we are talking about. I agree that it is much harder to do militarily than was SALT.

Mr. Farley: If we wait until our studies are perfect we will be in trouble with our NATO allies.

Mr. Irwin: I think we should proceed along the lines Mr. Packard suggests. We could be responsive to any suggestion for discussion of reductions, initially on an exploratory basis.

Mr. Packard: We could approach it informally without being too specific. We could sound out our allies.

Mr. Kissinger: I have observed that all European leaders who have visited us have been worried about Ostpolitik but no one was willing to say so. I don’t want to get ourselves in a position where everyone is worried about MBFR but no one will say so. Someone has to say what he thinks. Let’s be sure we don’t lock ourselves in on something we don’t understand. It’s all right to explore ideas, but there is a tendency to create a degree of momentum which gets us locked in. Why [Page 104] could we not stick with the Rome position?3 Why should we go beyond it?

Mr. Springsteen: A head of steam has been built up, primarily by the Germans who floated a specific proposal in NATO which they said had been cleared by their Federal Council. Basically it took our third position (in the State Department paper) of responding to the Budapest declaration. We would be willing to explore bilateral reduction of stationed forces, but the Germans say that such discussions would be linked to subsequent reductions in indigenous forces. They had hoped to hold off their proposal until they knew our views, but had decided to surface it so it could be considered at the December Ministerial.

Mr. Kissinger: What would happen if we stuck with the Rome language? Who else wants the German proposal. Do the French?

Mr. Springsteen: The French are ambivalent about it. They might associate themselves with it if it were strictly bilateral. It is the smaller countries, with the exception of the Netherlands, who support it. The Germans are pushing this because they believe if we want to hold the Rome position on ESC we should be prepared to give on MBFR.

Mr. Kissinger: Why?

Mr. Springsteen: To keep the allies in hand. We can expect increased pressure at the Ministerial.

Mr. Kissinger: And we could keep them in hand by being forthcoming on MBFR? I have a summary of attitudes of the NATO countries: two countries—France and Greece—are not interested in MBFR; five countries—Belgium, Portugal, UK, Turkey, Netherlands—will stick with the Rome position; three countries—Canada, Denmark, Germany—welcome the third position—reference to the Budapest Memorandum and indicate willingness to discuss reductions in stationed forces, followed by reductions in indigenous forces; and three countries—Iceland, Luxembourg, Italy—have no position. I don’t consider that this is a steamroller to force us beyond the Rome position which was, in itself, an advance.

Mr. Packard: We shouldn’t go much beyond the Rome position. We can express interest, stress the need for clarification, avoid being too specific too soon, and keep the issue open in a constructive way.

Mr. Weiss: Why can’t we let the Europeans take the lead in this?

Mr. Irwin: I agree. We can leave the issue open and see what happens. The Secretary doesn’t think this will become a real issue for a long time.

[Page 105]

Mr. Packard: Let’s not make it an issue.

Mr. Kissinger: Let’s be sure we don’t create a record that will let the other side say we are committed to anything. We would live to regret it if we should do it to keep a few countries happy.

Mr. Irwin: We have to be prepared, though. We may find more pressure in the meeting for ESC or for some indication that we are not rejecting the Budapest position.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: We could say the Budapest Memorandum is in response to the Rome communiqué and that we need more clarification of its meaning.

Mr. Kissinger: We need to develop some of these packages. Also, we have always assumed that if we had one week’s warning of mobilization by the other side we would know what to do. We shouldn’t take this for granted, but should look at the political procedures for mobilization in various countries and determine how quickly our allies could be expected to act.

Mr. Irwin: I agree. The problem is not our intelligence indicators but what happens after we have the information.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–111, SRG Minutes, Originals 1970. Top Secret; Codeword. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room. In a memorandum for the record, November 25, Nutter and Morse summarized the meeting. They concluded: “The meeting was relatively short and seemed designed primarily to convey the message that we should go very slow on MBFR, for the time being at least.” (Ford Library, Laird Papers, Box 16, NATO, Vol. VI)
  2. The paper, “Outline of MBFR Issues,” forwarded to Kissinger by Eliot on November 23, stated: “There are four hypothetical alternative policies the US could adopt with respect to treatment of MBFR in the NATO Communiqué: 1. Retreat from previous Communiqué language which had put NATO on record as favoring MBFR in principle; 2. Reaffirm previous NATO positions on MBFR without advancing beyond them; 3. Refer to the June Budapest Memorandum and indicate Allied willingness to discuss reductions in stationed forces as a first step in MBFR, to be followed by reductions in indigenous forces; 4. Put the Allies on record as favoring MBFR entailing, say, a small, perhaps 10%, cut in stationed ground forces in a specified area.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 6 NATO)
  3. See Document 24.