49. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1


  • Brezhnev on Mutual Troop Reductions in Europe: Help in our fight against Mansfield Amendment,2 but Problems Later

In a major speech in Soviet Georgia,3 Brezhnev went out of his way to emphasize Soviet readiness to begin negotiations over mutual troop reductions in Europe. This is a logical follow up to his Party Congress speech, which also mentioned mutual reductions of troops and armaments in Central Europe, but without specifying the previous Soviet condition that the issue had to be tied to the European Security Conference.4 Brezhnev’s more forthright offer also seems to bear out my earlier speculation that after the Congress he would want to demonstrate some tangible results of his “peace program.”

In noting speculation in the West about his Party Congress speech, Brezhnev said that Western spokesmen were asking “whose armed force—foreign or national—what armaments, nuclear or conventional, are to be reduced.” He compared such speculation to a man who tries to judge the flavor of wine by its appearance without imbibing it.

Brezhnev’s answer to this rather playful recitation was:

“you have to muster the resolve to try the proposals you are interested in according to its taste. Translated into diplomatic language this means—to start negotiations.”

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While such a flat offer to negotiate is a windfall in terms of the debate in this country over the Mansfield Amendment, Brezhnev’s main target may well be the NATO meeting in Lisbon. One of the issues at that meeting is how the Alliance should respond to Brezhnev’s previous remarks. This new speech will no doubt strengthen sentiment in Europe for a positive move toward early negotiations for mutual reductions.

The major question is why, after considerable stalling on this issue, the Soviets seem ready to negotiate.

  • —It may be that there are genuine economic pressures resulting from the continuing buildup of Soviet forces in the Far East, which recent intelligence indicates is continuing.
  • —It could also be related to Czechoslovakia, and a Soviet desire to lower their profile there. In this regard the Soviet greetings to the Czech Party Congress noted that the situation has been “normalized”; such a claim could be a justification for some withdrawal of some Soviet forces there. Brezhnev may try to trade in any such withdrawal for Western cutbacks.
  • —The Soviets may be coming to see negotiations on force reductions as a way to get to their goal of a European Security Conference. The West has made progress on Berlin a precondition for such a conference but not for troop negotiations. Any such negotiations would almost certainly have to involve the GDR, a major Soviet goal in the European security conference proposal.
  • —Finally, the Soviets may be convinced that this is a serious Western offer, and see some advantage in exploiting the desire among all Europeans for reductions in military spending. As we move into the more intensive phase of improving the quality of NATO forces through the plans worked out last year, the prospect of negotiations on troop reductions with the Soviets could slow down or undermine the effort.5 This risk has always been inherent in the Alliance’s dual approach to mutual force reductions, negotiations and improvement of forces.

In short, Brezhnev’s offer “to start negotiations” can be turned to our advantage in the next few days. At the same time, it means that we may be entering the path of new negotiations, which our studies have shown could be turned against the Alliance, if not handled properly and with prudence.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 715, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XIII. Secret. Sent for information. A notation on the memorandum reads: “The President has seen.” Sonnenfeldt drafted the memorandum and forwarded it to Kissinger under a covering memorandum of May 14. (Ibid., NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–057, SRG Meeting, NSSM 121, NATO, 5/14/71)
  2. The Mansfield Resolution, drafted by Senator Michael Mansfield, called for a onehalf reduction in the United States military presence in Europe. The Senate defeated the resolution 61–36 on May 19. (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 949) On November 23, the Senate voted 39–54 to reject an Appropriations Committee provision that limited the number of U.S. troops in Europe to 250,000 and called for the cessation of funds in excess of that limit by June 15, 1972. (Congress and the Nation, 1969–1972, Vol. III, pp. 214–215)
  3. Brezhnev delivered the speech on May 13 in Tbilisi. (Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXIII, No. 20 (June 15, 1971), p. 5)
  4. In his speech on March 30, Brezhnev said: “We are for the dismantling of foreign military bases. We stand for the reduction of armed forces and armaments in areas where military confrontation is especially dangerous, above all in Central Europe.” (Ibid., Vol. XXIII, No. 12 (April 20, 1971), p. 13)
  5. Nixon underlined this sentence and wrote in the margin, “Probably a major factor in his move.”