52. Memorandum From K. Wayne Smith and Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • U.S. Position on MBFR: Proposed NSDM

The events of the past two weeks undoubtedly have created the expectation within the U.S. bureaucracy, the Congress and NATO that we will now take a vigorous lead in moving the alliance into “Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions” in Europe. The Soviets (and Mansfield) have put the ball squarely in our court.

The problem is that we have no agreement within the U.S. Government—much less with our allies—concerning either what kinds of possible elements of a “MBFR” we are most interested in pursuing nor the procedural approach to be taken leading up to or in negotiations.

The Substantive Problem

As you know, the variables—and the possible focus of an eventual MBFR—are far more numerous than the ones which we faced in SALT. Among them are:

  • —The geographical areas for MBFR;
  • —The participants (e.g., all NATO, all Pact members, or selected countries);
  • —The question of whether to reduce both “foreign” or “stationed” forces or only one of them;
  • —The variety of force components, including ban on conventional and nuclear forces, both manpower and equipment, and both active and reserve or cadre units;
  • —How deep to cut, and the phasing of reductions;
  • —The formality of the agreement and its post reduction features.

In order to surface the substantive strategic arms control and verification issues, both we and NATO have concentrated our analysis on fairly comprehensive MBFR approaches, involving detailed reduction models which:

  • —Imply formal bloc to bloc agreements;
  • —Involve most or all of the nations with forces in the European Central Region;
  • —Involve detailed verification.

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However, it is also possible to envision (although not necessarily desirable to negotiate) an MBFR which was limited to Soviet and U.S. forces at least as the first step. This could be negotiated formally by the two countries alone and reduced to paper, or could be achieved by “mutual example” parallel steps. Of course, we would be obliged to obtain the consent of our allies for such an approach.

The point is that we and our allies need to narrow the range of variables considerably before we get into negotiations with the other side. The progress report you requested on our MBFR preparations is enclosed at Tab C.2

The Operational Problem

The most immediate operational problem which we face is that State and Defense may be converging on a “game plan” for the NATO Ministerials which would unduly restrict the President’s choices. At Tab B3 is a draft of a Defense Department paper, prepared for Secretary Laird, after seeing the President, which recommends that he:

  • —“Interject” MBFR into the discussion at the Defense Planning Council in Brussels on May 28 (it is now only on the agenda of the NAC in Lisbon the following week); (This procedure would scrub the French who are not in the DPC).
  • —Declare that the U.S. “would be agreeable to multilateral exploratory talks on MBFR in the near future if the allies felt this was in the best interests of NATO.”

Meanwhile, State is preparing an IGEUR paper for the President outlining several optional ways of handling MBFR at the Ministerial and thereafter. Although the paper is not yet available, it apparently will also stress early multilateralization of MBFR exploratory talks with the Warsaw Pact.

There are two dangers inherent in this approach:

It focuses on procedures, ignoring substantive issues which should be decided, before even exploratory talks are started. Some of these issues may best be decided after further bilateral and/or multilateral [Page 141] talks with the Warsaw Pact but it is essential that the issues be surfaced and examined within the U.S. Government before an intensive round of talks (bilateral or multilateral) is launched.
It involves substantive issues but does not face up to them. For example, multilateral MBFR talks would raise the problem of East German participation. The effect would be to undermine our position in the Berlin talks.

[There may be ways around this problem—e.g., a conference of MBFR “experts” or designation of one individual or nation, such as the British, as the agent of the alliance. But the issue needs to be squarely faced.]4

These issues should have been aired before the principals depart for the NATO Ministerials. Unfortunately, the first available forum already on the NSC schedule is the DPRC meeting set for Tuesday, May 25. At that time, Secretary Laird will already be in Europe for the NPG meeting which precedes the DPC. The only way to slow down this process is either: (a) unilaterally issue a NSDM; or (b) wait for the State paper and issue guidance. The latter, however, will probably leave the field to Secretary Laird for the next week.

Given the extreme difficulties that may be unnecessarily created by these agency activities and the real need to deal with the Brezhnev initiative and protect our Congressional flank, we recommend that you issue a NSDM stating the present U.S. position on MBFR and setting the stage for Presidential consideration of the issues prior to any further commitment by the agencies.

The NSDM at Tab A5 directs that:

  • —The U.S. supports accelerated substantive preparations within NATO and will make a contribution (the sanitized NSSM–92).6
  • —We will encourage bilateral, but not multilateral contacts on MBFR; such contacts will deal with the modalities of negotiations but not their substance.
  • —We will support, as the President indicated in his Foreign Policy Report, a first phase of MBFR devoted to an examination of principles, rather than exchange of concrete proposals.
  • —The Agencies will complete for the Verification Panel a study of options and related substantive issues by June 21.
  • —We prefer to separate MBFR from CES.


That you sign the NSDM at Tab A.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 261, NATO, Vol. X, Part 2. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for urgent action.
  2. In Tab C, an attached memorandum from Smith to Kissinger, May 21, Smith noted that the agencies had “prepared a ‘sanitized’ version of our analysis and evaluation of MBFR approaches for presentation to the North Atlantic Council”; “further developed the military analysis of MBFR to include non-simultaneous mobilization scenarios”; and “prepared a detailed formulation of six options embodying the symmetrical, asymmetrical and mixed package approaches to MBFR.” The JCS, Smith noted, was “balky” about presenting the sanitized analysis to NATO and was engaging in “a stalling tactic.” “I strongly urge,” Smith wrote, “that the available paper be sent to NATO when the time comes, any JCS objections notwithstanding.”
  3. Tab B, an undated memorandum received on May 19 in the White House Situation Room, is attached but not printed.
  4. Brackets are in the original.
  5. Tab A as signed is Document 53.
  6. Document 21.