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


  • NSC Meeting on Mutual Force Reductions in Europe (MBFR)

A NSC meeting on Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions in Europe is scheduled for 3:30 pm, June 17, 1971.

The issues for discussion are:

  • —What substantive position should the United States take on the basic framework of an MBFR? We need to resolve such questions as [Page 157] the area for reductions, the size of reductions, whether to reduce “stationed” forces only (mainly U.S. and Soviet) or both “indigenous” and “stationed” forces, and the related verification questions.
  • —How should the United States proceed in coming months to explore and eventually negotiate with the Soviet Union on MBFR? A related question for consultations with our allies to develop an alliance consensus on the substance and procedure of negotiations?

The Verification Panel has reviewed the substantive work performed over the past year and agrees that we are now ready to establish the basic framework of a U.S. position on MBFR.2

The Substantive U.S. Position

The principal issues to be resolved involve:

  • —The geographic area to serve as a base for reductions. While we should not rule out wider areas, the principal area for MBFR is Central Europe. Our work indicates that either the NATO Guidelines or Rapacki areas3 should be used initially for consultations.
  • —The size of reductions. All symmetrical reductions of ground forces slightly enhance NATO’s position before mobilization, and thus reduce the Pact’s capability to launch a successful attack if they do not have time to mobilize. However, MBFR degrades NATO’s relative position following a short period of mobilization. Thus, the risk of a Pact attack after a fast, full mobilization may be somewhat larger after MBFR.
  • The nationality of forces to be reduced. In the past, we have supported the inclusion of both stationed and indigenous forces in a reduction program. However, the reduction of stationed forces would probably be to NATO’s military advantage as well as presenting fewer problems of negotiation and verification than reduction of indigenous forces. On the other hand, our allies, particularly the FRG, might be unwilling to accept this position since they want to reduce their forces for domestic reasons.
  • The verification provisions to be included. We cannot verify reductions of less than 10 percent in stationed forces or reductions taken in units of less than regimental size even in East Germany. The issue is whether we want to consider reductions which cannot be verified by national means and, if so, what provisions for on-site inspection we wish to make.

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In general, the agencies seem to be converging on a U.S. approach toward MBFR involving fairly substantial (say 20 percent) reduction in the stationed and indigenous ground forces of the NATO Guidelines Area with heavier weight given, if possible, to stationed forces. Nevertheless, there are significant differences among the agencies that should be discussed at the NSC meeting.

Operational Issues

We are now approaching our own internal evaluation of MBFR with a sound two-phased approach:

  • First, consideration of the basic framework of possible MBFR agreements. This corresponds to the “building block” stage we went through for SALT.
  • Second, development of a range of specific options within this basic framework. Based on past guidance, detailed MBFR options have now been formulated and are being assessed. They will be revised on the basis of your decisions on our basic position for MBFR.

In principle, our approach toward consultations with our NATO allies and eventual negotiations with the Warsaw Pact should be designed to follow the same general approach as our internal preparations. This would involve:

  • —In NATO , an immediate effort this summer to focus on substantive discussions with our allies to determine the basic elements to be considered as part of MBFR. With a large infusion of U.S. substantive help, this process could hopefully lead to an allied consensus on an MBFR framework by late summer. At the moment, we are light years ahead of our allies.
  • With the Soviets, we should continuously explore their understanding about what MBFR involves. Neither we nor our allies should, however, get very deep into substantive exploration with the Pact until a NATO position has emerged. The problem is how to hold back on substantive discussions without appearing to be less than serious about MBFR.

The Conduct of the Meeting

The purpose of the meeting is to discuss:

  • —The issues involved in formulating a basic substantive framework for the U.S. position on MBFR.
  • —The substantive and procedural issues that will arise in consultation with our allies and negotiations with the Soviet Union.

Mr. Helms has prepared a brief on the Soviet proposals and the present comparative force postures of the Warsaw Pact and NATO.

I am prepared then to present the principal issues and alternatives involved in the substantive U.S. position on MBFR.

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Your Red Book Contains

  • —Talking points;4
  • —A summary of the issues and alternatives.


The President’s Summary

Since Brezhnev’s speech last month, the prospects for negotiations on mutual force reductions (MBFR) in Central Europe have become more serious.

The Diplomatic Background

The Soviets were finally responding to repeated NATO offers to discuss MBFR. The NATO Rome Declaration of May 1970 (joined by all Alliance members except France) invited “all interested parties” to join in exploratory talks on MBFR of stationed and indigenous forces and their weapon systems in the European Central Region. This position was repeated in December, 1970. The Lisbon (June, 1971) communiqué replied to the Soviets by stating NATO’s intention “to move as soon as may be practical to negotiations.” An early meeting of NATO Deputy Foreign Ministers to consult on substantive and procedural approaches to MBFR was agreed.

Last week, the Soviets were critical of NATO’s stalling while expressing a readiness to discuss reductions of both “foreign” and “national” armed forces in Europe to possibly include a limitation on naval deployments.

The Issues

In preparing to explore and clarify the Soviet position, and prepare for eventual negotiation, the United States and its NATO Allies now must begin active consultations to develop a common negotiating framework. The issues which must be decided at this time are:

  • —The substantive position which the United States should take in the forthcoming consultations with NATO.
  • —The operational procedure we and our Allies should follow in exploratory talks and eventual negotiation with the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies.

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A. The Geographic Area of Reductions

MBFR is most clearly related to NATO and Warsaw Pact armed forces in Central Europe. This has been acknowledged by both NATO and the Soviet Union. However, reducing forces in this area might be unappealing to other Allies, such as Norway, Denmark, Turkey, Greece, Portugal and possibly Italy:

  • —Nevertheless, the Central Region is the main area of confrontation between the ground forces and tactical air forces of both sides and, if MBFR is to be a serious arms control measure, it must focus there. This area contains large numbers of both stationed and indigenous forces—over one million men on each side, depending on the precise region specified.
  • —In the NATO flank regions, MBFR would involve mainly indigenous forces (including Soviet), and could greatly complicate the problems of negotiating and verifying an agreement. This is particularly true for U.S. naval forces in the Mediterranean and their nuclear delivery systems.

Within Central Europe, the choice of an area depends in part on the type and nationality of forces to be reduced or limited, and in part on the comprehensiveness of an agreement, including its verification provisions.


The first question is the choice of a specific area for reduction within Central Europe. The main alternatives are:

For MBFR involving either stationed forces or stationed and indigenous forces in Central Europe only, the “Rapacki Plan Area” is the most advantageous to NATO of the areas which exclude Soviet territory. The Rapacki Plan Area covers the two Germanies, Poland and Czechoslovakia. It includes all Soviet forces in Europe stationed beyond Soviet borders except for Soviet troops in Hungary. It also includes all NATO stationed forces except 1–2,000 men in Belgium and the Netherlands.

There may be pressures within NATO or from the Soviets for inclusion of some additional NATO territory. The “NATO Guidelines Area,” favored in some NATO studies, adds the territory of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg (Benelux). There is a rough balance of ground forces manpower in this area (Warsaw Pact 818,000 men; NATO 744,000 men).

For reductions of stationed forces only, the Guidelines Area produces military effects similar to the Rapacki Area. However, for reductions of both stationed and indigenous forces, the Guidelines Area is less advantageous to NATO.

(Including portions of France or the United Kingdom would be highly disadvantageous to NATO without restrictions on Soviet territory.)

Limiting reductions to East and West Germany only would be disadvantageous to NATO in view of the Soviet forces in Czechoslovakia and in Poland though the stationed forces in the Germanies are roughly in balance in this area and our initial offer to reduce stationed forces only might focus on this area.

Whereas the two Germanies offer the narrowest base for reductions, the most comprehensive base would be the NATO Guidelines area plus the European portions of the Soviet Union itself. If reduced Soviet forces are simply redeployed to the Western sectors of the Soviet Union, they could return far more quickly, and in greater numbers, than U.S. forces redeployed to the United States. Thus, MBFR in which redeployed Soviet forces are not disbanded or transferred beyond easy reinforcing distance (e.g., East of the Urals) could be relatively disadvantageous to NATO in terms of the military balance following a short period of mobilization. On military grounds, therefore, it would be desirable for an MBFR agreement to cover forces inside the Soviet Union itself.

However, the Soviets may be unwilling to agree to limitations or reductions of Soviet ground forces in part or all of the Soviet Union without compensating restrictions on the territory of France, the United Kingdom and probably the United States. In addition, existing national collection means are inadequate for verification of ground force limitations or reductions in the Soviet Union. To achieve any on-site inspection—let alone a system adequate to detect a rapid Soviet build-up opposite Central Europe in the early stages of mobilization—could pose severe negotiating difficulties. For these reasons, limitation and reduction of Soviet ground forces in the Soviet Union should only be considered for inclusion in comprehensive MBFR options, particularly those entailing very substantial reductions in NATO’s forces. It might be possible, however, to include USSR territory if U.S. forces withdrawn from Europe were demobilized, along with the Soviet forces.


The next choice is the size of force reductions to be considered.

For a given geographical area, a range in the size of reduction could be postulated, such as

  • A freeze of forces at present levels. While a reasonable first step in an agreement, a freeze would not satisfy unilateral pressures by Congress for reduction.
  • —A mutual reduction at a minimum level. Our verification studies indicate that this should be at least 10%.
  • —A mutual reduction of a greater size. Our studies of mobilization and reinforcement indicate that 30% may be a dangerous cut unless the Pact mobilization and reinforcement disadvantage can be overcome through restrictions on Soviet ground forces with the USSR or substantial improvements in the mobilization base of our Allies. [We have found that the Pact’s advantage in mobilization and [Page 162] reinforcement during the first month of mobilization is increased in proportion to the size of the reduction in stationed forces (U.S., Canadian, Belgian or Dutch) unless reduced Pact forces are disbanded and their equipment destroyed.]6
  • A common ceiling at a given level, or other asymmetrical reductions in which the Pact reduces more than NATO. Our studies indicate this approach is advantageous only when NATO’s reductions are minimal (less than 10%) and when the ceiling is based on active tank forces (which would require a major restructuring of Soviet forces in Central Europe).

In sum,

  • No MBFR improves the military situation for NATO if the Pact is able to mobilize reduced forces and reinforce the Center Region. On the other hand, it is very important to note that most MBFR agreements considered do improve NATO’s relative capabilities prior to reinforcement by either side. This could be an important advantage in a crisis leading to a sudden attack by the Pact in which they had not reinforced.
  • —After a 10% MBFR restricted to the NATO Guidelines Area, NATO is 4–6% worse off at M+21 days compared to the present, in terms of the ratio of opposing forces.
  • —After 30% MBFR restricted to the NATO Guidelines Area at M+21 NATO is 10–17% worse off.

These figures show adverse trends, but do not tell us whether NATO will still retain an initial conventional defense capability after MBFR of 10% or 30%. While we believe that NATO’s conventional option would not be lost with small mutual reductions, we are still working on a precise answer to this question.

Clearly, at this stage we should consider large reductions on the order of 30% in connection with comprehensive agreements which restrict the Soviet reinforcement capability or compensate NATO in some tangible way (e.g., unequal tank reductions). Smaller reductions might be considered with few, if any, restrictions on Soviet reinforcement.


The choice of the nationality and type of forces for reduction.

Military forces in Europe are either “indigenous” to the country where they are garrisoned, or they are “stationed” beyond their national borders. In Central Europe, on the NATO side, the principal stationed force include Belgian, British, Canadian, Dutch, French, and U.S. forces in West Germany. On the Warsaw Pact side, Soviet forces are stationed in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary.

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MBFR could include either stationed forces only, or both stationed and indigenous forces. [To reduce indigenous forces only would be illogical and politically unacceptable to the United States.]

  • —Important qualitative differences aside, it makes little difference in the resulting force ratios whether reductions are taken in stationed forces only or in both stationed and indigenous forces.
  • However, stationed force redeployments are verifiable by national means, while verification of indigenous force reductions may require enhanced on-site inspections in Central Europe. (A minimum degree of on-site inspection in East Germany is allowed by the Potsdam agreement.) Elimination of indigenous force equipment poses a particularly thorny verification problem.

Thus, the most advantageous form of an MBFR agreement would appear to be one limited to or heavily weighted toward redeployment of stationed forces in Central Europe though political considerations may dictate that indigenous forces also be included. In addition, it would be to NATO’s advantage to:

  • —Seek reduction of both conventional and nuclear Pact capabilities in exchange for NATO dual-capable weapon systems.
  • —Reduce only equipment in active units, since NATO, unlike the Pact, has substantial war reserves of combat equipment, such as tanks, in Central Europe.

However, both these approaches involve very complex problems that need further study.


Verification and warning.

The immediate issue is whether to consider agreements that cannot be verified by unilateral U.S. means, and if so, the degree of onsite inspection we would insist upon, if any. It is generally agreed that some on-site inspection will be required to verify that reductions are being carried out. The question is the degree of verification we will require in the post reduction phase.

  • —We cannot verify the reduction of ground force units of less than regimental size (3–5,000 men) anywhere in Central Europe.
  • —Outside East Germany we would have difficulty verifying the reduction of even division size forces with any reliability unless NATO military attachés and military liaison personnel were increased in numbers and restrictions on their movements were cancelled.
  • —However, improved technical collection systems may increase the frequency and detail of our coverage of Central Europe, enhancing our verification capability, although we would probably not be able to detect changes in individual unit strengths and equipment levels unless these were larger than 10%.

Given these limitations on the verifiability of either unit or manning reductions at the 10% level, we have to consider whether or not we are willing [Page 164] to consider reductions of this size. This problem is particularly significant because our Allies, at this point, all favor a NATO position that would call for reductions of this unverifiable size. If MBFR is to be a serious arms control effort, it must involve reductions that are large enough to be verifiable even in the initial stage.

Options for Negotiation

Within the foregoing framework, we could consider a range of options of increasing comprehensiveness for discussion with our allies and exploratory talks with the Soviet Union.

A limited option involving an immediate 15% reduction of stationed ground and air forces in Central Europe, with national means of verification. This could reduce U.S. force levels by 25,000–30,000 men.
A more comprehensive option involving both a further 10% reduction of stationed forces and a 10–20% reduction of indigenous forces. This agreement should include on-site inspection in Central Europe, other constraining measures such as restrictions on the size of maneuvers, and limitations on theater nuclear forces.
Finally, we could propose a comprehensive option involving deeper cuts in stationed and indigenous forces or stationed forces only, provided redeployed Soviet and U.S. forces were disbanded, their equipment was destroyed and on-site inspection was adequate. (Accepting such constraints on U.S. forces in the United States would not necessarily be disadvantageous. Meanwhile, proposing the option could help constrain further congressional pairing of the defense establishment.)7
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–031, NSC Meeting Folders, NSC Meeting on MBFR, 6/17/71. Top Secret. The memorandum was drafted by K. Wayne Smith of the NSC staff and forwarded to Kissinger on June 15.
  2. See Document 58.
  3. The “Rapacki Plan” refers to the 1957 proposal of the Polish Foreign Minister, Adam Rapacki, to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Europe embracing Poland, East Germany, West Germany, and Czechoslovakia.
  4. Attached but not printed.
  5. No classification marking.
  6. All brackets are in the original.
  7. Two tables, “Total and National Indigenous Ground Forces Presently on Active Duty in Various Geographical Areas Considered for MBFR” and “The Warsaw Pact/NATO Force Balance,” are attached but not printed.