62. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • MBFR


  • German
    • Egon Bahr—State Secretary, Chancellor’s Office
    • Guenther van Well—Assistant Secretary, Foreign Office
  • American
    • Henry A. Kissinger—Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
    • Helmuth Sonnenfeldt—Senior Member, National Security Council
    • James S. Sutterlin—Director, Office of German Affairs

State Secretary Bahr opened the conversation by telling Mr. Kissinger that he had discussed MBFR with Assistant Secretary Hillenbrand the day before. He was sure that a memorandum on that conversation would be circulated.2 To recapitulate, the Federal Republic was of the opinion that any balanced force reduction must include indigenous as well as stationed forces.

Mr. Kissinger asked why the Federal Government held this view. Bahr replied that if balanced force reductions are carried out between East and West a balance must also be maintained among the forces in [Page 168] the Western side. Aside from the United States and possibly Canada, the Federal Republic’s allies would not like to see the Bundeswehr left in a position after the withdrawal of some U.S. forces where its size would be out of proportion to other European forces.

Mr. Kissinger said that no conclusions have been reached on this question yet in Washington. He could understand the argument which Bahr had advanced. He noted, however, that there were also the following arguments in favor of reductions only in stationed forces. First, the verification problem for indigenous forces would be monumental. Secondly, it is the Soviet forces in the central European area which are best equipped for offensive action. Therefore, it is by reducing Soviet forces that one reduces the offensive capacity of the Communist side. Thirdly —and this, Mr. Kissinger noted, might not be so attractive to the German side—it would be attractive domestically if the size of the U.S. deployment in Europe could be reduced while the force strength of our European allies remained unchanged, since this would signify some equalization of the defense burden. Mr. Kissinger noted that there would be a meeting of the NSC at 3:30 p.m. to consider all of these questions.3 Decisions would not be made at the meeting, but conclusions would be reached for presentation to the President.

Bahr said that he could understand the domestic American interest in concentrating reductions on stationed forces. In this German and U.S. interests might diverge a bit. Perhaps one could bridge this over through the timing of the various stages in a troop reduction plan. If one began with only a small first step which would really by symbolic in nature, then the U.S. domestic argument would be persuasive.

Bahr said he could also see the point concerning the offensive capacity of Soviet forces. Here, of course, the question arose as to which territory would be included in a plan. From the German point of view it was desirable that the reductions not be limited solely to the territory of the FRG and the GDR. Mr. Kissinger replied that various options were included in the NSC study, one of which was such a restricted territorial approach. He considered this most unlikely, however, indeed unthinkable. Bahr then made the point that even a small first step could, by its nature, strongly influence the character of further stages in a mutual reduction plan. For this reason it would be unfortunate if the plan began on the basis of too small an area. Mr. Kissinger agreed and said again that he did not think it likely that any plan would be limited to German territory. He added that, as the President had emphasized the previous day to the Chancellor,4 the United States will not move unilaterally on any of these points.

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Bahr felt that the Soviets would probably argue for the inclusion of indigenous forces since the Bundeswehr is considerably larger than the East German Army. He added that for home consumption in the Federal Republic it would be good if the Bundeswehr could be reduced. All of the Western Europeans would be inclined to say if the U.S. is reducing its burden why shouldn’t they do likewise? Mr. Kissinger acknowledged that such a reaction would be natural but pointed out that from the American point of view we would consider this the kind of more equitable sharing of the defense burden which has long been desirable. Bahr thought that nonetheless this reaction should be expected.

Bahr digressed at this point to state that he had found in conversing with Senator Mansfield that only two arguments had any impact. First, U.S. forces in Europe could not be replaced by European forces because of their nuclear capacity. Secondly, the U.S. is a super power and therefore simply cannot run away.

Returning to MBFR, Bahr commented that we must be careful lest a kind of euphoria arise precisely at a time when, because of the reductions, the security situation may actually deteriorate somewhat. Mr. Kissinger agreed that this was a valid point which could be even more relevant if the size of the reductions were substantial. The studies which we have made, he said, show that a relatively small reduction would not affect the Western defense capacity adversely. Beyond ten percent, however, reductions would have a progressively more negative effect on our defense capacity. If 30 percent reductions were carried out our defense situation would be substantially inferior until M-Day + 60, a time which Mr. Kissinger doubted we would ever reach. Bahr said that German experts had come to the same conclusion. Their studies showed, however, that if the figure went above 40 percent the situation might reverse itself somewhat in favor of the Western side. Mr. Kissinger pointed out that the defensive forces must cover the whole area of their responsibility while offensive forces can concentrate their strength in a selected area.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL GER W–US. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Sutterlin. Part I of III. The conversation took place in Kissinger’s office. For Part II of the conversation on Berlin negotiations, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XL, Germany and Berlin, 1969–1972, Document 257. For Part III of the conversation on Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Eastern Europe; Eastern Mediterranean, 1969–1972, volume XXIX, Document 56.
  2. Telegram 109971 to Bonn, June 19, contains a summary of Hillenbrand’s conversation with Bahr. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL GER W–US) Earlier, Rogers discussed MBFR with Brandt and Bahr. (Memorandum of conversation, June 15; ibid., POL 7 GER W)
  3. See Document 63.
  4. See Document 59.