68. Editorial Note

West German Chancellor Willy Brandt visited the Soviet Union for two days of talks with Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev September 17–18, 1971. Among the topics they discussed were a European security conference and mutual force reductions. On September 20, the State Secretary in the Chancellor’s Office, Egon Bahr, provided Ambassador to Germany Kenneth Rush with an account of the talks. Rush summarized Bahr’s comments in telegram 11676 from Bonn the same day: “Brezhnev indicated that he was interested in MBFR negotiations but not sure of what criteria should be applied to force reductions. He said the Soviet Government was studying the subject seriously and was willing to negotiate on all aspects of it. At no point did he mention the word ‘balanced,’ but did on several occasions state that reductions should be ‘of the same quality.’ He mentioned reductions of troops but not of military equipment. Both Brandt and Brezhnev agreed that neither side should profit from a MBFR agreement at the expense of the other. They agreed that MBFR negotiations should not be a topic reserved solely to the great powers, should not solely involve stationed forces, but should cover all forces in the area of application of an agreement and should not cover Germany alone, but a broader area. It was agreed that the MBFR topic could be broached in the framework of a Conference on European Security, but should not be a substitute for the latter. Brezhnev should [said] he realized that the parties in the CES would not be identical as those involved in the MBFR and that MBFR negotiations would probably take longer than a successful CES would take. Bahr said Brandt was pleased that the joint FRG-Soviet communiqué explicitly mentioned participation in a CES by the United States and Canada; he believed it was the first explicit mention in a formal Soviet communiqué of this point. Brezhnev urged Brandt to take the same positive attitude towards the CES as the French Government. Brandt responded that his position on this topic was closer to that of the United States. There should be cautious progress and full advance preparation. Brezhnev said the CES project should be pushed vigorously after December, thus indicating clearly his expectation that the inner-German talks would be concluded by mid-December prior to the NATO ministerial meeting.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 686, Country Files, Europe, Germany (Bonn), Vol. X)

The same day, September 20, Chancellor Brandt sent his own summary of his meeting with Brezhnev in a letter to President Nixon. He discussed his conversations with Brezhnev on European security and MBFR: “The discussion with Secretary General Brezhnev left me with the impression that he is anxious to emphasize his interest in further détente in Europe. This is expressed in Soviet readiness to discuss complicated [Page 183] questions such as troop reductions and that in concrete terms and with the qualification that they must not lead to disadvantages for any of the parties concerned. The Soviet side obviously has not yet developed a perfect concept, not even for the criteria to be followed. This could put our alliance into a favorable position to influence Soviet thinking. I attach particular importance to the conference to be held on this issue in the framework of NATO in early October. At least Mr. Brezhnev has commented in a positive sense on our view that a troop reduction should include also national forces, that it should not be limited to the territory of the two states in Germany, and that it should be balanced. According to my impression the Soviet Union continues to attach great importance to convening a conference on security and cooperation in Europe; it has realized that the actual questions of security cannot be left aside, and it is also aware that careful preparations are necessary. My host was interested to learn whether the Federal Republic would raise special objections during the preparation of such a conference. I have, of course, based my answer on what has been agreed in the Alliance.” Brandt continued: “You will be interested, dear Mr. President, that Mr. Brezhnev addressed himself on several occasions to the American policy, and that in a different sense than he did a year ago. Certainly, at that time he also underlined that he did not wish to drive a wedge between us and our allies, especially our principal ally. This time, however, he expressed, at least by his words, his interest in the best possible relations, especially with the United States. He mentioned this both in discussing MBFR and in general.” For the full text of the letter, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume XL, Germany and Berlin, 1969–1972, Document 330.

National Security Council staff member Sonnenfeldt forwarded Brandt’s letter to President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Kissinger the same day. In a covering memorandum, Sonnenfeldt characterized the letter as “a highly euphoric and, I feel, a misleading account.” Sonnenfeldt explained: “I have done a brief memorandum to the President, gisting Brandt’s main points, which include favorable Brezhnev references to the US and to the President. I have not tried to critique the Soviet visit for the President, but from our point of view it is pretty bad. Brandt clearly accepted the Soviet scenario of a CES (the communiqué says ‘accelerate preparations’) before MBFR. And on MBFR he enlisted Brezhnev’s support for the position the Germans are pressing for in NATO—definite inclusion of national, i.e., German forces, an area not limited to Germany, and some vague acknowledgment that reductions should be of the ‘same quality’ or without disadvantage to either side. In his press conference, Brandt refers to equality of reductions—a phrase that will haunt us. All of this merely confirms that Brandt has mortgaged his policies to Brezhnev and in each succeeding phase he will have to pay an installment.” In the margin of the memorandum, Kissinger wrote [Page 184] back to Sonnenfeldt with regard to Brandt’s Soviet visit: “You should critique it—along these lines soonest.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 686, Country Files, Germany (Bonn), Vol. X)

On September 28, Kissinger forwarded to the President the translation of Brandt’s letter. In a covering memorandum, drafted by Sonnenfeldt, Kissinger wrote: “Chancellor Brandt spent some 16 hours in conversation with Brezhnev during their recent meeting.” He then characterized the problem: “Brandt’s report of his conversations borders on the euphoric. In fact, however, on most of the issues—mutual force reductions (MBFR) and a European security conference (CES)—Brandt seems to have largely gone along with Soviet views. In response to Brezhnev’s pressure for an early CES, [less than 1 line not declassified] Brandt agreed that there should be a preliminary conference (which is a Soviet view). He told Brezhnev that this was in accord with a discussion he had had with you on this subject. On MBFR prospects Brandt seems to have implied that MBFR could await the convocation of a CES. This contrasts with the US position that the issue of force level reduction is independent of a CES and should proceed as soon as possible without regard to the possibilities for convening a CES. Brandt also seems to have secured Brezhnev’s support for the position the Germans have been pressing within NATO that national forces (German) should be reduced in addition to stationed (US) forces, and that the area of reductions should be wider than both Germanies.” For the full text of the memorandum, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XL, Germany and Berlin, 1969–1972, Document 331.