79. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • NSC Consideration of NATO Issues:
    • (1) Mutual Force Reductions
    • (2) European Security Conference
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The meetings of NATO Ministers next week (December 8–10) will be dominated by two issues: the question of a Western position on Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions (MBFR) and preparations for a European Conference on Security and Cooperation. On both subjects our Allies will be looking to the U.S. for an indication of how we wish to deal with them.

  • Both of these issues bear importantly on Western security interests. If not handled properly the results could be highly dangerous. It is important that we maintain our focus on the implications for the military balance of any force reductions and on the substance of European security, rather than drift into ill-defined negotiations that will only work to the Soviet advantage.
  • On neither of these issues is the Western Alliance in a position to move ahead; there is no consensus on the aims of either mutual force reductions or a European conference.
  • We need more time to develop concrete proposals.
  • —Finally, multilateral negotiations of this sort on European issues should come after, not before your meeting in Moscow. Moreover, we should have some greater assurance of a satisfactory outcome in SALT.


MBFR : The Western initiative, dating back to 1968, for negotiations on the reduction of forces in Central Europe was largely academic until last Spring when Brezhnev offered to begin negotiations. As a consequence of the Soviet response, we have intensified our study of the issues. Within the Alliance there has been a sharp revival of interest in negotiations because of: (1) the Soviet response on MBFR; (2) the ongoing U.S. and FRG negotiations with the Soviets; and, (3) the Mansfield proposals for unilateral reductions.

Our own studies have shown that almost every model for reductions that would be negotiable with the Soviets would damage the Western military position. Small reductions that minimize the adverse consequences are almost impossible to verify, whereas larger reductions do major damage mainly because the Soviets withdraw only to Western Russia while we withdraw across the Atlantic.

Though these conclusions are not surprising, they are being submerged in other considerations. For various reasons MBFR negotiations have become a highly political issue in Europe.

  • —Many Allies (and some in our own government) believe that our Congressional critics can be placated by MBFR negotiations.
  • —Others believe that MBFR is an instrument for European détente, and should be pursued for this purpose.
  • —In addition, some of our Allies suspect that we want to arrange a bilateral reduction with the USSR and wish to forestall this through early negotiations.
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Our objective, therefore, must be to impress the Allies that we are not interested in reductions for the sake of a better atmosphere and to assure them that no bilateral bargain will be made with the USSR. We want to force our Allies to recognize the problems and implications of MBFR and to focus on the security consequences to the Alliance’s military posture. Unless maintenance of a military balance is the principal criteria for judging MBFR, we will be engaged in the impossible task of trading military security for some vague and undefinable degree of détente.

A Conference on European Security and Cooperation. This issue has been pressed with varying degrees of urgency by the Soviets since 1954, and for good reason. As they define it, such a Conference would issue declarations of non-aggression, recognize existing borders, and agree on increased economic cooperation. Their aim is to solidify the status quo in Eastern Europe, while extending their own influence in the Western Alliance.

On this issue there is growing Allied pressure simply to move to negotiations. The Alliance consideration of the subjects to be discussed and what the Western position would be has been limited and without consensus. Negotiations at this point would almost certainly result in a Soviet-style conference agreeing on broad generalities. We need to redirect the work of the Allies so that principles of security are translated into specific measures. If we can do this, a negotiation later may actually enhance the Western position.

Priorities and Timing

We have set no precondition for MBFR, but the Soviets are clearly dragging their feet by refusing thus far to accept Brosio as the NATO “explorer” of MBFR principles. Until they do agree to receive Brosio we need make no further effort to open negotiations; we should use the time for the Alliance to digest the analytical result of our studies. We have just completed a major study and transmitted it to NATO. One approach which deserves further discussion involves phased negotiations, with extensive discussion of principles in the early stages and prior to negotiations on reductions.

On a European conference we are committed to begin the preparations once the Berlin issue is completed. Some Allies, notably Britain and France, and perhaps West Germany, would be willing to move toward a conference as soon as the current phase of the Berlin talks, between East and West Germany, is completed (perhaps late this week). We want to stick to the condition of completely wrapping up Berlin. The Soviets appear to be insisting that Berlin will be held open until their German treaty is ratified in Bonn. If so, preparations of a European conference will be put over until the spring and, thus, should be held up until your meeting in Moscow. In this case, agreement to begin a European conference might be a summit decision.

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Proposed Conduct of the Meeting

Since we can anticipate pressure from the Allies to show “movement” at the Ministerial meeting, it will be important for you to impress on the NSC meeting that we will not move until we are assured that in both issues (MBFR and a conference) we can develop a common Western position that insures that our security interests will be maintained intact.

(You may wish to say that both issues should be delayed until after the summit.)

I suggest that you conduct the meeting as follows:

  • —Call on Director Helms to brief on the outcome of the November 30 Warsaw Pact meeting on MBFR and the European conference.
  • —Call on me to outline the issues and alternatives.
  • —Make clear that you do not want a substantive movement on these issues now.
  • —Discuss the conclusions we draw from the MBFR options analysis and Allied reactions, calling first on Secretary Rogers.
  • —Discuss the sequence of MBFR negotiations, once started.
  • —Discuss the preconditions (Berlin) for a Conference.
  • —Discuss the character of the Conference we want.

Your Talking Points2 are written in the above fashion.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–032, NSC Meeting CES/MBFR (NATO Ministerial) 12/1/71. Top Secret; Sensitive. A notation on the first page indicates that the President saw the memorandum.
  2. Not attached, but the talking points are ibid.