83. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • President Pompidou
  • Mr. Andronikof
  • Major General Walters

[Omitted here is discussion of matters other than the European security conference or MBFR.]

[President Nixon:] Militarily it was vital to the U.S. to preserve Europe and to remain and not to reduce its forces unless on a very clear multilateral basis such as a reduction vis-à-vis the Communist bloc would be disastrous. MBFR had begun in 1968 before he was elected. U.S. policy was that it must be pursued on a multilateral basis. We had yet to find any formula by which such a reduction would not downgrade our interests in relation to the Soviet bloc. We could continue the Brosio discussions and consult to the extent that President Pompidou desired. Personally the President was very skeptical. His concern was that MBFR be used simply to obtain a U.S. withdrawal. Only with a visible U.S. presence could we maintain our interest. The Soviets know this and that is why they want us out as soon as possible.

[Omitted here is discussion of matters other than the European security conference or MBFR.]

President Pompidou then said that he had three remarks to make about what the President had said. Brezhnev had spoken a great deal about MBFR. He drew an idyllic picture of almost no soldiers in Europe in 10 years. In any case, France will not diminish her military [Page 247] effort. She will pursue it whatever happens. The President commented that this was “good.”

President Pompidou said that he had told Chancellor Brandt about what the President had said of the danger that negotiations might be a pretext for U.S. opinion to demand the departure from Europe of the U.S. Forces. The Chancellor had replied that the U.S. Forces should not leave unless the Russians went too. President Pompidou said he must admit that he did not understand the German attitude on this point. They should be the most hostile to the reductions envisaged in MBFR. After all, they would be the first to be endangered. He must say that Brandt had told him that he was hostile to the neutralization or “Finlandization” of Germany. But the day the U.S. leaves Germany, the U.K. and France will not be far behind and then Germany would not be far from neutralization.

[Omitted here is discussion of matters other than the European security conference or MBFR.] President Pompidou said that the U.S. view of things was more world wide than that of France because of our means. This was why he considered the time favorable to commit Europe in a procedure of détente which could backfire but that Soviets could reverse only by a theatrical or forceful move. They are very concerned by Asia, China and their discussions with the U.S. on nuclear matters. They want peace in Europe. He believed that the Soviets harbored the illusion that the French, Germans, Italians and other countries could give them considerable economic aid. These are illusions and he had said so publicly. One could only sell to the Russians in exchange for what one buys and this was not much. No one could give unlimited credit. The European picture was very favorable except on MBFR on which he had already given the President his views. The French were not disposed to reduce their arms effort. One word about the problem of a European Security Conference. This point is evident. A security conference is beginning to be discussed seriously. He believed that all European countries were agreed on holding such a conference but felt that if the U.S. preferred a later date they would be agreeable to keeping the U.S. happy. Until, however, the U.S. agreed, there could be no real serious preparation of such a conference. Why did the French believe that such a conference could be of interest? They felt that communism as such represented by communist regimes was false from the economic and social point of view in many so called Socialist nations. Poles, Romanians and especially the Czechs and Hungarians wanted to shake off the tutelage. They believe that with the Western bloc divided and the Eastern bloc united that they lost. He felt that on one side there were the free countries who were independent and France felt that she was. On the other side there were countries who wanted to take steps towards freedom [Page 248] and independence. If the superpowers or the West (that is, the U.S.) feel that this liberty and independence is bad, then harm is done. The Russians feel it is bad but cannot stop it.

President Pompidou had been struck in his last talks with the Romanian President and Foreign Minister by their anguish at the idea that multilateral preparations and meetings on this conference might be delayed. They believe that when all are seated around a table they will be protected and not until then. The U.S. and France did not have exactly the same view. The problem is one of interpretation of the situation rather than that of a disagreement on goals.

President Nixon replied that, first of all, as to the matter of whether there would be a European Security Conference the question as President Pompidou had implied was one of timing and tactics. As President Pompidou had indicated, we believed that until the German treaties are finished plans for a European Security Conference cannot be implemented. We also believed that it was vitally important that extensive discussions among ourselves be held with regard to the agenda. He agreed with the French President that there was some possibility that this conference might not be an unmixed blessing for the Soviets although they very much wanted it. The extent to which it opens up to the West the Eastern countries to whom President Pompidou referred can be a leavening factor in the attitude of those countries. We have in each case to distinguish between the leadership and the countries. The people of Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland had demonstrated on several occasions that there was nothing that they would like better than to get rid of Soviet influence and leadership. Certainly a country like Romania where Ceaucescu is a devoted Stalinist is also devotedly a Romanian and to the extent that he can safely do so he takes an independent line from time to time. The President’s views long term were the same as President Pompidou’s. There are risks for the Soviets in such a conference just as they think it contains risks for us. They feel it will have the effect all over Western Europe of creating a false atmosphere of security and will lead to the letting down of our guard and the belief that real peace is just around the corner and that the cold war is finished. His own view in summary was that in a deliberate way we should move towards such a conference but have in mind the fact that we should harbor no illusions as to the Soviet aims in holding it. Our planning should be such as to serve our purposes while they will attempt to serve theirs.

Overhanging the whole area of Soviet-U.S. relations is the sober, sombre fact that if the Soviet leader decided to risk nuclear war and the U.S. was involved, he knew that he had the power to kill 70 million Americans and we had the power to kill 70 million Russians. The U.S. President knows this too. There are limitations on power and a [Page 249] restraining influence not because of love but because of fear. It was essential that the two nations pursue the negotiating track rather than the confrontation track. We have impressed this on the Soviets with regard to Southern Asia in the last 24 hours. The President wished to add in regard to the desire for détente that he totally agreed with President Pompidou. The people of the U.S. and Europe wanted it, at least a majority of them did. In Europe perhaps for different reasons. The Germans want it because the Soviets can give them East Germany; U.K., France and Italy because they are convinced that we live in a dangerous world. The danger presently represented by nuclear war, not the loss of 3,000 men as at Pearl Harbor. The whole place would be turned into a graveyard. No one wanted that. It was very important to look at the two attitudes on détente. Some sought a European Conference on the naive assumption that the Soviet aims have changed and that their designs in Europe and in the rest of the world are basically peaceful. On the other hand, some who seek détente on our side have no illusions and recognize that a different relationship and good relations between Europe and the USSR and the U.S. and the USSR are a practical necessity, that there are dangers in a policy of confrontation. But we must have no illusions about the basic aims of the Communist States. They are quite different from one another. Even if they wanted it would be impossible for European or U.S. leaders to take an intransigent stand and refuse to talk. Ten years ago this was possible in the U.S. It is no longer. On the other hand, it is important that the leaders recognize that naive public opinion often demands talks that will make the whole world peaceful. We should seek such negotiations but for the right reason. By the facts of Soviet power, the risks of confrontation in the Middle East or elsewhere are unacceptable. Therefore, we should seek to lessen the risk of war and seek, as President Pompidou had indicated, to make Europe a more viable area and to open Eastern Europe whose peoples’ hearts are with the West.

[Omitted here is discussion of matters other than the European security conference or MBFR.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Box 87, Beginning December 12, 1971. Top Secret. The meeting took place at Junta Geral, Angra do Heroismo. A more complete transcript of the meeting is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XLI, Western Europe; NATO, 1969–1972. In preparation for the summit meeting between Nixon and Pompidou, December 13–14 in the Azores, Kissinger sent Nixon a briefing memorandum on December 10 that advised: “On East-West questions (MBFR, European Conference), the differences are relatively minor and, in any case, greater between the two foreign offices than between yourself and Pompidou.” Nixon wrote back in the margin of the memorandum: “MBFR—(1) We go forward—(2) Consult with CES.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, nnnnn NSC Files, Box 473, President’s Trip Files, Azores Visit—Meeting with President Pompidou, 12/13–14/71)