84. Editorial Note

President Nixon met with British Prime Minister Edward Heath for a summit in Bermuda from December 20 to 21, 1971. On the first day of the summit, they discussed CSCE and MBFR in a closed session from 1:30 to 5 p.m. President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Kissinger and Secretary to the Cabinet Burke Trend were also present.

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  • “Prime Minister Heath asked whether Pompidou had raised the defense problem. ‘Not directly,’ the President replied. ‘I indicated bearishness towards MBFR. He shared that view. I reassured him with regard to our withdrawal; the U.S. was not going to withdraw from Europe. With respect to a European Security Conference, he took quite well our view that (1) Berlin has to be wrapped up first, and (2) we had to be concrete in the subjects being discussed. We don’t want a conference in 1972, an election year. We allies should discuss the matter first. Pompidou stressed that a Conference could have a salutary effect on the countries of Eastern Europe, leavening their policies.’ [Then why do the Soviets press for it?—HK] Dr. Kissinger then explained the U.S. philosophy on MBFR and the European Security Conference in greater detail.
  • “‘Will you be under enormous pressure to yield on MBFR in Moscow?’ the Prime Minister wanted to know. The President said no, we will just have discussions on it between Dr. Kissinger and Dobrynin. They have excluded MBFR from the agenda of a Security Conference. ‘Why do they want a Conference then?’ the Prime Minister asked. ‘Because it is a meaningless exercise and can also lead to the disintegration of the West’s alliances,’ Dr. Kissinger suggested. The President noted that it was a public-relations problem: ‘We will have to give as much rhetoric as we can without yielding anything real. The Romanians may be wrong; a Conference may strengthen Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. Maybe the Soviets want it as a way of bringing pressure on the Chinese; the Soviets are paranoid about the Chinese. It may also be related to the German problem.’ The Prime Minister noted that it might be a way of looking for European confirmation of Brandt’s Ostpolitik. ‘The Soviets now accuse us of being an obstacle to détente,’ he added. The President asked how this affected the Heath Government’s public support. The Prime Minister replied that 80 percent of the British public supported his position. ‘Then what about Pompidou’s argument that public opinion demands it?’ the President wondered. The Prime Minister asked if the President would be in a position to agree to such a Conference in 1973. The President said we would have to look at it seriously then.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 63, Memoranda of Conversations, Presidential File, 1971)

    On December 21, the U.S. and British delegations met in plenary session with Heath and Nixon. British Foreign Secretary Sir Alec Douglas-Home raised the issues of a European conference and MBFR in the context of discussions that he had held with Secretary of State Rogers the previous day: “Turning to Europe, Sir Alec said he and the Secretary had agreed that the beginning of 1973 was the most realistic time to think about the convening of a conference on European security and cooperation. The Secretary added that, under this timetable, the multilateral preparations need not take place until the fall of 1972. [Page 251] Sir Alec observed that the Soviets might not like the agenda the West would propose and perhaps were beginning to appreciate that they were not going to get everything out of the conference they wanted. Perhaps it would be a good thing if such a conference created some sort of permanent machinery, the function of which would be to try to improve the situation between East and West. The Secretary said there would be ample opportunity to give attention to the multilateral preparatory conference at the next NATO Ministerial meeting on May 30–31. As far as the MBFR is concerned, Sir Alec said, the more we look at the subject the less margin for safety there seems to be. The President commented that we are on exactly the same track. For us the subject is essentially a holding action to avoid Congressional action that would unilaterally reduce our military presence in Europe. Therefore we must make supporting statements. The Secretary said it was hard to conclude that the Soviets were really serious about MBFR. For them it seemed to be essentially a way to get the security conference. We did not think we were under pressure as to timing.

    “The President noted that, if the Soviets reduced their troops in Eastern Europe, their influence would go down. In the conversation which he had had with Gromyko last fall, the latter had talked ad infinitum on the security conference, but included only one sentence on MBFR. Dr. Kissinger commented that even balanced reductions would leave us a very thin margin. The first ten percent of any reductions were essentially free because they could not be verified. The President said that, to the extent the United Kingdom can take a harder line on MBFR than we, this is helpful. The program for an additional billion dollars of European defense expenditures for 1972 was also helpful, since it indicates that the Europeans are not hell-bent to reduce their forces. We must maintain our strength as we seek peace and détente.” (Memorandum of conversation, December 21; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 950, VIP Visits, Heath Visit (Bermuda), December 1971, 2 of 2) A record of Rogers’s conversation with Home on December 20 is in telegram 233196 to London, December 30. (Ibid., RG 59, Conference Files, 1966–1972, Entry 5415, Box 531, Summit Consultations, Vol. I of II, 12/6/71–1/8/72)