90. Editorial Note

On April 17, 1972, National Security Council staff member Sonnenfeldt sent President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Kissinger a memorandum on “issues for Presidential decision” before Kissinger’s departure for Moscow for his April 19–25 secret trip. The goal of Kissinger’s trip was to preview with the Soviets potential topics of discussion at Nixon’s planned summit with Brezhnev in Moscow. With regard to European security and mutual and balanced force reductions, Sonnenfeldt wrote Kissinger:

  • “The decision here is, first, for authority to talk bilaterally to the Soviets. This follows logically from previous confidential exchanges, though these related to Europe generally (ESC) rather than to MBFR. This is a delicate problem because of European sensitivities. Moreover, we are committed not to talk specifically about ESC until after the Berlin agreement takes effect. No such restriction exists on MBFR.
  • “The major current hangup relates to the interrelationship between ESC and MBFR. We have always wanted to keep them separate, largely for Congressional reasons but also because it makes no sense to have large numbers of European governments involved in MBFR negotiations that affect only a few countries.
  • “If the German treaties are ratified and Berlin is settled, ESC preparations should begin next fall. The old imperative (Congressional) of holding open the possibility of MBFR while hanging back on ESC will no longer be valid then. We already have a USG decision to establish a tenuous link between MBFR and ESC, that is, to use the occasion of ESC preparations to try to get MBFR talks started also. This is worth trying out on the Soviets.
  • “We also have a set of MBFR principles developed by the Verification Panel and generally consistent with what NATO has been doing. [Page 273] Brosio would have made an effort to probe the Soviets on some of these.
  • “On balance, it seems wisest to confine preparatory work with the Soviets to the procedural issues.
  • ESC is a Soviet desideratum. We should stick to the NATO approach on timing. A Presidential decision might be made (1) that we can assure the Soviets we will cooperate with ESC preparations after Berlin, and (2) that we are prepared to maintain contact with them to help structure the conference most usefully.”

On April 19, Kissinger wrote in a memorandum to President Nixon with regard to European security:

  • “The next major subject—of particular interest to the Soviets—is Europe. As you know, they have been eager to engage us in bilateral talks about their conference proposal but so far they have not shown much interest in MBFR. Our own interest in MBFR has been largely the result of our need to counter Senator Mansfield with a positive position. While at the moment our domestic pressures for troop reductions are manageable they could of course arise again, and we would probably be in a stronger position to meet them if we had some sort of MBFR negotiation in prospect with the Soviets.
  • “We have already in various ways agreed in principle to preparations for a European conference once the Berlin agreement takes effect. Although the conference idea remains nebulous, we could try to use our agreement to proceed with conference preparations as a means to get the Russians to agree to MBFR preparations. As part of this latter process we could attempt to develop certain principles. As you know, however, we have had little success in coming up with any substantive MBFR position that is both negotiable and in our security interest. Consequently, our main interest will continue to be to use MBFR talks to prevent the unraveling of NATO through unilateral troop cuts.”

    At the end of the memorandum, Nixon initialed his approval of the recommendations, but added the handwritten notation: “OK—as modified by RN’s oral instructions.” For the complete text of both Sonnenfeldt’s and Kissinger’s memoranda, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 125.

    Nixon instructed Kissinger regarding the latter’s trip in the course of a private conversation in the Oval Office on April 19. Among the topics Nixon discussed with Kissinger were a European security conference and MBFR. A transcript of their conversation reads in part: “Nixon: [turning pages] European security concerns me. I think we’re getting sucked in there.

  • Kissinger: But there we’re pretty well sucked in.
  • Nixon: Now, what are you going to do? Have European security without any linkage with MBFR?
  • Kissinger: Well, that’s what most of our allies want. And that’s what—
  • Nixon: I know. Let me tell you, when you have European security you can damn near forget NATO. It’s going to be very—
  • Kissinger: That I’m convinced of too.
  • Nixon: But I am also rather convinced that NATO is done anyway so that’s—just between you and me. That’s nothing to—
  • Kissinger: I think European security won’t hurt it as much as MF—MBFR will.
  • Nixon: Well, maybe then we’ll just take European security and talk about peace and good will and exchange. Is that what you mean?
  • Kissinger: That would have a slight advantage. But that is not a decision which we now need to take.
  • Nixon: No, I know.
  • Kissinger: Because—
  • Nixon: On the other hand, they’ll want to announce a European security conference.
  • Kissinger: At the summit.
  • Nixon: That’s right. But You’ve got to be ready to tell them we’re willing. Bilateral issues—just don’t give anything, you know, we won’t [unclear] a goddamn thing—unless we get something on Vietnam. It’s cold turkey. And I mean not a goddamn thing. [unclear] They know that—they know that Vietnam is an indispensable ingredient of anything we do in the other area. Don’t you agree?
  • Kissinger: That’s right.” For a more complete transcript of the conversation, see ibid., Document 126. The editors transcribed the portions of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume.