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


  • Conversation with Brandt’s Foreign Policy Advisor, Egon Bahr.
  • Various Aspects of Soviet and European Policy

Bahr, who has been the dynamo and, in most respects, the chief implementer of Brandt’s Ostpolitik, spent about two hours with me today2 to report on his impressions in Moscow and to discuss further steps in East-West relations.3

There is no doubt that Bahr remains highly influential in the Chancellor’s office and that, for good or ill, his energy and persistence have gotten the Germans to where they are today in their Eastern relations.

Soviet Politics

Bahr’s most interesting observations related to the Soviet leadership. He himself saw a good deal of Kosygin, when Brandt met officially and socially with the latter; he also saw Brezhnev rather more briefly but apparently was not present during Brandt’s conversation with him. In Bahr’s view Brezhnev is clearly number one: he treats the others as the chief and the others defer to him. Yet Bahr also considers him a “soft” person, prone to compromise and procrastinate and not inclined to concentrate consistently on a subject. Yet, as Bahr heard—and this is not inconsistent with our own intelligence—Brezhnev has the enormous institutional power of setting the agenda for the regular (Thursday afternoon) Politburo meeting and is the only member of that [Page 300] body who can raise a subject at a meeting without advance notice. Normally, papers are circulated three days in advance.

Brezhnev’s health, as we know from Kekkonen4 and other sources, was shaky while the Germans were there; but he joined them in drinks and of course talked to Brandt for some four hours. In those talks, incidentally, Brezhnev frequently referred to notes and talking papers, in contrast to Kosygin who was fully briefed and used no papers. Bahr is quite convinced that foreign policy is not basically interesting to Brezhnev—again a point made by other observers, although as nominal President of the USSR in the Fifties, Brezhnev actually travelled quite a bit.

When one considers that Brezhnev accomplished the near-unique feat of becoming head man of the USSR (only three others did it before him), one must conclude that he is past his prime, was always more accomplished bureaucratically than substantively, and must be assumed to be subject to replacement once his cohorts can agree on a successor. Meanwhile, it is Bahr’s view that Brezhnev’s actual strength at the moment is undiminished.


Like others, Bahr found Kosygin impressive as the “general manager” of the “largest concern in the world—the USSR.” He had vast amounts of data at his finger tips, was clearly overridingly concerned with planning, management and economics but had done his homework impressively when it came to talking to Brandt about the Soviet-German treaty. Bahr found no trace of fatigue or lethargy in the man. He was the only one who spoke to Brezhnev on essentially equal terms. (The experience at the time of Glassboro in 1967,5 however, was that Kosygin would not make commitments without first seeking authority from home.)

Gromyko, according to Bahr, is clearly a pro: essential to the operation on foreign issues but not among the top decision makers.

Bahr says he was told that Brezhnev, apart from probably having his own channels of information, gets telegrams and intelligence within 24 hours, as does Kosygin and probably President Podgorny. (The latter did not appear with the Germans; Bahr says he is viewed as an old-line dogmatist.) The rest of the Poliburo members supposedly get information within three days and each has a foreign policy staff to help [Page 301] sift the mass of paper. Bahr—and others have made this point too— feels the Soviet sluggishness in decision-making may be partly due to this complex lateral distribution system. It is, of course, one outgrowth of the Soviet leadership’s fear of another Stalin; i.e., a device to ensure that all leaders operate on a comparable information base.

Soviet Motives

In the German judgment, which in my view has some merit, the Soviet negotiations with the Germans, their interest in a European conference, their acceptance (as the Germans see it) of the Common Market as a reality and the SALT talks are all part of a pattern related to a Soviet effort to reach decisions for the next five-year plan on the basis of reasonably well defined blocs. (The Middle East is one big question mark in this interpretation.) With so many issues pending, Bahr believes, the postponement of the previously scheduled Soviet Party Congress until next spring is a logical development. Bahr says “China” was never mentioned (as, indeed, it was not except very informally in Gerry Smith’s Vienna talks). Yet the economic demands of a long-term confrontation with China clearly add another element of uncertainty to Soviet economic planning which would be at least somewhat mitigated if a certain clarity could be introduced into the USSR’s relations with the two major Western powers, the US (SALT) and the FRG.

Even if this analysis is correct, one cannot expect Soviet concessions (be it on SALT, or on Berlin or on the Middle East) to fall like ripe plums from a tree.

The Soviets warned the Germans not to approach the Berlin question (settlement of which, as you know, the Germans have made a precondition for ratification of their new treaty with the USSR) by attempting to exert pressure on the USSR. This is an old Soviet sensitivity and not to be discounted. Moreover, as regards Berlin, having so many of the tactical cards in their hands, the Soviets may well reason that the Germans (and their Western allies) will eventually settle for few, if any, genuine improvements in the situation. We would of course run the risk that the Germans will seek to blame us for failing to extract the concessions from the USSR that would make German Ostpolitik the success that Brandt needs for electoral purposes at home. Bahr’s line with me, meanwhile, was that given the pressures, as he interprets them, on the Soviets, and assuming Western (i.e. US) negotiating skill, the Ostpolitik package should be signed, sealed and delivered by the end of the year or next spring.

Troop Cuts

Bahr, and other Germans who have reported on the Moscow talks, did not discern any great interest among the Soviets in mutual East-West troop cuts, although they seem willing to discuss small mutual [Page 302] withdrawals. We are still examining this complex subject within the NSC system, on the model of our SALT studies. My judgment is that the Soviets may well be willing, as they have publicly said, to discuss this subject; that they are not interested in major withdrawals from Eastern Europe because of their general sense of insecurity there; but that they might be prepared to negotiate small East-West reductions on the assumption that in the ensuing mood of détente—especially if there also were a SALT agreement—the US would make large unilateral cuts, anyway.

Summit Meeting

I raised briefly with Bahr Brandt’s proposal for a Western summit. Bahr said that Brandt’s idea stemmed in part from your talk with him earlier this year that it might be useful to have a solemn reaffirmation of the Western alliance. Beyond that, according to Bahr, Brandt would envisage the meeting to deal essentially with German and European questions. Bahr did display some sensitivity to the possibility that Pompidou might not take kindly to a German suggestion which in effect maneuvered the French President into having to accept a meeting in New York.

To preserve your flexibility, I told him we are still studying the idea but will make a response in the near future. Bahr himself is going on leave for several weeks, but I have made alternative arrangements for backchannel communications to Bonn, should these be required in the next several days.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 684, Country Files, Europe, Germany, Vol. VII. Secret; Nodis. Sent for information. A notation on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it. No drafting information appears on the memorandum. Sonnenfeldt forwarded it to Kissinger on August 17. (Ibid.) According to an attached routing slip, the President saw the memorandum on August 26. Pauls also drafted a memorandum of conversation; see Akten zur Auswärtigen Politik der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 1970, Vol. 2, pp. 1487–1491.
  2. August 17.
  3. A memorandum of the August 17 luncheon conversation, which included Hillenbrand, Sonnenfeldt, and Pauls, in addition to Kissinger and Bahr, is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 684, Country Files, Europe, Germany, Vol. VII; also ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL GER W–USSR. During an NSC staff meeting on August 17, Kissinger “said he wanted a half-hour alone with Bahr.” Sonnenfeldt replied that “this may not be possible in view of Pauls’ bird-dogging.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 314, National Security Council, 1969–77, Meetings, Staff, 1969–71) No record of a private discussion between Kissinger and Bahr has been found.
  4. Urho Kaleva Kekkonen, President of Finland. Kekkonnen was in the United States July 22–27 for an official visit. A memorandum of the conversation between Nixon and Kekkonen on July 23 is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XLI .
  5. Reference is to the summit at Glassboro, New Jersey, between Kosygin and President Johnson from June 23 to June 25, 1967; see ibid., 1964–1968, vol. XIV, Documents 217–238.