125. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1


  • NSC Meeting: (1) Germany and Berlin; (2) Burden Sharing

This will be the first of two meetings scheduled to deal with European issues. For this meeting the main subject will be the longer term consequences of Brandt’s Eastern policy and the Berlin negotiations. We also have scheduled a brief review of the burden sharing question, and what further steps may be necessary to follow up with your statements at Naples.2 At later meetings we will discuss our force levels in NATO and the question of mutual force reductions through negotiations with the USSR.


Brandt’s concept of a German national policy is based on his conviction that neither the US, alone, nor the Western Allies together are capable of achieving Germany’s national aims. Only a West German government can do this, he believes.

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Accordingly, he has taken a series of initiatives to normalize relations with the USSR and the Eastern Europeans, and ultimately reach a modus vivendi with East Germany. The new element of this strategy is the willingness to accept the political and territorial status quo, including eventual recognition of East Germany, as the necessary price to create a new starting point for overcoming the division of Germany.

The West Germans assume that the Soviet Union will accommodate to Bonn’s policies because of the problems with China and because of the intense Soviet desire to gain greater access to Western technologies.

In the short run, Brandt hopes to achieve a series of treaties, including a contractual relationship with East Germany, that will allow more intra-German communication and a greater scope for West German political and economic influence in Eastern Europe. Ultimately, Brandt’s hope is that through this new position of influence and acceptance of the status quo, an evolutionary process will ensue in which all but political unity can be achieved for Germany, as the ideological and political division of Europe erodes.

The Problems

If everything were to proceed as Brandt and his advisors assume, we could only welcome his success. But there are several problem areas:

  • —First of all, Brandt’s policies thus far are mainly declaratory, e.g., the Moscow treaty, and create the sense of détente without much substance.
  • Brandt’s willingness to recognize the status quo as the starting point for changing it and expanding German influence in Eastern Europe and over East Germany runs directly contrary to the imperatives of Soviet policy, which surely must be to freeze the status quo, to contain German ambitions and consolidate Soviet hegemony in East Germany, while Germany remains divided; the result could be a stalemate and frustration inside Germany.
  • —Even if Brandt is partially successful he risks being caught between pressures from the East, on the one hand, and the requirements of the Western Alliance on the other; in this event Western distrust could develop and revive anti-German sentiment since none of the Western Europeans can be expected to share Germany’s priorities or preoccupation with unification.
  • Within West Germany, if Brandt appears to be succeeding, there could develop a competition for the most nationalist position among the leading parties; the SPD already claims it is conducting a truly national policy by seeking substitutes for, or the equivalence of unification; the CDU could be compelled to counter this; in the long run the Soviets could gain the capability to dictate which German policies and leaders were acceptable as in Finland.

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Our Choices

In the near term we do not have great freedom of action.

  • —We probably cannot oppose Brandt without greatly damaging the Alliance, and involving ourselves in internal German politics.
  • —On the other hand, to support him actively will also polarize German politics since we cannot go beyond a German consensus on national questions. Moreover, because of his thin domestic base, we may want to hedge against overidentification with his specific policies.

In the longer term, we have two general postures:

1. We can continue to remain aloof;

  • —this guards against being blamed for the failure of the specific results of West German policy, and maintains solidarity with the British and French first of all;
  • —the main disadvantage is that we encourage inside Germany a feeling of distrust and suspicion which may feed Brandt’s belief that, in fact, we cannot be relied upon to support his national aims.

2. We can structure our general policies in such a way as to mitigate some of the longer term problems discussed above, and try to anchor German policy firmly in the West, so that when confronted by frustrations and failures Germany will have the certainty of a safe haven in the West, rather than the alternative of playing East against West or finding itself isolated.

  • —The requirements for such a policy are not startlingly new or different. The essentials are to demonstrate our continuing commitment to Western Europe, our stability as a partner through the maintenance of our military presence, regardless of specific troop issues, and our continuing strong interest in seeing the European Community progress beyond a mere Customs Union into a genuine West European coalition.
  • —Additionally, we would want to preserve the concept of overall responsibility for Germany’s future, together with the British, French and the USSR. In this way we would have a legitimate voice in a European settlement, and would reassure the smaller Allies that Germany was not being given a blank check, even though specific rights and responsibilities based on wartime agreements may no longer be operable.
  • —In return we should expect the Germans to consult frankly and to demonstrate in practice that their commitments to the West are still meaningful.
  • —All of this does not mean a new departure. What it means is that our present course takes on a new sense of urgency and importance in light of Brandt’s policies, and thus needs periodic reinforcing and a high degree of consistency.


One result of Brandt’s policy is that the Berlin negotiations with the USSR have been inflated from the low-keyed probe we originally [Page 358] envisaged to a major element in the future of Brandt’s Eastern policy. He has made a “satisfactory” settlement a condition for ratifying the German-Soviet treaty. And his opposition has also made it a test of his good faith.

The consequences of this turn of events are that we gain some greater bargaining leverage, but, at the same time, there will be even greater pressures on the Germans to see to it that a speedy solution is reached.

  • —The danger is that they may urge us into concessions that conflict with our own clear interests and responsibilities in Berlin.
  • —Moreover, should the talks not succeed, as the main negotiators we run the risk of being blamed for the failure not only of the Berlin talks but the Brandt policy in general.

There is a general agreement with the UK, the French, and currently with Bonn, that we must achieve in any new agreement: (1) improved access procedures; (2) the maintenance of West German financial, economic and cultural ties to West Berlin; (3) some greater freedom of movement for West Berliners to travel; and (4) if possible, agreement that Bonn represent West Berlin abroad.

In return the Germans agree to reduce some of the more visible of their political activities in West Berlin, such as meetings of the Bundestag and election of the Federal President—which have caused periodic clashes with the USSR.

It is doubtful that we can reach an agreement on this basis with the USSR without making important concessions. The Soviets are aiming for recognition that West Berlin is a “separate political entity,” that the GDR controls access, not the USSR, and that the Federal Republic has no political claims or rights in West Berlin. In effect, they want to effect a new status for West Berlin in return for the practical improvements in the situation we seek.

The Issues

The most immediate issue is what we do if our current negotiating position leads to a stalemate.

We could terminate the talks or allow them to die.
  • —This might mean the end of Brandt’s Moscow treaty, but is a defensible and legitimate position if Soviet demands prove intolerable.
  • —We could also try to separate the Berlin issue from ratification of the Moscow treaty.
If we choose to continue negotiating, we could consider a settlement confined to West Berlin, and involving some degree of recognition of East German sovereignty, i.e., the Soviet position.
  • —The West Germans may be inclined to accept this based on the formula that each of the occupying powers is sovereign in its sector of the city and will respect the decisions of the other.
  • —A new status might be more defensible against the day when East Germany is recognized internationally and we have to deal with it over [Page 359] innumerable matters related to Berlin. Our bargaining power is greater now than after East German recognition and admission to the UN.
  • The disadvantages are that creating a new agreement in itself provides no reliable guarantee beyond what we already have, because basically we are dependent on Soviet good will and the interplay of our total relations with the USSR to protect Berlin. Even under a new status we would be vulnerable.
We might accept a face-saving agreement on general principles.
  • —It might satisfy Bonn and avoid more concessions.
  • —But, it could be the source of new conflicts later.

The issues in Germany and even in Berlin do not appear to lend themselves to discrete choices and decisions. Our attitude toward Ostpolitik involves nuances and emphases (assuming we do not want to oppose it openly). In the Polish-West German treaty and a West German-Czech agreement, we would probably want to indicate our general support, and perhaps even make a gesture to Poland that we will support the Oder-Neisse as a permanent boundary.

We will also want to impress on the Germans that we expect them to carry out their avowed aims of strengthening their Western ties in the process of developing their Eastern policy. And we will want to inspire confidence in our own reliability in the resolution of other European security issues and our own role in the Alliance.

In short, I feel that what you may want to do is to write a letter to Secretary Rogers, laying out your concept of our policies in dealing with the problems of Ostpolitik along the lines of your conversations with Barzel and Schroeder.3

On Berlin, I feel that our present tactical position is sound enough but that we should be quite wary of German desire to speed up the talks or draw us into uncertain and unexplored territory. It seems highly [Page 360] doubtful that we will obtain an agreement, especially on access, that will be invulnerable to Soviet pressure.

We do have some leverage in these talks and we should be prepared to negotiate patiently. Experience has taught us that in Berlin matters, we cannot afford to leave much to chance or settle for a vague understanding which the Soviets later come back to and turn against us.

In particular, I feel that we cannot be caught out in front of a German consensus on how far we go in accepting East German sovereignty. At the same time, I think that now we are engaged in negotiations their failure would mean much more than in previous years. If pressed, I think we could realistically accept some change in the juridical status, provided that in return we gained what would be an airtight guarantee for access for civilian traffic, and maintenance of West German-West Berlin economic ties which are vital to the city’s existence.

In the final analysis, our position in Berlin will depend on our own will to defend it and on the price the Soviets put on a continuing period of détente in West Europe.

If you concur, I will prepare a draft letter from you to Secretary Rogers with copies to other NSC members, outlining your approach to the German question in general and to the next phase of the Berlin negotiations.4

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–029, NSC Meeting—European Security 10/14/70. Secret. Sent for information. The date of the memorandum is from another copy. (Ibid., White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Memoranda to the President, Beginning October 11, 1970) No drafting information appears on the memorandum. Sonnenfeldt forwarded a draft and talking points for the meeting to Kissinger on October 12. In a covering memorandum Sonnenfeldt explained that, in accordance with Kissinger’s instructions, “the papers now place heavy stress on the problems associated with Ostpolitik, both its failure and its ‘success,’ and, more importantly, with the current Berlin negotiations.” (Ibid., NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–029, NSC Meeting 10/14/70 European Security)
  2. Reference is to Nixon’s September 30 statements at the NATO Southern Command in Naples, in which he stressed the importance of burden sharing within the NATO Alliance. See Document 128.
  3. Regarding Nixon’s meeting with Barzel on September 4, see footnote 7, Document 115. Nixon met Schroeder in the Oval Office on September 15 from 9:49 to 10:20 a.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) Although no substantive record of the meeting has been found, Kissinger suggested in a September 14 memorandum that Nixon stress “your agreement that Germany’s Eastern policy should be balanced by further political and economic cohesion in the West.” Kissinger also noted: “His [Schröder’s] main interest, of course, is our appraisal of the recent German-Soviet treaty, the prospects for the Berlin negotiations, and our general policies toward Europe, especially our military presence. Schroeder has been rather moderate and restrained in his criticism of Brandt’s Eastern policy. One reason is that he expects the coalition of Brandt’s SPD and the Free Democrats to collapse about the middle of next year in favor of a new Grand Coalition and he wants to be available as Chancellor candidate. He is concerned, however, over the treaty, and especially the problem of obtaining a satisfactory Berlin settlement. He feels that some improvements were made in the Soviet treaty during the Moscow negotiations, but that the preferred order should have been a Berlin settlement first and then negotiations with the USSR.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 684, Country Files, Europe, Germany, Vol. VII)
  4. The proposed letter from Nixon to Rogers was dropped in favor of a National Security Decision Memorandum from Kissinger to Rogers and Laird; see Document 131.