128. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • My Visit to Bonn, October 5, 1970

Attached are the records of all my talks in Bonn as well as copies of State Department reporting telegrams occasioned by the visit.2

I believe the trip was worthwhile in continuing the effort to keep major allies directly informed of important Presidential activities. Brandt appreciated the gesture—though regretting that you could not come—as well as the President’s letter which reached him on the morning of my call on him and which he has now answered (see separate memorandum).3

There were two problems that arose in connection with the trip. The first resulted from an article in Welt am Sonntag (Springer), the only paper published in Germany on Sunday—the day before my meetings. The article alleged that your trip—and now mine in your place—was chiefly related to a major difference that had arisen between ourselves and the FRG over the Berlin negotiations. This story was apparently stimulated by Ehmke’s activities in Washington where, unable to see most of the people he had originally wanted to see because they were on the President’s trip, he spent his time claiming that the Soviets had made constructive new Berlin proposals but that we, especially State, were now dragging our feet because we were opposed to Ostpolitik. (The US Embassy had actually protested to the German Foreign Office on Ehmke’s shenanigans in Washington.)4

To counter this, I took special trouble in all my talks to keep the focus on the President’s trip. When Bahr tried to shift the discussion to Berlin, I merely asked him a couple of clarifying questions and then [Page 370] let Ambassador Rush do the talking. Similarly, with Brandt, I talked exclusively about the trip and let the Ambassador raise Berlin.

I also took occasion of an approximately 60 second encounter with about ten journalists outside the Chancellor’s office to say that

  • —the Welt am Sonntag article was wholly wrong;
  • —I had come solely to brief the Chancellor and his officials on the President’s trip, although some other subjects like Berlin had come up in the natural course of our conversations;
  • —we had established a tradition of such briefings after Presidential trips: last year the President talked directly to Chancellor Kiesinger who came to Washington a few days after the President’s return from his round-the-world trip, while you had gone to Paris to brief Pompidou;
  • —Ambassador Rush was in full charge of our Berlin negotiations in Berlin and the allied consultative machinery was working very well in Bonn, so that there was no need for any one to make a special trip from Washington. (Bahr interjected that there was complete agreement between us on all points relating to Berlin.)

I got one press question to the effect that the WAMS article had identified me as a major opponent of Ostpolitik in Washington; if that was inaccurate, was I optimistic about the prospects for Ostpolitik? I replied that it was my view that if there was to be a genuine era of negotiation there clearly had to be a normalization in Central Europe, including in the Federal Republic’s relations with its neighbors.

Press coverage the following day correctly placed the stress of my visit on the report I made on the President’s trip.

The second problem arose after my trip. Since several foreign representatives and Brosio were present when the President made his comments on burden sharing in Naples, I decided that I could not very well purport to give a report on the trip without referring to the President’s comments. (In fact, Brosio had already briefed Grewe and the NATO Permreps in Brussels by the time I got to Bonn.) I therefore cited the President’s statement in two of my meetings, using almost verbatim the formulation sent out for guidance in the Madrid telegram.5 I only added in amplification that the President had long felt that effective alliance partnership would depend far less on money that might pass between the allies than on their sense of joint and proportional participation in the defense effort on the basis of agreed strategy.

Ehmke professed to be greatly disturbed by the word that had got through to Bonn that our position had changed and by what I had reported [Page 371] the President as saying. He asked whether we were now no longer interested in financial contributions. I said that the President had stated his basic philosophy and his long-term preference but that over the short-run certain financial arrangements clearly were not excluded. I added the personal judgment that the Euro Dinner Minute of October 16 would provide a good basis for working out a burden-sharing mix compatible with the President’s philosophy and the practical problems in certain special situations such as those pertaining to Germany. This seemed to satisfy Ehmke.

Subsequently, evidently more on the basis of what had seeped out of Naples and Brussels than of what I had said, there were certain anguished noises by Finance officials in Bonn and, I gather directly by Schmidt to Laird, that the President’s statements had “pulled the rug out from under the Germans.” This whole matter has of course by now been aired in the NSC.

In addition to the talks reported in the attachments, I had a wholly private conversation with Berndt von Staden at dinner on October 4. He is now head of the unified political department of the Foreign Office and has long had strong doubts about Ostpolitik. He asked me what I thought the principal problems with it were. I said I would speak personally, as a friend and in continuation of conversations he and I have had over a period of some eight years.

I said I took the Moscow treaty as given now and there was no point going over its terms or whether it was or was not a good deal. The lawyers had pored over it and found no juridical problems and it has been signed, and that was that. The problems, as I saw them, were derivative and potential and would require a lot of thought and management all around.

I said that perhaps the most immediate problem related to the Berlin negotiations because we were expected to provide the quid for the quo the Germans had given in Moscow. This obviously held dangers of mutual recrimination if the talks were stalled. In addition, a stalemate over Berlin would face Brandt with the awkward problem of what to do about the Moscow treaty and whether and how to admit that his Eastern policy had not worked and its assumptions had been faulty. My concern related to the potential in all of this for German domestic political paralysis and the undermining of public confidence in the political and constitutional structure of the Federal Republic. This in turn could have repercussions for Germany’s Western relations.

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On the other hand, I went on, if there did turn out to be a Berlin agreement that could be deemed to meet the criterion of improving the situation and led to ratification of the Moscow treaty, I saw a fundamental problem in the evident contradiction between Soviet and German interpretations of what was being done. The Soviets would see the treaty and its recognition of the status quo and the division of Germany as endorsing Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe and as German support for a freezing of existing conditions; the Germans would see it as a starting point for changing the status quo both as regards the condition of life in East Germany and Germany’s role in Eastern Europe. This incompatibility—heightened, incidentally, by some rather wildly romantic German rightwing nostalgia for a colonizing mission in Southeast Europe—could lead either to a violent clash with the Russians or to German frustration.

I made the further point that problems would arise for the FRG and the rest of us from what would be to all intents and purposes a full recognition of the GDR (regardless of metaphysical German distinctions in this area). There would be a floodtide of additional recognitions and probable admission of both Germanies to the UN. In this situation, the GDR would run the FRG a strong race for the favor of the third world since it would have no political inhibitions in backing the most extravagant political positions of these countries. The FRG could very quickly get into difficulty with its Western allies if it sought to compete with the GDR in this respect.

I said that no one I knew questioned the firm intentions of Brandt and the FRG’s government to remain strongly committed to NATO and to European integration. Yet one could foresee a point down the road, where many of the benefits that the Germans anticipated from Ostpolitik had failed to materialize and where the Russians would take the line that any such benefits could only accrue to the FRG if it changed its relationships with the West. At this point, there would be some bitter arguments and anguished soul-searching in Germany and one could at least question whether (a) the Germans would take the right fork in the road, or (b) the fabric of their political life was strong enough to face such agonizing issues.

I said—and, incidentally, this was not the monologue rendered above but rather a much-interrupted conversation with many supporting or clarifying comments by Staden—that I had answered his question about some of the problems I foresaw; I had not necessarily tried to analyze all the implications of Ostpolitik, positive as well as negative; nor was I necessarily saying that what I had depicted was inevitable and could not be counteracted. But I added one thought which I said in all friendship and frankness one had to recognize: this was that Germany had a past that was almost universally viewed with dismay and skepticism. I had been struck that everywhere in Europe as [Page 373] well as at home, not to mention within Germany itself, this past weighed heavily on people’s minds when Germany made itself the engine for change in Central Europe and the source of a new fluidity and uncertainty in European politics and East-West relations. This was a fact of life which Germans, hopefully without self-pity or spite—to both of which they are prone—could not escape, almost no matter what they did. Staden said he understood this point only too well, though of course if carried to extremes it would simply lead to utter passivity, which no German government could permit itself to fall into, given the stirrings of its young.

I said that all of us in different ways carried certain burdens we could not escape. We, the US, carried the burden of great power which meant that what we do or don’t do can have implications far different than those of identical actions by others. Thus no one really worried if the Danish Prime Minister went to Moscow; but if an American President goes to the summit it immediately raises either extravagant fears of deals behind backs or hopes of millenial settlements. Or, if de Gaulle quits Algeria he is lauded as a statesman who courageously ended an anachronism and liquidated an untenable position; whereas if an American President simply walked away from a commitment the tremors would be felt around the globe and, indeed, at home. In any event, there was no magic that could make German history disappear and consequently none that could wipe away people’s memories of it or the inferences they drew from it.

Our talk concluded with some reflections on a situation wherein the SPD was now eagerly depicting itself as the truly national party (by in effect claiming to be trying to reunite Germany through first recognizing the reality of its division) while Spiegel, Zeit and the rest were picturing the CDU/CSU as the separatists who used the rhetoric of unity but practiced the policy of permanent division. This was of course the culmination of the great encounters between Schumacher (and Kaiser)7 on the one hand and Adenauer (the “separatist Rhineland state advocate” of the twenties) on the other, back in the 50s in the debates over Germany’s entering NATO and signing the Treaty of Rome. We agreed that if the political argument between Germany’s parties became increasingly one over which was the greater nationalist—or the greater traitor—it would be a most unpleasant rerun of a 40-year old tragedy.

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Staden ended the conversation on the upbeat note that, as Hallstein’s8 former chef de cabinet, he felt the most encouraging element in contemporary affairs was the quiet work being done to unify the currencies and fiscal policies of the Six.9 He himself was encouraging it and was delighted that the people involved were wholly different from those who were making headlines with Ostpolitik and other more glamorous endeavors. He felt that success in this quiet, highly technical effort would have infinitely greater political significance than Davignon’s10 plan for political coordination and would serve to offset many of the debits resulting from Ostpolitik, including the opportunities that either the failure or the success of this policy might give the Russians for playing a divisive or Finlandizing game in the West. It was late, and I did not feel like ending the evening by questioning Staden’s hopes. (Indeed, I feel that while in purely private conversations with Germans we should not gild the lily, we should at the same time not talk ourselves and them into such a depth of fatalism that our fears become self-fulfilling prophesies.)

At one point in our talk, Staden switched the subject to burden-sharing, saying that he had heard our position on financial relief had changed. I said I would be referring to this more formally the following day in my official calls when I would report on the AFSOUTH meeting in Naples.

However, for Staden’s background, I said that in line with the general approach of the Nixon Doctrine11 and with what he had said about the nature of partnership in the alliance in the President’s Report to Congress last February,12 the President felt that financial contributions were essentially a short-run remedy tailored to specific situations. The more fundamental goal should be agreement to a joint strategy, adherence by all concerned to a harmonious interpretation of that strategy and equitable participation by all the allies in the implementation of the strategy. A healthy and organic partnership must involve a real sense of shared responsibility for the defense of Europe; we could not forever appear to be more interested in the security of our allies than they were themselves.

Staden asked whether this meant that we would cut our troops and expect the Europeans, particularly the Germans, to fill in the gaps.

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He commented German soldiers could never take the place of Americans because (a) they would not deter the Russians to the same degree, (b) both Germany’s allies and its enemies would be scared to death if the Bundeswehr acquired an even greater relative weight in the alliance than it already occupied, and (c) German domestic trends simply would not permit an increase in the size of the German army.

I said that in my view the notion of a seesaw, whereby we reduce and they increase was quite erroneous if applied purely to the number of troops. The issue turned on getting agreement on strategy and then getting the forces which in their quality, deployment and overall size would be adequate to implement the strategy. I said that in my personal judgment that unless this sort of partnership were established, and credibly so, it would indeed be hard for us to convince even the friends of NATO in the US (as distinct from others who want to cut forces no matter what) of the rightness of our European commitments. The whole point of the Nixon Doctrine and all its derivatives was to ensure the firmness and long-term tenability of America’s foreign involvements rather than to disguise our withdrawal from them. And it was as part of this approach that the President felt that if the alliance became reduced to the passing of checks across the Atlantic—to a subsidization of American mercenaries—he could not for long maintain the commitments that he had just so strongly reaffirmed in public at Limerick.13

Staden said he was relieved to hear all this because it accorded with his own view of what the alliance should be like and of how Germany can best be protected from the pitfalls and temptations of its current and, indeed historical, fascination with the “wire to the East.”

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 684, Country Files, Europe, Germany, Vol. VII. Secret; Nodis. Sent for information. Kissinger initialed the memorandum indicating that he had seen it.
  2. Tabs A–F are attached but not printed. Sonnenfeldt went to Bonn to brief the German Government on the President’s trip to Europe. A memorandum of conversation between Brandt and Sonnenfeldt, largely devoted to the briefing on the trip, is ibid. For a German record of the conversation between Sonnenfeldt and Von Staden on October 5, see Akten zur Auswärtigen Politik der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 1970, Vol. 3, pp. 1679–1682.
  3. See Document 127.
  4. See Document 120.
  5. Reference is to telegram 4583 from Madrid, October 2. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 260, Agency Files, NATO, Vol. IX)
  6. The text of the Eurogroup minute of October 1 is in telegram 3572 from USNATO, October 2. (Ibid.)
  7. Reference is to Kurt Schumacher, SPD chairman (1946–1952) and chairman of the SPD Bundestag fraction (1949–1952); and Jakob Kaiser (CDU), German Minister of All-German Affairs (1949–1957).
  8. Walter Hallstein, State Secretary in the West German Foreign Office (1951–1958).
  9. Reference is to members of the European Community.
  10. Etienne Davignon, Director General for Political Affairs of the Belgian Foreign Ministry.
  11. For the President’s informal remarks to newsmen in Guam on July 25, 1969, later codified as the Nixon, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, pp. 544–556.
  12. See footnote 5, Document 75.
  13. Reference is presumably to Nixon’s remarks to reporters on October 4 in New-market-on-Fergus (not Limerick), Ireland. For text of the remarks summarizing his trip to Europe, including his public commitment to NATO, see ibid., pp. 804–809.