29. Minutes of a National Security Council Meeting1


  • The President
  • Vice President Agnew
  • Secretary of State Rogers
  • Secretary of Defense Laird
  • Attorney General Mitchell
  • General Lincoln, Director, OEP
  • Admiral Moorer, Acting Chairman, JCS
  • Director of Central Intelligence Helms
  • Under Secretary of State Richardson
  • Assistant to the President Henry A. Kissinger
  • Ambassador Walter H. Annenberg
  • Prime Minister Harold Wilson
  • Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart
  • Ambassador John Freeman
  • William Watts, NSC Staff
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, NSC Staff

RN: I am happy to extend my welcome around this table where the most sensitive discussions are held. It is less formal than our Cabinet meetings.

During the Eisenhower presidency, there was a tendency to come in with a single paper. While we do have NSC papers, rather than a statement of recommendations or agreed positions, they present the options. This is of great value to the President’s chair. It insures a full discussion.

[Page 109]

Today we want to concentrate on Europe—we have a new government in Germany, there have been major developments in France, East-West talks are developing, and SALT has begun. I will ask Dr. Kissinger to open, to be followed by Secretaries Rogers and Laird; then Mr. Prime Minister, I hope to get your views.

Kissinger: Outlined the issues, as contained in his talking points and summary in the attached NSC book.2

President: What about European security matters?

Rogers: The problem concerning disengagement as a policy is that the USSR is seeking to create the impression that we have in fact opted for alternative #3. The fact is that we are going from alternative #1 to alternative #2 at a sensible pace.3 We must reinforce this impression.

We are a strong supporter of the present Alliance—for example, the President’s trip to Europe, my stand at the NATO conference, and Elliot Richardson’s speech on the European security situation.4

We must encourage cohesion and give economic aid.

We must also understand what the USSR is up to. We want to negotiate; we will not just be belligerent.

On SALT, we are convinced that they are interested in serious discussions. Concerning our own troop strength, we will maintain it at present levels through 1971. In short, the foundationstone of our own security is NATO.

Concerning the European Security Conference, the Soviets do not give the intention of getting into serious discussions. First of all, they don’t even talk to us; rather for 6 to 8 months they discussed as to whether or not to invite us into the party. If they don’t talk to all interested parties at the same time, the offer would not have been made in good faith.

Beyond that, the Soviet approach does not deal with real security questions. The issues they have raised—trade and renunciation of forces—for example, have already been covered.

We are certainly prepared to accept and deal with bilateral discussions; such as those now being undertaken as Brandt’s advisor, Egon Bahr, has gone off to Moscow.

[Page 110]

RN: Often we read that the columnists say that Europe does not really matter. What is needed is for the United States and the Soviet Union to sit down and cool the whole process. If this means cooling relations with our western European friends they say, then so be it. If it means antagonizing China—again, so be it.

As I said in February and again in August,5 I reject this approach categorically. First, there is no reduction of our NATO commitment. Certainly this can be a matter for negotiation, but we cannot reduce our level of commitment except on a mutual basis. Second, on Soviet-US relations, there is not a lack of interest in finding an arrangement, but it is vitally important to establish a relationship within the Alliance. We must know what we are going to talk about before getting into summitry.

On arms discussions, things are underway.

On Berlin, we have just received our toughest note yet.

On Germany, nothing has really moved as far as the Soviets’ approach is concerned.

Laird: I am primarily concerned with the more traditional strategic issues, and particularly the Soviet threat. Both the Defense Program Review Committee and the National Security Council are considering this problem. There have been major difficulties in coming to a threat assessment. We must look at intentions as well as capabilities. Denis Healey pointed out so well in the NATO meeting his concern with the change of the threat, particularly in the Middle East and in the dramatic increase in Soviet steam days in the Mediterranean. This affects the entire range of defense planning, including Asia as well.

We place a very high priority on new consultation procedures, such as the Nuclear Planning Group.

I am deeply concerned with the relative security burden over the next five years, and the whole concept of burden sharing. I am delighted that you will be able to move a UK brigade into Germany. We have had some real problems in the Department of Defense as a result of Germany re-evaluation; we had to eat $150 million.

We are studying the whole area of balance of forces. Certainly as relates to the threat assessment, we must have an agreement with the NATO countries before we can reduce force levels.

RN: Mr. Kissinger, would you touch on SALT, and in particular the Soviet attitudes toward the IRBMs and NATO arrangements.

Kissinger: The key problem is the definition of strategic weapons. We consider that IRBMs which are aimed at Europe are strategic, while [Page 111]tactical weapons are not. On the other hand, the Soviets take the position that weapons aimed at home countries are strategic and others are not. Under their definition, then, IRBMs are not considered strategic, and Polaris missiles are. This gives them an overwhelming advantage vis-à-vis Europe. In the next phase of SALT, the definition question will be crucial.

Rogers: One thing is clear and that is we will have plenty of time for discussion. There will be no quick decisions. There will be plenty of time to consult and debate.

Wilson: I find this discussion fascinating as a form of governmental process. Even the inclusion of a third option for “intellectual symmetry” is most important.

And I agree that this third option is pretty well dead, although we must quiet the critics from time to time. The trouble is that the main danger to NATO is that it can be taken for granted. Czechoslovakia jerked everybody up, but there is a continuing need for external vigilance and more unity.

If we look at the Brezhnev Doctrine, it is interesting to note that the USSR has never chosen a country in the NATO Alliance. Actually Brezhnev has shown a high degree of military efficiency in imposing colonial policies.

As far as the European Security Conference is concerned, it was never really in doubt that the U.S. and Canada would be invited in. The Soviets never meant to be exclusive on this.

The question is just who is taking who for a ride. The right way to respond is not just to say no. But we must be properly prepared and deal with meaningful issues. Perhaps we should show a bit of rigidity, and crowd them a bit. It is my impression that Brandt is doing a bit of this. He is getting away from the old metaphors and pushing Ulbricht around. But he would never sacrifice security.

We must ask you to acquiesce in some economic damage to interests in the United States. It would be worth it for the sake of European cohesiveness. We are prepared to bear some short-term risks on the balance of payments. I hope you can put up with some phrases and slogans which may grate on you. We will do our best to limit them. It is political unity that matters here.

Excluding Defense considerations, and I underline that phrase, one could see an advantage to the U.S. Vietnamization of Europe. As we are more robust in Europe, you don’t have to lose sleep on all our internal quarrels.

I want to commend the real success of the Nuclear Planning Group. It is a moving process which is constantly being strengthened. We do have discussions just amongst ourselves and Europe, but this is [Page 112]not an alliance within an alliance. At the Defense dining club, there is still an empty chair which we hope will one day be filled.

We naturally are concerned about the nuclear Safeguard, and we pressed for reassurance on that when you were in London.

As a general policy, we are more inclined to progressive response, not playing the ace of trumps right off. This gives a longer time for diplomacy to work.

On disengagement, would the Russians be willing to cut back on their IRBMs? The cuts must get those that are targeted on us.

We are grateful to be kept in the picture concerning your arms control talks, and we hope to be kept in. Finally, Mr. President, God bless on SALT.

Stewart: Mr. President, you raised the question that some here want the US and the USSR to settle the whole bag together. It is interesting that at the UN, Gromyko talks about philosophy and we don’t.

It is fortunate that the Alliance exists. There is much silliness about the essentials. The fact is that we must keep NATO in existence and formidable. If NATO is to be preserved, this means a stronger Europe, and this will help you—particularly in currency exchange problems.

Concerning our application to the European community, if we hadn’t tried to go in, then others in Europe would move to a greater cohesion and keep us out. We must apply for psychological reasons. If a strengthened Europe means closer ties with the United States, then that is fine.

It is important to remember that NATO is not just a defensive alliance. I am worried about the opposition to the Alliance. “Is the damsel dead or only sleepeth?” We must try to avoid growth on that strand of opinion which attacks NATO as a waste. NATO is not just an armed camp; its existence does, in fact, relax tension and further relaxation may be attainable.

I would like to make four points:

(1) We must not underwrite the Brezhnev Doctrine.

(2) We must not just approve a limited agenda.

(3) We must present the Soviets with real questions on such things as mutual force reductions and the German question, and

(4) We must not be too showy. We must get some relaxation.

Wilson: I think we must avoid any big buildup about a European Security Conference—there would be too much hope for nothing.

Rogers: There is no problem here with public opinion. People are amazed at how ready we are to negotiate. We do not want to have some kind of big agreement in public on the agenda. But we do want to show ourselves as forthcoming.

[Page 113]

RN: How would some kind of standing committee work?6

Stewart: It would have to do some preparatory bilateral discussion. Prime Minister Wilson is going to Moscow, and he may be able to find out if the Soviets are serious. Trade questions can go to existing organizations. As far as mutual force reductions are concerned, the neutrals are not interested. From time to time, certainly, we may want to bring the ministers together.

Wilson: It would be a good idea to have a heavy dose of safe subjects, such as cultural exchange and trade. We can compare notes on these, and give the standing committee a context, not exclusively related to difficult questions.

RN: It would be a good idea to keep the pressure on them, but I have one fundamental understanding concerning any conference. A conference in and of itself helps them; a conference in and of itself does not help us.

Look at Glassboro7 —there was just an appearance of détente and euphoria.

Our fundamental interests must be involved. The Alliance is a different problem for us than for them. The range of problems in the entire Mediterranean, for example, is enormous and changing rapidly. We cannot lean too heavily on the Israeli side, and remember that the Russians haven’t given a thing. It was their client that lost the war; it is tough for our client if we press any harder.

You, Prime Minister Wilson, said that it is a historical fact that the second strongest power tries to strike an accord with the United Kingdom. There are those who see a tendency now that the French and the Germans are competing for Soviet attention. We share your evaluation of Chancellor Brandt. The new French leadership is certainly more flexible than the old.

I would add one thing. In reading the memoirs of Sir Winston Churchill and General Eisenhower, they both made one point—you must not overlook the problem of the enemy. For example, I imagine the Israelis will eventually take the newly purchased Libyan planes out. The new revolutionary forces in the Mediterranean will be difficult for the Soviets to control.

The Soviets themselves have serious internal economic problems and problems with East Europe. East Europe will move increasingly toward Western Europe.

[Page 114]

I have never been one who believes the US should have control of the actions of Europe. It is in the interests of the United States to have a strong economic, political and military European community, with the United Kingdom in that community. I have preferred that Europe move independently, going parallel with the United States. A strong, healthy and independent Europe is good for the balance of the world. For the US to play a heavy-handed role would be counter-productive. What we want is friendly competition with the United States.

We will be watching the German problem and its relationship to the USSR.

Our primary interest is to see the United Kingdom in Europe, fully part of it, and brought into the Councils of Europe.

Wilson: Don’t under-rate the effect of the top Soviet leaders with contacts in the outside world. Soviet businessmen with whom we have considerable contact are increasingly questioning the rigidity of the system.

RN: That’s right; Kosygin is manager.

Wilson: There will be no Rapallo from Brandt; but the USSR is looking for a new Rapallo.8

The French approaches under DeGaulle were mischievous more than fundamental.

In the Middle East my colleague, George Brown, has just returned and stressed the growing importance of the Nationalist movements, especially in Jordan. The position of Arafat is tenuous. If anything really happened to Hussein, then Arafat would lose vis-à-vis the wilder ones. It was Brown’s believe that the next victim will be Nasser.

He also was deeply concerned about the role of the Middle East Mafia in Aden. We should really ask our intelligence people what is going on there.

RN: Let me add one thing. I have great confidence in European politicians. But as far as dealing with the managers in the Soviet Union is concerned, I wouldn’t want to leave the impression that the future of Europe should be left in the hands of the German, French and Italian businessmen.

Wilson: Yes, especially the Italians.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–109, NSC Meeting Minutes, NSC Minutes Originals 1970. Secret.
  2. The briefing book is ibid.
  3. Rogers is referring to the three alternative patterns of relationship in Document 28.
  4. This is presumably a reference to Richardson’s speech of November 20, 1969, at a regional foreign policy conference co-sponsored by the Department of State and the World Affairs Council of Los Angeles. (Department of State Bulletin, December 22, 1969, pp. 584–588)
  5. See Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, pp. 134–136, 632–634.
  6. In a speech to Parliament on December 9, 1969, Stewart proposed the idea of a standing committee on East-West relations consisting of representatives from NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
  7. Reference to the U.S.-Soviet summit at Glassboro, New Jersey, June 23–25, 1967. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XIV, Soviet Union, Documents 229235.
  8. Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Treaty of Rapallo in 1922, which allowed Germany to rearm on Soviet soil. The symbolic meaning of “Rapallo” implied that Germany went behind the West’s back and sided with the Soviet Union.