48. Report on a NATO Commanders Meeting1


  • The President
  • Secretary Rogers
  • Secretary Laird
  • Admiral Moorer
  • General Goodpaster
  • Dr. Kissinger
  • General Burchinal
  • Ambassador Ellsworth
  • Admiral Zumwalt
  • Assistant Secretary Hillenbrand
  • General Haig
  • Mr. Sonnenfeldt
  • Mr. Earle
  • Mr. Ziegler
  • Admiral Rivero
  • Secretary General Brosio
  • Admiral Mondt
  • Lt. General Lemley
  • Vice Admiral Kidd
  • Admiral Henderson
  • General Angelis
  • General Marchesi
  • General Tagmac
  • General Harrell
  • Admiral Roselli-Lorenzini
  • General Cassone
  • Lt. General Dean
  • Brig. General Pursley
  • Brig. General Hughes
  • Commander Salva

General Goodpaster welcomed the President’s visit to AFSOUTH as a sign of NATO solidarity and called on Admiral Rivero, CINCSOUTH, to make a presentation on NATO activities and interests in the southern region as a basis for discussion.

Admiral Rivero welcomed the President and his party, The Secretary General of NATO, Saceur, Commander in Chief of the Hellenic Armed Forces,2 and the Chief of the Defense General Staff of Italy;3 addressed his responsibilities; then introduced his principal subordinate commanders.

He noted that Air Defense Systems ANF Forces of Greece, Italy and Turkey are his sole peacetime forces: all others are under national command. He pointed out that his command is isolated geographically from Central Europe by neutral and non-committed states; its fragmented, with Italy, Greece and Turkey each occupying individual land masses, thus NATO must control the Mediterranean Sea.

Admiral Rivero then compared NATO forces quantitatively and qualitatively against the threat to the southern region from the Soviet [Page 191] Union and its satellites. He noted that NATO lacked numbers of troops and aircraft; that NATO lacked mechanized or motorized divisions; that NATO lacked modern aircraft. NATO naval forces in the area, including the U.S. forces, are at an advantage because of naval air power. Finally, Warsaw Pact forces have a preponderance of tactical nuclear weapons systems.

Admiral Rivero then described the geographical assests and liabilities to the defense of southern region boundaries. Coupling these facts with the force comparisons previously made, he stated the urgent need for early reinforcements and the related effect on the threshold of use of nuclear weapons.

At sea, he said, the need is for improved surveillance which he developed from a discussion of the status of the current surveillance activities.

Both of these assessments, ashore and at sea, were reviewed then in light of a possible new Soviet threat from North Africa.

He pointed out that the current NATO naval superiority, which rests primarily on our ability to control the air over the sea, could change to NATO’s disadvantage were the Soviets to establish substantial tactical air forces in North Africa. The potential danger to the lines of communication from enemy aircraft based in Algeria is ever present and a formidable new threat could arise for which NATO is not prepared and which would radically change the strategic balance in the Mediterranean.

Having mentioned problems, deficiencies and needs, Admiral Rivero then outlined some positive factors.

Foremost is the moral strength and solidarity of the Alliance in this region. The people and the military forces of these three countries are intensely dedicated to the defense of their national territory and the preservation of their freedom, in the knowledge that their Allies in NATO will come to their assistance if attacked. Their forces, although numerically inferior and deficient in material means, are well trained, well led, and possess a high morale. They believe in NATO, they place their faith in the principle of collective security, and living in the shadow of powerful and traditional enemies, they have seen their borders preserved for twenty years by the effective operation of the Alliance.

Together with the forces of the U.S. and U.K., they participate in an extensive NATO exercise program. These exercises, frequently involving the forces of all the five nations not only improve readiness but also are a demonstration of Alliance solidarity and indeed because of this serve as a deterrent.

As an example, in October a large scale exercise in Greek and Turkish Thrace and in the Aegean Sea will include forces from eight [Page 192] NATO nations. This will be the largest exercise ever held in the region. Recently the NATO naval on-call force, with destroyers from five navies, had a most successful exercise.

The NATO infrastructure program has been highly successful. The over one billion dollars spent have provided a valuable network of airfields, radar stations, communications nets, naval bases and logistics depots.

There are excellent relations with the French naval command and there has been French participation in some of our naval exercises. This is important, since the French Mediterranean Fleet can make a very valuable contribution.

After this presentation, the President stated that the purpose of his visit was to underline U.S. commitment to NATO. The U.S. knows that the Mediterranean is an essential area, indispensable to any viable European defense policy. For public opinion in the U.S. as well as in other NATO countries, it sometimes takes a crisis such as the Jordan crisis4 to point up the critical importance of maintaining a credible strength in the area so that any enemy would consider that it might be used to deter the spread or escalation of a conflict. Although the enemy may have numerical strength in tanks, planes and men, this is not decisive if we have adequate strength and mobility but particularly a determination and will.

The President stressed the firmness of the U.S. policy of non-isolationism. Although there are many voices heard in the United States the policy is established by the President and the Europeans can be assured there will be no unilateral withdrawal. Although the U.S. does not want involvement in an additional conflict in the Middle East, the U.S. has made it clear that where our vital interests are involved the U.S. would take a strong position. He also wanted to visit with the military commanders, officers and men to show his respect for the armed forces. The President explained that the U.S. had embarked on a peace initiative in the Middle East but he saw instability for the foreseeable future in the area as the order of the day, and hence it is important to maintain a strong and stable force.

Turning to the question of burden sharing, the President said that there is an impression in the European press that the U.S. wishes to obtain from NATO countries some financial arrangement whereby the NATO countries would assume the burden or a substantial part of the burden for supporting U.S. forces. Taking a long view, rather than having members of the NATO Alliance in effect subsidize U.S. forces in [Page 193] Europe, he would welcome having the funds used to shore up and build up the local strength of the member countries’ armed forces. He was confident that as far as the U.S. public is concerned, were the NATO partners to do more in their own defense that would be quite decisive in firming up U.S. support for making our present contribution to the Alliance.

Referring to the Admiral’s remarks, he stressed the importance of the positive aspects of his analysis. It was true that the enormous U.S. and Free World military advantage has been dissipated because of the growth of the Soviet Union’s nuclear capability and the size of its conventional forces. He stressed, however, that it would have an enormously dangerous effect on our diplomacy if we considered ourselves in an inferior position. The Soviet Union might be tempted to adventurism in following its expansionist policy. We must maintain our strength and talk positively and act with a will.

General Goodpaster responded, stating that NATO commanders were very conscious of this point and that while recognizing the strength arrayed against NATO there is no lack of confidence on our side. NATO has no aggressive mission and for its mission a respectable collective posture of defense kept modern will provide an adequate deterrent.

General Angelis, speaking for Greece, said that the Warsaw Pact forces are much larger in his area and hence Greece feels like a buffer because the depth of the terrain in Thrace is so narrow that the Soviets have the initiative and could present NATO with a fait accompli. Greece, Italy and Turkey cannot confront the Warsaw Pact and must simply give time for the Allied Forces to come into action.

General Marchesi noted that the policy of East-West contacts is giving the European people a feeling that the danger is not real. It is up to the military men to explain that the threat has not lessened but is increasing, and the politicians should assist the military men in this effort.

Secretary General Brosio described President’s visit as very encouraging, timely, and one which would have positive effects. Following up on Admiral Rivero’s remarks, he expressed his concern at the potential danger of Soviet actions against NATO based on the North Africa Littoral should the situation change radically politically. He was concerned at certain countries’ dependence on Soviet arms. NATO, he found, was in an anomalous position because it has responsibility for the Mediterranean area but no direct responsibility for the Middle East or North Africa. As a practical matter, NATO could not extend its area of responsibility but it should strengthen NATO consultation on the Middle East and Africa and the U.S. could help very much in this regard.

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Secondly, the Secretary General welcomed the President’s remarks about ways of reinforcing the European nations’ contribution to NATO. NATO and the international staff were already discussing the problems of burden sharing, not only financial but military burden sharing. The international staff’s viewpoint was that as far as possible the improvement of military burden sharing in Europe should take place rather than financial burden sharing. Military burden sharing is of course a slower process than finding financial methods to share the NATO burden. In sum, Brosio agreed with the President’s viewpoint that the ultimate solution should be the improving of the military contribution by European partners and not only the financial contribution. He also agreed that NATO should not give the impression to the Soviets that we recognize their military superiority.

The President in concluding referred to a number of positive factors. Free Europe has significant military forces which, although not as large as the Communist forces, are entirely for use to meet the threat from the East. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, has more ground divisions committed against China than against Western Europe. It has inner weaknesses and has had to use armed forces on three occasions against other communist countries. Furthermore, the free European countries have made tremendous economic strides, whereas the economic growth rate in the Soviet Union for the last few years has been flat. The free economic system works and that is why NATO has the wherewithal to build the strength that its political leadership can get its people to support. NATO has a formidable defensive strength and if and when there is a probe or an attempt to move into an area of instability we should stand firm. The Soviet Union with its problems in the East will think twice before it moves into a confrontation with the West.

The President added that the defense of Europe is not only defending our friends in Europe but defending ourselves. We must be on our guard in a period of instability because Soviet expansionist policies will only be able to prevail if there is a vacuum. We need strong political leadership which must come from political as well as military men to assure that we stand very strong and firm. In concluding, the President paid high tribute to the work of Secretary General Brosio.

General Goodpaster closed the meeting by thanking the President and stating that NATO, standing and working together with the assets that he so inspiringly described, need have no fear of inferiority.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 468, President’s Trip Files, The President’s Visit to NATO Headquarters (AFSOUTH) Naples, Italy. Secret. The meeting was held at AFSOUTH Headquarters. The President visited Europe September 27–October 5.
  2. General Angelis.
  3. General Marchesi.
  4. Reference to the civil war that broke out in September as a result of Palestinian efforts to topple the government of King Hussein. The Jordanian Government repressed the insurrection and drove Syrian forces supporting the Palestinians out of Jordan.