63. Memorandum for the Record1


  • The President’s Meeting with Former High Government Officials and Military Officers on the Mansfield Amendment, Thursday, May 13, 1971, 4:35 p.m.

After personally greeting those present, the President began by expressing his appreciation for their coming to the meeting on such short notice. He would not have suggested it if it were not vitally important to mobilize on a bipartisan basis those who had supported NATO from the beginning.

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The President went on to say that what Senator Mansfield was doing was not new; the Senator strongly believed in it and he had greater support than previously. The President thought we could lose in the Senate although not in the Congress as a whole. But Secretary Rogers was going to NATO meetings and in the event of a loss, even in the Senate, his position would be untenable, as Secretary Acheson knew from his own experience.

The President said that the men in the room honestly disagreed with some of his foreign policies. There had been traumatic events in connection with certain of our foreign policies and he would not ask those present for their support. But we were now facing another subject. We had never disagreed on NATO; this was what united us. The President recalled that since the 80th Congress, when President Truman proposed NATO and related programs and a Republican Congress supported them, we had always been united on this subject.

The President asked whether the reasons for supporting NATO were no longer relevant, commenting that he himself had very strong feelings on the subject. One could talk about the importance of Asia, of Latin America and the Middle East, which indeed had a very high level of importance, but NATO was the blue chip. Secretary Rogers would be going to NATO at a time of great success for the Alliance and of opportunity for progress on mutual and balanced force reductions (MBFR), which would not occur if we cut our forces unilaterally. What Senator Mansfield was proposing just at this time, therefore, made no sense.

Perhaps, the President continued, it was unsophisticated, but he remembered that as a freshman Congressman he saw three reasons for NATO: the threat from the Soviet Union, the weakness of Western Europe and the need for a home for the Germans. Today, arguments could perhaps be made that the threat was less. (In an aside, the President referred to a forthcoming meeting in Indianapolis under NATO aegis on common problems of the cities.2 Ten thousand demonstrators against NATO were expected.) It was also true that Western Europe was stronger economically, that the UK may be entering the Common Market, and that Europe’s military potential was rising. But the Germans, while today the strongest and most dynamic, also posed potentially the most difficult problem in the heart of Europe. A unilateral reduction would significantly affect the balance and would have a bad effect on relations with the Russians. On the Germans, the effect would be catastrophic. Thus, one could perhaps debate the first two of the original reasons for NATO, but the third still existed. The problems would be serious if the Germans left the fold and the umbilical cord were cut.

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The President went on that in opposing the Mansfield amendment, he was acting not only as the man now sitting in the President’s chair. He, too, had been “present at the creation,” and we were now perhaps at a breakthrough with the Soviets and the East Europeans if we stayed strong within the Alliance. It would be a tragedy if we now pulled back.

Concluding, the President urged that Senators be told that regardless of partisanship, we must support NATO. The objective of all of us was to reduce forces, to achieve better relations with the Russians and to get the Europeans to do more. But unilateral withdrawal was not the way to do it.

Secretary Rogers, referring to his recent and forthcoming trips, stressed how successful our policy had been and that we have accomplished the assurance of our Allies. The last NATO meeting had been the best in years and the Allies were doing more. All had agreed that we would only reduce forces in an orderly way and after consultations. The Secretary said he could not understand Senator Mansfield. This subject had to be dealt with in an orderly way and with hearings. But the monetary crisis had given emotional appeal to the Mansfield amendment. The Secretary had asked Senator Mansfield why he had moved in the way he did and why we could not have hearings.

In response to the President’s question about the effect on the Middle East, Secretary Rogers said that the Mansfield amendment would completely undercut our position. We would seem frenetic and things could get very dangerous with the Soviets. Telegrams had arrived from all over Europe expressing alarm. The President added that the amendment would also undercut our SALT position.

Mr. McCloy said the President was preaching to the converted. The question was what to do. Mr. McCloy reported that he had talked with the publishers of the New York Times and the Washington Post and that they were receptive to running articles over the weekend. (The President indicated his approval.) Mr. McCloy cautioned that we should not give away too many arguments. He recalled that not everybody was scared of the Soviets. But we had wanted to give assurances to the Europeans. The terms of the NATO treaty itself were illusory but our troops were an earnest of our commitment. Senator Mansfield was not concerned with money; he wants our commitment taken out. Mr. McCloy concluded that the Germans were not disloyal but they had a serious Eastern problem.

Mr. Ball, commenting that he had been in Germany six times of late, said he totally subscribed to what the President had said. The situation in the SPD was alarming. A new generation had emerged and there was again the historic debate between Eastern and Western policy. Eastern policy frequently won. Mr. Ball said he was depressed by [Page 277] what he saw on the whole, and that it would take an enormous amount of convincing to beat the amendment. Mr. Ball then asked the President whether he would accept a compromise if Mansfield had the votes. This might be better than going to the conference committee. Mr. Ball asked for guidance.

Secretary Rogers felt there were second thoughts on the Hill and that it was a mistake to consider a compromise now. He had told Senators that there was going to be no accommodation by the President. We feel, the Secretary said, that the amendment should be voted up or down. There was some movement in our direction and we should stay hard.

The President said we should stay hard now. He had yet to see a compromise that was any good. Dr. Kissinger commented that all the compromise texts were bad. The President continued that if defeat was inevitable, we should perhaps move, but now we should plow straight ahead. The people on the Hill had to stand up and be statesmen. Public opinion would undoubtedly be against our troops in Europe but Senators have to stand up. They could cater to feelings about the military—given all the problems of drugs and Vietnam, the uniform to some had become a symbol of dishonor. People also talk up the monetary crisis but really did not know enough about it. In any case, the leaders of the country had to stand up and buck the tide. The President believed we could win. Referring to Mr. Ball’s question, the President could not say now what might happen later.

Secretary Rogers said that Senator Mansfield had been rather sheepish when he saw him earlier and may in fact not believe he can win. In any case, it was clear that we had to beat him.

Secretary Acheson said he could not disagree more with the position put forward by Mr. Ball. Senator Mansfield simply could not beat the President. “You have got the power. You are the President.” Mr. Ball interjected that he had deliberately asked the question in order to draw from the President the statement that he had made. Secretary Acheson commented that this was “too damn subtle for me.”

Mr. Vance reported that Senator Humphrey wanted to mobilize opposition to Mansfield and that Senator Muskie would be a possible opponent to the amendment. The President stressed the need to get the three Democratic candidates. Mr. Ball thought that Senator Kennedy3 did not look promising since he would not go against Senator Mansfield.

General Gruenther then reported comments by businessmen in Cincinnati that the Mansfield amendment would save us $14 billion. [Page 278] Secretary Rogers commented that Senator Mansfield would save no money at all. The President stressed again that Senators Humphrey and Muskie were crucial since they would carry others along.

Mr. MacGregor then reported on the nose count as it stood at the time. There were 38 for Mansfield, 37 against him, though some of these were soft, and 24 were undecided. There ensued a brief discussion about the firmness of the positions of various senators, at the end of which Mr. Ball stressed that there was an important psychological factor. The assumption on the Hill was that Mansfield had the votes and he felt this had to be turned around.

Mr. Katzenbach felt that we should seek to win by talking to people rather than making a big public issue. The President should make his position clear, but would be better off not making a big case. The President responded that Senators are affected by what important papers say. However, he understood Mr. Katzenbach’s point. It was important to separate the present issue from all the other things we argue about. We had to draw the line with NATO. It would be bad if it became fashionable to talk about unilateral reductions. Mr. Katzenbach thought that many senators would be going along with Senator Mansfield as Majority Leader, and others would make the assumption that the House would kill the amendment and they could safely vote for it.

The President commented again that it would be bad for Secretary Rogers to go to the forthcoming NATO meetings if there had been a vote for Mansfield. Secretary Acheson suggested that we should not worry too much about Secretary Rogers’ position at NATO. The argument on this score would not persuade many. Mr. Acheson recalled that he went to a crucial NATO meeting in December 1950 while at home there were demands that he be fired.

General Norstad recalled that there had been many past instances of pressure on our forces in Europe. He used to think that we needed to be flexible but right now was the time to stand firm. But perhaps it was desirable to be flexible down the road. After all, the troops have a political purpose and one should perhaps develop a rationale to which the levels could move. Many in the hinterland thought the troops had been in Europe too long. After reviewing the reasons for NATO and the success achieved, General Norstad concluded that we should develop for ourselves a rationale for flexibility so that we would not have only a black or white position; however, right now we should be uncompromising.

General Lemnitzer, referring to the innumerable speeches he had given on this subject, thought that the best arguments were that NATO had kept the peace—this was an especially good argument at universities—and that at Reykjavik, we had supported MBFR and had come [Page 279] out against unilateral reductions.4 Adoption of the Mansfield amendment would be repudiation of our solemn word.

General Goodpaster thought it was also important to stress the solidarity argument: that if we acted unilaterally the Allies would not work together and would quarrel. NATO suppresses these tendencies. This point had appeal even to far out youth in the US and in Europe. Admiral Moorer thought the point had special force with regard to Greece and Turkey, and in this connection was also important in connection with the Middle East.

Secretary Acheson then suggested that the President might perhaps issue a statement which would be signed by past senior officials. He thought that currently serving officials and officers should not sign, in order not to create the impression that they had a choice of supporting the President. Mr. Acheson then read out a proposed Presidential statement. Mr. Vance had some doubts that there should be a commitment not to reduce any forces at all since it might be desirable at some point to make some minor changes. Secretary Rogers felt that the idea of a Presidential statement should be held in abeyance until we saw how things were going. Perhaps it should be held until Sunday.5 People might look for the omissions among the signatories and that might get more publicity than the statement. Secretary Acheson did not think Sunday was a good day since nobody could be reached then. In any event, most of the proposed signatories would go along. The President, responding to Mr. Vance, said we were not rigid on force levels and had indeed moved to some extent. There was also, of course, the MBFR approach.

Dr. Kissinger, in response to the President’s request, referred to the detailed studies on NATO and MBFR that had been undertaken by the Administration and which were all being put before NATO. We were not frozen. We were asking what purposes other than political ones our forces served and we were making good progress. But we could not make progress if Congress puts us over a barrel.

The President noted that the Soviets were showing signs of interest in mutual force reductions. He would not predict that an agreement would result but the success of NATO, economic problems, China, and the state of the nuclear balance all might lead to a more receptive attitude provided we did not throw away the opportunity. In regard to General Norstad’s comments, the President recalled that President Eisenhower had urged that we examine the six division level in Europe. At the moment, however, the President was convinced that we could be at a break point and should stay with our present forces.

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Secretary Rogers then said he had thought about Dean Acheson’s proposal and now felt that the suggested statement should go ahead. The President agreed with Mr. Katzenbach’s comment that there were perhaps too many military signatories suggested for the statement. It was agreed that only former SACEURs would be asked to sign. The President also indicated that drafting changes could be made to take care of Mr. Vance’s point. He also proposed getting former High Commissioners in Germany as signatories, pointing out again that things in Germany were on the move and recalled that German CDU leader Barzel6 had recently mentioned this to him.

General Goodpaster observed that the possibility of a dissolution of NATO petrifies Germany’s allies. Regarding Mr. Vance’s comment on the Acheson draft, General Goodpaster distinguished between adjustments to keep forces moderate and the fact that we were now at a point where a major cut in a short time would be dangerous. He pointed out that it had been possible to reduce forces by some 120,000 in an eight-year span.

The President said that Mr. MacGregor would be the contact point for the group and that the Acheson draft would be worked over in the White House.

Mr. McCloy then referred to the German commitment not to convert dollars into gold—although he noted that a recent story in the German magazine der Spiegel, concerning a conversation between him and the late Bundesbank President Blessing leading to the German commitment, was inaccurate. The point, however, was that the Germans could start converting dollars and we could all get into an extremely serious situation. Thus the problem raised by the Mansfield amendment far transcends the military aspects.

The President then said that in making our case we should point out that nobody has a monopoly on reducing troops. We are doing this not only in Vietnam but, under the Nixon Doctrine, also in Thailand, Korea and Okinawa. We are stressing the line that the US cannot do it all alone. In Europe, we are getting the Europeans to do more, because under the nuclear balance that exists now, conventional forces were much more important than before. We do have plans to reduce American involvement but to do so consistent with our commitments. And in Europe only in consultation with our Allies and in the light of what the Soviets do.

Secretary Rogers reiterated that the best approach was to meet Mansfield head on and that we wanted no amendments. Mr. Ball [Page 281] stressed that Senators had to be convinced that Mansfield could not win or else they would try to be heroes with compromises. Senator Stevenson7 was with us but thought Mansfield would win and, therefore, was looking for a compromise. The President strongly agreed that the mood should be turned around and that no one should talk defeat or compromise. The President again said that the Acheson statement would be modified—Dr. Kissinger would take care of it—and that we should then go ahead with it.

Mr. McCloy asked if it was all right to go ahead with an article in the New York Times. The President agreed and also urged that some hardliners on the right be enlisted to counter the economic arguments. He then said he wanted General Clay to have the last word.

General Clay stressed the continuing fear of the Germans in Europe and its intensification if we pulled out. The President said it was amazing how fear of the Germans still lingered on.

The meeting ended with the President again personally thanking each of the participants for having come.8

Helmut Sonnenfeldt9
  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 278, Presidential File. Secret. Sent for information. Sonnenfeldt drafted the memorandum on May 24. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon and Haig left the Oval Office at 4:31 p.m. for the meeting in the Cabinet Room. The following people also attended: Kissinger, Rogers, McCloy, George Ball, Dean Acheson (former Secretary of State), Henry Cabot Lodge (former Ambassador to the U.N. and South Vietnam), Nicholas Katzenbach (former Attorney General), General Alfred Gruenther, General Lauris Norstad, Goodpaster, Lemnitzer, General Lucius Clay (former High Commissioner for Germany), Cyrus Vance (former Deputy Defense Secretary), Laird, Moorer, and James Roche (Chairman, General Motors Corporation). The President returned to the Oval Office at 6:03 p.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files) Kissinger made numerous telephone calls on May 12 to many of the participants in this meeting, trying to enlist support for defeat of the Mansfield Resolution. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 368, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)
  2. This was a combined meeting of the CCMS and the Conference of Mayors and Local Authorities.
  3. Edward M. Kennedy (D–MA).
  4. See footnote 5, Document 1.
  5. May 16.
  6. Rainer Barzel, Chairman of Christian Democratic Union/Christian Socialist Union coalition in the West German Bundestag.
  7. Adlai Stevenson (D–IL).
  8. On May 15, the White House released a statement by Nixon at Key Biscayne that said that the unilateral reduction of the United States’ or any other NATO ally’s troops in Europe “would be an error of historic dimensions.” The White House also released a list of former U.S. officials who supported the statement, messages from former Presidents Truman and Johnson, and a letter from Brosio to Nixon. See Public Papers: Nixon, 1971, pp. 635–636.
  9. Sonnenfeldt initialed “HS” in front of his typed signature.