7. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting of Secretary Laird with the Secretary General of NATO, 14 February 1969


  • His Excellency Manlio Brosio, Secretary General, North Atlantic Treaty Organization
  • Honorable Melvin R. Laird, Secretary of Defense
  • Ambassador Harlan Cleveland, U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO
  • Honorable David Packard, Deputy Secretary of Defense
  • Honorable Paul C. Warnke, Assistant Secretary of Defense (International Security Affairs)
  • Honorable Timothy E. Stanley, Defense Advisor, U.S. Mission to NATO
  • Honorable Frederick S. Wyle, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, ISA (European and NATO Affairs)
  • M. Fausto Bacchetti, Chef du Cabinet for SyGen Brosio

The Secretary General discussed the attendance of Defense Ministers at the 20th Anniversary meeting in April.2 Mr. Laird said that if they attended we might perhaps arrange some visits, such as to Cape Kennedy and SAC, that would be worthwhile. Mr. Packard suggested the Command and Control Center at Colorado Springs. Mr. Laird said that if a satellite launch were taking place at Cape Kennedy at about that time that would be most interesting. There was further discussion about the possible tours.

Mr. Brosio then said he wished to outline the current activities: There was a question of forces which would be discussed at the DPC meeting in June3 at which the Ministers will give guidance for the forces. The problem was the level of US and European forces. The DPC had an interesting discussion at their last meeting4 by Mr. Nitze on the need for the Europeans to improve their forces and some decisions were taken by some of the Europeans to improve manning, equipment, [Page 32] training and mobilization. That effort is part of “balancing” the US forces which are more necessary than ever after Czechoslovakia, and also for the purpose of improving European forces. The Europeans expect US forces not to be reduced, and in time the Europeans could improve their forces. The question is how to give more precision to these general principles in the June meeting (DPC).

Mr. Laird said he was sure Secretary General Brosio understood that the new administration places the highest importance on the NATO Alliance and not only on defense ties but also on economic ties. The President places great importance on having the Europeans understand that we will consult our European friends. Mr. Laird was sure the President’s trip5 would get that point across. There is a second problem—and Mr. Laird was well acquainted with this problem from his time in the Legislature—and this was what kind of commitment will our European friends make to the Alliance in the real terms of manpower, of budgets, of dollars and cents. We had come very close, before the Czechoslovakian invasion, to having the Majority Leader of the Senate, Senator Mansfield, pressing for reductions in Europe. That effort has been put on the back burner because of Czechoslovakia. But frankly, many people in Congress had expected a bigger European response to the Czechoslovakian invasion than we got. So far as dollars and cents are concerned, there has not been that much of a response. The staffs of the House and Senate Committees will analyze the budget changes and will inform the Committees. Mr. Laird personally believed that we should show some strength in response to the Czechoslovakian invasion. But we need good arguments to convince the Congress. Any good arguments that Mr. Brosio could give him would be helpful, but it should be clear that argumentation alone will not do it. We need to show the dollars and cents effects of the European efforts.

Mr. Brosio said that there had been some improvements. Above all, there had been “an end to the idea of reductions.” The Germans and the Dutch did do something and the UK also did something although not in the form of new forces. Some others have done something too.

Mr. Laird said that we cannot use older commitments planned before the Czechoslovakian invasion as arguments with Congress—with his former colleagues—that the Europeans were doing something in response to the Czechoslovakian invaion. We need better arguments than that.

Mr. Brosio agreed that not enough was being done by the Europeans. There had been repeated warnings from Mr. Clifford and Mr. Nitze. (He had talked to General Lemnitzer before coming here. [Page 33] General Lemnitzer wants moderate efforts to bring the 26 divisions in the Center up to standard, plus improvements in the mobilization capability and the reserves.) Mr. Brosio agreed that countries presented as new measures things they had planned before Czechoslovakia. He suggested using the June meeting as an occasion for persuasion of the Europeans to improve their efforts. He did not think President Nixon could do it on his forthcoming trip, but when Mr. Laird came to Europe he could seriously discuss this problem and discuss the force levels for the future. The improvements cannot be done in a year of course.

Mr. Laird pointed out that even before Czechoslovakia he personally opposed the withdrawal of US troops from Europe. But he did have a problem in going before the Senate and the House of Representatives. He had seen the sentiment for withdrawal grow and only Czechoslovakia had changed the situation.

Ambassador Cleveland said that the sentiment for withdrawal, however, had never become a national issue. Mr. Packard said that there has been another factor bearing on the problem—the balance of payments problem. Any help the Europeans could render us there would be all to the good. Mr. Brosio asked whether Senator Mansfield had raised the question again. Mr. Laird said that Senator Mansfield had raised it only once on “Issues and Answers”—about a week ago. Mr. Laird did not think Senator Mansfield would have the same support this time that he had had last fall, but there was still a problem. Mr. Brosio said that he saw the problem the same way. He hoped Canada would keep its review going. He thought we should all try to convince the European countries to do more.

Ambassador Cleveland said that the essential problem was how to get the Europeans to do a little more—about 4–5%. The approach of the last two-to-three years of threatening the Europeans with force withdrawals won’t work. He thought we could trade the maintenance of the present level of US forces in Europe for a European increase in effort. But he thought we could not do this if we wanted to keep the US option for annual reductions open. If the Europeans think that the US believed détente was breaking out, they would follow our lead. Mr. Packard said that the principle was a good idea. The question was how long a commitment one could get from Congress. Mr. Laird said that we could move on the assumption that Congress would agree. In fact, you could never agree for more than a year anyway. We only get money for one year at a time and the Europeans also can only get money from their parliaments for one year at a time so the same problem existed for all. (Mr. Brosio and others confirmed the fact that European defense budgets were granted only one year at a time.) Mr. Brosio asked whether the 4–5% figure that Ambassador Cleveland had used as necessary to fix up the forces included expenditures for reserves. [Page 34] Mr. Stanley said that the figure did include at least first echelon reserves. Mr. Wyle pointed out that the 4–5% figure must be an average and that the real issue obviously was how much the Germans would increase their defense budget. (There was more discussion about the validity of the figure of 4–5% and whether in the German case the increase would not have to be about 15%.)

Mr. Brosio said he now wished to discuss the NPG. There were two subjects. The first was nuclear consultation. The Alliance had the Athens Guidelines6 which were very general. The problem is to give something more detailed to these very very general rules without losing flexibility. We can understand that in addition to multilateral consultations there will be bilateral consultations and indeed it is clear that the important decisions will come out of that bilateral process. But it was very important that there be a plausible way fixed ahead of time which showed that there was a way for all the countries, especially the smallest, to consult in a time of crisis and to show that all will have a chance to be heard. It is important to have a sense of participation, so it was important to have procedures for consultation. Refining consultation was most important, “according to me and to most of the countries of the Alliance” one must keep flexible but there should be a guarantee that no one would be left out of the game. There was hesitation on the side of the nuclear powers, mostly on the part of the US. We have circulated a questionnaire, but there was no answer from the US yet. The US should take an active part in this problem. Without US active and willing participation between now and the May meeting,7 in the preparations for the May meeting the subject would not be adequately prepared.

Mr. Laird said that he understood the problem. We have got to move carefully to be sure that we don’t destroy the deterrents we have got. He thought that this subject was one that only Ministers should discuss and that there should not be any staff discussion or discussion by any group below the Defense Ministers. The deterrent was a very important thing and it was not wise to have a great deal of discussion at any level below the Defense Ministers.

Mr. Brosio agreed but said that the Defense Ministers would succeed all the better if the work were prepared for them so that the issues were sorted out ahead of time and so they did not lose time at the meeting. Without such preparation it was difficult to make any progress at the meeting. Mr. Laird said he was concerned about the [Page 35] danger to the deterrent from having all these plans and proposals floating throughout the European governments. This created some danger. He thought it was best to let the Ministers discuss it. Mr. Packard pointed out that the Ministers could have a general discussion about the matter first and if there were any details to be worked out thereafter this could be done perhaps with others. Mr. Brosio said that the Ministers had already decided to give it to the Permanent Representatives and it was in that context that he had decided to circulate a questionnaire. It was being handled very secretly. [Note: News story dated March 21, 1969, attached at Tab A, was not available at time of discussion. FSW]8 If we didn’t have this preparation he was afraid Ministers again might not reach any conclusions.

Ambassador Cleveland pointed out that the fact is we have been dragging our feet. The Ministers just gave the subject to the Permanent Representatives to get rid of it. Since then the US has stalled saying we should wait for the new Administration. The question now was do we just wait or do we go on trying to pose the question, to “organize the question”, without trying at this stage to answer the questions. Mr. Brosio said that in “organizing the question” you do in fact engage in substantive issues because that is the substantive preparation. He agreed that the Ministers gave it to the Permanent Representatives just to get rid of the question and he acknowledged Ambassador Cleveland’s description of US procedure since then. Mr. Laird repeated that he thought it would be best for Ministers to handle this one.

Mr. Brosio then turned to the second subject. He said that the UK and the FRG would produce a draft of tactical nuclear weapons guidelines paper which was due on March 31st. “As Chairman of the NPG” I have submitted to the attention of the NPG the problem of the mix of nuclear weapons which exists. It was agreed in the past that the quantity of nuclear weapons was enough but that the mix could still be further considered. The question is, is it possible to improve the armory of nuclear weapons by developing a small nuclear weapon. This issue was connected with the question of whether we were only deterring the Soviet use of nuclear weapons with our own, or whether we were contemplating first use by NATO of nuclear weapons to defend itself. This was an important question. Mr. Brosio had raised it because he thinks it should be discussed in the NPG “without hiding from myself the delicacy of the question.” I have therefore given a personal paper to the UK and the FRG to explain the first use advantages of small weapons and the advantage of gradual escalation. This issue was left open in the UK/FRG paper and Mr. Brosio thought perhaps it should be addressed. Mr. Laird asked whether in the nature of things this question [Page 36] did not have to be left open for now. Maybe it was something that should be brought into talks with the Soviets at some time in the future. So far they gave no sign of going to small weapons themselves. If the idea was to keep nuclear warfare small, wouldn’t the Soviets have to have the same size of small weapons? Mr. Brosio said that we would have a chance to keep it small if the Soviets did not respond with nuclear weapons. Mr. Warnke said that the problem is that we might hit them with our smallest nuclear weapons and they might hit us with their smallest nuclear weapons which were much bigger. In that case we would have the worst of both worlds. Mr. Packard made the same point. Mr. Brosio said [1 line not declassified] Perhaps small weapons would be acceptable to them in the defense of Germany. But in any case, he thought this matter should be discussed in the NPG. That is what the NPG was for. Mr. Laird agreed that the NPG existed for the purpose of discussing matters of interest. Mr. Brosio said that the question should at least be left open and at an appropriate time discussed in the NPG. But he thought this was quite aside from any discussion with the Russians. He appreciated the fact that so far there had not been much interest in the matter. In any case, he wanted to give an entirely confidential copy of his paper to Mr. Laird. He had given it only to the discussion leaders (UK and FRG) and had told them that he would give a confidential copy to the US Government. Mr. Stanley said that the problem behind Mr. Brosio’s paper really was, are nuclear weapons usable in defense, unilaterally, and on our own territory in a way that would not cause the enemy to respond with nuclear weapons. Mr. Brosio said he thought this should be discussed in the NPG. [8 lines not declassified]

During the course of the discussion General John R. McConnell, Chief of Staff, Air Force; Mr. George Springsteen, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European Affairs, State Department; and Brigadier General Rex H. Hampton, Director, European Region, OASD/ISA, joined the group which then repaired to the Secretary’s private dining room where further general discussions took place.

  1. Source: Ford Library, Laird Papers, Accession 2001–NLF–020, Box 1, NATO, Vol. 1. Secret. Drafted by Frederick Wyle, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. The meeting took place in Laird’s office. Brosio spent February 13–14 in Washington in order to discuss NATO-related topics. On February 13 he met with Nixon and Kissinger and attended a dinner party at the White House. (President’s Daily Diary; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files)
  2. April 10–11.
  3. This meeting took place May 28.
  4. The final communiqué of the January 16 meeting is printed in NATO Final Communiqués, 1949–1974, pp. 216–217.
  5. February 23–March 2.
  6. At the May 1962 meeting held in Athens, the NAC adopted guidelines that laid out broadly the circumstances in which NATO might use nuclear weapons in self-defense.
  7. The NPG met May 29–30.
  8. Brackets are in the original. Tab A is attached but not printed.