74. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Laird to President Nixon 1


  • Report on My Trip to Europe

At the end of our meeting on 1 November,2 you asked me to include some of the items we discussed in a private memorandum to you.

In this memorandum I will outline briefly what I consider the more important topics, along with my impressions, that were explored during my visit to Brussels for the October Nuclear Planning Group (NPG) meeting.

I will cover:

[Page 316]

—General Mood in Europe


—Offset Negotiations with Germany

—Drugs in Germany

—Future of NPG

MOD Peter Carrington’s Views on Ireland and Malta

—Chemical Munitions

—Ambassador Porter


General Mood in Europe

In my discussions with the Ministers of Defense of our NATO Allies, with NATO officials, and other Europeans, it was very evident that doubt and uncertainty are setting in rapidly in Europe in reaction to your recent initiatives in foreign and economic affairs, as well as in reaction to the rhetoric emanating from the Congress. This was prior to the latest action taken by the Senate to kill your Foreign Aid Bill3 which, of course, will further dilute the waning confidence of our European Allies.

Europeans see US initiatives, like our new China Policy, our new economic policy, your planned trip to Moscow, and Under Secretary of the Navy John Warner’s negotiations in Moscow on Incidents at Sea as abrupt course changes. They have been caught by surprise. Surprise has led to conjecture about additional course changes which might directly affect them. When reminded about your promises made last year in Naples and Ireland that the US would not unilaterally cut troop levels in Europe,4 they say those promises were made before this series of new initiatives.

Helmut Schmidt in particular reflected a German feeling of mistrust in U.S. future actions. He openly expressed a suspicion that we were deliberately keeping our options open on MBFR so we would be free to make any agreement that best suited domestic political considerations in an election year. He fears that you will make a separate deal with the Soviets when you meet with Brezhnev in Moscow in May, like [Page 317] a bilateral agreement to reduce US and Soviet forces by 5% without prior consultation with our NATO Allies. In his view, such an agreement might be all that comes from MBFR, barring the way to additional cuts in either stationed or indigenous troop levels. This, in Schmidt’s judgment, would further weaken what little resolve the German people have in maintaining an adequate defense establishment.

The dwindling enthusiasm for the maintenance of Armed Forces is not limited to Germany. Throughout NATO Europe, with the possible exception of Greece, Turkey and Portugal, the general public seems apathetic about national defense and indifferent to NATO’s role in preserving peace in Europe. This is particularly true in the Scandinavian countries. For example, Denmark sounds more and more like a nation about to resign from NATO.

It appears that the people of Europe are waiting for an excuse to cut their investment in defense. They may well interpret US initiatives with the USSR and PRC as signals to do less in the area of national security. The NATO governments now in power, already uncertain and confused about US intentions, may have great difficulty defending increased investment in defense as called for in the AD–70 study and the European Defense Improvement Program (EDIP). Therefore, I believe it is time for you to reassure NATO once again that your promises of 1970 are equally applicable today and that it is only through the maintenance of a strong, united NATO Europe that there is any hope that your initial talks in Peking and Moscow can lead to meaningful negotiations. I have relayed this message to our European Allies, but I feel that it is most important that they hear the words from you. You might consider a stop-over in Europe following your meetings in Moscow to put your over-all foreign affairs program in proper balance and perspective.


In my talks with Schmidt and Carrington, it was made quite clear that neither were in any hurry to negotiate any force reductions in Europe.5 MOD Tanassi of Italy also favored a go-slow approach to MBFR. From recent talks Schmidt had with French authorities, it is clear that France continues to oppose MBFR at this time. This attitude of caution—particularly on the part of Schmidt—is a complete turn-around from a year ago when he, for one, was pressing me to take the initiative in negotiating troop reductions with the USSR. I believe their main concern today is that the US will move too fast toward troop reductions in [Page 318] Europe in order to placate the well-publicized views of some prominent Members of Congress like Senator Mansfield. Once troop reductions start, they believe NATO will gradually fade away and that all this will take place before Western Europe has had an opportunity to resolve its political problems. I am sure that Schmidt would like more time for Ospolitik to succeed, and feels that troop reductions now might lessen the Soviet Union’s ardor for German political initiatives.

As far as a Conference on European Security (CES) and MBFR are concerned, Schmidt now feels that there is an advantage to combining the two. More than likely his real reason is to slow down movement toward negotiations on MBFR which he senses might bear fruit. But his expressed reason to me was that combining CES and MBFR would be the only way to get the French to participate in MBFR, since they have already said that they would attend the CES. Schmidt feels that it is very important to have France involved in any final MBFR decisions. On this same subject, Carrington differed with his own Foreign Office which favors combining these negotiations; he personally prefers to keep them separate.

I took the opportunity to stress the point that in considering preparations for MBFR negotiations the primary factor must be the security of Europe and that we must not look on MBFR as a tool to solve political problems. Regardless of any enticing overtures from the Soviet Union to reduce forces, we still had to press for force improvements and additions that were agreed to in the AD–70 study and EDIP.

In discussing the kind of organization needed to conduct the actual MBFR negotiations after the Explorer’s (Ambassador Brosio) work is finished, it was quite evident that no one had an acceptable plan. SYG Luns figured that Brosio would “fade away” after his exploring mission but offered no substitute solution. Carrington had a scheme which would, for all practical purposes, put a British officer in charge. I believe the US should move quickly to lay a workable plan before our NATO Allies. Therefore, in the next week, I plan to circulate a proposal which would include:

—A prospective main negotiator (Brosio is a possibility)

—A limitation on participating countries

—The establishment of a NATO back-stopping group dominated by US and including countries whose forces would be reduced

—A method to keep the rest of NATO informed

—Emphasis on the importance of adequate Defense Department representation and participation in both preparations for and conduct of these negotiations.

I am convinced that all of NATO is waiting for the US to take the lead in MBFR and that they are most anxious to learn which of the options under consideration we prefer. I am also convinced that we [Page 319] would encounter a strong opposition to a US proposal which limits cuts to stationed forces only. Our proposals, therefore, should take these feelings into account and provide for some adjustments in indigenous forces in the long run. I recently sent Henry Kissinger a paper on MBFR which suggests approaches which would take these considerations into account.6

Offset Negotiations with Germany

My talks with Schmidt on our offset negotiations proved most revealing. He expressed in the strongest terms, in a private conversation with just the two of us present, his utter disgust with the way these negotiations have progressed. His revulsion extended to both the US and Germans involved. He has nothing but disdain for Schiller 7 and Scheel. He considered our negotiators as overbearing and repulsive as they bargained US soldiers for Deutsche Marks. This whole bargaining process seemed absolutely incredulous to him in view of the pledges he felt you made in Naples and Ireland in 1970. Schmidt has reached the point where he is ready to resign if Germany is forced to buy US soldiers by contributing cash to the US Treasury. He feels he has done as much as he can for his Party and is prepared to walk out. Schmidt admitted that in recent weeks he has collapsed twice in his office. His aides confided to members of my staff that he is suffering from stomach trouble and exhaustion. His chain smoking throughout our talks indicates a nervousness which he otherwise hides well.

Since Schmidt is one of Europe’s most enlightened and practical politicians, I believe we should take steps to accommodate him, particularly when, in my opinion, his proposal on offset has decided advantages for the US, through the Department of Defense, and contributes to the defense of NATO directly.

We discussed the particulars of Schmidt’s offer last week, so I will not repeat all the details in this memorandum. As you will recall, you told Henry Kissinger to advise State and Treasury that you agreed with the Defense position as explained in my recent memo to Bill Rogers.8 I assume that Henry has done that and that, at a minimum, DM 800M will be set aside in a German account to rehabilitate our barracks. I am also submitting to State and Treasury additional suggestions for utilization of the extra burden-sharing funds Germany will make available in the final offset agreement.

[Page 320]

Drugs in Germany

After expressing my great concern for the spreading drug problem among our troops in Germany, Schmidt suggested that we set up a Joint Task Group with representatives from both countries who were familiar with the problem. We are now arranging for personnel from CINCEUR’s staff and American Embassy Bonn to meet with German counterparts, to see if we can get on top of this problem before it gets out of hand. I plan to send Dr. Wilbur, my Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health and Environment, to Europe on December 6 to see that the Task Group performs in a meaningful and useful way. Schmidt indicated that his drug problem in Germany was caused by the large numbers of Turks that come and go as part of Germany’s working force.

Future of NPG

Carrington proposed to me in our bilateral meeting that we make some changes in the NPG meetings. He thought that at least one of the semi-annual meetings should be held in Brussels in conjunction with the Defense Planning Committee meeting in order to cut down the number of trips Ministers were required to make. He also suggested much shorter agendas and reduced social activities. I believe Schmidt shares Carrington’s feelings. Although I agreed whole-heartedly that the social aspects should be curtailed, I explained that I did not feel that it was wise for the US to propose any changes which could be interpreted as a lessening of importance of the NPG. Since the NPG was created for the benefit of NATO non-nuclear members, it would be more appropriate for these members to make recommendations for change. Originally, the NPG was of value to us in exposing non-nuclear members of NATO to the realities and complexities of nuclear issues and a nuclear strategy; [3 lines not declassified] In the future we will have to (a) reassess the objectives of NPG, and (b) insure that NPG activities are consistent with the objectives.

Carrington—Ireland and Malta

Carrington was very upset about the UK’s problem in Ireland and indicated he was lost for a workable solution. Terrorist activity was on the rise and he had to find some way to bring it under control. He said, “The Irish are not rational people.”

He also had a few words to say about Senator Kennedy who has infuriated not only the English people, but also the people on the Continent, for intervening in the domestic affairs of a foreign power. On the other hand, Kennedy’s remarks have been helpful to the UK Government by coalescing British public opinion in support of British actions in Ireland.

[Page 321]

Regarding Malta, in Carrington’s opinion, Mintoff will not turn to the Russians and he is scared to death of Libya. He feels Mintoff will eventually settle with the West, but if he allows US ships to call at Maltese ports, he will probably also allow some limited number of Soviet ships to also call.

Chemical Munitions

Schmidt gave us a green light to proceed with the shipment of defective chemical munitions now stored in Germany. As plans now stand, the shipment will depart Germany for Johnson Island the first week in February. We will try to move that date up if at all possible, since Schmidt wants to complete the move as soon as possible.

Ambassador Porter

I met with Bill Porter9 for an hour in Brussels. I was particularly impressed by his refreshing, hard-charging, enthusiastic approach to our negotiations in Paris. He bubbles over with new ideas and initiatives designed to put the other side on the defensive. So far, few of these ideas have been approved but, I believe, after you make your 15 November announcement,10 it would be very worthwhile to loosen the reins on Porter and see what he can accomplish. His recent suggestion to propose small Ad Hoc groups to address specific issues may have advantages and should be given a try.


I believe it is time for the US to reassure our Allies that our new initiatives will not be at their expense. What you are doing will eventually lead to the benefit of all nations. I feel that our Allies must hear this reassurance from you personally. They feel that there are too many US voices now describing US policy, particularly as it applies to Europe. Your last words of reassurance were spoken prior to your announced trips to Peking and Moscow. They question if they still apply.

The people of Europe are not worried about the Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact. They, particularly the young, do not favor more money for defense against a threat they do not perceive. This attitude makes it most difficult for NATO governments to raise sufficient funds for their armed forces. If our initiatives are misunderstood by the European people, it will make it that much more difficult for our Allies to remain strong. There are already indications that Denmark may be considering quitting the Alliance. I am afraid it would take little persuasion to cause many of the Socialist countries of NATO to reach [Page 322] an accommodation with the USSR, which looks more and more like the “good guy” in their eyes.

I feel we must:

—Renew NATO confidence in US policy.

—Do a better job of explaining the threat in terms the people of Europe will understand.

—Persuade NATO leaders to do more to explain the threat and its significance to their own people.

—Emphasize the urgency of standing firm and improving our combined strength as we proceed with negotiations.

Melvin R. Laird
  1. Source: Ford Library, Laird Papers, Accession 2001–NLF–020, Box 5, NATO, Vol. X. Top Secret; Sensitive.
  2. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with Laird and Kissinger from 2:55 to 4 p.m. in his office at the Executive Office Building. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files)
  3. On October 29, the Senate rejected a House bill that authorized economic and military aid for fiscal years 1972 and 1973. The action represented the first outright defeat of foreign aid legislation in the 24-year history of the foreign aid program. Differences of opinion over U.S. foreign policy included the Indochina policy and the increased involvement in Cambodia, a brewing India-Pakistan conflict over the rebellion in East Pakistan, the entry of China in and expulsion of Taiwan from the U.N., and the controversial U.S. support of the Greek military government. Additionally, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which opposed much of Nixon’s foreign policy, sought to leverage its control of aid legislation to change the administration’s foreign policy. (Congress and the Nation, Vol. III, 1969–1972, pp. 876–877)
  4. These statements were made in the course of Nixon’s trip to Italy, Yugoslavia, Spain, and Ireland September 27–October 5, 1970. See Public Papers: Nixon, 1970, pp. 786–787, 804–809.
  5. A memorandum of Laird’s conversation with Schmidt, October 26, is in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL GER W–US. A memorandum of Laird’s conversation with Carrington, October 25, is in the Ford Library, Laird Papers, Box 18, Document No. 358.
  6. See footnote 2, Document 73.
  7. Karl Schiller, West German Minister for Economic Affairs.
  8. Not further identified.
  9. William J. Porter, Head of the U.S. Delegation to the Paris Peace Talks.
  10. The President announced further troop withdrawals from Vietnam at a November 12 press conference.