75. Information Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Hillenbrand) to Secretary of State Rogers1

Tensions in US Relations with Europe

This memorandum (which is admittedly long) addresses a problem of increasing concern: European loss of confidence in the United States. While we have had crises of confidence before, they have not been of the same severity or depth. The situation is not, however, irreparable, and might even provide an opportunity for a positive reordering of our relationship with Europe which will endure throughout the 1970’s and beyond. We make certain recommendations which might help to begin this process.

1. Introduction

The basic premise of US relations with Europe is well summarized in President Nixon’s statement: “the peace of Europe is crucial to the peace of the world” and that “Europe must be the cornerstone of the structure of a durable peace.”

For the past three years we have sought to play a large, active but not preponderant role in cooperating with our Allies to further our mu [Page 323] tual interests in Europe. We have strengthened NATO as a mechanism for political consultations, upgraded NATO’s defense efforts through the modernization of conventional forces, and added a new dimension to the Alliance through the establishment of the Committee on the Challenges of Modern Society (CCMS). We have supported the creation of a special trade group within the OECD and have intensified our consultations with the European Economic Community. We have supported the enlargement of the Common Market and encouraged European moves toward greater political integration. We have contributed to a lessening of tensions through undertaking talks on strategic arms limitations, through support of the Federal Republic’s Eastern policy, and through negotiation, in the Quadripartite framework, of the first phase of a Berlin accord.

Paradoxically, in spite of these constructive demonstrations of our strong and continuing interest in Europe, it has become increasingly clear that we are entering a difficult if not crucial period in our relations with that area. For European confidence in the staying power of the United States is eroding and giving rise to new tensions in our relationships.

2. Manifestations of Lack of Confidence

While we have had difficult periods in the past, they have not been of the scope or intensity one finds today. From the top of Norway to the tip of Italy there is a growing conviction that the United States will disengage from Europe; the only question is when. The Economist, normally friendly, freely talks of “evidence of the apparent withdrawal of the United States into a querulous and indiscriminate rejection of the world.” The French press openly discusses “isolationist fever” in the United States and the “fundamental change in American attitudes toward Europe.” One local Embassy here reports home that the mood in Washington is reminiscent of 1919 when the Congress vigorously attacked Wilson’s programs. Some European wags now speak of US policy as moving to an era of negotiation with the Soviets and confrontation with our Allies!

In the United Kingdom, with whom we have had the so-called “special relationship”, we find the Prime Minister stressing that it is fortunate that Britain is moving toward Europe at a time when the US is becoming increasingly concerned with deep-seated problems at home and abroad, and when “everyone concerned with trade and finance knows that rough winds are beginning to blow across the world.”

The French for some months now have been forecasting that, despite the President’s commitment, the United States would begin to disengage militarily from Europe in 1972 or 1973. This bothers them because they have no illusions about a Europe where they and their [Page 324] neighbors were left virtually alone with the Russian behemoth. Now our economic measures and the wobbly state of our economy have added a new dimension to French anxiety about our European policy.

But nowhere is the new attitude more apparent than in the Federal Republic of Germany. The Federal Government has been periodically subject to crises of confidence in American intentions. There is a difference of quality in the present malaise, however, since the Brandt Government has undertaken a far-reaching Eastern policy which could lead to unforeseeable consequences if two premises on which it is based are changed. These are the continued existence of a strong and stable defense alliance and the maintenance of the Western European economic community. These two conditions provide the security matrix for Brandt’s policy. In German eyes developments in the United States could jeopardize both. Our troop presence appears to them increasingly questionable and the international aspects of the NEP2 threaten, in their eyes, the very existence of the European Community. The result is a perceptible change in German attitudes. The FRG has been an extremely constructive force in the formulation of European trade and monetary policies. Now it has given warning that if necessary to preserve the EC it will align itself with the European majority even if this runs counter to US positions. Similarly the FRG has supported MBFR because it saw in such negotiations a means of ensuring maintenance of the present US force strength in Europe. Now it has come to suspect that MBFR will be utilized as a means of US withdrawal from Europe. The predictable result has been German apprehensions rather than support on MBFR.

A new development not unrelated to changing German attitudes towards the US is the growth of neutralist sentiment in the country. A recent poll showed fifty percent of the population favoring such a neutralist position between East and West.

3. Factors Contributing to European Attitudes

The current European state of mind results from their assessment of a United States having great difficulty in solving its own domestic problems, turning more and more to isolationism, undertaking policies that result in confrontation and tension in the economic sphere, and seeking bilateral deals with the other superpower over the heads of our Allies. That many of these same issues exist in their own countries does not alter the severity of their indictment of the United States. It would almost seem that they felt such problems were tolerable in smaller states but not permitted in a superpower lest its effectiveness be reduced.

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a. Trend toward Isolationsim

Many Europeans believe that the failure of the United States to achieve victory in Vietnam has caused American disenchantment with foreigners and less willingness to meet Alliance responsibilities. In their mind, these developments caused the United States to be more inward looking and to cut its losses and run. They study reports by Mr. Laird that the size of the American military establishment will be reduced from 3,547,000 men in 1968 to 2,505,000 men in 1972, a cut of 30 percent.

Such events as the Mansfield Resolution to cut US forces in Europe by half, and the Senate action voting down foreign aid strengthened their feelings about the isolationist trend in the United States and increased their skepticism as to the ability of the Administration to maintain its declared policies in the face of Congressional pressure.

Finally, they tend to think that the achievement by the Soviet Union of relative parity with the United States reinforces the trend toward isolationism as America moves from the first ranking superpower to relative parity. (This in turn leads them to question whether the role of our nuclear deterrent for their defense remains as valid under a policy of “sufficiency” as it did under a policy of “supremacy”.)

b. Confrontation and Tension in Economic Sphere

Thinking Europeans admit that NEP was necessary to get our own house in order and to begin the task of reorganizing the world monetary system to conform to the new realities of the 1970’s. The more popular perception in Europe, however, is that August 15 marked a turning point in U.S. economic policy from twenty-five years of international economic cooperation to a new pattern of confrontation to achieve our own objectives at the expense of the Europeans. The demands for large and early balance of payments changes mainly through large parity adjustments are viewed as a direct threat to their own economies. The surcharge, job development tax credit and DISC are widely interpreted as classic protectionist or beggar-thy-neighbor devices. Our references to the need for unilateral concessions to right their alleged unfair trade practices are particularly resented and vehemently rejected. They see our opposition to the EC’s agreements with Spain and to the forthcoming free trade arrangement with the EFTA neutrals, as well as our attack on the Common Agricultural Policy and our linking of these matters with NEP, as an attack on European integration. Finally, our continued references to burden sharing puzzles them and is beginning to be interpreted as a link between maintaining our troops in Europe and the achievement of our balance of payments objectives.

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c. US Bilateralism with the Soviets

There has been a West European syndrome, particularly manifest in Germany, that at some point in time the United States will make a deal with the Soviet Union at the expense of its NATO Allies. The prospect of US–USSR summitry next year, announced without prior consultation with our Allies, has heightened their fears of bilateral diplomacy between the superpowers and increased their anxiety with regard to their principal North American ally. The Europeans fear that this bilateralism may produce some kind of political condominium in which they would become vassals rather than allies.

This syndrome can be seen too in our Allies’ nervous reaction to the US–USSR talks on strategic arms limitations. They are particularly concerned that we might make a deal on the Forward Based Systems (FBS) which leaves them denuded of nuclear weapons in Western Europe but exposed to missilery located in the Soviet Union. Intensive consultation with them in NATO has muted but not allayed these fears.

4. Remedies for the Current Situation

Rather than merely wringing our hands or expressing exasperation at what can be construed as the European tendency to use diverse information to reach questionable conclusions, we believe we should recognize that these European attitudes exist and work to remedy them.

If we do not move to do so, the Europeans may decide that they cannot depend on us and therefore must go it alone.

In that event we can expect from them:

(a) an economic confrontation on many issues without the present basic attitude that as allies we must somehow work out a solution;

(b) a move toward neutrality between the U.S. and USSR as the only valid defense posture;

(c) increasing accommodation to the Russians on political and economic issues.

Moreover, the longer the current atmosphere in US-European relations prevails, the greater will be the Soviet opportunities to fish in troubled waters. A key aspect of Soviet foreign policy is to bring about the disintegration of the North Atlantic Alliance and exclude the United States from a large and active role on the European scene. For the Soviets know full well that the more the United States is separated from Europe, the more Europe and the United States are weakened and the Soviet Union strengthened and put in a better position to achieve its post-World War II goal of dominant influence over all of Europe.

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Such a development would also affect Soviet interest in dealing with the United States bilaterally. Today they are prepared to negotiate as between two superpowers. To the extent that we are no longer playing an effective role on the European scene, we no longer are as relevant for the Soviets except perhaps in the purely nuclear sphere.

The following are some actions we might take to preclude further development of the situations described above:

a. Move promptly to a joint announcement with the Europeans of the intention to enter major new economic negotiations.

It is essential that we begin the process of engaging the Europeans in a constructive endeavor to address the new conditions of the 1970’s. We can never return to the pre-August 15 situation in the monetary field, and a major international effort will be needed to reconstruct an international monetary system—this time one that will have to take account of European aspirations towards monetary union. We will also have to engage in major trade negotiations if we are effectively to advance our export interests in the situation of enlargement of the Common Market and the inevitable related free trade arrangements with the other EFTA countries and the underdeveloped Commonwealth countries.

Therefore, some early initial agreement in the monetary and trade field, which will enable the Common Market to proceed with its own internal program while enabling us to lift the surcharge, is an indispensable prerequisite for any effort to deal with the current crises in US-European relations. In one sense, our failure to act on this matter promptly, can drive the Europeans to greater unity. Unity fostered in this way, however, may not be to our liking. It may entail stiff measures against our own economic interests.

b. Reassure our Allies on MBFR

We should now make clear to our Allies that we do not view MBFR as an isolated negotiation, designed to provide a cover for American troop withdrawals, but rather as an integral part of overall Alliance East-West policy of reducing tensions in Europe. This effort to put MBFR in proper perspective will be greatly facilitated if the new concept of the future role of the United States in Europe (NSSM–138)3 has been approved. (Memorandum summarizing this concept is attached.)4

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c. High level statements of US interests in Europe

Statements by both the President and you can still do much to influence European attitudes toward this country, given their continuing psychological need for assurances from us.

The NATO Ministerial Meeting will provide you with an opportunity to delineate our continuing interest in Europe, to stress that the Nixon approach eschews disengagement from the European scene and envisages greater trans-Atlantic cooperation, and provides an opportunity for you to unveil (or reinforce if you have already spoken earlier) the new concept developed in response to NSSM–138 on the future US role toward Europe in the context of a Conference on European Security, and to assure our Allies that the new economic policy does not imply a change in the President’s commitment that, given a similar approach by our Allies, we will maintain and improve our forces in Europe.

What you say could be a prelude to a Presidential statement to the Congress delivered in, perhaps, the State of the Union Message, emphasizing our continuing understanding of the primary importance of our relations with Europe. What the President says in his oral statements before the Congress could be further elaborated upon in his Annual Report to that body and in the State Department Annual Report.

d. Consult early with Allies on Moscow Trip

Early in the new year we should be prepared to inform the Allies of our plans for consultation with them preceding the President’s trip to Moscow. He has already indicated that there would be such consultations, but our Allies would be greatly reassured and their confidence in us improved, if we could outline the scenario of those consultations. They then could plan their participation more effectively.

e. Post-Moscow Consultations

We believe it is imperative that on his return from Moscow, the President pass through Brussels and report to the Allies in the North Atlantic Council. Depending on whether developments would make such a meeting desirable, this might be a NATO summit meeting, providing appropriate opportunities for bilateral consultations between the President and the European leaders.

These proposed courses of action encompass a short time frame—between now and spring of next year. It is important that we start them early. With these measures and other measures opportunities for which may arise in the next six months, we believe we can at least begin the process of reversing the trend and moving towards the establishment of US-European relations on a firmer basis for the longer future.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL EUR–US. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Hillenbrand, Springsteen, Katz, Sutterlin, McGuire, Tanguy, and Beaudry.
  2. President Nixon announced his New Economic Policy on August 15.
  3. NSSM 138, October 2, requesting a study for strategy at a European Security Conference, is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXIX, European Security, Document 74.
  4. Undated memorandum is attached but not printed.