234. Memorandum For the Record1 2

[Page 1]


  • Meeting with the Navy Commanders-in-Chief


  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Admiral E. R. Zumwalt, CNO
  • Admiral Horacio Rivero, Commander-in-Chief, Allied Forces; Southern Europe
  • Admiral Bernard A. Clarey, Commander-in-Chief, US Pacific Fleet
  • Admiral Waldemar F. A. Wendt, Commander-in-Chief, US Naval Forces, Europe
  • Admiral Charles K. Duncan, Commander-in-Chief Atlantic, US Atlantic Fleet, and Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic
  • Admiral Jackson D. Arnold, Chief of Naval Material
  • Admiral Ralph W. Cousins, VCNO
  • Brigadier General Alexander M. Haig, USA, Deputy Assistant to the President
  • Rear Admiral R. C. Robinson, NSC Staff

The Navy Commanders-in-Chief met with Dr. Kissinger in the White House for the closing session of their annual conference. Dr. Kissinger opened the meeting by expressing appreciation to the group for the superb cooperation he has experienced with the military—and the Navy in particular—during his time in the White House. He stated that much of our progress in national security affairs must be attributed to the dedication and loyalty of our military officers, who consistently think of problems in terms of their country rather than themselves. Dr. Kissinger characterized our present times as the most complex period in American history. He thought that no previous President has operated with so little support from the leadership of the nation. The normal problems that one would expect as we shift from one form of foreign policy to another have been complicated by the fact that a large segment of the intellectual community actually would like to see us lose in Vietnam, simply to confirm their theories and predictions. In this atmosphere, even the bureaucracy has been affected by Ivy League isolationism. Dr. Kissinger called upon the military to continue [Page 2] their past practice of recommending initiatives, even though their recommendations and proposals frequently are not accepted. In this regard, he noted, the Navy “doesn’t suffer from lack of plain speaking.”

[Omitted here is information unrelated to Cuba.]

[Page 3]

Dr. Kissinger acknowledged that the situation in Cuba must seem ambiguous in the light of many conflicting news stories, but he emphasized that the White House has no doubts as to the scope of Soviet intentions and the threat to our security of their base in Cienfuegos. He pointed out that the Navy had been of great assistance in identifying this threat, and in describing what in their view constituted the parameters of an enemy base in this hemisphere. He declined to go into significant detail as to our diplomatic negotiations on this subject, but assured the group that there had been a private play in addition to public pronouncements. He thought there was no doubt in the Soviet mind that the US is fully aware of their aims, since we had told them in precise written terms what constituted an unacceptable base of operations.

The recent public announcement by the President (on January 4) was intended to amplify the written record; we intentionally used the phrase “nuclear submarines” to describe the activity to which we objected, thus embracing attack submarines, as well as missile submarines, in our interpretation. This tactic prevented any semantic exercise as to what might be considered an offensive system. We desired to make a simple, unchallenged statement knowing full well that the Soviets also were in possession of our written conditions which addressed offensive weapons. We thus have restricted several elements of Soviet naval activity on the basis of both public and written pronouncements. Nuclear submarines, whether attack or missile, are covered by our public statement, while the written statement includes the conventionally-powered submarine which carries an offensive weapon (whether it be a cruise missile, ballistic missile or other). In summary, Dr. Kissinger thought we have established both a public and private record to which there has been no challenge. Under these conditions, he feels that we should say no more on the subject, particularly since we accomplished a great deal in getting the tender out of Cuban waters. In this connection, he did not think we could object in principle to the presence of a tender; however, should a tender provide services to either a nuclear submarine, or to one armed with offensive missiles, then the United States Government stood ready for an immediate showdown.

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[Omitted here is information unrelated to Cuba.]

R.C. Robinson
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 253, Agency Files, Navy, 1969–71. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The meeting took place in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. In a memorandum to Rogers, Laird, and Helms, President Nixon instructed that there be no further discussion of the understanding with the Soviet Union concerning submarine bases in Cuba. (Ibid., Box 782, Country Files, Latin America, Soviet Naval Activity in Cuban Waters, Vol. II, Cienfuegos) Nixon statement of January 4 is in Public Papers: Nixon, 1971, pp. 17–18.
  2. Kissinger discussed Soviet naval activities in Cuba with the Navy Commanders-in-Chief.