36. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to Secretary of State Kissinger1


  • The US and Europe in the Middle East Crisis

Oil problems may be the most immediate and practical ones to challenge the Alliance and they are therefore a proper focus of concern. But there are many other things about the Middle East crisis that put the Alliance to the test.

Already, there is a tendency in Europe both to gloat about the flimsiness of “our” détente with the Soviets and at the same time to place the onus of dealing with the crisis on our ability to use that very détente. (To some extent, we may have contributed to this attitude by our tendency, early in the conflict, to discount Soviet involvement and to emphasize formal Soviet restraint.) The Europeans, meanwhile, seek to protect their own interests, as they see them, vis-à-vis the Arabs and to opt out of any adverse consequences that may ensue in relations with the USSR. The French may be the most blatant example—with arms shipments to Libya on the one hand and facile pronouncements that only we can bring the parties and the Soviets to a cease-fire, on the other. But more fundamentally, a Europe that wants to be treated as an identity and as an “equal” actor in international affairs, at the same time runs for cover in fear and aloofness, seeking to maintain the benefits of its association with us while avoiding the burdens. All of this was evident enough and perhaps superficially justifiable when we went through the agonies of ending our involvement in Vietnam. But if it was folly for the Europeans not to acknowledge that how we ended the Vietnam war was crucially important for their own future security, it is almost suicidal for them to think they can somehow emerge unscathed from a Middle East crisis in which the safety of their oil supplies and the isolation of the US were the major subjective and objective purposes of European policy.

Of course there are costs of various kinds for the Europeans in a policy of solidarity with us in this crisis, just as there are costs for us in our own association with Israel. Of course the Europeans cannot be ex [Page 165] pected to act against their interests; the question is how they define those interests. Of course the Europeans, just as we, want to see the war end; the question is whether their present course promotes or hinders attainment of that goal. Of course the Europeans, as we also, must be concerned about their long-term relations with the Arabs. The question is whether present policies do not in fact increase European dependence on, and limit freedom of maneuver toward the Arabs. Of course the Europeans have legitimate concerns about the effects of a deterioration of relations with the USSR; the question is whether their present policies help to bring about the very effects they seek to avoid.

What it comes down to is that the Europeans must understand is that a denoument of the war in which we singlehandedly bear the burdens both of saving Israel and working with the Russians while they tremble on the sidelines will transform the Atlantic relationship into at best an alliance of convenience and more likely into a formal arrangement marked in fact by estrangement, suspicion and egocentric policies. Instead of celebrating the 25th anniversary of NATO next year, we will inter it as a force for security and order in the world.

So, apart from what is done on the oil front itself, it is time for us to take a series of explicit and implicit actions that halt and reverse the drift and utilize the Atlantic relationship for urgent common purposes and in the process give it the new vitality that we previously expected from our Year of Europe initiative alone.

1. Instead of bemoaning the failure of détente—and, in the case of Europeans like Luns, burying the US-Soviet summits as frauds—we must start jointly to use the leverage conferred on us by détente. Luns has no business unilaterally pronouncing the Soviets as in violation of the US-Soviet Basic Principles, when any violation involves Soviet commitments, going back well before 1972, to the French, Germans and others and while NATO Europe leads the pack in CSCE in working out gradiloquent declarations of East-West principles of cooperation. The operational issue is not whether the Soviets have violated commitment, which, when they involve the US, the Europeans are only too happy to bury with pious I-told you-sos, but how we together with the Europeans can hold the Soviets to their commitments. Détente—always a misnomer—was never designed by us as a static policy that appears and disappears like leaves on a tree; its only meaning was as an instrument to protect our interests and as a means to restrain Soviet efforts to damage them.

What we need now is a coordinated Western policy of actions that confront the Soviets with choices, with damage to their interests if they choose to damage ours. Paper agreements to harmonize policies of relaxation must now be transformed into action policies to use those policies in a crisis.

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—If we are to go slow in CSCE and perhaps scuttle it, it must be done in unison with the Allies.

—If we are to apply economic pressures, it must be done in conjunction with the major Allies—even if it is true that we have some leverage in this field that is unique. (Many of the Allies have certain unique forms of leverage; the task is to turn the unique into unison.)

—If we bring pressure to bear on the Hungarians and Yugoslavs—both great advocates and ultimate beneficiaries of détente and CSCE—it should be done together with the Allies.

—If we are to invoke bilateral statements of principle and the agreement on prevention of nuclear war, all the Allies should invoke analogous agreements which they have made. (I think we should be very cautious with minor pinpricks in the various areas where we have bilateral agreements, as suggested in the State paper of October 14, unless these are part of a coherent Western policy. Above all, we should not proclaim to the world that the Soviets have violated the Principles; it makes the President look like a fool for entering them and deprives us of the strategy of using them to pressure the Soviets.)

—We should get the elaborate NATO machinery to start work at once on a coordinated action program, reinforcing and energizing it with highest-level bilateral approaches to Allied leaders.

2. We should press ahead on the Year of Europe. By moving rapidly to conclude the two Declarations, if necessary by foregoing some of the perfections we would have liked, the Allies will be seen to coalesce at a moment when it counts in practice. Put more crudely, we should use the Declarations to force the Allies into association with us. With skill and luck, we should be able to maneuver them into the summit which they have so far resisted and which at this crucial moment, could pay good dividends vis-à-vis the Soviets and Arabs.

3. Even if it is too much to ask of the Allies to end their ostensibly neutral but objectively pro-Arab policies (which under present circumstances have the effect of prolonging the war), we must confront them with our firm intention to maintain a military balance in the Middle East. If this means using US stocks in Europe, or otherwise involving US forces there, the Allies must accept it. The proposed oil-sharing arrangements should provide some reassurance against Arab retaliation. Moreover, even if meticulously neutral, the Europeans cannot escape the effects of oil pressures by the Arabs which only we can relieve.

4. We must make sure that the Europeans join us in counteractions against the Arabs, if these become necessary in response to Arab oil pressures. (The WSAG paper takes a stab at this.)

5. The major Europeans must participate in the diplomacy of the war and in the efforts to end it. This cannot be done through NATO’s [Page 167] clumsy machinery but must be handled directly by yourself, dealing at highest levels. All of us should be less concerned with whether these diplomatic efforts will later lead to final (and utopian) settlements, than with creating the kind of diplomatic fluidity which, once the shouting stops, will allow some room for maneuver. The responsibility for whatever arrangements eventually emerge must be shared and not rest solely on the US. That is, since a cease-fire and subsequent arrangements are bound to leave the parties dissatisfied, we should not have to bear the onus of resentment from both Israelis and Arabs. We will have our hands full with our domestic critics; we should try to make sure that the Russians and the Europeans share the costs vis-à-vis the Arabs.

  1. Summary: Sonnenfeldt discussed the relationship between the United States and Western Europe in the context of the October 1973 Middle East war.

    Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1335, NSC Secretariat, NSC Unfiled Materials, 1973 (3 of 12). Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Sent for urgent attention.