52. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Relations with Europe


  • The Secretary
  • Mr. Robert J. McCloskey, Ambassador at Large
  • Mr. Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Counselor
  • Mr. Arthur A. Hartman, Assistant Secretary for European Affairs
  • Mr. Winston Lord, Director of Policy Planning
  • Mr. William Hyland, Director of Bureau of Intelligence and Research
  • Mr. Lawrence S. Eagleburger, Executive Assistant to the Secretary
  • Mr. George S. Springsteen, Executive Secretary of the Department

Sonnenfeldt: I wanted to make sure that you saw the cable from London concerning the President’s letter to Brandt. It is in the British press.

Kissinger: How did it get in the press? Did the British Government leak it?

Sonnenfeldt: My guess is that Beaumarchais leaked it.

Lord: Who is he?

Sonnenfeldt: The French Ambassador in London.

Kissinger: Why did he leak it?

Sonnenfeldt: To emphasize again the brusque American mistreatment of the EC.

Kissinger: I haven’t seen the telegram yet. Could someone produce it for me? Does the article have an anti-American bias? (McCloskey leaves the room to find telegram.)

Sonnenfeldt: No, as I remember, and I would have to read the cable again, it simply reflects the current state of relations between the US and the Community and mentions the EC-Arab initiative and the postponement of the EC Declaration exercise. (Eagleburger leaves.)

[Page 219]

Kissinger: Would someone get McCloskey back? Does it take an Ambassador at Large and Eagleburger to get me a cable? Or maybe I’m missing the subtlety of the operation. Now can they both come back? (Lord leaves to find McCloskey and Eableburger) This is an absurdity. Maybe the Deputy Secretary should get the cable. Maybe we are still not operating at the right level (McCloskey, Eagleburger and Lord return.) I have gotten this group together to go over again what we do with the declarations. After my meeting on Saturday I leaned toward forgetting the EC Declaration but going ahead with the NATO one. But the more I think about it, the less I am sure that is a good idea. Maybe we should call off the entire declaration exercise, both of them. Who the hell wants it? Maybe we should call off the President’s trip. We could leave the declarations on the table for the time being and invite the NATO Foreign Ministers here for the 25th anniversary, but it seems to me that the NATO Declaration as it now stands, and if we sign it, is really an instrument of French policy. It gets a U.S. security commitment but the political and economic elements which we have always said are tied to the military commitment are scrubbed altogether.

Hartman: I am not sure that the French will want to go ahead with only the NATO Declaration. They have tied the two together and have also wanted to imbed the EC identity through a Declaration.

Kissinger: Hal, what do you think?

Sonnenfeldt: On Saturday I thought we probably should scrap both and forget the anniversary—pull back and give the Europeans time to think. But now I am not so sure.

Kissinger: We wouldn’t scrap the declarations but postpone them.

Sonnenfeldt: There isn’t any question in my mind that as presently constituted, the NATO Declaration gives the French and the Europeans an important new US security commitment without providing anything for us.

Kissinger: And that is exactly the opposite of what we have always said we wanted to achieve through the declaration. That is Win’s idea of last week (Jane Rothe enters with telegram; Secretary reads it.)

Sonnenfeldt: If we abandon the EC Declaration, then I think we should have something far stronger on consultations in the NATO document.

Kissinger: But I keep asking, what do we get out of the NATO Declaration?

Sonnenfeldt: A continued assertion of the validity of the Atlantic Alliance and a framework for US-European relations, in the absence of a document with the EC.

Kissinger: But we can underline the validity of the Alliance unilaterally and we can push consultations in NATO too, but what do we get from a NATO Declaration?

[Page 220]

Sonnenfeldt: You remember I said last week that we should shelve the EC political apparatus and go bilateral?

Kissinger: I agree.

Sonnenfeldt: The framework for doing that is in NATO.

Kissinger: I agree to that too but does a declaration help?

Sonnenfeldt: I think we have to consider what the Soviets and the Chinese would make of it if we shelve the NATO Declaration altogether.

Kissinger: You leave the Chinese to me.

Sonnenfeldt: All I am saying is that the Chinese and the Soviets will study carefully whatever happens in all of this.

Kissinger: The Chinese will accept any show of strength upon our part.

Sonnenfeldt: But there may be some benefit for us with the Europeans if we go ahead to encourage them through NATO to be more forthcoming than they were in the EC context.

Kissinger: But the French, if they are as cynical as usual, will say that they produced a NATO document which froze our security commitment to Europe and at the same time ignored the political and economic strands of the Atlantic relationship.

Sonnenfeldt: That is the reason we should push hard in the next six weeks to put language in the NATO declaration which makes clear it is not a French document and which underlines the indivisibility of our security, political, and economic concerns—a sort of successor to the Harmel report. That sort of document would renew the US commitment to Europe in a positive way and at the same time link the French into the Alliance as well.

Kissinger: I am not sure. French policy is not only obstructionist, but antagonistic: in Syria, and other places as well. They are organically hostile to the US and now clearly constitute the greatest global opposition to US foreign policy. Why give a fig leaf through the NATO Declaration?

Sonnenfeldt: It would be a fig leaf for them but also a standard of conduct for the Europeans if they will accept strengthened language.

Kissinger: So we should sign the Declaration?

Hartman: Beef it up, improve the language on consultation and at the same time pursue intensified bilateral contacts with individual NATO countries.

Kissinger: The question is what would be the greatest shock to the Europeans? What would do us the most good? What if we told them both declarations are off the rails because of their textual nitpicking and resistance to true consultations. We can say since NATO is healthy we [Page 221] don’t need to reaffirm our ties and since the EC is unhealthy we should not affirm an unhealthy relationship. I am still drawn to shelving them both.

Sonnenfeldt: If neither of the declarations are signed after your call of last April, it will be difficult to convince the Europeans that NATO is healthy. If we have an anniversary meeting in Washington or in Brussels, at the end of that meeting we will have to sign something and it might as well be a strengthened NATO Declaration.

Hyland: And if you shelve the NATO Declaration you will be penalizing all the NATO countries for actions of the EC–9. You will be creating an Atlantic crisis, not a crisis with the EC, but a crisis with the Alliance.

Kissinger: But what will the nations of NATO do? That is the question. Do they need a shock treatment? If they want a real Alliance, maybe they will do something.

Hartman: Though we should strengthen the passages on consultation in the declaration, a crisis within NATO is not going to be particularly helpful.

Hyland: The French might not sign it anyway. They have always linked it with the EC Declaration.

Sonnenfeldt: That is another possibility.

Kissinger: They can’t afford not to sign the NATO Declaration.

Sonnenfeldt: If they don’t then the onus is on them. The issue is whether you want to go hard up and down on them all along the line.

Kissinger: That is our strongest card: to say that they have been naughty, that our defense commitment to Europe is dependent on political and economic relations and that they should strengthen those elements if they want a security commitment.

Sonnenfeldt: But we should make a distinction between the Nine and NATO. We can tell the Nine that they have been naughty and are not ready for a mature relationship.

Kissinger: It is not what we say to them; it is what we believe. They are more hostile day by day; every European Government now thinks it must immediately report what we tell them back to the French so that it doesn’t appear that they are selling out to us.

Hyland: No step will be effective if it downgrades NATO.

Kissinger: They keep saying that if they are forced to choose between France and the US, they will choose the US. Well, maybe we should give them the choice now.

Sonnenfeldt: That is the point. Does the NATO Declaration as it is presently drafted hold open that choice for the Europeans?

Kissinger: As it now stands it is an easy choice for them. The Europeans get a US defense commitment for free and give up nothing. Of [Page 222] course, they will choose that. They came along with us at the Washington Energy Conference for two reasons; it was harder to stand up to us in Washington than to the French and they thought that there might be a free door prize in the effort—sharing, R & D, etc. But there was no philosophical commitment to cooperate with the US. Now they see in the current NATO Declaration another free door prize. Maybe it is the time for us to huff and puff and steam and show them that when we say we want a stronger NATO, we mean it.

Hartman: And we do that in the context of an indivisible defense, political and economic relationship and a true consultative arrangement.

Kissinger: It depends on the language. As the language now stands, though we have been pursuing this for a year, they wind up with the strength of a US defense commitment. On Saturday I was for going ahead with the NATO Declaration but now that I have been thinking about it, I am not so sure.

Sonnenfeldt: As I said, we could go ahead but shore up the weak passages and make it the kind of document we want.

Kissinger: Or we could invite them here for the 25th Anniversary; the President could give a ringing speech reaffirming the Alliance. We could move ahead to revitalize our bilateral relations. We can move toward the de facto strengthening of NATO, but what does the Declaration itself give us?

Sonnenfeldt: The effect of supporting the Alliance.

Kissinger: But who gains?

Sonnenfeldt: We retrieve to some extent our effort in the last year.

Lord: We could say that the NATO Declaration is coming along all right but the EC one is still not good enough. . .

Kissinger: We won’t give them a military commitment while our political relations are in such lousy state. The other course is to scrap the EC Declaration but not NATO. That avoids the crisis that Bill is talking about if that is what we want to do. We have never gone for the jugular. Maybe it is time to do it.

Hyland: Not now.

Kissinger: I am tired of a crisis with them every six months. Maybe we should push them to the wall. What will they do? What will the Germans do? They will distance themselves from the French and say look what these maniacs have gotten us into.

Sonnenfeldt: Or, they may drift into neutralism.

Kissinger: Maybe the best way to ruin both relationships is to sign both declarations.

Hyland: The Germans will suspect that what we are really doing is accelerating our disengagement from Europe after having reached [Page 223] agreement with the Soviet Union. That is what the French have been telling them and that is what they will believe.

Kissinger: That should bring them closer to us.

Hyland: That’s right.

Hartman: What is important is the public presentation of the issue.

Kissinger: The problem is the gap between the Europeans’ practice and their words. If we push them on the NATO Declaration they will either split with the French, or they will try to compromise on some meaningless phraseology. Don’t we accept the European policy of escapism if, after all our problems in the last year, we sign a NATO Declaration that they can hang on to? Won’t they just think they have ridden out the storm and we have given in? That runs counter to all our objectives.

Hyland: But we have to think of the importance of a public reaffirmation of the Alliance, especially with the Moscow Summit and a possible summit at CSCE.

Kissinger: I have just finished reading my conversations with Jobert during the last year. I wanted to try to understand why he keeps saying I treated him badly. We have been lecturing them for over a year with absolute consistency on these matters and nothing has changed. I am leaning toward scrapping both the declarations.

Lord: We can say that the NATO Declaration is pretty good; that the EC Declaration is inadequate and that since they are linked we can’t go forward on either at this time.

Hyland: That will give the French complete leverage on where we go with this exercise.

Kissinger: But we don’t go anywhere; we strengthen our relations bilaterally and with the Alliance in a de facto way without worrying about a declaration. As it now stands, the Europeans get free defense and give nothing for it. They are just like an adolescent; they want to be taken care of and at the same time, kick the hell out of their parents. But it would be a disaster for US foreign policy.

Lord: I agree that the Chinese will respect anything we do as long as it is from a position of strength.

Kissinger: If I tell Chou en Lai that we have stopped this business because the Europeans wouldn’t come across, he would understand that. But if I go whining to him that we have signed a document that we don’t believe in, that it is clear we couldn’t believe in, nothing could be worse.

Lord: I agree but what about Moscow?

Sonnenfeldt: It is not the declaration itself that matters, but what goes along with it. If not signing the declarations produces an [Page 224] enormous malaise in Europe, that will obviously be to the Russians’ advantage.

Kissinger: Malaise! What causes the malaise? I have tried for a year to strengthen the Alliance and it is worse every day. The Community decided on the EC-Arab initiative on February 7 when the Political Directors agreed to it and there was not a goddam thing we could do about it because we weren’t asked. They say they compromised on the timing of the Foreign Ministers Conference but actually they made it worse by making the timing vague. It allows the British and the Germans to tell us the Foreign Ministers meeting is far off in the future, and allows the French to go ahead with it immediately after they take the EC Presidency July 1. No one will have a leg to stand on to stop it. They have been deliberately worsening relations for the past year. George, you are an old European hand, what do you think of this?

Springsteen: Well, these things have a cyclical flow. What happens now is not necessarily what happens next year.

Kissinger: But if we look at the last fifteen years you can be sure that what is happening now will be happening five years from now. You know my traditional view toward consultations with the French. I used to argue with your old boss, George Ball, about it.

Hyland: But if we shelve both, what do we get?

Kissinger: If we sign the NATO Declaration, what do you get?

Hyland: We reaffirm the Alliance.

Kissinger: But if we don’t, we scare the hell out of them and they show extreme caution before another initiative without consultation; they show caution in their EC-Arab proposal, and we at the same time make greater de facto efforts to improve relations within the Alliance.

Kissinger: (Picking up the phone) Would someone mind telling me what nationality the CENTO Secretary General is, if that is not premature?

Springsteen: Iranian.

Hartman: Although we should keep full pressure on the Nine it would be disastrous to hold NATO responsible for the Community’s actions.

Kissinger: But they are linked. Eight are part of NATO. We tell them there is no point in continuing the declarations until they are prepared to proceed in a forthright way. We strengthen NATO. We consult bilaterally.

Hyland: There is an alternative step. We strengthen the text. We tell them to take it or leave it. The French and the Europeans have the choice. We make sure it says something about burdensharing, economics, political consultation, as well as the defense of Europe.

[Page 225]

Kissinger: That is a third possibility. Then if they reject it, we go full speed in strengthening our bilateral relations.

Hyland: Giving them a strengthened text and making them make a choice puts more pressure on the French.

Kissinger: So we won’t accept it as it now stands but we insert language on burdensharing, political, consultation, etc. I have got to see that goddam Iranian now.

Hartman: And I have got to see five congressmen for lunch.

Kissinger: Which ones?

Hartman: Congressman Rosenthal; he is going to Europe.

Kissinger: What others?

Hartman: I’m not sure.

Kissinger: So, Hal, can you do me a letter to Brandt saying that we wish to strengthen the NATO Declaration including language on political consultation, etc. Also take on his arguments on EC consultation. Say the very fact we didn’t understand what they had in mind poses the fundamental problem as it exists. In the absence of structural arrangements, their assurances are dependent on the accident of who is in the EC Presidency and that is not a satisfactory relationship. If we keep meeting on this subject, we may declare war on Europe. After we have a text I will take a look at it. We should all take a look at it.

  1. Summary: Kissinger, McCloskey, Sonnenfeldt, Hartman, Lord, Hyland, Eagleburger, and Springsteen discussed the EC-Arab initiative and U.S.-West European relations.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Office of the Counselor, Helmut C. Sonnenfeldt, 1955–1977, Entry 5339, Box 4, HS Chron-Official, Jan–Apr 1974. Secret; Nodis; Eyes Only. Drafted by Robert Blackwill in C on March 12. The meeting took place in Kissinger’s office. In telegram 3043 from London, March 11, the Embassy reported on two UK newspaper articles on U.S.–EC relations, including a front-page story in the London Times about Nixon’s letter to Brandt transmitted in telegram 44480 to Bonn, Document 51.