6. Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Western Europe.]

Nixon: First—The second thing I want to ask you is that—You know, I am so glad that we got Heath over here...

Kissinger: Oh, that was a good meeting—

Nixon: ... because we’ve got to have a friend in Europe...

Kissinger: That helps.

Nixon: ... and he’s the only solid one we’ve got.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: And, by golly, let’s—let’s play them.

[Page 24]

Kissinger: Definitely—

Nixon: I mean, you’ve got a good relationship with him. I mean, as you know, when I need to talk to him, and I think that we—

Kissinger: You have a superb relationship with Heath.

Nixon: With Heath now we’ll want to play to get him and we’ve got to play with him. See, what I think he appreciates, Henry, is that we didn’t bug him on Northern Ireland.

Kissinger: No way.

Nixon: He knows that. He appreciates the fact that we didn’t bug him on Rhodesia. He appreciates the fact that we didn’t bug him on other things—

Kissinger: But then you did it in such a delicate way when you said, “All right, now, we’ve talked about Northern Ireland.”

Nixon: Yeah. We’re God, now, and—But now, therefore, on a much bigger thing he didn’t give us hell, and as a matter of fact made all the right noises. But I really feel—the thing I want to say to you is that I know we’ve got some studies going on in view of the role of NATO and so forth and so on. What I was trying to do in talking to you was to push the British—

Kissinger: But they’re doing it now.

Nixon:—into thinking about this.

Kissinger: No, no.

Nixon: And I actually think that our guys—I have the feeling about this being about the British. You may disagree. They’re no longer a world power, but the British are bright and they think strategically. And I think the right British guy is better than the right guy in the State Department.

Kissinger: No question.

Nixon: Now, what I want you to do—

Kissinger: They’re better trained.

Nixon:—what I want you to do—Take a fellow like [Sir Robert] Thompson. We haven’t got anybody in our government that is as good as Thompson on that field. Take a fellow like that guy, that Alistair Buchan, I don’t find many people around here in the State Department that think as, you know, in the broad terms. [Unclear], but what I think—I would like for you to take the best British brains and the best American brains and put them together in combine. The only question I ask is whether we are missing out on a good Frenchman. The French civil service, according to what I hear, and I think certainly on the economic side, is as good as any in the world—

Kissinger: No question—

[Page 25]

Nixon:—on the foreign policy side are we missing some people? Now, you know, for example, we’ve got two or three French newsmen that you rate as well as the British. Right?

Kissinger: But the French are different. The French, in terms of intellect and maybe even education may be even superior to the British, but they don’t have the—they don’t—they are too doctrinaire.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: And they don’t have the tradition of thinking in global terms. The French have always thought largely in European terms. But, I think it’d be too dangerous—

Nixon: Ok. All right. Fine.

Kissinger:—before March.

Nixon: Very well. What about?

Kissinger: After the election we should try.

Nixon: Oh, we will. Of course, of course. Nothing now. I was thinking of then, after the elections—

Kissinger: I think—

Nixon:—not the German one. Let me ask about that. Do you have anybody among the Germans that [unclear]. They say the Defense Minister’s a pretty good man—

Kissinger: No, the old Defense Minister, Helmut Schmidt.

Nixon: They threw him out, huh?

Kissinger: No—

Nixon: Promote him?

Kissinger: They made him Finance Minister. They had a crisis with their Finance Minister leaving. Then, in order to—It was a complicated maneuver. In order to appoint a new minister they would have had to convene Parliament. They were afraid that if they convened Parliament, they might get a vote of no confidence, so they shifted...

Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: ... they played around with the ministers that were already in office and then they didn’t have to be confirmed by Parliament. This—this shifted Schmidt from Defense to Finance, which he wanted because Defense—Schmidt wants to become Chancellor. It’s awfully tough to go from Defense to become Chancellor.

Nixon: What is the situation on Brandt’s throat?

Kissinger: Unfortunately, it’s not malignant. Now that’s a terrible thing to say—

Nixon: I know what you mean.

Kissinger: What I mean—

Nixon: You mean, unfortunately, he’s in very good health.

[Page 26]

Kissinger: Unfortunately, he’s likely to hang on in there, yeah.

Nixon: He is a dolt.

Kissinger: He is a dolt—

Nixon: He is a dolt—

Kissinger:—and he’s dangerous.

Nixon: Well, I’m afraid he’s dangerous. I really have to agree with you. I agree. God, you know, isn’t a shame, though with the—? I was thinking of the German minds, of, well, basically, of the late 19th century. And frankly there were some pretty good—Well, I guess the Germans have had their problems, but the Germans, in terms of producing global thinkers—There’s no Italians—

Kissinger: There was a curious—

Nixon: I had a curi[ous]—I had a very interesting talk with Heath in the car, you know. He was—we were talking about—there were lots of—I said: “Tell me, what men in Europe have you got?” As I said, we were talking about World War II and afterwards. I said, “What leaders in Europe have you got?” [unclear]. And you know his beautiful understanding, he said, “Well,” he said, “I—I’m afraid I find it rather difficult to think about that at the moment.” He said, “Pompidou.” And he—Pompidou, this is my point, I said, “Pompidou has the brains and so forth to do it, but his interests are basically inward and parochial, and not outward and global.”

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: He said, “Exactly.” He said he had had the same experience with him. When he talked to Pompidou, they’re always talking about tactical things for tomorrow, or economic things and so forth. Brandt he considers to be—He didn’t say it quite as bluntly—He just considers to be dumb.

Kissinger: Well—

Nixon: And—But interestingly enough he picked the one guy—He likes the Italians that I have met. Andreotti

Kissinger: Very good. Andreotti is very good—

Nixon: Yeah, but he picked the one—I said: “Now, look at the small countries. Who have you got?” He says: “None, yet there is one fellow that is quite good: Kreisky.” He knew exactly where I was hitting. Down in that damn little country of Austria you’ve got one bright guy.

Kissinger: Yes.

Nixon: Kreisky.

Kissinger: Kreisky, he was impressive when you saw him—

Nixon: Remember?

Kissinger: In some—

[Page 27]

Nixon: Well, the point about Kreisky is that. You see, I look back and I think what you and I’ve got to do is to think in terms of how we get the best brains in the world to work on some of these matters. And maybe we’ve just got to do it ourselves [unclear].

Kissinger: No, we can certainly do—

Nixon: But I—Do you remember after World War II, do you agree? I mean, not—Well, after World War I you had Smuts and people like that on the scene. After World War II, you can pick five or six leaders of Europe who were worth talking to. The Dutchman was very good. Do you remember his name? After World War II the—when he went to the World Court, you know, all that sort of thing? The Dutchman. There was a good Dane there. I remember, the—But at the present time, whether it’s the diplomatic corps—

Kissinger: You see at that time the Europeans—Take Holland. It had an empire many times larger than itself, so it had to think in big terms—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: The Europeans have become provincial, and one thing you’re doing by letting the British in on these things is you’re really doing them a favor...

Nixon: Oh [unclear]—

Kissinger: ... by enabling them to continue to think in big terms.

Nixon: Yeah. Did you notice, no interesting thing that, you know, we had all those briefing papers on the economics and the rest, and I did spend an hour-and-a-half with Shultz in which we ran it through, but the interesting thing was to me that Heath, instead of getting down—he got in serious on this side—but did you notice he wanted—he, himself, really wanted to talk about the big picture?

Kissinger: Oh, yeah.

Nixon: In other words, Heath has changed enormously since 1970. Remember our first meeting? He was talking in more minute terms...

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: ... and more immediate terms, but now Heath is thinking globally and the rest. And that’s the reason why I wanted to talk to him yesterday to give him sort of—so he could start with—

Kissinger: Well, I thought—

Nixon:—his view of the world, and then to come in on this. And then—

Kissinger: Well, I thought—

Nixon:—he didn’t say much, but he got—

Kissinger: Well—

Nixon:—the point.

[Page 28]

Kissinger: Well, I thought—well, partly because even he cannot think in these big terms anymore. If you haven’t got the power, then you haven’t really got the incentive to think in those—

Nixon: Yeah, I know.


Nixon: I know.

Kissinger: And—But I thought, as you were talking, that there’s really no leader in the non-Communist world today who could make such a survey without notes. We—we didn’t give you any talking points.

Nixon: No. We always don’t. I’ve—Actually, the one guy that enjoyed it was Burke Trend.

Kissinger: Oh, yeah. Oh, he was—He’s very impressed by you.

Nixon: He’s just a great guy, too.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: It’s a shame he’s leaving, though, isn’t it? What is it—his age?

Kissinger: 60. He’s reaching retirement age, which is compulsory in Britain.

Nixon: Well, we do a lot of business [unclear]. What I have in mind is that the British could block for us in the Community.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: Now, they won’t want to waste it, but now that they’re in, they can make the Community turn [unclear]—

Kissinger: And I think we should have—

Nixon:—and the British can also, in the NATO thing, force the Europeans to think a little more, you know, as to what their obligations are. They can help us. They can help reassure NATO, no doubt. [Unclear] Heath and Trend both asked a very perceptive question. They said, “How much of this can you tell to NATO?” Now, the point is you can tell them goddamn little.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: But on the other hand, the British can, knowing what our thinking is, it occurs to me that Heath—add to it, and it occurs to them as well—can sort of lead the Europeans and reassure them, so that as we do. But, I’m keenly aware of the fact that as far as that FBS is a concern, like you talk in your briefing papers, it’s a goddamn good tradeoff. But, as you know, we’ll scare them to death.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: So, therefore, the thing to do is to prepare it so that they can see that the trade off is in their interest. I also realize that in terms of conventional forces and the rest that how much more we can do re[Page 29]mains—is problematical. And yet, we’ve got to—we’ve got to prepare the Europeans for the fact that they’re living now in a world so different from what it was when NATO was set up that we’ve just got to rethink it. What you said about 7,000 tactical weapons, now is—and that we found uses for a hundred in the last exercise. Now, what in the name of God have we got them there for, and why can’t we use nuclear tradeoffs? They’re getting [unclear]—

Kissinger: Exactly, Mr. President. This is a key point.

Nixon: [Unclear] But what we don’t hear any of this. It’s like when we have NSC meetings. You know, they sit there and you ask and then the Chiefs give their views, and Laird gives his—I think Richardson will be much better—

Kissinger: Much better.

Nixon: Don’t you think so?

Kissinger: Much better. I spent two hours with him—

Nixon: If we force him to think about it—

Kissinger:—this morning.

Nixon: Force him to think about it—

Kissinger: I spent two hours with him, and I said—I told him: “Look, Elliott, I give you two weeks. I won’t send out a directive for two weeks to you. Get some directive to the Chiefs along the lines of what the President has said to you. Establish yourself as the President’s man in the Pentagon.” Because I think it’s better anyway if he takes on the Chiefs.

Nixon: Yeah. But coming into this, coming around to this, my view is that when you get back from China—First, you ought take off two or three days. Second...

[Omitted here is discussion of Kissinger’s return from China and the Middle East.]

Nixon: When do you—When will you meet again with the Russians over there in connection with [unclear]?

Kissinger: About the 1st of March.

Nixon: And then you’re going to have to have some positions? Well, that would be fair. You’ve always been able to handle the agreements—

Kissinger: Well, we don’t have to have a position on the Middle East, although it would help. We do have to have a position on that nuclear treaty.

Nixon: That’s right. We’ve got to have something to give them.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Right?

[Page 30]

Kissinger: Right. And we may have to go a little further than the British want us to go.

Nixon: That doesn’t bother you?

Kissinger: But we may be able to use it—

Nixon: You’ve got to realize that in this instance, even though we reassure the British and the Europeans all the time, that the game is between the Russians and ourselves. You know it, I know it—

Kissinger: And we may use this Poseidon deal to keep the British quiet, and to keep the Russians quiet we just weasel the odds if we do do the Poseidon deal.

Nixon: Keep the Russians quiet?

Kissinger: Well, supposing we tell the Russians—

Nixon: Announce the Poseidon deal then?

Kissinger: Suppose—Well, because if we tell the Russians, “Look, we’ll go half way towards you on this nuclear treaty but in order to keep our allies quiet we have to do...”

Nixon: Hmm.

Kissinger: Then they have to choose. Because I think it is in our interest to keep the British in the nuclear business. The pressure on us will become too great if we are the only nuclear power.

Nixon: Absolutely. Well, I am rather surprised that Heath is willing to state it. Aren’t you?

Kissinger: He realizes they’ll be a nothing-country if they’re not in it.

Nixon: Is that it?

Kissinger: They’ve got no grounds for it. They haven’t got the domestic structure for large armed forces.

Nixon: They’ve still got a fleet.

Kissinger: Yeah, but not...

Nixon: Not much?

Kissinger: Not much.

Nixon: Poseidon would really give them a psychological lift, wouldn’t it?

Kissinger: Yeah. It’d give them another ten years lease on life. Of course, it’s now clear that if we had given them the Skybolt, their airplanes would still be useful.

Nixon: That was a terrible mistake, Henry.

Kissinger: It was a disaster.

Nixon: What did he do that for?

Kissinger: Because we wanted to get the British out of the nuclear prison. Then he didn’t have the guts to go through with it.

[Page 31]

Nixon: Well, it was the McNamara decision wasn’t it—?

Kissinger: Yes.

Nixon: Wasn’t that the McNamara period?

Kissinger: Yep. And then Kennedy, as always, having taken the first step, then when he met Macmillan he caved and gave him Polarises. And they figured they’d screw them on the Polarises later.

Nixon: But Skybolt would have really have—What it would have done would have kept in being a very good British Air Force. Right?

Kissinger: It would have kept in being a hundred and fifty British airplanes, which would stand. [unclear] The first Skybolt only had 300-mile range, but if you had extended it, they could still be—they’d still be a major factor.

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah.

Kissinger: It was a disastrous decision.

Nixon: God, what we’ve done to the British is in this unconscionable. What we did to them in ’56 was terrible.

Kissinger: It was a disaster.

Nixon: What we’ve did and done to them since then, unbelievable what we’ve done. And when you think of what the British have done for the world, you know? Goddamn it, without the British, Hitler would have Europe today.

Kissinger: No question.

Nixon: Hitler would have them.

Kissinger: Own them.

Nixon: The son-of-a-bitch would still be living.

Kissinger: No question.

Nixon: Right?

Kissinger: No question.

Nixon: Without the British—They were the only ones that had kept the line. We say it over and over again, but we talk about our sacrifice—

Kissinger: Of course.

Nixon:—and, sure, we did a hell of a lot, but the British stood there alone, they held the tide back, and, also, the psychological, too.

Kissinger: Trevor-Roper thinks we were a little too effective in World War II.

Nixon: Why?

Kissinger: That if we had made a partial settlement...

Nixon: With the Germans?

Kissinger: ... with the Germans, I mean. He agrees that Hitler had to be defeated, but he...

[Page 32]

Nixon: I agree. Oh, I always felt that.

Kissinger: But he doesn’t think—He said the tragedy was—we were speculating what would have happened...

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: ... if one of these plots on Hitler had succeeded.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: And he felt then we should have made peace quickly...

Nixon: Absolutely—

Kissinger: ... but he felt that we shouldn’t have.

Nixon: Absolutely. The unconditional surrender thing was wrong. I mean, I know how we all felt at that time, but we were totally wrong. And what would have happened, and it would have happened without a question, is that the Germans then would have been there as a—

Kissinger: As barrier—

Nixon:—shield against the damn Russians.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: And, also, the tragedy is—The tragedy is that we threw it all away at a time that we were looking down the Russian throats. That’s what burns me up.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: Henry, for God’s sakes, the United States had ground forces, we had a monopoly on the bomb, the British were still there—

Kissinger: Well, Mr. President—

Nixon:—we were looking down their throats and damn it, and the fact that Roosevelt was sick, probably, everything else, we just gave them everything.

Kissinger: Well, considering what you have done...

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: Uh—

Nixon: You wonder now, the point that I made to Heath and I really feel, I don’t know if—I don’t know whether we can make it. We now have parity. The only reason I don’t think we can—we may be—there’s a considerable doubt if we can make it—is because of the will of Europe, the will of America, and also—Now, the other side of the coin is—the other side is that the Russians have some problems, too.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: And that—That’s why the theory that you expressed yesterday of assuming that they are—that some evil genius is directing all this, that may be true, but it could also be true that there is not an evil genius, that they’re trying to—that it isn’t a planned thing, that it’s just a bureaucracy moving along, moving along—

[Page 33]

Kissinger: That could be. That could be. That could very well be. But we have one practical matter on the SALT delegation.

[Omitted here is discussion of SALT.]

  1. Summary: Nixon and Kissinger discussed Heath’s recent visit to the United States and the state of Western Europe.

    Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 840–12. Secret. The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation published here specifically for this volume. The transcription is part of a larger conversation that lasted from 12:12 p.m. to 1:20 p.m. Memoranda of conversation on Nixon’s meetings with Heath, during Heath’s February 1 to 2 official visit to Washington, are published as Documents 216, 217, and 218.