Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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You Might Have Missed: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976

by Micah Zenko
November 18, 2011

President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger

President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger.

Highlights from the recently-released Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, Volume XV, Soviet Union, June 1972-August 1974:

Post-Moscow Summit Discussions and Issues, June–August 1972, Memorandum of Conversation (165).

At this point Brezhnev [General Secretary, Communist Party of the Soviet Union] of the asked that no notes be taken, and proceeded to relate a story about a dog race in America. The dog’s owner was exhorting the dog to win, and the dog kept replying, “Don’t worry.” As he rounded the grandstand, running last, the owner shouted at him, but the dog merely replied, “Don’t worry.” Finally, the race ended and the irate owner asked the dog what happened, and the dog replied, “Well, it just didn’t work out.” Brezhnev continued that the dog made “every effort” but failed, and this was his point in relation to the discussion on nuclear weapons: We cannot just make “every effort.”

Conversation Between President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger): Washington, March 16, 1973 (451).

Kissinger: On China, I’m getting worried. I’m beginning to think that they [the Soviet Union] want to attack China. [unclear, Brezhnev?] took me hunting. He—you hunt there from a tower. You sit in a tower and shoot these poor bastards as they come by to feed. They put out the food. Well, when night fell, and he had killed about three boars and God knows what else—and that’s when it was dark—he unpacked a picnic dinner and said: “Look, I want to talk to you privately—nobody else, no notes.” And he said: “Look, you will be our partners, you andwe are going to run the world”—
Nixon: Who’d he use as translator on that?
Kissinger: Sukhodrev. And he said: “The President and I are the only ones who can handle things.” He said: “We have to prevent the Chinese from having a nuclear program at all costs.” I’ve got to get that information to the Chinese, and we’ve got to play a mean game here—
Nixon: I know.
Kissinger: —because I don’t think we can let the Russians jump the Chinese.
Nixon: No.

Memorandum by the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) for the President’s File: San Clemente, June 23, 1973 (536).

The President: How long until China becomes a major nuclear country?
Brezhnev: In answer to your question, we must take into account various analyses. I believe that in the course of the next 15 years they will not reach a stage we will have then; but in ten years they will have weapons equal to what we have now. We have tactical weapons sufficient to deal with them now. But we must bring home to them that this cannot go on. We will adhere strictly to our agreements. But the Chinese will act in their fashion. In 1963, during our Party Congress, I remember how Mao said: “Let 400 million Chinese die, 300 million will be left.” Such is the psychology of this man. Afterwards, the people of the world became afraid, and a new phase started of the arms race. Then when Mao saw that his idea was not gaining support, he made a somersault, asking us to sign the principles of coexistence with him. Now Chinese people are saying they will never use nuclear weapons. I don’t believe them. They won’t sign any agreements. These people are ruthless.

(3PA: Both Nixon and Breznev were way off. In 1973, the U.S. had 28,000 nuclear weapons and the Soviet Union had 16,000. According to NRDC, China today is only estimated to have 240 nuclear weapons.)

Memorandum of Conversation: Moscow, October 22, 1973 (606).

Dobrynin [Soviet Ambassador to the United States]: In Washington one of your colleagues told me that it’s hard to get people to learn foreign languages, therefore they need to provide incentives. He told me a joke about a cat and a mouse. The mouse is in his hole and the cat is trying to get him to come out. He goes, “Meow, meow.” But the mouse is too smart; he doesn’t come out. Then the cat goes, “Rowr, rowr.” The mouse thinks, “The dog has appeared. The cat has disappeared. And I know that the dog doesn’t bite the mouse. So it is safe.” So the mouse goes out, and the cat gets him. The moral of the story is, this is the advantage of knowing foreign languages. [Laughter]

Memorandum of Conversation: Geneva, December 22, 1973 (633-634).

Secretary Kissinger: I have never been in an Arab country and never had much dealings with them. I frankly thought I could get through my term of office and let someone else do it. To be honest. Now that I have started, I will finish it and with enthusiasm.
Minister Gromyko [Soviet Foreign Minister]: It is an extremely complicated world.
Secretary Kissinger: Extremely. And you can’t count on every word they say. [Laughter]
Minister Gromyko: Should I comment or not?
Secretary Kissinger: [Laughter] No. That is why we should communicate; otherwise the confusion will be total.
Secretary Kissinger: Have you been in Africa? You might enjoy hunting there.
Minister Gromyko: I have been in Arab Africa, not black Africa.
Secretary Kissinger: In Algiers?
Minister Gromyko: In passing. I passed through there to attend the Crimean Conference [in 1945].
Secretary Kissinger: I’ve always had respect for Stalin’s foreign policy. He had a long-range vision.
Minister Gromyko: I agree.
Secretary Kissinger: [Offers toast] To our cooperation.
Minister Gromyko: To our cooperation.

Memorandum by Secretary of State Kissinger for the President’s File: Washington, December 26, 1973 (649).

The President interjected with a question: What was the Soviet intelligence on how long it would take the Chinese to catch up with the United States and the Soviet Union? We thought it was twenty years. Why did the Soviets think it was 10–15 years? Ambassador Dobrynin asked the President what the question was. Did he still think it would take twenty years? The President turned to Dr. Kissinger, who said that it was not a question of a Chinese capability comparable to that of the United States or Soviet Union, but a Chinese capability to do extreme damage. Ambassador Dobrynin emphasized the extreme demands of the Chinese in their border dispute.

Memorandum of Conversation: Moscow, March 25, 1974 (724).

Secretary Kissinger: But our impression is you do have nuclear weapons in socialist countries.
General Secretary Brezhnev: We have no atomic weapons anywhere and don’t give atomic weapons to anyone.
Secretary Kissinger: We don’t give them to anyone but these aircraft carriers are related to the situation in the Middle East.
General Secretary Brezhnev: That would be tantamount to our giving surface-to-surface missiles to Egypt and Syria and saying…
Secretary Kissinger: That is different, Mr. General Secretary. Aircraft carriers are under American control.
General Secretary Brezhnev: Egypt and Syria would be only too happy to have surface-to-surface missiles.
Secretary Kissinger: The Egyptians told us you gave them surface-to-surface missiles. And Arabs never tell an untruth.
General Secretary Brezhnev: Sadat was offended at us for not allowing him to fire surface-to-surface missiles even without nuclear warheads.
Secretary Kissinger: One [was fired] on the last day of the war.
General Secretary Brezhnev: They were under our control the whole time.
Secretary Kissinger: We thought it was a very constructive move. But we haven’t given surface-to-surface missiles to the Israelis.
General Secretary Brezhnev: That may be true, but I am talking about the situation as it stands. Incidentally, Egypt tells you one thing and us another.
Secretary Kissinger: I find it hard to believe Arabs wouldn’t tell you the exact truth. [Brezhnev and Gromyko smile; Kissinger laughs.]
General Secretary Brezhnev: I think my smile says enough.
Secretary Kissinger: Mr. General Secretary, I am sure some countries in the Middle East are telling you one thing and us another, and would like nothing better than to have us quarrel because of them. Relationships in that area are even more temporary than elsewhere. So we have no illusions.
General Secretary Brezhnev: We have some information that Libya is about to unite with America. Or Libya wants America to join it, under the aegis of Qaddafi.
Foreign Minister Gromyko: But you can’t have two Presidents!

Memorandum of Conversation: Moscow, March 26, 1974 (779).

There was a break from 7:05 to 7:30. Mr. Lodal [Director of Program Analysis, NSC] came in. Brezhnev roughed up Lodal’s hair and commented that he needed a haircut; Kissinger agreed. Dobrynin pointed out that Lodal’s hair was not long by American standards. On his way back to his seat, Brezhnev picked up Mr. Rodman’s [NSC Staff] case containing Dr. Kissinger’s briefing books and walked off into the next room. Mr. Rodman followed him. Brezhnev turned around and came back. Mr. Rodman retrieved the case. Mr. Gromyko affirmed that it was a joke. The meeting then resumed.

Memorandum of Conversation: Geneva, April 29, 1974 (869).

Staff. A friend said, “You’re crazy.” He said, “Is that a necessary qualification to be on the General Staff?” [Laughter]
Kissinger: Our General Staff accuses you of betraying the countryif you agree to ban things they didn’t plan to do anyway.

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