156. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for Science and Technology (Hornig) to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1


  • Soviet Reaction to ABM Deployment

The following is a rather hasty paper. I hope, over the weekend, to put something more thoughtful together.

A key question is whether the Russians consider that we are responding to a large-scale deployment on their part, or whether they see us as escalating the competition.

The analysis shown to us assumes that a Soviet ABM deployment is under way. Now, while there is little doubt that the Moscow system is an ABM system, there is a real question whether the Tallinn system which is being deployed rapidly (23 sites as of 12/7/66) is for air defense or ABM use. The most recent NIE (10–26–66)2 concludes that it is probably an air [Page 477] defense system, although it may have marginal ABM capabilities. All of the people I have had look at the problem (the PSAC Reconnaissance Panel, Chairman Dr. Edwin Land, and Strategic Offense and Defense Panel, Chairman Dr. Marvin Goldberger) concur in this view (but DIA does not).

The essence of the problem is that the radars at the Tallinn sites are too small to give an area capability unless early warning and acquisition are performed by the Hen House radars at distant locations. But (1) the large Hen House radars are soft and undefended, and (2) some of the sites are not covered by Hen House radars; e.g. the last three discovered are too far East. If not used in conjunction with Hen House radars, this is a point defense system with a radius of coverage of about 30–200 miles. In that case, some of them are very poorly sited, e.g. one on a peninsula in the Crimea (Feodosiya) which would largely defend water, although it is excellently sited to bar intrusion by aircraft.

Therefore, I conclude that it would be incorrect to proceed from the assumption that a general deployment is underway in the USSR and we must take into account the possibility that the Soviets do not see themselves as having initiated one. In this case they would regard the deployment of a general system—even a “thin” one—if undertaken on anything like a crash basis as a new threat to their deterrence and would react strongly to it.

One might note, though, that for this same reason they might react favorably to proposals to mutually limit ABM deployments on a mutual example basis.

In judging possible Soviet reaction, one cannot underestimate the extent to which they apparently feel themselves “under the gun.” My basis for saying that is that I am possibly the only American who has recently spoken directly to Marshal Malinovsky, the Minister of Defense (November 7, 1964)3 and who has seen the reddening of his face when he says, “Your Mr. McNamara thinks he can overwhelm us with his thousands of rockets.” For this reason I see their increased hard missile deployment rate as an effort to catch up and eliminate the threat of a first strike by us. I suspect they are keenly aware of our advantage in both missiles and aircraft and would react as strongly as they could if their deterrence were threatened.

Consequently, if we are to have any hope of stabilizing a race which in the end poses increasingly serious threats to both sides and becomes increasingly expensive, it seems unwise to start down a new road unless: (1) there is better evidence than we have now that we face a new threat, (2) [Page 478] the deployment would give us a real military advantage (which it appears not to), (3) it can be done in a way which minimizes the provocation or new challenge unless there is reason to believe that the pressure would produce a “truce.”

For all these reasons, I would continue to delay a deployment decision until the diplomatic possibilities have been more thoroughly explored and the intelligence has improved. If this is not practicable, I would start slowly on an experimental basis with a “thin” system—for the additional reason that there are still many technical problems to be solved before a sensible system can be put together.

One other factor should also be considered. Some will argue that the continued engagement of their technical talent in these areas will impoverish the civilian economy. The effect might be the reverse—that by being forced to work on priority problems of the greatest technical sophistication they will acquire a higher technological capacity than they would otherwise achieve—if fewer cars, consumer goods, etc. There is reason to believe that although their technology definitely lags ours in substantially all areas, their relative position may be improving (e.g. as shown by a comparison of their radars or aircraft with ours in 1950 and in 1966). I think it is clear that their best engineering, quality production and management is in the defense industries. But I have seen first hand that there is no shortage of highly trained scientists and engineers in the non-defense area (they train twice as many as we do). I have also noted that key people in science (e.g. Keldysh, President of the Academy), in the electronics, computer and communications industry have a defense or military background. Hence, one can hypothesize that there may in fact be a strong “spin off” such as we ascribe to DOD, NASA and AEC.

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330 70 A 4662, 471.94 ABM (Nov & Dec) 1966. Top Secret. “Mr. Vance has seen” is stamped on the memorandum. Regarding the context for this memorandum, see footnote 1, Document 155.
  2. Not further identified.
  3. No other record of this conversation has been found.