190. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • ABM Deployment


  • Canada
    • Minister of National Defense Paul Hellyer
    • Elgin B. Armstrong, Deputy Minister of Defense
    • H. Basil Robinson, Deputy Under Secretary, External Affairs
    • Ambassador A. Edgar Ritchie
    • Air Marshal F.R. Sharp, Vice Chief of the Defence Staff
  • United States
    • Secretary of Defense McNamara
    • Gen. J.P. McConnell, Acting Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
    • Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul H. Nitze
    • John S. Foster, Director, Defense Research and Engineering
    • Alain C. Enthoven, Asst. Secy. Defense, Systems Analysis
    • Lt. Gen. A.W. Betts, Chief of Army, R and D and Nike-X
    • George S. Springsteen, Deputy Asst. Secy., EUR

Secretary McNamara welcomed Minister Hellyer and referred to their previous conversations on the question of ABM’s.2 He wanted to continue those consultations because we are now on the point of announcing publicly the deployment of a light ABM system.

[Page 607]

He noted that for some time the research and development on such a system had been going forward and had now developed to the point where decisions were possible. He said that we had continued to press the Soviets for discussions which might lead to some kind of agreement on limiting such deployment but that the Soviets were defensive about it. In response to Mr. Hellyer’s question, Secretary McNamara said that he was certain such discussions would be taken at some time in the future. However, at the moment, he said, Viet-Nam stands in the way. He noted that Kosygin had been pressed very hard on this at the time of the Glassboro Summit and had given a more or less propagandistic reply. We shall, however, continue to press the Soviets and will press it again this week with them.

Secretary McNamara noted that our current budget had several hundred million dollars for the development of an ABM system. We have stated publicly that, depending on the outcome of talks with the Soviets, we might or might not use such funds to protect offensive weapons.3

Secretary McNamara noted that the engineering development of an American ABM system had only recently progressed to the point where a production decision was possible.

He said, however, that today we have reached that point and expressed his satisfaction at the high quality of people and contractors working on the system. He said that the difference between today and the past is that we now have the Chinese threat and an engineering design which permits those in authority to make the decision to proceed with production.

He stressed that we had not yet made a final decision on this but believes we will announce such a deployment next week.4

He said that the purpose of the system is to protect the American population against a Chinese attack in the mid-1970’s and to provide some protection for our offensive weapons against Soviet attack.

Secretary McNamara then asked Mr. Foster to describe the system.

Mr. Foster said that two elements were involved—radars and missiles. [6 lines of source text not declassified] This radar is used to guide the interceptor to the impact point.

The interceptor is the Spartan which has a yield of [3 lines of source text not declassified].

[Page 608]

Mr. Foster noted that the system we proposed to deploy would [1–1/2 lines of source text not declassified].

He said that the eye of the system is the radar. To deny the enemy an opportunity to attack them, [3 lines of source text not declassified].

Mr. Foster stressed that the system is an area defense. There are only a few sites covering the whole country. He said, however, that the system does not provide coverage in depth for our strategic offensive weapons. Therefore, we have considered this problem and have decided to put Sprints in to protect a goodly number of our Minutemen.

The cost of the entire system, he said, is about five billion dollars.

Mr. McNamara said that we were proceeding to undertake consultations with our other allies.5 He said that we would also be talking to the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] here and that our Embassy would be talking with the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. He noted also that we would be talking in the North Atlantic Council tomorrow. He then asked if the Canadians had any questions.

[4–1/2 lines of source text not declassified] Mr. McNamara said that all equipment would be in the United States.

Secretary McNamara stressed that this is a United States financed and oriented system and that we felt it provided an optimum degree of protection for the United States. One by-product, however, is some protection for Canada.

Secretary McNamara then read off the cities in Canada which would be protected—[2 lines of source text not declassified].

He reiterated that all of these would be protected and that this is a by-product of the U.S. system. He said that we could modify the U.S. system at extra cost to provide greater coverage for Canada. If Canada wants greater benefits, however, she must share in the cost and make an early decision. Mr. McNamara stressed that a Canadian decision by the end of this year would be necessary.

Dr. Armstrong asked Secretary McNamara what the cost might be. Secretary McNamara, before responding to the query, noted that Rand, on a recent study of the differences between cost estimates and actual costs on military contracts, found that the actual costs generally exceeded the estimates by 300 to 1,000 per cent. Hence the Canadians should be aware that the costs will be high. Current estimates for the American system are $4 to $5 billion. To increase the Canadian coverage would cost an additional $1 billion. This would give [less than 1 line of source [Page 609] text not declassified] coverage in Canada. It was stressed, however, that these are unescalated figures.

[1 paragraph (2–1/2 lines of source text) not declassified]

Secretary McNamara, again speaking of costs, said that we could reduce costs by reducing the coverage of the entire system. He said that we could achieve a 20 per cent reduction in costs by reducing coverage by 5 per cent. But this, of course, would raise political problems as part of the population would be left out of the coverage.

Mr. Hellyer said that there was no political problem in Canada now with regard to an ABM, because at the moment Canada is violently anti-ABM. But he noted this might change.

Minister Hellyer’s comment led Secretary McNamara to talk about this attitude in the context of the development of neo-isolationism. He noted that this was caused by our view that our allies are standing back from what we regard to be joint responsibilities. He felt that an ABM deployment system could determine a country’s inclusion or exclusion from world affairs. In the case of Canada, he cited particularly Asian affairs.

Minister Hellyer said that he agreed with Mr. McNamara on neo-isolationism but felt that the current attitude on such things in Canada at the moment was determined by Viet-Nam.

Secretary McNamara cited the reaction of our allies in connection with the Middle East. He said that they had just walked away from the situation. He cited all this to indicate that the ABM would have an influence, albeit minor, on all this.

Dr. Armstrong asked how coverage is determined.

Mr. Foster said that it was related to population density and that to cover Canada would not expose U.S. cities.

Secretary McNamara said that we need to know soon if the Canadians want to join because plants must be built from the ground up in order to supply the components of the system.

In response to a question by Minister Hellyer, Secretary McNamara said that the deployment of this system will not lead to the deployment of a Soviet-oriented system. He said that it is not intended to move toward a heavy system and stressed that deployment of this system is not the first step in the deployment of a larger system.

In support of this, Mr. Foster said the proposed system protects all of the United States but it does have some technical limitations. [2–1/2 lines of source text not declassified]

Ambassador Ritchie asked if [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] were included.

Secretary McNamara said that [1 line of source text not declassified].

[Page 610]

Basil Robinson asked what difficulties would ensue if Canada waited two or three years before joining.

Secretary McNamara said that there would be greater cost.

Dr. Armstrong asked, if Canada participated in the system, could some of the equipment be produced in Canada. Mr. McNamara said that we hadn’t looked into this but he doubted it.

Minister Hellyer asked if there was an altitude limitation on explosions.

Mr. Foster replied in the affirmative.

Mr. McNamara said, [4 lines of source text not declassified].

Asked what the relationship of the system was to NORAD, Secretary McNamara said that it does not influence the NORAD agreement. Regarding command and control, it will be assigned to NORAD if the agreement were modified to have NORAD embrace the ABM’s, or it could be assigned elsewhere.

Minister Hellyer noted that to put it in NORAD, or even to suggest putting it in NORAD at this time, would complicate consideration by the Canadians of renewal of the agreement.

When asked whether or not there was a strong possibility of the ABM’s being related to NORAD, Secretary McNamara said that depended upon Canada.

He also noted, in response to Minister Hellyer’s inquiry, that there was no overlap between the Air Defense System and the ABM’s because they were independent systems.

When asked if there would be any savings from having the two systems thrown together, Mr. Foster said that he did not know of any such savings.

In response to Mr. Armstrong’s query, Mr. Foster said that the ABM systems would operate against submarine missiles.

Mr. Hellyer asked why we had to protect missile farms. He said that he thought he remembered Mr. McNamara saying at the last consultations that these farms did not need protection.

Secretary McNamara said that there were two options available here. We could either expand the offensive system or defend the present offensive system. The U.S.S.R. is expanding their offensive system, so we must insure ourselves. We are buying insurance by the protection of the missile farms. Essentially, we are looking toward the time in the future when Soviets expand both their offensive and defensive systems beyond the present NIE threat limits.

Mr. Hellyer asked about the influence of the ABM system on the Air Defense System and the relationship envisaged. Secretary McNamara said that at this level they were unrelated. China has no air threat. He [Page 611] noted that other factors threatened the Air Defense System and not this one. We have problems in the Air Defense field which we want to discuss soon with the Canadians.

Mr. Hellyer asked how we prevent atomic bombs from being brought into American ports in boats.

Secretary McNamara said that we just have to depend primarily upon intelligence. He also noted, however, the degree of intimidation in such a situation would be limited in view of our ability to retaliate.

Minister Hellyer said that he wished to speak for a moment on the situation in Canada.

He said that he believed that Canada would be able to renew the NORAD agreement without inclusion of any reference to ABM’s. If ABM’s are introduced into the agreement, however, it would jeopardize approval of the agreement.

He said that the feeling against ABM’s is so strong in Canada at the present time that there is an inclination, on the part of some members of the government, that when Canada renews the NORAD agreement, the government should issue a statement saying that it will not involve itself in a system at the present time.

Concluding, he said that at the moment there is “absolutely no chance” of Canadian involvement in the U.S. ABM system. His conclusion was that there was no more than one chance in a hundred of getting a decision for such participation.

Ambassador Ritchie asked Secretary McNamara when the announcement would be made. The Secretary replied on Monday.6

Minister Hellyer noted that this announcement, plus having all the hardware in the United States, plus reassuring statements on fallout effects, would serve to clear the air in Canada and make for a much more rational discussion. Then the Canadians could talk of real plans and not hypothetical situations. He noted that the Canadians themselves had been doing some studies on the effect on Canada of the deployment of an American system. He had been discussing these with some Parliamentarians. He felt that the U.S. announcement would facilitate better understanding of the problem.

Secretary McNamara said that Minister Hellyer could publicly state that he had been consulted by the Americans about this deployment.

Mr. Hellyer also noted that, with regard to NORAD, the Canadian position will be officially given at the Permanent Joint Defense Board (PJDB) meeting next week. (Basil Robinson revealed after the meeting that the Cabinet was convening to discuss this issue this afternoon.)

[Page 612]

At this point there was a brief discussion on the possibility of expanding the coverage of the U.S. deployed system by lowering the detonation ceiling from [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. The point made here was that while the ceiling is now at the higher level it could be lowered and increased coverage obtained, but other problems would ensue.

Dr. Armstrong asked if Defense Research Board experts could come down and talk to Mr. Foster about the ABM system.

Secretary McNamara said that he was delighted but that the classification on the system was exceedingly important and this must be given every consideration.

Dr. Armstrong asked what the system did in terms of preventing casualties.

Secretary McNamara reviewed the probable outlook for a Chinese ICBM deployment and said that our estimates were that without an ABM system, and in the event of a Chinese attack, we might suffer a [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]. With the ABM system he said this loss would be practically zero.

He did note, however, that if the Chinese force expands—its missiles rising from 75 to 100—we would have to expand our own system in order to keep the casualty figure down low.

Concerning the Soviets, Secretary McNamara said that we must be wary of regarding the system as giving much help against the Soviets except from the standpoint of defending our missile farms. He said that the Soviets, if they attack, would launch sufficient weapons to do considerable damage.

Dr. Armstrong asked if Secretary McNamara still would adhere to his philosophy that we could offset any Soviet ABM deployment.

Secretary McNamara replied in the affirmative. He said that we must exercise the offensive and take advantage of every technological development to be able to penetrate the Soviet system.

Mr. Hellyer asked if he could do anything further for Secretary McNamara. The Secretary replied in the negative and said that he was very glad to meet with the Canadians and that their officials would be welcome when they wished to come down here.

Mr. Hellyer said that he thought the announcement would come as no surprise and will definitely facilitate rational discussion.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 12. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Springsteen. The meeting was held in the Secretary of Defense’s dining room at the Pentagon.
  2. Secretary McNamara discussed the question of ABMs with Hellyer and other NATO Defense Ministers at the Nuclear Planning Group meeting April 6–7. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XIII, Document 246.
  3. See, for example, Secretary McNamara’s statement before a subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee on January 25 and President Johnson’s statement and replies to questions at his press conference on March 2. Texts are in American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1967, pp. 441–449 and 450–451.
  4. Reference is to McNamara’s upcoming speech to the United Press International Editors and Publishers in San Francisco on September 18. See Document 192.
  5. Regarding these consultations, of which the present meeting was a part, see Document 192.
  6. September 18.