168. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • ABM Systems


  • Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, Ambassador, Soviet Embassy
  • Llewellyn E. Thompson, Ambassador-at-Large, Department of State

I referred to the conversation I had had with the Ambassador yesterday on the subject of ABM Systems.2 I said I had looked up the record and [Page 406] had been surprised to find that I had forgotten that following his conversation with Mr. Foster on March 17, the Secretary had told him in my presence the following day that we would be glad to discuss this matter quietly with the Soviet Union on a bilateral basis.3

The Ambassador pointed out that this was still not a reply to his remarks to Mr. Foster.

I said that in any event, I was authorized to tell him that the President would like nothing better than an agreement on this subject that would hold.4 When the Ambassador pointed out that this statement when translated into Russian would not be clear, I agreed he could say that the President would like nothing better than an effective agreement on this subject.

I continued that we recognized that an agreement would have to cover ICBMs as well as ABMs. I said there were problems that would have to be discussed such as what to do about submarines, if the agreement rested on unilateral means of verification. I said the same might be true for mobile launchers. I said I could tell him that we had already spent four billion dollars on research and development of an ABM System and could now proceed to manufacture and deploy, but said that this would involve an enormous cost. He interjected that according to newspaper reports this could amount to 30 or 40 billion dollars. I said that the cost would depend upon how big a deployment was made but that it could run as high as he had indicated. I said that if we both spend these enormous sums, we would probably both end up still able to inflict terrible damage on the other and we would be prepared to discuss what we could do to avoid this great cost when we both had many other uses for our resources.

I said that we would be glad to have the Soviet Union’s ideas on what channels should be used for discussion of this subject and when. I pointed out that there were several complications. One was that the Secretary would not return until December 185 and that he was very much concerned and interested in this subject. I also pointed out that the [Page 407] Ambassador’s return to Washington was also uncertain. I pointed out that we had not taken up this subject with our Allies and that because of the Ambassador’s departure, we had moved very fast on this matter and that I could not be very precise about our thinking.

Speaking personally, it occurred to me that it would be possible to have a formal agreement, but also that a tacit understanding might be possible in which each of us would refrain from deployment unless we concluded that the other side was going ahead.

Dobrynin said he would take this matter up with Brezhnev and Kosygin immediately upon his return. Because of the meetings which would be taking place in Moscow, he could not tell how soon we would have an answer. I pointed out that the urgency of the problem arose from the need of Secretary McNamara to present his budget to the Congress in January.6

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, DEF 12. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Thompson. The source text is labeled “Part V of V.”
  2. When Thompson brought up the subject of ABMs at a luncheon meeting on December 6, Dobrynin reminded him that the U.S. Government had never responded to the Soviet Government’s reply to Foster on March 17 that the question of limitation of ABM systems was worthy of consideration because of the huge sums of money involved. Dobrynin also told Thompson that the ABM question should be considered together with the problem of delivery systems of offensive nuclear missiles. (Memorandum of Conversation; ibid.) In a supplementary memorandum of this December 6 conversation, Thompson added that Dobrynin asked why Secretary McNamara had made statements about the ABM problem that might only stimulate pressure upon him to deploy an ABM system. When Thompson responded that McNamara, by mentioning evidence of a Soviet deployment and by stating that it had already been taken into account in the administration’s plans, “had intended to build a kind of backfire against just such a demand,” Dobrynin remarked that he understood and had already come to the conclusion that “this was a kind of anticipatory blow.” (Memorandum, December 7; ibid.)
  3. A memorandum of the Secretary’s March 18 conversation with Dobrynin on limitations on ICBMs and ABMs is ibid., DEF 18.
  4. In a telephone conversation with President Johnson earlier that day, Secretary McNamara said that Thompson wanted authorization to tell Dobrynin at their 4:30 p.m. meeting that afternoon that the President endorsed talks with the Soviet Union on the ABM issue. President Johnson replied, “Yes … Let’s go ahead. That sounds good.” He added that he could not think of anything that “would be more desirable” than “an agreement that would hold in that field.” (Johnson Library, Records and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation between President Johnson and Secretary McNamara, December 7, 1966, 2:16 p.m., Tape F6612.01, Side A)
  5. Secretary Rusk was abroad from December 4-18, first visiting Japan, then Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Iran, and finally France, where he attended the NATO Ministerial Meeting December 13-16.
  6. For excerpts of McNamara’s budget statement, January 25, 1967, see Documents on Disarmament, 1967, pp. 5-24.