171. Memorandum From Director of Central Intelligence Helms to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1
Washington, December 10, 1966.
- Soviet Responses to a United States Decision to Deploy ABM Defenses
- The attached paper provided to me by the Board of National Estimates states some views on likely Soviet reactions to an American decision to begin deployment of an anti-missile system. I am in agreement with the judgments made in this paper, and am therefore passing it along as my response to the request made to each of us in Mr. McNamara’s office last Wednesday2 for a personal statement on the issue posed.
- Certain considerations which emerge from this study seem to me to be of primary importance.
- The first is that the difference in scale between the two alternative United States deployment programs proposed would have little bearing on the USSR’s reactions. The Soviets would, even in the case of the more modest program, assume that, once embarked upon, the effort would be enlarged. They would impute to us an intention to reduce to a minimum the threat which their offensive systems pose to us, and thereby to escape from the degree of deterrence which they now have. Either program would convey to the Soviets that we were not content to remain in a condition of mutual deterrence but were striving instead to gain a clear power advantage.
- A second major judgment then follows. Faced with this situation, the primary Soviet concern would be to retain what we call an assured destruction capability, that is, the power to impose vast and unacceptable injury on this country regardless of the circumstances in which nuclear war might begin. The Soviets would therefore deploy ICBM’s of such types and numbers as to insure retention of such a capability. In the end, after enormous costs to them and to us, the condition of mutual deterrence would be likely to obtain as before.
- Finally, the political implications for Soviet society and for Soviet-American relations of such an intensification of the arms race seem to me to be of significant importance. The strains imposed by such an effort would at the very least retard what movement we have thought might be developing toward moderation in the Soviet outlook and [Page 412]toward liberalization in Soviet society. Similarly, a new surge of competitive arming would tend inevitably to sustain tension and mistrust between the two countries, and thereby to limit even more the possibility of moving our relations gradually into more constructive channels.
- Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 70 A 4662, 471.94, ABM, November-December, 1966. Top Secret. A stamped notation on the source text reads: “Mr. Vance has seen.”↩
- December 7; see footnote 2, Document 169.↩
- Top Secret.↩
- There is, however, a differing view within the intelligence community, which is that another system (the Tallinn system) now being widely deployed in the USSR is likely to be an ABM; the implication of this view is that the Soviets are already several years down the road of widespread ABM deployment. [Footnote in the source text.]↩
- See NIE 11-8-66, “Soviet Capabilities for Strategic Attack,” dated 20 October 1966, and NIE 11-3-66, “Soviet Air and Missile Defenses,” dated 17 November 1966. [Footnote in the source text. The summary portions of both are scheduled for publication in volume X.]↩
- We refer here to the Posture A and Posture B programs which have been considered by the Secretary of Defense. Both programs contemplate ABM deployment for defense of key US cities; they differ in the level of defense to be provided. [Footnote in the source text.]↩
- There is even a possibility that Soviet planning has already taken full account of the contingency that the US would deploy ABMs, and that the Soviets would therefore not feel the need to alter their future strategic attack programs at all. We think this unlikely, however, because it has been unnecessary for the Soviets to authorize any expensive new adjustments prior to an actual US decision. They must be aware of the favorable lead-time relationship referred to above, and they can be confident that major US decisions of this sort will be made public. [Footnote in the source text.]↩