195. Telegram From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson, in Texas1

CAP 67291. Literally Eyes Only for the President From Walt Rostow. April 15, 1967.

Herewith Sec. McNamara’s account of his talk with Dobrynin. It is an important document and should help those in Moscow who are serious about stopping the arms race.

You will also note Dobrynin believes serious Vietnam negotiations must begin secretly and without third parties.

Early in April, Mr. McGeorge Bundy called me to say that during a conversation with Ambassador Dobrynin,2 Dobrynin had suggested it might be useful if he and I had a conversation. I mentioned Mac’s suggestion to the President and to Dean, both of whom urged me to arrange to see Dobrynin.

On April 5, I called Dobrynin and reported to him Mac’s conversation with me. Dobrynin hedged a bit as to whether he or Mac had suggested we meet. In any case, he accepted my invitation for lunch on April 11. I gave him the choice of lunching at the Pentagon or at my home. He chose the latter. We met there for approximately two hours today. Among the subjects we discussed were the following:

Non-Proliferation Treaty. Dobrynin asked my view of the prospects for the Treaty. I stated I was uncertain of the attitudes of India and [Page 475] certain of the non-European powers, but believed that after possible clarification of a few points, western European nations, excluding France, would support the Treaty. He asked whether I believed the Federal Republic was really concerned about the U.S. and Soviet Union making a “deal” which would advance their interests at the expense of Germany. I replied that although we had no intention of doing so, many Germans feared we would—this was a factor which both we and the Soviets must take into account in connection with the proposed Treaty.

The Communique of the NATO Nuclear Planning Group.3 Dobrynin referred to a sentence in the communique which stated that Schroeder “led a discussion on the role of host countries in allied arrangements for the planning and use of nuclear weapons.” He asked whether we planned to dilute the authority of the President in the control of nuclear weapons. I replied we had no intention of doing so; under the law we had no authority to do so; we had no plan for asking for a change in the law; and if we were to ask for a change in the law for this purpose, the Congress would probably not accede to our request. I added that no member of NATO had asked that we give up Presidential authority over the use or release of the weapons. The German interest in the role of host countries was associated with their desire for discussion of a possible veto [by?] host countries of the use of such weapons. I stated that heretofore such subject had not been discussed among the nations of NATO—this was one of the reasons why the non-nuclear powers had felt removed from the planning for weapons which were so fundamental to their security. It was to meet this problem that the nuclear planning committee had been established.

While discussing the President’s command of nuclear weapons, I emphasized the steps we had taken to prevent accidental or unauthorized use of such weapons (the emphasis on safety precautions and the introduction of such devices as “Pal”) and I indicated our uncertainty as to whether the Soviet Union had given equal attention to these matters. Although he professed that they had, it was clear that he himself had very little knowledge of the extent to which they had protected against accidental detonation or unauthorized use. I emphasized that as the number of nuclear weapons increased it was becoming increasingly important for the political authorities to monitor the steps that the scientists [Page 476] and military commanders have taken to assure that the weapons would be used only when authorized by appropriate political authorities.

U.S.-Soviet Strategic Weapons Talks. It was clear that this was the primary subject in which Dobrynin was interested. He asked how we expected to approach the talks. I replied that Ambassador Thompson had outlined a possible approach to Gromyko on March 234 and we were surprised that to date we had received no reply to our suggestions. He seemed somewhat embarrassed to have to justify the delay and he indicated that it reflected some difference of view in his government as to how to proceed. He stated he would indicate to his colleagues in Moscow the importance we place on such talks and his own view that it would be wise to proceed with them.

He asked on what philosophy we would approach discussions of strategic weapons systems. I replied as follows:

We believe we must be capable of deterring nuclear or large-scale conventional attacks by members of the Warsaw Pact on any nation of NATO.
We can be assured of having such a deterrent power only if we have a force so strong as to be able to absorb a surprise attack and survive with sufficient power to inflict unacceptable damage on the nations of the Pact.
We believe we have that force today; we must provide it in the future; and the quantity of force required for the future will depend to considerable extent upon the actions of the Soviet Union, i.e., we will react to changes in their offensive or defensive force structure.
We believe the Soviets’ requirement for a deterrent is the same as ours. We believe they have that deterrent today. We believe we cannot prevent them from maintaining it in the future if they act intelligently and if they are willing to use the resources available to them for that purpose.
Based on this philosophy, we conclude that if they deploy an anti-ballistic missile system, we must react to it by adding to our offensive power. We have already started to do so. Similarly, if we were to deploy an anti-ballistic missile system to protect our population against a heavy Soviet attack, they would react by increasing their offensive power. Because each of us would be faced with uncertainties, and we more than they, it is probable that after the installation of the defensive system, we would not only be worse off financially but that our security would be less as well.
For these reasons, we believe it may be possible to develop a series of actions to be taken by each side, which would reduce the military risks and reduce the financial costs without reducing the deterrent capability of either party and without changing the military balance between the Warsaw Pact and NATO.

[Page 477]

I gave Dobrynin a copy of George Wilson’s article from the Washington Post of April 9 and told him the article was based on a “background” conversation with me on Saturday, April 8. Dobrynin probed for specific actions we would be willing to take in return for actions by the Soviet Union, but I refused to give any indication of any particular points we would be willing to agree on, stating that I believed extensive discussion of the philosophy I had outlined above would be required before we could come to any possible agreement, formal or informal, on specific points.

[Here follows discussion of events in Vietnam and China.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, USSR, ABM Negotiations (I) 1/67-9/68, Box 231. Top Secret. A typed notation on the source text indicates that the telegram was received at the LBJ Ranch at 2:20 p.m. on April 15.
  2. Not further identified.
  3. On December 14, 1966, Ministers of the Defence Planning Committee approved recommendations of the Special Committee of NATO Defense Ministers which had been formed in 1965. The recommendations called for the establishment of two permanent bodies for nuclear planning: the Nuclear Defence Affairs Committee, open to all NATO countries; and a smaller Nuclear Planning Group (NPG) of seven countries. The NPG’s first meeting was held April 6-7, 1967, in Washington. For text of the communique, April 7, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1967, pp. 285-286. See also Foreign Relations, vol. XIII, Document 246.
  4. Not further identified.