210. Telegram From the Department of State to the Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization 1

37035. NATUS. For Cleveland from the Secretary. (Paris deliver to Cleveland 8:00 A.M. September 14) You should make following statement in special NAC meeting Thursday, September 14. Because of importance that language in variety of US statements be consistent statement should be given verbatim as follows:

“I would like today to give you a further report on the US Government’s thinking with respect to the ABM problem. I should here stress to you that there has as yet been no announcement in the US of the decision of my Government, described below, concerning ABM deployment. We expect to make this decision known shortly, but we wanted you to be aware of it in advance in line with the promise that I made last March to keep you advised of our thinking on this matter. Meanwhile, I must urge that what I say here today be held in the strictest of confidence. Of course, you will wish to advise senior officials in your own governments about the major points made in my statement.

The ABM problem has, as you know, been a matter of interest in the Alliance for some months. Last March I described to the Council our efforts to open discussions with the Soviet Union to limit competition in strategic arms.2 Since then we have made several efforts to open discussions with the Soviet Union, and the matter was discussed at the Glassboro meeting between President Johnson and Premier Kosygin.3 I must report to you again that the Soviets have thus far not agreed to initiate serious talks. We are, however, continuing to press them to begin conversations.

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Meanwhile, our own analyses of the ABM problem and the difficult and complex examination of whether or not to begin deployment of any ABM system has continued, and has brought us to the point where we expect now to announce soon a decision to deploy a limited system consisting of an ‘area’ defense of the United States together with a ‘terminal’ defense of some Minuteman sites. In general, the planned deployment has two purposes: to provide protection against the sort of missile attack which the Chinese might be capable of launching during the 1970’s, and to protect our Minuteman missiles against a possible counterforce attack by the Soviets. We expect to have an initial operating capability in 1972. The deployment in question is scheduled to be completed by 1974.

I also want you to understand why it is that we are proposing to initiate this deployment. As I indicated above, we are doing this for two reasons—to provide area protection for the US against the sort of unsophisticated attack which the Chinese might be able to mount in the 1970’s and to protect Minutemen missiles. These two points may be considered separately.

With respect to China, I should start with a brief summary of our current estimate of Chinese objectives and capabilities. It is clear that the Chinese are placing a high priority on the development of nuclear weapons and means of delivery. It now appears to us that a principal CPR objective is to develop as rapidly as possible an intercontinental missile force capable of delivering nuclear weapons. We believe that they could have an initial ICBM operational capability as early as the early 1970’s, and that they might deploy a significant number of operational ICBMs by the mid-1970’s. Their initial system will be relatively crude and highly vulnerable, and they will not be capable of penetrating even a thin ABM defense such as we have described above.

With respect to defense of the Minutemen, let me stress that by doing this we are hedging against a possible future improvement in the Soviet force, not against the present threat. We have, over the past several years, examined several ways of improving the survivability of the Minuteman. We have concluded that an ABM defense for at least a portion of our Minuteman force is the best means of insuring their survivability. We will thus insure the undiminished assured destruction capability of our landbased strategic missile forces. I may add that it is to this assured destruction capability, and not to any defensive measures, that we look and will continue to look for the deterrence of a Soviet attack against our own populations and those of our Allies.

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As Secretary McNamara made clear at the NPG meeting last April,4 we will not attempt to defend our cities against the sort of sophisticated missile attack the Soviets are already capable of launching. We believe that the Soviets, like ourselves, can and will respond to any threat to their Assured Destruction capability by making the appropriate offsetting improvements in their offensive forces. We have no plans to create a large scale urban defense directed against Soviet missiles. We intend to make this clear to the Soviets.

We also believe, on the basis of discussions with some of the major Asian countries, that our deployment of a limited ABM defense will help to reassure them and will reduce the pressures for acquisition of independent nuclear capabilities in Asia.

We intend to explain our decision to our friends in Asia as we have to you, making particularly clear that it is not based on any major changes in our assessment of the Chinese threat, but is a prudent security measure which will enhance the security of all.

We believe that it remains highly desirable and feasible for the US and the Soviet Union to discuss means of limiting competition in strategic arms. In fact, our current action may even stimulate more serious interest in such discussions by the Soviets. We think there are ways in which to define an agreed limited level of ABM deployment which would meet the objectives outlined above and not require other complex compensatory actions by the two major powers. As I have told you, we have not had much success in developing such discussions to date but we intend to keep trying. We are informing the Soviet Union of our decision and forthcoming announcement, and at the same time strongly reaffirming our belief that we should promptly enter into discussions on possible ways to limit the strategic arms race.

We also believe that this decision should in no way interfere with the conclusion of the non-proliferation treaty. In so far as the defense is directed against China, it should in fact make clear that the US intends to counter Chinese nuclear capability. Thus, those countries which fear the growth of Chinese nuclear capabilities need not feel that their only alternative is to create a costly nuclear arsenal themselves.

We are prepared to continue to consult through such mechanisms as the Disarmament Experts who will be meeting today, and the NPG which will be meeting later this month.5

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In closing, may I once again request that my Government’s thinking and decision concerning the ABM problem, as I have described them above, be held in strictest confidence. Thank you.”

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, DEF 18-4. Top Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Vincent Baker (EUR/RPM) on September 13; cleared by Philip J. Farley (G/PM), Wyle (DOD/OSD/ISA), Leddy (EUR), Fisher (ACDA), and Robert G. Houdek (S/S-S); and approved by Rusk. Beginning in mid-1967, the dates and transmission times of all outgoing Department of State telegrams were in six-figure date-time groups. The “Z” refers to Greenwich mean time.
  2. No specific record of this communication with the Council or of a Council meeting has been found. However, Fisher expressed hope in his undated Memorandum for the President (see attachment 2 to Document 189) that following Foster’s March 9-16 European trip to consult with the NATO allies on the NPT, a meeting of the North Atlantic Council would be held as soon as possible.
  3. President Johnson and Soviet Premier Kosygin met for personal discussion of world problems in two separate sessions, June 23 and 25 at Glassboro, New Jersey. The two leaders devoted their discussions primarily to the crisis in the Middle East, the Vietnam war, efforts to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons, limitations on anti-ballistic missile systems, and bilateral U.S.-Soviet relations. Documentation on this meeting is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XIV.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 195.
  5. See footnote 6, Document 202.