231. Memorandum From the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Bohlen) to Secretary of State Rusk 1



  • US-Soviet Strategic Missile Negotiations

On March 16, following a briefing which ACDA gave you, you instructed me to form a committee to examine the ACDA recommendations on controlling the strategic arms race. This review has now been [Page 565] completed by representatives of the Department, ACDA, and DOD/ISA, and I wish to submit for your consideration and approval the following proposals.

Though the working group was initially in substantial agreement on these proposals, I understand that Ambassador Foster has certain reservations and will be submitting to you a separate memorandum on the subject. However, the proposals set forth in this memorandum have the full approval of Ambassador Thompson and DOD/ISA. They will be presented simultaneously by DOD/ISA to Secretary Clifford. If you and Secretary Clifford agree on them, they will be checked with the JCS prior to submission to the President for his approval.


The main aim of the US in engaging the Soviets in negotiations on strategic missiles would be to reach an agreement which would maintain a stable US-Soviet strategic deterrent relationship, primarily by controlling the number of offensive and defensive missile launchers. Even if unsuccessful in this quest, the US would benefit indirectly from such talks. They would promote a better understanding of the concerns each side has in the developing missile race. Also, a new US-Soviet agreement to hold such talks, if announced in the near future, would help secure support for the NPT (see below).

Initial Negotiating Position

The US should be prepared to submit a concrete initial negotiating position to the Soviets even prior to their agreement to set a date for talks. Some Soviet contacts have intimated that such a step would help the Soviet Government (i.e., those favoring talks) to reach a positive decision on this matter. It would be taken as an earnest of our intent and help remove doubts that, in proposing talks, we were merely bent on an intelligence fishing expedition.

The attached initial negotiating position (Tab A), drafted in the form of an oral statement to be presented by Ambassador Thompson in Moscow, is a revised version of the paper submitted to you, the Secretary of Defense, and the Acting Director of ACDA in early March.2 It incorporates recommendations made by ACDA relating to the general principles which would underlie a strategic arms agreement. However, like its immediate predecessor, it essentially is based on the draft proposal approved by you on September 23, but modified to take account of objections subsequently voiced by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.3

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Whatever may be the decision on the timing of the delivery of this oral statement, it would be desirable to reach agreement now within the US Government on an initial negotiating position, so as to provide a base for further examination of the problem and to be prepared for talks should they eventuate.

Timing of Presentation

As for timing the proposed initiative, both you and Secretary Clifford indicated in early March that the time was not ripe for such a move. This may still be the case today. However, new considerations have arisen. The President’s initiative, and the North Vietnamese response, on limiting bombing have cast a better international climate in regard to the Vietnam War. Also, on March 14, the ENDC completed its work on the NPT and submitted a draft treaty to the UN General Assembly for its consideration and endorsement. Preliminary soundings indicate that General Assembly support for the NPT may be anything but overwhelming. A number of non-nuclear weapons states have complained, among other objections, that the nuclear powers have assumed no meaningful obligation under the NPT to move forward with the business of disarmament.

In order to dispel this charge, as well as to hold out an added inducement to the Soviets to agree to talks, it is recommended that Ambassador Thompson deliver the proposed statement under Tab A promptly after his return to Moscow (April 17) and that he preface this statement with a message from the President to Chairman Kosygin (Tab B), arguing that it would be advantageous to the cause of the NPT if the US and USSR were to announce during the General Assembly session their agreement to commence on a given date bilateral discussions of limitations on strategic arms.4

Negotiating Tactics

Once negotiations begin, we should pursue in parallel discussions of concrete proposals and of principles, embodying the concept of an agreed limitation on the strategic arms race. The latter dialogue would be helpful in convincing the Soviets of the desirability of our proposal, as well as in obtaining a clearer idea of Soviet thinking on this arms-disarmament complex, which in turn might influence our final negotiating position. The general principles contained in the ACDA briefing paper of March 16 could serve as guidelines for such a discussion.

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Negotiating Problems and Alternatives

It is recognized that our initial negotiation position contains a number of significant omissions and almost certainly would be challenged by the Soviets on certain points. Several of them were examined in the ACDA study. In some problem areas, it would be relatively easy to construct convincing rebuttals. In other cases, we might at some point want to reconsider our position. However, I do not recommend that decisions on these problem issues be made at this point. This would have to be done after negotiations have been in progress for some time and we have a clearer idea of Soviet intentions.

I understand that S/P, at your instruction, is preparing a separate study on the problem of strategic arms control and that it proposes a rather substantial reduction of missiles. This study will be given careful consideration and may prove useful for future contingencies. However, I believe that, at this stage at least, our aim should be to obtain Soviet agreement to level off the strategic arms race.

Alternative contingency proposals such as this could be considered by the Committee of Principals.

Recommended Action

That you approve the proposed oral statement set forth in Tab A, either to be delivered shortly (see below) or to be held as a contingency position.
That you approve the proposed Presidential letter to Chairman Kosygin (Tab B), to be delivered along with the above oral statement by Ambassador Thompson on his return to Moscow.5
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Tab A6

Action: AmEmbassy Moscow. Subject: Strategic Missile Talks.

You should seek earliest opportunity to approach Kosygin or highest available responsible Soviet official to request again a favorable response to our proposal7 for early talks on strategic missile controls. You should outline our views on possible strategic missile controls and on desirability of early talks, as set forth below; text of your oral remarks may at your discretion be left with Soviets.
Begin Text: The United States Government initially proposed discussion on strategic anti-ballistic missile systems because of our belief that deployment of such systems, even if justified in military terms, could not help but spur on a new and costly cycle of the strategic nuclear arms race. We agreed, however, in the very first exchange of views with the Soviet Government’s suggestion that such discussions should include offensive strategic nuclear missile delivery systems, as well as anti-missile defensive systems. This has remained throughout, and continues to be, the position of the United States Government.
The United States Government has proposed these talks within the framework of the Agreed Principles of September 20, 1961,8 accepted by our two Governments as a basis for disarmament negotiations and as offering the best means to begin to make progress towards general and complete disarmament. As we have noted earlier, we believe that it should be possible to reach agreement more quickly on important limited measures curbing the strategic arms race, without waiting for agreement on all of the difficult problems inevitably involved in a program for general and complete disarmament. We believe that measures to curb the strategic arms race would help pave the way for substantial reductions, and would have great value in themselves inasmuch as they would avoid a further costly and possibly dangerous spiral of strategic missile deployments. The first step in achieving meaningful strategic arms control should be to restrain the further growth of strategic forces. It may not [Page 569] prove easy to find mutually acceptable limitations, but we are prepared to work earnestly toward that end, and we assume what you will as well.
It should be possible for our two countries alone to agree on steps to curtail the strategic arms race, and even to make reductions in existing forces, without the necessary participation of others. Moreover, early agreement between our two countries would be of great value in increasing the likelihood that other countries would sign and continue to adhere to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. We will be demonstrating that we are moving toward disarmament as we are committed by the treaty to try to do.
Over a year has passed since we first proposed these discussions. Not only is delay regrettable, but the problem which we are facing can become more difficult with time. However, our task is to take account of the existing situation in devising mutually acceptable measures to curtail the strategic arms race. As each month goes by, the existing situation is one of greater and more complex armaments on both sides. An agreement a year ago, when the United States first proposed talks, might have prevented many of the increases on both sides which are now in process. An agreement today to curtail future deployments would have the same effect as an agreement a year from now to effect a reduction in deployed weapons; it should also be easier to negotiate, and would result in important savings of resources for us both.
We recognize that limiting strategic arms consistent with our mutual interests and common goals is a complex task, given the nature of contemporary strategic offensive and defensive missile systems and the many factors affecting and determining military capabilities. Our two nations have different levels and kinds of strategic weapons systems and we may not necessarily share identical evaluations regarding the utility and roles of these systems. However, we believe that equitable and mutually beneficial strategic arms limitations can be attained provided we start with a common understanding of a problem and are striving for similar goals. In this context, we believe that there are some basic principles underlying the early achievement of any such mutually beneficial restraints on the strategic arms race.
Any strategic arms limitation must provide balanced strategic postures acceptable to both sides and should include both offensive and defensive weapons systems. Both sides should be confident of a reasonable second-strike deterrent force. These two related fundamental principles should provide an acceptable strategic relationship on which to base strategic arms control agreements. It would be futile for us to attempt to define such concepts as “superiority” or “parity”, these notions have little meaning in a situation, such as the present, in which each of us is certain that the other has the capability under any circumstances to inflict unacceptable damage. We recognize that some adjustments [Page 570] in the deployment of the strategic forces of each side might be appropriate. Such adjustments would be designed to meet our common objective of providing assurance to both sides that their security will be maintained or enhanced, while at the same time avoiding possible disruptive effects and the great cost of a continuation of the strategic arms race.
Our respective national means of verification should be adequate for achieving meaningful strategic arms control constraints. The United States is prepared to consider the possibilities of placing maximum reliance on such verification of limitations on deployment of strategic offensive and defensive weapons systems. For other more comprehensive measures, some supplementary inspection arrangements may be required; we would be prepared to include the minimum inspection necessary for effective verification. Our position on this subject is flexible and is governed by the principles that verification of compliance with agreed undertakings is necessary, that maximum reliance should be placed on unilateral ability to verify compliance, and that when additional procedures are required for adequate verification, they must, of course, be provided.
With all of the above considerations in mind, the United States suggests that consideration be given to cessation of the initiation of construction of any additional strategic offensive missile launchers. This weapon category should include strategic missiles of medium and intermediate range (ranges greater than 1,000 KM), as well as longer-range intercontinental missiles. If the agreement were to be limited to fixed land-based missile systems, we would be prepared to rely exclusively on national means of verification. In view of the difficulty of verifying through national means the deployment of sea-based or mobile land-based strategic missile launchers, the possibility of an agreed limitation applying to these weapons could be the subject of discussion.
The situation with respect to strategic defensive anti-missile systems is more complex. While some ABM systems may be required in light of the offensive strategic missile systems of other countries, we must recognize that as far as our own two countries are concerned they may also be an important factor in the strategic balance between us. This importance will, of course, be increased if there are agreed limitations on offensive missile systems. In general, it would seem that the most feasible limitation on strategic anti-missile defensive systems would be an agreed number of anti-missile launchers and associated radars which each side could deploy. As in the case of strategic offensive missile systems, we believe that national means of verification would provide assurance with respect to the scale of deployment of fixed land-based defensive anti-ballistic missile launchers and associated radars. Concerning land-mobile or sea-based anti-ballistic missile systems, the same [Page 571] considerations would prevail as are noted above in regard to mobile offensive systems.
The United States Government has presented these views in the expectation that representatives of our two Governments will meet shortly to discuss these matters.

End Text.9

Tab B10

Action: AmEmbassy Moscow. Subject: Strategic Missile Talks.

1. You should deliver without delay the following personal message from President Johnson to Kosygin:

Begin Text:

Dear Mr. Chairman:

Ambassador Thompson has informed me of the talk he had with Foreign Minister Gromyko on March 26. Concerning the proposal for our two governments to hold discussions with the aim of controlling the strategic arms race, I understand Foreign Minister Gromyko to say that the Soviet Government is still studying the problem and that it attaches great importance to it.

I am gratified with the latter statement because it corresponds to my deep conviction about the need for such negotiations. I am concerned, however, about the necessity to initiate meaningful discussion as soon as possible. As the United States Government has noted in previous communications, each passing month increases the difficulty of reaching agreement on this matter as, from a technical and military point of view, it is becoming more complex. But there is an additional consideration, which leads me to write you this letter.

As you are aware, the United Nations General Assembly has begun its deliberations on the draft Non-Proliferation Treaty. This draft represents the joint product of the efforts of our two governments. I am confident that you share my earnest hope that it will obtain the maximum number of adherents. During the resumed GA session our efforts to achieve a treaty that can be opened for signature in the near future with the prospect of obtaining a maximum number of adherents will face a most critical test. Efforts undoubtedly will be made by some states to [Page 572] postpone the opening of the treaty for signature at least until after the conference of non-nuclear-weapon states has been held in the fall of this year. It is important that our two governments do everything possible to give the greatest impetus to world sentiment favorable to opening the treaty for signature at an early date.

To this end, I propose that our two governments announce early in the course of the General Assembly debate that they have agreed to commence bilateral negotiations on an agreement to limit strategic offensive and defensive missiles within a specific time from the date of the announcement. I am convinced that such a declaration, of primary importance in itself, would do much to ensure the successful completion of work on the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Through these private bilateral discussions it should be possible for our two countries to reach some agreement on initial steps for curtailing the strategic arms race. We believe that equitable and mutually beneficial strategic arms limitations can be attained provided we can reach a common understanding of the problem and are striving for similar goals. In our view, any strategic arms limitation must provide balanced strategic postures acceptable to both sides and should include both offensive and defensive weapons systems. Both sides should be confident of a reasonable second-strike deterrent force. These two related fundamental principles should provide an acceptable strategic relationship on which to base strategic arms control agreements. We continue to believe that meaningful strategic arms control constraints involving limitations on the deployment of certain strategic offensive and defensive weapons systems can be adequately verified by relying on our respective national capabilities. Progress on controlling the strategic arms race, while important in itself, will also contribute to our mutual objective of achieving and maintaining the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

I hope and trust that these actions will bring our two governments into closer working relationships.

Sincerely yours, Lyndon B. Johnson


  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 383, Central Policy File: FRC 86 A 5, Folder 2915. Top Secret; Nodis. Drafted by John P. Shaw (G/PM) on April 2. There is a typed notation on the source text for Ambassador Thompson’s concurrence, but it is not initialed.
  2. The paper sent to Rusk, Clifford, and Fisher in March has not been further identified.
  3. The draft proposal approved by Rusk on September 23 has not been further identified.
  4. Tab B is a telegram to Moscow, drafted by John P. Shaw (G/PM), Sidney N. Graybeal (ACDA) and Lawrence D. Weiler (ACDA) on April 24; cleared by Ambassador Bohlen and Foster (ACDA); and approved by Secretary Rusk. A typewritten notation on Tab B reads: “Draft. See OD-ACDA-2915 dated April 5, 1968, (not sent in this form, per Mr. Shaw).” Tab B was apparently revised and incorporated into a May 2, 1968, message which was sent directly from President Johnson to Chairman Kosygin. See Document 237.
  5. There is no indication whether Secretary Rusk approved or disapproved these recommendations.
  6. Top Secret; Nodis. It is uncertain if this undated, unnumbered telegram was ever sent to Moscow. It was drafted by John P. Shaw (G/PM) and Mort Halperin (DOD/ISA) on April 3, and prepared for clearance by Bohlen, Clifford, and Thompson, and for approval by Rusk, but no initials appear on the source text.
  7. On March 2, 1967, President Johnson held a news conference at which he revealed that Chairman Kosygin had responded on February 27 to his letter of January 21, 1967 (see Document 178), to enter into discussions on limiting defensive and offensive nuclear missiles. See Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967, Book I, pp. 259-260. For background on the ABM issue, see Documents 173 and 174. Regarding subsequent high-level exchanges between the United States and the Soviet Union, see Documents 178, 179, 185, and 186.
  8. For text of the U.S.-U.S.S.R. joint statement of Agreed Principles for Disarmament Negotiations, transmitted to the 16th Session of the U.N. General Assembly, September 20, 1961, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1961, pp. 1091-1094.
  9. Printed from an unsigned copy.
  10. Top Secret; Nodis.
  11. Printed from an unsigned copy.