198. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • NIE 11–8–69, “Soviet Strategic Attack Forces”

Attached at Tab C is the intelligence community’s latest effort at a comprehensive estimate of present and future Soviet strategic attack capabilities. (A covering memo from Director Helms is at Tab B.) A memorandum from Secretary Laird on the subject is at Tab D.2


The highlights of the NIE are:

  • —The Soviets continue the buildup of the basic units of their force—the SS–9, large payload ICBM; the SS–11, Minuteman-type ICBM; and Polaris-type ballistic missile submarines—at rates at least equal to those of the past two years.
  • —The SS–9 is a real threat to Minuteman if the Soviets have a MIRV system for it and can make the missile carry the heavy MIRV payload the required distance.
  • —It is agreed that the heavy payload SS–9 could be made to go far enough to reach five of the six Minuteman complexes. Whether it could reach the sixth from present SS–9 sites is disputed.
  • —The intelligence community is divided over whether the present tests of a triple warhead system for the SS–9 are aimed at developing a MIRV, but it is agreed that even if they are not, the Soviets could develop a hard-target MIRV capability for the SS–9 by 1972.
  • —The Soviets must be expected to develop a “next generation” of missiles. But progress this year on identified systems has been less than hectic. Work on solid fuel systems is going slowly; construction of test facilities for several systems has halted. However, several missiles, including a possible new land-based ballistic missile and a new submarine-launched missile have been tested.
  • —We know very little about the purposes of the Soviet force. That the Soviets desire strategic “parity” with the U.S. and will build at least 1,300 missiles is agreed. Whether they seek “superiority,” how they would define it, and the likely upper limit of present ICBM construction plans are disputed. Moreover, little is known of Soviet doctrine on such matters as targeting or command and control.
  • —The force for “peripheral” strategic attacks, i.e., attacks on Europe and Asia but not the U.S.—which consists chiefly of medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles (500–3,000 miles) and medium bombers—continues to be maintained at approximately past levels.

The Soviets have begun deploying SS–11 ICBMs in what the intelligence community believes to be an IR/MRBM role and a prototype new medium-to-long range bomber has been sighted.

Numbers of major units are in the table on the next page.3


This estimate illustrates what I believe are serious limitations in the process by which estimates are made. This process is an inadequate means for providing basic analysis of Soviet strategic developments and prospects for the future.4


The most serious defect is the lack of sharply-defined, clearly-argued discussions of the characteristics and purposes of Soviet strategic forces. Admittedly, it is harder to be precise about Soviet deployment objectives or war planning than about the wing span of a bomber prototype. But there is evidence relevant to these questions—ranging from studies of missile silo orientation to analyses of power relationships in the Politburo—and it should be reflected in the NIE.5

Since 1964, the Soviets have been steadily expanding their strategic forces. You are entitled to know from the intelligence community [Page 410] what evidence we have to support various possible hypotheses about the motive for that buildup. Examples of such hypotheses are:

  • —a conservatively planned second strike or “assured destruction” posture deliberately designed to deter a U.S. attack using our present forces;
  • —a posture which hedges against a possible U.S. effort to approach or achieve a “first strike” capability;
  • —a posture reflecting a simple quest for numerical equality or slight margin of superiority for political bargaining purposes;
  • —a posture reflecting the largely purposeless pressure from Soviet “military-industrial complex” for ever-larger forces;
  • —an attempt to achieve a significant “first use” offensive capability through force superiority.

Instead, what discussion of Soviet objectives there is in the NIE is superficial. There is no analysis of the evidence, no systematic presentation of the alternatives. Indeed, there is not even a precise definition of what our people disagree about and what evidence would resolve their disputes.6


The NIE is too often satisfied with reciting facts and reluctant to raise fundamental questions about their significance.

As a typical example, the estimate notes that the Soviets have made two tests which may indicate development of a new, longer range (3,000 mile) submarine missile. The missile, however, appears to be too large to be fitted into the ballistic missile submarine they are now building without extensive modification.

Yet the NIE is silent on possible implications of this development.

  • —What are possible explanations for a new missile too large to be fitted into submarines now being built?
  • —Would a longer range missile complicate our ASW problem? Would it make continuous on-station patrolling easier for the Soviets?


The NIE too often fails to make explicit the judgments and background which underlie its conclusions.

For example, one disputed issue is whether the SS–9 has the range needed to target our whole Minuteman force.

  • —One side argues that we must assume it has because the Soviets would not continue to deploy SS–9 unless they were certain it had the range to carry out the anti-MM mission for which it is apparently intended.
  • —The other side says that the Soviets would not rely on their missile having the necessary range until they had tested it.

[Page 411]

Both sides, therefore, are making assertions about likely patterns of Soviet behavior. But neither presents evidence about either the apparent “rationality” of past Soviet weapon system development or the thoroughness of Soviet testing in the past.

Even on more technical issues, the NIE is sometimes inadequate. Dissents are certainly better than meaningless compromise euphemisms. But, where the intelligence community cannot agree on such basic questions as the hardness of Soviet silos, the accuracy of the SS–9, or whether the Soviets are developing a MIRV for the SS–9, we can at least expect that the disputants will explain precisely what it is they disagree about and will marshal the evidence for the competing positions. This is seldom done.

Furthermore, on some issues, there are disturbing indications that differences of opinion are more the product of efforts to defend previous views, than of different evaluations of current evidence.

For example, the CIA has abandoned its earlier insistence, adhered to as recently as last June, that 1,500 was an upper bound on Soviet ICBM deployment, but it now says the determinants of Soviet action are too uncertain to make any meaningful estimate of an upper limit.


Secretary Laird’s memorandum at Tab C sets forth the DIA position on “recent trends in Soviet strategic forces.” Except for some updating to include recently-acquired data, it recites the same facts as the NIE, presenting the analysis in a way which supports the DIA position, as expressed in their various dissents in the NIE. But it is also without any general themes or working hypotheses about what the Soviets’ strategic purposes may be.


I am continuing to examine what can be done to get more rigorous analysis and more effective presentation of evidence into the products of the intelligence community. I will have recommendations for improvements shortly.7

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Subject Files, Box 360, National Intelligence Estimates. Top Secret; Ruff; Umbra. Sent for information. A copy was sent to Lynn on December 9.
  2. The tabs are attached but not printed.
  3. The source text does not contain the table indicated by Kissinger.
  4. Next to this paragraph the President wrote: “agreed.”
  5. Next to this paragraph the President wrote: “Right.”
  6. Next to this paragraph the President wrote: “I agree.”
  7. The President wrote below this paragraph: “1) Improvements are essential; 2. This report is virtually useless—except for a superficial mindless recitation of what we know from the daily press, i.e.—the USSR is building lots of new missiles.” “12–8–69” is written below in an unknown hand.