66. Editorial Note

On March 21, 1972, from 3:03 to 4:06 p.m., President Nixon met with the General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament, chaired by John J. McCloy, to discuss SALT and the summit. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)

According to the memorandum of conversation, the President told the Committee:

“In two months he would be on his way to Moscow. There may be a deal then or possibly before—one could not be sure. After the Peking trip there had been many questions about who won or lost. The agreements reached in Peking actually were largely non–substantive and both sides won; each wanted agreement. But with the Soviets an agreement will be very substantive and many things were going on with the Soviets, perhaps because of China. Because agreements will be substantive, there will be real questions about who won or lost. Noting that he had listened with great care to the Defense Department and given it perhaps more time at the NSC than the others, the President said the problem will be with the defense minded people in the Congress and in the country. The arms control people will support anything, but the defense minded people will ask; would we get taken? Are we inhibited while the Soviets can move ahead of us? Therefore, we will need support for the agreement that we may reach, support, if the members of the Committee agree, for the point that the agreement is not detrimental to the security of the United States. In addition, the President went on, our Allies will wonder whether we had now become inferior. He had just been talking to the Turkish Prime Minister. The Turks felt surrounded and saw us a long way off. If there were a debate in the United States in which many said that we were inferior, we would have serious international problems. The President continued that the issue was not war; it involves how two major powers conduct foreign policy. It is true that the Soviets were still aggressive and that the Chinese continue to support revolution, but as regards SALT we must seize the present moment which is perhaps the last moment. (The President interjected that he was perhaps more confident about including SLBMs than some others.)

“In 1962, at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, it had been ‘no contest,’ because we had a ten to one superiority. But it is not that way now. The possibility of our going into a massive arms build–up is no longer what it was. It might be possible to frighten the US people into doing something but time is running out. The question is: can we seize this moment with both sides recognizing that neither will allow the other to get ahead? With the Soviets this is a credible point; but with us it is getting less credible. In this room we know—and Soviet intelligence knows—that we have weaknesses.

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“Why, the President went on to ask, would the Soviets make a deal then? The reasons were perhaps temporary. The arms race is burdensome, the Soviet economy has been flat, their neighbor to the East could be a big problem in 20 years, so that may be a good opportunity to deal with the US. The Soviets may also hope to break up NATO, for example, by coupling SALT with a European Security Conference. And the Soviets may hope that an agreement might help them keep Eastern Europe under control. Soviet reasons were obviously different from ours. Publicly, we say with them: let us curb the arms race and prevent nuclear war. But this is not the real Soviet reason so—we had better make as hard–headed a deal as we can. There may be no other opportunity.

“The President continued that the present SALT negotiations dealt only with the tip of the iceberg. There would be an ABM treaty and an understanding of offensive weapons, but after that would come reductions. And this was the second area where the President would like to look for help from the Committee.

“In conclusion the President reiterated that we needed the Committee’s help with the hawks. And secondly, we need suggestions where we go after Moscow over the next four or five years if the United States and the Soviet Union are to make further progress in the strategic arms area.” (Memorandum for the President’s Files from Alexander Haig, April 7; ibid., White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Box 88, Memoranda for the President, Beginning March 19 [1972])

Later the afternoon of March 21 from 5:10 to 5:47 p.m. Nixon met with Ambassador Gerard Smith and Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs Haig to discuss the strategic arms control process. An excerpt from this meeting reads:

“The President then asked whether or not the Soviets underestimated our domestic environment, and Ambassador Smith replied that he thought they did.

“The President next asked whether or not Ambassador Smith believed the Soviets really wished to reach an agreement. Ambassador Smith answered that he was convinced they did and that they hoped to complete the new round by May 1st. This, he stated, was Semenov’s view. The time was short, therefore, and decisions would have to be made very quickly as the new round got underway.

“The President commented that it was evident that in the Ambassador’s view the Soviets believed they must have a deal. Ambassador Smith replied that the Soviets believed the U.S. side needed to deal more than it did, but at the same time they also felt the need for an agreement. The President commented that under this concept we should keep the hardsite option on the table. It tended to worry the Soviets. Ambassador Smith agreed and said that he would do so.

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“The President asked what former Ambassador Thompson thought about this issue. Ambassador Smith stated that he felt Ambassador Thompson believed that a SALT agreement, with or without SLBM restraints, would be very worthwhile. It was obvious that the left would say the agreement did not go far enough if submarines were not included. The President remarked that the left was not the problem in a political sense.

“Ambassador Smith then stated that he now believed it might be wise not to have the final agreement until the Summit, at which time the President would be ready to sign. If the agreement surfaced before the Summit, then it would only be subjected to knitpicking by opponents. Thus, the best strategy might be to hold off on any final agreement until the President personally signed it in Moscow. The President commented that it was obvious there would be some remaining problems to be solved at the Summit and that at that level it would be easier for the President and the Soviet Leadership to iron these problems out. For this reason, it might be necessary to play a few games at Helsinki.

“Ambassador Smith stated that among the issues that could serve to hold up final agreement would be the duration of the agreement and the withdrawal issue. The President commented that it would not have to be settled at the moment but that Ambassador Smith should manage this on his own without bringing the entire Delegation in. Secondly, there would be the problem of who would participate in the signing. Thought should be given to whether or not the whole U.S. Delegation should be in Moscow. Ambassador Smith said that this might be a problem and the Delegation certainly would understand if they were not invited. On the other hand, Paul Nitze could be a problem.

“The President then informed the Ambassador that the SALT Decision Memorandum would soon be released, and it would be necessary for Ambassador Smith to stay in closest touch in the days and weeks ahead. Certainly, the submarine issue was one of the toughest problems. Ambassador Smith stated that he noted some shift in Admiral Moorer’s position on this.” (Memorandum for the President’s Files from Alexander Haig, March 21; ibid.)

In National Security Decision Memoranda (NSDM) 158, March 23, President Nixon decided that the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT) delegation initially would concentrate upon reaching an agreement on offensive weapon systems with a final decision on the nature of antiballistic missile (ABM) systems “heavily influenced by the scope of the Interim Agreement.” Also, the delegation would make the effort to include limitations on submarine–launched weapons in the Interim Agreement. Nixon instructed the SALT delegation to prepare to discuss [Page 221] alternate numbers of ABM systems if the Soviets were willing to include these limitations. Additionally, the NSDM laid out technical details relating to the freezing of further construction of intercontinental ballistic missile launchers and limitations on overall numbers. The NSDM also contained the following instructions to Smith:

“The Chairman of the Delegation should, at a time which he deems appropriate, make a statement along the lines that: If the U.S.S.R. were to undertake a concerted program which substantially increased the threat to the survivability of our strategic retaliatory forces, the U.S. would consider this to jeopardize our supreme interests. Consequently, this could be a basis for withdrawal from the ABM treaty.” (Ibid., NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box H–232 NSDM 158)