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169. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Ford1


Wednesday, July 23, 1975

1:00–2:00 p.m.

I. Purpose

To discuss Mr. Laird’s recent statements on détente and his allegations of Soviet misbehavior.2

II. Background, Participants, & Press Arrangements

A. Background: In an article published in the July issue of Reader’s Digest (Tab A),3 Mr. Laird argued that the US has made major concessions to the Soviets, while the Soviets have repeatedly committed deliberate acts that mock détente and threaten the free world. Mr. Laird’s allegations of Soviet misbehavior include claims that the Soviets have violated the SALT agreements, reneged on promises regarding civilian access to West Berlin, and engaged in a relentless effort to attain military supremacy. The memo at Tab B4 analyzes Laird’s article point by point.

B. Participants: Melvin Laird, Henry Kissinger

C. Press Arrangements: The meeting will not be announced. There will not be a White House photographer.

III. Talking Points

1. I read with interest your article in Reader’s Digest on détente. I believe your article touches on a number of key points in US-Soviet relations, and I would like to discuss some of the points you raised in more detail.

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SALT Compliance

2. Regarding the question of Soviet cheating on our arms control agreements, as I have stated publicly, we do not believe that the Soviets are in violation of any provisions of the SALT agreements.

3. There have been some ambiguous situations regarding Soviet compliance. You mentioned two of these ambiguous situations in your Reader’s Digest article. These ambiguities arose either because the existing treaty language was not precise enough to deal satisfactorily with all situations which might arise during the period of the agreement or because differences which were never resolved at the time the agreements were signed became significant in the light of new developments.

4. The two issues you discussed in your article—radar testing in an ABM mode and the size of the SS–19—are excellent examples of both these points.

5. Regarding the SS–19, as you know, the two sides were never able to agree on a definition of a “heavy” ICBM. However, because of the importance the US attached to this issue, we issued a unilateral statement at the signing of the Interim Agreement which said that we would consider any ICBM with a volume or throw weight “significantly greater than that of the largest light ICBM now operational on either side” to be a heavy ICBM.

6. The Soviets, of course, flatly rejected the unilateral statement, and we never specified to the Soviets precisely what we meant by “significantly.” Consequently, we have very little basis for claiming a Soviet violation based upon the volume of the SS–19. There simply never was an understanding on this issue in the first place.

7. We have continued to press the Soviets throughout SALT II on the need for an adequate definition of a “heavy” ICBM so an issue like this will not reoccur. This is one of our major negotiating objectives, and we have some indications that the Soviets are prepared to accept a definition of a “heavy” ICBM as part of a SALT II agreement.

8. You also mentioned the issue of radar testing and stated that the Soviets have conducted radar tests specifically forbidden by the ABM treaty.

9. Because of the nature of the treaty language regarding this issue, we raised radar testing with the Soviets in the Standing Consultative Commission to clarify the understanding of the two sides with respect to the treaty language and, if necessary, to ask the Soviets to cease the radar activity in question.

10. We have apparently been successful on both counts. We have clarified the understanding of the two sides regarding the treaty language by stating that air defense radars cannot be tested “in an ABM[Page 680] mode” even if they are being used for range instrumentation or safety. The Soviets apparently interpreted such activity as permitted by our unilateral statement defining testing “in an ABM mode.”

11. Even though our intelligence indicated that the Soviets were not engaged in any upgrading of air-defense radars to ABM capability but were using the radar in question for instrumentation purposes at a test range, we nevertheless asked the Soviets to cease the activity in question. We had no intention of permitting ABM testing of air defense radars under the guise of instrumentation, but only of exempting radars used exclusively for instrumentation.

12. The Soviets ceased their radar activity in question shortly after the US raised the issue in the SCC. We have seen no evidence of the radar activity in question since February 18.

Other Issues

13. You raised several other important issues in your article. Regarding Berlin, while there has been some sporadic interference by the East Germans with ground access to West Berlin, the dispute centered on the nature and extent of West Berlin’s ties to West Germany. This has always been the most controversial part of the Quadripartite Agreement.

14. However, since July 1974, when Western protests forced the East Germans to stop their interference, transit traffic has been undisturbed. Consequently, except for some relatively minor harassment which occurred over several weekends in 1974, the Soviets have lived up to the commitment to guarantee unimpeded civilian access to Berlin.

15. On your assertion that the Soviet Union is engaged in an effort to attain military supremacy, this is of course fundamentally an interpretation of Soviet military programs and the intentions driving those programs. Our best intelligence is that, while we doubt that the Soviets have firmly decided to seek clear-cut strategic superiority, they will be opportunistic in seeking to attain a margin of strategic advantage if US behavior permits. Let me emphasize that we will not let our guard down and permit such a Soviet advantage to occur.

16. One final point I would like to make concerns the overall issue of détente: we should not expect that the Soviets will forego political competition with the West. However, it is in our interests to continue working to bring the Soviets to understand that their interests are best served by restraining that competition and will be jeopardized if they do not act accordingly.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Name File, 1974–1977, Box 2, Laird, Melvin. Top Secret; Sensitive. Scowcroft initialed the memorandum for Kissinger. A stamped note on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it.
  2. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Ford and Kissinger met with Laird in the Oval Office on July 23 from 1:10 to 2:14 p.m. (Ibid., White House Office Files) No substantive record of the conversation has been found.
  3. At Tab A is Laird’s article, “Is This Détente?” Scowcroft forwarded the article to the President on June 26. In a handwritten reply, Ford instructed Scowcroft: “Would you have someone analyze this—point by point—and give me answers.” (Ibid., President’s Handwriting File, 1974–1977, Box 7, Countries—USSR)
  4. At Tab B is an undated and uninitialed memorandum from Kissinger to Ford.