115. Memorandum From the Deputy Secretary of Defense (Packard) to President Nixon1


  • SALT ABM Proposals

Yesterday in Helsinki the Soviets proposed that “It would be useful to single out the question of limiting ABM systems and attempt to reach a separate agreement on it in the immediate future.” They said they will submit a concrete proposal on 4 December 1970.2

I believe the United States cannot consider a separate agreement on ABM only. Offensive weapons must be limited as well for any agreement to be acceptable. Otherwise we would give up a system to which we are presently committed without any corresponding Soviet concession and without constraining the threat for which our intended ABM system is a counter.

I am also concerned over the fact that we have formulated the proposal to limit ABM systems to the defense of National Command Authorities in such a way as to center the U.S. system specifically on Washington, D.C.

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I believe it is essential that we remove this restriction and regain the flexibility to locate our counterpart to the Moscow system wherever it can best serve national security.

We might well prefer a North Central location to one on the East Coast. Our major land based deterrent forces and their control centers are located in that area, or will be as we move bomber bases farther from our coast line to avoid the submarine based missile threats. We have met strong Congressional opposition to an ABM defense of Washington. A North Central system would better fit with our presently authorized Safeguard program.

A North Central system equivalent to the Moscow system would be too limited in number of interceptors to form an effective defense of our deterrent forces against heavy attack, but would provide a basic system which could be expanded if the Soviets were to cheat or abrogate an agreement.

I recommend that prior to the December 4 session in Helsinki:

The Delegation be instructed to make clear to the Soviets that the U.S. will not negotiate a separate limitation on ABMs apart from offensive weapon limits.
The Delegation be instructed to keep open the deployment location for the U.S. counterpart to the Moscow ABM system.
The NSDM–74 be amended3 to remove specific reference to Washington, D.C., and provide flexibility in location.

The above actions would maintain pressure on the Soviets to negotiate limits on offensive weapons, and would give us the flexibility to decide later where to locate the U.S. counterpart ABM system in order that it provide a maximum contribution to national security.

David Packard
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 330–76–076, Box 12, USSR, 388.3. Top Secret. According to an attached December 2 transmittal note by Tucker, this memorandum was prepared in response to Laird’s request for a memorandum to Nixon detailing the U.S. NCA proposal. Tucker noted that “we might at least persuade Henry to instruct the delegation not to discuss or define our NCA proposal further until after the 8th.” Another attached note indicates that the memorandum was to be sent to the White House on December 5.
  2. In telegram USDEL SALT 471, December 2, Smith conveyed Semenov’s position on ABM limits that Semenov gave during a post-plenary session on December 1. Smith explained that Semenov would formally state the position on December 4. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 879, SALT, SALT talks (Helsinki), Vol. XIII, October–December 1970)
  3. In a December 5 memorandum to Nixon, Laird recommended language for an amendment to NSDM 74 concerning deployment of ABM systems limited to NCA (Moscow and Washington). Laird recommended retaining the option of choosing the location of an ABM system. (Ibid.)