145. Letter From the Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Ellsworth) to President Nixon1

Dear Mr. President:

As you consider the situation of your negotiators at the SALT talks in Vienna, may I offer some thoughts from the point of view of U.S. national interests in relation to our NATO Allies?


To hold back on an ABM-only agreement at this time, for lack of constraint on the Soviets’ SS–9 force, would give too much political effect to the SS–9 force in comparison with its limited military effect (in view of our own submarine and bomber delivery systems). As you mentioned during the NSC meeting of November 19,2 the Soviets [Page 438] already say to the Europeans and Japanese that they have bigger (land based) missiles, and more of them, than the United States has. If we hold back from signing an ABM-only agreement because it doesn’t provide for constraints on offensive systems, the Soviets will use that to highlight the power of the SS–9 force, with predictable political effects in Europe.

At the same time, after signing the ABM agreement, we would continue to negotiate limitations on offensive systems under the commitment-to-negotiate clause which is included in the Soviet draft ABM agreement.

Thus, your over-all effort to obtain limitations on offensive and defensive systems would have developed, procedurally, into two phases: first, a defensive systems phase, and second, an offensive systems phase. These two procedural phases would be linked by the commitment-to-negotiate clause.


To move a little bit further into the future (assuming the ABM-only agreement is signed, and negotiations are under way to limit offensive systems): the Russians have made it clear all along that they want to limit U.S. forward-based aircraft but do not want to accept limitations on their IR/MRBMs. At the same time, we have made it clear that we would not be willing to discuss such “non-central” systems until and unless general agreement had been reached on limiting “central” systems. Therefore, in this second phase of the over-all negotiations, we could say to the Russians that—invoking the precedent established in the ABM agreement—we should agree on central systems limitations, including in that agreement a commitment-to-negotiate clause. This clause would commit the parties to negotiate on ways to insure the viability of the agreement, and/or ways to avoid circumvention, and/or ways to limit non-central systems.

Thus, the over-all negotiations would have been divided into three procedural phases—each phase linked to the preceding one by a commitment-to-negotiate clause: a defensive systems phase, a central offensive systems phase, and a non-central offensive systems phase.

In the process, of course, we would succeed in deferring the forward-based systems problem by using a procedural device (i.e., the commitment-to-negotiate clause) which had first been suggested by the Soviets.

A possible side benefit, in terms of our European interests, from an ABM-only agreement: my British and French colleagues here have both made clear to me that such an agreement would be of direct benefit to the British and the French as it would relieve them of the necessity to spend more money on penetration aid development, or to explain to their publics why they are not doing so. In fact, we could [Page 439] explicitly (but quietly) point out to the French and British that an ABM-only agreement, when made public, would give their Governments a useful peg upon which to hang a slowdown in their offensive missilery development and a reallocation of defense resources to more useful, and essential, conventional forces.

Warm personal regards.


  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–007, Verification Panel Meeting SALT 4/9/71. Secret; Sensitive.
  2. The NSC discussed NSSM 84 about NATO and NSSM 92 about mutual and balanced force reductions at the meeting. Minutes of the meeting are printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXIX, European Security, Document 37.