152. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Negotiations on Accidental Attack

A dispute is brewing on our position in the special negotiations on the Soviet proposal for an agreement to prevent accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons.

  • —On March 26, the Soviets introduced a draft agreement/treaty-covering accidental, unauthorized usages;2 it largely coincides with our presentation of last summer,3 but it is a separate agreement.
  • Semyonov told Smith he hoped agreement could be reached before the Vienna phase was completed, and the “agreement or treaty” could be referred to capitals.
  • —We have “reserved” our position on whether a separate agreement is acceptable (NSDM–904 says it would not be).
  • —We have asked questions on the Soviet draft, and are now in the process of proposing amendments.

The issues pertain to the following Soviet language (which follows after clauses agreeing to advance notification of missile launches, detection of unidentified objects by early warning systems, and notification of unexplained nuclear detonations):

Each party undertakes to act in all other situations involving nuclear weapons in such a manner as to reduce the possibility of its actions being misinterpreted by the other side.
Each party may inform the other side or request information when in its view this is warranted by the interests of averting the danger of the outbreak of nuclear war.

Our Delegation proposes (a) to drop the first Soviet sentence, and (b) to revise the second as follows:

In other situations, each party undertakes to inform the other side and each party may request relevant information when, in its view, this is warranted in the interests of averting the risk of outbreak of nuclear war between the two countries.

Frankly, I believe the subject matter of this clause goes well beyond the technical problems of reducing or averting accidental or unauthorized use. It is an invitation to the Soviets to “request” information on almost any activity in the “interests of averting the outbreak of nuclear war.” Moreover, it smacks of a political agreement that could well be directed against third parties, and no doubt in the Soviet view has some value in promoting the condominium concept of the two nuclear powers consulting on all matters involving nuclear weapons.

Thus, we have argued in backstopping channels that the US position should be to exclude the paragraph, rather than try to tinker with it. We were willing for the delegation to listen to Soviet explanations before proposing to exclude it.

Now, we learn that State favors the Delegation’s proposals, and will “escalate” the backstopping clearances. (This incidentally is the second time in a week that the working level at State has raised the question of “how high up” in the White House a position on SALT originates.)

In sum, we need to know if you agree that we should oppose this general clause. Second, I assume that our position is still to resist a separate agreement. If not, there is little doubt that the Soviets will wrap this up, and it will be the first major result of SALT—thereby stimulating all the political optimism without the slightest concrete result, [Page 468] and incidentally, establishing the precedent of partial, piecemeal settlements.


That we continue to oppose any general clause in an agreement on accidents/unauthorized use.
That the Delegation continue to oppose the idea of a separate treaty.5
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 880, SALT, SALT talks (Helsinki), Vol. XIV, January 1–April 1971. Secret. Sent for action.
  2. Telegram USDEL SALT 581, March 26, reported the Soviet proposal. (Ibid.)
  3. See Document 91.
  4. Document 113.
  5. Kissinger initialed his approval of both recommendations.