159. Conversation Among President Nixon, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), and the Delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks1

Nixon: Tell me this—the PFIAB has been looking at it, too—looking at, looking at the so-called comprehensive agreement just isn’t possible, is it? What I mean, it’s possible. It’s possible in terms of maybe 3, 4, or 5 years, but aren’t you going to bite off, bite off parts of it, and then go from there to there? Is that their view? Is that your view? How do you all feel about that?

Smith: In terms of negotiability, there’s no doubt about it—

Nixon: Yeah.

Smith: We have to [unclear]—

Nixon: You got to do it [unclear] selectively, and the hardest thing, having stepped part of the way, is then go over—

Smith: I have to say, though, if we make an ABM agreement, there’ll be no reason for any continued Soviet buildup, for us to continue to build up in a comprehensive agreement, which is while we’re ahead of them in the MIRV business—

Nixon: Yeah.

Smith: —they’re going to be very loath to make a comprehensive deal.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Smith: That, of course, it freezes them in—

Nixon: Well, it freezes basically an inferiority, just as—just as a matter of fact, [unclear] hurt us, too, because in large numbers [unclear]—

Smith: I think that they’ve been pressing this FBS, Forward Based Systems. Question: “Are we ready to move—join them on FBS?” [unclear]—

Nixon: MIRVs are part of the problem?

Smith: MIRVs are their problem.

Nixon: Hmm.

[Page 499]

Smith: We’re not going ahead with any offensive programs except MIRV

Nixon: I know. Nothing. Nothing. We haven’t since 1967 built a damn thing—

Smith: Well, this is—but to them, this MIRV program looks very big, very significant. We tend, I think, to discount it. And they aren’t really going ahead with much in the defensive field, whereas we have major [unclear]—

Nixon: Yeah, that’s—in other words, what we—basically, yeah. What we want—they want to control us, defensively, with the MIRVs. Well, then we ought to control them with numbers.

Thompson: Gerry, we do talk a lot about ULMS and B–1, that they have to take this seriously—

Nixon: On which?

Thompson: The B–1s.

Nixon: Oh, yeah.

Thompson: Do they—?

Nixon: What do they say about that? He—I, I know that they, they’ve raised it.

Smith: They constantly say that Mel Laird is sort of shaking B–1—

Nixon: Yeah. I know.

Smith: —and ULMS, and yet they are really proponents of no interference in modernization. They’re not against three force—

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah, I noted that three force—they, they, as a matter of fact of modernization and so forth. Well, now, why is that? Is that—do they think that’s—doesn’t—they know that modernization, if you agree on that, that involves verification? Is that their reason?

Smith: I think they feel they don’t want to get frozen in the technology of 1971. They’ve got lots of new programs going. General Allison and the Chiefs figure you can’t control technology. You can’t control quantity.

Nixon: He sounds like a scientist.

Smith: But you can control quality. And I think one of the reasons last year they were so strong about it—basically, they knew we’re going—

Nixon: And they, of course, can put a MIRV, in the field [unclear]. Can’t they?

Smith: Of course. That’s modernization—

Nixon: That’s really what it amounts to.

Allison: Those are the facts, but, Mr. President, I think they want to be sure that they aren’t kept in a position where they’re behind us technologically. In certain areas, we’re clearly ahead. In ABM, they’re not.

[Page 500]

Nixon: Is it not true, though, that—I always say this when I’m asked about it at press conferences, which is derivative of your judgment that they still are treating these negotiations in a very serious way, and are not using them simply for the purpose of—well, they’re certainly not using them for the purpose of propaganda. The question is whether they use them for purposes of delay or anything like that. What’s your judgment on that? Do they want—do you think they’re looking toward an agreement?

Smith: I think they clearly want an ABM agreement.

Nixon: An ABM one?

Smith: They don’t want to delay that at all. And, apparently, they’re willing to pay some price—

Nixon: To get it? Let’s hope—

Smith: —freezing their ICBM program, to get it. In that, they clearly see the psychological advantage with Germany. We just couldn’t keep this—

Nixon: They’re right.

Smith: We tend to think, “Well—”

Nixon: Yeah.

Smith: “—it’s a serious business, let’s get away from the polemics.”

Nixon: Yes, I know.

[unclear exchange]

Smith: But they have kept it, I would think, in very moderate proportion to SALT.

Nixon: Oh, I think so.

Thompson: [unclear] in any other negotiations [unclear]—

Nixon: Let me ask you this [unclear]: what reaction of ours is, you know, what—from their standpoint, do you really [unclear]? Do you think there is really, I mean, since the Party Congress?2

Allison: It was their conclusion. I think that a lot of the things were based on [unclear]—

Thompson: I always suspected there were some certain staff work and not [unclear]—

Nixon: It takes a little time.

Thompson: Yes, it does. And he was away in Moscow himself. But, even if he’d known about that, he might have just because [unclear]. On the other hand, I do think they’ve had more troops in Germany than they possibly need. I think they want—that they know they can really use [unclear] sitting on these people. And, they—

[Page 501]

Nixon: I think it was maybe the same in Czechoslovakia.

Thompson: Yeah, well—

Nixon: They wanted—the morning report I saw indicated that—State indicated—that they’d like to get some of this stuff out of Czechoslovakia—have a, have a good reason to.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

Nixon: Whatever happens in these, in these fields, and all the interrelated fields, it seems to me—and I think Tommy would agree with the Department—but I think to them, just as it should be to us, it’s all a part of a—not, not, not that we have figured it out as diabolically, as some do, the whole package. I mean, there is movement in one direction. Some day, something’s [unclear exchange] something’s gotta happen. [Laughs] That’s all there is—

Smith: Paul [Nitze] said, Mr. President—

Nixon: It isn’t frustrating?

Smith: It isn’t frustrating. Here we’re talking with the Soviets about Hen House radar, and problems that—

Nixon: Yeah.

Smith: —5 years ago wouldn’t—

Nixon: Well, that means something—

Smith: —have been conceivable—

Thompson: That’s correct.

Smith: —to talk to these people and have a serious exchange. So, I—I don’t know about the others, but I have never felt—

Nixon: Do you all feel that way?

Smith: —any sense of frustration—

Nixon: Ah, shoot, Tommy, you—you’ve been around the track with these guys more than anybody else.

Thompson: But I—I’ve partially escaped most of this last business because I didn’t go to the last session, but still—

Kissinger: Actually, I think these have been on a higher level than any exchanges—

Smith: It’s very interesting, Mr. President—

Allison: Well, on some—and substantively, too. I mean, when they’re talking about the details of military balance, and the question of—the purpose of strategic military forces, and what are your forces for—

Nixon: Yeah.

Allison: —and, what’s that [unclear] that you’re talking about starting, and so on—

Nixon: Yes. You know it serves a purpose—

[Page 502]

Allison: [unclear]frustrating—

Nixon: —to have us think about this, and them think about it. The very fact that we had to go through this exercise, and think about what we would negotiate. It makes us reevaluate our—all of our policy considerations, which we otherwise would not do. We tend to just sit on what we have, and say, “Oh what the hell, let’s do what we—do it the way we did the last time.” The losers fight with the weapons of the last war, and the winners fight with the weapons of the next war.

Thompson: One of the most striking things has been the fact that they’ve learned a lot about what they’ve got.

Nixon: That’s true. [unclear] This is educational for them. I think—I would think that they would be—they would, they would have much less of a tendency for reevaluation with their cumbersome bureaucracy than we have. You know, we constantly reevaluate, because we’ve got the columnists who write about it—

[unclear exchange

Unidentified speaker: Of course, there’s the military issue—

[unclear exchange]

Kissinger: I understand that their foreign policy—Foreign Office people, at the beginning, didn’t know many of the details of their deployments and learned some of it from us.

Nixon: Is that right—?

Thompson: Henry, they still don’t know about it—

[unclear exchange]

Unidentified speaker: Of course, they’re much more compartmentalized—

Nixon: Yeah.

Unidentified speaker: —as one should be at a secret organization. They should be compartmentalized, and they really are, so that their army fellows are the only ones who really know the details of their deployment.

Unidentified speaker: I brought some pressure from the, from the Foreign Office people and the technical people to give in the end.

Nixon: The Chinese thing has never registered. You’ve never really discussed it—?

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 501–19. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger and the delegation from 3:09 to 3:45 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. The 24th Soviet Party Congress ended on April 9.