186. Memorandum From the Acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Zumwalt) to Secretary of Defense Laird1



  • Proposed Strategic Defensive and Offensive Agreements
(TS) Reference is made to:
JCSM–308–71, dated 30 June 1971,2 subject: “US Position for Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (Helsinki SALT V),” which contained the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on antiballistic missile (ABM) limitations, certain offensive limitations, and the type of agreement needed to carry out the US and USSR joint announcement of 20 May 1971.
JCSM–330–71, dated 13 July 1971,3 subject: “Definition of Antiballistic Missile Systems To Be Limited,” which presented the view [Page 579] of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that prohibiting futuristic ABM systems as is done in NSDM 117 could lead to a future situation of strategic advantage4 for the Soviets and strongly recommended that the subject receive interagency examination.
CM–1066–71, dated 20 July 1971,5 subject: “Draft Strategic Defensive and Offensive Agreements,” which reflected the support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for two draft agreements submitted by the SALT Delegation, with two reservations: that futuristic ABM systems not be banned and that intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launchers and submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers be limited to those which have not initially reached “operational status” vice those which are not “externally complete” as of 30 September 1971.
Since November 1969 when SALT began, the strategic balance has been shifting against the United States.6 In the interim, both sides have been modernizing but only the Soviets have made increases in their strategic offensive launchers. Under the current US SALT proposal, the imbalance in launchers which has resulted from this Soviet effort would be maintained, perhaps indefinitely. Accordingly, the Joint Chiefs of Staff feel compelled to express their concern over the disadvantageous position of numerical inferiority that would result if the US proposals tabled in Helsinki on 27 July 1971, and resulting from NSDMs 117 and 120, were accepted.
The Appendix7 hereto reflects the levels of Soviet and US strategic offensive missiles that would eventuate should the Soviets accept the proposal. The US draft agreement8 permits Soviet strategic offensive missile launcher deployment of about 300 more launchers than the draft agreement supported by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in reference 1c. The interim offensive proposal is in reality a freeze for the United States but permits the Soviets to complete most of their current construction. The situation is aggravated by the fact that the total Soviet numerical advantage would then be between 600–700 strategic offensive missile launchers. Not only will there be a serious imbalance in numbers of strategic offensive missiles, but the throw-weight disparity is increased. The Soviets are to be allowed 288 SS–9 type missiles with all the potential for MIRV and hard target kill capability which these missiles could eventually represent.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff are further concerned by the rapidity with which the US negotiating position has steadily eroded relative to the Soviets to the point that it now appears the United States will be negotiating an agreement in which the United States will be frozen in a position of serious strategic inferiority. They note that:
In April 1970, NSDM 519 authorized an equal aggregate total of 1,710 ICBM and SLBM launchers on both sides; heavy bombers were to be limited to those operational, thus providing the United States with an overall delivery vehicle superiority over the USSR.
NSDMs 69, 73, and 74 in July 197010 contained provisions for aggregates of 1,900 central strategic systems for each side with sublimits of 1,710 for ICBM and SLBM launchers, and 250 launchers for the modern large ballistic missile (MLBM).
NSDMs 117 and 120, published only one year later, in July 1971, would allow significantly greater Soviet levels in numbers of ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and in the overall aggregate. Although the principle of the offensive agreement has changed to an interim agreement, it still, at least temporarily, takes away previous US rights of freedom to mix between land and sea missiles and to deploy MLBMs up to a number equal to those of the Soviets. There is always the possibility that an interim agreement will set precedents for a final agreement or extend longer than desired. In comparison, the proposal supported by the Joint Chiefs of Staff on 20 July 1971 in reference 1c would not have permitted the Soviets to surpass the United States either in SLBM launchers or in the aggregate of all central strategic systems if the relative numbers of heavy bombers remained unchanged.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff are concerned that an interim agreement, once entered into, will be difficult to terminate.11 They reaffirm their belief that it should not exceed 2 years in length. Should such an interim agreement be concluded for a period of time longer than 2 years, it would have a detrimental effect upon ongoing and possible future US strategic weapons programs. Of particular interest are the following:
Undersea Long-Range Missile System Deployment—would be prohibited. (No new construction of submarines for SLBMs after 31 July 1971.)
Advanced ICBM Deployment—would be prohibited. (No new construction of ICBM launchers after 31 July 1971.)
The Joint Chiefs of Staff are also concerned by recent indications from the Soviet delegation that they may seek to exclude SLBMs from the interim agreement. Such a proposal, if accepted, would result in a freeze on ICBMs with the Soviets in a position of permanent numerical superiority while they are left free to continue their large-scale SLBM program, thus rapidly eroding our current advantage. For this reason, if this contingency develops, the Joint Chiefs of Staff strongly urge that the Delegation be instructed to hold firm on the inclusion of SLBMs in the agreement. If the negotiations are certain to break off on this issue, the negotiating position of the United States should be reformulated. Protection of US security interests would best be served by a reformulation which, inter alia, established a limit on the aggregate total of strategic missile systems, equality in MLBMs, and freedom to mix. Such a reformulation could also protect US security interests in the event that political circumstances force an extension of the interim agreement beyond its intended duration.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff view with concern the Soviet insistence that we negotiate an ABM agreement on the basis of NCA/NCA only. If the United States were to concur in such a proposal, the Soviets would have a significant relative defensive advantage in that their NCA system provides coverage of some 580 ICBMs in addition to urban and industrial values. The United States would receive no ICBM coverage from its NCA defense. Additionally, the Soviets would have protection for their strategic force command and control centers and the United States would not. For this reason, the Joint Chiefs of Staff strongly urge that the Delegation stand firm on the present negotiating position on ABMs or insist on one which provides an equal degree of protection to the vital assets on both sides. The JCS position as set forth in reference 1a is one solution for equality.
Another concern on defensive strategic systems centers on futuristic ABM systems. As you are aware from references 1b and 1c, the Joint Chiefs of Staff strongly recommended that futuristic ABM systems not be banned. If deployment of futuristic systems were to be banned but research and development permitted, as advocated by some governmental agencies, such an approach would make it extremely difficult to get funds for such research and development (R&D) and could lead to unilateral US neglect of the field. In all likelihood, the Soviets would proceed with R&D on such systems. It seems imprudent to foreclose options on future systems that cannot now be defined or envisioned or which may be unverifiable, particularly in view of the numerical superiority of Soviet offensive missiles involved in the proposed interim strategic offensive agreement. Under any circumstances, R&D programs must be kept viable to avoid technological surprise.
In view of the threat to national security posed by long-term acceptance of the strategic imbalance noted above, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that the United States proceed with great caution in any further efforts to accommodate the Soviet position. They reaffirm their position that the duration of an interim agreement should not exceed 2 years and recommend that any agreement for a longer duration be negotiated with specific provisions which would allow restoration of the strategic balance.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
ER Zumwalt

Acting Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: Ford Library, Laird Papers, Box 26, SALT, Chronological File. Top Secret; Sensitive. According to a notation on the memorandum, Laird saw it on August 2. Another handwritten note reads, “Mr. LairdJohnny Vogt asked that these views be made known to White House.”
  2. Document 169.
  3. Document 176.
  4. The words, “strategic advantage” were underlined and the words “meaning?” and “definition?” were handwritten in the margin in an unknown hand.
  5. Document 182.
  6. The sentence was highlighted and “in what way?” was written in the margin.
  7. Attached but not printed.
  8. See Document 183.
  9. Document 68.
  10. Documents 94, 97, and 100.
  11. Because of this concern, the Chief of Naval Operations strongly recommends that any interim offensive agreement entered into contain an automatic freedom-to-mix provision to take effect at the expiration of two years. [Footnote is in the original.]