187. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Laird to President Nixon1


  • Banning Deployment of Antiballistic Missiles

Minister Semenov informed Ambassador Smith on July 272 that his instructions are to work with the U.S. delegation to see if an ABM ban is a realistic proposition.

I believe that, on balance, the U.S. would benefit from an ABM deployment ban, providing the three following conditions are met:

An ABM ban must not be used to reopen the possibility of a MIRV ban. Deployed MIRVs are our best counter to a surprise ABM deployment. I am convinced that a strategic arms limitation agreement banning MIRVs, whether or not ABM is banned, is not in the U.S. interest.
The agreement banning ABM must be made contingent on reaching fair offensive limitations. If possible, the limitations should lead to reductions in offensive force levels rather than simple freezes.
The provisions of the agreement banning deployment of ABM systems must be as precise, complete, and as rigorous as we know how to make them to maximize the probability that the ABM ban will be effective.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has informed me the Chiefs continue to oppose a ban on ABM deployment.3

You might consider two actions to further prospects for an ABM deployment ban. First, you might discuss this matter with Congressional leaders to forestall political pressures for an ABM ban that does not meet the conditions outlined above. In particular, an accompanying MIRV ban should be emphatically discouraged. Second, if we are to pursue this possibility seriously, it might again be appropriate to go through your channel to Mr. Brezhnev with the message:

  • • We share your interest in exploring an ABM ban.
  • • It would be a very significant step forward to agree to dismantle our respective ABM systems. It could establish an important precedent which might lead to reductions of offensive forces as well.
  • • It is a very serious as well as important step, and we would only wish to explore it in detail if we could agree on some guiding principles.
    • —The first principle is that the ABM deployment ban should be precise, complete, and rigorous so that each side may be assured that the other’s capability to destroy incoming missiles is entirely dismantled.
    • —The second principle is that the actual dismantling must be contingent on reaching a fair offensive arms limitation agreement.
Melvin R. Laird
  1. Source: Ford Library, Laird Papers, Box 26, SALT, Chronological File. Top Secret; Sensitive.
  2. See Document 184.
  3. In JCSM–361–71, July 31, Zumwalt set forth to Laird the objections of the JCS to a ban on deployment of ABMs: “Any consideration of zero-ABM must involve a careful weighing of the interrelationships of defensive and offensive Soviet/US forces. As indicated in reference 1c [Document 186] the Joint Chiefs of Staff are concerned about the imbalance in strategic offensive capability which would result from Soviet acceptance of the current US position on offensive systems. The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe it would be contrary to US security interests to agree to a zero-ABM proposal.” (Ford Library, Laird Papers, Box 26, SALT, Chronological File)