188. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1


  • Next Steps on SALT Agreement for Preventing Accidental War

Negotiations in Helsinki are virtually completed on the agreement on measures to prevent accidental war. The substance of the agreement is based largely on our views, offered when the Soviets broached the general idea last year. The Soviets originally had suggested a treaty, but when talks resumed at Helsinki, they backed away and agreed with us that an executive agreement would be acceptable.

The prospective agreement includes these main points:

  • —Each side will inform the other concerning “unexplained,” unauthorized or accidental incidents involving detonation of a nuclear weapon.
  • —Each side will inform the other concerning missile launches outside of its national territory, and concerning detection of unidentified objects or interference with communication facilities.
  • —Other clauses include provisions for consultations and adopting further measures, as well as an omnibus clause that would allow for exchange of information in situations that might involve accidental war.

Thus we are about at the point of considering whether we wish this particular agreement to be initialed now by Ambassador Smith and publicized.

  • —The Soviets would prefer a separate agreement rather than waiting for the main agreements in SALT, and want to initial the agreement.
  • —Our current instruction to our Delegation is that it would be preferable to complete this agreement at the same time that the main agreements are concluded.

Once the final text is agreed, it can be referred to Washington, and if acceptable, Ambassador Smith would be authorized to initial the agreement. We would then want to confer with our NATO Allies, and to inform the appropriate Congressional committees, and then we could consider the timing and procedures for signature.

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The main purpose of moving toward a separate agreement rather than waiting for all the SALT issues to be resolved is that it provides a means of signaling the Soviets our continuing interest in SALT. Moreover, since Brezhnev personally identified himself with this type of agreement at the Party Congress, our willingness to move toward concluding an executive agreement may be tactically helpful in our main areas of interest.

I have asked that the SALT Backstopping Committee provide new instructions to Ambassador Smith 2 so that he can inform the Soviets of our willingness to conclude a separate agreement on Accidental War, and to inform them he is authorized to initial it in Helsinki. Final signature would await Congressional and Allied consultations, but the Delegation could solicit Soviet views on timing and publicity.3

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 881, SALT, SALT talks (Helsinki), Vol. XVI, August 1971. Secret. Sent for information. Initialed by Haig and Kissinger, and a notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.
  2. Telegram 142933 to USDEL SALT, August 5, transmitted the text of those instructions to the Backstopping Committee, also called the NSC Under Secretaries Committee, for the delegation’s information. (Ibid.)
  3. Nixon highlighted this paragraph and wrote the following comment: “OK. But let’s get maximum publicity for it. Ask Scali—privately what he suggests in this respect.”