189. Backchannel Message From the Chief of the Delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (Smith) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

171. Dear Henry:

I would appreciate your passing the following to the President.2

Dear Mr. President:

Before you have a decision on the “esoteric” problem, i.e.: whether an agreement should cover all ABM systems or only those using radars and missiles, I hope you will consider my personal views.

This is a more important issue than levels and radar restrictions. It poses the basic question: do we seek an ABM constraint to provide [Page 586]greater stability by assuring maintenance of retaliatory capability, halting a buildup of defensive systems that could threaten that capability and lessening pressures for unnecessary buildup of offensive systems—or just a temporary truce in ABMs—until such time as more effective futuristic ABMs are developed and deployed?

The latter approach runs counter to US strategic policy and public statements on the destablizing effects of nationwide ABM defenses. It could well lead to a race for futuristic systems and merely put off the danger we are trying to preclude in SALT.

The latter approach would also undercut our rationale for effective restraints on radars. One proposal under consideration in Washington would permit lasers to be used to perform the function of radars but not the function of missiles. That would permit the Soviets to deploy a nationwide sensor infrastructure while we insist on tight controls on radars.

We are stressing the importance of blocking Soviet use of anti-aircraft missiles as ABMs. But a failure to limit future ABM systems will permit their nationwide deployment even though labeled as ABMs. That would make our SAM upgrade control effort seem foolish and illogical.

If future ABM systems are not to be limited, the burden should be allowed to rest on the USSR.

I believe the public and Congressional expectation is that we seek to limit all ABM systems, not just existing type of hardware. Congressional briefings during two years of SALT have not suggested otherwise.


Gerard Smith
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 427, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages, 1971 SALT. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only.
  2. The message bears no indication that Nixon saw it, but several statements he made during an August 10 conversation suggest that he was familiar with Smith’s position. See Document 190.