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

SUBJECT

  • Secretary Laird’s Views on SALT

Secretary Laird has sent you a memorandum (see Tab B)2 expressing his view that we are negotiating at SALT in a way which will be interpreted by our allies and the Congress as a sign of U.S. weakness and Soviet strength.

The Secretary points to a Soviet advantage of about 650 ballistic missiles (about 550 ICBMs and some 100 SLBMs) and to the possibility of the Soviets putting MIRVs on this force.

The Secretary goes on to point out that he has been expressing these concerns to me and recommending action to improve the situation. He attaches a chronicle of his actions and memorandums to verify his efforts.

Finally, Secretary Laird recommends that we: (1) express concern over the Soviet build-up; (2) tell the Soviets that we must hear their offensive limit proposals at the start of the Vienna round before we can go further on ABM; and that, (3) we restudy our position to determine how to “reverse the growing Soviet advance in offensive armaments,” undoubtedly meaning reductions.

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While I share some of the Secretary’s concern, his arguments implicitly reject both the decisions leading to the May 20 agreement and the possibility that an initial agreement can be truly interim.

I cannot totally reject the Secretary’s argument that an initial agreement may be more enduring than we anticipate, but, if true, this raises the following questions:

  • —Can we get a better price than freezing Soviet ABMs for a Safeguard system which the Congress is unlikely to let us build in any case?
  • —Can we expect to get approval to build more land-based ICBMs, whether or not we have a SALT agreement?
  • —Since SLBMs are the only system we have that can conceivably be expanded, is it not in our interest to leave these systems open? (Assuredly, one of the reasons the Soviets want to reserve on SLBMs is to retain leverage for the next phase of SALT, but this loses some significance if we assume that an initial agreement will last for an extended period. Thus, there is a basic internal inconsistency to the Secretary’s argument.)

You should know that the Delegation has already been told to close Helsinki with very strong statements on the Soviet build-up and on the necessity of getting Soviet views on offensive limits early at Vienna. This was done before receiving the Secretary’s memorandum.

As for redesigning our proposal in a way to eliminate the USSR advantage in ICBMs, neither reality nor the basic assumptions underlying the May 20 agreement make this possible. A detailed review of our proposals would only result in our being bogged down in a morass of old issues.

I have prepared a reply to Secretary Laird acknowledging his memorandum. I recommend that you sign the reply at Tab A.3

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 66, Memoranda to the President, 1969–1974, August–December 1971. Top Secret. Sent for action. A notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.
  2. Attached but not printed is Laird’s September 15 memorandum.
  3. Attached but not printed is a letter to Laird signed by Nixon that reads: “I appreciate the points you made in the memorandum. I understand that, before we recess at Helsinki, Gerry Smith will be making it clear to the Soviet Delegation that we are concerned about their strategic programs and that we must begin to discuss limits on offensive forces.”