2. Paper Prepared in the Department of Defense1

Military Consequences of a Delay in Opening Strategic Talks

This paper evaluates the military effect of a delay of six months in starting strategic talks with the Soviets and the impact of such a delay in our FY 70 strategic force options. Based on this examination the following major points emerge:

The trend in relative military postures between the United States and the Soviet Union argues the desirability to the United States of a freeze on strategic nuclear forces at current levels, in preference to a freeze at levels programmed for the US and projected for the USSR six months later, if there is to be an agreement to limit arms. This is principally due to the projected deployment of new Soviet launchers compared to our program which keeps US launchers constant. The United States is judged to be ahead of the Soviets in qualitative aspects of missile technology.
Our capability to inflict damage on the Soviet population is essentially unchanged during the time period. The trend in US damage [Page 3] limiting capabilities is adverse to us because of the projected growth in the Soviet missile force during the period of the delay.
If we delay initiating talks, the Soviets could cross certain thresholds (land mobile missiles, MIRVs) in their strategic programs which might foreclose certain options for limitations and create complications for verification.
The longer the delay in initiating talks and arriving at an agreement, the greater the pressures are likely to be for both sides to make decisions to increase or improve their strategic forces. Anticipation of an agreement could pressure us to defer or cancel programs pending outcome of negotiations.
A six-month delay in initiating talks would not impact on events scheduled under the current US strategic program. Even if FY 70 budget decisions were made to modify the current strategic program, a difference of six months in initiating talks would not affect cost or technical milestones in implementing alternative programs.

I. Background

US strategic offensive nuclear forces are stabilized quantitatively at the present time. There are currently 1054 ICBMs, 656 SLBMs, and 576 bombers. The Sentinel thin ballistic missile defensive system has been programmed for deployment to be operational starting in 1973 with 672 interceptors by 1975. Improvements involving MIRV in the Minuteman and Poseidon forces are programmed for incorporation starting in 1970, increasing the number of US missile warheads substantially by the mid-70s; test programs started in the latter part of 1968.

Soviet forces are projected to continue the numerical buildup of ICBMs, SLBMs and SA–5 (Tallinn) defensive systems. Operational ICBMs have increased by 110 from 1 July 1968 to 20 January 1969 and are estimated to increase another 70–154 before 1 July 1969. Three Polaris type submarines have been added in the last half of 1968 and an additional one is forecast by mid-1969. SA–5 launchers have increased by 72–252 from July 1968 to January 1969, with 108–288 more forecast during the period from January 1969 to July 1969. Construction of the operational Moscow BMD launch system has been arrested, but developmental work and the construction of associated radars (longest lead time construction item) continues. Table I, Soviet Offensive and Defensive Strategic Forces, is enclosed.2 The USSR initiated MRV testing in the latter part of 1968; it is not yet known whether these multiple warhead tests are a precursor to MIRV development.

Since the current US force is fixed in numbers of launchers, our position relative to the increasing number of Soviet launchers is diminishing [Page 4] over time. The current US program calls for increased numbers of missile warheads, but there are no approved plans for deployment of additional numbers of Minuteman/Poseidon launchers or new systems presently in developmental stages. The effectiveness of the currently programmed US offensive missile force, which is pay load limited relative to that of the Soviets, is dependent upon the planned application of technology. The United States is judged to be ahead in the qualitative aspects of missile technology, notably MIRV and accuracy.

II. Force and Effectiveness Implications of a 6-Month Delay

If it is assumed that we make the decision now to proceed with talks, they could be initiated on 1 March 1969; a six-month delay would therefore lead to talks being initiated on 1 September 1969. For the military analysis it is assumed that there would be a six-month delay after initiation before an agreement took effect in freezing deployed forces and construction starts. Thus, 1 September 1969 and 1 March 1970 were chosen as representative of the cutoff dates when the forces might be limited.

Table II3 makes a static comparison of our forces with DIA estimates of Soviet forces for the two alternative cutoff dates. As shown, the US force posture does not change, while there is an increase of up to 80 in numbers of Soviet missiles between the two cutoff dates. It should be noted that the last six-month incremental increase of Soviet offensive missile systems is larger than that which was projected in last year’s intelligence estimate (110 vs 53) and should be taken into consideration with regard to current projections.

Under the current program, the US capability for retaliatory assured destruction changes little between the two cutoff dates, remaining at about the 40 percent Soviet fatality level under conservative assumptions of a Soviet first strike; however, there would be a decrease in the damage limiting capabilities of US forces commensurate with the buildup of Soviet forces. Their additional missile deployments during the 6-month delay would increase Soviet strategic capabilities against the United States by expanding the number of offensive systems which must be considered in US targeting plans. The Soviet ability to inflict retaliatory assured destruction on the United States would remain approximately comparable to our capability.

If it can be assumed that there will be an agreement which limits launchers at programmed and projected levels so that the United States cannot increase its forces beyond this level, each month’s delay puts the United States in a relatively poorer position. If there is a possibility [Page 5] that the current review of US strategic posture may determine the need for modification of basic strategy with a resultant ultimate upward adjustment of strategic force levels, early talks might foreclose these options. On the other hand, early talks could improve our understanding of Soviet strategic intentions and prove beneficial to a US posture review.

A major military objective of an arms limitation agreement would be to minimize the effects of Soviet efforts in the development and deployment of a significant BMD system, production of mobile land-based offensive missiles and increases in the SLBM fleet. As delays in an agreement develop, these Soviet programs pose an increasing and more complex threat to US security and make attainment of a viable agreement more difficult.

An important issue related to delaying talks is the increased chance that with the passage of time the Soviets might deploy land-mobile ICBMs and MIRVs earlier than now estimated, as well as resume the deployment of ABM launchers. These actions would represent thresholds, which if crossed, would be for all practical purposes irreversible, and would have to be taken into account in formulating agreements. In particular, a total ban on land-mobile systems would be easier to verify than a limit on numbers. Under a total ban, detection of only one Soviet mobile ICBM would be a violation, but accurate assessments of agreed levels would be more difficult to attain.

III. Impact of 6-Month Delay on US FY 70 Programs

At this time or even after talks had been initiated, the specific terms of a final agreement would be difficult to predict. However, as a result of analyses, there are several considerations that we could expect to affect the constraints which an agreement would impose and which can be used as a basis for estimating the likely impact of initiating talks on our force posture:

No constraints on R&D and production.
Freeze on number of launchers and construction starts as of cutoff date.
Prohibition on land or ship mobile missiles or mobile ABMs.
ABM launchers (and reloads) and possible radars would be limited.
Possible limit on bombers and air defenses.
No constraints on bomber or missile penaids (chaff, decoys, SCAD, SRAM, etc).
Possible provisions for transfer of missiles to new harder silos or hard point defense.
Possible limits on flight testing or deploying MIRVs.

During the 6-month time-period between 1 March 1969 (possible early initiation of talks) and 1 September 1969 (possible delayed date of initiation), there would be no impact by the above constraints on [Page 6] milestones scheduled under the current US strategic force program, with the exception of possible constraints on MIRV testing. If early talks resulted in a MIRV test ban, we would not complete the test program. If talks were delayed, the fact that considerable MIRV flight testing (for both sides) had occurred might make agreement on a verifiable MIRV ban less likely.

The ongoing FY 70 budget and strategic posture review might modify the current program and early talks could foreclose options that might be developed. Early initiation of talks would not necessarily preclude us from proceeding more rapidly with development of new systems or improving currently programmed systems. However, given the constraints of likely agreements and recognizing that new systems could not reach the deployment phase or probably even the production phase over the six-month interval a delay of this length would have little significance in terms of cost or technical milestones.

The longer the delay in initiating talks and the more protracted the period of negotiations once talks begin, the greater would be the pressures to make decisions for improvements in and additions to the strategic forces. There also would be opposite pressures to delay force decisions pending an outcome of negotiations. In the event of a protracted delay, controversial force additions and qualitative improvements to systems which may ultimately be affected by an agreement could be jeopardized.

The initiation of strategic talks could influence our decisions on strategic programs in two ways: (1) There may be less interest in taking steps towards deployments of systems which eventually might be limited by an agreement. (2) There could be more emphasis on systems which would not be expected to be constrained and which could be used as hedges or safeguards under an agreement.

Initiation of talks could result in near term reprogramming of Soviet resources. Current indications suggest the likelihood of continued acceleration in Soviet strategic force buildup. The incremental additions to the current forces during this time period, however, would probably not be significant in terms of current relative strategic capabilities.

  1. Source: Ford Library, Laird Papers, Box 22, SALT, Chronological File. Top Secret. Laird transmitted this paper to Kissinger under cover of a February 13 memorandum for discussion at an NSC meeting scheduled for February 14. Laird also attached a JCS paper of the same title, which he noted contained a few modifications from the Department of Defense paper. Another copy of this paper indicates that it was drafted in ISA and SA with the Joint Staff in response to a request at the February 6 NSC Review Group meeting. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 330–75–0103, USSR, 388.3) See footnote 2, Document 12.
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