202. Memorandum From K. Wayne Smith of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Work for SALT VI

To minimize the inevitable last-minute crunch and to avoid letting the Delegation have too free a rein, we need to begin planning now for SALT VI which is to begin November 15 in Vienna.2

I do not think that there is an inordinate amount of work to do, but much of the planning must be started now. The bureaucracy is already starting to get restless over the lack of guidance.

We already have studies completed or well underway on such issues as:

  • —Silo relocation;
  • —Definition of Testing of SAMs in an ABM mode;
  • —Forms of Agreement.

Moreover, in the last few days, I have:

  • —Directed the Verification Panel Working Group to prepare a paper on the strategic implications of giving the Soviets more “Modern ABM Radar Complexes” (inevitably dubbed “MARCs)”;
  • —Informally requested a paper identifying issues arising from the joint draft text prepared ad referendum at Helsinki, but not including issues of offensive or defensive levels.

Not now being studied are:

  • —Issues surrounding SLBM replacement (this study was never initiated since we wanted to see whether and how the issues might arise);
  • —Changes in offensive and defensive levels.

Offensive and Defensive Levels

The most pressing issue you need to consider is how to handle discussion of possible changes in our proposed offensive and defensive levels.

There is a distinct likelihood that Defense will mount a major campaign (à la Laird’s last letter)3 to reopen the issue of the offensive limits contained in our current proposal.

This campaign was foreshadowed by recent remarks by Paul Nitze to the effect that the question of survivability of strategic forces under a SALT agreement had changed radically since last March. He seemed to feel that we need to look again at our entire proposal in light of the numerical growth of Soviet forces and of the developments (to me as yet undecipherable) disclosed by recent photography.

I agree that we should continue our analysis of strategic forces survivability. Indeed, we are updating the Survivability work in the Strategic Objectives and Forces Study which will be reviewed by the DPRC in late October/early November. This is because the threats projected under a SALT agreement along the lines of our present proposal are different since our earlier work was based on the August 4 proposal.

However, the Minuteman survivability issue is largely irrelevant and should not be introduced into SALT if we are considering an agreement along the lines of May 20.

Totally rejecting the limited and interim nature of the May 20 agreement, Laird and Nitze will argue for more comprehensive offensive limits on the grounds:

  • —That it is unlikely that we will have a follow-on agreement;
  • —That we are freezing the U.S. in a position of numerical inferiority in ICBMs (c. 1600 to 1054);
  • —That we are giving up our right to defend Minuteman since we have given up the option of Hard-Site Defense (HSD);
  • —That the Soviets will build a large margin in SLBMs if they are not included in an agreement.

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But we accepted these risks when we accepted the idea of a limited agreement on offensive systems. Moreover, as noted below, the real risks are not as great as Laird and Nitze argue:

  • —The numerical inferiority argument overlooks our numerical superiority in FBS and bombers and our qualitative advantage—e.g., MIRVs;
  • —We are unlikely to build any more land-based ICBMs and since the Soviet ICBMs are our greatest worry, freezing ICBMs at any level is in our interests;
  • —If the Soviets want to develop a capability to destroy all or most Minuteman, they could do that almost as well under the August 4 proposal. Hard-Site Defense was banned there and the Soviets were allowed more than enough ICBMs, with qualitative improvements, to do the job;
  • —We may not want to freeze SLBMs since that is the only way we could reduce a numerical imbalance if we felt it important to do so. Rather, we might prefer to make a strong declaration of our intentions if the Soviet Y-class program continues at the present pace. (Of course, we must recognize that Phase II will involve bargaining and if SLBMs are excluded from Phase I they will be linked to FBS in Phase II. Further, our Congress may be unwilling to let us build up the SLBM fleet.)
  • —The important arguments on the ABM agreement are that we won’t get Safeguard from the Congress anyway and that the potential effect on our assured destruction capability of Soviet ABMs outweighs any potential value of Minuteman Defense. Moreover, HSD looks to be very, very costly and in an unfavorable exchange ratio in the face of serious Soviet efforts to destroy our ICBMs in their silos.

The real issue on offensive levels is whether we are prepared to accept a limited agreement in the face of Soviet force changes since the preparation of the May 20 agreement. The Soviets now have at least 86 new silos (25 of which are at SS–9 fields) and the implied total of their SLBMs is now about 765 (656 on Y-class boats, equal to our Polaris/Poseidon force) compared to our estimates of about 700 last Spring.

Thus, I think we should consider whether we want to make relatively minor changes in offensive levels, e.g.:

  • —Do we want to change the ICBM freeze to stop all construction on January 1, 1972, if the Soviets refuse to include SLBMs? Do we want to change in any case?
  • —Do we want to offer completion of all ICBMs under construction as an inducement to get SLBMs covered? (This adds the 25 or so new silos in SS–9 fields to our present position.)

Additionally, we probably want to realign the rationale for our ABM position to reflect a “stop-where-you-are” position. We may even want to change the wording of our proposal to include this approach.

The question is how we should handle discussion of possible changes in our proposed offensive and defensive levels.

One approach would be to avoid doing any more papers on the subject. There is already a wealth of analytical material on this subject and [Page 620] future decisions turn on negotiating and political judgments. A well-directed discussion at a Verification Panel meeting could cover all the important issues leading to a decision.

If you accept this approach it would be helpful to have an early Verification Panel meeting to forestall pressures building up and to clear the decks for discussion of the other issues which must be addressed in November.

Another approach would be to request a paper on possible negotiating exchanges on offensive and defensive levels. The issue of Modern ABM Radar Complexes (MARCs) could be introduced into this paper to provide additional possibilities for negotiating exchanges.

This approach would make the whole subject a more formal one from the interagency standpoint. It would make clear ACDA’s and State’s support for further negotiating exchanges. Whether this approach reduces your flexibility turns on whether the JCS would go along with Laird or whether they would admit the need for further exchanges. If they go along with Laird, you will face a deeply divided bureaucracy. If they side with State and ACDA, Laird will be isolated.

If you take this approach of doing a paper, the paper will require at least two weeks to prepare. Hence, the Verification Panel meeting would necessarily be delayed until late October. This would mean a heavy schedule for the first two weeks in November before the Delegation returns to Vienna.

Your decision is to:

Schedule a Verification Panel meeting next week.
Schedule a Verification Panel meeting for late October.4
Prepare a paper on negotiating exchanges on offensive and defensive levels.5
Do not prepare a paper.

Other Issues

As mentioned earlier, I have informally started work on identifying issues arising from the joint draft text prepared ad referendum at Helsinki. This work is to focus on second-order issues—i.e., not on offense and defense levels. These issues include radar limitations, duration of the agreement, definitions, esoteric systems, etc.

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We will have to discuss these issues at a Verification Panel meeting if we want to make progress at SALT VI without giving the Delegation complete discretion on these issues.

I recommend that we put this paper on a more formal basis.

Approve, you direct the Verification Panel Working Group to do it.6


These issues, plus the other issues which already have studies underway can be discussed at Verification Panel meeting(s) in late October/early November.

Hal Sonnenfeldt concurs.7

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 882, SALT, SALT talks (Helsinki), Vol. 17, September–December 1971. Top Secret. Sent for urgent action. Sent through Haig, who initialed the memorandum.
  2. The Helsinki round of negotiations ended September 23. On October 7 Sonnenfeldt forwarded the SALT Delegation report of September 28 to Kissinger under a covering memorandum that reads in part: “since it contains no recommendations, and adds nothing to what the President already knows, I would not send it forward.” Kissinger initialed his approval. (Ibid.)
  3. See Document 199.
  4. Kissinger initialed his approval.
  5. Kissinger checked this option.
  6. Kissinger checked this option.
  7. Sonnenfeldt initialed next to this line.