206. Conversation Among President Nixon, the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig), the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (Shultz), and the Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget (Weinberger)1
[Omitted here is discussion of the Department of Defense budget.]
Nixon: The idea of a cut, and so forth, as you know, Al, from the briefing we had with Defense, I’ve raised it on several occasions.
Haig: Well, I think that—
Nixon: And every time I raise it, they just blandly say, “Oh, well, we can’t do anything about that.” But now, anybody who’s got any goddamn brains at all knows that the Soviet Union and [laughs] Communist China—nobody is going to send some aircraft in on a strike on the United States of America, for Christ’s sake. They’re not going to do it when we can strike back in 15 seconds, or whatever it is—in 30 seconds. It’s one of these things, isn’t that correct? The whole air—the whole idea of having a lot of interceptors there, ready to take out these bombers—but then, they say, “Oh yeah, but they’re building bombers.” Sure they’re building bombers. What is it about? It’s probably about China. It may not be about us. Who knows? They’ll make all sorts of arguments, but the flyboys—you know, it’s a funny thing—but they’ve got to realize that with regard to this, they’re going very quickly the way the battleship went. And it’s sad, but it has—huh?
Haig: Yeah, we’ve got terrible redundancy out there. [unclear]—
Nixon: We do have. For Christ’s sake, we’re so goddamn redundant that we find, now, that, as I understand, 80 percent of the trucks killed are made by these old two-engine planes, re-converted cargo planes. Right? And all the super jet boys are up there, you know, getting Air Medals for dropping it out in the jungles. [unclear]
Haig: When you ask the question about the levels thing, my main problem is, sir, facing political constraints and not monetary ones—
Haig: —I personally think we’re going to have a hell—a hell of a lot of political issues leaving the troops there, given the steps we need to take—[Page 628]
Nixon: So am I. The strategic interests?
Haig: That’s right.
Nixon: Well, assuming we get a SALT agreement, we still are?
Haig: I think so. I think we’re going to get something that will be right [unclear]—
Nixon: On the SALT?
Haig: Yes, sir.
Nixon: Well then, Al, what do you think should be done about the budgetary issue?2
Haig: Well, I—that, you see, it’s a moot question at this point, because—
Haig: —we could not put those strategic forces in this year while the SALT is on—
Nixon: Yeah, but on the other hand, if we get the right kind of—Well, we don’t know what kind of a SALT agreement we’re going to get. Is that your point?
Haig: That’s right, sir. We’re going to have to just look at it very hard.
Nixon: And, on the other hand—on the—well, not to be Pollyannaish about it, I assume that this whole budget assumes that we’re going to go forward gung-ho on MIRV?
Haig: Yes, it does.
Nixon: It helps a little bit.
Haig: It helps a little. It’s a—it doesn’t help if they give up the first-strike. It doesn’t help a bit.
Nixon: No. Yeah, because MIRV is retaliatory, right?
Haig: It gives us the numbers of [unclear]—
Nixon: Yeah, but if you get on this, on SALT, assuming you get an agreement, you mean, you don’t—you think the agreement is on the edge to allow them—
Haig: I think we’re right on the edge—
Nixon: And, and, and allowing them a first-strike capability?
Haig: No. No, I wouldn’t say that far, yet, sir. If they cheat a little—
Nixon: They’d have to have quite a bit for a first-strike job. Wouldn’t they?
Haig: They’d have—they’d have to go considerably farther—
Nixon: But, also, when you stop and think about the strike, the first-strike thing, when you look at MIRV, well, that’s gotta be one hell of a deterrent, it seems to me.[Page 629]
Haig: Yes, because of the substantial number of the casualties.
Nixon: And the great number [of warheads] that can get through. What do you think we ought to do? Do you think we ought to get going on some more?
Nixon: No, let’s assume we don’t get it. So, we don’t get a SALT agreement. What would you do right now? [unclear]
Haig: Next year? I’d definitely add to ‘em.
Nixon: Yeah, but what? To what? Minutemen? What the hell?
Haig: I think probably with boats.
Nixon: Polaris and Minutemen?
Haig: Yes, sir.
Nixon: Well, they don’t give us first-strike capability—those things. Is that what we’re looking at? Are they trying to balance [unclear]—
Haig: No, no. That’s not what we’re trying for. We’re just trying to maintain our deterrent there.
Nixon: Well, I see.
Haig: Because we can’t go for a first-strike.
Nixon: Never. That’s right. But, you mean that that—but, you really think, at the present time, you feel we need more Minutemen and more Polaris, in order to deter the first-strike? Is that it?
Haig: But I don’t—
Nixon: But you don’t think we should do it now?
Haig: —[unclear] do it now. No.
Nixon: You don’t think so?
Nixon: Those we can?
Haig: It would wreck everything. In the first place, I don’t think the Congress would stand for it.
Haig: Second place, it would hurt SALT.
Nixon: It’d raise hell with the Soviet, those little bastards. [unclear]—
Haig: In a way, we have to consider this next year. We’ve got to stall on a SALT agreement.
Nixon: Oh! Oh, absolutely.
Shultz: I’m not certain that that’s just not a goal.
Nixon: We’re not going to get a stall, I hope, Al. In my view, they’re not gonna have a stall.
Haig: No, I think we’re looking at one—[Page 630]
Nixon: We’ll make a deal, but it’s going to be a close deal. But when we go ahead with MIRV it’ll work, I hope.
Haig: Especially if the New Yorkers don’t like that.
Nixon: Hell, they’d negotiate a credit for his visit.
Weinberger: We’re the MIRV warmongers.
Shultz: Mr. President, coming back to the first—
Nixon: All right, this is fine on MIRV. You’ve gotten what you want to do.
[Omitted here is conversation unrelated to SALT.]
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Executive Office Building, Conversation No. 292–11. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with Haig, Shultz, Weinberger, and Ehrlichman between 3:05 and 5:05 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.↩
- Reference is to the Department of Defense budget.↩