208. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Laird to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • SALT

In my memorandum of 15 September 1971 to the President,2 I expressed my deep concern over the trend in SALT and over the serious international and domestic problems which could face the U.S. if this [Page 633] trend continues. I mentioned that our goal in SALT must be (a) to halt and then reverse the growing Soviet offensive advantage in throw-weight and numbers of delivery vehicles while (b) limiting or reducing ABM defenses of Soviet cities.

In formulating U.S. strategy and tactics for SALT VI, we should retain these two objectives. We should also strive for an arrangement which will provide inducements to the Soviets to negotiate a more satisfactory follow-on agreement.

We made progress in SALT V toward a defensive agreement that is specific, precise, and relatively free of loopholes. I believe that we must continue to press for these qualities, with priority on precise controls on ABM radars and other ABM capable radars.

I am, however, deeply concerned that the Soviets are succeeding with their tactic of splitting an ABM agreement from any real consideration of strategic offensive limitations. We have, in effect, offered to give up our right to a strategically significant defense of our ICBMs without asking for or obtaining offensive limits that would justify this sacrifice. I believe that we are in danger of losing sight altogether of the relationship between the offensive threat and the survivability of our retaliatory forces. We must re-establish during SALT VI this offense-defense linkage. We should not freeze ourselves into an ABM position that has neither long term strategic utility nor leverage on the Soviets to continue meaningful offense negotiations.

Accordingly, I recommend the following:


We should retain the flexibility for increasing the level of defense of a portion of our Minuteman force if a satisfactory follow-on agreement on offenses cannot be obtained within four or five years. The Soviets, with their September 7 proposal,3 have opened the door for just such a proposition. A proposal consistent with the Soviet approach might have the following features.

Each side would be entitled to a defense of its capital with 100 ABM interceptors.
Each side could defend an agreed number of ABM silos subject to appropriate geographic and ABM performance limitations.
The U.S. would complete and retain the ABM capability under construction at Grand Forks. In addition each side would be permitted an unlimited number of short range interceptors and short-range radars colocated with ICBM silos.
There would be an agreement that neither side would initiate the deployment of the defenses not now under construction until a follow-on agreement was concluded, or until a period of two to five years has passed, whichever event occurs first.

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Such an approach would give time for conclusion of a follow-on agreement and would preserve the flexibility to move toward an ABM ban or toward a defense of a portion of our ICBMs if that should become necessary. The prospect of ABM defense expansion on both sides could provide an incentive to the Soviets to negotiate a follow-on agreement providing reduction in the counterforce threat to Minuteman.

We should continue to press for a limit on SLBMs in an interim offense agreement. However, we should not give up the freedom to initiate new SSBN construction for an indefinite period of time. It would therefore be in our interest to negotiate an interim offensive agreement that would permit, unless subsequently replaced by a more complete agreement, the freedom to replace aging SSBNs and replace vulnerable ICBM launchers with SLBM launchers after four or five years.
Finally, I believe it is time to demonstrate that we can and will react to the Soviet strategic offensive buildup. I believe the best action we might take now is to include in the FY 73 budget substantial funds for early deployment of new SSBNs. I will provide, within the next few days, concrete proposals along these lines.

In conclusion, it is my belief that an agreement on ABMs and an interim offensive agreement have a slim chance of being replaced by more satisfactory and complete agreements within the next five years unless we provide the Soviets with inducements for cooperating to this end. We must provide such inducements and hedge against a failure of follow-on negotiations. My recommendations support both of these objectives.4

Melvin R. Laird
  1. Source: Ford Library, Laird Papers, Box 26, SALT, Chronological File. Top Secret.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 199.
  3. See Document 185.
  4. In an October 30 memorandum to Kissinger, K. Wayne Smith and Sonnenfeldt summarized Laird’s views in preparation for the Verification Panel meeting scheduled for November 1. They commented that “before we allow replacement or freedom-to-mix [of SSBNs], we should consider carefully how long the provisions of the interim agreement will last.” They also disagreed with Laird about the effects of a freedom-to-mix provision on the Soviets. They argued that “the Soviets have more obsolescent ICBMs and missile submarines than we do and would benefit from these provisions in the short-term.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–009, Verification Panel Meeting SALT 11/3/71)