211. Memorandum for the Record1


  • NSC Meeting on ABM


  • President Nixon
  • Vice President Agnew
  • Secretary of State William P. Rogers
  • Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird
  • General George A. Lincoln, Director, Office of Emergency Preparedness
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Attorney General John N. Mitchell
  • Under Secretary of State John N. Irwin II
  • Richard Helms, Director of Central Intelligence
  • Carl Duckett, Deputy Director for Science and Technology, Central Intelligence Agency
  • General John D. Ryan, Acting Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Ronald I. Spiers, Director, Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs, Department of State
  • Gerard Smith, Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency
  • Philip J. Farley, Deputy Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency
  • Spurgeon Keeny, Assistant Director for Science and Technology, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency
  • Mr. John J. McCloy, Chairman, President’s Disarmament Advisory Committee
  • Ambassador J. Graham Parsons, Member SALT Delegation
  • Mr. Paul Nitze, Member SALT Delegation
  • Dr. Gardiner Tucker, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Systems Analysis
  • Colonel Richard T. Kennedy, NSC Staff
  • Dr. K. Wayne Smith, NSC Staff
  • Mr. Helmut Sonnenfeldt, NSC Staff

The President: We will have the usual procedures. We’ll start with Henry outlining the issues. Then I will issue instructions later. I want to hear today about the ABM and SLBM issues. Henry, will you start?

Dr. Kissinger: I will address these issues: the nature of the ABM limit; the nature of the offensive limit; the link between the offensive and defensive limits; and the form of an agreement. That comes later.

The President: We haven’t discussed the degree of formality yet, have we?

Mr. Sonnenfeldt: Yes, we have discussed it. We talked of an agreement but the Soviets want a treaty on the defensive side but haven’t said anything on the offensive side.

Dr. Kissinger: At the opening of the negotiation the position was to defend three sites with ABM, as opposed to the present position, which is that either side can have two sites with 200 interceptors or else, if one of them is NCA, 100 interceptors. This in effect says we stay where we both are.

The rationale for the change from protection of the national capital—which the Soviets have but we haven’t—is that it’s a bad idea to begin by tearing down what we had and starting something new. The argument that this gives an asymmetry is offset by the offensive asymmetry. Moscow defends 25% of the Soviet population, 35% of their industry, and 500 missiles. Our sites protect only 350 Minutemen and only 5% of our population and industry.

The Soviet proposal is that each side defend its NCA and in addition each side gets one of its missile sites defended. Thus the Soviets could defend two fields while we could do only the capital. If this was accepted, we would probably wind up with three sites for the Soviets and we would wind up with only one missile field.

This is why the Verification Panel recommended against this proposal.2 We could just as well argue Moscow against Grand Forks.

The President: We have to face the fact that an arms limitation agreement which requires us to build something new to stay equal won’t work. I’m referring to the NCA.

Secretary Laird: Yes, that is true defensively, but not necessarily so offensively.

Dr. Kissinger: If the Soviets don’t accept this proposal, the Verification Panel considered these choices.

[Page 641]

The first is to scale down the US proposal—to accept Grand Forks against Moscow—and just don’t defend Minuteman by more than one site. This gives some better urban protection against accidental attack.

In all the discussions before May 20 we always held to three to one. They didn’t either accept it or reject it. We then would be going from 12 sites down to one and there would be pressure to go to zero. We would have to start the process by dismantling some of ours, while the Soviets keep theirs. The political and psychological cost of this would be high. If we do it, we should go for more offensive limitations.

The second option is the DOD plan, by which the US keeps one Safeguard and the Soviets keep Moscow—but if there is no offensive agreement in the same period, both go to hard-site defense of a given number of silos with qualitative limits, making point defense of missiles. This rests on an assumption that the Soviets would agree to an arrangement for short-range interceptors. This would protect more US Minutemen and give the Soviets a high incentive to negotiate an offensive limit. On the other hand, this is most complex and has never been put before the Soviets. They also are confused about our stance now, and this proposal would be very difficult for them to understand.

In practice it is 1-to-1 for the short term, which the Soviets would agree. Whether to speed up the negotiations depends on whether they see an opportunity to build for SS–9 protection. It may be more difficult to negotiate qualitative limits on short-range interceptors. Verification would be difficult.

Third is to leave the choice between NCA and missile field defense left open to later. This leaves open the possibility of NCA defense. The problem is we could wind up for the same period with both.

The President: This would require a new system to be built by both sides.

General Ryan: Yes, they have the technical capability we have to do so.

The President: We might be able to get Congress to go along. It is not provocative because it doesn’t protect cities.

Dr. Kissinger: This could not be used.

Secretary Rogers: It would look dilatory since we can’t have more.

Mr. Nitze: It wouldn’t look dilatory if they want to discuss it.

Mr. Smith: Will the Soviets want to talk about certain kinds of short-range interceptors but not so many?

Dr. Kissinger: The announcement of May 20th says that we will have a defensive agreement with some freezes on offensive systems. The argument is that we are freezing ourselves into inferiority. But the conception was a moratorium stopping construction of offensive land-based missiles on both sides—the idea was that this was a unilateral [Page 642] hold on the Soviets. A lot depends on how long the agreement—the freeze—lasts. If the time period is short, it is an advantage to us. The Soviets would have to stop 25 new silos and new construction.

The big question later is how about submarines? The Soviets refused to discuss it; we insisted on discussing it. The question later will be, if we have an otherwise satisfactory agreement …

The President: They are stepping up and they will catch up by ‘73. What about the ULMS?

Dr. Kissinger: They have none yet. What is the strategic significance of the disparity in numbers of SLBMs given the difference in the basing problem? They might need 70 to cover the same as we do. The issue is, we have to decide what produces the greater pressure of the follow-on negotiation on the offensive side. If we freeze, we could freeze ULMs.

Secretary Laird: It would depend on the mix.

Mr. Smith: The present proposal would not permit us to go ahead with construction of ULMS.

The President: Does DOD want to freeze? Is this wise? We could get Congressional support to build subs but probably not for missiles.

Attorney General Mitchell: It depends how you sell it.

The Vice President: There is better public impact in submarines.

The President: They can make a deal any way they want, but we have to be concerned about public support. We’ll take lots of heat on the offensive loss.

Secretary Rogers: Subs are the easiest to get.

The Vice President: Even critics of ABM say build more subs.

Secretary Laird: They are trying for superiority and will get it by ‘77. If we don’t put some limits, we can’t sell this agreement.

The President: What is the situation?

Secretary Laird: The earliest we can get going is ‘77.

Dr. Kissinger: If Mel’s argument is right, the argument will be: Do you want a buildup of ICBMs and SLBMs? Because we are fighting for both, thus we are not willing to constrain only ICBMs.

Secretary Laird: The tremendous buildup they can make will force us to build and lose an agreement.

Secretary Rogers: It’s between the military position and the political position. The real question is if you can’t get a limit on SLBMs, do you take no agreement at all?

General Ryan: The Chiefs feel there should be a total limit with freedom to mix the change.

Mr. Smith: That won’t sell. We could double our Polaris but they would have to trade land for sea. I think we can get a freeze on SLBMs but I’m not sure it’s wise.

[Page 643]

Secretary Laird: There hasn’t been enough discussion of the offensive situation.

The President (to Secretary Laird): Has the sub situation been studied carefully?

Secretary Laird: The best estimate now is we can get it by ‘77.

The President: In the sub area we are good. Why not go ahead?

Secretary Laird: I think the Soviets are going for superiority.

The President: I agree.

Secretary Laird: They have two modernized yards and have cut the construction time. We have a political problem even more than a military problem.

Dr. Kissinger: But if we have an ICBM freeze and no SLBM freeze, we can go ahead and build. Otherwise we freeze ourselves behind or maybe don’t get an agreement.

The President: We’re not giving away anything on ICBMs when we’re not going to build anyway. Why not go ahead on the subs we can build?

General Ryan: They are building only nine a year.

The President: If we take an ICBM freeze alone, then we can build subs and we can do better than they can. The Chiefs are unanimous?

General Ryan: Yes.

Mr. McCloy: The Advisory Committee,3 Mr. President, favors a minimum level on ABMs. We also favor linking subs and ICBMs. It’s a difficult political situation if we don’t have a limit on subs.

Attorney General Mitchell: On offensive weapons, we are talking about a freeze to give time to talk about a treaty?

Mr. Smith: On balance a freeze is better on both of us, because if we freeze ABMs and ICBMs while they build more boats (and we request a new sub program) we would have a bad public relation problem.

The President: If can’t get both, then what?

Mr. Smith: I’d prefer not to answer.

Attorney General Mitchell: But won’t we involve FBS?

Secretary Rogers: We have to push though the Soviets may not understand how we feel.

Mr. Smith: We need to give a clear high-level signal.

Secretary Laird: When do we have to give a signal? Can we wait to the budget? They don’t think we’re going to build any subs.

[Page 644]

Mr. McCloy: Arbatov discussed this with me. He didn’t know whether the Soviets were adamant on subs.

Mr. Smith: This is why we should press hard.

Secretary Laird: I would like to talk a bit about ABM. Paul [Nitze],4 would you clarify on the Soviet position?

Mr. Nitze: They would restrict us to protection of 150 silos on the US side. We could keep all the ______5 we now have.

Dr. Kissinger: But the important thing is that we could face an upgrade problem.

Mr. Nitze: I think Congress would be more favorable to a proposal that ABM is improving the defense of Minuteman. I hate to see us winding up with two Safeguard sites which don’t really defend much. Zero is better than that. The Soviets’ September 7 proposal6 was: would we discuss the defense of silos—which is easier than defense of a city? We think we have ideas which would do this. And what they are talking about—it’s hard to get them to agree. I think we should …

Mr. Smith: We have to have a new system.

Mr. Nitze: We have an R&D program now.

Mr. Smith: That is inconsistent with the idea of cutting back.

The Vice President: Is the talk of offensive limits only on numbers? How about on size?

Mr. Smith: We would have a separate ceiling on MLBMs.

I think getting an agreement on this sort of package is very difficult.

General Ryan: The Chiefs believe an MLBM limit is okay if it’s within the limit we’re talking about now.

Director Helms: They don’t have a MIRV now but they will have, I believe in about one year.

The Vice President: Paul’s argument is that this protects our retaliatory capability.

General Ryan: The Chiefs believe NCA makes sense and we want defense also of two missile fields. We would go for a new system.

Mr. Nitze: If we could get it.

Dr. Kissinger: You don’t need to decide now, Mr. President, except to affirm that we stay with our two-for-one proposal and include SLBMs. These issues will only arise later.

Mr. Smith: If we raise new thoughts now, we are going to confuse them.

[Page 645]

The President: I want to see what we can do on building subs. I see the arguments against but we still need to look at this. We’ve been frozen so long in all areas. There is lots of steam and concern that we are going to a position of inferiority. We just may have to go the sub route. Please give me the numbers.

[The meeting concluded.]7

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–110, National Security Council Minutes Originals 1971 thru 6–20–74. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room.
  2. See Document 209.
  3. Reference is to the General Advisory Committee for Arms Control and Disarmament, also called the McCloy Committee.
  4. Brackets are in the original.
  5. Omission is in the original.
  6. See Document 185.
  7. Brackets are in the original.