216. Memorandum From Philip Odeen and Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Possible Decisions Prior to the Christmas Recess at SALT

The last SALT meeting in Vienna prior to the recess will be on Wednesday, December 22. There are two proposals for modifying our position before the recess. These proposals involve:

  • —Form of the agreements;
  • —Modifying our SLBM position.

Form of the Agreements

Our understanding is that the President prefers the ABM limitations to be in a treaty; we are less clear on the form of the offensive limitations, but in any case they should be in a formal and public agreement.

Efforts in the normal inter-agency channels to develop a formal position for the Delegation led to a split. All the agencies, except OSD, are willing to approve instructions which simply state that the ABM agreement should be a treaty and the offensive agreement should be formal and public.

The OSD position has vacillated. Secretary Laird has just written you and cleared matters up. (See Tab B.)2 He is willing to accept a treaty for the ABMs, provided that Smith states at the same time that:

  • —(1) There must be a clause which allows us to withdraw if an acceptable follow-up offensive agreement has not been negotiated after a specified time (e.g., 5 years);
  • —(2) An ABM agreement is only acceptable if acceptable offense limits will be in force so long as the ABM limits continue.

Regarding the withdrawal provisions (1), this is our present announced position. (We have yet to specify the period, having reserved that decision until we know more about the terms of the agreements.) Restating this position, which the Soviets have objected to, would be [Page 653] useful. It is in the U.S. interests to tie the limited offensive agreement to the ABM agreement as much as possible.

As for insuring that we do not eventually have limits only on ABMs (2), this is not an explicit U.S. position, though it is suggested by our withdrawal provision. It might be helpful to state this principle to emphasize our concern that, after a few years, we would only have limits on ABMs.

Reaffirming our present position on withdrawal and stating a principle on duration is different from making them as Laird apparently wants, sine qua nons for allowing the ABM agreement to be in the form of a treaty. Our position on form is unlikely to provide much negotiating leverage. Hence, linking our decision on form to provisions regarding duration and withdrawal would serve mainly to slow down the negotiating process and to complicate the issues unnecessarily.

OSD seems to be trying again to obtain major concessions with only a peppercorn of an offer.

Given OSD’s position and the short time left before the recess, you will need to sign out a directive to the SALT Back Stopping Committee if you want to implement a decision on form now. You can meet Laird halfway by instructing Smith to reaffirm our present position on withdrawal and to state a principle that offensive limitations continue as long as defensive limitations. (You assured Smith in a private communication that you would be able to give him some indications by the 20th.)3

Alternatively, you could defer this until later, deciding it during the recess in connection with the related issues of withdrawal, etc.

Attached at Tab A4 is a memorandum from you to the Chairman of the Under Secretaries Committee (i.e., Back Stopping Committee) which says that the President has decided that:

  • —The defensive agreement should be a treaty;
  • —The offensive agreement should be a formal, public agreement. The Delegation should preserve U.S. options as to our subsequent handling of the agreement—e.g., an executive agreement requiring Congressional approval, or a simple executive agreement;
  • —On related matters such as withdrawal, duration, etc., the Delegation should be guided by existing instructions. However, the Delegation should reaffirm the importance of our provisions regarding withdrawal. Moreover, it should state that, either with the interim [Page 654] offensive agreement or a follow-on agreement, we expect that there will be offensive limitations so long as the ABM limits continue.


If you want to settle the form issue, without further discussion, you should sign the memo to the USC at Tab A.



Defer until later; decide in connection with related issues of duration, etc.5

Delegation Proposal on SLBMs

The Delegation has requested approval (Tab C)6 to present a change in our present SLBM proposal. Instead of a freeze on all new submarine construction after July 31, 1971, the Delegation would propose that the number of SLBM launchers be fixed after a certain date (to be left unspecified); in effect, this permits replacement of old SLBMs with new ones within that numerical limit.

If the Soviets accept this compromise, it would be a good bargain. We would get SLBMs included. As for the possibility of replacement:

  • —The Soviets have about 90 SLBMs on older G and H class submarines which they might want to replace.
  • —The U.S. now has 10 Polaris submarines (160 SLBMs) which we might want to replace with ULMS or new Poseidon submarines.

However, the real purpose of this provision is to attempt to react to Soviet hints that, while a freeze on submarines is out of the question, there is some flexibility on SLBMs.

Making the modified proposal before the Christmas recess will give the Soviets time to consider this proposal and possibly to respond before the next planned recess on January 20th.

However, you might want to hold the line through the Christmas recess. Also, views on the Delegation’s proposal should be obtained from the agencies.

  • —It is not certain whether we want to leave the freeze date unspecified. (Possibly the Delegation left it blank because of internal conflicts among themselves.) If we left the date open, we might end up with a date of July 1972 (the Soviet proposal on ICBMs), which would allow them not only to replace the old SLBMs but also to start construction [Page 655] on at least eight more Y-class submarines than they are now allowed. Moreover, any uncertainly on our part about the freeze date on SLBMs would suggest a similar uncertainty about our freeze date on ICBMs.
  • —There might be some sympathy for also allowing freedom-to-fix from land to sea. However, this would seem more advantageous to the Soviets who have over 200 SS–7’s and SS–8’s which they might retire, while we have only 54 Titans.

We could poll the agencies and get some tentative views by Saturday7 noon. However, a more thorough job would require at least a week, meaning it would be finished after the start of the Christmas recess.

If you want to defer any change on SLBMs for now, we need the authority to instruct the Delegation to hold off making the proposal. In the meantime we will begin polling the agencies.


In order to avoid changes before the recess, that you authorize us to direct the Delegation not to make a new SLBM proposal before the Christmas recess.

Approved8 (We will begin polling the agencies)

Disapproved. Prepare a paper immediately on this issue.


  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 882, SALT, SALT talks (Helsinki), Vol. 17, September–December 1971. Top Secret; Sensitive. Sent for urgent action. Sent under a December 16 covering memorandum in which Odeen and Sonnenfeldt informed Kissinger that “Laird has changed the OSD position on form of the agreement, such that you might find it possible to find a compromise position, as discussed in the attached memorandum.”
  2. Attached but not printed is Laird’s December 14 memorandum to Kissinger.
  3. In backchannel message WH11143 to Smith, December 13, Kissinger gave assurances of more detailed instructions on an ABM treaty from the President by December 20. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 427, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages, 1971 SALT)
  4. Attached but not printed.
  5. Kissinger checked this option.
  6. Attached but not printed.
  7. December 18.
  8. Kissinger initialed this option.