239. Issues Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Staff1


March 17, 1972

The U.S. SALT Delegation returns to Helsinki to resume the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks on March 28. The Verification Panel has met three times to discuss remaining issues which bar the way to our agreement.2 While a number of issues were analyzed carefully and discussed by the Verification Panel the major issues are:

  • —What should be our basic ABM position? Should we stop both sides where they are? Or, allow each side a limited ICBM defense (with the U.S. having either 2 sites at ICBM fields or one site at an ICBM field and one at Washington, D.C.)? Or, allow each side a dedicated “Hard-Site Defense” of ICBM fields?
  • —How strictly must we control the building of large Soviet radars?
  • —On SLBMs, what modifications, if any, should we make now in our present position—for example, slipping the freeze date, allowing freedom-to-mix?
  • —How essential is it to get SLBMs included in the interim freeze?
  • —What should be the minimum duration of the offensive freeze?


Our Proposal. The U.S. has proposed since the end of August that each side could have either two ABM sites with 200 interceptors protecting ICBM fields or one site with 100 interceptors protecting the capital. Since the Soviets have much of their Moscow site completed and we have two Safeguard sites under construction the clear intent of our proposal was that both sides freeze existing sites, completing what is now under construction.

Our Delegation has concluded that our two-or-one proposal is “not negotiable.”

Soviet Proposal. The Soviets proposed two sites for them (Moscow plus ICBM defense) and one Safeguard site for us. But, this is more [Page 702] likely a negotiating ploy and they have hinted that a two-for-two arrangement is acceptable.

Alternative Approaches. There are six alternative approaches to ABM levels:

Stick with two-or-one ABM sites but with equal interceptors.
One-for-one (i.e., Safeguard for Moscow ABM, possibly with a deferred right to replace Safeguard with NCA defense).
Asymmetrical two-for-two (i.e., U.S. gets two Safeguard sites).
Symmetrical two-for-two (i.e., each side gets NCA defense plus one ICBM defense site).
Two-for-two with Hard-Site Defense (i.e., NCA and one ICBM field).
Three-for-three with Hard-Site Defense (i.e., two ICBM defense sites plus NCA defense for each side).

These alternatives can be narrowed to three conceptual approaches:

  • Both sides stopping where they are.
  • Allowing each side a limited ICBM defense.
  • Allowing each side Hard-Site Defense.

A. Both Sides Stopping Where They Are

Limiting the Soviets to a Moscow defense has the advantage of reducing concerns about the Soviets developing a radar base which could support SAM-upgrade or rapid deployment of interceptors. It would also make it easier at some later point to negotiate zero ABMs, if that is possible, since as a first step we are stopping both sides at a low level.

As for the ABM allowed the U.S., we might get two Safeguard sites but with the same number of interceptors (e.g., 100 or 150) as the Soviets have. [This is an unlikely outcome. The Delegation apparently thinks that this two-for-one is either non-negotiable or would require us to pay too high a price on other issues.] The second possibility would be one site for us as well. This would be a Safeguard site for now, but the deal could include an option to switch later to defense of Washington. The disadvantages are: (1) we would have to stop on-going construction at our second Safeguard site; and (2) Soviet protection of Moscow would be more important than defending our ICBM field with 100 interceptors.

If we cannot accept the ABM deployments which are likely if we limit the Soviets to Moscow, then there is the basic decision whether we should allow each side a limited ICBM defense or a Hard-Site defense.

B. Allowing Each Side a Limited ICBM Defense

A limited ICBM defense is characterized by constraints on the number of interceptors and ABM radars. Our Safeguard ABM system is an example.

[Page 703]

Possible outcomes here could be either: (1) symmetrical two-for-two arrangement where each side gets one ICBM defense site and defense of the capital; or, (2) an asymmetrical two-for-two arrangement where the U.S. would forego defense of Washington for a second Safeguard site.


Symmetrical Arrangement. Under this approach we would be allowed a limited defense of Washington. There are some strategic and diplomatic arguments for such an ABM defense. The Soviets have informally indicated that the symmetrical two-for-two arrangement is negotiable.

The disadvantages are: (1) We would have to stop construction at Malmstrom, although, the non-recoverable expenditures would be only about $100 million; and (2) We would not have an advantage in ICBM defense which could be viewed as a counter to Soviet advantage in numbers of offensive systems.


An Asymmetrical Agreement. An asymmetrical agreement offsets these disadvantages, to a degree.

On the other hand, the second Safeguard site would provide only limited added protection of our Minuteman and bombers and foregoes defense of Washington.

If we allowed a limited ICBM defense we would need careful controls, particularly on radars. The most critical constraint is geographical limits on the location of the ICBM defense site, to keep the ABMs away from heavily populated areas. The Soviets have informally accepted such limits. By also holding the defense to a low number of radar targets we could overwhelm the ABM defense by knocking out all the radars.

Our current position seeks to limit the number of radar targets by limiting the number of Modern ABM Radar Complexes (MARCs). [MARCs are small 3 kilometer circles within which any number of radars are deployed. Even our smallest strategic warhead (the Poseidon RV) can destroy all radars within each circle, giving each circle the value of only one radar.]

We now propose that a total of 4 MARCs be allowed for 2 ICBM fields, and there is general agreement that 6 and possibly 8 MARCs would be acceptable. Although the Soviets have accepted the MARC concept for protection of the national capital, they have rejected it and sought qualitative controls on ICBM defense radars. If we agreed to only qualitative controls, then the Soviets could legitimately deploy many radars and then, by violation or abrogation of the treaty, quickly deploy additional interceptors, which would effectively give them Hard-Site Defense. If we think this likely then we probably want to negotiate for the Hard-Site option for ourselves.

C. Allowing Each Side a Hard-Site Defense (HSD)

Hard-Site Defense involves large numbers of interceptors (e.g. 1000) and radars. The proposals considered are: (1) OSD Proposal. This [Page 704] alternative is ultimately a two-for-two arrangement. Initially, it’s only Moscow ABM for one-site Safeguard. After three years or upon mutual agreement, the U.S. could deploy a defense of Washington and Hard-Site Defense at Grand Forks. The Soviets would be allowed to deploy Hard-Site Defense at one ICBM field; (2) JCS Proposal. This alternative calls for defense of two ICBM fields plus NCA.

Both alternatives essentially boil down to the issue: Is assuring the survivability of the additional Minuteman missiles against some Soviet threats worth the risks of also allowing the Soviets Hard-Site Defense and the possible negotiating and political problems?

Strategic Issues. One site HSD insures a maximum of 100 additional Minuteman survivors over no defense; 2 sites save 150–200. In terms of Minuteman alone this amounts to 5–10% Soviet fatalities; assuming surviving bombers and submarines, about 1–5%. Moreover the Soviets could totally overwhelm the defense using currently available technology. Meanwhile, we would have disturbing worries about adequacy of verification and the potential of many interceptors and radars.
Political and Diplomatic Issues. Hard-Site Defense would give the appearance of increasing stability and it might also be easier to defend politically than Safeguard ABM which has limited effectiveness. However, the OSD proposal is a one-to-one arrangement in the short-term if we got a deferred provision. Moreover, we would have to stop construction at Malmstrom (for the OSD proposal); we would be vulnerable to charges that we were increasing not limiting ABMs; we would have to obtain Congressional approval for ABM defense of Washington and for HSD.
Negotiability. There are some difficult problems here: We would be keeping the number of interceptors unlimited or at a level of 1000 or more, a shift from the negotiating trend; and, there would have to be very strict qualitative limits on the capabilities of the HSD interceptors and radars.

Agency Positions: State and ACDA prefer to limit the Soviets to Moscow and accept 1-for-1. Their second preference is a limited ICBM defense and NCA for each side. OSD and JCS support their respective positions of 2-for-2 and 3-for-3 with HSD. Failing to get HSD, OSD would prefer 1-for-1. CIA has taken no position but notes that verification problems increase with the size of deployments.


We have officially proposed strict limits on Other Large Phased-Array Radars (OLPARs). These are any large radars, ostensibly for other purposes, which could be used in an ABM role. Mutual agreement would be required before either side can construct future OLPARs. [OLPARs are defined as non-ABM phased array radars with [Page 705] a power-aperture production of 106 watt-meters squared.] As a variant, we informally proposed at Vienna an understanding whereby no new OLPARs could be deployed, except for space tracking or for verification purposes. In these cases, there would be consultation. The Soviets have continued to oppose controls on OLPARs, arguing that such controls might limit their future air defenses, a major Soviet concern.

Agency Positions: There was general agreement in the Verification Panel that we should stick with our present position and its variant for the start of the Helsinki session. However, if the Soviets still balk, all but OSD feel that we should be willing to accept some provision or understanding that only requires “advance consultation” since we are protected by Soviet agreement not to give such radars an ABM capability. OSD feels that it is essential that we get strict controls over OLPARs.


We now propose that launchers for submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) be frozen at the number of those operational or under construction as of July 31, 1971. This allows replacement of old SLBMs and submarines with new ones. The Soviet total would be about 660–700 SLBMs; the U.S. total would be 656 SLBMs. (Gerry Smith, as instructed, has privately told Semenov that we might be willing to accept a later freeze date.)

The Soviets continue to reject in principle the inclusion of SLBMs in the interim freeze, although Ambassador Smith noted some slight flexibility.

In the meantime, the Soviets continue to produce Y-class submarines at a rate of 8 per year (or 128 SLBMs) and will have more Y-class submarines operational than the U.S. has Polaris/Poseidon submarines by early 1974.

All agreed in the Verification Panel that we should continue to try, at least for a few weeks, to get SLBMs included. The question facing us is whether it is advisable to modify our present position. Possible modifications are: (1) slip the freeze date to July 1972 or the date of the signing of the agreement, allowing the Soviets an additional 128 SLBMs; (2) allow freedom to mix from ICBMs to SLBMs permitting the Soviets to retire 209 old ICBMs to continue their Y-class program; (3) make ULMS an explicit bargaining chip in SALT by promising to slow our accelerated ULMS construction program.

Agency Positions: State and ACDA would agree to slip the date but are hesitant to allow freedom to mix; ACDA would make ULMS a more explicit bargaining chip. OSD would agree to both changing the date and freedom to mix, but, would change the terms of the freeze to be even tougher than present, and would allow only freedom to mix from [Page 706] silo launchers, not soft ICBMs. JCS opposes both a change in date and freedom to mix.

How Important Are SLBMs?

Dropping SLBMs. The justification for eventually dropping SLBMs is: (1) if both SLBMs and ICBMs are included in a freeze we are implicitly accepting a major Soviet advantage in the aggregate total of offensive missiles; (2) we might have to give on the freeze date and freedom to mix thereby allowing as many as 60 Y-class boats if the Soviets are willing to phase out older subs and soft pad ICBMs; (3) we might have to give much on other issues, and SLBMs could be a roadblock to an agreement.

Reasons to Include SLBMs. There are clear gains if SLBMs are in the freeze: (1) even if we agree to freedom to mix and to a later freeze date, a further build-up of Y class boats will require the Soviets to phase out other systems; (2) we will eventually bring the Y class program to a halt, even if it does continue for another two years or so. If there is no freeze, there is no indication that the Soviets plan to stop building Y class subs soon.

While the strategic advantages to the Soviets of continuing to build Y class subs are not great, the political, diplomatic, and psychological advantages could be significant. Our final SALT agreement could be characterized as: (1) giving the Soviets equality on ABMs; (2) only limiting ICBMs; and, (3) failing to stop the one area where the Soviets have real momentum, Y class submarine construction. Moreover, we will be in a weaker position in the follow-on SAL talks if we don’t have a limit on Soviet SLBMs.


We currently propose indefinite duration for both agreements plus a special withdrawal right in the agreements if there is no follow-on offensive agreement.

To meet Soviet objections to special withdrawal from the ABM treaty, there is general agency agreement that we could drop this provision but make a strong unilateral statement that we might withdraw under the supreme national interest clause in the ABM treaty if offensive limitations lapse.

Only the duration of the offensive freeze is controversial. In contrast to our current position (unlimited duration with special withdrawal), the Soviets propose a finite duration of two years. The basic issue is: Unless replaced by a follow-on agreement, do we wish to keep the offensive freeze in effect as long as possible or should we agree to a relatively short period such as proposed by the Soviets.

If only ICBMs are included in the interim freeze, it would seem that we should want the agreement to last as long as possible since we are [Page 707] building no ICBMs and do not plan to do so while the Soviets have an active program.

If we get SLBMs included as well as ICBMs, we could still proceed with building ULMS at the accelerated pace, but, within 3–4 years, we would have to retire some Polaris boats or ICBMs.

The shorter the period the sooner we would have to negotiate additional offensive limitations (or renegotiate the freeze), or face the issue of letting the ABM treaty stand alone or withdrawing from it.

Agency Positions: ACDA, OSD and State prefer our current position (indefinite duration). [State and ACDA could accept some finite duration (e.g., 5–3 years) if necessary. OSD would accept an even shorter finite duration to get SLBMs included.] The JCS do not want the agreement longer than 2–½ if only ICBMs are included—they would accept a longer period if SLBMs were frozen also.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–032, NSC Meeting SALT 3/17/72. Top Secret. A notation on the paper indicates the President saw it. All brackets are in the original.
  2. The Verification Panel met on March 8, 10, and 15. Minutes are ibid., Box H–107, Verification Panel Minutes Originals 1969–3/8/72, and ibid., Box H–108, Verification Panel Minutes Originals 3–15–72–1974.