241. Memorandum for the Record1


  • Meeting of the President with the General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament, March 21, 1972, 3:00 p.m. in the Cabinet Room


  • The President
  • John J. McCloy
  • Harold Brown
  • William C. Foster
  • Kermit Gordon
  • James R. Killian
  • Lauris Norstad
  • Jack Ruina
  • William Scranton
  • John A. Wheeler
  • George Jaeger, GAC Staff
  • General Haig
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, NSC Staff

In response to the President’s invitation, Mr. McCloy opened the discussion by summarizing the attached document (Tab A).2 He prefaced his remarks by saying the Committee was particularly appreciative of the opportunity to meet with the President at a time just before the SALT negotiations reconvened. In going through the attached paper, Mr. McCloy stressed that it was important in the strategic arms field to curb rather than to redirect energies. He said he was fearful that the arms race would be extended to the sea. Mr. McCloy further emphasized that a low level of ABMs was in our interest and that his Committee had already gone on record in favoring a total ban. If that was not feasible it favored the lowest possible level, that is, one site for each side. The Committee could support a higher level only reluctantly since it would result in no strategic advantage, especially if the Soviets were permitted to expand their defense from the NCA (Moscow) [Page 716] to their ICBM fields. Mr. McCloy felt that an agreement on low levels of ABMs would meet wide-scale international approval.

Mr. McCloy then reviewed the reasons cited in the attached memorandum which, in the Committee’s view, argued against a hard-site ABM defense. The President commented that he had heard the arguments in favor a week earlier. In response to the President’s question, Mr. McCloy said that he had heard the Defense Department’s views, including Mr. Nitze’s and that he recognized that these were very serious. Nevertheless, the Committee had come to a negative conclusion.

In regard to offensive weapons, Mr. McCloy underlined the points in his memorandum relating to the desirability of including SLBMs in an agreement. He said that he personally felt perhaps even more strongly on this than some other members of the Committee. He recognized that we might face a crunch if the Soviets remained adamantly opposed; in that event, the Soviets should be put on notice that we would have to take steps of our own to build up if the Soviet momentum continued.

In conclusion, Mr. McCloy said that the Committee was in general agreement as regards ABM levels, hard-site and SLBMs, with some differences of emphasis regarding the last.

The President complimented Mr. McCloy for his presentation and for the hard work put in by the Committee. He said that he had already been exposed to the material presented by Mr. McCloy and he noted that on some of the issues, feelings in the Administration were very vigorous. Governor Scranton interjected that the Committee felt perhaps more strongly about the hard-site issue than any of the others. Mr. Foster associated himself with this comment. The President said he would discuss the subject again with Gerard Smith, having already heard the Defense Department at great length.

Harold Brown then gave his reasoning against hard-site. First, it would be a political mistake since we would be proposing higher levels of ABMs than ever before and the Soviets would be gaining an opportunity to make hay on this score. Second, it would present a serious diplomatic problem because it would be extremely difficult to negotiate. From his own experience as a member of the negotiating team, he knew that the Soviets had never been willing to discuss qualitative limits and he, therefore, felt that a US hard-site proposal would get negotiations tangled up perhaps for years if they could continue at all. Third, while, under the hard-site concept, we might design a defense for the Soviets which would not worry us, the Soviets could hardly be relied upon to design such a defense. It would have the same components as those required for the area defense even if first deployed in ICBM fields. Mr. Ruina agreed with Mr. Brown, commenting that the whole idea was very worrisome. Governor Scranton said it would [Page 717] reopen the action-reaction cycle. Dr. Wheeler said that he had always in the past testified in favor of ABM but this idea makes him into an opponent. General Norstad endorsed Mr. McCloy’s presentation and the other comments about hard-site. He stressed the difficulty of verification and concluded that a US proposal for hard-site could damage the cause of progress.

The President turned the discussion to SLBMs and raised the question of the price that we might have to pay to get them included. Would it be worth it? The President asked whether it was Mr. McCloy’s position that there should be no agreement without SLBMs. Mr. McCloy said he came closer to this position than his colleagues. But Mr. Brown asked whether it would be easier to slow down the Soviets without an agreement. The President commented that we had the same question. Mr. Gordon said that we would be under a disadvantage if we gave up the freeze on ICBMs. The President observed that it was to Soviet advantage to stop ABMs and to ours to stop offensive weapons, including land-based ones—even though there had been a pause in their construction. It would be a difficult position to say that there could be no agreement without SLBMs. But we cannot acknowledge this difficulty in the negotiations. Mr. Gordon and Governor Scranton pointed out that some of the concessions proposed to get SLBMs in went very far and might hurt us in subsequent negotiations. The President concluded this part of the discussion by noting that both the Defense Department and the Arms Control Agency quite evidently support inclusion of SLBMs.

The President then summarized the situation we face. In two months he would be on his way to Moscow. There may be a deal then or possibly before—one could not be sure. After the Peking trip there had been many questions about who won or lost. The agreements reached in Peking actually were largely non-substantive and both sides won; each wanted agreement.3 But with the Soviets an agreement will be very substantive and many things were going on with the Soviets, perhaps because of China. Because agreements will be substantive, there will be real questions about who won or lost. Noting that he had listened with great care to the Defense Department and given it perhaps more time at the NSC than the others, the President said the problem will be with the defense minded people in the Congress and in the country. The arms control people will support anything, but the defense minded people will ask: would we get taken? Are we inhibited while the Soviets can move ahead of us? Therefore, we will need support [Page 718] for the agreement that we may reach, support, if the members of the Committee agree, for the point that the agreement is not detrimental to the security of the United States. In addition, the President went on, our Allies will wonder whether we had now become inferior. He had just been talking to the Turkish Prime Minister. The Turks felt surrounded and saw us a long way off. If there were a debate in the United States in which many said that we were inferior, we would have serious international problems. The President continued that the issue was not war; it involves how two major powers conduct foreign policy. It is true that the Soviets were still aggressive and that the Chinese continue to support revolution, but as regards SALT we must seize the present moment which is perhaps the last moment. (The President interjected that he was perhaps more confident about including SLBMs than some others.)

In 1962, at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, it had been “no contest,” because we had a ten to one superiority. But it is not that way now. The possibility of our going into a massive arms build-up is no longer what it was. It might be possible to frighten the US people into doing something but time is running out. The question is: can we seize this moment with both sides recognizing that neither will allow the other to get ahead? With the Soviets this a credible point; but with us it is getting less credible. In this room we know—and Soviet intelligence knows—that we have weaknesses.

Why, the President went on to ask, would the Soviets make a deal then? The reasons were perhaps temporary. The arms race is burdensome, the Soviet economy has been flat, their neighbor to the East could be a big problem in 20 years, so that may be a good opportunity to deal with the US. The Soviets may also hope to break up NATO, for example, by coupling SALT with a European Security Conference. And the Soviets may hope that an agreement might help them keep Eastern Europe under control. Soviet reasons were obviously different from ours. Publicly, we say with them: let us curb the arms race and prevent nuclear war. But this is not the real Soviet reason so—we had better make as hard-headed a deal as we can. There may be no other opportunity.

The President continued that the present SALT negotiations dealt only with the tip of the iceberg. There would be an ABM treaty and an understanding of offensive weapons, but after that would come reductions. And this was the second area where the President would like to look for help from the Committee.

In conclusion the President reiterated that we needed the Committee’s help with the hawks. And secondly, we need suggestions where we go after Moscow over the next four or five years if the United States and the Soviet Union are to make further progress in the strategic arms area.

[Page 719]

Mr. McCloy said he found the President’s statement very interesting, but in regard to supporting an agreement there were some complications. The Committee members were supposed to be advisors but not to speak publicly. Mr. Brown said that the President could make available the advice he had been given. The President said he would like the Committee’s appraisal of the agreement and then to use it. There will undoubtedly be a great exercise in nit-picking—who won, who got suckered, etc.

Picking up the President’s point on reductions, Mr. Ruina said that this could only be accomplished with low levels of ABMs. The President then commented that the Soviets must be worried about the Chinese. Mr. Brown agreed and said this explained Soviet insistence on an NCA defense. Referring to the President’s view that the Soviets need not worry about US reactions, Mr. Brown thought that the Soviets might not see it that way. They may see our defense lobby is very powerful. This may be useful for us to play on. The President agreed that we would like the Soviets to think that we were vigorous and our ABM decisions had helped in this regard. The President added that in connection with the SLBM issue our ability to get support for sea weapons was much greater than for ABMs or ICBMs. The Soviets would, of course, have to take that into account. Mr. Brown said while he would not favor a race, if we had one the Soviets had reason to be concerned. The President agreed that we were ahead in technology. Mr. Ruina added that if SLBMs were not included, we would be able to do what we are best at. The President said that that was an argument for the Soviets to make an agreement. Mr. McCloy said one should not discount Soviet willingness to make an agreement. They see it as a way of demonstrating parity. So the President should not give up too easily on the SLBM issue. The President expressed agreement about Soviet willingness to make an agreement but their reasons were different. He added that he would not give up easily on SLBMs.

Mr. Foster asked why we did not use our warheads as an asset. Their accuracy and number represent an incredible force and a great asset. The President added that it was also true that the warheads were not all that small.

The President then said that we must always assume that the other man’s motives will differ from ours and each side is out to do the other in. But the reasons do come together and if we can make an agreement it will be a great boon to civilization. When the agreement that was announced last May 20th was reached,4 a follow-on agreement became almost inevitable. But we do have to make the best agreement [Page 720] possible and if the two leaders decide to do that, it can be done. Governor Scranton said there was a great opportunity and after the first agreement there would presumably be another one to follow. But the more we can get this time the better because the next one may be harder. The President said “maybe.” If what we hear is only a quarter true, Brezhnev, who was definitely the leader on strategic matters, is vitally interested in agreement. If so, things might move. The NPT had been the basis; then there had been other agreements and soon we would sign the BW agreement.5 Berlin had proved to be the breakthrough for the summit, so each agreement builds on the other.

In closing the meeting the President again asked Mr. McCloy to give thought to the issues for a follow-on agreement. Mr. Ruina asked about a complete test ban. The President said that all ideas should be submitted and he would look at them.

The meeting ended after about 45 minutes. In leaving the President again complimented the Committee for its hard work, noting that it was short four members who had not been confirmed by the Senate.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 199, Agency Files, ACDA (Jan 1972–[Aug 1974]), Vol. IV. Secret. Prepared by Sonnenfeldt. On March 20 Kissinger sent Nixon talking points for the meeting, explaining that “The Committee has been holding meetings to consider the SALT issues, and is especially concerned that they have a chance to explain their position to you in person, since they believe that final decisions are now being made. Perhaps equally important, Mr. McCloy feels the Committee needs a psychological lift, since they have lost four members, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is balking at the new nominations (Messrs. McCone, Ellsworth, Packard, and General Wheeler).” (Ibid.)
  2. Attached but not printed is a March 21 memorandum from McCloy to Nixon.
  3. President Nixon visited China February 21–28. Text of the joint communiqué issued at Shanghai on February 27 is printed in Public Papers: Nixon, 1972, pp. 376–379. See also Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVII, China, 1969–1972.
  4. See Document 160.
  5. The treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons was signed at Washington, London, and Moscow July 1, 1968. It entered into force March 5, 1970. (21 UST 483) The convention on the prohibition of the development, production, and stockpiling of bacteriological (biological) and toxin weapons and on their destruction was signed at Washington, London, and Moscow April 10. It entered into force March 26, 1975. (26 UST 583)