250. Conversation Among President Nixon, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), Secretary of Defense Laird, and the Secretary of the Navy (Chafee)1

Nixon: We may get, as you know, as a result of the thing, we may get this SLBM and ABM negotiated. But if we don’t, we have got to really go on that, and even if we do—I was going to say on SLBM, generally, as I understand it, if we get anything in SALT, it will not mean that ULMS and all the rest go out the window, will it?

[Page 752]

Kissinger: No, but we’ll have a tougher time, because—

Nixon: Yes. Well, I am—I think—

Kissinger: —that’s what the Navy hadn’t thought through, because—

Nixon: This is an area we’ve got to be ahead in. I—now, I don’t want to, I don’t want to give away that submarine thing.

Kissinger: I mean, I think, now, we’re going to get SLBMs, but—but how to phase in the keel-laying with the replacement is going to be a tough problem, because—

Nixon: Um-hmm?

Kissinger: But, it’s a technical issue, because they can lay keels for quite awhile longer—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —and not have to take anything out of inventory—

Nixon: Let me—let me suggest—well [unclear] huh? Can we?

Chafee: Shoot, we could do that, yes, without taking them out of—

Nixon: We can talk about that later.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

Nixon: Incidentally, before we talk about the Vietnam thing, Henry, what position could Mel take on this damn SLBMs that will strengthen our hand in the negotiations? We can’t—

Kissinger: Well, I think we ought to—

Nixon: We’ve got to be in a position where we don’t get screwed on the SLBM deal. That’s a priority.

Kissinger: I think we’re in good shape, now, if—to stick with our present position until there’s a twitch in—

Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: —Helsinki. I have the sense that there will be.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: And then, I have to work out with Mel some system by which we can continue to lay keels for ULMS.

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: I mean, we must have an agreement that preserves the ULMS. Don’t you agree?

Laird: Yes, Mr. President, replacement of at least for the first half—

Kissinger: As a replacement, yeah.

Laird: —of the Polaris thing.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Well, you see the thing we have to be able to do, Mel. When you talk about the SLBM limitation, it’s very appealing on the one [Page 753] side—and I know the Chiefs favor it, and State favors it, and the rest very strongly; more than I do, although I’m—we’re for it; we do have to be for it—but, looking at it from the standpoint of what we can present to the country, people are going to nitpick that agreement in every damn respect. And, on SLBMs, if they see that the Russians now are, because of [unclear] you know, in the one area where we’re ahead, that they could close the gap, we’re in a real, real problem. In other words, in terms of—we’ve got to be sure that the, that the submarine agreement is not one that will subject ourselves to the charge that we got took. See?

Laird: Well, that’s one of the problems that we have. It’s a political problem there, because of this, the facilities that they’ve developed, and the facilities we haven’t developed in this area. Now, the new pictures that just came in this past week show that they are putting that new, big missile on their submarines. And they have one up against the dock there. I don’t know whether they—the big missile’s on it. And this is—has a 3,000—over 3,000 mile range. And we’ve watched those tests. And now, we have a first submarine with those missiles, and it’s afloat with those missiles aboard. And—

Kissinger: How many? Sixteen?

Laird: Twelve.

Kissinger: Twelve.

Laird: What they did, Henry, was they took—

Kissinger: They extended the midsection. I know, they extended it by 25 feet—

Laird: —they extended—they extended the midsection and put in more living compartments there. We thought that they were going to put in missiles there; they did not. The picture shows, now, they have 12 holes and a new living compartment there, and this is—it’s a big submarine, though. And they’re much bigger holes there, because these are bigger missiles, and they go all the way down through the much deeper draught. But that’s—

Nixon: Well, anyway [unclear]—

Laird: But you have to give them credit, though, Mr. President, for their [clears throat]—the kind of facilities they’ve developed.

Nixon: We’re making them—we’ll just say we’re making the effort, because we—you know, to try to get the thing in, and we’ll have to see what happens. But let’s be very sure—

Kissinger: Well, we have to see what specific proposals are—

Laird: Some of these private enterprises, some of these that we’ve developed here, I’m a little, a little—I’m all for private enterprise, but they haven’t kept up with [unclear].

Nixon: [unclear]

[Page 754]

Laird: Probably, they—the tax cuts had a lot to do with it, but it’s not the whole story, as far as submarines.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 701–14. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger, Laird, and Chafee from 12:25 to 1:15 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.