258. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1
- Secretary Laird on SALT
Secretary Laird has written you (Tab B)2 with his latest views on SALT—including a proposed modification of the Delegation’s instructions.
Secretary Laird’s main point is that we should modify our ABM position. Our present ABM proposal is that, if the Soviets accept including SLBMs in the freeze, each side would get two ABM sites. Each country could choose between two ICBM defense sites, or one ICBM defense site and defense of the national capital. The U.S. would presumably keep the two Safeguard sites, and the Soviets would choose Moscow and one ABM site.
Secretary Laird would eliminate the choice between the two deployment options and allow each side one ICBM defense site and NCA defense.
He argues first that defense of Washington is more important than the Malmstrom Safeguard site.
- —ABM defense of Washington does have its strategic advantages. It protects the country’s leadership against accidental or limited attacks. Against an all-out attack, it might provide a few added minutes of decision time, though this probably has limited value with current communications.
- —On the other hand, we would have to stop construction on Malmstrom. (The expenditures at Malmstrom which could not be recovered would be about $100 million. This is because the construction will only be 10–20% complete by May 21 and because the movable equipment—e.g., radar components and interceptors—can be shipped to Washington and used for NCA defense.)
Secretary Laird also argues that his new ABM proposal would improve the chances of getting the Soviets to agree to include SLBMs in the interim freeze and to limit future deployment of large non-ABM radars.[Page 766]
—This is not certain since the Soviets are digging in against including SLBMs.
As for the political problem of getting approval of NCA defense from Congress (at the same time that work is stopped at Malmstrom), Secretary Laird believes that we could obtain the Congressional support in the context of a SALT agreement limiting Soviet ABMs and including SLBM launchers.
For now, our present ABM proposal seems preferable to that proposed by Secretary Laird. We would be allowed to complete Malmstrom, but always have the option to switch to NCA defense later if conditions warrant.
If adopting Laird’s proposal meant the difference between getting SLBMs included or not in the interim freeze, it would be worthy of serious consideration since our primary purpose is to constrain the Soviet offensive forces. However, we are not yet to the point of having to face such a choice. We have no strong signals from the Soviets that dropping the right to build a second ICBM defense site is a critical issue.
- —At Helsinki in January, the head of the Soviet Delegation indicated that a proposal along the lines of Secretary Laird’s would be most negotiable. However, the Soviets have not made this point in Vienna and the difference between the two ABM proposals from the Soviet viewpoint might well be marginal.
In any case, Ambassador Smith intends to sound out the Soviets along the lines of the Laird proposal, but only on a very “personal” basis to gauge their level of interest. After this, you will be in a better position to decide whether there is any chance of agreement on this basis.
Attached at Tab A3 is a short note from you to Secretary Laird which:
- him for his letter.
- that you want to consider his ABM proposal for a while, before making any decision.
That you sign the note to Secretary Laird at Tab A. (Ray Price concurs)
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 882, SALT, SALT talks (Helenski) [sic], Vol. 17, January–April 1972. Top Secret. Sent for action. A notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it. Odeen and Sonnenfeldt sent the memorandum to Kissinger through Haig on April 12 under a covering memorandum.↩
- Attached but not printed is Laird’s memorandum, April 11, and an enclosure that included his suggestions for new instructions for the SALT Delegation.↩
- Attached but not printed is a draft response, upon which Nixon initialed his approval.↩