26. Letter From President Nixon to the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (Smith)1

Dear Gerry:

Following our discussion today,2 I wish to convey to you my thoughts on the forthcoming talks with the Soviet Union on strategic arms. You and your associates will be dealing with a subject of crucial significance to the safety of this country. My purpose in these talks is to determine whether it is feasible to make arrangements with the Soviet Government that will contribute to the preservation and, if possible, the improvement of this country’s security. Any arrangement with the Soviet Union, especially if it is to be in the form of explicit and formal commitments, must meet this test to my own full satisfaction.

When I speak of this country’s security, I fully realize that we cannot expect to return to an era when our country was literally immune to physical threat. Neither our military programs nor any negotiation with our potential adversaries can achieve that. But I am speaking of a situation in which I, as President and Commander-in-Chief, have at my disposal military forces that will provide me with the best assurance attainable in present and foreseeable circumstances that no opponent can rationally expect to derive benefit from attacking, or threatening to attack us or our allies. I am determined, moreover, to pass on to my successor that same sense of assurance.

If the Soviet leaders operate on similar premises (which we do not know and which their current military programs give some reason to doubt), there could be, I believe, a prospect of reaching an understanding with them whereby, in the first instance, limits would be placed on the quantitative and qualitative growth of strategic forces. It [Page 107] will be your task to obtain evidence that will assist me in making a determination whether such a prospect is real and what the elements of such an understanding could be.

Any understanding, whatever the form, that places limitations on Soviet forces will obviously involve limitations on ours. I will judge the resulting relationship of US-Soviet strategic forces in terms of the criteria for strategic sufficiency that I have established.3

Moreover, I will accept limitations on our forces only after I have assured myself of our ability to detect Soviet failure to implement limitations on their own forces in sufficient time to protect our security interests. In this latter connection, you should know that I am determined to avoid, within the Government and in the country at large, divisive disputes regarding Soviet compliance or non-compliance with an understanding or agreement. Nor will I bequeathe to a future President the seeds of such disputes. In our open society and political system it is my duty to provide persuasive public evidence not only of any Soviet non-compliance with an agreement but also of Soviet compliance with it. Any agreed limitations must therefore meet the test of verifiability. I recognize that this may not be obtainable with 100 percent assurance; but the margin of uncertainty must be reasonable. I will make this judgement.

I have carefully examined the possible alternative arrangements that might be entered into with the Soviet Union, as developed through our National Security Council process. In the absence of any indications from the Soviet Union of the direction they propose to take, I do not find it possible to make a clear selection among them. I do not, therefore, desire to propose to the Soviet Government a specific set of measures corresponding to the five alternatives analyzed in NSSM 62.4 You should outline to the Soviet representatives the various approaches we have studied, as reflected in Alternative I, II and III of NSSM 62 and indicate our readiness to examine jointly with them these and any others they might advance. You may state that we are prepared to consider limitations on all strategic offensive and defensive weapons system, that our suggestions are not exhaustive but that we wish to hear their views before advancing any additional ones ourselves. Upon completion of the work of the MIRV verification panel, I may authorize presenting aspects of Alternative IV.

In short, your task in the initial phases of the talks is to explore Soviet intentions without yourself placing on the table the full range of alternative arrangements that we might consider. In the light of the progress of the explorations, and other relevant factors, I will determine the timing and contents of any specific limitation proposal that we might make to the Soviet Union.

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Let me, in conclusion, outline my general approach to our relations with the USSR so that you and your associates will be guided thereby in your talks. I have conveyed to the Soviet leaders my view that our relations should be based on a recognition by each side of the legitimate security interests of the other; I have conveyed to them also my readiness to engage in bona fide negotiations on concrete issues. I have told them that I have no interest either in polemical exchanges or in the mere atmospherics of détente. Having propounded these principles and acted on them in practice since entering office, I believe the seriousness of this Administration in pursuing the path of equitable accommodation with the Soviet Union is being demonstrated. I consider that the approach to the arms limitation talks outlined above will serve to provide further such demonstration. The other side has the opportunity to respond in the same spirit. If it does so, arrangements to restrain the pace of competition in the field of strategic armaments should be within our reach.


Richard Nixon 5
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 197, Agency Files, ACDA, Jan 69–Dec 70, Vol. I. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Kissinger and Sonnenfeldt. According to an attached note, Kissinger ordered no distribution of the President’s letter.
  2. Nixon met with Smith and Kissinger from 11:37 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) According to a note Smith sent to Rogers on July 21, Nixon called the meeting to discuss SALT. During the meeting, Smith expressed views covered in a letter that he left with the President and also sent to Rogers. In that letter, Smith wrote: “I am now convinced that a comprehensive freeze at or near the present state of affairs would be more advantageous for United States security than more limited freezes or a continuation of unlimited competition.” Smith also made the following suggestion about a negotiated MIRV moratorium: “It seems to me that if the USSR would agree to suspend starts of additional ICBM and SLBMs, the United States could safely agree to a mutual suspension of MIRV/MRV testing for a period sufficient to explore the possibility of a significant SALT arrangement. It would be clearly spelled out that if it develops that no agreement is in sight, or that a permanent MIRV/MRV test ban cannot be verified adequately, both sides could resume previous activities.” (Washington National Records Center, RG 383, ACDA Files: FRC 383–97–0010, Director’s Files, Smith Chronological File, Smith/Rogers Correspondence, 2/69–5/71)
  3. See footnote 2, Document 24.
  4. See Document 27.
  5. Printed from a copy that indicates Nixon signed the original.