277. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Laird to President Nixon1


  • Discussion of SALT when you are in Moscow

I recommend you communicate the following points to the Soviet leadership:

The initial SALT agreements are of historic importance, but:

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  • • They do not impose adequate controls on offensive forces.
  • • The two sides should undertake to rectify this shortcoming in the next phase of SALT by limiting counterforce capabilities and reducing numbers of offensive weapons.
  • • Early Soviet restraint, reciprocating that already imposed by the U.S. on U.S. counterforce capabilities, would greatly facilitate both ratification of the initial agreements and the follow-on negotiations.
  • • A substantial increase in the Soviet threat to U.S. retaliatory forces could lead to our reopening the provisions of the ABM treaty limiting defense of retaliatory forces. It could, by jeopardizing the supreme interests of the U.S., lead the U.S. to withdraw from the initial agreements.

The Soviets appear now to be about to start flight testing a new large ICBM. This ICBM could have the accuracy and level of MIRVing to threaten seriously our Minuteman. The agreement we have been negotiating would allow its deployment in SS–9 silos, but prohibit our defense of Minuteman.

There is some evidence the Soviets have also begun testing a larger missile to replace the SS–11. At SALT they have rejected the U.S. proposal that “light” missiles must not be larger than the SS–11. Because of their large number, replacements for SS–11s with improved throw weight and accuracy could also seriously threaten Minuteman.

Should the Soviets proceed with testing and deployment of either the SS–9 or the SS–11 replacement, it would undermine the strategic acceptability of the agreements.

If the Soviet political leadership wants stability, it must restrain its military leadership.

I believe this message must be given at the highest level of Soviet leadership if it is to be effective. I believe the fact that this message has been given will be very important to achieving strong Congressional and public support for the initial agreements.

Melvin R. Laird
  1. Source: Ford Library, Laird Papers, Box 26, SALT, Chronological File. Top Secret.