283. Backchannel Message From the Chief of the Delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (Smith) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

408. Dear Henry:

Before you take off, I thought I might pass on my impressions of where we stand.

The SL freeze matter is in some confusion. The Soviet proposal2 can be read to mean that the Soviets claim to have operational or under construction 48 modern SLBM submarines. However, Semenov as yet has not defined “modern” or “under construction.” Kishilov advises that their delegation here does not know (a) what the situation is regarding Soviet SLBM submarines, (b) what the meaning is of the word “modern”, (c) what the meaning is of “under construction.” Under these circumstances, my short-term tactic here is to advise the Soviet Delegation that their proposal is incomprehensible to us and therefore we are hard put to try to negotiate some mutually acceptable solution.

The only movement on our proposal that I would suggest to you is that if the Soviets would agree that the United States has the right to convert the 54 Titans into SLBMs, they might be given high level assurance that we do not intend to exercise that right. Otherwise, I think we should stand on our position that they can have up to 950 missiles on 62 boats only if they replace an equivalent number of older SLBM launchers and SS–7 and 8s.

I think it will be hard to find a persuasive rationale for us agreeing to Soviet building some additional boats without replacing existing [Page 830] SL or IC launchers. In knowledgeable circles, such a “free ride” will be seen as US acquiescence in the Soviet forward based system thesis. It is hard for me to conceive of the Soviets considering this bonus as anything else (perhaps there are considerations bearing on this of which I am unaware).

I assume that if this or any other SALT issue is discussed by the President’s party in Moscow while I am negotiating here, I will be kept fully and currently advised so as to avoid wire crossing.

I think that the other main sticking point in the offensive agreement is the Soviet refusal to give any precision to the term “light” or the term “heavy” ICBM. I think this foreshadows the development of a new Soviet missile somewhat larger than the SS–11. A unilateral statement by US may have some slight deterrent effect on any such new Soviet program, but I wouldn’t put a very high estimate on the value of such deterrence.

I think the ABM treaty will be considered a good one. I expect that we will hear more from Semenov about a deferral of the second site, and I believe you know that I think we should have made our deferral decision positively—but I do not propose to enter the lists on this one any more.

I would welcome any guidance that could be sent on to me as to timing of final moves here. I have your message indicating I should be in Moscow Thursday afternoon.3

On the assumption that we will not have further negotiations in Helsinki this spring, I am tentatively planning to close out this operation Saturday afternoon, May 27th.

Warm regards and bon voyage.4

Gerry Smith
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 427, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages, 1972 SALT. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Copies were sent to Haig and Sonnenfeldt.
  2. In telegram USDEL SALT 1345 from Helsinki, May 18, Smith reported that the Soviet Delegation submitted two separate proposals on replacement and dismantling procedures during the day’s plenary session. The first proposal reads: “Notification of replacement, dismantling or destruction of SLBM and ICBM launchers of older types shall be accomplished under procedures to be agreed in the Standing Consultative Commission.” The second proposal reads: “Dismantling or destruction of older ICBM and SLBM launchers to be replaced by new SLBM launchers shall be initiated at the same time that the SLBM launchers on modern nuclear-propelled replacement submarines become operational. Dismantling or destruction shall be accomplished under procedures to be agreed in the Standing Consultative Commission.” Smith noted that the principal differences between the two sides was the Soviet proposal that dismantling would begin not with the launch of the replacement submarine, but at the time it became operational. (Ibid., Box 883, SALT, SALT talks (Helenski) [sic], Vol. 18, May–August 1972)
  3. Document 281.
  4. Kissinger replied to Smith in backchannel message WH21372, May 19: “You should make continued effort to determine meaning of 48 number. Free ride for Soviets on H’s would indeed be problem. Re Titan conversion, this can be handled as you suggest. Re precision for ‘light’ and ‘heavy,’ I would appreciate your urgent recommendation. For example, could we say that neither side should replace current light missiles with new ones significantly larger than largest light missile that either side currently has. We could reach side understanding that significant means 10 percent larger.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 427, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages, 1972 SALT)