31. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Wheeler) to Secretary of Defense Laird1



  • Proposal for a Moratorium on Certain Strategic Weapons Systems


  • Memorandum from Dr. Kissinger to the Secretary of Defense, dated 22 July 1969, subject as above, with attachment
In the attachment to Dr. Kissinger’s memorandum,2 the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency proposes that a moratorium on missile testing be included early in strategic arms limitation talks, and, specifically, that a mutual suspension of MIRV/MRV testing be proposed if the USSR will agree to suspend starts of additional ICBMs and SLBMs.
While the Deputy Secretary of Defense in his memorandum to Dr. Kissinger, dated 30 May 1969, subject: “MIRV Test Program,”3 and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in their memorandum to you, dated 23 June 1969, subject: “‘Stop Where We Are’ Option for SALT,” and which you forwarded to Dr. Kissinger,4 have expressed appropriate reasons for [Page 126] opposing a MIRV test moratorium, it appears timely to reiterate the arguments against such a course of action.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff have expressed their convictions that:
A MIRV test ban amounts to a limit on technology which is neither desirable nor feasible and could foreclose the ability to develop hedges against cheating and uncertain threats.
The potential adverse political impact of reaching an agreement which falls substantially short of the moratorium argues against this approach.
Any moratorium prejudges the outcome of uncertain negotiations and such arrangements may pose undue risk to the security of the United States and should be examined most circumspectly.
A moratorium implies trust, in this case of an unpredictable adversary, and foregoes the protection normally afforded by a treaty.
While comprehensive MIRV flight testing to full ICBM range could be detected if the Soviets perform such tests using procedures thus far observed, there is less confidence that different approaches to MIRV flight test techniques could be monitored unilaterally, and there is little prospect of determining the extent to which MIRVs have been incorporated in deployed offensive missiles.
Prudence dictates that a conservative view be taken of our future verification capabilities.
In addition, the following points seem pertinent:
The appropriate quid pro quo for a cessation of further Soviet construction of ICBMs and SLBMs would appear to be for the U.S. to forego the same option, rather than to cease testing MIRV.
It is unwise to go ahead with a MIRV testing moratorium without full consideration of the implications of its possible extension to a MIRV deployment ban.
The assumption that a MIRV deployment ban might ultimately be desirable may be erroneous because both MIRVs and certain related penetration aids are required to maintain high confidence in our ability to penetrate Soviet defenses, thereby contributing to our deterrent posture.
The sufficiency of our current strategic forces is dependent upon the timely deployment of MIRV in order to regain coverage of the increased Soviet nuclear threat, as well as to counter some 300 additional Soviet ICBM launchers now under construction, the completion of which would not be prevented by the proposed moratorium.
Operational testing of the Polaris A3, which makes up the bulk of our highly survivable deterrent force at sea, would be halted under the terms of the proposed moratorium, with consequent loss of confidence in the performance of that system.
Adoption of the moratorium early in the talks as proposed would encourage the Soviets to delay the conclusion of successful negotiations, since they would have achieved a significant relative advantage short of a formal agreement.
If the Soviets have concluded, as a result of their monitoring of successful U.S. MIRV flight tests to date, that the essential elements of MIRV technology have been proved, a U.S. proposed moratorium on further MIRV/MRV testing would be received with great suspicion.
International moratoriums and similar understandings tend to become de facto treaties which circumvent constitutional processes.
We have already experienced an unsatisfactory moratorium agreement with the Soviet Union on atmospheric nuclear testing, which the Soviets abrogated without warning in 1961 and conducted 113 tests within the next year; [1½ lines not declassified].
I can only conclude that the moratorium proposed by the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency implies such risks and disadvantages that it would not be in the national security interests of the United States. I would suggest that a moratorium of such dimensions be eliminated from further consideration at this time.
Earle G. Wheeler
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files:FRC 330–75–0103, Box 16, USSR, 388.3. Top Secret. A notation on the memorandum indicates Laird saw it on August 4. A notation in an unidentified hand reads: “ASD/ISA has for appropriate action (Mr. Nitze has a copy).”
  2. On July 22 Kissinger attached a letter, dated July 21, from Smith to Nixon (see footnote 2, Document 26), to a memorandum to Rogers, Laird, Helms, and Wheeler. Kissinger asked for their comments on Smith’s letter by August 4. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 197, Agency Files, ACDA, Jan 69–Dec 30, Vol. I)
  3. Document 13.
  4. See Document 23 and footnote 2 thereto.