326. Conversation Among President Nixon, Members of the Republican Congressional Leadership, and Others1

Nixon: Looking at the offensive weapons—that’s the critical one, though. The—here, it’s really a moot question, as I said. [unclear] argue about, “Well, why does the United States need to freeze weapons for five years, such as nuclear weapons, including new submarines, for five years and this and that and the other thing? And at certain levels, the Soviet Union’s building some, and we are not. Why don’t we build some?” The answer is: there’s no weapon system in the United States today—none, absolutely none—that was not begun in the Eisenhower administration. And there is no way they are gonna build the submarines—this is what the Joint Chiefs of Staff think—except possibly in a crash program—or should, possibly, in a crash program build any modern nuclear submarines or missile-carrying submarines over the next five-year period.

What we’re really talking about here is that these categories of weapons, to wit, submarines and land-based missiles, in which the United States, as a result of not our decision, but of what we found when we came into office, has no programs; none over the next five years. Now, of course, the other side of that coin is that, in order to keep balance in this equation we have to remember the offensive freeze limits only certain types of weapons. The United States must continue, which means the B–1 program. It must continue with the ULMS program and new submarines. We must continue, of course, with this MIRV program, because the Soviet Union will be continuing with all their modernization and other programs until—unless—until in the next phase of the negotiations when we reach agreement in our interests—which we consider it in our interests, and which they consider in their interests—on eliminating those categories of weapons. And I’m [Page 946] simply saying that in terms of the categories of weapons we need an offensive freeze. We can have all—we can have all the talk we want about, well, “Does this mean more money and the like?” From a very practical standpoint we’ve got to look at what the United States, not what we could do, but what we—but, in a theoretical world, what we actually did do; and the answer is nothing. So, we’re talking about, actually, to stop freezing the Soviet Union in certain categories, where they had programs, we’ll be moving forward at certain levels, and as far as both cases are concerned, we’re going to freeze them at certain levels, also, but we do not have programs moving.

And I—to all those who are not on Armed Services [Committee], I emphasize again [unclear] purpose of doing anything to our guys. I emphasized submarines last week, here. I particularly hit that because getting the submarines in was hard going. But it’s in the interests of everybody to have a certain bargaining chip in. But, we sat around this table with the Joint Chiefs in the last meeting before going to Moscow and I said, “Well, in order for us to have a bargaining position,” I said that, “what do you want to do?” I asked Moorer, “What can we do in terms of if we ordered it, in the event they don’t agree to submarines, for a crash program of building more nuclear submarines, more than the 41 we’ve got?” And he said that, “Well, we can do it—maybe.” He said, “But it would be a very bad decision.” He said, “We shouldn’t just make copies of what is, basically, now an inferior submarine. We should go ahead, build the ULMS, which is a—it will not be on line until 1979.” So, that if you’re looking at that, we’re not leaving the submarines. We’re not talking about freezing us at a level that we would be moving on in the next five years. We’re talking simply, a very—about a very practical situation. And we leave the other one open. The Soviet are quite aware of this, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have things that they may not build then, too, if it’s in their interests. But, I simply say that in the categories that we can move on, if you believe in a very hard-headed deal, which is in our interest, and, of course, it has to be in their interest, because otherwise there’s no deal. So, we leave it there. The arguments will go on and on on the Mideast, and, I understand that, you know, in the House which you’re gonna supplement [unclear]—

Ford: We got into it in great depth, Mr. President. We didn’t find any way, even by writing a line that we would like to write, that it could go to—

Unidentified speaker: Armed Services.

Ford: Armed Services.

Nixon: I think they’re going to send it to two committees in the Senate—

Unidentified speaker: That’s right, sir—

Nixon: The offensive—the offensive limitation.

[Page 947]

Unidentified speaker: We’re trying that. Fulbright and Stennis have an active correspondence going on on it.

Unidentified speaker: That’s how it’ll end up I suppose. The—Fulbright has had a meeting about it in committee and he says that he’d like to get on with the treaty right away [unclear].

Nixon: Well, there it is. It’s a—I think—I don’t think there’s any—when they ask questions—as technical questions come up, may I suggest that the next agreement be subjected to various people here, but the—I mean, because this cuts across the Defense Department and the State Department, and the arms control group, and all of them, of course, have certain competence in this area, particularly in the Defense Department, areas you want to ask about, I mean, technical—the size of missile holes or submarines and so forth, why go over and ask the Defense Department. But there they’re—we have, as far as the whole picture’s concerned, we have the greatest overall confidence, actually, in the National Security Council organization and General Haig, who was just here, just a few moments ago. Of course, we have three or four people on the staff answering any questions on that at any time. We don’t—I would suggest that maybe you can ask them technical questions that cut across everything. Then, of course, in certain other fields, you’ll find within the government, of course, there’s a—you get sort of a schizophrenic attitude. Over at the Defense Department, naturally, that’s why I’m working this thing out, despite—to fight something within our own administration. And they have some in theirs, really.

The Soviet, interestingly enough, they’re not altogether that monolithic anymore. I don’t mean that they have a dove–hawk the way the—a group in their party. But, there are those who are more interested in the development of the Soviet Union economically, and there are those who are more interested in the military side. In other words, there’s conflict—there’s competition for their budget in the Soviet hierarchy. But, on the other hand, in our case, of course, we’ve got—the general attitude of the arms control agency is to control arms, period. The general attitude of the Defense Department, of course, is—as it should be—don’t weaken our defenses. So, as you go around, you’ll find certain shades of difference of opinion, although all agree, by the time we find this—finally sign, that this, this is specifically in our interest.

But—and you’re going to find the same thing in the Senate and the House. You’re going to find some of your doves will say, “Oh gee, this is great, but it doesn’t go far enough.” And the—then you’ll find others who will say that—which I well understand—which will say, “I don’t want to make any deal with the Soviets. We don’t trust them. We don’t.” Or, “Why is it that the Soviet has more than we’ve got?” And so forth and so on. Or, “Why can’t we do—have this without [Page 948] the other program?” Let me say, we’ve looked at all those arguments, and have reached the conclusions that we have, which I think are in the best interests of the country, but for very practical considerations.

I come back, finally, too, to that practical consideration that, as we approach this, ironically, as we approach the Democratic Convention, apparently, we don’t hear them talking about increasing the arms budget. We talk about—they’re talking about a cut of $30 billion, something massive. Can you imagine, incidentally, what a position that would have put us in if that convention had been held, and their plank had been adopted, before I went to Moscow? They have no bargaining position at all. That’s the reason why I say, “Do you want any—?”

And they, but—somebody asked Smith the other day, well, they—in the morning A. Ellender asked the question, “Well, then, on this ABM thing, do we have to build that second ABM system around Moscow?” The answer is, “We’d be out of our heads—.” I meant [around] Washington. The answer is, “We’d be out of our heads if we didn’t.” I mean, because, we wouldn’t have had a deal unless we had something to give. In other words, let’s say they wanted to stop something we were doing. What was it? ABM. And, on our part, we have to realize, too, that this deal is only limited—it’s very important—but it’s only limited. It’s only a beginning. In order to make another deal in the future, the United States—I don’t mean needs to be belligerent; I don’t mean needs to have a situation where we’re looking down their throat—but, we’ve got to be in a position of, at least, where they respect you, and where they want to make a deal. And, if they think we’re behind anyway, why do they want to make a deal? So, that’s why, why those—in the end they’re not going to find it. You’re going to find a lot of people that will rush up there and who, who’d vote for the arms control thing, criticizing it only on the grounds it doesn’t go far enough, and then will vote against appropriations for adding the defenses ‘til we get the next deal. All right, that’s fine. Let’s get their votes now, for what we need, so it’s the strongest possible vote we can get.

But I’m simply saying that responsible Senators and Congressmen, who are really interested in arms control, should remember that unless our people like Margaret, and Les, and others have voted, have led—have taken the lead for keeping our own defenses at a high level, we would never have had a deal with the Soviet now. And, we’re not going to get it in the future, unless we maintain those defenses at credible levels, those defense expenditures. So, there’s where it stands at the present time.

Unidentified speaker: You get [unclear] around pretty quickly because it’s likely to move without our procurement bill. It’s weakened [Page 949] if they do. The Chairman said yesterday he’d like to get [unclear] next week [unclear]. I don’t know whether it’s possible or not. I still think, though, we might get a trial run on some of this stuff directly or indirectly next week.

Nixon: Um-hmm?

Unidentified speaker: Just attitude—pick up attitude [unclear].

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Unidentified speaker: None of this coming out of the Committee [unclear]procurement bill [unclear].

Nixon: Well, the hearings, as I said, will bring out a lot of technical things. This is, I can assure you, this is a—I don’t, I don’t urge any of those who are not experts to get into it, because when I had ‘em, it felt like going to school—

Unidentified speaker: Well, that’s it [unclear].

Nixon: I recalled them. Yes, sir. I recall that, I mean, Brezhnev, of course, was well briefed, and I was well briefed, too. The size of, you know, the size of a missile hole, and whether or not you can put a more—a bigger missile into a smaller hole as the reason for [unclear] and the rest. He sits there and draws them out. [unclear] You see, it’s the kind of bargaining there was.

Unidentified speaker: Um-hmm.

Nixon: It’s no pushover on either side, I can assure you.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

Nixon: Just remember, you can’t have a foreign policy that will stand here but not there. You know, it’s the old finger in the dike analogy, but, still, it’s a—the U.S. foreign policy must be a credible one. It doesn’t mean you go to war all over the world. It doesn’t mean you take on additional commitments. It doesn’t mean that you do fighting where others should do it. And it doesn’t mean that you don’t restrict—reduce your defense spending in areas where they’re overblown. That’s what I’m saying, and I’m simply saying that a foreign policy has to be a whole. You have to have a—we have to have a strong national defense, you’ve got to keep your commitments around the world, or otherwise, if it is not a whole fabric. If you rend it in one place, it’s going to unravel totally. Now, I can make the same argument, incidentally, with regard to Israel. I can make the same argument with regard to Europe. Why is it that the European statesmen—in private, some of them, because they have their, their peacenik groups, of course, doing their own thing, and plenty of them—privately all of them—stand very firmly with the United States on—I mean, around—and, I’m speaking, now, of the British as particular from the rest, especially in these critical areas, to say, “Well, we know that you have to maintain your defenses. We know that you have to also end the war in Vietnam with [Page 950] honor.” Because, they know that even Europe, which is the blue chip, cannot be and will not be defended separately from the rest. They know that when you’re dealing with something, when you’re dealing with the threat that the Soviet still presents—I don’t mean they present it maliciously. I’m only saying that the Soviet’s failure, or shall we say [unclear] strength in any area, at this time, or its willingness to negotiate in any area, is directly related to America’s strength and America’s will to commit its strength. The moment that America’s strength, or its will to commit that strength, comes into question, your potential adversary has no incentives to negotiate. That’s what this is all about. And that’s why, that’s why I think we have a very good case for presenting it to the Congress and the country, now. We’re always going the extra mile. At least, we’ve agreed what arms limitation brings. Many believe we really shouldn’t have even gone that far. But, anyway, we’ve agreed. That demonstrates that we’re not just building arms for the sake of building up the industrial-military complex. It does indicate that we want to limit them, and that we eventually want to reduce them. But we want to do it in an orderly way that will not damage the security of the United States. That’s really what this is all about. That’s what Vietnam is about. That’s what these other things are about. The intentions of this administration are very clear that way. And I think that—

I think that on this whole ground that where some of our opponents try to say that—grab the peace issue on the ground that they will cut defenses, and they will reduce our commitments around the world, and so forth. On the contrary, that’s not the road to peace. That’s the road to a very dangerous, a much more dangerous world. If the only force in the world which can discourage aggression, the United States of America, withdraws or reduces its ability to discourage that aggression, once the ability to discourage aggression is reduced any place in the world, the chance for aggression and for wars increases. That’s why a strong United States in all of these areas is essential if people want peace. It’s the only way to look at it.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Cabinet Room, Conversation No. 102–8. No classification marking. According to the Nixon Tapes Log, the recording began after 8:01 a.m. at an unknown time while the conversation was already in progress. The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume. Other participants included Shultz, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Charls Walker, Senator Margaret Chase Smith, Senator Gordon Allott, Senator Norris Cotton, Congressman Leslie Arends, Congressman John Anderson, Congressman John Rhodes, Congressman Bob Wilson, Congressman H. Allen Smith, Congressman Samuel Devine, Congressman Richard Poff, Congressman Barber Conable, Senator Robert Dole, Haig, MacGregor, Flanigan, Cole, Timmons, Dent, Klein, Buchanan, Weinberger, Cook, Korologos, and Ziegler. On June 13 Nixon sent a message to the Senate and a letter to the House of Representatives that transmitted the ABM Treaty and the Interim Agreement on Strategic Offensive Arms. The text of those messages is in Public Papers: Nixon, 1972, pp. 674–676.