331. Memorandum From the President’s Special Counsel (Colson) to the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig)1


  • SALT/ABM Treaty

I have the sinking feeling that the SALT/ABM treaty debate is degenerating into an issue which, simply stated, is as follows: Do we have to spend more or less on defense as a result of the SALT agreements? It seems to me that we are backing ourselves into an untenable position. Laird’s testimony today is devastating on this point.2 He has virtually made Fulbright’s case. Fulbright will argue, as he already has, [Page 970] that the SALT agreement merely means that we will be forced to spend more money for defense than we would have had we not entered into the SALT agreement. By the same token, if we indicate vast savings, then we begin to alarm the Stennises, Jacksons, Heberts, etc.

The only way out of this box in addition to downplaying the line that Laird took today is to emphasize that the first SALT agreement is only the beginning. It is SALT II that is the key. That is where we really have prospects for future savings through arms reductions. But you can’t get to SALT II without entering into SALT I.

The debate unfortunately seems to suggest that the SALT agreement thus far executed is an end in and of itself. It isn’t; it is only a means to an end, the beginning by which we can make real progress toward arms reduction and cost savings.

If we don’t get our people off onto this tack, I think in another few days we could be in really deep trouble. My suggestion is that perhaps you ought to get a few people together and let’s talk about our strategy on this from here on out and our line. I am very reluctant, as you can understand, to talk to any of our spokesmen about this without having your approval, but I am also very concerned that this issue can degenerate fast.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 883, SALT, SALT talks (Helenski) [sic], Vol. 18, May–August 1972. No classification marking. A handwritten notation on the memorandum reads: “Info. copy sent upstairs.”
  2. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 20, Laird stated that he would recommend against approval of the recent U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms agreements unless Congress went along with big increases in Pentagon funding for new missile-submarine and bomber projects allowed under the agreements. (Michael Getler, “Laird Again Links SALT, Arms Boost,” Washington Post, June 21, 1972, p. A1)