34. Minutes of a National Security Council Meeting1


  • The President
  • Vice President Agnew
  • Secretary of State Rogers
  • Secretary of Defense Laird
  • Attorney General Mitchell
  • General Lincoln, Director, OEP
  • Gerard Smith, Director, ACDA
  • Admiral Moorer, Acting Chairman, JCS
  • Director of Central Intelligence Helms
  • Under Secretary of State Richardson
  • Deputy Secretary of Defense Packard
  • Paul Nitze, Department of Defense
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President
  • Philip J. Farley (ACDA)
  • [name not declassified] (CIA)
  • Laurence Lynn (NSC)
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt (NSC)
  • William Watts (NSC)

RN—I would like to begin the briefings in the following order—Director Helms, Dr. Kissinger, Under Secretary Richardson, Deputy Secretary Packard and Director Smith.

Helms—The final draft of the paper of September 19 on U.S. capabilities to monitor a strategic arms limitation agreement2 is one of the most exhaustive analyses we have made. My briefing is based on Section II of the report. I will consider our abilities to monitor an agreement, Soviet capabilities to act, and the Soviet ability to act without breaking a treaty.

The studies were almost totally on technical capabilities.

Our intelligence activities are designed to collect information, interpret it, and satisfy the President’s requirements.

Our photography program concentrates on new weapons development. Each mission covers a narrow swath.

[1 paragraph (2½ lines) not declassified]

[Page 133]

We have received fragmentary and ambiguous information.

The information we gather and our capabilities have developed gradually.

We have concluded that they are testing a new strategic system. They are developing a mobile missile system with a range of 4,000 miles.

RN—What was the time span?

Helms—From February 1968 to the present—18 months.

RN—When would they have had to start? Four or five years ago?

Moorer—At least.

Helms—Their decision would have been taken 3 or 4 years ago. New systems are on the way.

(Director Helms then reviewed the new systems described on pages 10–15 of the September 19 paper, which is attached.)

Problems will, of course, remain.

RN—Is Soviet secrecy an obsession?

Helms—It has been literally for centuries, from the Czars to the present. Our capabilities to monitor development will improve but they can act to improve their capabilities also.

Kissinger—I will sum up where we stand. We set up a panel, with Gerry Smith, the Under Secretaries and Dick Helms, and a working group under Larry Lynn.

(Mr. Kissinger then reviewed the current situation, based on his talking points in the attached NSC book.)3

RN—Couldn’t we do the same? (This refers to Mr. Kissinger’s closing remarks that the Soviets could cheat on a test ban.)

Kissinger—Their mode is more dangerous than ours. If we have a MIRV ban, there would be no way to get Congress on board.

RN—Should we just go ahead?

Rogers—[less than 1 line not declassified]

Kissinger—The optimists believe that the danger of Soviet deployment and subsequent crash testing is not realistic. They think that the Soviets have little to gain from clandestine testing. Thus, a MIRV test ban could stop deployment. If there were a MIRV ban there could then be a collateral ban which would ease the verification task or lead to earlier detection of violations.

We might have to ban all multiple releases.

The problem for us is that some intelligence satellites involved multiple release.

[Page 134]

We are refining the issues; this is a preliminary report to date.

With regard to ABM deployment, there could be a MIRV ban without ABM deployment. There could be restrictions on radar. The JCS are especially concerned about radar.4 Missiles can be quickly produced.

The Soviets are radar rich—they can be knitted together, and there would be a question whether they had an ABM or air defense role. Mobile ABM launchers are hard to distinguish from MRVs.

It would be hard to determine an upgrading of existing systems to produce ABM capabilities. Future studies will relate the verification problem to existing options.

We don’t know what the Soviet position will be. We are creating building blocks for new options. We are working on categories of weapons and not a single negotiated position.

Our objective is to develop an overall Evaluation Report which presents:

  • —the different types of agreements that should be considered;
  • —the arguments for and against each of them; and
  • —the key judgments that must be made in making a choice among them.

It is quite possible that we may want to consider options other than those the NSC has already considered, and the Committee is holding open that possibility.

Rogers—We think the Soviets have a MIRV capability. They could deploy without detection. Then let’s go to MIRV. They know we won’t cheat.

Kissinger—They have a multiple warhead and could deploy it.

Rogers—If they know we can’t detect it.

Kissinger—If we have a MIRV test ban, it would be next to impossible for Minuteman III.

Smith—Even if they can deploy an anti-city system, they would test further, unless you had something beyond a unilateral testing agreement.

RN—Pending our getting into SALT, why not just stop testing. It would show good faith. The answer is no. The national interest won’t permit. It is insane to pretend that if we don’t test, they won’t. It is in our interest to find ways to verify.

[Page 135]

Rogers—There is no problem, since the Soviets have delayed the opening of SALT.

RN—The number of their tests is not insignificant. What they may have developed, how they have changed over the past months. We must lay this out to the Senate group, but not to the public or allies.

Laird—It will not be in private.

RN—It may be open.

Rogers—In executive session Gromyko raised the testing question in a private talk with me.5 I said that they are proceeding at a faster rate than before.

Richardson—The first question is to establish the risks and costs of the present uncontrolled situation against the risks and costs, including evasion, of a ban plus collateral bans.

The next question is the Soviet incentive to change the balance by clandestine efforts after a limitation is in effect. Director Helms says that we have a good monitoring capability.

Further consideration should be given to the following questions:

  • —the likelihood of cheating.
  • —the ability to detect and the effect of international opinion.

With regard to the first, at the conclusion of an agreement the Soviets would generally abide by it. They would cheat if it was in their interest. In other words, they could agree in order to cheat and they could agree in order to stabilize, which on the whole would be beneficial.

They might want to pause then resume. Or if the terms were more favorable to us, it would be a term which would promote cheating. They would be more likely to abrogate it openly.

They might want political gain after intensive secret efforts to show gains. Systematic concealment and deception would be required, with problems of exposure. What if they do cheat? They could:

  • —openly deploy fixed, land-based missiles, which would be caught by satellite photography.
  • —upgrade the SA–5 to an ABM system.
  • —carry on the clandestine development and deployment of MIRVs.

With regard to the latter two, we would have suspicions, but not early proof.

[Page 136]

We might want to wait before moving. But this might have serious implications.

There would be controversy within the executive branch and leaks. It might justify an approach to the Soviets. First to dissuade them from the violation. If there were a Soviet/US mixed commission we would bring violation evidence to it, in private.

Second, we could get assurance that our suspicions were unfounded.

Third, we could get a record of their refusal to verify, and failure to live up to an on-site inspection agreement.

There would be the question of convincing the Congress and public. This could involve the revelation of sources of information, e.g., photo reconnaissance. Perhaps we should establish a national committee, to get Congressional action. There would be the option to denounce the treaty and move ahead.

RN—That was a well-balanced analysis.

Rogers—How much cheating would be needed before the balance shifts?

Richardson—That is the question. It requires weapon-by-weapon analysis, and how it would cumulatively affect the balance if they cheat on several lines all at once.

Rogers—If the Soviets cheat, then how successful could they be before they were caught. I have heard that there must be massive cheating before it is effective.

Laird—It is a question of lead time. If it is over a six-year period, they can disguise it for three years easily. If it is a question of 100%, then it would be serious.

RN—Do we know its diplomatic effect?

Smith—It depends on U.S. objectives, and the degree of confidence we want.

RN—If you MIRV a system, then it is four times as effective.

Packard—There are 12 missiles on a Polaris. On soft targets, you can put a large number of small warheads. If there are large warheads and missiles, then you MIRV a small number. This will give a counter-force capability.

Our MIRVs are little help on hard targets. Theirs are effective against hard targets. They are MIRVing heavy weapons.

Laird—The SS–9 goes from 25 to 15 megatons. They have heavy capabilities.

RN—The numbers game affects diplomacy.

Rogers—If they could triple their capability, the diplomatic yield would be great.

[Page 137]

Moorer—Their weapons are heavier, so they have a greater MIRV capability.

Packard—I don’t fully agree on all points.

The Soviets will ultimately shy away from confrontation.

They want to reduce the level of natural resources they are using.

The survivability of deterrent forces, able to penetrate Soviet defenses, is uncertain.

There is a limit to what we can do. ABM will help.

We want survivable missiles. They may be mobile. There are sea-based missiles, MIRVs, ABMs, bomber force and air defenses against bombers.

We want to limit ABM and SAM upgrades.

We could consider force reductions.

There are five options:

The first three, as the Verification Panel saw them, would limit land-based missiles to those under construction and/or in place. There would be no limitation on size. This would not limit the Soviet attack ability, and might limit our defense ability. The 4th option would include no reduction and visible enlargements—ban MIRVs, FOBS and related. This would reduce our defense capability. It would be more extensive than the first three options. There would be greater verification problems. It would be difficult to achieve an acceptable agreement.

The fifth option is to stop those under construction. It would require still more extensive verification. There would be a potential loss of land-based capabilities. This option is more sensitive and risky.

It could give them the possibility of substantial damage to us. If we give up MIRVs, we would want a quid pro quo from them.

There is a new option which would be a reduction of Soviet numbers, plus throw weight and a MIRV ban. If there were agreement on numbers, size and [omission in the original] there would be less problem on land-based needs. We might use bombers for a trade. The verification problems are not yet analyzed.

Another option would be to reduce the total number and throw weight of both. It would reduce land and sea-based missiles. No MIRV ban gives alternatives. The bomber force could be reduced. There would be a Safeguard level of ABM against third countries. This may be best. It would lower force levels and costs. I would like to add these two options.

Was the verification go-around helpful?


RN—The Soviet verification problem is moot. How can you cheat? You can’t.

[Page 138]

Smith—The intelligence assessments, if not in agreement, are a great help. If verification is tampered with, then the deal is off.

Our interests are better protected under SALT than in an open situation. In the latter, it is a comparison of risks, and all uncertainties obtain anew.

Our capability to get Congressional approval for worst-case planning will be weaker in the future.

SALT and ABM are better now than later.

I don’t believe any option should be thrown out because of verification.

RN—Does Defense rule out a MIRV ban?

Packard—No. Option 6 includes a MIRV ban. But it should be broader than just MIRV-for-MIRV.

Rogers—There could be a MIRV ban, beneficial to us or the Soviets.

Packard—I don’t recommend that. Without MIRV, their large weapons would be the major strategic picture. We can live with present levels of the SS–9. We are already moving with submarine launched missiles. Their bomber capability is reduced.

Smith—Options 6, 7 and 8 are the best news in years.

Lincoln—Can our intelligence check on throw weight?

Helms—In a ball park range.

RN—We didn’t learn from last week’s test. Maybe they did.

We want to leave every possible area open. We don’t want to restrict ourselves.

If we go to SALT, we want greater flexibility, and greater leeway; leave it fuzzy.

Rogers—We should be inclined to live up to the letter and the spirit. We should live up to the letter, letter by letter. There should be no spiritual contact.

Smith—The Soviets have told us they are ready to talk to the Secretary.

Kissinger—In the late fall.

RN—Vienna would be good.

Smith—We are working on a contingency paper for the Under Secretaries Committee. We are working on the first three alternatives under NSSM 62.6

We need clear guidance on the MIRV question—negative? neutral? positive?

RN—Is MIRV uppermost in the Soviets’ mind?

Rogers—No. It must be on China. Gromyko said don’t ask questions.

[Page 139]

Laird—Options 6 and 7 are just to be studied.

Smith—On ABM, we need a newer focus on numbers. We would like a number we could live with. The JCS wants the other package, and then numbers of ABM.

On verification, would we entertain negotiating a suspension?

Richardson—We must confront the Congressional impact on the talks in progress.

RN—We will go ahead (with studies and) later discussion.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–109, NSC Minutes Originals 1969 [5 of 5]. Top Secret; [codeword not declassified]. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting lasted from 11:10 a.m. to noon. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. The September 19 paper is attached but not printed.
  3. Attached but not printed.
  4. On September 27 Wheeler sent Kissinger a memorandum, CM–4599–69, that outlined JCS reservations about ABM associated radars in SALT proposals. Those reservations were based on difficulties defining the terms for SALT negotiations, determining which radars have ABM capabilities, technological complications, equivalency issues with the Soviets, and verification problems. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 330–75–103, USSR, 388.3)
  5. Gromyko and Rogers held talks on September 22, 26, and 30 while both were attending the UN General Assembly session. For documentation on their meetings, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Documents 81, 83, 87, and 8991.
  6. See Document 27.