36. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Moscow’s Linkage of SALT to Politics

Over the years both sides have made decisions on SALT that were obviously colored by political considerations. This memorandum shows how this has worked in the Soviet case.

When the US first broached SALT in late 1966 the Soviets were in the midst of a major build-up of their new ICBM force (SS–9, 11s) and beginning the Moscow ABM. They were evidently unsure of our motives, yet could not afford to reject the idea out of hand. In any case, Kosygin in agreeing to the idea of SALT negotiations tied them into Vietnam:

“More favorable conditions and business-like consideration of this and other problems of usual interest would be created if such hotbeds of tensions as Vietnam were liquidated.” (Kosygin letter Feb. 27, 1967)2

[Page 141]

To what extent the failure to move ahead was due to the Soviet desire to complete their ICBM programs will probably never be known. But in addition the Soviets may have felt that since we seemed to want SALT, they could by dilatory tactics exert pressure on us with respect to Vietnam. No movement was made on the Soviet side until after the bombing stopped.

By the summer of 1968, however, when agreement was reached on the NPT and SALT talks, the Soviet strategic position was considerably improved and Soviet conditions and motives had shifted because of the burgeoning Czech crisis.3 Then, SALT became a way of mitigating our reactions and SALT was dangled as a possible summit topic, with the underlying implication that all of this might somehow have a favorable influence on the Paris talks. Naturally the Soviets did not state this outright, but their propaganda complained that our “incendiary reaction to the Czech invasion” threatened to “sabotage” SALT.

With the change of administration, Soviet tactics shifted again. Now they were keenly interested in tying the President to early negotiations, which would symbolically wipe the record clear on Czechoslovakia, perhaps influence our policy on Vietnam, and affect pending weapons decisions. Thus, on inaugural day, the Soviets held a “press conference” emphasizing the virtues of SALT but warning that “subversive activities against the socialist countries” (Czechoslovakia), or expansion of “existing hotbeds of international tensions” (Middle East and Vietnam) “creates new definite obstacles in the search for agreed solutions in the disarmament field.”

When confronted with our statements on the interrelationships, however, they complained bitterly. Dobrynin raised this with the President and Secretary Rogers. In his meeting with the President on February 17,4 however, Dobrynin did acknowledge that the USSR was prepared to move forward simultaneously on a number of issues particularly the missile problem and the Middle East.

As for Vietnam, President Podgorny told Ambassador Beam that the lack of a settlement was a “block to understanding” between the US and the USSR.

As it became clear in Moscow that they would not succeed in rushing the new administration into SALT, the line began to shift to a sort of negative linkage especially because of the China problem. Thus, Kosygin’s letter to the President of May 27,5 warned: [Page 142]

“… much of what could be done now, having the mutual desire to do so and casting aside current considerations may in the course of time become either totally impossible to realize, or much more difficult and complex.”

When handing over the letter to Beam, Gromyko added this cryptic reference following a discussion of China:

“In any case all circumstances must be considered, and first of all as they pertain to possible long range consequences of this or that decision with respect to US-Soviet relations and the situation in the world today.”

In the meantime, the Soviets have continued to reject any connection between their actions in Czechoslovakia and our response on other issues.

And, of course, the Soviets practiced their own linkage, in holding up their reply on SALT until they had worked out the immediate crisis with China, all the while complaining about US decisions on ABMs and MIRVs as forcing a Soviet review of their position (Soviet testing of MIRV continuing, of course).

Perhaps the most blatant example of the interrelationship of issues was Dobrynin’s aide mémoire given to the President on October 20.6 This document, accusing us of evading discussion on a “number of issues,” refers to a “number of cases” in which our actions differ from our statements and concludes that “all” of this cannot but “alert” the Soviet leaders.

In other words, Soviet policies and assessments are not determined by an examination of each and every issue on its merits, but conclusions are drawn on the basis of the overall state of relations. This is not surprising or novel. It simply points up that the Soviets would like us to accept their linkages, while reserving the right to reject ours.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 874, SALT, Volume IV, October–November 16, 1969. Secret; Nodis; Sensitive; Kissinger Only. Sent for information.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XI, Arms Control and Disarmament, Document 185.
  3. On the night of August 20–21, 1968, 200,000 Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia. See ibid., volume XVII, Eastern Europe, Documents 8097.
  4. See Document 4.
  5. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Document 51.
  6. See footnote 1, Document 35.