39. Minutes of a National Security Council Meeting1

The President opened the meeting and called upon Director Helms to give a run-through of the missile situation, on the basis of latest intelligence.

Mr. Helms’ presentation is attached in his formal brief.2

The President then asked for questions on the basis of Mr. Helms’ presentation. There were none.

The President then called on Mr. Kissinger to outline the issues for discussion. Kissinger set these forth as contained in the analytical summary and talking points contained at Tabs B and II in the attached NSC book.3

The President then turned to Ambassador Smith to open the discussion.

Smith—The problem is now one of proceeding on two tracks: (1) continue and finish the efforts of the Verification Panel; and (2) open explorations in Helsinki.

The President’s letter of July4 gives extremely helpful guidance. I would, however, like to add to it.

  • First, you foreshadowed Options I, II, and III. I would like to add Option IIIa, which would be a mixture of land and sea based missiles.5 I would also like to raise a freeze on bombers. We have an advantage there.
  • Second, I would like to have permission to add some discussion of MIRV, with no commitment as to whether to ban or not.
  • Third, I would appreciate guidance as to whether negotiations for a suspension on MIRV are in the cards or not.
[Page 154]

Tests on their and our part may soon go beyond the point of no return concerning MIRV. Alternatives include the following:

Soviets stop initial starts of new ICBMs.
Both the Soviets and the United States agree not to deploy new ABMs.
That there be an agreement of no flight testing of MRVs and MIRVs.

I would like to be able to talk in Helsinki as if these options had not been ruled out.

RN—How do you think the talks will work? Will this be purely a trial effort?

Smith—They will be private. There will be no daily press briefings.

RN—There has been speculation from someone in my office that the Soviets have found the subject far more complicated than they expected. Maybe they are not as far along as we are. Maybe the Soviets will not have as much to say as we will.

Smith—The nature of these talks will be unprecedented. On the Seabeds discussion,6 each time they go out for discussion, we go out.

RNDick (Helms), have you heard that they are not prepared?


Rogers—It might be useful to ask Ambassador Thompson about that. Remember, we proposed the talks. They might say to us, “what do you have in mind?”

RN—Concerning MIRV, what is the relative standing?

Packard—That’s hard to answer.

RN—I’m not sure just what we have already tested.

Packard—We are ready with the Poseidon. Our Poseidon missiles go against cities.

RN—What is the Poseidon?

Packard—It is a submarine-launched missile.

RN—Can it do-in a city?

Packard—Yes. In addition, our Minuteman III is in good shape.

I would like to go for more testing on it.

RN—But in general, where do we stand?

Helms—Basically, we are well ahead on MIRV.

Packard—Our system is more sophisticated. The Soviet system is not as reliable.

[Page 155]

Kissinger—Our system is targeted more for cities, and with ABM defense in mind. Their system, if accurate, is designed against our Minuteman. They are not the same things; there are different purposes.

Packard—That is correct. We are concerned over these differing purposes.

RN—When did we start testing?

Wheeler—In August 1968. We have conducted 25 tests.

Smith—Didn’t they start just about one week later.

Nitze—The main purpose of the Helsinki meeting is exploratory.

RN—But how will they work? Who goes?

Smith—In addition to me, there will be Brown, Allison, Nitze and Thompson. The Soviet delegation will be headed by Semyonov.

RN—Will they have any lawyers?

Helms—They have two Foreign Service Officers, two Generals, and one electronics specialist.

RN—Do we know any of them? Were any of them at the Seabeds talks?

SmithKorniyenko was there. Will you send a message to the first day of the talks?


Nitze—Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin has told us they will discuss substance. We want to get to know what the Soviets have in mind, and we want to give credence to our own position. We don’t want to undermine our system.

Mr. Nitze then presented his views as contained in his memorandum of November 6, enclosed at Tab C of the attached NSC book.7

At the end, he said that the Soviets may ask if a MIRV ban is on the agenda, and they might raise the issue of a moratorium on further testing.

RN—Would this be in their interest?


Helms—I would think that would be unacceptable. Why go that way?

RN—What about a freeze on submarines, bombers and mobile launchers?

[Page 156]

Nitze—They might want an ABM freeze. Our ABM is more sophisticated, and they could suggest freezing deployment beyond what is now in place.

RN—Are MIRV and ABM interrelated?MIRV can break through ABM?


WheelerMIRV is important to us not only as it concerns penetration, but also as we have targeted at Soviet target system. We have 540–580 hard targets which we are not able to hit now.

Nitze—Put another way, when we talk of freezing the Minuteman force at 1000 and subs at 400, we had planned to MIRV that force. This would give us an extra capability. The submarines are in for conversion, and Minuteman III is about ready.

Smith—We could still deploy Poseidon with a single warhead. We must stop deployment of the SS–9.

RN—If the SS–9 is a first-strike weapon, is it not a weapon designed against cities?

Packard—While we have been developing MIRV since 1966, the Soviets have been continuing deployment of their SS–9. Even if they stop MIRVing, they can still threaten our Minuteman capability.

Agnew—Can SS–9s go against our Minuteman?

Packard—We are concerned that they would go against our hard silos. On the basis of data from testing, CIA says this is doubtful, while the Department of Defense is not so doubtful.

Mitchell—Do the last tests of the SS–9 give them any lead on accuracy?


Helms—That is correct.

Nitze—Since 1966, our effort has been based on the assumption that Minuteman III and the Poseidon would balance their SS–11s and SS–13s. The Soviets have much greater throw weight. If we now give up MIRV, they may have as much as a 3 to 1 advantage in throw weight. We face a major decision, concerning both parity and assurance. We could build ABMs beyond what they have. They are not so strong now. But if they go further, or if they expand their radar, then that would be a major threat to us.

Helms—We don’t know how much they have improved at this point.

Smith—What is the purpose of our defense against China?

RN—We want area defense.

Rogers—The Soviet estimate of Chinese capability is greater than our estimate.

[Page 157]

RN—Maybe it is just a game on their part.

They might feel reluctant to give up development in submarines and aircraft. This gives them flexibility vis-à-vis others. The Soviets have 1/2 of the submarines in the world.

But we have an overall collection they don’t have.

Nitze—They have 700 medium bombers which could go against the Chinese and Europe.

Allison—We find bombers useful in a wide variety of roles. They have good refueling capability.

RNHenry (Kissinger), what about your point to Congress and the Senators that their thrust is more flexible, while we are on a plateau.

Kissinger—They have several missiles, capable of varying roles. We have one which is retaliatory. What if their SS–9 is MIRVed against our Minuteman? If they know what they are doing, then they intend to make the SS–9 more accurate. As accuracy improves, and if the SS–11 is accurate to within 1/3 of a mile, then they don’t need to MIRV. This could mean a fundamental change in the situation, which had been unthinkable in the 60s.

RN—Let’s come down to the point—what shall we give our negotiators.

Nitze—I don’t see a moratorium, unless the long-term results are clear.

Can we live with a MIRV ban?

We must have a high assurance that ABMs and SAMs won’t expand. But how can we get this assurance.
If we cannot get clear on how to control the radar networks, then what assurance do we have of launchers?

Kissinger—The radar problem is crucial.

Nitze—Their MIRVs are more dangerous than ours since they have greater throw weight, but the roles are different. We are particularly concerned about ABM and SAM upgrade.

Agnew—Strictly as a negotiator, can’t we talk about payload limitations. This is just as disadvantageous to them. It may not be as sophisticated, but it is just as disadvantageous.

Nitze—They won’t show us their payload.

Smith—We do have an overall advantage. What about airplanes?

RN—What do you think Andy (Goodpaster)?

Goodpaster—The caliber of discussion today is far beyond anything heretofore held. With the number of uncertainties that exist, we are held to exploration at this stage. We must assess carefully what the Soviets say, to narrow things down for the next step. The debate here makes it clear that we are not prepared to go beyond exploration. But going slowly may not be going bad.

[Page 158]

We must take measure of these people and sense their concern. We don’t know the degree of Soviet concern about the Chinese Communists. We don’t want to take steps which Paul says would trap us.

Wheeler—I am utterly opposed to foregoing MIRV. A moratorium is equivalent to a ban. It would kill the Poseidon program, and we have no single reentry vehicle warhead for the Poseidon.

I think the first thing the Soviets would try to get would be whether we would be willing to accept parity in strategic forces—a parity which is not necessarily symmetrical. I base this on a conversation of a year ago with Dobrynin, who said don’t talk to the Soviets on the basis of superiority. They want to talk at minimum on the basis of parity.

What is our ultimate objective—superiority or parity?

Goodpaster—There is the NATO aspect. My NATO colleagues are aware that an increasing number of targets on the nuclear list are left uncovered. It is important to have NATO consultations in advance. They will understand the meaning for them of any action proposals. We will have to be clear about the net balance before we consult with NATO.

Smith—I talked with Brosio this morning. I said flatly we would consult with NATO.

If we are not going to choke off the nuclear competition, then the land-based missiles only give us a short-run advantage. We have new missiles on the way. The Minuteman is a gone goose anyway. If MIRVs are not included in the negotiations, then an agreement is meaningless.

Nitze—I think it is important that we would be able to discuss MIRV if they raise it. But how would we handle such an issue, since I am reluctant to discuss a moratorium until we know the terms. Equalization of throw weights becomes increasingly important.

Agnew—Throw weight is more inspectable than MIRVing. If there is a throw weight agreement, then we don’t need a MIRV ban. I think we ought to get away from MIRV discussions.

Rogers—There will be great international interest in this. We shouldn’t get locked in. I worry about a moratorium we can’t get out of. We should give our team flexibility.

RNGerry (Smith), do you feel we have to discuss MIRV or there is no game?

Smith—I think this is about 70% of the issue.

Nitze—It doesn’t have to be so.

RN—We must rationalize our position. To say we have a moratorium which then locks us into a ban, is like saying let’s just have a little bit of pregnancy.

Smith—That is so, as a moratorium automatically means a ban.

[Page 159]

RN—I would like to prepare a memorandum on this business. I’ll have it by Wednesday.8 I am keenly aware you can’t go ask just what they have in mind. You have to have something to say. We must be prepared to talk about MIRV.

Smith—I don’t want to highlight within the North Atlantic Council our thinking concerning reductions.

Nitze—But we should raise the possibility.

Rogers—There was great interest in having Congressional representation on the delegation when I testified. You might want to brief the Congressional leaders.

RN—That is an excellent idea. Be careful with the Senate.

Rogers—We might pick out a few of the leaders to brief.

Kissinger—We could give facts from the Verification Panel.

RN—We don’t have to tell them about the MIRV business.

Smith—I have a press backgrounder right now. I leave for Helsinki Thursday.

Rogers—We can go slowly—we don’t need to get in a trap quickly.

RN—Instead of options, can we go weapon by weapon? Will we talk the whole approach, parts, or what? Do we want to rule anything out? They might come in with some very simplistic suggestions. When I saw Alastair Buchan recently, he said he thought the Soviets were worried about SALT; that they are not fully ready.

The meeting adjourned.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–109, NSC Minutes Originals 1969. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting took place in the Cabinet Room from 3:03 to 5:03 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The minutes are marked “draft” but numerous handwritten minor editorial corrections appear on the original and “OK” is written in the upper right-hand corner. No final version was found. The corrections have been incorporated in the text printed here.
  2. Attached but not printed is Helms’s briefing, entitled “The Soviet Threat,” which focused on three points: “a) Numbers of operational Soviet ICBM launchers and new groups of SS–9 and SS–11 silos; b) Soviet program to build their equivalent of U.S. Polaris submarine; and c) photography of a new strategic bomber prototype.”
  3. Attached but not printed. The analytical summary is printed as Document 38.
  4. Document 26.
  5. For a description of the options, see Document 37.
  6. Reference is to negotiations that began in March 1969 between the United States and Soviet Union for an arms control treaty for the seabeds.
  7. Nitze’s memorandum discussed three categories of options: “1) those options which provide for no MIRV ban and no reductions (Options I, II, III, III–A); 2) those options which include a MIRV ban (Options IV, V, V–A and VI); and 3) the option which provides for mutual reductions of fixed land-based missiles, and thus reduces the significance of MIRVs as a counterforce threat (Opinion VII).”
  8. November 12.