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


  • Summary of Salto 58, Thinkpiece re Present Position of Preliminary SALT

Ambassador Smith has sent in the attached telegrams,2 including separate memoranda from Nitze, Thompson, Allison, and Brown. Each comments on Soviet motives and where we may be headed in the talks. All seem to agree that the Soviets are “serious.” Most see their principal tactic as driving for a total ban on ABMs, which leads logically to a ban on MIRVs. All see certain political byproducts in the form of propaganda proposals designed to cause trouble in NATO, and in the US. Most comment favorably on the mutuality of views on strategic concepts, mainly acceptance of mutual deterrence, the interaction of [Page 165] offensive-defensive deployments, and the threat of heavy ABM systems.

Nitze: He feels that the Soviets are laying the foundation for a plausible agreement to curb the arms race in a manner inconsistent with approved US positions, the logic of which, however, will be difficult to resist. The main points will be a zero level of ABMs, a ban on MIRVs, and simple flight test ban, with third country threats met by politico-strategic consultations. They may also have in mind a halt to further construction of offensive launchers, if the above conditions are met.

This position may be difficult, he feels, unless we lay foundation for limiting and reducing offensive launchers, while permitting MIRVs and nationwide ABM, or by guiding a MIRV test ban in the direction of the Option that provides for limit on number of SS–9 and throw-weight.3 If, however, we want to move toward a MIRV ban, then there may be advantages in raising moratorium now rather than postponing.

Thompson: The Soviets seriously wish to work toward an agreement, though some of their positions are propagandistic and for bargaining purposes. They will press for a low level of ABMs and this may well be a critical issue in the subsequent negotiations. Though the Soviets have not raised MIRVs, Thompson assumes we should do so in some form before we conclude; at a minimum we should get the subject on the work program and it might be helpful to know whether Washington believes the delegation should probe Soviet thinking.

Allison: The major Soviet purpose is to assess for Moscow how serious the US is. The Soviets have staked out areas they wish to develop (bombers, exclusion of IR/MRBMs, etc.), but without illustrating in any detail a proposal of their own. The Soviet presentations have been designed to encourage forthcomingness on the US side, and have been cast in a form we want to hear.

Brown: His memorandum is too long to summarize adequately. He sees the talks as serving various Soviet purposes: formalization of parity; freeze by agreement of those areas where we have momentum (MIRV, ABM) while allowing continued deployment in areas where their momentum exceeds ours (submarines, SS–9s); silence on MIRVs may mean they believe we are far enough along to deploy while they are not; or they may be trying to slow down our programs without agreement, or aiming at stabilization of strategic situation near the present level.

On the other hand, we gain by developing strategic picture for Soviets of the situation with or without agreement. They have come some distance in expressing common strategic concepts. We could use talks [Page 166] to impress on their establishment the disutility of strategic power beyond certain levels. They have not been negative toward elements of Option II. They may want equal numbers of missiles rather than equality in payload.

We should avoid the concept of parity; we should mention throw-weight, ask about reductions and note the MIRV question for inclusion in the work program, but not agree to stop our programs while theirs continue; we should plan to resume in early February somewhere else. Washington should look harder at low, including zero, ABMs; look again at options which allow MIRVs and those which do not.MIRVs may not be controllable after next spring, but some new agreements could be formulated which inhibit qualitative improvements. Perhaps an agreement that permits MIRVs, but stops higher betas, and any more RVs per vehicle than have been tested already.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 875, SALT, Volume VI, December 1–31, 1969. Secret. Sent for information.
  2. Attached but not printed is telegram Salto 58, December 2, which was sent in six sections.
  3. See Document 37 for a description of the various U.S. options.