44. Letter From the Chief of the Delegation to the Preliminary Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (Smith) to President Nixon1

Dear Mr. President:

This may be the last report from Helsinki giving my personal impressions, as we hope to wind up after this week’s drafting of a general work program for the next stage and a communiqué. It is just possible, of course, that we may get some further Soviet views on substantive matters this week, and may also get some informal “messages to Washington” from Semenov as we wind up.

Although still unclear as to Soviet intentions re SALT (as they likely still are about ours), I think we have come upon a few points in this exploration which have made it a worthwhile operation.

  • First: They appear to be seriously interested in avoiding an ABM competition.2 They explicitly recognized that ABMs can be considered “offensive” and a major stimulant to the arms competition. They have suggested the possibility of a zero ABM level which one Soviet official said could involve dismantling the Moscow Galosh System3 which he described as experimental.
  • Second: Their probing of my use of the term “initial” agreement may indicate some interest in a negotiating moratorium of some sort. When I explained that I did not use the term to mean an agreement reached at the beginning of the next stage, but one reachable perhaps in 1970, my colleague Mr. Garthoff (an experienced Russian expert) detected a flash of disappointment on Semenov’s visage.4
  • Third: When we discussed verification, the Soviets stated (as expected) that national means would be sufficient. But Semenov went on to say that US ideas for cooperative verification techniques could be a subject for discussion. I take this to be a slight opening toward some [Page 169] of the ideas we have considered between national means and on-site inspection. If so, it may be a sign that the Soviets are sufficiently interested in a SALT deal to change somewhat their past policy.
  • Fourth: Though I don’t know exactly what to make of it, their MIRV silence seems significant. At least, I think one can assume that they are not ahead of or even abreast of us in the field. One Soviet official privately said, in effect: You have MIRV, we don’t; so it’s up to you to raise it. Related to this is their UN position opposing the Mexican resolution.5 At very least, they do not give the appearance of wanting a MIRV moratorium.6
  • Fifth: We find somewhat unexpectedly an apparent Soviet strong interest in the third country problem in its “provocative attack” context. The Soviets seem to be thinking here of US/USSR communication arrangements to identify rapidly the source of attack rather than aiming at an agreed level for an anti-Chinese ABM system.

Semenov has stressed that in such a new field, diplomacy must start with “hints.” I trust we have identified and reported all the significant hints they have made.

It is worth speculating that the Soviets may be surprised at our illustrative elements which emphasize freedom to build improved missiles and missiles in less vulnerable configurations. It may be that the Soviet military are inclining to favor our Option II7 since it would permit a number of new strategic systems to be built, e.g.: a) land mobile systems, b) hardened fixed land-based systems, and c) more submarines. The more budget conscious Soviet civilians, however, may see trouble with such an approach.

My hunch at this very early stage of the talks is that Soviet purposes are a mix of at least three possible main ingredients:

To see if an arrangement can be negotiated that would improve their prospects, or stabilize the strategic balance at lower cost,
To “cover” their ICBM/SLBM build-up and hopefully to defer, if not defeat, a US reaction.
To advance their general arms control image as well as their specific non-proliferation interests by appearing to meet the obligations of Article VI (NPT).8

Finally: I must say the Finns have exceeded all expectations as hosts for the talks and deserve, in my judgment, a vote of thanks.


  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 875, SALT, Volume VI, December 1–31, 1969. Top Secret; Nodis. Kissinger wrote on the letter: “All these letters must be acknowledged.” He also wrote “Secretariat has action.” No reply to Smith has been found. On December 17 Kissinger sent the letter to Nixon under a summarizing memorandum. Notations on the memorandum indicate that Nixon saw it.
  2. Nixon noted after this point on Kissinger’s memorandum: “They are ahead.”
  3. The system consisted of eight launch sites near Moscow of the Galosh missile, an ABM interceptor.
  4. Kissinger’s memorandum summarized this point as the Soviets’ expressing interest in “a simple agreement early in the next phase.” Nixon wrote: “Not in our interest.”
  5. Reference is to a 15-nation draft resolution, A/C.1/L.490, introduced in the United Nations General Assembly on November 26, which urged the United States and Soviet Union to hold bilateral negotiations on the limitations of offensive and defensive strategic nuclear weapons systems. (Documents on Disarmament, 1969, p. 595) On December 9 the Mexican Representative to the United Nations, Alfonso Garcia Robles, addressed the First Committee of the General Assembly on a moratorium on new nuclear weapons systems. His address is ibid., pp. 644–648.
  6. On Kissinger’s memorandum, Nixon commented: “They are behind.”
  7. See Document 37 for a description of the various U.S. options.
  8. Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons reads: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” (21 UST 483)