5. Minutes of a National Security Council Meeting1

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

Nixon asks Packard for types of things you are looking at.


Purposes and choices of ABM.

Neither side has dominance.

Soviets deploying additional missiles. They will be superior in number of missiles. We are now superior in SLBMs but they want parity. We have substantial superiority in manned bombers.

Two extremes: What is required for Dominance?


Destroy enemy’s offensive force so he can’t strike back.

Tough, can’t destroy subs. We would need more accurate, heavier missiles; bombers can’t be used in timely way.


Other side: Provide very good protection of targets.

Problems with ABM.

New substantial amount of protection—very efficient; but Soviets can keep up by proliferating, MIRVs. They can counter at low cost.ABM is ineffective protection.HAK: against full-scale Soviet attack.
Use of tactics effective against ABM; Soviets can concentrate and overwhelm parts. ABM not attractive at this time.

What is required for deterrence?


Protect second strike capability.

Situation is fairly good now. Land-based missiles in hardened sites, vulnerable to bigger more accurate missiles.

Bombers are vulnerable except those on alert. SLBMs bring our bombers under attack.

Our own SLBMs are excellent deterrent.

We can use ABM to protect missile & bomber forces. Fact ABM isn’t perfect isn’t so troublesome; you complicate Soviet problem, aren’t losing people.

You could increase deterrence by building up offensive forces. But you don’t need this for second strike capability.

Not sound to say we will protect cities; is sound to say we will protect second strike capability.

This deployment doesn’t threaten Soviets.

Nixon: Neither one does or does cities’ protection threaten them psychologically?

Packard: They would see cities’defense as prelude to other offensive build-up.

Nixon: Suppose you could defend cities. Really means credible threat of first strike would be much greater if they are screwing with Allies.

Packard: Wouldn’t really give you first strike.

Smith: Population protection is historically a signal of going for first strike. Would be more threatening.

Nixon: We say glibly we will fire on warning. Who’s sure. As soon as you do, you are risking great destruction.

Laird: Issue is that we can’t move toward defense of cities. Impossible to solve this equation. We shouldn’t assure our people of this. We can handle other threats, adding to our deterrence. Shouldn’t care about what Soviets think, but what’s best for our security, security of our nation.

Nixon: It is important to game plan it from their point of view. Important for arms control discussions.

Laird: They have ABM, but they may be protecting other targets.

Packard: We don’t know why their ABM. Use of ABM to protect our offensive forces would be stabilizing, would help with strategic arms limitation talks.

Nixon asks Smith what he thinks.

Smith: Doesn’t make much difference one way or other as far as talks. Ongoing program isn’t decisive on talks issue.

Rogers: Isn’t having option good negotiating point?

Smith: Best posture is ABM connected with signs of progress on SALT and with signal they aren’t going for first strike capability.

Parochially I am against ABM. I would urge at same time as ABM decision, say we have reviewed last proposal—approved by Chiefs—we are now in position to begin talks. Announce we will limit number to say Moscow’s number, not deploy them in first strike mode.

[Page 13]

Wheeler: If I thought technically, fiscally feasible to ABM defense which gave first strike capability, I would advocate it, destabilizing or not. Wouldn’t bother me.

Nixon: Wouldn’t bother me either. Nuclear umbrella in NATO a lot of crap. Don’t have it.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

Lincoln: Proposition: by starting but not stating how far we will go will aid Gerry.

Smith: No, would prefer number. We could increase it if we had to.

Rogers: Art[icle] VI of NPT2—says parties will enter into arms limitation agreement. Important to non-nuclear powers. With NPT notified, we should proceed in good faith. I was asked this yesterday. We are obligated to go ahead with talks, in good faith, language of treaty is clear.

Nixon: But not what and when. We’re not tied down.

Rogers: Of course, but we must proceed in good faith. If Soviets say let’s talk, we have to. We’re under the gun.

Wheeler: Haven’t we been under that obligation for a long time in representations to U.N.?

Rogers: This is treaty obligation.

Smith: We are already in negotiations. Public statements have a meaning. Gore3 thinks we should start just on ABM. I think Soviets want talks both on offensive and defensive missiles.

Laird: Soviets don’t want to negotiate defense.

Rogers: We should have total offensive/defensive.

Nixon: For trip,4 I want to be kept as flexible as possible. Same with decision on ABM. It would be unhelpful to make it appear that we are leaning (don’t debrief Depts and have it appear in papers) though arguments appear convincing. Then if we decided to move, that could be important gesture in arms control problem. We’re not sure what affects them; then let’s not appear too precise until we get some leverage.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–109, NSC Minutes Originals 1969. Top Secret; Sensitive. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting was held in the Cabinet Room of the White House from 10:26 a.m. to 12:26 p.m. and was attended by: President Nixon, Kissinger, Agnew, Rogers, Laird, David Kennedy, Lincoln, Wheeler, Helms, Packard, Gerard Smith, and Ellis H. Veatch, Director of the Bureau of the Budget’s National Security Programs Division. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The participants were continuing the discussion of strategic policy issues initiated during the February 14 NSC meeting; see Document 4. The full text of the minutes of this meeting is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXIV, National Security Policy, 1969–1972, Document 8.
  2. On July 1, 1968, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was opened for signature in Washington, London, and Moscow. Ratified by the U.S. Senate in March 1969, it entered into force on March 5, 1970 after 81 other nations signed the treaty. (21 UST 483)
  3. Senator Albert Gore, Sr. (D–TN).
  4. On February 23 Nixon left for an 8-day visit to Europe on his first foreign trip as President.