50. Editorial Note

On January 23, 1970, the National Security Council was scheduled to discuss issues that could potentially affect the strategic arms limitation talks, specifically Department of Defense proposals for the Safeguard anti-ballistic missile (ABM) program for fiscal year 1971. Talking points prepared by the NSC staff, which President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Kissinger sent to President Nixon, noted that [Page 178] part of the discussion would focus on how further deployment of Safeguard beyond the Phase I sites of Grand Forks and Malmstrom Air Force Bases would affect SALT. An issues paper included in the President’s briefing materials contains the following section about the implications for SALT of further Safeguard deployment:

“The SALT argument can be expected to receive greater attention at the meeting. Gerard Smith will presumably state his view that we should not go beyond Phase 1, plus continuing R&D, until we have a better idea how SALT is likely to turn out. As I understand it, his argument is:

  • “—In view of the stated Soviet interest in ‘zero’ ABM levels, a public U.S. commitment to a system as large as Phase 2 may make the Soviets unwilling to discuss meaningful limits on their offensive forces, because they would fear that we could use it as the base for a thick area defense which would threaten their retaliatory capacity.

“—Suspending U.S. ABM deployments, while retaining the option to resume, will:

  • “—be a sign of our seriousness in the negotiations which will favorably impress the Soviets, some foreign countries, and Congressional arms control advocates. It might even prompt reciprocal Soviet restraint;
  • “—give the Soviets an added incentive to negotiate seriously to forestall resumption;
  • “—avoid the possibility of a Congressional defeat, which would fatally undercut any bargaining advantage which might be secured by proceeding with deployment.

“The counterargument, which I find compelling, is:

  • “—In the first place, we must be prepared to live with the situation which would prevail if the talks fail to result in a constraint on Soviet offensive forces buildup. A year’s delay in starting new construction apparently means two years’ delay in completing sites, even if we were to start up again next year.

“—We may, even with a SALT agreement, want some ABM protection beyond what Phase I gives us:

  • “—In your instructions to the Helsinki delegation you stated that you are ‘committed to the area defense component of Safeguard.’Whatever system may be needed to meet that commitment, it means more than the two Phase 1 sites.
  • “—Some protection of the deterrent, i.e., the Minuteman defense, will be needed whether or not we get an agreement.
  • “—In any event, additional deployments increase rather than reduce the chance of meaningful agreements. ABM is the U.S. weapons system the Soviets seem most anxious to stop. An actual on-going construction program is a far stronger bargaining counter than a suspended [Page 179] one, especially if one takes into account the domestic political problems involved in starting up once we stop.
  • “—A decision to begin further deployments toward the full 12-site Phase 2 system is not irreversible, and there is no reason for the Soviets to think it is. If the prospect of a SALT agreement made it appear advisable, we would cancel all or part of the additional deployments. Indeed, if that were to happen in the next year, the financial costs of such cancellation would be modest, because the very long lead times involved mean that little is actually spent on new sites for some time after they are approved.

“There is also the consideration that Phase 1 standing alone is very vulnerable both politically and strategically:

  • “—The technical argument against further deployment of the Safeguard components for Minuteman defense applies equally to continuing with Phase 1, and we can expect that it would be made if we did not begin additional deployments.
  • “—Phase 1 was never intended to act as a separate system. The whole point of Phase 2 is that the system, including the two additional Minuteman defense sites would operate as a whole, enhancing the effectiveness of each part.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–026, NSC Meeting 1/23/70 Safeguard (ABM))

At 10:10 a.m. on January 23 the NSC met in the Cabinet Room to discuss Safeguard. The following attended: Nixon, Kissinger, Vice President Agnew, Secretary of State William Rogers, Attorney General John Mitchell, Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Smith, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Earle Wheeler, Director of Central Intelligence Helms, Director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness George A. Lincoln, Deputy Secretary of Defense Packard, Under Secretary of State Richardson, and Lee DuBridge, Science Advisor to the President. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)

Richardson’s handwritten notes are the only record of the meeting that have been found. After discussing the nature of the Soviet strategic threat and related technical developments, the participants turned to SALT. According to Richardson’s notes, the President declared, “SALT—that’s tough one. We must take into account men who are on the ground. My view is probably a minority one. [I] have never felt that what we did in this field had much to do with their willingness to negotiate. Editorials thought otherwise. I don’t believe [in] going ahead with area defense. I have decided we will go forward with DOD program. Whether to construct an ABM site near Washington, D.C. or in the northwestern part of the United States in FY 1971 can be decided later. I don’t want there to be any doubt that I’m committed [Page 180] to area defense. In terms of negotiations, I feel we must go forward with the plan, etc.” Nixon concluded by stating, “I want to emphasize at this time, however, that I am determined to have the Government speak with a single voice on this issue. This year we not only may face a renewed fight on the Hill, but we have to be very careful that our statements here at home in defending the Safeguard program don’t interfere with our position in the negotiations with the Soviets.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Richardson Papers, Box 97, Memcons, January 1970)

On January 28 the NSC met to discuss Europe. British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, British Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart, and British Ambassador John Freeman also attended the meeting. At one point, Nixon asked Kissinger to “touch on the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and, in particular the Soviet attitudes toward intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBM) and NATO arrangements.” Kissinger replied that “the key problem is the definition of strategic weapons. We consider that IRBMs which are aimed at Europe are strategic, while tactical weapons are not. On the other hand, the Soviets take the position that weapons aimed at home countries are strategic and others are not. Under their definition, then, IRBMs are not considered strategic, and Polaris missiles are. This gives them an overwhelming advantage vis-à-vis Europe. In the next phase of SALT, the definition question will be crucial.” Secretary of State Rogers added: “One thing is clear and that is we will have plenty of time for discussion. There will be no quick decisions.” No further discussion about SALT occurred at the meeting. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–109, NSC Minutes Originals 1970)