53. Special National Intelligence Estimate1

SNIE 11–16–70


[Omitted here are a Note and table of contents.]


[Omitted here are sections entitled “How the Soviets Saw Helsinki” and “Factors Bearing on Soviet Negotiating Tactics.” See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Document 137.]

Possible Soviet Positions At Vienna

It is unlikely that the Soviets will come to Vienna with a fully formulated package for negotiation. They will probably think of the next stage as requiring a further and perhaps lengthy “feeling out” period. [Page 187] Their aim at the outset will be to make a more precise assessment of what is negotiable. They would probably prefer to await a coherent set of proposals from the US side, hoping that they can then bring these closer to their own positions. And the Soviet delegation itself will be unsure as to precisely what its superiors in Moscow will accept or reject.
When the negotiations reach the stage of concrete formulations, the Soviets are likely to indicate a preference for a limited, quantitative agreement affecting only the principal weapon systems, as opposed to a more comprehensive and complex one. This approach would be based on a fear that a too comprehensive agreement might involve disadvantages they could not anticipate or foreclose developments by which they might eventually improve their relative position. Further, they would expect that the more complex the agreement, the more the US would be disposed to press for modes of verification unacceptable to them. In any case, they probably regard a complex agreement as too difficult to negotiate.
When they first come to Vienna, however, the Soviet negotiators will probably not be completely clear as to what the categories and content of even a simple, quantitative agreement ought to be. Their uncertainty will relate in particular to what scale of deployment of ABM and MIRV the US is committed to and to what extent these programs are negotiable.
ABMs. At Helsinki, the Russians showed much concern over this issue. They seemed to regard control of ABM deployment as a key to determining whether an early, limited agreement is negotiable. At Vienna, their probing in this area will undoubtedly be continued and probably intensified because of the US decision relating to Safeguard announced since Helsinki. Soviet interest in the ABM question probably rests not only on concern for the potentially destabilizing effect of any extended deployment but also on a fear that US technology could put it ahead in this field. The Soviets may be concerned as well about the cost of the effort they would feel obliged to make to compensate for any large-scale US deployment of an ABM system.
At Helsinki, the Soviets listed for consideration three possible levels of ABM deployment: zero, light, and heavy. Their apparent preference was for a light level of ABM defenses, but they did not rule out the zero level option, though obviously this would necessitate dismantling the Moscow system. They seemed to regard heavy ABM levels as the least acceptable. They pointed out that these would entail the “highest levels of both offensive and defensive strategic weapons,” since each side would presumably wish to compensate for the defenses of the other by enhancing the capabilities of its own strategic systems in some way. They also noted, calling attention to similar US expressions of concern, that “the deployment by one side of an ABM system [Page 188] to a level which might give it confidence in the sufficiency of its invulnerability to a retaliatory strike might generate a temptation to use strategic offensive weapons against the other side.”
It is not clear how the Soviets would define “light” ABM defenses in terms of the scale and coverage the two sides would be allowed to have. Their reference to the danger of third-country attack suggests that they might want the system to have a significant capability against such attack, but they did not make clear how widely-deployed a system they would want for this purpose. They may have in mind a system defending only the national capitals and possibly a few additional command centers.
It seems clear, in any case, that the Soviets will argue strongly at Vienna against arrangements which permit deployment by the US of a countrywide ABM system—even a thin one. They will register their concern that by moving into the second phase of Safeguard deployment the US could be laying the foundations for a heavy, nationwide system intended to defend its population against large-scale attack, and will argue that this would be destabilizing to mutual deterrence. They may indicate that if ABM deployment is held to a relatively low level, they might be prepared, in return, to hold deployment of their offensive systems, especially SS–9, to levels at which these would not be a serious threat to the US land-based retaliatory capability. We think that an attempt to probe US intentions concerning ABMs will be an immediate Soviet objective at Vienna, and that Moscow’s conclusions on this score will bear heavily on its positions on other issues.
MIRVs. Clearly the Soviets recognize the linkage between ABM and MIRV. Their failure officially to broach the MIRV question at Helsinki and their privately expressed interest in having the US do so may have represented no more than their customary caution in approaching critical issues. They must believe, however, that the US is ahead in MIRV development and must fear that an agreement could trap them into a situation in which the US was in a position to deploy and they were not. At present, they evidently believe that MIRV deployment, and perhaps even testing, cannot be monitored by any means of verification they could accept. On the other hand, they face the dilemma that, if MIRVs are not controlled, they could find themselves at some disadvantage, at least for a time.
If the Soviets do not see any way to bring MIRVs directly under an agreement, they may well argue at Vienna that the requirement for MIRVs is dependent on the level of ABM deployment and that the control of these linked systems can best be approached from the ABM side. They could argue that, if the ABM were held to a low limit and the number of ICBMs suitably limited to reduce each side’s counter-force potential, the deployment of MIRVs would add little or nothing [Page 189] to each side’s security; hence, there would be so little incentive to deploy them that a declaratory, i.e., uninspected, ban on MIRV deployment would suffice. In any case, it seems altogether unlikely that they would change their position on verification in order to allow inspection of MIRV deployment.
Throw Weight and Accuracy. Limitations pertaining to elements such as the throw weight and accuracy of missiles are unlikely to appeal to the Soviets. They would not want to be asked for concessions to compensate for the size of the SS–9 warhead, and, in any case, they would believe that approaches of this kind would present impossible problems of verification. They may not reject outright a US attempt to develop such approaches, but in the end they would probably find them too complex and uncertain to be negotiable at this time.
Verification. The Soviets have accepted the principle that there must be adequate means of assuring both sides of compliance, but have once again asserted that national means should suffice to monitor an arms limitation agreement. The Soviets probably are not sure that the US will be satisfied to rely on national means only. They would expect that the more complex the agreement, the more the US would be disposed to press for modes of verification unacceptable to them. It is not clear what the Soviets include in national means, or how they rate their own capabilities. It is likely, however, in view of dissimilarities in national means of verification, that measures which the US considers could be verified by national means would not appear in this light to the Soviets, and vice versa.
Although specific cooperative measures were not actually discussed at Helsinki, the Soviet attitude suggested that Moscow might be willing to consider some fairly simple measures that would increase the effectiveness of national means of collection (examples might be: tests only at agreed missile ranges or an agreement to prohibit the use of cover for certain weapon systems). In addition, the Soviets seem well disposed to the idea of supporting an agreement by continuous consultation which might, among other things, gradually lead to progress in developing new modes of verification.
Combinations of Force Elements to be Limited. The Soviets recognize that there are—and, for geographic and other reasons, are bound to be—asymmetries between the US strategic forces and theirs. The idea of allowing the two sides to have different combinations of forces under agreed ceilings and to vary them over time does not seem to cause them any trouble in principle. But they will obviously be very sticky when it comes to agreeing on an initial combination for the two sides, and perhaps even more so in agreeing on what construction can be completed or what improvements and replacements are permissible within an agreed total. On this subject, the Soviets [Page 190] will probably not have firm proposals but will leave it to the US to take the lead.
IRBM/MRBMs, SLCMs, and Air Defense Systems. We see little chance that the Russians will alter the position that they took at Helsinki, namely that IRBM/MRBMs pose no threat to the security of the US but are an essential part of the USSR’s defenses against third countries. They will continue to argue that US forward-based aircraft represent a more pertinent issue. They will probably contend that available means of detection give the US reasonable assurance against the possibility that IRBMs might be converted into ICBMs. The Russians will attempt to discover whether the US is willing to concede any of these points. If not, they may attempt to discover what US thinking is on alternatives, e.g., a trade-off which would exclude both IRBMs/MRBMs and forward-based aircraft from an initial agreement. With regard to SLCMs, the Soviets opposed their inclusion among strategic systems. We believe, however, that they would be willing to consider some trade-off here as well. We think it unlikely that they will agree to the inclusion of air defense systems, whether or not the US is willing to include its heavy bombers, and they are almost certain to continue in their refusal to discuss SAMs in an ABM context.
Other Subjects. A variety of additional issues were raised by the Russians at Helsinki. Among these were: measures to guard against accidental or unauthorized firing of nuclear weapons, or to deal with attack by a third party designed to provoke the USSR and US into conflict; prohibition on the transfer of strategic delivery vehicles and related technology to third parties; limitations on the operational spheres of nuclear-capable aircraft and submarines. The last of these has the earmarks of a mere bargaining point; although it is sure to be raised again at Vienna, the Russians are unlikely to press it, especially if prospects for progress in other areas seem reasonably good. They are likely, however, to press the subject of transfer with considerable vigor, in part because they may be concerned about the acquisition of ABM defenses by US allies. In connection with third-party attack, they may have in mind such things as additional “hot line” communications between the US and USSR, or even explicit understandings as to how to handle such a situation.
Whatever the course of discussions on these questions, the Soviets evidently see some value in preserving the forum which SALT provides for exchanges on a broad range of matters relating to the Soviet-American strategic relationship. They seem, moreover, to recognize that continuing talks might be useful to facilitate the execution and perhaps the eventual expansion of any SALT agreement.
Concluding Observations. Given the distances that will separate the two sides on most of the above key issues and the complexities that will need to be overcome, the Soviets have almost certainly not yet decided [Page 191] whether, in the end, an agreement acceptable to them can be achieved. Nor is there a single view in Moscow at present as to whether Soviet long-term interests would be better served by stabilizing the strategic relationship under an agreement rather than by continuing a competitive situation. The play of group interest and personal ambition which will surround this choice is bound to be intense.
Clearly there is much in the traditional Soviet outlook which would generate negative attitudes toward the idea of agreed stabilization. Long-held premises about the inevitability of conflict, mistrust of American motives, fear of being duped, even ignorance of the relevant technical facts would help to sustain such attitudes. And it is true that conservative instincts seem to be dominant in the present leadership.
On the other hand, there are obviously a number of people, including some military men, who have the ear of the leadership and will be able to make a strong case for a serious try at stabilization by agreement. The argument for easing economic pressures is a strong one, particularly for those who want more margin to experiment with economic reform. It will be said that as the arms race enters a new technological phase Soviet chances of lagging seriously behind are high. Some will argue that at present levels of strength strategic weapons are no longer as critical to the power competition, that, in fact, if the strategic arms race can be contained by agreement, other factors, including conventional military power, could be enhanced and would better serve the security and ambitions of the USSR.
We see no way of forecasting how such arguments will net out. Obviously the concrete choices presented by the interaction of the two sides in negotiations will be more determining than arguments made in the abstract. We would judge, however, that at present the Soviet leaders have a consensus, perhaps a shaky one, that the option of strategic stabilization by agreement should be given a long, hard look through SALT.
  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, NIC Files, Job 79–R01012A. Top Secret; Sensitive; Limited Distribution. The Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the National Security Agency participated in the preparation of this estimate, which was submitted by the Director of Central Intelligence and concurred in by all members of the USIB. This SNIE superseded SNIE 11–16–68, November 7, 1968, “The Soviet Approach to Arms Control,” which “dealt with the attitudes the Soviets might be expected to bring to talks on limiting strategic weapons (SALT). It discussed how such factors as the USSR’s economic position and its view of the strategic relationship with the US might be thought to bear on the Soviet approach to SALT.” For text of SNIE 11–16–68, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XI, Arms Control and Disarmament, Document 291. On January 26 Kissinger reminded Helms that at the January 21 Verification Panel meeting they agreed that an SNIE would help prepare for the Vienna round of negotiations. Kissinger asked Helms to forward an estimate by February 20. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 876, SALT, Volume VII, January 1970)