59. Minutes of a National Security Council Meeting1


  • The President
  • Vice President Agnew
  • Secretary of State Rogers
  • Secretary of Defense Laird
  • Attorney General Mitchell
  • General Earle Wheeler, Chairman, JCS
  • Under Secretary of State Richardson
  • Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Packard
  • Gerard Smith
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • William Watts
  • Paul Nitze
  • CIA Director Helms
[Page 208]

RN—This is the first of two discussions I want. Today should be general—then we can have another one prior to the departure of the delegation on the 15th of April.

I note that there is an honest and substantial difference of opinion on how to proceed. My own view is not fixed. I want to see what is possible within the range of national security interests. Whether or not agreement is reached remains to be seen. Everybody here wants agreement—let’s get that out.

It is to the credit of the Department of Defense that it has been so forthcoming and flexible. It may look at times as if it is bent more toward security.

In both ACDA and State the views are more from a negotiating standpoint, which may seem less sensitive to the security considerations.

I want a solid basis for a negotiating position which has a chance to proceed in relation to national security interests. I want everybody today to feel free to express their views.

—The President then called on Mr. Kissinger, who set forth the basic considerations as contained in the talking points and analytical summary in the attached NSC book.2

RN—This was a superb job of pulling everything together. Please tell your staff what a fine job they did.

Kissinger—There are two ways of going at this subject—either options or issues.

RN—Are we talking about a “comprehensive” agreement?

Kissinger—This means not only number but qualitative controls. A comprehensive agreement goes beyond a limited one. Then there is a 3rd approach which involves reductions as well. Paul Nitze is strong on this.

RN—If we get too tied down on charts, and if the other side gets tied down as well, then the Nitze proposal can break some ground.

Kissinger—The major issue is ABM/MIRV. If Soviet missiles can be hooked into the system, then we need MIRV.

RN—Is a launcher easier to make, and more quickly deployed, than radar?

Packard—You can add missiles more rapidly than radar.

Kissinger—Also it depends on whether you keep the production lines going.

[Page 209]

Wheeler—It is easier to detect launchers. We know the Moscow system has a reload capability which we don’t have—two missiles per system.

Kissinger—If we can limit the number of radars, this is the most foolproof ABM restriction.

RN—Is radar for the ABM the same as for other uses?

Kissinger—There is disagreement on this. But radar needed for ABM can be distinguished.

RN—Then it is different.

Kissinger—The Joint Chiefs say they have so many that they don’t need it specially for ABM. Others say they don’t need that kind for anything except ABM.

RN—But are they really different?

Packard—It takes the same radar for space tracking. We can tell the use [less than 1 line not declassified]. They will need those for space tracking.

RN—Then they are multi-purposed?


Kissinger—If space coverage was all that was needed, then we could limit them. They can upgrade other radars, which also complicates the issue.

Helms—Where they are building against the Chinese, they are looking down the Polaris routes as well as the Chinese. They are increasing their construction. We estimate it will take two years for area coverage.

Smith—They must put in interceptors as well as radars.

HAK—Without missiles, it is not a full ABM system; but missiles go in faster, and there is also the possibility of SAM upgrade.

RN—We must take into account their fear of the Chinese.

Packard—[less than 1 line not declassified] It is bigger and more sophisticated.

RN—Then how are we on radars?


Packard—Ours is more sophisticated and better, but our program has been delayed. We can’t have it fully until 1976–1978.

Laird—They have some capability, and we don’t, concerning [less than 1 line not declassified]. They are moving more rapidly than we had thought.

Richardson—Concerning their capability [less than 1 line not declassified]there is a tie between the [less than 1 line not declassified]. Taking into account the SAM upgrade problem over the next five years, do they have a system which is much more capable.

[Page 210]

Packard—They need a 3-step system. We use a two-step. Their technology will move ahead, as they can presumably move toward a 2-step capability.

Kissinger—There doesn’t seem to be a good intermediate level between zero level and national area defense.

If there are to be ABM limitations, then there must be large radar limitations as well to cover the SAM upgrade problem.

Wheeler—There are basic uncertainties in the radar field. One in the [1½ lines not declassified]. We have found the SA–5 radar deployed close to the Galosh missiles.

Laird—It isn’t realistic to assume the Soviets will tear down their radars.

RN—Their radars have enormously more powerful capability.

Laird—They have ABM capability.

Packard—We don’t have a comparable set-up.

Kissinger—If they don’t destroy radars, they can go more easily to ABM. Thus, some radar limitation is needed.

If we agree to its ban, we agree to a deployment ban as well. We could never get money from Congress to deploy. The Soviets could cheat on this to achieve counterforce capability.

A deployment ban requires on-site inspection.

Rogers—At one point, didn’t they agree to on-site inspection?

Smith—On the test ban treaty they offered 3 (per year) while we said 7.

Rogers—But can’t we say that we can agree on on-site inspection?

Mitchell—Maybe we have abandoned too soon the on-site inspection thought.

RN—The problem is the Soviet obsession with secrecy. They should be interested in limitation too. Maybe we can make the honest point that we can do much more with on-site inspection.

Nitze—I doubt it. It is worth trying, but I doubt.

Rogers—Why won’t they accept on-site inspection?

Nitze—This is what we said at Helsinki.

Laird—Do we want a MIRV ban even if we get on-site inspection? Maybe we would not want it then.

RN—We should hit hard at the on-site inspection idea, and push to open up their society.

Mitchell—There was a problem earlier wasn’t there, concerning opposition between the Pentagon and military?

Laird—We don’t want to tie ourselves to a MIRV ban.

[Page 211]

Smith—I spoke to Dobrynin. He said he didn’t rule out on-site in a comprehensive agreement, although it was out at the outset of any discussions.3

Packard—We were concerned about the SS–9 triplet. We still don’t know whether they are MIRV’d or not. There are now over 1500 on their side. The accuracy of SS–11 is uncertain.

We are worried that they can hit our Minuteman without much new construction. They have 25 submarines and are building 8 more per year. They will have 40 operational by 1974. With these deployed, there will be a serious threat to our cities and airfields. Then our land-based force would be in jeopardy and the bombers would be in jeopardy. We must then rely increasingly on the Polaris. We have 20 Polaris subs on station with 16 missiles per sub. This means 320 warheads. If we assume 80% reliability, then we have 256 which are reliable. If they have ABM then that would be bad news for us.

We continue to need a MIRV since no President wants to face the limited choice without MIRV. We propose to put 10 warheads per missile, but with no more destruction capability. MIRV increases the destruction insurance, but not the amount.

Kissinger—When you convert you lose about 20% of the destruction capability.

Agnew—Then MIRV is a distribution device. There is no increase in the destruction factor. Isn’t the factor with throw weight?

Packard—We want to get our reliance on land-based missiles down.

RN—Is Defense then suggesting “no” on MIRV?

Laird—Yes, “no” on MIRV.

RN—What about MIRV/ABM tied?

Laird—That is a different question.

RN—Can we buy a MIRV/ABM ban?

Packard—If we get a reduction in SS–9 or in total missiles, then MIRV is possible.

RN—We must look at the whole picture.

Smith—The Soviets must look at our MIRV system as something that permits the Americans to upgrade, make more accurate, and give a first strike capability.

Therefore, if we go to MIRV the Soviets will go to a new round. Also, if we ask them to do this and that, and yet we go to MIRV, then they would say this whole presentation is not interesting.

[Page 212]

Wheeler—Concerning MIRV, it is important to remember it is not just a destruction capability. MIRV provides flexibility for strategic targeting. An improved MIRV gives a counterforce, not a first-strike capability. In this sense I disagree with Jerry Smith. There are over 500 Soviet silos which are not targeted.

Nitze—Just reduction doesn’t protect without MIRV capability.

Helms—We may know soon what the [less than 1 line not declassified].

RN—But the Soviets have outdone every intelligence estimate. This discussion has been extremely useful to me. We must know what is negotiable. I wish to set up another two hours again before we go. We must not talk loosely.

Richardson—I would like to make a few comments which, I hope, will clarify the issue.

Point I—Target Coverage.

The more limited the coverage, the more our strategy relies on fixed capability. Therefore, if we start with the premise that security needs full targeting, then there can be no MIRV ban or limitation. Only an assured destruction capability is adequate.

Point II—Numbers.

Sub-launched and bomber-launched might cancel out land-based missiles. If you have more land-based missiles, there could be a residual capacity.

Point III—Verification.

If we don’t know whether they are MIRVing, then can we rely on what we know of their testing? State, CIA and ACDA seem to think we can.

To the extent that we don’t feel adequate confidence, then we must rely on on-site inspection.

If Point I is fixed, then we can’t even go to Point II or III.

Kissinger—That is a fair summary. I would like to add one point. If they have a substantial residual capacity, then they only need to improve some missiles and use others for bargaining.

Richardson—If they can thicken easily, then MIRV is needed.

Packard—Perhaps we can work out a one for one trade off. One Minuteman III for one SS–9.

Rogers—We need to get across the story on MIRVs.

RNMIRV capability would be only for defensive purposes.

Laird—I am going through the Senate member by member.

Smith—To the extent to which we explain MIRVs, this way makes it harder to get a control on MIRV.

[Page 213]

RN—In whose interest is it to get MIRV control?

Smith—It is more in our interest than in theirs. With their large missiles and throw weight, they are automatically way ahead.

Packard—In the short haul we need it. In the long haul it is disturbing.

RN—I want to hear Paul Nitze’s argument.

Nitze—Last fall you approved several criteria for sufficiency4—second-strike capability; no temptations to strike first; no great disparity in damage capability.

RN—The United States is the first nation in the world in strength. In terms of diplomacy, I would not like to see the President of the United States in a situation with a significant Soviet advantage. I don’t want them 2–1 over us, they with ABM and we not, etc., etc. We can’t let the world know we are #2.

Nitze—To get assurance of destruction we need MIRV. They will go to MIRV. Then Minuteman and bombers would be vulnerable. Then the second criteria loosens. We would have to move to sea. When could this be done? By 1978. There would be an imbalance, and their numbers and megatonnage could come to a ratio of 10 or 20 to one.5

Kissinger—That is, if megatonnage is translatable at every stage.

Nitze—Politically, this would be difficult regardless of megatonnage.

Agnew—This brings us back to the throw weight problem again.

RN—Is there any real talk about reduction.


Nitze—From our standpoint, only reduction can meet all three of your criteria. I am not at all sure it is negotiable. There is certainly no panacea.

RN—Reduction ought to happen. It is the right position. In diplomacy, it is a game of chicken.

I may want to suggest that we meet again on Friday.6

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–109, NSC Meeting Minutes Originals 1970. Top Secret; [codeword not declassified]. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting took place in the Cabinet Room from 10:35 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. The briefing book is attached but not printed. The analytical summary is Document 58. Talking points for Laird and Wheeler not included in the NSC book are in the Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 330–76–076, USSR, 388.3.
  3. See Document 51.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 24.
  5. On April 1 Farley sent Smith a table and note summarizing the NSC meeting that stated: “I understood Paul Nitze, when he talked about a 10 or 20 to 1 Soviet megatonnage advantage, to be talking about the worst case of a successful Soviet first-strike against our land-based missiles and bombers. In that case, he assumed about 250 non-MIRV’ed Polaris warheads or about 250 MT (or 150 MT for the A–3 version). This obviously gets pretty low compared to the Soviet residual megatonnage after whatever number of ICBMs and SLBMs they used for the first-strike have been deducted.” (Washington National Records Center, RG 383, ACDA Files: FRC 383–98–0089, Director’s Files, Smith’s Files, Trends in US Strategic Offensive Forces, 1961–1977: Missile Accuracy)
  6. March 27. The meeting was held on April 8; see Document 65.