6. Editorial Note
In a March 10, 1969, memorandum, President’s Assistant for Congressional Relations Bryce Harlow informed President Nixon of the Congressional status of an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) defense system. Harlow stated: “Careful analysis of the immediate situation in the Senate strongly indicates: 1) the ABM system advanced by LBJ [President Lyndon B. Johnson] has no chance whatsoever; 2) even a modified system can now be passed only with maximum effort, including all-out Presidential participation.” Harlow speculated that a modified ABM plan would lose by a vote of 58–42 in the Senate with a third of the Republican Senators in opposition. Harlow stated that a modified ABM system would likely pass in the House of Representatives. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 843, ABM–MIRV, ABM—Memoranda)
In a March 11 diary entry, Assistant to the President H.R. Haldeman described the atmosphere at the White House:
“Well, the first crisis appears to be building. ABM decision will be tough. P felt that the construction of an anti-ballistic missile defense system was a crucial bargaining chip in the forthcoming Soviet arms control talks. The doves hated it though, and many moderates were disturbed by the cost. It was shaping up to be a real donnybrook. He has to go ahead from defense viewpoint but pressure against is enormous and growing under great pressure, i.e., DuBridge was in today to argue scientist’s viewpoint that small increase in defense doesn’t justify huge expenditure and popular and political risk. Harlow has advised P that Congressional passage is in real doubt, and will require all-out battle on part of P. Question whether he’s really willing and ready to fight.” ( Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)
On March 14 the President announced his decision to approve an ABM program that included a Safeguard system, a modified version of Lyndon Johnson’s Sentinel system, designed to provide area defense against a relatively small nuclear attack by China and an accidental, irrational, or unsophisticated attack by the Soviet Union. Safeguard called for 12 separate sites for area missile defense, 19 radars, and several hundred interceptor missiles. Nixon’s stated objectives were similar to Johnson’s: “protection of our land-based retaliatory forces against a direct attack by the Soviet Union”; “defense of the American people against the kind of nuclear attack which Communist China is likely to be able to mount within the decade”; and “protection against the possibility of accidental attacks from any source.” Nixon also decided to continue testing for multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs). On March 14 the decisions about ABM and MIRV testing were announced in a White [Page 15] House press release. The text is printed in Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, pages 216–219.
In nationally televised hearings on March 20 and 21, Secretary of Defense Laird testified before the Disarmament Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee and explained part of the rationale behind the administration’s decision to pursue an ABM system. He declared that the Soviet Union had initiated a nuclear forces build-up aimed at eliminating U.S. defenses in a single blow. Laird supported his assertion with information about the SS–9, which was a Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). He stated that the SS–9 threat could be countered only with an ABM system. Extracts of Laird’s testimony are printed in Documents on Disarmament, 1969, pages 125–131.
On March 27 Secretary of State Rogers testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Extracts of his testimony concerning U.S. preparations for strategic arms limitation talks are ibid., pages 138–139. The following statements from Rogers’s testimony concerning the relationship between the ABM decision and strategic arms talks disturbed President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger:
“Suppose we start our talks in a few months and the first thing that is said by the Soviet Union ‘let’s do away with you (sic) defensive missiles.’ We would have no problem. We would be delighted. […]
“I can imagine that we might be able to say, ‘If you have no interest in defensive missiles and you want to take your ABM out around from Moscow, why, we will stop our Safeguard development’.”
In Kissinger’s view, the Secretary’s statements contradicted the administration’s line on an ABM. As Kissinger pointed out to Nixon: “You said that we would proceed with subsequent phases of Safeguard in the light of the threat, the state of technology, and diplomatic considerations, including talks. You also said we hope to talk to the Soviets about both offensive and defensive systems, but said nothing specific about whether we would give up the ABM.” There is no indication that the President saw Kissinger’s memorandum analyzing Rogers’s testimony. (Memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon, April 3; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 279, Agency Files, Department of State, Vol. II)
On March 28 Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Gerard Smith prepared a memorandum for the file about his conversation with Rogers concerning the Secretary’s testimony:
“I talked to the Secretary today. He said there had been no change in the SALT situation. He gave me to believe that he was thinking that the linkage question was more related to the carrying out of the SALT negotiations and less related to the starting of the negotiations. He is thinking in terms of June for starting the SALT talks. He stressed the importance of talking first with our allies. He said that he had said [Page 16] nothing new in his testimony except that he had not said it in a belligerent voice. He said he felt that we should say that we hope that the climate will be good, that the total climate will affect the outcome. He asked me when we could be ready, and I told him I thought between May 15th and June 1st. That seemed to suit him fine. He said that he had gotten a very good reaction on the Hill, that a number of the Senators had congratulated him. I told him that I thought from our point of view, what he had said had come out just first-rate.” (Washington National Records Center, RG 383, ACDA Files: FRC 383–97–0010, Director’s Files, Smith/Farley Chronological File, 1962–1977, Smith telcons with US officials, February–October 1969)