65. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • SALT


  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • Secretary of State William P. Rogers
  • General George A. Lincoln, Director, Office of Emergency Preparedness
  • Attorney General John N. Mitchell
  • Deputy Secretary of Defense David Packard
  • Under Secretary of State Elliot Richardson
  • Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Mr. Richard Helms, Director of Central Intelligence
  • Mr. Gerard Smith, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Director
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President
  • General Royal B. Allison, Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Mr. Carl Duckett, Central Intelligence
  • Mr. Ronald Spiers, State
  • Dr. Gardiner Tucker, Defense
  • Mr. Paul Nitze, Defense
  • Mr. Spurgeon Keeny, Arms Control and Disarmament
  • General Alexander M. Haig, NSC Staff
  • Mr. Helmut Sonnenfeldt, NSC Staff
  • Dr. Laurence Lynn, NSC Staff
  • Mr. John J. McCloy, State
  • General Andrew J. Goodpaster, SACEUR

The President introduced the meeting and asked Mr. Helms, Director of CIA, to provide an overview of our current verification capabilities (Director Helms’ briefing paper is at Tab A).2 Mr. Helms stated we have concluded that in general the options presented for consideration by the National Security Council can be monitored within the following parameters: the technical systems are adequate within the state of the art; the human resources are not entirely predictable. Mr. Helms emphasized that the Soviets faced the same dilemma with respect to their limitations. Mr. Helms stated that verification systems must collect and interpret information, and, most importantly, be capable [Page 221] of informing highest authority of the results of this interpretation on a timely basis.

Included among our capabilities are satellites with accompanying photography. This system provides the most reliability. Specifically it can cover missiles in silos. [9½ lines not declassified]

Director Helms then listed the limitations on both of these satellite photography capabilities. These included: cloud cover, weather, and ambiguities resulting from hardware imperfections. He also pointed out that other [3 lines not declassified]. Much of our intelligence therefore remains ambiguous. The vastness of the Soviet Union is an additional limitation. Differences in individual interpretation all require exceedingly lengthy assessments by the most experienced personnel. Mr. Helms described new systems which are under development which will further enhance our verification capabilities.

The President then asked whether submarines and ICBMs were easy to verify, and Mr. Helms replied in the affirmative. He noted, however, that radars constitute a more complex problem. The President also asked about verification effectiveness against ABMs, and Mr. Helms replied that these are also fairly easy to verify. The President summarized that obviously the MRV/MIRV is the toughest problem. The President then asked whether or not our knowledge of Soviet MRVs is limited to their testing activity to which Mr. Helms replied, yes. He added that while it is relatively simple to verify the numbers of their tests we have not been able to verify definitively the exact characteristics of the MRV. Nor do we know how many of their missiles have a MRV potential with respect to individual armaments of systems which are in-being.3

At this point the President asked Dr. Kissinger to review the various options for consideration. Dr. Kissinger stated that we have several choices. We could adopt one or two or more of the options as our basic negotiating position. He pointed out that there are also differences of view on specific aspects of the option but that essentially we have developed four basic options. The first is a limited option (Option A) which is designed to establish controls on the total number of [Page 222] major strategic systems which are relatively simple and easy to verify. There is no ABM limitation visualized under this option. Specifically, we would limit the number of MR/IRBMs to numbers currently operational. This would mean that the Soviet Union would be held at its current level of 650 while we would be held to none. There would be no restriction of MRV/MIRV development and we would limit heavy strategic bombers to the numbers currently operational on both sides.

One implication of this option would be the freedom that would exist on mixing of ABMs. The JCS wants to retain two-way freedom to move sea-based missiles to the land and vice versa. Others, however, favor limiting our flexibility to moving missiles to the sea only. Under this option the US and the Soviets can have area defense and defense against accidental launch by other countries. The dangers involved in this option include ability of the Soviets to move SS–9s into SS–7 silos, the fact of 5 to 10 Soviet submarines with launch capabilities that could go undetected and also the uncertainties with respect to developed ABM capabilities. All of these risks appear to sit within tolerable limits however. In terms of negotiability this option would mean essentially that we would stop nothing currently under way but that the Soviets must halt several programs and this would undoubtedly appear inequitable to the Soviets.

Mr. Kissinger then turned to Option B which involved essentially a limitation on the total number of missiles with limitations on the deployment of a nationwide area ABM defense. It would also constrain the allowed network of ABM capable radars, possibly implying some destruction of existing Soviet radars, thereby reducing the threat that SAMs could be illegally upgraded to give them an ABM capability. In addition to the provisions of Option A, Option B would either ban ABMs or limit them to a comparable defense of the national command authorities on both sides.MIRVs would still be permitted. Under this option the strategic risks associated with significant SAM upgrades or rapid post-abrogation ABM deployments would be reduced because a smaller radar network would be permitted.

The other verification uncertainties of Option A having to do with the Soviets exceeding the limits on offensive launchers would remain. Concerning negotiability, Option B may appear more equitable to the Soviets because we would be giving up already initiated ABM deployments. On the other hand it might prove difficult to negotiate the kind of comprehensive ABM radar controls we would require in this sort of an agreement. The SAM upgrade problem, for example, would require the destruction of some of existing Soviet radar capabilities, such as their Hen-house Sevastopol complexes.

Mr. Kissinger then described Option C which visualizes limitations on both the ABM and the MIRV deployment. It reduces the counterforce [Page 223] threat, especially the SS–9, against our Minuteman. It visualizes a ban on post-boost, endo-atmospheric penetration aids. The JCS feel that a similar ban should be applied against the exo-atmospheric penaids and also want on-site inspection to monitor the MIRV deployment ban. However, MIRV verification is extremely difficult.

At this point Under Secretary of State Richardson interrupted and pointed out that he presented to the President some argumentations on this subject which essentially stated that if we need an improved counterforce capability we certainly need the MIRV.4 If not, we still need the MIRV against the Soviets’ single warhead since our MIRVs provide us the capability of penetration of the Soviet ABM. Thus, the US MIRV is needed for the counterforce to prevent the clandestine buildup of Soviet capabilities. Mr. Kissinger continued that even if we do not consider target coverage crucial we need MIRVs if we believe the Soviets could have enough ICBMs to knock out Minutemen using single warheads alone and that they might use their ICBMs this way. US MIRVs reduce this threat by multiplying the penetration and target coverage capability of US ballistic missile submarine forces and such ICBMs as would survive a Soviet first strike.

MIRVs may also be required if we believe they are needed to hedge against substantial clandestine or rapid post-abrogation upgrading of Soviet ballistic missile defense. There is a crucial difference of view over whether Option C poses this particular risk. OSD and the JCS believe it does and therefore if MIRVs are to be banned they require on-site inspection of SAM systems and testing to guard against SAM upgrading. State, ACDA and CIA on the other hand believe we can effectively inhibit SAM upgrading without on-site inspection and that MIRVs are not therefore necessarily required to assure adequate US deterrents with zero ABMs. Finally even if the risk of SAM upgrading is thought tolerable with or without on-site inspection a MIRV ban is ruled out if it is thought that a MIRV ban cannot be verified.

Again there is a crucial difference of view. JCS and OSD believe that on-site inspection in addition to endo-atmospheric flight test restrictions is required for an effective MIRV ban. State, ACDA and CIA do not believe on-site inspection is required for effective verification because we could detect the tests the Soviets would need to develop a hard target MIRV. This then is the hierarchy of judgments that must be made in deciding on whether a MIRV ban is acceptable. Thus in terms of negotiability, Option C requires negotiations of the most extensive and complex collateral constraints on ABM, MIRVs, flight tests and SAM upgrading. DOD believes in addition that intrusive on-site [Page 224] inspection is required. On the other hand, extensive constraints are placed on both US and the Soviet programs enhancing the apparent equity of this option.

At this point Mr. Smith asked Dr. Kissinger to add the ACDA refinement to Option C. Dr. Kissinger stated that ACDA would also like to see additional constraints on testing.

Mr. Kissinger finally turned to a description of Option D. Option D is essentially a reduction option which provides for a reduction in overall throwaways [throw-weights]. It would require a reduction in numbers of Soviet SS–9 and 11s and assumes that our missiles become vulnerable and no solution is feasible. Therefore we should both be willing to accept mutually agreeable overall strategic force reductions. The main objective would be to insure the reduction of offensive missiles on both sides, thus eliminating the gross disparity between US and Soviet offensive missile throwaway [throw-weight]. The negotiability of this option is uncertain. It could provide the option of an alternative to a MIRV ban and would perhaps enable us to convince those in the US Senate who believe a MIRV ban is a test of whether the US Administration is serious about SALT.

Dr. Kissinger concluded his presentation by stating that the foregoing constitutes a presentation of the options, but he cautioned that the options cannot be fairly presented. It would be impossible to show what the cumulative effect of each would be. Those who favor a particular option point this out as do those who may disagree with a particular option. Each of the limitation options has a theory of collateral restraint. First, limitations on ICBMs cannot be just simply that. There must be limitations on the construction, and on the ability of the Soviets to move sites. There must be limitations on the external configuration of silos to prevent cheating. There must be constraints on the freedom to mix, and all of these limitations require ancillary agreements. A major concern is radar limitations, and these would apply to both civilian and military space uses. Mr. Kissinger also noted that MIRV testing is bound to generate strong disagreement and that a separate memorandum would be provided on that complex subject.

Another problem is SAM upgrade which is also related to radar deployments and to MIRV. These disagreements are eliminated with Options A and B, but they become very sharp with Option C. The Verification Panel is in the process of developing specific criteria on the SAM upgrade program. Our efforts will be to try to spare the President’s arbitrating each technical dispute. These can be done separately. Today, Mr. Kissinger concluded by stating that we have to decide on one or several options. How to handle the key technical problems is particularly important should you decide to go for the more comprehensive option.

[Page 225]

The President turned the floor to Mr. Smith who complimented Dr. Kissinger on his presentation and who pointed out that ACDA had no preconceived notion on all of the issues. Specifically, however, ACDA was strongly in favor of Option C, which Mr. Smith believed was also supported by State. Mr. Smith emphasized that ACDA thought it was important at the outset that the US adopt a comprehensive position with concrete proposals and with some reductions in our present ABM role. Otherwise, Mr. Smith maintained we look unbalanced. We must seek to explore controls over ABMs and MIRVs at the outset. Also the accuracy and throwaway [throw-weight] issue needs to be addressed with a view towards getting some controls on the Soviets in this area. Mr. Smith continued that if the Soviets show an interest on the broad agreement and in drafting the treaty we could go into a suspension while negotiating. If they would accept the verification provision, for bans on MIRVs and ABMs, we could have a freeze while we negotiate.

The President asked what would be the conditions for a MIRV suspension. Mr. Smith replied that there were two conditions. If we have Option A in our pocket, with a clearly expressed interest in a broader agreement, we could then go into some inspection. The President commented that it wouldn’t be difficult until one got to that position. He asked if Mr. Smith felt the Soviets would accept some on-site inspection. Mr. Smith replied that at Helsinki they had shied away. The Soviets wanted verification by negative means.

The President interjected that he had seen something on the subject and Mr. Smith responded that they had talked about cooperative arrangements. Mr. Smith continued by noting there is also the question of bodies on the ground in the United States, the USSR checking on radars, contents of front ends of missiles, etc. You are thinking of my conversation with Dobrynin when I asked him if he would rule it out. He said, no, but for a comprehensive agreement not for an early limited agreement.5

The President then asked whether Mr. Smith would prefer a comprehensive agreement. Mr. Smith replied that he would because otherwise the horse would be out of the stable.

The Vice President then asked what are the arguments against on-site inspection. Mr. Smith answered that it opens us to Soviet agents. In addition, the Soviets don’t accept foreign surveillance. The President interjected that the answer is that they are oversensitive. They have a closed society. They check us now; we don’t check them. Why should they give in at little cost to us? They just can’t accept an open society. [Page 226] The Vice President commented that it seems incongruous that you can make an agreement on good faith but they can’t.

The President agreed but noted that we could do nothing without photography. Relying on good faith is very dangerous if they want to cheat, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t discuss the subject. But if we could get some give on the issue of on-site inspection it would be a great gain.

Mr. McCloy then commented that he agreed that we have always been too willing to give up. Zorin had told him that they did not need it. Mr. Smith commented that they are in a somewhat different position now. They are no longer inferior and they know our capabilities. Secretary Rogers stated that it differs somewhat if they agree to have a comprehensive agreement but you shouldn’t be frozen in advance. If we table the comprehensive agreement in advance, this could happen. We must have a proposal we favor for a quantitative limitation and express willingness to discuss others. The President commented that we need to find a way to give the appearance of concreteness, but which also has a great deal of flexibility.

Mr. Packard then commented that the issues had been well presented and that he strongly felt that the limited proposal of Option A made a good starting point. Everyone assumes a 1710 ceiling and stoppage by them. This is a problem with Option A. If they finish what they have underway it will give them an edge. Option A would be a good starting point, however, since it limits their SS–9s. The President interjected that we know they will reject it.

Mr. Packard responded that Option B takes ABM out but it adds to our vulnerability. Option D is a good move as a fall-back from A. Mr. Packard then discussed Option C, stating that it was too uncertain with regard to cheating. If we could get on-site inspection Option C would make sense. Also, because of accuracy and throw-weight, it just isn’t technically feasible. He went on to state that the MIRV problem is a big one. MIRV has been our main upgrade crutch. If we keep MIRVs we can live with more uncertainties. MIRV overcomes the SAM upgrade problem. He concluded by saying that he therefore favors Option A as a beginning point and then we could move from that position. The President asked if we couldn’t obtain a ban and then go on? (The answer was no.)

Admiral Moorer commented that he considers first the security of the United States. We have looked at the intelligence symmetry. The Soviets have large areas and a dispersed population. This affects the mobile ABM problem and favors a flexible stance. But in general the Joint Chiefs favor Option A. We can then add on from that position.

The President injected that Option A only asks them to give. He asked the group why we did not put more out in a limited way and [Page 227] then hit hard. Mr. Packard commented that maybe we could sweeten A by giving them some bombers. The President replied that it is not in what we put in. We must be forthcoming and get a deal not by a rigid initial position.

The President then asked Mr. Nitze if he had any comments. Mr. Nitze replied that with regard to Option A it doesn’t seem to give up much but it limits our future flexibility and is a major concession to the balance of power.

Mr. McCloy interjected, this was crazy. We are giving up too much. Mr. Smith commented that some years ago we went the MIRV route instead of building more missiles. If we go to Option A we stop your proposed route but not ours.

The President then said, but they are going for warheads also, aren’t they, Paul? Mr. Nitze said that under Option A our land-based missiles will be vulnerable. I agree with Gerry, but we have to know where we can end up. Only D seems to give the solution. They will have MIRVs and thus Option C is not good over time. They will upgrade their SAMs and therefore C is not good. D is the best option of all. We should go in with this as our objective; we should go in broad. The President asked Mr. Nitze if the subject of reductions came up at Helsinki. Mr. Nitze answered that it had not come up in this context.

General Lincoln then commented that we should consider Option D as worth thinking about because it will force them to go into the area they haven’t considered.

Mr. Smith commented that if we could get Option D, it would be better. Our sea-borne systems enable us to do this but the USSR depends on their land-based missiles and therefore this is unbalanced. General Lincoln started to respond but he was interrupted by Secretary Rogers who asked why we didn’t at least propose it? He noted that this would also get some public awareness of this meeting. Secretary Rogers went on to say that we can always say that this concept is our objective. As in the case of the nonproliferation treaty, the President can state our objective but ask how do you get it?

The Vice President then stated that because of public opinion he preferred more flexibility and a less definitive stance. Maybe we should emphasize verification at the outset. Thus, we would be emphasizing the importance. The President commented that US public opinion likes verification and reduction, but to sophisticates we are up against a more critical claim of just propagandizing.

General Goodpaster stated that to him a simple offer like Option A has benefits. He went on to say that thus far we have fared quite well on the NATO attitude. There is only one undertone. They know that this has enormous consequences for them. What would make this bad would be if we magnified the force withdrawal issue. Then there [Page 228] would be real concern. We should avoid any possibility of implying that the US deterrent is being placed at a disadvantage. In such a case, force withdrawal would kill the United States. The President said, “Percy?”, and then, “no, Mansfield.”6 Secretary Rogers added that Mr. Farley had done a great job on consulting.

The President told Mr. Smith that he would give him something by way of instructions. He commented that Mr. Smith had done a tremendous job working out this position but he felt that we must stay somewhat cautious. What troubles the President is that the history of the 1960’s, and he meant this not as criticism but based it on what happened, demonstrates that we fundamentally misjudged what the Soviets would do. We vigorously defended, but the Soviets violated. This doesn’t mean that we should throw in the towel but we always underestimate what they will do. They cheat. Even this year they went beyond our estimates. This all suggests that we should be cautious and assume that they not only want equality but superiority. There are no constraints on cheating for them, but we have budget limitations which prohibit our cheating.

The President then said that the responsibility for where we go belongs to all of us, but, practically, it is the President’s responsibility. He has the responsibility and he can’t shift it. Your studies make it possible to get a good position. The President commented that the group would never all agree with what he decides. He has the responsibility. He wants discipline on whatever is decided. We want this agreement if we can get it, but what we want less is to make a mistake which puts us in second position vis-à-vis the USSR. The President instructed those present to get their people on board.

With these closing remarks the meeting adjourned.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–109, NSC Minutes Originals 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room. According to the President’s Daily Diary, this NSC meeting took place from 9:36 to 11:19 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. Not attached and not found.
  3. Helms also made a comment unrecorded in this memorandum of conversation about the “inevitability” of the development of MIRVs by the Soviet Union. On April 8 Smith requested that Keeny check with Helms about his intent behind that statement made at the NSC meeting. In an April 10 memorandum, Keeny responded as follows: “Helms stated that he thought he was simply agreeing that it was ‘inevitable’ that the Soviets would develop a true MIRV in the absence of an effective flight test ban and that he was not reversing his position on our ability to monitor a MIRV test ban.” (Both in Washington National Records Center, RG 383, ACDA Files, FRC 383–98–0089, Director’s Files, Smith’s Files, Smith Correspondence:SALT Delegation Guidance on Conversations with Soviet Representatives, April–July 1970)
  4. See Document 60.
  5. See Document 51.
  6. Senator Mike Mansfield (D–MT) introduced an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act of 1970 (P.L. 91–121) requiring a large number of troops stationed overseas to be brought back to the United States.