72. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1


  • The Soviet SALT Proposal at Vienna

The Soviets presented on Monday a comprehensive proposal which is quite vague on details and one-sided in its terms.2 It was [Page 258]presented in writing, in treaty language, and Semyonov’s introductory rationale, emphasizing that it was a “broad” approach taking into account “all aspects and factors,” suggests that it was drawn up with an eye to eventual publication.

The key features are:

  • —a numerical ceiling (undefined) on the aggregate total of ICBMs, ballistic missile launchers on nuclear submarines, and strategic bombers, with freedom to mix all three systems under the ceiling (e.g., the Soviets would be free to build up SS–9s);
  • —agreed limits on ABMs, defined as those systems “specially designed” to counter ballistic missiles; the limitations would include guidance and detection radars as well as launchers (SAMs and multi-purpose radars are completely ignored);
  • Semyonov’s accompanying reminder that deployment of ABMs is in an “initial” stage suggests the Soviets may have a low level limit in mind;
  • —a prohibition of MIRV/MRV installations and production (the two aspects we cannot verify) but not on flight testing or developmental work;
  • —no other qualitative restrictions; full freedom to replace old missiles with new ones, to continue testing and research and development;
  • —a sweeping definition of “strategic offensive” weapons which would include any systems capable of striking the USSR; all such nuclear systems to be returned to national territory, withdrawn beyond range, or destroyed;
  • —there would be no deployment of these weapons to third countries, and no transfer of them to third countries (this entire approach would wreck our NATO arrangements and call for extensive pullbacks in the Far East);
  • —notable omissions were any reference to Surface-to-Air missiles and air defense, despite the restrictions on strategic aircraft, or any reference to mobile missiles, or the Soviet Intermediate and Medium Range missile systems;
  • —verification would only be by national means, provided that this was not “prejudicial to national security” and was consistent with international law, not further defined.

In short, there are many loopholes for the Soviets to continue their strategic buildup. The heart of the Soviet approach, however, seems to be based on their broad definition of strategic, so as to include most of our forward deployments and carrier based aircraft, plus their insistence on including control over operational deployments in the SALT context. Until this basic impasse is broken it will be difficult to take up individual provisions in our proposals or discuss theirs.

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I am struck with the rather unsophisticated nature of the Soviet plan. The complete lack of details, as well as the crude and one-sided approach to some key issues, suggests a maximum opening position from which the Soviets may or may not be prepared to bargain. At the same time, the Soviet leaders—perhaps because of their internal preoccupation—may not have really come to grips with the SALT issues. In any case, if there is a Soviet intention to publish their plan, I feel our detailed presentation of our two Options (C and D) will put us in a strong position and well ahead when compared with the vague and self-serving Soviet approach.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 877, SALT, SALT talks (Vienna), Vol. VIII, April 9–May 10, 1970. Secret; Exdis. Sent for information. A handwritten and stamped notation on the memorandum reads: “ret’d April 25, 1970.” On April 21 Sonnenfeldt sent Kissinger an analytical memorandum on the Soviet SALT proposals, upon which Kissinger commented: “Hal—This is a superb job.” On April 13 Sonnenfeldt had written a letter to Kissinger threatening to leave the NSC staff in mid-1970 for the following reason: “For reasons which you undoubtedly consider valid you have excluded me from meaningful participation in the substantive preparations for SALT. […] Moreover, because of your obvious disinclination to give me access to your views and to other relevant information, it has ceased to make sense for me to function as the NSC staff representative in the interagency bodies concerned with the subjects in question.” (Ibid., Box 834, Name Files, Sonnenfeldt, Helmut)
  2. Smith reported the provisions of the Soviet proposal in telegram USDEL SALT 16, April 20. (Ibid., Box 877, SALT, SALT talks (Vienna), Vol. VIII, April 9–May 10, 1970) Rogers wrote a less-detailed analysis of the Soviet proposal for Nixon in an April 24 memorandum, which Kissinger forwarded to the President on May 4. (Ibid.)