73. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Laird to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Impact of SALT on the Safeguard Debate

The options which we are tabling at Vienna, in accordance with NSDM–51,2 both specify the NCA level of ABM. The U.S. is not presently authorized to table any option which permits the Safeguard level of ABM.

The Soviets said Monday,3 apparently after consultation with Moscow, that they “consider it possible” to limit ABM on each side to defense of the national capitals only. Some of our own delegation have interpreted those words to mean that the Soviets have “accepted in principle” limiting ABM to NCA levels.

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A leak which reported that the U.S. had offered to limit ABM to NCA levels and the Soviets had accepted could impact very seriously on the debate in Congress on Safeguard.4

The best counter to such a leak, were it to appear, would be to point out that the NCA level of ABM is only one part of a total package which must be considered and assessed in its entirety and can only be strategically acceptable to the U.S. in its entirety. The Soviets have so far rejected major provisions of the package, including the prohibition on upgrading air defense systems to an ABM role. Moreover, they have not agreed to limit ABM to an NCA level, but have only said they consider such a limitation possible. Until we have some earnest indication that the Soviets will accept an equitable total package of verifiable limitations on offensive and defensive systems, we cannot base our actions on their comments on individual ingredients of that total package.

To avoid premature or misleading reports, I believe that no briefings should be authorized outside of the administration during the talks.

Melvin R. Laird
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files:FRC 330–76–076, Box 12, USSR, 388.3. Top Secret; Sensitive. A handwritten notation on the memorandum reads: “No Release.” On April 29 Sonnenfeldt forwarded this memorandum to Kissinger under a covering memorandum that reads in part: “I do not think a response to Mr. Laird is needed. Farley has no present plans to brief Congress and he will check here before he does so.”
  2. Document 68.
  3. In telegram USDEL SALT 34, April 27, Smith provided highlights of Semenov’s statements on ABM levels and other issues from that day’s plenary session. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 877, SALT, SALT talks (Vienna), Vol. VIII, April 9–May 10, 1970)
  4. On April 23 Timmons sent a memorandum to the President that listed the Congressional status on approval of Safeguard II. According to Timmons, the House Armed Services Committee agreed to report Safeguard II as submitted on April 22. House Floor action was anticipated for the week of May 4 at the latest. On April 30 the Senate Armed Services Committee was scheduled to begin final hearings, and Senate Floor action was anticipated for May 30. The Department of Defense expected 49 Senators to support the ABM plan. (Ibid., Box 841, ABMMIRV, ABM System, Vol. IV, Memos and Misc., February–April 30, 1970)