90. Memorandum From Laurence Lynn of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • ACDA Views on Soviet Accidental War Proposals

ACDA has prepared the attached initial assessment of “the current status of SALT discussions” on nuclear accidents and inadvertent war (Tab A).2 It takes a very much more roseate view of the Soviet “proposal” than does the analysis forwarded to you with your talking points for tomorrow’s Verification Panel meeting.3 The ACDA paper has been widely circulated and may be discussed tomorrow.

Its main points:

  • —Because of lack of Soviet interest, there is little to be gained from further discussion of exchanges of information on national nuclear safety programs, national capabilities to detect and identify unexpected nuclear events, or cooperative detection and identification. (These are three of the five points of the Y–12 Summary Paper.)4
  • —However, “the U.S. and the Soviets seem to be very close” on the possibility of exchanging information along the lines outlined by Semyonov on June 30:
    • —Agreeing to notification of “unauthorized missile launches or other acts which may lead to the use of nuclear weapons” and “detection of unidentified objects by missile attack warning systems, (Semyonov did not limit it to missiles) or signs of interference with these systems and with corresponding communications facilities” would “present no serious problems.”

      (That may be true of the principle which we have advanced, but there are serious problems about the scope and details of the Soviet proposals.)

    • —The other items—notification of certain planned missile launches and of mass take-offs of aircraft from airfields or carriers—are said to “closely resemble” some 1962 U.S. ideas. They do, verbally, but they were proposed in the context of primarily multilateral arrangements, and included advance notification of major ground and naval force movements as well.

The ACDA paper notes the possible NATO complications of aircraft notification, but points out that NATO proposed “advance notification of military movements and maneuvers” as a subject for European arms control discussions. It is also said that most NATO “mass flights” are not in the direction of the USSR. (It is not clear to me that they would thereby be excluded from notification. General Alekseyev spoke of notification if the aircraft were to fly “in the direction of, or in areas close to or along borders of the other side.” The Soviets, given their view of the potency of NATO-based bombers and carrier air might say this covered much of Western Europe. They have said explicitly that notification would be required of “large-scale take-offs from carriers in the Mediterranean.” The paper also elides the difficulties with the way the Soviets would define missile launches which must be announced.)

  • —The Soviets seem interested in our ideas for improving the “hot line.” The paper notes that Smith suggested working out details through analogue to the system whereby the original “hot line” agreement was worked out by a “joint technical working group” in Geneva under ENDC auspices, substituting SALT for ENDC.
  • —“The foundation” exists for an agreement on accidental war covering these elements:
    • —recognition of “the necessity of exercising maximum restraint in responding to ambiguous incidents;” (As noted in the background paper sent you earlier, there is little echo in the Soviet statements of our emphasis on restraint in general. Rather their concern is with avoiding “automatic” U.S.-Soviet war. The difference is a subtle one, but one of substantial political importance.)
    • —mutual notification of unauthorized or accidental missile launches or other acts which might lead to use of nuclear weapons and [Page 304] of detection of unidentified objects or interference with warning systems; (As noted above, the ACDA paper ignores the ambiguities and potential pitfalls of the Soviet formulations on these subjects.)
    • —advance notification of missile launches or aircraft take-offs “which might be interpreted as posing a nuclear threat to the other country.” (This is quite different than the standard proposed by the Soviets.)
    • —upgrading of the “hot line.”
    • —use of a “Standing Commission” to monitor these arrangements.

The ACDA paper does not consider in any way the political ramifications for our relations with other third countries of an agreement between the U.S. and the USSR on dealing with accidental war.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 489, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1970, Vol. 1 [Part 2]. Top Secret. Sent for information.
  2. Undated. Attached but not printed.
  3. Reference is to a July 1 analysis entitled “The Soviet ‘Proposal’ on Accidental War,” which was prepared by the NSC staff. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–005, Verification Panel Meeting—SALT 7/8/70)
  4. A summary of “Protecting Against Nuclear Accidents and Provocative Attacks,” March 6, prepared by the Y–12 Working Group of the Verification Panel, is attached but not printed.