10. Backchannel Message From the Chief of the Delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (Smith) to President Nixon1

75. Eyes Only for the President.

Dear Mr. President:

On winding up my SALT responsibilities, I thought it might be useful to give you my personal observations of this first round of SALT Two.2

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I. The Soviets have staked out a good negotiating position in their concept that SLBM and ICBM levels have now been fixed indefinitely by the Interim Agreement of May 26th.

II. Their main target now is limiting “strategic aviation.” This is a difficult issue for them since the US has a substantial advantage. It also overlaps the so-called FBS question. The Soviet delegation presented the absurd proposal that nuclear weapons not be carried in strategic bombers. They proposed that new strategic bombers not be developed, that strategic bombers not carry long range air-to-surface missiles, and that carrier-based strike aircraft be withdrawn from range of the Soviet Union. They seemed especially sensitive to the threat that potential US air-launched ICBM’s could offer in the future.

Their FBS position has hardened from its last spellout in 1971. They propose that these types of systems capable of hitting targets in the Soviet Union be withdrawn from forward bases and the bases liquidated. This is a political as well as a military issue. I think we will have to find some solution to it, however minimal.

The Soviets want to ban intercontinental cruise missiles. I gather they see this type of missile as presenting unique difficulties for Soviet defenses.

III. They made several informal probes as to American ideas for an interim limitation that might be ripe for agreement at a 1973 summit. We were non-committal.

The Soviets are interested in some undefined arrangement which would put restraints on new systems while negotiations continue to limit older systems. While they agree that such restraints should be reciprocal, the main object appears to be US systems such as B–1 and Trident.

For the first time in SALT, there were a number of indications of Soviet interest in some sort of MIRV control. They were not specific as to the nature of the control or how it could be verified. They see it as less than a comprehensive MIRV ban. They say they must continue MIRV testing.

IV. I was surprised at how specific the Soviets were at this very early stage of SALT Two.

I believe that our hard FBS line chagrined them. I believe they had some expectation that after May, 1972, we would start adjusting our FBS position gradually. They attribute our FBS position to considerations involving our allies.

They will press hard for a provision to prevent us from transferring weapons and their technology limited by an agreement to other nations.

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There is some evidence that the Soviet delegation was disgruntled at the generality of the positions the US maintained.

V. The only concrete result of the session was formal establishment of the Standing Consultative Commission. I believe we should not expect great things from this new piece of machinery in the near future; but over the years this may prove to be an important forum for US/Soviet strategic dialogue, which could damp down unnecessary swings in strategic weapon building.3

I believe that with persistence and hard slogging, other SALT agreements in the interest of the United States can in time be negotiated.

It has been a great privilege to represent you in the SALT talks 1969–1972.


Gerard Smith
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 427, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages–1972–SALT. Top Secret; Immediate; Exclusive Eyes Only.
  2. The session in Geneva concluded on December 21. On January 4, Gerard Smith resigned as Chief of the U.S. Delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and as Director of ACDA. U. Alexis Johnson was named to replace Smith as Chief of the SALT Delegation.
  3. For the text of the joint communiqué issued on December 21, see Department of State Bulletin, January 15, 1973, p. 60.