103. Minutes of a Meeting of the National Security Council1


  • Middle East, SALT


  • The President
  • Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger
  • Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger
  • Director of Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Fred Ikle
  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General George Brown
  • Director of Central Intelligence William E. Colby


  • State
  • Under Secretary Joseph Sisco
  • Defense
  • Deputy Secretary William Clements
  • CIA
  • Mr. Carl Duckett
  • White House
  • Lt Gen Brent Scowcroft
  • NSC
  • Roger Molander

[Omitted here is discussion of the Middle East.]

President Ford: The main reason for this meeting is to bring you all up to date on where we are on SALT. We had two meetings with [Page 455]Brezhnev in Helsinki.2 We made some progress but not a lot. Let me tell you what we have agreed to and then we can talk about those issues which we are still hung up on.

We have agreed to ban cruise missiles of range greater than 600 kilometers on aircraft other than heavy bombers. We have also agreed to ban intercontinental cruise missiles and ballistic missiles of greater than 600 kilometers range on surface ships. We have also agreed to a ban on ballistic missiles on the seabeds and inland waterways. We also discussed a fifth issue related to weapons in orbit, but I understand that this has already been taken up in Geneva. We thus come down to the problem of cruise missiles—air-launched cruise missiles and sea-launched cruise missiles—and the question of the Backfire. Henry, will you run through the details of where we stand on these issues?

Secretary Kissinger: Without endorsing what the Soviets say, let me tell you what Dobrynin told me in the meeting I had with him yesterday.3 He indicated that they were having real problems with our position. They figure that the ALCMs would give us 11,000 free warheads which are not counted under the aggregate. I assume that they are calculating something like 32 missiles on each B–1 with 240 B–1s and 12 on each B–52 with 400 B–52s. This comes to about 11,000. He indicated they don’t know what to do with this sort of situation. He claimed it is absolutely impossible to agree to a situation where there are 8,000 warheads limited in the aggregate and 11,000 warheads that run free.

The second point Dobrynin brought up is that they want to have a SALT agreement in preparation for the next Party Congress. They want to be able to go to that Congress and ask for real reductions in military expenditures. But with our cruise missile position, they say they’ll have to ask for additional expenditures in two areas. They say they will have to spend additional money on increasing air defenses and then also deploy cruise missiles themselves, neither one of which they had intended to do. This presents a problem on cruise missiles which is unavoidable since we want to deploy them.

With respect to Backfire—this issue became rather heated at Helsinki—Brezhnev claimed that the Backfire has only half the capability of the Bison and the President challenged him on this. This really became acrimonious between the President and Brezhnev.

President Ford: I just quoted your figure, Bill.

Secretary Kissinger: They consider our position on Backfire to be cynical. They just think we are just bargaining. They say we should know that the Backfire is being deployed for use against Europe and [Page 456]China and not against the United States. They claim that they gave up on FBS, which was the same type of issue. They claim that if you count refueling, you have to count all F–111’s and F–4’s too because with refueling they also can reach the Soviet Union. They say our position on the Backfire gives them a problem which is simply unmanageable.

In my conversation with Dobrynin I asked him if the Soviets really wanted an agreement. Dobrynin said yes, that it had been in their program for this year.

The question now is what to propose on these issues. These are the arguments the Soviets give. I repeat I am not endorsing these arguments, but these are the ones which Dobrynin put forth. Dobrynin got a summary cable from Moscow on the Helsinki discussions which listed the unresolved issues. He didn’t mention the throw weight issue so I asked him if the summary cable had listed that. He said that it listed mobiles, cruise missiles, and Backfire. I asked him what about throw weight? Dobrynin said it wasn’t listed. It’s clearly not at the same level as these other problems. Also we didn’t get nearly as big a reaction with respect to throw weight as we did on Backfire in Helsinki.

President Ford: Right.

Secretary Kissinger: Brezhnev didn’t explode over throw weight like he did over Backfire.

President Ford: In discussing cruise missiles, we got into a discussion about who was going to move their industrial complexes. We told them they should move theirs closer to their borders to make the situation comparable. We were kidding them about this.

Secretary Schlesinger: Kidding? That was the next proposal we were going to make. (Laughter)

Secretary Kissinger: I thought you were becoming more conciliatory. I said we would move all our cities inland.

President Ford: If we continue with our position of a 3,000 kilometer limit on ALCMs and a 1500 kilometer limit on SLCMs and if, in addition, we make no movement on how we want to handle Backfire, then I don’t think there’s going to be an agreement.

I previously had a conversation with Jim to try and resolve what our course of action would be if it looked like there weren’t going to be an agreement. I asked what military appropriations Jim might come up with for a FY 76 supplement plus a five year program. The figures are astounding. George, I guess you’ve seen these, but I would just like to run through them for you, Bill, and others.

In FY 76—this is in 1976 constant dollars—the figure would be 206 million dollars. Then for the transitional quarter would be another 114 million. In 1977 two billion, five hundred; in 1978, 2 billion and seven; [Page 457]in 1979, 4 billion and five; in 1989, 5 billion and eight; and 1981, 8 billion and six. That’s not a very good picture to have to go to the Hill with.

Secretary Kissinger: This is without additional money for ABM.

Secretary Schlesinger: We will be spending a lot of money on ABM R&D, however, but no money for ABM deployment.

Secretary Kissinger: There’s another column here that has the price increases that would take place with a reasonable rate of inflation. For example, if we take the last entry under 1981 and crank in an inflation figure, it would be 11.5 billion. In 1988 the 5.8 billion figure goes to 7.4 billion with inflation dollars. This gives you some idea of the magnitude of what we would be up against if there were no agreement.

I believe the choice is some modification to our current position or this alternative which I have just described. Now I think it is important from an internal point of view to get an agreement, an agreement that would not sacrifice national security. I’m not talking about an agreement that’s just a one-way street, but I believe a two-way street agreement can be achieved which will be in the national interest and in the world interest. I must say my assessment is that if we don’t get an agreement, we will be in trouble on the Hill since we simply won’t get the money we need. Getting additional appropriations for defense won’t be any less difficult, with or without an agreement, and the figures we have just gone through are really unbelievable and unacceptable. When it comes to submitting this budget it won’t be believed or accepted. We’ll end up further behind. We need an agreement to protect our national interest and the world interest as well. What we have to do is find where we can make some modification in the cruise missile and Backfire areas.

One other fact, anyone who has dealt with Brezhnev recently must conclude that his life expectancy is limited. It’s not a question of his political survival but after 45 minutes in our meetings he simply ran out of steam. The Romanians whose dislike for the Russians is pathological—if Ceausescu keeps up the way he’s going he might trigger some action on the part of the Soviets. They feel only Brezhnev can put over a SALT agreement with the Soviet military. Grechko is too encrusted and couldn’t do it. If the Soviets have a new leader, especially if it is Kirilenko, he will have to play all the party factions. Thus it may be that we will have to work aggressively toward an agreement because of the time problem. Brezhnev was like Pompidou was in Iceland when he met with Nixon. Brezhnev could only bat the ball back with extreme mental slowness, things had to be explained to him two or three times.

Director Colby: That’s our assessment as well. He only has a short time. After he dies or steps down he will probably be succeeded by a person of collective acceptability who won’t be aggressive in pursuing a SALT agreement. The track record of the Soviet Union is that there is [Page 458]a transition period of three to five years before a new leader can be aggressive in international affairs. The question of who will be the successor, whether it will be someone like Kirilenko or a military man like Grechko.

Secretary Kissinger: Everyone in Europe thinks it will be Kirilenko, but it might work out that it’s someone like Malenkov, who will only last for a year.

President Ford: Let me ask a question. If there is no agreement and Brezhnev is out and there is an interim period, their momentum figures they will keep going in all areas—aircraft, submarines, and ballistic missiles. Everyone will probably try and line up the military on their side. Once the momentum gets going it will become even more difficult for whoever succeeds Brezhnev to stop it, just like with us.

Director Colby: We have been working out of a triad but now on cruise missiles we’re really talking about a quartet. We have the balance in strategic forces that we need. If we have reductions it will mean reductions for us not for them. The SALT limits which were agreed assure a Soviet buildup. We would have problems with reductions. Within the next five years the only real danger is that fighting will break out in a conventional war not a strategic war. We see no technical developments that are likely to give them a strategic first strike against us. If we continue the stalemate in strategic systems, it is likely that their naval buildup and their buildup in conventional forces in Europe will continue. This will form the basis for competition between us, along with third world military aid. If we have to put money into strategic systems, we’ll have to also put money into conventional forces.

President Ford: We can’t gamble on our national security. If a deal can be worked which eliminates the Backfire and cruise missile problems, then we should work toward it.

Secretary Kissinger: One thing Dobrynin said to me was why did we introduce these new elements, cruise missiles and Backfire, into the negotiations. I said we need cruise missiles for penetration of their defenses. He said it was their own estimate that within three years our bomber force would have an overwhelming problem getting into the Soviet Union. He said if we deploy cruise missiles, they will have to increase their air defenses.

President Ford: George?

General Brown: I don’t share Bill’s optimism with respect to the ten year period. Ten years is too long a time. I am worried that the situation might change dramatically through the application of lasers.

President Ford: If they run free.

Secretary Kissinger: They do anyway.

[Page 459]

Director Colby: In the ten year period, the Soviets still could not develop a first strike capability, but they could substantially improve their offensive capability.

President Ford: Let me ask a question; assume we get an agreement, laser development is free anyhow, is it not?

Deputy Secretary Clements: Yes.

President Ford: Are we proceeding with lasers of our own.

Deputy Secretary Clements: Yes, we have additional money in the current budget. Right now we are spending all we reasonably can.

Secretary Schlesinger: The Soviets have had a more aggressive program in the past.

General Brown: The Soviets would have a motivation to work faster on lasers without an agreement.

President Ford: Right, George.

Dr. Ikle: Without an agreement we will be diverted to work on numbers for political reasons.

Secretary Schlesinger: Mr. President, with respect to what’s agreed, what is meant by the term “other than heavy bombers”—cruise missiles on transports?

President Ford: Yes—on transports.

Secretary Kissinger: Cruise missiles of greater than 600 kilometer range would be banned on transports.

Secretary Schlesinger: Tactical cruise missiles carried by tactical aircraft are not limited?

President Ford: Right.

Secretary Schlesinger: So we’re talking about strategic nuclear-armed missiles.

As for the points of issue—as for Backfire. We may be unable to suck out of anybody on the Soviet side what they think about this. [3 lines not declassified] However, we could be wrong about Backfire capability since we still have no measure of fuel capacity. It’s very complicated, but we always come up with the same 3000 mile figure plus or minus five to ten percent off.

We have set up a development advisory group on Backfire. It may be that our estimates are too high; however, the report is not completed. Nevertheless, the Soviets claim that the Backfire range is one half that of the Bison is very unlikely.

Secretary Kissinger: They said in capability.

General Brown: We agree that it is probably designed for peripheral missions.

Secretary Schlesinger: If Backfire can only attack by overflying the US on a one-way mission, it is less important substantively versus po[Page 460]litically terms. Critics on the Hill will argue that if the aggregate is 2400 and the Backfire is free, they will be able to do more than us.

If the Soviets can give us assurances on the Backfire, the political problem will be alleviated. The question is what will they provide.

President Ford: I believe we should not be adamant on this issue; nevertheless, we should take a firm position. We can challenge them as to what proof they have.

Director Colby: The intelligence community differs on this issue—not the numbers but on Backfire employment.

President Ford: Jim is right. If the range is 3000 miles, political opponents will say the aircraft has a one-way capability to strike the United States.

Secretary Kissinger: So does the F–111 against the Soviet Union.

Director Colby: But the Backfire is not a first strike weapon. Compared to ballistic missiles, slow flying aircraft are not useful for first strike.

Dr. Ikle: We seem to have made some progress on throw weight.

Secretary Kissinger: All they did on throw weight was to not reject our proposal. I’m not sure what their position is. Throw weight was not included in the reporting cables sent to Dobrynin as one of the unsolved issues. There’s no explanation for this. Brezhnev was not very fast on his feet on this issue. He asked me what we meant by our position. I told him we wanted a definition based on launching weight and throw weight. He asked for what missile. I said for the SS–19, and he didn’t reject this.

Dr. Ikle: With progress on the throw weight issue, we will be able to halt the expansion of Soviet first-strike capability.

President Ford: Jim, what are your observations on the cruise missile problem.

Secretary Schlesinger: There is more give on SLCMs; they have a role in sub-SIOP missions. SLCMs are one way to do other missions. ALCMs are a more difficult subject. From the point of view of numbers of weapons which the Soviets raised, we could also substantially increase the number of bombs as well as the number of missiles. Because of decisions made while McNamara was Secretary of Defense we have the current number of bombs on the B–52s. The B–1 carries [less than 1 line not declassified] We could increase the number of bombs to [less than 1 line not declassified]

General Brown: [1 line not declassified] We have the capability to deploy [1 line not declassified]

Secretary Schlesinger: We can probably estimate a numerical limit of five to six thousand ALCMs by 1985. This is far less than the potential number of bombs. For reasons relating to maintaining our desire to [Page 461]continue to be able to penetrate, we are developing ALCMs. The Soviets don’t need ALCMs to penetrate our air defenses. Our interests should be in controlling warheads, not missiles. We need a better fix on the parameters of discussion before we reach a solution.

Secretary Kissinger: Like what?

Secretary Schlesinger: For example, the Soviet argument that we are expanding the number of warheads is a characteristic of bombs not just missiles. We are not limited to [less than 1 line not declassified] A constraint on the number of ALCMs could be sufficient to satisfy their concerns on this issue.

President Ford: Let me ask you this. Put us in their shoes—if we limit the number of cruise missiles on the B–52 and the B–1, how will they know if we have not modified these aircraft to carry more missiles without verification.

Secretary Schlesinger: Verification is an important issue.

President Ford: It goes both ways.

Secretary Kissinger: If we say 5000 to 6000 cruise missiles as a limit it will get a horrible reaction from the Soviets. Better to limit the number of planes with cruise missiles. Maybe we could bring this into relation with the Backfire. We could still end up with a reasonable cruise missile force.

Secretary Schlesinger: The B–52 is not worth making into a penetrating bomber in the time frame of interest. Comparing the B–52 vs the B–1, the B–52 will be dependent on ALCMs for penetration.

Secretary Kissinger: If we put a 6,000 limit on cruise missiles, it will put a real burden on verification. If only x planes carried cruise missiles, it would be much better.

Director Colby: This will be hard to monitor.

Secretary Schlesinger: The Soviets will argue that we will put 24 on each bomber.

Secretary Schlesinger [Kissinger?]: They can get all the information they need from Aviation Week. Dobrynin will claim that we will carry them in the body as well as under the wings.

Secretary Schlesinger: Maybe we can arrange to have Aviation Week visit the Backfire factory.

Deputy Secretary Clements: We will only carry them internally on the B–1. They will be carried in pods on the B–52.

Director Colby: For once verification is on our side. We should send them a subscription to Aviation Week. (Laughter)

Dr. Ikle: The shoe will be on their foot.

Secretary Kissinger: How many can we carry inside?

General Brown: [number not declassified]

[Page 462]

Dr. Ikle: We have concerns about the way they do some things, and they have concerns about the way we do things. Perhaps this will make them more forthcoming in the future at the SCC.

President Ford: If we limit the number of aircraft, perhaps they will make some concessions on Backfire.

Secretary Kissinger: If we could get SLCMs down to their position and ALCMs down from 3000 kilometers and then limit the number of cruise missiles carrying aircraft, we could get a hearing. There would be a weird aspect in that these limits would mean next to nothing in terms of verification. Both sides would be free to test cruise missiles up to 5000 kilometer range. Perhaps we could go to 2000 kilometers on ALCMs. The only difference between 2000 and 3000 is with respect to fuel. We could test to the 2000 kilometer limit from aircraft and use land-based missiles to test to longer ranges. Even the SLCM limit is not that significant. You could juggle fuel and payload there too. Even if cruise missiles above 600 kilometers are banned on ships and above 2000 kilometers on aircraft, if I understand this technology, you can still do what you want. It is easy to go from 2000 to 3000 kilometers.

President Ford: Just put in a lighter warhead and add more fuel.

Secretary Kissinger: Unless I misunderstand the problem, we could come down in distance on the cruise missiles. Perhaps a package where we go way down on SLCMs, a little on air-launched cruise missiles, and then limit the number of aircraft equipped with cruise missiles. This will give them something to study. They are stuck on what to do on this issue.

President Ford: I agree.

Secretary Kissinger: You saw Gromyko jumping up and down to talk to Brezhnev when we were discussing this question.

President Ford: George, you had something you wanted to say.

General Brown: Yes. We could trade fuel for weight, download fuel to decrease range.

President Ford: And we wouldn’t have to test to longer ranges to have the capability.

Deputy Secretary Clements: We are constantly developing more exotic fuels which will drastically increase range.

Dr. Ikle: We have to be careful or maybe we will get into a trap and end up fighting among ourselves whether we or they have violated these limits. We need to nail down a definition of cruise missile range.

Secretary Kissinger: We haven’t agreed to take cruise missiles to Geneva.

Dr. Ikle: Except for intercontinental cruise missiles. Definitions will be a difficult problem.

[Page 463]

President Ford: I think we understand where we are and the dilemma we face on this issue. It is far better for us to look at a package which contains legitimate proposals in the cruise missile and Backfire areas. If we’re not careful we could end up with nothing. I don’t want to compromise our national security, none of us do. We need to come up with some modification to our current position.

Secretary Schlesinger: The Russians need to be more forthcoming on Backfire information. SLCMs are not of direct concern as a strategic system. We might want 50 or 60 SLCMs for peripheral missions, a small number.

Secretary Kissinger: 50 to 60? There’s no objection if they’re under 600 kilometers.

Secretary Schlesinger: We are interested in the possibility of sub-SIOP missions such as in Iran. It’s part of deterrence in areas where we have no base structure. It’s a secure way to deliver nuclear weapons. The real problem is massive deployment of cruise missiles, so a cruise missile solution is probably workable. On ALCMs we don’t know yet what kind of numerical limits we could accept. But we can’t back off to the point where bombers can’t penetrate.

General Brown: We are looking at some form of limit such as those suggested by Henry, but we have not found a way to work this out yet. We need to work Backfire in if we modify our position. In any case the Soviets probably will raise the FB–111 issue.

President Ford: Well what is the time frame we ought to establish for something for us to come up with bearing in mind Brezhnev’s health problem.

Secretary Kissinger: We should try and have something in about ten days.

Secretary Schlesinger: We should have something ready when the President returns.

Secretary Kissinger: That’s on the 25th.

President Ford: Why not say by the 25th we’ll have something. Henry will be here to see how things are evolving.

Secretary Kissinger: Maybe we can talk before then.

Secretary Schlesinger: Maybe by the end of next week we’ll have something.

President Ford: When you come to see me, Henry, you can bring me up to date on where we are.

[Omitted here is discussion of the Middle East.]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, NSC Meetings File, Box 2. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room.
  2. See Document 102.
  3. No record of a meeting has been found.