106. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • SALT


  • The Secretary
  • The Counselor
  • Ambassador U. Alexis Johnson
  • William G. Hyland, Director, INR
  • Jan Lodal, NSC
  • John H. Kelly—C (Notetaker)

Kissinger: That was not the most exalted meeting I have ever been in. [A reference to the just concluded meeting with Gromyko.]2 Both sides are just digging in. Our position is impossible. Over the last 15 months, we have made no concessions. They made a massive concession on FBS at Vladivostok. Now they have conceded on verification. We just keep on inventing things to put in the agreement. Two years ago, I couldn’t even get Defense to agree to put a cruise missile on a 747 or a bomber.

Sonnenfeldt: Gromyko wanted to know if we agree to ban cruise missiles from the ocean floor.

Kissinger: Of course, we agree. We hadn’t even conceived that anyone would want to put cruise missiles on the ocean floor. We’ve got a massive problem with these escalating cruise missile programs.

Johnson: Did you make any progress on Backfire?

Kissinger: The Backfire issue is a fraud. If the Backfire is strategic, then our Forward Based Systems (FBS) are strategic. Both can hit the other on one-way missions. Since Backfire cannot reach us, they can use our argument with which we exclude FBS. To try to include Backfire is an outrage.

Johnson: Yes, Backfire is one issue that seems non-negotiable. If it were included, the Soviets would have to cut even more to reach 2400. [Page 483] My thought has always been to deal with Backfire through non-circumvention and assurances.

Kissinger: There are two ways of dealing with this. One is the Schlesinger approach, which is impossible. The Soviets will never give us written assurance not to raise FBS in SALT III. If Schlesinger goes to Jackson on this he will raise hell.

Johnson: Cruise missiles are going to stir up a storm with the Doves on the Hill. I don’t see why we need it.

Kissinger: Schlesinger thinks he needs the SLCM so he can hit Murmansk in case the Soviets invade Northern Norway.

Sonnenfeldt: He can use Poseidon.

Kissinger: He doesn’t know what to use the other warheads on Poseidon for. He says he does not want to use nuclear weapons. He wants to use a conventional cruise missile. That won’t do any good. He can’t destroy anything with that.

Sonnenfeldt: Their studies indicate that the conventional cruise missile will have a zero CEP.

Lodal: But there is no chance in putting one 2000-pound HE warhead on Murmansk.

Kissinger: It would be criminal to drop an HE warhead with a five million dollar platform on Russia, but he says the cruise missile will only cost 800 thousand dollars.

Lodal: That’s ridiculous. It will cost more than that.

Kissinger: How much will it cost?

Lodal: I would guess a couple of million dollars.

Kissinger: Can you do a cost effectiveness study for me?

Lodal: Yes.

Kissinger: I want you to do a cost effectiveness study on how much it would cost to take out the docks in Murmansk. Take a look at his other case, too, which is Iran.

Hyland: If he wants a single warhead, why not keep the Polaris A–1 on station?

Kissinger: It’s ludicrous to think that if the Soviets invaded Norway, all we would do would be to destroy the docks in Murmansk.

Sonnenfeldt: Schlesinger’s theory is that this is a godsend to keep nuclear wars limited to small exchanges.

Kissinger: This is a road to strategic disaster. If Schlesinger goes on down this road of blurring the distinction between conventional and nuclear armed cruise missiles, we will not build a breakout capability. The Soviets will build interchangeable warheads so they can break out anytime they want. If they put a 2000-kilometer ALCM on a Badger aircraft, that old clunker will have a significant strategic capability. These [Page 484] cruise missiles will enable the Soviets to saturate the US with their medium bomber force. This will enable the Soviets to solve the fratricide problem. They would follow the ballistic missiles with cruise missiles. It would be a nightmare, and Schlesinger admitted it would be. This is really a Kabuki play, it will make no difference in the end. Then there is the Ikle idea of trading Backfire against SLCM platforms. He has to be nuts if he thinks the Soviets would trade 300 planes against 300 ships.

Johnson: Does he want to trade the Backfire against the platform or the individual SLCM?

Sonnenfeldt: The platform.

Kissinger: That’s nuts. Trading 400 Backfire against 400 SLCM platforms means a virtually unlimited threat against the Soviets. I thought maybe we could accept the 600 kilometers on SLCMs. [To Johnson] Are you going to share all of this with your delegation? One of our problems is that you read private instructions to everybody on your delegation.

Johnson: No, no. I tried that once to try to take care of a problem. It won’t happen again.

Kissinger: Schlesinger wants us to trade Backfire against our 75 FB–111s and 200 SLCMs. Will the Soviets buy?

Johnson: I don’t know.

Hyland: The Soviets feel they can sweat it out to the end. Gromyko is under no pressure now to make any concessions.

Johnson: What do we get for the 375 Backfire?

Kissinger: We get eyewash for Congress.

Johnson: Congress will say that makes a new ceiling on the aggregate.

Sonnenfeldt: I can conceive of Congress ratifying the treaty but voting against cruise missiles.

Lodal: Congress will say the agreement is an engine of proliferation.

Kissinger: If we have no new SALT agreement by winter, Congress may solve the cruise missile problem for us.

Hyland: Can we really trade 300 Backfire against 200 SLCMs?

Kissinger: If you take Schlesinger’s position, which is wrong, because he makes no distinction between conventional and nuclear armed cruise missiles, and then ban cruise missiles on all aircraft but heavy bombers . . .

Lodal: Schlesinger may not want . . .

Hyland: Schlesinger doesn’t want nuclear warheads on any ALCMs except those on heavy bombers.

[Page 485]

Lodal: But the FB–111s are already equipped with a nuclear SRAM, so that’s nutty.

Kissinger: Is Schlesinger willing to have no nuclear armed cruise missiles on any aircraft except heavy bombers?

Lodal: He’s willing to seek some sort of mutual assurances.

Hyland: Under this approach, would Backfire and SLCMs be outside the agreement?

Kissinger: Yes, these are hybrid systems. I thought up the 200 SLCMs.

Hyland: What do we do on ALCMs?

Kissinger: We could tell the Russians that we will accept a 600-kilometer ALCM limit on all aircraft but heavy bombers. But when should we surface the nuclear versus conventional arming? If I can sign Schlesinger on for a deal without a cruise missile definition, he will then have a vested interest in the deal. How can we tell the Soviets that conventional cruise missiles would run free? How could they be sure we would play it straight?

Sonnenfeldt: Especially after the cobra toxin publicity.3

Hyland: There is no way to verify which is nuclear armed and which is conventional.

Kissinger: We should get the proposal on the table with no reference to the conventional armed angle. If they don’t accept it, there is no harm done. If they do accept it, then we can send it to Geneva and table the definition. Then the President can overrule Defense so we can compromise with the Soviets.

Sonnenfeldt: It will be very tough to overrule Defense after we have tabled a proposal.

Kissinger: It is very tough to overrule Defense now. When we go to Geneva with this, they will say it is the first time we have mentioned the conventional angle.

Lodal: We can reduce the range.

Kissinger: We’ll be driven back to low ranges for conventional warheads. Alex can table this, the Soviets will scream, and we can go back to range issues.

Lodal: One of the problems is that Schlesinger does not know his own programs. The only sensible program is the RPV.

Sonnenfeldt: Someone better get some studies on this terminal guidance system.

[Page 486]

Kissinger: If we give the Soviets 600 kilometers on SLCMs and on cruise missiles other than heavy bombers, and limit the number of heavy bombers equipped with ALCMs, the Soviets get quite a bit. We will have tough sledding on the nuclear versus conventional arming, but if the HE warhead reduces the range so much it may drive ALCMs back. We need a cost effectiveness study. I’ll give Gromyko these ideas. We are meeting them on lots of points. If they plan to build 375 Backfire, then offering them 300 outside the agreement is not bad. We can trade those off against SLCMs and the FB–111. We will hold all SLCMs at 600 kilometers except the 200 which will be matched against Backfire.

Lodal: Are we going to permit the 200 SLCMs outside the 2400?

Kissinger: We might agree to count them in the aggregate. We will have room since we won’t build to 2400 anyway.

Hyland: Would the Soviets have freedom to choose between Backfire and SLCMs?

Kissinger: No, they can’t have SLCMs between 600 and 2000 kilometers. We can.

Hyland: We can ban ALCMs above the range limit and above 600 on aircraft other than heavy bombers.

Sonnenfeldt: We could even improve on that. We’ll have quite a few unfilled positions in the 2400 with which we could count ALCMs.

Johnson: What about ICCMs?

Kissinger: They will stay as it is, but I might tell Gromyko that we would be willing to drop down to 3000 kilometers. I can’t imagine why the Soviets accepted 5500 kilometers on ICCMs.

Johnson: The Germans want to build surface-to-surface conventional cruise missiles.

Kissinger: Surface-to-surface conventional cruise missiles are a fraud. They are only good for one thing—nuclear warheads.

Sonnenfeldt: By leaving the ICCM range unchanged, DOD can get all the development they want for cruise missiles.

Kissinger: Why don’t they use the cruise missiles for Murmansk from land instead of putting them on F–4s? They could put the land-based cruise missile in Norway.

Lodal: They could build recoverable cruise missiles.

Kissinger: Do we have a chance of selling this package?

Sonnenfeldt: I don’t think so, not after the discussion of silo modification.

Johnson: Did you get into that today?

Kissinger: Gromyko just doesn’t understand silo dimensions. He says they will accept 32 percent, that they will not widen the dimen [Page 487] sions, but he claims they are permitted to go straight down forever. Either Gromyko is a pain in the neck or they’re developing a new long, skinny missile.

Johnson: Why the hassle?

Kissinger: If the Soviets give in on throw-weight, we can give them the silo dimension.

Sonnenfeldt: But if we don’t get throw-weight, then we need them.

Hyland: We know from an intercept that Brezhnev checked on the size of their new missiles in 1972. They knew the dimension meant 15 percent in either direction. They have not exceeded that.

Kissinger: I’ll tell Gromyko we’ll take throw-weight in return for the silo dimensions.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Office of the Counselor, Lot File 81D286, Box 6, SALT, July–October 1975. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Kelly. All brackets are in the original. The meeting was held in the Secretary’s office. According to an unidentified note in the margin: “JK[elly] says HS[onnenfeldt] does not need to see.”
  2. Kissinger met with Gromyko at the Department of State on September 19, 4–6:04 p.m.; see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. XVI, Soviet Union, August 1974–December 1976, Document 193.
  3. During a Congressional investigation of CIA abuses in September, it was revealed that the CIA had maintained a small stock of biological weapons, including cobra venom.