110. Memorandum From Denis Clift of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft)1


  • Viewing SALT from the USUSSR Political Perspective

The difficulties presently being encountered in the SALT negotiations and the related diminishing likelihood of a Summit meeting before the 25th Soviet Party Congress require that the political implications of SALT issues receive the same careful attention as the technical/strategic issues. A SALT agreement—fully acceptable to the United States—and summit before February are important to the direction that the US-Soviet relationship will take in the coming year. Failure of one or both to take place will unquestionably have an impact on the relationship, with the extent of change to be expected the only uncertainty. (This question is addressed more fully in the NIE “The Soviet Assessment of the US,”2 staffed under NSC Log #7222.) It is with the political implications of the current situation in the arms negotiations in mind, and the hope that a fresh perspective might be helpful, that I offer the following thoughts on a possible opportunity for movement in the talks in keeping with U.S. interests.

The negotiations to convert the Vladivostok Accords into a ten year arms agreement have become stalled on three issues: cruise missiles, the Backfire Bomber, and the definition of a heavy ICBM. As I understand it, the current U.S. position provided to the USSR during Foreign Minister Gromyko’s recent visit3 is that the Backfire and long-range sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) might be counted in a separate limit in addition to the aggregate of 2400 (i.e., in effect raising the aggregate), that air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) would be constrained only by a 2500 km range limit, and that the heavy ICBM defini [Page 493] tion should be based on throwweight. It is a fact, however, that not one of these issues is specifically addressed in the Vladivostok Aide-Mémoire.4 These are complicating peripheral issues which emerged during the past year’s efforts to tie down the loose ends as required for a formal agreement.

In my opinion, any attempt to incorporate limits on SLCMs and Backfire in an agreement by raising the aggregate will become subject to serious criticism, and rightly so, as undermining one of the principal achievements at Vladivostok and the entire concept of arms limitation. It simply is not “limiting” to move from 2400 to e.g., 2600.

The prospect for an agreement before February changes in my view if the United States is prepared to negotiate central, offensive strategic systems strictly within the confines of the Vladivostok accords (as the US interprets them) and acknowledge that Backfire and cruise missiles are peripheral to the negotiations at this stage. This apparently was the prevailing view in the SALT community until this year. It is my understanding that NSC and Verification Panel meetings last year focused almost exclusively on questions concerning the aggregate and MIRV levels, with little attention being given to Backfire and cruise missiles. It seems to me that, in fact, while Backfire is an offensive system, the non-central character of the Backfire is supported by intelligence community agreement that the plane is not capable of realistic two way missions against the U.S. without mid-air refueling and that its principal mission is for peripheral attack against China and Europe. By the same token, I understand there is not a strong strategic or tactical requirement for long-range SLCMs and that the Air Force views the ALCM as supplementary to the B–1 bomber and has had no long-standing commitment to a standoff air-to-surface cruise missile.

If it is realistic to consider that Backfire and cruise missiles are neither central systems nor central issues in the current strategic equation, I believe one can consider concluding a worthwhile strategic arms agreement that serves our national security interests. This would involve putting aside systems on which opposing views are for the present irreconcilable, a decision which would be consistent with the building block approach to arms negotiation practiced for the past twelve years and best typified by postponement of consideration of FBS.

In the context of this approach to a SALT agreement, the United States might communicate the following to the Soviet Union:

—The cause of making further concrete progress in the strategic arms negotiations remains central to the interest we share in seeking to reduce the chance of nuclear war.

[Page 494]

—The Vladivostok Accords continue to provide the basis for an agreement that will serve further to reduce tensions and that will meet the national security interests and requirements of both countries.

—The two sides should agree to an aggregate of 2400 delivery vehicles, including ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers (not to include Backfire).

—Both sides will be limited to no more than 1320 ICBMs and SLBMs equipped with MIRVs.

—When an aircraft is equipped with air-to-surface ballistic missiles with a range over 600 kilometers, each of such missiles will be counted as one delivery vehicle in the aggregate.

—The Backfire bomber and cruise missiles should be considered peripheral systems and, as such, should not be included in this agreement. Negotiation of limitations on these systems and other peripheral systems such as FBS, will be undertaken in the next stage of SALT to begin immediately after signature of the present agreement.

This would involve a political decision by the United States and the Soviet Union to formally implement the understanding reached at Vladivostok. It would involve the political admission that further talks on outstanding issues are immediately required if the two countries are to continue the SALT process in good faith.

An agreement based upon the above would be subject to criticism. However, past arms agreements, because of their limited character, have also been subjected to criticism. All steps forward in the process of controlling nuclear weapons since 1963 have been limited, but collectively the Test Ban Treaty, the Seabeds Treaty, the Outer Space Treaty, the ABM Treaty and the Interim Offensive Agreement have made historic progress toward lessening the danger of general nuclear war and toward gradually expanding the umbrella of controls over strategic arms. The alternative to these steps toward effective limitation of nuclear weapons cannot be failure to make any progress at all.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Subject File, Box 20, SALT. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information. Scowcroft wrote the following comment at the top of the page: “It is certainly an option to be examined.” On November 3, Scowcroft replaced Kissinger as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, leaving Kissinger to serve only as Secretary of State. Ford announced this and several other significant Cabinet-level personnel changes, including the nomination of Donald Rumsfeld to replace Schlesinger as Secretary of Defense, in a press conference that day. (Public Papers: Ford, 1975, pp. 1791–1793)
  2. A summary of NIE 11–5–75, “The Soviet Assessment of the US,” October 9, is Document 216 in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. XVI, Soviet Union, August 1974–December 1976.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 106 and footnote 2, Document 107.
  4. Document 91.