113. Minutes of a Meeting of the National Security Council1


  • SALT (and Angola)


  • The President
  • Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger
  • Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
  • Chariman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General George S. Brown
  • Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Dr. Fred Ikle
  • Director of Central Intelligence William Colby
  • Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Brent Scowcroft
[Page 500]


  • White House
  • Mr. Richard Cheney, Assistant to the President
  • Mr. William G. Hyland, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • State
  • Mr. Helmut Sonnenfeldt
  • Defense
  • Deputy Secretary William Clements
  • CIA
  • Mr. Carl Duckett
  • NSC Staff
  • Colonel Richard T. Boverie

[Omitted here is discussion of Angola.]

President Ford: Let’s explore the issues (SALT). We want to have a position for Henry to take to Moscow in January. The Verification Panel paper2 gives us some alternatives to look at.

Secretary Kissinger: Bill [Colby], do you have a briefing for us?3

Director Colby: Yes. I will start. (Note: The charts used in the briefing are attached at Tab A.)4

As you know, Mr. President, the Intelligence Community has recently completed a new estimate on Soviet Forces for Intercontinental Conflict through the Mid-1980s. I would like to emphasize some of the key conclusions of that estimate—particularly as they relate to a prospective SALT TWO agreement.

First of all, I would remind you that the Estimate concluded that, in regard to strategic offensive forces, the Soviets are continuing their broad program of major improvements.

—The trends are about as we had forecast in last year’s Estimate,5 but the diversity of the ballistic missile submarine program and the potential hard-target capabilities of the new Soviet ICBM systems are somewhat greater than we anticipated.

—This chart shows our projections of the combined size of Soviet ICBM, SLBM, and heavy bomber forces in 1980 and 1985 under different assumptions. It compares our “Best Estimate” of total delivery vehicles and MIRVed missile launchers under the Vladivostok limits with alternative forces the Soviets might build in the absence of such limits.

—The chart illustrates some potential benefits to the U.S. of the ceilings agreed at Vladivostok:

[Page 501]

• a small reduction in Soviet forces to get down to the 2,400 ceiling;

• limitation of the Soviet buildup in both total vehicles and MIRVed launchers which would likely occur without SALT TWO.

[Omitted here is discussion of Colby’s briefing.]

[Director Colby:] To sum up, Mr. President, the most important judgments in this year’s Estimate are:

During the next ten years, the Soviets almost certainly will not have a first-strike capability to prevent devastating retaliation by the United States.

Short of this, however, Soviet strategic programs present what we believe are real and more proximate dangers to the United States—with or without a SALT TWO agreement. We think there will probably be a continuation of rough strategic equality between the U.S. and USSR, but in the qualitative competition the U.S. technological lead will come under increasing challenge.

Assuming that the judgments of the Estimate are reasonably correct, I believe that foreseeable Soviet strategic forces would not eliminate the USSR’s vulnerability to retaliation. Consequently, a crisis resolution probably would not rest on the strategic weapons balance, but rather would depend on other factors, such as the comparative strengths and dispositions of U.S. and Soviet conventional forces. It is relevant in this connection to note the steady increases occurring in Warsaw Pact forces opposite NATO, and in the Soviet Navy.

Let me now turn to the future of Soviet politics, which could affect the Soviet strategic posture fully as much as force projections or progress in R&D. These future developments are best looked at in three stages:

—At the present, in the two months before the Party Congress, Brezhnev still is the dominant Soviet leader. His authority seems to be in a slow decline, along with his physical vigor. He is still interested in a SALT agreement, but is clearly prepared to go into the Congress without one if necessary. He doubtless recognizes that both sides have to change their existing formal positions to reach a deal, and he has some room for maneuver—though not, we believe, to the extent of agreeing to include Backfire in a 2,400 aggregate.

—In the months after the Congress, we will probably have roughly the same Soviet leadership, and no major change in SALT policy. But the gradual erosion of Brezhnev’s position will continue, as his colleagues begin to cast their minds forward to the post-Brezhnev period. The further this process goes, the more the individual Politburo members will be inclined to avoid risky decisions that might lay them open to attack at a later, more intense phase of the succession competition.

[Page 502]

• More important in this period, however, will be Soviet concern about the uncertainties of the U.S. political process. They will be cautious about such hazards as negotiating during an election year, when the whole Soviet-American relations could be pushed into the forefront of partisan debate. We do not believe they will out-and-out refuse to continue discussions, but they seem prepared to wait until 1977 if necessary.

—In the third phase, over the next several years, the Politburo will get deeply into what we expect to be a prolonged succession process. Real factional struggles might develop, with none of the aspirants for power wanting to antagonize the military. Thus the preferences of the marshals will probably be given greater weight in strategic and arms control matters.

Finally, what can we say about the prospects for Soviet-U.S. relations if there is no SALT TWO? We believe Moscow sees this as primarily up to the Americans. The Soviets find détente too useful to want to repudiate it, and would hope to continue on a pragmatic course, governed by the opportunities and risks of specific situations, and still call it détente.

The chief consequences for Soviet foreign policy, therefore, of no SALT agreement would lie more in the area of underlying attitudes than in specific behavior on the international scene. Soviet uncertainty about the future strategic balance would encourage darker interpretations of U.S. intentions.

If the strategic dialogue ended, the beginnings of confidence-building would be interrupted. In the absence of treaty limitations, the Soviet military would be relieved of the healthy necessity to dismantle older systems, and to divulge strategic facts to their chief opponents. All this would clearly be damaging to the prospects for positive long-run change in the Soviet system.

These effects would be magnified if the U.S. reaction to a SALT failure was to discredit détente altogether from the Western side.

President Ford: Thank you, Bill. Any comments?

Secretary Kissinger: I would like to comment. Looking back at the seven years I have been here, we have never had to manage a crisis under the current difficult conditions. In 1973, Admiral Zumwalt did not tell us our Navy was vulnerable. We conducted ourselves on the basis of naval superiority. The Soviets had no MIRVs at all—only the single warhead SS–11 and SS–9. In one crisis, we had a 10–1 warhead superiority on the U.S. side—and the Soviets caved. In 1962, we had a 100–1 advantage. Never were the Soviets conscious of parity. In every confrontation under circumstances of U.S. superiority, the Soviets caved inordinately rapidly.

We will not be in that position in the future, and we will have a crisis management problem. Therefore we have to look at the Soviet [Page 503] threat and capability over the next ten years. SALT may give us no strategic benefits, but it would give us political benefits.

Our most glaring deficiency will be in dealing with regional conflicts. No President has had to manage a crisis in such a situation where we were not overwhelmingly superior in strategic forces. During the Berlin crisis, the Soviets had no strategic capability. In 1962, they had 70 long-range missiles which took seven hours to fuel.

The situation is changed, and this will present a real strategic problem, not only in a crisis, but in the way the Soviets throw their weight around. This is one reason why Angola is so important; we don’t want to whet the Soviet appetite.

[Omitted here is discussion of Angola.]

[Secretary Kissinger:] Now let’s move into the SALT discussion.

Mr. President, we are not here to ask you for a decision. We simply want to put the issues before you to give you a chance to think about them when you are in Vail. When you come back, we will have a more detailed discussion of the issues.

At Vladivostok, we agreed on the total number of vehicles and MIRVs. We said that missiles with greater than 600 km range on bombers would be counted. There is an ambiguity here as to whether these include cruise missiles or only ballistic missiles. We said they were ballistic missiles; the Soviets said that all air-launched cruise missiles on heavy bombers should be counted. Nothing was said about SLCMs—submarine-launched or ship-launched.

The Soviets would perceive it as a concession on their part if we end up counting anything less than all the cruise missiles. Nothing was said at Vladivostok about the Backfire. This issue emerged afterwards.

Therefore, we have two hang-ups: one the Backfire and the other the cruise missile situation. Our position had been that we should count the Backfire. Their position has been that we should count cruise missiles with ranges greater than 600 km on heavy bombers and ban all other cruise missiles. Gromyko told me that SLCMs with a range greater than 600 km were not negotiable.

Since Vladivostok, it is fair to say that the Soviets have made one major concession: that is, they are using our counting rules for MIRVs. The practical effect of this is to limit them to less than 1300 MIRVs unless they MIRV all SS–18s. So far, however, all of their SS–18s have only single warheads. They apparently are planning no more than 180 SS–18s with MIRVs. This would give them a total of 1,180 MIRV launchers rather than 1,316. At 12 RVs each, this gives us around 2,200 warheads free. However, they have linked the MIRV counting rule to the cruise missile issue.

[Page 504]

This leaves us now with the following issues: First, how do we deal with the Backfire in light of the forward based system problem and the fact that this is a big issue in the Soviet mind? Second, what do we do about cruise missiles with greater than 600 km range on heavy bombers? Third, how do we deal with SLCMs with greater than 600 km range on submarines or ships? And fourth, what do we do about land-based cruise missiles? The Soviets want to permit land-based cruise missiles up to a 5,500 km range. This is hard to understand; we could cover the Soviet Union with deployments in Europe. This would also be a disadvantage since the Soviets could use their land-based cruise missile program to test all conceivable modes. Our view is that we should limit land-based cruise missiles to a 2,500 km range.

Six options were presented to the Verification Panel for consideration. Don and I have narrowed these to three for purposes of simplification. The first option is one which would be preferred by the Joint Chiefs. It would defer any limitation on Backfire and cruise missiles at this time, but these would be taken up in the next round of SALT talks in 1977. The Chiefs would agree to a time limit on the negotiations—for example, two years—to settle the Backfire and cruise missile issues.

This option would consolidate the gains made at Vladivostok which would go into effect in October 1977. The follow-on agreement would take effect in 1979 or 1980.

An advantage of this option is that it would use cruise missiles to offset Backfire; therefore, both would run free.

I have said I have doubts about the negotiability of this option. First, the Soviets have rejected counting Backfire in SALT as a matter of principle. The Soviets would also feel that it would be bad for them to let cruise missiles run free. They would feel they would be losing in the process. They think our Backfire position is a trick anyway.

From the domestic point of view, I wonder whether there is a danger in this option because all arms controllers will scream “fraud.” They will say this will leave more cruise missiles uncontrolled than ballistic missiles controlled. Therefore, the liberal Democrats will be against us on our cruise missile programs and our request for funds for cruise missiles.

I saw Muskie at the football game yesterday and Harriman at dinner last night. They told me, “We will help you by cutting off funds for the cruise missile.”

We will be driven by our own debate to limiting cruise missiles to the Backfire numbers. Also, we will have a massive FBS problem.

President Ford: We would be giving up what we gained in Vladivostok.

Secretary Kissinger: Once we accept a unilateral construction, even if the Soviets break it, we are going to have hellish ability to go ahead. I [Page 505] cannot believe the Soviets will give us both the MIRV counting rule, plus a throw weight limitation on the SS–19, plus cruise missiles.

We could only go back to a crude version of Vladivostok, if at all. However, the option does have these advantages. It is the least contentious option; it would consolidate the Vladivostok gains; and it would maintain momentum in SALT.

Secretary Rumsfeld: There is an opposite argument to the one Henry made. In the event we agree on this option, it may improve the position of the cruise missile in Congress. We would have an argument similar to the one for MBFR troop levels in Europe—the last thing we want to do is reduce unilaterally. Therefore, this may actually decrease Congressional leverage on the cruise missile.

Secretary Clements: I want to endorse what Don has said. I talked to McIntyre about this and Don is right. They’ve gone along with us on cruise missiles because it is part of our SALT negotiations. They don’t want us to constrain ourselves.

President Ford: In the House they knocked out the Air Force cruise missile, but kept the SLCM.

Secretary Clements: Well, the Congress did this, but not to help our negotiations. The Air Force cruise missile is built by Boeing, but the SLCM is built by LTV. Only one person, George Mahon, wanted to eliminate the Air Force cruise missile, and he did this, in my view, to help LTV and to eliminate the Air Force competition. However, in conference, both programs were put back in. Mahon has been the only one who had been fighting the Air Force program.

President Ford: He was taking care of Dallas.

Secretary Clements: And screwing Boeing.

Secretary Kissinger: In my opinion, there is only one chance in 20 that the Soviets would accept this option. They will not accept straight deferral, in my judgment.

Secretary Rumsfeld: The test is to find some language that does not prejudge the matter at all, which could be the Soviet hang-up. We ought to be able to find a way to find the right kind of language.

President Ford: Doesn’t deferral give them a free hand to let them go ahead with their cruise missile program?

Secretary Rumsfeld: There is no question about it. However, this option is not really the preferred option. It is useful only in that it would avoid not having any SALT agreement at all. What it does is allow us to state that we have two problem areas which we have not yet resolved.

President Ford: I can see it from our point of view, but we must face the reality of whether they would do it.

[Page 506]

Director Colby: The Soviets see the cruise missile as an enormous problem to them. They have an enormous investment in air defenses and they see the cruise missile as our way to get around their air defenses.

Secretary Clements: They will have an interest in cruise missile programs but it will not be the same interest as ours. They do not have the capability of air-launching cruise missiles.

Secretary Kissinger: They won’t see them coming.

Director Colby: We have no air defenses on our side. The Soviets have no urgent reason to develop air-launched cruise missiles.

Mr. Duckett: Our last photography shows that the Soviets have a new cruise missile at the test site. We have not determined its characteristics yet.

Secretary Kissinger: They have no requirement for a cruise missile. Therefore, we can constrain their optimum size, keeping good ones for us and bad for them. We can make great strides.

Secretary Rumsfeld: This is why we have some leverage with cruise missiles.

Secretary Kissinger: Why must they answer cruise missiles with cruise missiles? Maybe they would answer our cruise missile programs with ballistic missiles.

President Ford: Because they may want to take advantage of their program.

Secretary Kissinger: Let’s discuss another option. We could count Backfire in the 2400 aggregate. We could count, within the 1320 MIRV limit, those heavy bombers with cruise missiles of greater than 600 km range. We could ban SLCMs above 600 km on submarines. SLCMs with a 2500 km range or 2000 km range on surface ships would run free.

This would involve two significant concessions: we would ban long-range cruise missiles on submarines and we would count heavy bombers with ALCMs as MIRVs.

General Brown: If we want all our bombers to carry ALCMs, we would have to knock off that many MIRVed missiles.

President Ford: Even if we pulled B–52s out of mothballs, we would not get up to the 2400 level.

Brent Scowcroft: The applicable ceiling here is the 1320 MIRV limit.

Secretary Kissinger: This is a most creative approach. It will interest the Soviets. However, its chief difficulty is whether the Soviets would count Backfire. I do not believe they will count the Backfire. If they have to count 400 Backfire, they will have to dismantle some ICBMs. It will also cause an FBS problem and a domestic political problem for the Soviets.

[Page 507]

President Ford: If the Backfire is counted as a strategic weapon, and if they had developed a cruise missile they could put ALCMs on the Backfire.

Secretary Kissinger: Then it would count against the MIRV ceiling. Without an ALCM, the Backfire would be counted in the 2400 level alone. Or, if it carries an ALCM, it would count both against the 2400 level and the 1320 ceiling.

General Brown: I think there was only one reason why they would go to an ALCM for the Backfire. If they get the accuracy with their ALCM, it is better than a gravity bomb.

Director Colby: They could use a shorter range ALCM.

General Brown: It goes back to the fact that we don’t have any air defenses to speak of.

Secretary Kissinger: This is worse than the October proposal which they have already rejected. In this option, we would be letting SLCMs go free and counting their Backfire. This is harder than the October proposal where SLCMs and Backfires were outside the basic accords in some kind of grey area. The October proposal was closer to deferral. Their view of this option would be that they would be losing a handle on SLCMs while having to count Backfire.

Mr. President, we are not asking for a decision at this time. We just want to present this for your consideration. The Verification Panel must do more work before we could confidently sell this in Moscow.

Secretary Rumsfeld: One advantage of this option is that the Soviets are already counting a heavy bomber, the Bison. From a domestic standpoint, this has assisted somewhat.

A second point is that we must consider the world perception, as Secretary Kissinger has mentioned. If the Backfire is not counted, we must consider the perception here, in Europe, and elsewhere. Statistically, the Backfire has a substantial capability.

The point I am making is that while we might lose at negotiability, it would help us in selling it here and elsewhere. Whatever we come up with must lend itself to public discussion.

Secretary Kissinger: I am arguing not just for negotiability. What we have must be both negotiable and equitable from a strategic viewpoint.

Director Colby: Could we reduce the land-based cruise missile range to 2500 km as a counter to SLCMs? [No answer.]

Secretary Kissinger: If these options are not saleable and acceptable, then we have two issues: Negotiating tactics, and a decision on where we go.

With respect to negotiating tactics, how do we present an option if there is a 90 percent chance that it will be rejected? Also, what can we table that will have a chance of acceptance?

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There are two schools of thought on negotiating tactics. One is that we should take a tough stance. The other is that we should make “preemptive concessions,” as Don’s predecessor phrased it. My view is that this is the better negotiating tactic. We go ahead with some concessions but we then stick hard on what we do have. The other tactics may look tough, but they lose credibility. I think we should get to our concession point fast, but then don’t yield. Of course, we must build some air into our proposal for retreat purposes.

With the Chinese, we give them our best judgment and if they agree, they say “ok.” However, with the Soviets, if we hand their own proposal to them, they must argue about it for nights and then take it to the Politburo.

Let’s now look at the third option category. Basically, this looks for a way of not counting the Backfire, plus it includes elements of the second option counting heavy bombers with ALCMs as MIRVs.

There is a shopping list of elements in these packages.

To hang the Backfire on Soviet assurances would be dangerous. Assurances are inherently soft. For example, if the Soviets staged their bombers through Arctic bases in a crisis, would this result in an abrogation of SALT?

What else could we do with the Backfire? There are several possibilities.

First, we need not offer the Soviets the whole SLCM package. We could go back to something like the October proposal. We could say that all cruise missiles, with the exception of ship-launched cruise missiles, would be limited. We could use the ship-launched SLCM limit as an offset to the Backfire. If they increase their Backfire deployments above a certain number, then our other cruise missile limitations would be off.

As Fred [Ikle] has suggested, we can put all offset systems into a separate Protocol addressing hybrid systems—the grey area. We could balance Backfire against the ship-launched SLCMs up to 1980 or 1981 in this Protocol.

Alternatively, we could ask the Soviets to agree to reducing the aggregate to 2300, or even 2200. However, I do not think it would be possible to get the Soviets to agree to a 2200 level. The 2300 level would be a strain on the Soviets, but not on us. This would have the effect of counting 100 Backfires.

No one recommends letting the Backfire run free on assurances alone. Therefore, this would entail having some kind of trade-off such as reducing the total aggregate level, or having a separate Protocol.

Dr. Ikle: The theater balance is of concern to the Soviets. If we use a separate Protocol, it may be more negotiable since no Backfires would be in SALT. It would also limit the upgrading of cruise missiles.

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Secretary Kissinger: This would be a compromise. We could have a mixed option where some cruise missiles run free against their Backfire. This hopefully avoids the FBS problem and gives the Soviets a way out. However, we wouldn’t want an agreement on a mixed option that takes Backfire out of the count that is not saleable or in the strategic interests of the United States. The Chiefs and others are now working on developing some kind of updated mixed package.

Director Colby: The Soviets will do nothing on Backfire without raising the FBS issue.

General Brown: If they raise the FBS issue, it automatically brings the Backfire into the picture.

Secretary Kissinger: We can consider various mixed packages. We can have a Protocol as Fred [Ikle] has suggested. We can have a unilateral U.S. statement that says, “When the Soviets produce Backfire above a certain number, the deployment restraints on SLCMs are off.”

We can have a mixed package where the Soviets agree to reducing to the 2300 aggregate level and we set off the SLCMs versus Backfire; we can sell this as reducing the Backfire.

President Ford: The perception associated with reducing the aggregate from 2400 to 2300 would be very saleable.

Dr. Ikle: As long as it is not considered a substitute for follow-on reductions.

President Ford: I want to compliment you all for taking a fresh look and expanding the alternatives. There is some flexibility here. Between now and the first week in January, I would like you to look at something beyond the first two options and give me the prospects. Perhaps we can come up with something which is in the best interests of the United States and is saleable.

In the next two weeks, I would like you to finely tune your options and give Henry an option in addition to the first two. Maybe this won’t work, but at least we will have made our best possible effort.

Mr. Duckett: Mr. President, I’d like to take one minute on a compliance issue.

Secretary Rumsfeld: In developing a mixed package, we must consider the acceptability in a strategic sense, its negotiability, and its saleability at home. For any mixed package, we must ask also about its simplicity. We must ask whether it can be explained sensibly.

Dr. Ikle: The verification problem of cruise missiles is hard to explain. I believe we will be able to explain it only if we have a separate Protocol. Otherwise, the verification problem is almost impossible to explain for cruise missiles.

Secretary Kissinger: We must recall the elements to consider. We have to consider the relationship of the FBS and Backfire issues. We [Page 510] must understand the degree to which cruise missiles running free offset Backfire. We must understand the degree to which not counting Backfire is offset, for example, by its inability to carry long-range cruise missiles.

Secretary Rumsfeld: We must also remember the importance of not using soft assurances.

Secretary Kissinger: Assurances are only frosting on the cake.

President Ford: The kind of trust that has been built negates the use of assurances. They won’t be bought.

Mr. Duckett: [4 lines not declassified]

President Ford: You have late photography?

Director Colby: Yes, all of the places in question were along pipelines so we started looking closely at the pipelines.

Secretary Kissinger: This is a good example of the need to put this kind of information in a temporary hold status.

Director Colby: I agree.

President Ford: Thank you very much. Have a good holiday.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, NSC Meetings File, Box 2. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room. All brackets, except those inserted by the editor to indicate omissions from the text, are in the original.
  2. See Document 112.
  3. Colby’s briefing, entitled “Key Points of NIE 11–3/8–75 Related to SALT,” is in the Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Subject File, Box 20, SALT (22)–(33).
  4. The following charts were attached but are not printed: “Projected Soviet Force Levels Under Varying Assumptions (Total Delivery Vehicles);” “Distance Contours from Long Range Aviation Home and Staging Bases;” “Backfire Production and Deployment, NIE 11–3/8–75, Forces 1 and 2;” “Projected On-Line Missile RVs;” “Projected On-Line Missile RVs and Bomber Weapons;” and “US Silos Surviving Soviet ICBM Attack.”
  5. NIE 11–3/8–74; see footnote 5, Document 112.