120. Message From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft) to Secretary of State Kissinger1

Tohak 20/WH60092. I have just come from a two-hour NSC meeting which I can only describe as surreal.2 The President opened with a good summary of where we stand, stressing the Soviet concessions and the advantages of your approach for dealing with Backfire and cruise missiles in a separate agreement with a five year limitation. He then asked Admiral Holloway what the Navy program was for the number of SLCM launchers per ship.

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Holloway thereupon launched into an incredible commentary on the unacceptability of the proposed Backfire-surface ship SLCM trade off. He stated that there is no U.S. surface ship SLCM program; that the Navy has always envisioned using submarines as the platform for cruise missiles; that the first money for developing a surface ship cruise missile capability isn’t programmed until ’78 and that the maximum deployment by ’82 would be limited to six ships (nuclear strike cruisers). Under heavy prodding from Clements, he later acknowledged that it might be possible to reach as many as fifteen ships, if the Spruance class frigates were reconfigured, but bad-mouthed that approach as seriously degrading the Spruance class for other missions. He said almost in as many words that he was not sure the surface ship cruise missile concept had any merit at all.

The President was visibly shocked and expressed his amazement at this Defense reversal, in view of their acceptance of modified Option IV. Neither Holloway nor Clements could provide any kind of a logical explanation for this turnabout. In the course of this mess Holloway also stated that they planned no more than eight launchers on each ship and that there would be no repeat no reload capability.

The President pressed the point that, particularly in light of our uncertainty on cruise missile deployments, the concept of considering them together with Backfire as a gray area made sense. Clements dismissed this argument and asserted that Defense had never repeat never seriously considered surface ship SLCMs as a reasonable trade-off for Backfire. He stated that such a separate agreement would be indefensible because of the inequity of the ten to one aircraft to ship ratio. He also dwelled on the point that Brezhnev’s assertion of the Backfire range as 2400 kilometers, almost 100 percent less that the capability we give it, so seriously called into question Soviet good faith as to require resolution of this issue before proceeding further to discuss anything at all. Clements insisted it was clear that the radius of Backfire is at least 2700 nautical miles—almost twice the Russian figure. Several times I pointed out the irrelevancy of these arguments, e.g., counting B–52 as the same as an SSN–6 also makes little sense but we do that, and tried to refocus the argument back on what is achievable against what happens without an agreement.

Ikle delivered a convoluted pitch that the number of Backfires should equal the number of U.S. platforms in any separate agreement, on a freedom to mix basis—the mix apparently being bombers of the Backfire variety, surface ship SLCMs and submarine SLCMs. He also raised the heavy missile definition as a vital point for you to resolve.

The Vice President then weighed in with his Teller arguments again, maintaining we really shouldn’t limit ourselves on cruise missiles. The only effect he had was on the land based cruise missile range. [Page 572] On that point, Clements said that the difference between 5500 and 2500 was, for Defense, no big issue. I pointed out that the real issue was verification, which argued for 2500; Colby and Ikle agreed. After the meeting, however, the President said he would go with the Vice President and he came down on 5500.

Toward the end Clements and Holloway came out firmly against the 250–25 equation. By this time the President was thoroughly disgusted. He told Clements and Holloway in clear terms what he thought of the inconsistency of their positions today against Monday3 (but he was not visibly mad enough). He ended the meeting by directing Holloway to send over a paper on acceptable tradeoffs by tomorrow morning. It is apparent to me that the tradeoff Holloway will propose is submarine cruise missiles, notwithstanding the fact that everyone agreed months ago to ban them over 600 kilometers.

After the meeting the President was angrier than I have ever seen him. He ranted about the total inconsistency with previous Defense positions, said that Rumsfeld and Brown could god damn well try themselves to get the extra money necessary when we failed to get a SALT agreement, and stormed out to go to the Kennedy Center.

It was a complete debacle, and I really don’t know where we stand now. Holloway virtually removed the surface ship SLCM as a system we had any real interest in, much less one we should pay something to protect. He will probably come in with a proposal that each side can have 250 platforms of gray area systems—Backfire, surface ships and submarines, that is almost indistinguishable from the deferral option.

The President was so mad I cannot predict what he will do in the cold light of morning. I suggest you not for the moment lock up the submarine SLCM ban. I really see no Defense support for any variety of Option III at the moment, although we have not heard from Rumsfeld and Brown.4 In fact, I am driven to the hypothesis that the JCS don’t want an agreement and will pursue any convenient argument to prevent it.

I will keep you abreast of developments in the morning as they occur. Right now I am depressed.

Warm regards.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Trip Briefing Books and Cables of Henry Kissinger, Box 28, Kissinger Trip Files, January 20–25, 1976–Moscow, Brussels, Madrid, TOHAK (2). Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only; Via Black Patch.
  2. See Document 119.
  3. January 19; see Document 116.
  4. Rumsfeld and General Brown were in Hamburg attending a meeting of the NATO Nuclear Planning Group.