128. Backchannel Message From the Chief of the Delegation to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (Johnson) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft)1

31. Dear Brent: While I have tried to avoid being a “fifth wheel” in the bureaucratic process and thus further complicating decisions on SALT which the President faces, I felt that I should not, at this stage of the negotiations, any longer refrain from expressing my own very personal views for whatever help they may be to him. I have done this in the form of the following paper, which I would appreciate your passing on to him, if you think it would be helpful. I would also appreciate your passing a copy to Henry, but would hope that at this stage circulation could literally be confined to them.
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1. Throughout SALT II three of our major objectives have been: first, equal aggregates with no compensation for FBS; second, reductions in central systems; and third, throw-weight limitations on the destructive potential of missiles, especially ICBMs. An agreement which accomplishes these objectives is in our interest and defensible.

2. Our first priority interest in cruise missiles is in their strategic role as penetration aids for heavy bombers against unconstrained Soviet air defenses.

3. Our interest in sea and land based cruise missiles is essentially in their tactical role, and decisions with respect to them should be based on the prudent assumption that within the period of this agreement the Soviets can and will deploy cruise-missile systems substantially comparable to our own. These weapons are not, and we should not seek their development by ourselves (and accordingly also by the Soviets) as, a fourth element in the present triad of “central systems.”

4. Because of our requirement to keep sea lanes open and the proximity of our population to the ocean, it is in our interest to limit to the degree possible the development of Soviet surface-ship and submarine-launched cruise missile capabilities, both nuclear and conventionally armed. The corollary is that such capabilities are of relatively less importance to us vis-à-vis the Soviets.

5. Decisions with respect to land-based cruise missiles (both nuclear and conventional) should be based primarily on tactical requirements and the future balance as foreseen in the NATO area. This, of course, requires taking account of the attitude of our allies with respect to our possible deployments, as well as the possibility of our allies seeking to obtain comparable weapons. (As a footnote, in negotiations with the Soviets we could point out that cruise missiles in the NATO area are at least in part a logical response to the Backfire.)

6. The present Backfire is not a “central system” as the term has heretofore been used in SALT, and its theoretical unrefueled capability to attack the U.S. could, if felt necessary, be considerably offset by the deployment of such additional air-defense capabilities as to require that a realistic flight profile for the aircraft be something less than an optimum long-range cruise profile. (If in fact the Backfire is considered to be a strategic threat, the development of such air-defense capabilities would seem to be required whether or not it is included in the aggregate of central systems.) Assurances with respect to substantially upgrading Backfire unrefueled capabilities or the development of tanker capabilities for a substantial part of the projected Backfire fleet could be adequately verified by our present and projected ‘national technical means.’

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7. While they should not drive our decisions, the difficult verification questions with respect to cruise missiles are somewhat reduced to the degree that range limits are lower and uniform as between various types of missiles, and to the degree there are no distinctions in the armament of missiles.


Based on the foregoing premises and my understanding of the present negotiating positions of the Soviets and ourselves, I recommend working for the following end positions:

1. Accept a ban on ALCMs above 2,500 KMs and a ban on ALCMs between 600 KMs and 2,500 KMs on aircraft other than heavy bombers. In the absence of Soviet agreement to include some Backfire in the aggregate or otherwise to accept some limitation on its numbers, I would withdraw our proposal to include heavy bombers with ALCMs in the MIRV aggregate.

2. Obtain as specific and detailed assurances as possible against further upgrading of the long-range unrefueled capabilities of the Backfire, as well as specific commitments on the development of a tanker fleet for its support.

3. Conditional on Soviet agreement to a 2,200 or lower aggregate to be reached by the end of 1980, abandon efforts to obtain agreement to 2,500 KM SLCMs on a limited number of surface-ship platforms and agree to a single lower limit for all SLCMs, both surface ship and submarine mounted. (For this purpose a ban above 600 KMs seems reasonable to me and probably in our interest.)

4. Also conditional on Soviet agreement to a 2,200 or lower aggregate, agree to a ban on a range lower than 2,500 KMs for land-based cruise missiles. (I believe the range should be determined solely by the military requirement for tactical cruise missiles for use within the NATO “battlefield area” and do not have the basis for a judgment for how much, if any, this range should exceed 600 KMs.)”

Best wishes, Alex

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Backchannel Messages, Box 8, SALT, Geneva, Incoming, 2/76. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Deliver during business hours.