14. Minutes of a Meeting of the National Security Council1


  • SALT


  • Chairman—The President
  • The Vice President
  • State
  • William Rogers
  • Kenneth Rush
  • Ronald Spiers
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • Defense
  • Elliot Richardson
  • William Clements
  • Paul Nitze
  • JCS
  • Admiral Thomas Moorer
  • CIA
  • James Schlesinger
  • Carl Duckett (briefing only)
  • ACDA
  • Phil Farley
  • NSC
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • General Brent Scowcroft
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt
  • Philip A. Odeen

The President: Let’s hear from CIA first. Director Schlesinger, do you want to brief us on the latest developments on the Soviet threat.

Mr. Schlesinger: Mr. President, the SALT I agreements, which put a limit on the number of Soviet ICBM launchers and a potential limit on the number of missile launcher submarines, have slowed the Soviet strategic force expansion. The Soviets can, however, continue to make technological improvements in their weapons. Our evidence indicates that they are continuing to develop new weapons systems and have a broad R&D program.

I should like briefly to do two things today. First, I will discuss the highlights of Soviet strategic force developments related to the ABM Treaty and the Interim Agreement which were signed last May. Then I will relate Soviet technological accomplishments to the future strategic posture of the Soviet Union.

Weapons currently undergoing tests include three new ICBMs. Included are two liquid propellant ICBMs, one of the SS–11 and one of the SS–9 class. In addition, they are testing a solid propellant ICBM [Page 46] which may be mobile. [2 lines not declassified] The Soviets have not yet tested a MIRV, but such tests are considered likely and we anticipate we will see them first on the new large, SS–9 size missile. In addition, a new ABM system is under development which has a rapidly deployable radar.

A new submarine-launched missile is also being developed. This missile, the SS–N–8, has been tested to an extended range of about 4,300 miles. This is about the range we hope to get for the Trident missile.

Three new ICBMs are shown on this chart (see chart 1).2 For comparison we’ve included the principal operational Soviet ICBMs, as well as the U.S. Minuteman. Two new types of silos are under construction in the ICBM fields. One is larger than the other. The larger one looks like it is for the SS–9 size new missile; the other for the SS–11 size new missile.

We expect that one of the new systems, the SS–X–18, is the large ICBM that will be deployed in 25 new silos at the SS–9 complexes (see photo 1). We expect that it will have a heavier payload than the SS–9, and believe it will have a MIRV. But to date the Soviet tests have used only a single payload. The new missile uses a zero-stage to pop it out of its silo; this permits it to carry a greater payload. This missile could be ready for deployment in 1975.

R&D and the new ABM system is being pursued at the Sary Shagan Test Center. The photo shows the new type phased radar to be used in this system (see photo 2). It is being tested with a Galosh type ABM missile. Our analysis indicates this system would not be very effective against current U.S. strategic missiles. But it could have considerable capability against less sophisticated missiles such as those of the Chinese, our Polaris missiles, and the French and British missiles.

The next chart (no copy available) summarizes the major events in the Soviet R&D on new missiles since early 1972. You will note there has been considerable activity in terms of testing since the SALT agreements were signed last May. The SS–X–16, the new solid fueled missile, was tested before the May agreements. The other two new missiles, both liquid fueled ICBMs, were tested the first time after the May agreement.

The President: What have we tested since May?

Admiral Moorer: Nothing, except confidence testing of existing missiles. The Trident I missile will be ready to be tested in about a year; the Trident II missile in about two years.

[Page 47]

The President: Is there anything we should be doing that we’re not doing because of the Agreement?

Admiral Moorer: No. We’re moving forward on technology and developing new missiles. We’re testing everything we should be.

The President: Let’s get something clear. We should test everything we need. I don’t want any nonsense on slowing down needed testing just to show good faith on SALT.

Admiral Moorer: Yes, sir.

Mr. Schlesinger: Let me now discuss the implications of ongoing developments in Soviet weapons, in particular launcher numbers, throw weight, and MIRVs. Let’s begin with an examination of the number of launchers on each side (chart not available). The Interim Agreement limits the Soviets to 1,618 launchers. This is the number operational or under construction on July 1, 1972. The decline in the numbers of Soviet ICBM launchers beginning in 1975 reflects the phasing of the older SS–7s and SS–8s. Toward the end of the decade, the Soviets have probably replaced both the SS–9 and SS–11 with new ICBMs under development. The drop in U.S. total reflects the possible phaseout of 54 Titan missiles.

Let’s now look at ballistic missile submarines. The Interim Agreement permits the Soviets to have 740 ballistic missile launchers in modern nuclear submarines. This total could become 950 if they phase out their older ICBMs or ballistic missile launchers and older submarines. In making substitutions, however, the Soviets may not increase their force of modern ballistic missile submarines above 62 boats. You will notice an increase above this level in 1977. This reflects the nine older H-class nuclear submarines, which are not counted as modern ballistic missile submarines. In our projections we assume they will phase out the H-class submarine in 1977. The Soviets appear to have limited interest in the H-class submarine.

The increase in the U.S. submarines beginning in 1977 marks the introduction of the Trident submarine. All U.S. submarine launchers are expected to be MIRVed.

As you know, Mr. President, throw weight indicates the potential capability of the missile force to deliver nuclear warheads. The Interim Agreement did not directly control throw weight. The Soviets now have an advantage of four to one in ICBM throw weight, and we expect the ratio will remain largely unchanged over time. U.S. throw weight is expected to be relatively steady over the next ten years and remain at about two million pounds.

As you know, throw weight plus technology is equivalent to the potential of the Soviet ICBM force. There are various ways they could use their throw weight capability. If they take their throw weight ad[Page 48]vantage and couple it with the U.S. level of technology, they could produce very large numbers of MIRVs. For example, they could put 20 Mark-12 type RVs on the SS–9 and six on the SS–11, giving them about 12,000 MIRVs.

We don’t think this approach is likely, however. The most likely case is where they optimize their missile force for a counterforce role (see chart 2). Under this approach they would put 12 MIRVs in their large missile and three on the small missile. [1 line not declassified] In this case, the Soviets would ultimately have counterforce capability against Minuteman with either the SS–9 or the SS–11 force.

The U.S. numbers on the chart equal the currently programmed force as well as the option to deploy all 1,000 Minuteman with three MIRV which we could do.

In conclusion, the present U.S. advantage is based on the superior weapons technology. This capability has resulted in a very large number of small, accurate MIRVs. These weapons compensate for the Soviet advantages in throw weight and numbers of launchers. Over time, this advantage can be eroded by the USSR; the Soviet disadvantage and technology can be overcome. If they can do this, their technology coupled with their throw weight can give them a substantial number of MIRVs in about ten years. Therefore, the Soviets could eventually have advantage in MIRVs and a substantial counterforce capability.

The President: Where are the Soviets on MIRV technology?

Mr. Schlesinger: They’ve had no tests of MIRVs thus far, but we think they are likely to do so soon. Once they begin testing, it would take about two and a half years to start deploying MIRV missiles.

The President: This is based on our experience?

Mr. Schlesinger: Yes. We think this is a conservative estimate. It would probably take them somewhat longer. We believe that sometime in the early 1980s the Soviets could have a large force of deployed MIRV ICBMs.

The President: What is the Soviet objective in this buildup? Are they going for first strike capability? Also, we only have second strike capability; is that correct?

Mr. Schlesinger: [less than 1 line not declassified] It’s our expectation that they want to get an advantage in strategic weapons.

The President: What really matters in strategic weapons is numbers and throw weight. Is that correct?

Mr. Schlesinger: Potentially, yes. The Soviets probably want to appear ahead for political and psychological reasons.

The President: We are ahead, of course, in technology?

Mr. Schlesinger: Yes.

[Page 49]

The President: What about bombers?

Mr. Schlesinger: We have a very big lead.

The President: Do the Soviets care about our bombers?

Mr. Schlesinger: Yes, they do. They spend an enormous sum of money on air defense because of their concern for our bombers.

Mr. Richardson: I was going to mention bombers as well. They are very important to us and provide an important deterrent. I’m glad you raised the question of the bombers.

The President: Bombers have a great second strike retaliatory capability and they have very substantial payload.

Mr. Richardson: Yes, that’s correct.

The President: Jim, what are the Soviets doing on bombers?

Mr. Schlesinger: They are developing a new medium bomber called the Backfire. They need a tanker force in order to make it into an effective force against the U.S.

Mr. Richardson: They could, of course, use their Backfire and fly one-way missions, landing in Cuba. The Backfire has a range of about 4,000 miles.

Admiral Moorer: In the case of a war the Soviets wouldn’t worry about one-way missions.

The President: All the missions would be one-way for both sides. Aren’t the Soviet air defenses considerably better than those over Hanoi?

Admiral Moorer: Yes, they have large numbers of missiles and aircraft. The missiles include newer ones than were available in Hanoi.

Mr. Richardson: The B–1 bombers which we are developing will be better and will be able to penetrate the Soviet defenses.

Admiral Moorer: Yes. It will carry advanced decoys, ECM, etc.

The President: Henry, would you lay out the major issues for us.3

Dr. Kissinger: The Interim SALT Agreement only limited numbers of weapons systems on either side, but both sides can continue to improve their systems. Both countries are doing this and the Soviets are moving faster than we are.

The key problem we need to address is what are our SALT objectives. We face a situation in which very accurate MIRVs may make fixed ICBMs highly vulnerable in time. The difficult question is what is the strategic significance of vulnerable, land-based missiles. If bombers and SLBMs are survivable, what difference does it make if the ICBMs [Page 50] are vulnerable? One factor, of course, is that as one component of our strategic force becomes vulnerable the Soviets can concentrate their efforts on the other ones.

In SALT One we agreed to give the Soviets quantitative advantages in return for our qualitative advantage. But if we look ten years in the future, the Soviets could MIRV their forces. This would give them very great first-strike capability. If this happens, there will be a growing gap between first and second-strike capability.

Everyone agrees that one of our most fundamental objectives in SALT Two is equality. The real question is, how do we define equality. Do we mean (1) equality in first-strike capability, (2) equality in second strike capability, (3) equality in numbers of launchers and re-entry vehicles, or (4) equality in assured destruction capability.

The President: Another important factor, as Jim Schlesinger said, is how does this all appear to other countries, since this is what affects our foreign policy.

Dr. Kissinger: The Verification Panel met four or five times to discuss the issues that we face in SALT Two. Let me first discuss the strategic balance. Under the Interim Agreement the Soviets can have 2,359 ICBMs and SLBMs compared to 1,710 for the United States. Heavy bombers are not limited by the Interim Agreement. We have a lead of 550 to 140, including 110 mothballed bombers. Even if we add bombers, the Soviets have an advantage in strategic launchers of about 2,500 to 2,260 for the United States. In addition, the Soviet Union has a very big advantage in payload. We have a large bomber payload, but missile throw weight and bomber payload are not comparable. Throw weight has first-strike capability while bomber payload is second-strike capability.

Our SALT Two agreement can’t result in serious inequalities in numbers of delivery vehicles, if for no other reason than that other countries will look at these differences and assume we are inferior. Therefore, it will affect our foreign policy.

When we look at different numerical levels that might be considered in SALT, we need to answer three questions: First, would these levels ratify the current strategic situation; second, what options would each side have under this agreement; and third, would each country be able to implement its options?

The easiest level to agree on would be the current Soviet level of about 2,500 launchers. Under this level we would have the right to build up. Whether this is a real or theoretical right is hard to say.

The President: Not much question, it sure is theoretical.

Dr. Kissinger: This level, however, would give us maximum flexibility.

[Page 51]

The President: Sorry to interrupt, Henry, but I had breakfast this morning with Senator McClellan and Senator Young.4 Both of them have always been strong supporters of our policy, particularly where military matters are concerned. They said that as far as the Senate was concerned, we were going to have real troubles on defense matters. Even Senator McClellan is talking of making cuts in our NATO forces. He said he is doing this not because he wants to, but he needs to take this position in order to avoid even deeper cuts that would be imposed by the Senate.

The Senate, with the exception of Senators Jackson and Tower, simply won’t back us on these issues. We won’t be able to get the Senate to support us on many of these issues, unless we are willing to go up and really scare them and that would have a very bad effect on the country.

Proceed Henry.

Dr. Kissinger: We must distinguish between real equivalence and theoretical equivalence.

Mr. Richardson: We need to consider time phasing when we address this. The question is, over what time are we considering our buildup and how long will it take the Soviets to convert that throw weight capability to effective MIRVs.

I’ve only recently become aware of how many important and impressive developments we have underway. In part this resulted from my recent trip out to SAC. We have Trident, the B–1, and a new Minuteman warhead program. If we consider how impressive these programs are and the potential they have and then factor in Soviet intransigence on SALT, we may be able to get the backing in time to go forward. We may have more leverage with the Soviets than we think with these new programs. Moreover, we have already justified the B–1 and the Trident to the Congress, so we should be able to proceed with them. Also, the improved Minuteman warhead is not an expensive program.

The President: I’m planning to send a memo to the Secretaries of State and Defense and perhaps to CIA also to stress the need to make a major effort on Defense and NATO with the Congress. We want a one-on-one effort in both the Senate and House. We must give these people the facts. We’ve got to stop the euphoria about SALT One, etc., which leads them to think they can cut back on defense spending. This euphoria is also affecting men like McClellan. We just have to get on top of this. Everyone should send out their Assistant Secretaries and [Page 52] their other key aides, the Secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force, also the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The JCS, of course, will have to be objective, you know in what way I mean. Unless we can get Congressional support, it’s going to undercut our efforts to negotiate in SALT and MBFR. Even McClellan is pushing a cut of 30,000 in NATO, an action that undercuts our negotiation position.

The Vice President: What is the cost of the B–1 program?

Mr. Richardson: Approximately $13 billion; they cost about $35 million per copy.

The President: Is the airplane any good?

Mr. Richardson: Yes sir, I’ve been very impressed by what I’ve seen, and it looks like a fine airplane.

The Vice President: Can we afford it?

Mr. Richardson: Funds to cover it are already in the five-year defense program. Therefore, if we can continue getting about the present level of funds for defense, we can afford it.

The President: Let’s get back to Dr. Kissinger’s presentation.

Dr. Kissinger: I’d like to make one point regarding the comments that Secretary Richardson made. One thing we’ve learned from SALT is that we need ongoing programs. The only reason we got the SALT One agreement is the fact that we had an ongoing ABM program. B–1 and the Trident program give us some leverage for SALT Two, but they don’t give us leverage on numerical levels. In fact, as these programs phase in, the plans are that the overall forces would be cut back. For example, as we bring in the B–1, we’ll retire old B–52s and the overall size of the bomber force will decrease.

The trend in weapons development is toward fewer, more costly and complex weapons; therefore, in looking at levels, we should be considering lower numbers. If we go for the Soviet level, the result is likely to be only theoretical equality.

We could push for the U.S. level as the objective in SALT, or we might consider a lower level of small cuts for both sides—perhaps something like 2,000. This would be consistent with their own planning. The real question, of course, is what we would have to pay to get the Soviets to agree to this level. We could even go lower, say, down to 1,500, but this doesn’t solve the vulnerability problem. In fact, our forces may be even more vulnerable as they get smaller. The real threat comes from the number of accurate MIRV warheads, not the number of launchers.

Mr. President, we’ll need to provide you with strategic implications of these various levels so that you can make a decision, but you don’t need to decide this issue at this time.

[Page 53]

The considerations for throw weight levels are about the same as for numerical levels. [3 lines not declassified]

The second issue is one of the scope of the throw weight agreement. Should we only consider ICBM throw weights or do we also include in SLBMs and possibly bomber payload as well. ICBM throw weight is what concerns us the most. The SS–9 with its throw weight has the greatest MIRV potential. But we could also add in submarines, and we could add in bombers.

Bomber payload poses a different problem. It is not first-strike payload. We have a very large bomber payload advantage. If we add it to the missile payload, it looks like we have rough overall equivalence. But the strategic implications are very different. They would have substantial first-strike capability while we wouldn’t. Therefore, over time we would have to plan to convert this bomber payload to missile throw weight or perhaps we could hope over time to go to reductions.

If we are interested in lower levels of throw weight, the question is, what is the appropriate level. At some levels it begins to impact on our programs, such as the Trident program which is very important to us. If we set the limit at 6.5 million pounds for missiles, we are not constrained in any way while we force the Soviets to make deep cuts and get rid of many of their big missiles. I have great confidence in Alex’s negotiating ability, but I’m not sure he could get that kind of a level for us.

If we reach a lower throw weight level, say, four million pounds, we also force the Soviets to make deep reductions. But when we get to that level we begin to constrain ourselves, particularly the Trident program. Also, as you reduce the levels you begin to have some impact on the numerical levels that are feasible. If you get down to four or five million pounds of throw weight, you’d have to hold the numerical levels to down to somewhere around 2,000 or possibly lower.

Of course, if the throw weight limit is below 4 million pounds, both sides would be forced to make significant cuts in their force levels.

(Gap in my notes at this point)

Therefore, the ideal limit would be about 6.5 million pounds. This lets us do everything but forces the Soviets to phase out their SS–9s. It also tends to drive the Soviet level down to around 2,000 which is about the force level we are thinking about. If we go to higher throw weight levels, we tend to ratify the Soviet advantage. The question is, in this case, can we ever expect to convert our bomber payload to missile throw weight.

Our fundamental point is that we are for equivalence in throw weight and numbers of launchers. We don’t need to make a decision on levels specifically for some weeks yet, but at some point we’ll have to say what our proposed throw weight and numerical targets are.

[Page 54]

Ambassador Johnson: I might point out that the last NSDM5 only talked about ICBM throw weight and ICBM numbers being equal.

President: Sounds like a great outcome; keep at it.

Kissinger: Therefore, our big major choice is, do we want to press for numerical and throw weight equivalence and either keep MIRVs out of the equation or perhaps have equal MIRV limits, or alternatively are we for equivalence in general but are willing to consider some type of trade; for example, a MIRV advantage for us in return for a Soviet throw weight and numerical advantage.

If we follow the first route, the Soviets will undoubtedly insist on equality in MIRVs in the next round of SALT. Also, by that time it may be too late to get a meaningful control on MIRVs if we ever wanted to do so.

Richardson: Let me comment on that. We have to consider the timeframe over which we are planning. If we are considering freedom to mix over a long period of time, say until 1995, it’s one thing. It’s another if we consider the short term, before they MIRV and begin making more efficient use of their throw weight advantage. To say another way, let’s look at the issue as a long-term one and factor in reductions over that time period. If you look at it this way, whether this Congress or the next Congress gives us the money to build up our forces is of less consequence. Do you agree, Henry?

Kissinger: I agree that the timeframe is important. As Ken pointed out at the last Verification Panel meeting,6 time is most important when you look at the MIRV issue. As he said, we have perhaps a year and a half to get a control over Soviet MIRVs. If we don’t do it by then, they will start testing and it will be impossible to verify an agreement. Therefore, at least as far as this issue is concerned, it is time urgent. As you will recall, four years ago the President rejected moves to limit our MIRV program which was in its infancy. In retrospect, that was a very wise decision. Now we have to face up to the question of whether or not we are going to try to get a hold on the Soviet MIRV program when it is in its infancy.

Once both sides MIRV their missile forces, reductions really don’t lead to stability. The key to instability is not the number of launchers but the number of accurate MIRVs on each launcher. Unless we could [Page 55] specify the kinds of forces that have to be reduced reductions may lead to greater instability.

Rogers: Admiral Moorer, if we were to agree to a moratorium of two years on MIRV tests and during this time we’d have to stand where we are, would this hurt us very much?

Admiral Moorer: It depends on length of time of the moratorium. The new RV for the Trident missile will be tested for the first time in about a year. The full Trident warhead with the bus and MIRVs will be tested in about two years. Also, the new large warhead for Minuteman III will be tested in about two years. If you stop testing in a freeze or a moratorium, you’re liable to lose all your best technical people, and our technological capability will be dissipated.

The President: The case would be very much like NASA.

Secretary Rush: The real issue is not whether we are hurt or not, but do we get more from such an agreement than we’d lose.

Dr. Kissinger: We should remember that the Soviets have not said what they really mean by MIRV limits. When they start being more specific, what they propose may be totally unacceptable.

Secretary Rogers: I agree. They’ll probably want something outrageous. They’ll probably want to keep testing and say we can’t test on the basis we are ahead in the technology.

Dr. Kissinger: The real choice we face is between two broad paths. We can continue pressing for real equivalence with the Soviets or we can come up with a trade where we maintain our technological advantage and let the Soviets keep a numerical advantage. We must remember, of course, that nothing is free when you deal with the Soviets. The question is what price they are going to charge. I find it hard to imagine they would let us constrain their new systems while we continue our new MIRV systems without our paying a very heavy price.

Admiral Moorer: Even if there is a MIRV freeze, they can still continue to develop MIRVs.

Mr. Schlesinger: They can develop a missile launcher and guidance system, but they couldn’t test a MIRV system. In time, they could break out of the agreement and take advantage of their throw weight advantage. [2 lines not declassified]

Secretary Clements: Our advantage is in technology. We have better technology. We don’t need all that throw weight. Our current missiles are good enough at the size they are.

Dr. Kissinger: But if both sides have equivalent technology, the side with the throw weight advantage has more flexibility.

Secretary Rogers: If we agree to let them have an advantage in throw weight, we will always have to be ahead in technology.

Secretary Clements: Yes. I think we must essentially do that.

[Page 56]

Secretary Richardson: That’s why the timeframe is so important. Over the long term equality in throw weight is important. Equality in throw weight lends itself more easily to reductions. We face a fork in the road. There are two forms of parity that we can go for. Asymmetrical parity, something along the line of the current situation. We keep our advantages; they keep theirs. The problem is that we can’t get from there to more equal outcome over time.

A moratorium may give the wrong impression to the public and the Congress. They’ll think if we can have a moratorium, we have a solution to MIRVs and therefore we won’t get enough money for our programs. Before we go into moratorium, we have to be very sure that we are willing to live with that kind of a situation since that may be where it comes out.

Dr. Kissinger: There are two separable questions here. If we judge we can get an agreement in a year or so we may still be able to get a hold on Soviet MIRVs. We wouldn’t have to take the risk of a MIRVed moratorium. Of course, if we eventually get close to a MIRV agreement with the Soviets we might then consider a test moratorium to preserve our chance to get a verifiable agreement.

The President: I guess I’m a minority of one in this group. I was never very high on the nuclear test ban treaty. It was a gimmicky-type arrangement. It didn’t really have much of an effect on the situation. The same might be true of a MIRV test moratorium. It could also be considered a gimmick. This would not necessarily be bad; in some cases, we need something like this to sell an agreement or make it acceptable in some quarters. The real question is who would be hurt most by a one-year test ban? Forget about all the political after-effects and euphoria. Who would be hurt most directly; militarily?

Admiral Moorer: It depends on who has the most new programs underway. The Soviets have more that they are testing right now while we won’t be testing for the next year. Therefore, the Soviets would be hurt the most.

The President: Then you’re saying that the Soviets would be hurt more by a one-year moratorium?

Admiral Moorer: Yes. But we’ve got to be very careful here. We had two advantages when SALT began—ABM technology and MIRVs. We’ve already given up one of these two advantages.

The President: The problem as I see it is what the impact is. Look at the nuclear test ban. It didn’t result in the world putting the nuclear genie back in the bottle.

The Vice President: Sitting in this chair for the past four years and watching key decisions, it seems that we always fall back on our belief in our technological superiority. That situation may not continue. With [Page 57] respect to Japan and West Germany, we just can’t rely on our continuing to have a technological advantage. We must recognize that that could change and keep this in mind. Let’s negotiate on this basis remembering that our technology may not always be superior. We should assume they will eventually be equivalent.

Secretary Richardson: How does the Vice President’s point cut? Should we focus on numbers and throw weight since we can’t be sure we will maintain our technology lead or does it mean we should try to get a handle on Soviet technology to prevent their catching up?

The Vice President: We must also consider verification. We can’t limit technology without verification. If we could have onsite inspection, we might be able to verify but that is not likely to happen.

Secretary Rush: I’d like to expand the Vice President’s point. We can’t do anything to increase our numbers of launchers for about five years. It will be about that long before our new systems are ready for deployment. It would be a mistake to let them catch up on MIRVs during that time period.

The President: Then you would “tilt” toward a MIRV limit, Ken?

Secretary Rush: Yes, sir.

Secretary Rogers: I’m not ready to make a recommendation on this issue yet. I think we should let Alex explore the MIRV issue. We can defer a final decision perhaps as long as 4–5 months.

The President: In dealing from the MIRV issue, we have to keep in mind that in the earlier phase of SALT we felt we had to be forthcoming. It’s good to make proposals; it makes specific recommendations to the Soviets. That was probably necessary as it was important to get some momentum going in these talks and to develop the assurance that a SALT could succeed. But the situation has changed. We don’t have to worry anymore about propaganda; we don’t have to worry about making points. Our position should be that we will explore in a hardheaded way.

Secretary Richardson: We haven’t made enough of the hard line uncompromising position the Soviets took in the last round of SALT. Alex should keep pressing them to take a more reasonable position. As you recall, they said a number of things. First, we should withdraw all of our forward-based systems and dismantle the bases. Secondly, we should withdraw our forward-based submarines and close the bases. Third, we should make the Interim Agreement permanent with the advantage for them. Four, we should ban nuclear weapons on bombers and nuclear air-to-surface missiles. Finally, they propose that we exercise restraint. On our side that meant stopping the Trident and B–1. On their side, it wouldn’t stop anything. Our own opening position was more reasonable. Even the ICBM throw weight equality is more reasonable than the Soviet position.

[Page 58]

Dr. Kissinger: We have two problems. First, the problem of what we say to the Soviets. They weren’t ready to negotiate last time. They obviously weren’t prepared and they just told Semenov to pile all the old arguments on the table. The second, and more important problem is, what do we say to ourselves. Conceptually, we must choose between the two routes. We need a framework; we must decide on what our approach to SALT is going to be and then we have to stick with it. We can’t keep shifting our approach. We also need to decide on the MIRV issue fairly soon, probably next month. Finally, if MIRVs are not going to be controlled, we’ll have to be much tougher on throw weight limits. We also must factor these considerations into our own defense planning for the next ten years. We’ve got to have the right kind of programs if we are ever going to reach equality.

Secretary Clements: Yes. That’s right.

Secretary Rogers: We changed our position many times in SALT One, yet we came out okay.

Dr. Kissinger: But we didn’t alter our conceptual framework. We changed our tactical position, but not our overall framework, except on the ABM issue.

Ambassador Johnson: I need some guidance as to which direction you want to go. Equivalence in numbers or throw weight or trading their numerical advantage for our qualitative advantage. I can explore for a few weeks, but after that I’m going to need some guidance. I don’t necessarily need a detailed option, just the direction I’m supposed to point.

The President: If you can negotiate with the Japanese, you must know how to point 13 different directions at one time. You don’t need any help or guidance from us (laughter).

This has been a very helpful discussion today. We are coming down to the fundamental issues. The real issue is the impact what we agree on will have on the decision-makers in Washington and the decision-makers in Moscow. Our view of our advantages or disadvantages will determine whether we can pursue an aggressive or timid foreign policy. The same will be true for the Soviets. If we all recognize we are not at a substantial disadvantage as the Soviets, we have great potential and power.

We must of course, also consider the impact of the agreement on the public, the Congress and other countries—what they think matters very much. In SALT One the criticism came not from the budget cutting elements but from the right. When we finally reach agreement in SALT we can help reassure the right by pointing to all of the outrageous things the Soviets asked for that we didn’t give in on. The Allies are very much like the hawks in Congress. They must understand that we are negotiating a firm matter and that we’ve held to our position very [Page 59] strongly. They must realize that the final Agreement doesn’t jeopardize our deterrent or our support for them. We too must be confident in our capabilities.

Finally, we must realize we are at a very critical juncture. The country is relieved that the Vietnam war is finally at an end. Our successes in China and Moscow also have led to a major relief on the part of the public. But it has created some very wrong incentives. Many people want to cut back on Defense spending and weaken ourselves. There is a real mood of euphoria, and we are going to have to do some swimming up stream.

Let’s return to Dr. Kissinger’s briefing and all the excellent work of the Verification Panel. We must make the right deal in SALT. The various disparities that we have today are really not critical to the leadership of the Soviet Union. They’ll look at the risks of any kind of a nuclear attack. If the risk of attack is too high, they won’t try anything. But to our Allies and the public, appearances matter. If we appear to be Number 2, our friends will get scared. Also we must insure the right doesn’t cause a storm over the agreement we reach which would frighten our friends and allies. But, the key is what the Kremlin believes about the situation and they will be aware of the real facts. We all recognize that the Soviet leaders are not fools and they’d be fools to attack us. The risks are so high the chances of an attack are slim.

Thank you very much, gentlemen.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box H–110, NSC Meeting Minutes, Originals, 1971 to 6–20–74. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room of the White House. There is a White House tape of this meeting. (Ibid., White House Tapes, Cabinet Room, Conversation 117–2)
  2. None of the charts or photographs were found.
  3. Kissinger’s presentation, entitled “The Strategic Situation” and dated March 6, is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box H–033, NSC Meetings, SALT II, 3/8/72.
  4. Senator John L. McClellan (D–Arkansas) and Senator Milton Young (D–North Dakota).
  5. Document 7.
  6. The Verification Panel met on March 2; the Summary of Conclusions and minutes are in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box H–108, Verification Panel Minutes, Originals, 3–15–72 to 6–4–74 [3 of 5]. The Summary of Conclusions and minutes of the previous Verification Panel meeting on February 5 are ibid.