154. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • SALT

You will have two fundamental SALT decisions to make for Secretary Vance’s visit:

[Page 666]

—The number and character of basic options which you wish to put to the Soviets. The four alternative approaches proposed to you are: (1) deferral at the Vladivostok level; (2) a comprehensive settlement at the Vladivostok level, i.e., Backfire and cruise missiles included; (3) a comprehensive settlement with reductions to 2,000; and (4) a comprehensive settlement with reductions to 1,500.2

—The nature of the options to be proposed; in particular, how to handle the Backfire, cruise missile, and mobile ICBM issues.

Your decisions on these issues will constitute a decision on your overall objectives for this stage of the negotiations.

Our discussions in the Special Coordination Committee (SCC) have led to an emphasis on two of the four basic approaches:

—Deferral at the Vladivostok level.

—A comprehensive settlement with reductions to 2000, including reduction in the MIRV level (to 1200) and reduction of 150 Soviet heavy ICBMs.

These are discussed in detail below, along with the other approaches of a comprehensive settlement at the Vladivostok level or the level of 1500.


As you are well aware, the Soviet response to date on deferral has been very negative.3 As a consequence, in reiterating your interest in deferral, you may wish to choose some variant which could make the basic deferral approach more attractive to the Soviets. The SALT Working Group has looked at several alternatives to total omission of Backfire and cruise missiles in SALT TWO. These include:

—Agreement in SALT TWO that cruise missiles below 1500 km are tactical and will not be subject to limitation in SALT while those above 1500 km are strategic and subject to negotiation in SALT THREE; omission or loose constraints on Backfire.

—Loose constraints on cruise missiles and on Backfire (e.g., a ban on cruise missiles over 3000 km and a ban on Backfire tankers and Arctic basing).

[Page 667]

—Loose constraints (such as those cited above) of limited duration, e.g., 1–3 years.

—Partial cruise missile deferral (e.g., ban on cruise missiles over 600 km on submarines and on aircraft other than heavy bombers with no limits on other cruise missiles); loose constraints on Backfire.

The second of these alternatives is probably the most attractive in terms of making deferral more appealing to the Soviets; at the same time, it does not foreclose any of the cruise missile options of potential interest to the U.S.

Reductions to 2000

The SCC considered a number of possible approaches at a level of 2000 (see the decision tree at Tab A) and decided to focus on an approach which included a reduction in the MIRV level (to 1200), and a reduction of those Soviet heavy ICBMs (SS–9s) for which conversion to the SS–18 will not have begun by the date of signature of the agreement (essentially a reduction of about 150 heavy ICBMs, assuming an agreement is signed sometime this summer).

The objectives of a comprehensive agreement which includes significant reductions of this nature are:

—To take a significant step in SALT TWO toward major reductions in strategic force levels, including reductions in those force characteristics (MIRVs and throw weight) which are the major source of the current momentum in the strategic arms competition.

—To settle at this time the issue of limitations on those peripheral systems, Backfire and cruise missiles, which, in spite of being of marginal strategic significance compared to the central strategic systems, have proved a major impediment to progress in SALT.

The options which the SCC principals favor at this level of reductions are shown in the table at Tab B. The table also includes an option (labeled “New Option”) which emerged from a recent meeting of SCC principals. This option, which can be viewed as a position which all SCC principals could probably support, is discussed in detail in the Working Group paper at Tab F.

The major arguments on the basic issues are provided below:

Cruise Missiles. As you can see from the table at Tab B, there is a wide range of views on acceptable cruise missile limitations. This in part reflects our inability at this time to define unique military requirements for long-range cruise missiles other than ALCMs on heavy bombers.

In seeking a compromise settlement on the cruise missile issue, the basic question is whether it is more in the U.S. interest to seek a combination of different range and platform limits such as Harold Brown favors (cf table at Tab B), or a straightforward across-the-board range limit such as Cy Vance and Paul Warnke favor. The two issues which drive this question are the range requirements for ALCMs on heavy [Page 668] bombers and GLCMs. A 1500 km limit on ALCMs on heavy bombers is probably acceptable through 1985, but a longer-range limit, such as 2500 km, could be required thereafter if anticipated Soviet air defense improvements cannot be countered (by improvements in the U.S. bomber force, e.g., B–1) or limited in later phases of SALT. With respect to GLCMs, 1500 km is adequate to perform the deep interdiction missions of theater nuclear aircraft. However, 2500 km is required if we want to make a policy change and give the Allies a capability to strike strategic targets deep in the Soviet Union.4

The basic advantages of the across-the-board range limit of 1500 km are that it offers simplicity and improved verifiability while maintaining substantial cruise missile capability. In addition, a 1500 km limit on all cruise missile platforms would make acceptable a cruise missile definition which includes all types of armament (nuclear- and conventionally-armed). The approach of mixed range limits—some at 2500 km, others at 600 km or lower—hedges on cruise missile range limits on those platforms of principal interest (e.g., heavy bombers), while accepting strict range limits on other platforms (e.g., submarines).5 A cruise missile definition which includes all types of cruise missiles would be more difficult under this approach.

Tab D provides a map of GLCM target coverage for ranges of 1500 km and 2500 km. Tab E provides a chart showing ALCM target coverage for two cases of bomber standoff outside a Soviet AWACS defense and one case where the AWACS is attacked (the Air Force is developing a missile for this purpose). In the latter case, the bomber penetrates to launch points outside heavy Soviet air defenses. A map showing the location of those defenses is also included at Tab E.

Backfire. With the exception of the JCS, there is agreement in the SCC that Backfire is not a militarily significant weapons system.6 It has no second-strike capability (since it would not survive a U.S. first-strike) and its first-strike capability is limited to mopping up whatever targets of interest might be left after the Soviet missile force has decimated the U.S. Nevertheless, its acknowledged ability to strike the U.S. on one-way high-altitude subsonic missions has made it a significant political issue.

[Page 669]

The Backfire options shown in the table at Tab B vary from counting Backfire above 120 in the aggregate to a separate limit of 300 Backfire. While these represent potentially interesting going-in positions, you should be aware that there is virtually no chance of a Soviet settlement along either of these lines. The previous administration on two occasions (in September 1975 and January 1976—described in the negotiating history at Tab G)7 proposed Backfire limits of around 300 with very forthcoming cruise missile positions. The Soviet response, as it has always been, was an adamant statement that Backfire is a theater weapon and not a legitimate subject for limitation in SALT. As indicated previously, there is considerable legitimacy to this argument since our FBS also constitutes a theater system whose capability to “strike the territory of the other side” is unquestioned. The alternative to restrictive limits on Backfire is collateral constraints to limit Backfire’s intercontinental capability (limits on refueling, basing, replacement of medium bombers, etc.) plus a Soviet statement on Backfire production through 1985.

Mobile ICBMs. The Soviets have been arguing for a ban on mobile ICBM deployment in SALT TWO, i.e., for the period through 1985. While agreement to such a proposal would not affect M–X (initial M–X deployment is not scheduled before 1985), there is some question whether we should agree to such a ban. Development funds could be difficult to procure and we may decide in the interim that there is no mobile ICBM concept which is cost-effective and politically acceptable. If U.S. abandonment of a mobile M–X leads to abandonment of the M–X program in its entirety (a likely outcome since silo-basing is not attractive), we would be virtually guaranteeing the Soviets that we would not develop a hard-target capability against their ICBMs. Since this would be a major U.S. concession, it argues for either: (1) delaying a decision on mobile ICBMs to SALT THREE where the leverage could be useful, i.e., permit and count mobiles in SALT TWO; or (2) trying to get something significant for a ban on M–X development and deployment in SALT TWO (discussed below).

ICBM Freeze. The ICBM freeze is designed to garner significant Soviet concessions in return for the U.S. giving up the M–X program. It would freeze the deployment of current ICBMs (the Soviets will match our 550 MIRVed ICBMs in mid-1977), ban the development of new or improved ICBMs, and limit ICBM testing to confidence tests. If accepted, this proposal would not only curb a major source of momentum in the strategic arms race but would also enhance the prospects for long-term survivability of the silo-based ICBM force. The [Page 670] Soviet response to such a proposal is likely to include a similar freeze on SLBMs and heavy bombers.

Vladivostok Level

The table at Tab C shows agency preferences for a Backfire/cruise settlement at the Vladivostok level. As you can see, the preferences are essentially unchanged at this level with the exception that Cy Vance’s first choice on cruise missiles shifts to a 2500 km limit on ALCMs on heavy bombers and a 300 km limit on all other cruise missiles. He sees this as a close competitor to an across-the-board limit of 1500 km.

Reductions to 1500

The SCC principals are dubious that reductions to a level of 1500 can be achieved in SALT TWO. As a consequence, they see a proposal along these lines as more illustrative of our objectives for SALT THREE. The Backfire/cruise missile arguments are basically the same at this level as they are at 2000.

The Working Group has analyzed deep reductions assuming an aggregate level of 1500 and a MIRV level of 1000. The analysis shows that reductions from 2400/1320 to 1500/1000 would not have a significant impact on ICBM survivability, pre- and post-attack static relative measures (throw weight, RVs, etc.) or U.S. capability to destroy critical Soviet economic and military targets. These conclusions remain true even if the reductions include preferential reductions of 150 MLBMs and a freeze on ICBM MIRVs. This leads to the conclusion that further constraints, such as limitations on modernization and testing, will probably be required to give deep reductions significant military impact. The analysis also indicates that non-limited “gray-area” systems may warrant greater concern at these reduced levels.

Summary Assessment

The SCC principals believe your best approach at this stage of the negotiations would be:

—To reaffirm your interest in deferral.

—At the same time, indicate that an acceptable alternative would be to negotiate significant reductions in SALT TWO.

With regard to a proposal on significant reductions, it is important that you decide at the outset how you want to handle the Backfire issue. If you are prepared to accept a Backfire compromise involving collateral constraints plus a Backfire production statement (anticipated to be around 450), then there are strong arguments for taking that position immediately, both bureaucratically and in the negotiations:

—If you start with a hard-line position and then opt for a compromise, you could be subject to criticism for being “outnegotiated” by the Soviets.

[Page 671]

—In moving to a compromise, the military will argue for a cruise missile/Backfire linkage and U.S. withdrawal of any forthcoming proposals on cruise missiles.

—An initial hard-line U.S. proposal on Backfire is not likely to generate a constructive Soviet response and could seriously undermine the negotiations, in particular if accompanied by tough proposals on reductions and an ICBM freeze.

One way to approach this issue is to avoid taking a position on Backfire in making a reductions proposal (which includes cruise missile limits) to the Soviets. If they respond constructively to a reductions proposal, you can then indicate your willingness to accept collateral constraints and a production statement on Backfire.

Negotiating Tactics for Moscow

In addition to deciding on your preferred options, you will want to consider the question of how to present them:

—We could present one opening proposal in advance of Vance’s departure and, if necessary, let him introduce an alternative during the talks. For example, we could propose the deferral position and, if the Soviets resist, as is likely, then introduce a comprehensive agreement at a reductions level of 2000.

—Alternatively, we could present two options and press the Soviets to choose a general direction; for example, ask them to choose between deferral or reductions. In this case, you will want to consider whether Vance should be armed with some fallback position.

More broadly, you will want to consider what the general outcome of Vance’s mission would be. If a deadlock develops on SALT, should he strive to soften the impact by including other issues such as the test ban or the Indian Ocean. Alternatively, if a breakthrough seems possible on the basis of a Soviet counterproposal in SALT, should we attempt to nail it down in Moscow or pause and consider it further in Washington? Since Vance’s mission is assuming growing importance in the public eye, it would obviously be desirable if the meetings yielded an impression of success rather than failure. On the other hand, we will want to avoid being drawn toward an agreement which is not politically acceptable in the U.S.

In issuing a Presidential Directive (PD) for Vance’s trip, you will want to take account of the bureaucratic complications on this issue (in particular, as regards the Backfire) as well as the political factors described above. On balance, you may find it desirable to include three acceptable outcomes in the PD:

—1. Deferral at the Vladivostok level as one of two alternatives to be initially presented to the Soviets.

[Page 672]

—2. A comprehensive settlement at a reduction level of 2000 as the second initial alternative—including a cruise missile proposal, but initially holding back on a proposed Backfire settlement.

—3. A fallback proposal which might be implemented at an aggregate level of 2200–2400.

The rationale for including the fallback position is to signal to the various agencies the type of comprehensive settlement you are willing to accept at an aggregate level above 2000, in the event Soviets move in this direction. This will avoid opening a new dispute in the government on the acceptable settlement at such a level.

A draft PD along the above lines is at Tab H. It includes the following details on the above three proposals:

—1. Deferral. Total deferral of the Backfire and cruise missile issues.

—2. Reductions to 2000. ICBM freeze; across-the-board range limit of 1500 km on all cruise missiles; compromise settlement on Backfire acceptable (e.g. collateral constraints plus a Soviet production statement) but initially withheld.

—3. Fallback. At an aggregate level of 2200–2400, accept a Soviet production statement on Backfire if the Soviets are prepared to accept 1500–2000 km as the dividing line between tactical and strategic missiles; i.e., those cruise missiles above 1500–2000 km would not be limited in SALT, while limits on those above 1500–2000 km would be subject to negotiation in SALT THREE.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 55, SALT: Chronology: 1/24/77–3/24/77. Top Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information. All Tabs except Tab H are not attached; all Tabs are not printed.
  2. Brzezinski sent Carter a memorandum on March 14 summarizing discussions among Vance, Harold Brown, George Brown, Warnke, Turner, Aaron, and himself at a meeting beginning at 2 p.m. on March 12. The options presented to the President were the same as described here, but numbered differently. (Ibid.)
  3. See Document 153.
  4. Carter wrote in the margin, “SS 20 Tradeoff.”
  5. Carter wrote in the margin, “CMs on Backfire?”
  6. General Brown sent a memorandum on March 10 to Secretary of Defense Brown formally stating the JCS view that the Backfire had intercontinental capability and was therefore a heavy bomber and should be included in the aggregate of strategic nuclear delivery systems. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Agency File, Box 4, Defense Department: 3/77) Brzezinski summarized Brown’s memorandum for the President in an undated memorandum, which the President saw. (Ibid., Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 53, SALT: Chronology: 1/24/77)
  7. A copy of the paper is attached to a memorandum from Brzezinski to Vance and Harold Brown, February 2. (Ibid., Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 52, SALT: 1–2/77)