155. Memorandum of Conversation of a Meeting of the National Security Council1


  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • Secretary of State Vance
  • Secretary of Defense Brown
  • Deputy Secretary of Defense Duncan
  • Paul Warnke, Director, ACDA
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • David Aaron, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Bert Lance, Director, OMB (Part time)
  • Stu Eizenstat, Assistant to the President
  • William G. Hyland, NSC Staff
  • General George Brown, Chairman, JCS
  • Admiral Stan Turner, Director, CIA

Brzezinski: Mr. President, I am distributing a draft Presidential Directive which was developed as a consequence of discussion in the NSC and the working group; it contains three options, reported as a basic framework, including another document on collateral constraints on Backfire, a second paper on four items that need to be discussed in any agreement.2

President: I am having lunch with the Joint Chiefs tomorrow to discuss the CTB, and we can follow up on this discussion as well.3 I believe this may be one of the most important meetings I will attend. If the Soviets are willing to negotiate in good faith, we can set the tone for years to come. The Soviets are attaching great importance to the visit of Secretary Vance and Paul Warnke. We have to face several important though tangential subjects: adequate verification—we will have to have Soviet good faith; second, in connection with circumvention, I agree that the Soviets are living up to the letter of the agreements, but my analysis shows that previous agreements allow the Soviets to pursue research and development; the agreements have been carefully [Page 674] worded so that they would not impede the building of a strong strategic force. Another important element is that we must maintain an overall balance in order for the American people and Congress to accept it. It has to be balanced. Up to now the negotiations have laid the ground work for continued competition; there have been no real limits up to now, and they are out competing us; they have 27 future systems; and because of tight constraints and public awareness of our own budgets, they can always out compete us. We have a credible position because of our technology: we are ahead in warheads, accuracy, ASW and aerial surveillance; and they are ahead in throw weight. I have spent some time looking at the globe from the Soviet view, and they would appear to be surrounded by enemies—China and Europe. We have no equivalent threat from Canada or Mexico. We have to picture our own proposals in that framework.

What I would like to do on this trip is to test the USSR interest in turning toward peaceful resolutions, and to see if they are prepared to negotiate in good faith. If they are not, then we have to come back and reassess the strategic arms race, which means continuing it with no end in sight. The Soviets have not violated the language of the agreements, but have made a maximum effort to evade and circumvent. That has to be kept in mind in Moscow and subsequently, to be sure that there are no loopholes. We have a bold and comprehensive proposal, and if they agree it means a basic opportunity for progress. The intent of our two basic approaches is clear: we want to reach an agreement. If there appear to be disadvantages to one side, we can try to resolve them. We must remember that what we decide is binding on our country, even if details are left to be negotiated.

We have two approaches: a comprehensive reduction to about 2000, and a resolution of Backfire and cruise missiles; and a deferral of backfire and cruise missiles, in effect ratifying Vladivostok. We can’t cover all eventualities, but Cy Vance can say something about each.

President: (Reads sentences from text of draft PD)

There is one question about the M–X; if we have a higher degree of accuracy, the way I understand it, if we had a missile so accurate that it could impact directly right on the silo, we would still not be invulnerable—and it would be so expensive and still with no security—we could have a massive launch and then they would launch.

Harold Brown: I doubt that they could have this capability now, but 8–10 years from now they could launch without warning.

President: We have no capability to launch an attack before they could launch enough weapons to wipe out our cities; we might get one, but this would be expensive and not be a quantum leap; they would still have submarine-launched missiles, and we would have peripheral systems.

[Page 675]

Harold Brown: Both are left open to attacks.

President: (Continues reading from PD) On the MIRV level, we are saying that it is not mandatory but desirable? If we were writing an agreement from scratch, I would not favor them having 300–308 heavy missiles, giving them this unilateral advantage, but now we are saying that they can convert up to one half to SS–18s; in effect, a freeze at present levels; this also perpetuates their advantage.

Brzezinski: We could say it is not mandatory, but this is for your determination, but MIRV levels in this proposal would go down.

President: So we have two proposals (on levels and on MIRVs), and they are not necessarily tied, but in these proposals the two go together.

Harold Brown: We need to make a distinction between where we go into the negotiations and where we come out. This is a negotiating question.

President: My concept of these proposals is that it is where we go in. We should adhere to it, so that where we go in we also come out. Of course, we can’t write Russian responses.

Harold Brown: But we should know how much leeway we want.

President: Yes, I agree.

Harold Brown: Specifically, what about the rest of the SS–9s?

Vance: They end up with only 150.

Harold Brown: But they have 308; so we are saying all SS–9s not converted are eliminated.

Brzezinski: Yes, we are cutting them by one half.

Vance: So I start with 2000 and 1200; this is on the table, and say this is part of a package.

President: Yes, they reduce by one half, which they haven’t agreed to. (Continues reading from text, including part on number of missile tests)

Harold Brown: I understand that this number is not staffed.

President: But they test 25–30 per year.

Brzezinski: Would it make sense to say 12 tests?

We are putting our systems on the line the same as they will.

George Brown: If we give them 12 tests, they will use all of them to improve accuracy—ratio of 6 is better; the words in this paper are what we would want.

President: (continues reading sentences on ban on deployment, development, etc.) The whole concept contains two components: (1) reductions; (2) freeze on development, deployment and testing of systems. I think it is to our advantage, but not to their disadvantage. (continues reading “mobile missiles”) I understand the JCS have ex [Page 676] pressed their concern about this. The Soviet have—correct me—the SS–20 under development; its range is as high as 2500–3000 miles; they are beginning to deploy; there are doubts about the range, some say 2900 miles; they are deploying on the Chinese border and in the western part of the Soviet Union. By adding one more stage it becomes the SS–16, [less than 1 line not declassified] We have no mobile except for the M–X, which we are not deploying until 1985. If we are sure we can identify the 16, I am willing to trade off deploying mobiles. Cy should raise the SS–20. [2 lines not declassified]

Admiral Turner: [less than 1 line not declassified]

President: This would gradually change the balance. If we agree on what this means (inclusion of SS–20 in the talks), then FBS may come up. We previously agreed in past exchanges that FBS was to our advantage, but I am not convinced; the Soviets have 600–700 launchers and bombers that can strike harder than what we have even if you include the British and French; all our systems can’t reach Moscow. We probably can’t avoid discussion of FBS, at least in SALT III.

Vance: But not in SALT II.

President: No, not in SALT II. Brezhnev said that excluding FBS was doing us a favor in a response to us. He said if we’d go back on cruise missiles, they can go back on FBS.

President: (continues reading text) The Soviet side freezes their SS–17, 18 and 19s that are operational or under construction at the time of the agreement, but in no case more than 550; we forego improvement on Minute Man and they forego deployment and further development of the SS–16, [4 lines not declassified]

Brzezinski: You raised the question of the number of 17s, 18s, 19s; we propose allowing up to 550 or under, but in any case frozen at 550.

President: How many do they have?

Paul Warnke: 374.

Brown: Below 550, that is.

President: Including the largest missiles?

Brown: Yes.

President: Including SS–9s?

Harold Brown: No, the 9s are not in the 550; they would have to destroy the remainder but they could keep the SS–11s within the total aggregate, but there is a new problem because CIA thinks the silos may be deep enough for the 19s.

Brzezinski: We could say that the freeze should be at the level of no more than 550, “at a level not in excess of 550”.

Brown: This may be ambiguous if they don’t have that many.

[Page 677]

Brzezinski: We should decide what we mean, whether freeze at 370 or at 550.

Brown: Presumably at whichever is higher.

David Aaron: We should not tie it to the date of signature because they might go up to get there.

Brzezinski: No, we are freezing at 550.

President: What is wrong with the language we have?

Brzezinski: They might be at 400 but we are permitting 550.

Vice President: Say one or the other, whichever is higher?

President: That is provided they reduce their large missiles.

Brown: They could add 17, 18, 19, to bring it up to 550.

President: It is better to tie it together.

Brzezinski: It would state that the number of SS–17s, 18s, 19s would be frozen at a level not in excess of 550, with the SS–18 component not in excess of 150.

President: On cruise missiles, as I understand it, we have the capability to deploy them as early as 1978. All of this concerns Brezhnev, as Dobrynin said. We have a 5–6 year lead time, and an advantage in range and accuracy. But they have larger numbers of short range ones up to 600 km, and our population is located along the coasts, so that 600 km is equivalent to 1500–2500 km for us.

General Brown: I recall you put in a figure of 300 km, but he then withdrew it.

Harold Brown: We talked about it, and it is not totally unreasonable.

President: (Continues reading: “Finally, ban cruise missiles above . . .”) If we receive a favorable response, we can consider the Soviet position on the Backfire, but not make a proposal.

Vance: What does this mean? Would we say something on constraints?

Brzezinski: They have said they will give an assurance, and we could respond on constraints.

Vance: I don’t understand what lattitude we have.

Brzezinski: That is an issue.

Vance: I would put a bracket around the last part (not to make any proposal).

President: Presumably we would not be the ones to make a proposal, they would. What bothers me is not the range of the Backfire now, but if they have 450 and arm it with a 2500 km cruise missile, it would completely distort the balance. We can put in 300–600 air-launched, but that is not strategic, and constraints on bases in Arctic, or [Page 678] on refuelling tankers, or appendages on the bomber for refuelling. This is difficult to verify. I am not as deeply concerned as the JCS as far as the present capabilities are concerned. But if they can base it, and refuel it, and put on a long range cruise missile, then they should put in writing what they won’t do, and I would require an assessment if they can conceal upgrading.

Vance: I understand this to mean we can consider their position, that is the Soviet position, with constraints.

Harold Brown: I don’t have much confidence in constraints. I think it would be sensible to limit them [Backfires] at 120, but since we are only limiting cruise missiles at 2500 km, but because this serves a real need, I am worried if because of Backfire . . .

President: I see 2500 km cruise missile as an adequate counter-measure. We could deploy cruise missiles much faster than they could build Backfire. We can put out 1000 cruise missiles in Europe, if they say 1500–2000 km, we ought to be tougher on Backfire. If so, we would then judge Backfire as a future threat, so we would put in one phrase: “provided in no instance would Backfire be deployed as a strategic weapon,” and not based in the Arctic, or refuelling, or have long range cruise missiles.

Brown: Yes, we agree that no long range cruise missiles can be deployed on aircraft other than strategic bombers.

Brzezinski: So we add the phrase “provided in no instance . . .”

President: General Brown, did you have a question?

General Brown: No, I have read ahead and I see the balance in the proposal. As for the ban on M–X, it violates the older principle of freedom to mix, and may deprive us of leverage for the next round.

President: I want to say that we are wiping the slate clean of the packages Kissinger put forward. They are all gone. This is our package, and it is well balanced. They can’t take one item and accept it, as they did before.

Harold Brown: They will try to, but in this case it is harder to do. I share the concern about giving up M–X; it is a valuable card; but we can’t leave it out because this is a tightly knit narrative.

General Brown: This involves a difficulty because of the SS–20 and 16; development makes it impossible to sort out. We worry that this puts a premium on cheating.

Harold Brown: But the proposal does say there will be arrangements on 20 and 16.

General Brown: One other point is that I think Cy should push for on-site inspection; this is imperative, because the situation is not even-handed. We are an open society and theirs is closed.

[Page 679]

President: I agree with that. But if we had all M–X substituted for MM, and they had all 16s, I don’t see how that would change; it would still be a standoff.

Harold Brown: They say mobility leads to stability.

President: Well, if they had mobile SS–18s maybe, but if we had M–X and they attack, we still could launch, and this would even be giving an advantage to a second strike, because I would rather have them firing at Dakota than landing in New York.

Harold Brown: This is true, but this puts us on a hair trigger; if we have bombers, that is the safety valve.

President: True, but giving up the M–X is what the military is concerned about (continues reading: sentences on B–1, Trident, etc.)

Harold Brown: If they come back on this we also say freeze Backfire.

President: My guess is that they will say they can’t discuss it.

Brzezinski: And we have civil defense ban in here.

President: That goes in the package. Shelters we can monitor; the Intelligence Community is doing a study on Kiev. If they agree we can say we have that as a working goal.

Vance: I don’t understand, that it is “not part of the package.” Should be talk about it on the side, or as part of this proposal?

Brzezinski: It means that we will include it as part of this package.

Vance: I’m afraid of overloading.

Aaron: I don’t know what it means; do we mean shelters only?

Harold Brown: We are concerned here about exercises. Our concern is not only about shelters, but about exercise capabilities.

President: What bothers me is the conclusion by proponents to mean that they intend to launch first, to preempt.

Vance: It seems to me that we want a side discussion, leading to a supplementary agreement.

Brzezinski: We could state that it is not necessarily part of this package.

Vance: Just say “not” part of this package.

Brzezinski: Alright, while not part of this package . . .

Vance: They will understand that we want to discuss it.

President: Dobrynin said they would talk about it.

President: (Continues reading. “Alternatively” para. 2)

Vance: (Referring to separate paper) Are sub-issues to be put aside, or are some not necessary?

Harold Brown: On MIRV verification, if this is not in there is no meaning to the agreement.

[Page 680]

Vance: MIRV verification must be in.

President: They agree to a missile if tested as a MIRV is a MIRV, but we don’t know about their launchers.

Brown: They have not agreed on the launcher “type” rule. They did agree to designate certain ICBM fields as MIRVed ones, but they always come back and say this is tied to cruise missiles.

Vance: We can say we can work it out.

President: On the data base, it is a good idea to have an exchange of inventories; this would demonstrate Soviet good faith.

Vance: What about non circumvention and non transfer. They will raise it.

President: They are afraid of what we will give the British.

Harold Brown: And deliberate concealment?

President: Yes, on telemetry, is what they are doing a violation?

Brown: No.

President: [1½ lines not declassified]

Turner: [less than 1 line not declassified]

President: Do we encrypt telemetry?

General Brown: No, but we reduce power of signals.

Vance: We say here are all the remaining issues; do we mean this is all?

President: Including everything already on the table.

Aaron: There are other issues raised in Geneva, but these are the most important; telemetry encryption is most important to the first option.

President: It should apply to all three: first, second and third options.

Harold Brown: Dave Aaron is right on the importance of testing in the first option.

Brzezinski: This is an extremely sensitive subject, very few in the government know about telemetry encryption.

President: (Continues reading sentences: “Third item—option”) We might discuss a 2000 km option (continues reading)

Warnke: Is this a variant on deferral.

President: What I have in mind is to use the lesser range on the cruise missiles as a trade off against the Backfire, but we won’t put that in writing.

Warnke: If this is a variant on deferral, then . . .

President: Yes, a swap of lesser cruise missile ranges.

Warnke: We could have a 2500 limit at this time, but leave open lower limit for later stage.

[Page 681]

Brzezinski: We had in mind 2000 km; we could change about to “something up to . . .

President: In the future say: if you came below (on Backfire), we come below on . . .

Brzezinski: It’s a question of going down to a 2000 minimum range.

Brown: If you say less than, then Soviets will say lower number.

President: Say something less . . .

Aaron: Put in 2000–2500.

Vance: I understand it, let’s leave it that if they put limit on Backfire, I’ll bring it down to 2000.

General Brown: Limit Backfire and count them?

Vance: Limit outside the aggregate.

General Brown: Is that what this means? Limit outside?

President: Yes, a limit outside of the total. We are not taking away anything crucial at 2000 km.

Harold Brown: I’d argue about that later, it’s subject to study.

President: Do we need to say “in any case” or just begin with “all cruise missiles . . .”?

Brzezinski: Are you deciding that this third item is for introduction in Moscow?

President: Yes, for Moscow.

Vance: But I come back to you [the President] first.

President: Yes.

Vance: We give the other [options] a chance; if they are serious they will go for number one; if they are not serious, then maybe one of the others.

Brown: This last is a variant of deferral.

Vance: We do not do that until we are walking out on the last day.

President: (Continues reading)

Brzezinski: Drop paragraph five?

President: Yes, (finishes reading). Are there any concerns you want to raise?

Vance: Are we agreed in option number one on how to handle MIRVs.

Harold Brown: Freeze at 550 on land and the rest in submarines.

Vance: I have a problem, where we say freeze in strategic systems, but they have not deployed submarine launched.

President: How many land-based MIRVs?

Brown: 350.

[Page 682]

President: Defined as . . .

Harold Brown: By type all will be on land.

Warnke: 550 means that they cannot go to 918 land-based; can’t change from sea to land.

President: We are forcing them to go to sea.

Harold Brown: What is unique is that we are not proposing an SLBM freeze. If they say no Trident, then that denies you (the Soviets) your SLBM MIRV.

Brzezinski: If they do buy this [option 1] we may have to have an extension on the Interim Agreement, it will take time to negotiate it.

President: If they had plugged the holes this would not be bad . . .

Brzezinski: But if we get an agreement, then the political atmosphere would allow extension.

Warnke: I would not be too negative on Option three, because three may be preferable to an extension of the Interim Agreement. If they buy two, then number one may be gone.

Brzezinski: They may prefer three and continue talking about number one. This is tied in paragraph four.

Brown: Why wouldn’t they settle on deferral and then talk about one; I would ask them what kind of cuts, small or deep.

Warnke: I prefer three to two.

Harold Brown: But both put us back in negotiations over cruise missiles.

Brzezinski: The case for Option I is a political one; we need to convince the Soviets that it gives us a new basis for Soviet-American relations, for a more stable relationship; it is more challenging, but if they buy it, we are on the way to an historically more important change.

Warnke: And if they don’t agree?

Brown: It may take more time to negotiate number three than one; as soon as we start talking about three, we carry over baggage of previous negotiations.

Vance: We all agree number one is preferable, and we should do our damndest to sell it.

President: They may be stubborn.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

Brzezinski: On the SS–18s, we take the position that they can have a number not in excess of 550, with the SS–18 component not higher than 150.

Turner: Our ability to verify what is in a launcher is difficult, and also distinguishing between SS–20s and 16s.

President: We would want, first, on-site inspection, and, second, some arrangements to help distinguish; what can we tell on the size of those shacks at the SS–20; can we tell within 6 feet?

[Page 683]

Turner: [less than 1 line not declassified]

Harold Brown: We have seen the launch site, and they use the same transport and erector launcher (TEL) for both the SS–16 and 20.

Aaron: No, we have never seen the SS–16 launcher.

Turner: But we have seen the TEL for the SS–20.

President: This problem is their responsibility; we may wish to go for on-site inspection; this is a possibility. I was talking with Callaghan and Genscher, no it was Brandt; they both think the Soviets want an agreement. I don’t know.

Vance: Brandt and Bahr conclude that the Soviets want an agreement.

Harold Brown: I think so too.

President: Since we come forward with Option I it is obvious that we want an agreement.

Vance: If they truly believe in parity then they will move toward number one.

Brzezinski: This goes further than parity, it moves toward stability.

President: But with one exception, that is our ability to rapidly deploy cruise missiles.

Brzezinski: That is why in the long run it may be in the mutual interest not to deploy long range cruise missiles.

Harold Brown: Not necessarily; it may be in the long run; but this proposal is fair, there is no unilateral advantage.

President: What happens if they say OK, if your cruise missiles are included in a freeze on development and testing.

Harold Brown: Then we say only if you eliminate your throw weight advantage.

Brzezinski: We are already saying freeze your SS–18s.

Harold Brown: Yes, that’s true.

Vance: In the period 1980–85, we will still have an advantage in warheads and reduce throw weight disadvantage; we have 7500 RVs, and they have 6400; they have a 2 to 1 advantage in throw weight under Option one.

Harold Brown: In total throw weight? or land-based missiles?

Vance: Overall throw weight.

Brown: You’re including Poseidon and Trident then.

President: I think we can sell Option number one to the Congress and to the American people; they can understand it. (Brief discussion on Vance meeting with the Foreign Relations Committee.)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 55, SALT: Chronology: 1/24/77–3/24/77. Secret; Sensitive. All brackets, except those inserted by the editor to indicate omissions, are in the original. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room of the White House.
  2. The draft Presidential Directive was attached. For the Presidential Directive as approved, see Document 156. The second paper was not found.
  3. The President held a luncheon meeting with the Chiefs on March 23. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials, President’s Daily Diary) No other record of this meeting has been found.