166. Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1

Soviet Views of the Strategic Implications of the US Moscow Proposals

From the Soviet perspective, the arms control proposals presented in Moscow in March left a lot to be desired.

—The comprehensive proposal appeared to be biased in favor of the US because it required immediate sacrifices in Soviet programs in return for future US sacrifices.

—The Vladivostok-based proposal did not resolve the cruise missile issue, and the Soviets are determined to constrain the US lead in this new area of strategic competition.

This memorandum examines Soviet perceptions of these proposals in terms of

—the general Soviet approach to strategic forces,

—the specific elements of the proposals.

General Soviet Approach to Strategic Forces

Soviet objectives for SALT—and for the strategic competition generally—do not parallel those of the US:

—Soviet military doctrine, applied to nuclear as well as conventional conflict, stresses deterrence through the ability to fight, survive, and win a war. Counterforce capabilities are central to this doctrine.

—Accordingly, the Soviets almost certainly do not share the purpose of the US proposal, to “achieve a greater measure of strategic sta [Page 711] bility through reductions in the potential vulnerability of fixed ICBMs on both sides.”

—Visible military power is important to the Soviets for its political as well as its military utility. Reduced levels of military strength, even if paralleled by US cuts, would be difficult for the Soviets.

—ICBMs are the backbone of the Soviet strategic force. They offer the Soviets the best combination of attributes necessary for war-fighting. Heavy ICBMs are seen by the Soviets as giving them a large advantage—both for their war-fighting utility and for their political and bargaining value.

—The proposed distribution of MIRVs among ICBMs and SLBMs runs counter to this priority and to Soviet planning. Programs for MIRVing the ICBM force are well advanced, whereas MIRVs are only now being introduced in the SLBM force.

—The Soviets are concerned about US technological breakthroughs that could quickly shift the strategic balance against them. They view the strategic cruise missile in this light.

More broadly, the primary Soviet objective in SALT is not to create a stable strategic relationship. Their thinking still runs in terms of advantage, however distant its attainment may appear.

This does not necessarily mean that the USSR will agree only to terms that clearly favor its interests one-sidedly. For the Soviets, SALT agreements also serve their political interest in fostering bilateral relations and détente.

In short, any agreements of substance between the USSR and US will probably have to be based not on shared objectives but on finding measures which serve the differing objectives of each.

Appraisal of the Comprehensive Proposal

Aggregate Limit of 1800–2000—A ceiling at this level might well be below what the Soviets consider necessary for an adequate force posture at this time. Over the past ten years they have expended considerable resources in building their strategic forces to the existing levels of about 2500 strategic delivery vehicles. Moreover, the Soviets would be forced to alter drastically their current strategic force plan. Under this ceiling the Soviets would, at a minimum, be required to dismantle 500 to 700 delivery vehicles, including some of their more modern ones—probably Y-class SSBNs and silo-based ICBMs such as the modernized SS–11. Reductions on this scale would certainly meet strong opposition by the defense establishment.

The Soviets have argued that the deeper the cut, the greater the relative importance of other weapon systems, not regulated by SALT, that can strike Soviet territory. They identify three classes of such systems:

US forward-based systems

US cruise missiles

—third-country forces (China, France, and the UK).

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The Soviets can partially compensate for third country threats with weapons of their own (such as the SS–X–20) which would not be restricted by SALT. Nevertheless, and despite the fact that they see bargaining utility in these arguments, we believe that, from the Soviet perspective, they also reflect concerns that militate against substantial reductions.

MIRV Limit of 1100–1200—The Soviets evidently considered a lower MIRV limit prior to the establishment of 1320 at Vladivostok in 1974. Because they are still in the early stages of their MIRV deployment program, these lower limits would have been seen as desirable, particularly if they constrained US MIRV programs more than their own.

Reduction of MLBMs to 150—The Soviets have 326 launchers for modern large ballistic missiles—including 18 SS–9s at the Tyuratam test range—completed or in the process of conversion—in their operational force. About 150 of these are for the SS–18. We estimate that they intend all 308 MLBMs at deployed complexes to be SS–18s—the key system for implementing their counterforce strategy. They are also aware of the bargaining value of this system. The US proposal doubtless appeared to them as a demand for an unrequited concession, or, at best, a major present concession for a future US one—abandonment of M–X.

Freeze deployment of MIRVed ICBMs at 550 (including 150 MLBMs)—The Soviets apparently plan to field about 900 of their new ICBMs, the majority of them MIRVed.2 A ceiling on deployment at 550 in combination with the MLBM limits would require drastic cutbacks in their ongoing ICBM programs. As compensation, they saw themselves offered only US future self-denial in further MIRVing of its ICBMs. In their eyes, the US is demanding that the USSR adopt the mix of ICBM and SLBM forces that the Americans have chosen for themselves, i.e., under a 1100–1200 MIRV limit, 550 ICBMs and the balance in SLBMs. One result—given the lag in Soviet SLBM MIRVing—would be to delay by several years Soviet attainment of the permitted MIRV ceilings.

Ban modifications to ICBMs, limit flight tests to six each for ICBMs and SLBMs, and prohibit testing and deployment of new ICBMs—Soviet practice has been to develop several variants of their missiles and to test all systems extensively. By 1980, the Soviets apparently plan to have deployed about 10 ICBM variants and half a dozen SLBM variants. Under the proposed flight test limit, the Soviets would be unable to test each [Page 713] of their existing missile variants even once a year, leading to loss of confidence in the systems and crew proficiency. In an implied admission of qualitative inferiority, Gromyko has said that a mutual ban on missile modernization would lock the USSR into a disadvantageous position.

Under the ban on new missiles, the Soviets would have to cancel several new systems now under development. In return, the US would abandon the M–X program, in itself a welcome development for the USSR but probably not of equivalent value when ranged against all of the concessions required of the USSR.

Ban mobile ICBMs—Subsequent to the Interim Agreement, the Soviets have indicated a willingness to ban land-mobile ICBMs. They have developed a mobile version of the SS–X–16 and apparently are keeping their deployment options open, at least pending the outcome of SALT negotiations.

Ban cruise missiles with ranges greater than 2500 km—The significant US qualitative advantage in cruise missile technology causes the Soviets extraordinary concern. If these systems are not constrained, they see the US as possibly gaining a significant strategic advantage in the 1980s. By proposing a simple restriction of 2500 km, regardless of basing mode, the current US proposal appeared to the Soviets to be a step backward from progress they thought had been achieved on cruise missile limitations.3

Collateral constraints on Backfire bombers—The Soviets doubtless welcomed this proposal as signifying an end to US efforts to count Backfires in the aggregate or establish side numerical limits on them. They have offered some assurances that Backfire would not be given an intercontinental capability and are probably willing to consider specific collateral constraints.

Appraisal of the Vladivostok-Based Proposal

The key to Soviet rejection of this proposal is almost certainly its failure to accommodate their concerns over US cruise missiles. The proposal in other respects, including token reductions in the aggregate ceiling, appears to suit Soviet interests. Their rejection, then, is a clear indication of the strength of their attitude on cruise missiles. Deferral of the question of Backfire—a system which they contend should not be [Page 714] included in SALT—does not in the Soviet view, compensate for an absence of cruise missile restrictions.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 55, SALT: Chronology: 3/25/77–5/9/77. Top Secret. This memorandum is unsigned and without attribution. Carter wrote “Zbig—excellent. J” at the top of the first page.
  2. This total is made up of about 600 SS–17s and SS–19s plus 308 SS–18s. Under the counting rules proposed by the US, all SS–17, –18, and –19 launchers would be counted under the MIRV ceilings, though we expect the Soviets to deploy some number of single-warhead missles. [Footnote is in the original.]
  3. During the post-Vladivostok negotiations, the sides tentatively agreed to ban intercontinental cruise missiles, to permit air-launched cruise missiles with ranges up to 2500 kms on heavy bombers (ALCMs), and to restrict cruise missiles on submarines (SLCMs) to ranges of 600 kms or less. Cruise missiles on surface ships (SLCMs) and ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) remained outstanding issues, with the Soviets wanting range restrictions to 600 kms or less and the US wanting limits of 2500 kms. [Footnote is in the original.]