177. Memorandum From Vice President Mondale to President Carter1


  • Our SALT Position

You will have received from Zbig the results of the Special Coordination Committee’s discussion of our options for repackaging our current SALT position in a manner that might be more negotiable with the Soviets.2 Briefly, the two SCC options are:

—Option 1, which would change our proposed sub-limit of 190 on heavy missiles into a combined sub-limit on all ICBM MIRVs at the level of about 700.

—Option 3–B, which would establish a sub-limit of 700–800 on ICBM MIRVs together with bombers carrying ALCMs.

The main feature of both of these proposals is to get around the strong Soviet objection to singling out heavy ICBMs with MIRVs for a specific and additional limitation. Option 3–B would also help meet Soviet insistence for placing bombers with ALCMs under some kind of a MIRV limit.

Option 1 would be an achievement but difficult to negotiate. Option 3–B has strong support from Cy and Paul. However, there are serious reservations in Defense. My personal view is that this formula would create difficult political problems, not only because it artificially treats bombers with long-range ALCMs the same as ICBMs with MIRVs but because it lacks the perception of equality.

While the formula allows both sides the same number of “heavy bomber ALCM/ICBM MIRVs”, the result would not be equal. Our ICBM MIRVs would be limited to less than 550 while the Soviets would get 700–800. The formula would limit our first-line bombers but place no real limits on new Soviet bombers. The reason is that our future bombers will have to be equipped with ALCMs in order to go against Soviet air defenses. They will then count under this formula. New Soviet bombers (which we see under development) will not need ALCMs since we have no air defenses and will not be limited by this formula.

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Thus, I believe the agreement will be seen as one-sided: permitting the Soviets a large number of ICBM MIRVs and large potential bomber forces while tightly constraining both our ICBM MIRVs and the kind of bomber forces we will need to have in the future. As a result, I believe we would run into real difficulties in Congress. We would find it extremely difficult to explain why this formula is in our interest or how it is equal. I recommend against it.

I believe, however, there is an alternative developed within the NSC staff, which has the virtue of simplicity and of being based squarely on our current position.

Much the same effect as Option 1 and 3–B on the Soviets could be achieved by dropping these proposed subceilings on ICBM MIRVs and simply sticking to our present proposal for an overall reduction in the Vladivostok MIRV ceiling from 1320 to 1200.

Before 1983 the Soviets will have to choose between SLBMs and ICBMs with MIRVs. They have a very large investment in new facilities for the production of what appear to be SLBM MIRVs. It is our estimate that the Soviets are headed towards an SLBM MIRV program of about 400. Under a 1200 MIRV ceiling, that would mean their MIRV ICBM program would have to stop at approximately 800. Similarly, Option 1 and Option 3–B would in the end give the Soviets about 800 to 750 ICBMs with MIRVs as compared to the 918 we now project they will attempt to build.

It is of course conceivable that the Soviets would continue to deploy ICBM MIRVs and limit their SLBM program instead. However, it is the judgment of the CIA that this is unlikely.

This approach has the virtue of being simple and emphasizing reductions. It sets some restraints on the Soviets and opens the way for further restraint if we negotiate more reductions but without linking it to our bombers with ALCMs. A 1200 ceiling would also restrain us beginning in 1983 with the launching of the 7th Trident boat. At that time we would have to begin trading in either ICBMs with MIRVs or older Poseidon launchers.

In short, my recommendation is that we make an offer to drop our proposal for limits on heavy missiles if the Soviets accept the 1200 MIRV ceiling (or even better 1100) to take effect, for example, within three years. This would also be conditioned on the Soviets dropping their proposal to count heavy bombers with ALCMs as MIRVs. We would stick with our proposal of a separate limit of 250 on heavy bombers carrying ALCMs.

The SALT Working Group is proceeding with a systematic analysis of this approach.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 52, SALT: 7–9/77. Secret. Sent for information. The memorandum was not initialed by Mondale, but Carter wrote “Fritz—Sounds good pending detailed analysis—Simplicity is a major attraction for me. J” at the top of the first page.
  2. Document 176.