178. Memorandum for the Record1


  • National Security Council Meeting


  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • Secretary of State Cyrus Vance
  • Secretary of Defense Harold Brown
  • Director of Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Paul Warnke
  • Director of Central Intelligence Agency Admiral Stansfield Turner
  • Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff General George S. Brown
  • Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Zbigniew Brzezinski
  • Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs David Aaron
  • NSC Staff Member William G. Hyland

Summary and Conclusions

The morning session was entirely devoted to a discussion of alternatives to the current US position on ALCM and MIRV limits.2 Three alternatives were discussed: (1) an option that would include reductions to 2160 in the aggregate, an overall MIRV ceiling of 1200, and a combined subceiling of ICBM MIRVs and ALCM-carrying heavy bombers at 700–800; (2) an alternative that would set a subceiling on MIRVed ICBMs at about 700; (3) an alternative that would set a MIRV ceiling at 1100–1200 and include a subceiling on heavy missiles.

Each of the participants was asked by the President for views on the relative merits of each option and an order of preference.3 There was a general agreement that the strategic differences among options were not significant for either US or Soviet programs, but that there would be differing impacts on the negotiating process and their accept [Page 754] ance in the Congress. The President indicated he believed that each option would probably be generally acceptable but wished to continue the discussion in the evening.

After the discussions resumed, the President indicated that we should present one or two alternatives to Ambassador Dobrynin prior to Gromyko’s arrival in order to familiarize the Soviets with our thinking and especially with our concerns. He also indicated that while we wanted to understand Soviet concerns, we could not simply advance new variations each time the Soviets rebuffed our proposals. After further discussion of the order of presentation to the Soviets, some other variations were presented and discussed. They were (1) an alternative that would include reductions to 2160, to a MIRV level of 1200, and establish an equal numerical limit on both Soviet heavy MIRVed missiles and, separately, on US ALCM carrying bombers, with the aim of agreeing on a number between 200–300; (2) an alternative that would also include reductions to 2160, a ceiling on land-based MIRVs at 800, a subceiling on heavy MIRVed missiles at 220, and for US ALCM-carrying heavy bombers at 250; and (3) reductions to 2160, a combined ceiling for MIRVed missiles and ALCM-carrying heavy bombers of 1320, with a subceiling for MIRVed missiles of no more than 1100, and subceiling of 220 for heavy MIRVed missiles and 220 for ALCM-carrying heavy bombers. After further discussions of these alternatives, it was agreed they all would be acceptable as outcomes.

The President indicated that Secretary Vance and Paul Warnke could discuss the first two positions with Ambassador Dobrynin to determine Soviet reaction, but that the third option would be kept in reserve. All three would be analyzed. The President would consider how to proceed on the basis of the first meetings between Secretary Vance and Gromyko.

Cruise Missile Definitions

There was a discussion of the definition of cruise missiles as only “nuclear armed” or simply “armed”. The problems of verifying a difference between a conventionally armed cruise missile and a nuclear armed one was discussed. It was agreed not to make a final agreement on a definition for SALT purposes. Conventionally armed SLCMs and GLCMs would not be deployed during the three year protocol but the issue would be open; no differentiation would be made between conventionally armed and nuclear armed ALCMs over 600 km for the three year protocol.

Bomber Variants

There was a discussion of the problem of how to count those Soviet tankers and reconnaissance ASW aircraft which could be converted to bombers. It was agreed that we could propose counting only 60 in the [Page 755] aggregate of 2160 and if the Soviets objected to raise the level to 2220. The President noted it was not a major issue.


The President asked where we stood. There was a brief discussion to the effect that the Soviets owed us an answer.

  1. Source: Carter Library, NSC Institutional Files, Box 55, NSC 7, SALT, 9/6/77. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room.
  2. Minutes of the morning session are ibid. No minutes for the evening session have been found.
  3. In a September 23 memorandum to Harold Brown, numbered CM 1631–77, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman George Brown stated that it was his understanding that “the President fully understood the JCS view that the United States should take no new initiative in SALT,” but if that was unacceptable, then the JCS could support package 1. The NSC agreed upon a negotiating ladder on which the JCS was not given time to comment. General Brown stated that he accepted that “the decision was taken with full knowledge of the JCS views presented at the NSC meeting,” but he attached a detailed analysis of the three options which he hoped would be of value in future SALT negotiations. (Ibid., National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 56, SALT: Chronology: 10/6/77–11/22/77)