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


  • SALT

Though we are some distance from a SALT II agreement, we are already well into what amounts to a spreading ratification debate, with a vigorous opposition campaign developing based on leaks and a mix of misunderstandings and apprehensions.2 This memorandum:

—reviews where we stand in the SALT negotiations;

—gives a general comparative evaluation of the emerging agreement; and

—delineates and addresses the major criticisms that have been made against the agreement thus far.

I. Where We Stand in the Negotiations

The charts at Tab A3 are a comprehensive update of U.S. and Soviet positions on the major elements of the Treaty, Protocol, and Principles.

On the issues that have not yet been put into the Geneva forum:

—We are still at 2160 vs 2250 for the overall aggregate and 1200 vs 1250 for the MIRVed missile ceiling.

—On Backfire, the Soviets have not moved on giving us specific figures/commitments on production rate, upgrading, refueling, and assumptions for their range calculations.

On the issues recently put into the Geneva forum, the following developments have taken place:

—While agreeing to count all launchers at D&P as MIRVed, the Soviets still claim that the launchers at D&P are of two different types. A launcher type rule which does not set the precedent of classifying all of the launchers at D&P as the same type is virtually useless.

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—The Soviets are opposing our heavy bomber definition which in effect permits the deployment of cruise missiles over 600 km on transport aircraft so long as they are counted as heavy bombers.

—The Soviets’ definition of “new types” of missiles is much less stringent than ours. They are vigorously opposed to limits on the “modernization” of existing (i.e., SS–17/18/19) systems while we have essentially proposed a ban on all hardware changes for existing missiles. This is a crunch issue directly related to the question of whether SALT II will do anything to enhance the prospects for Minuteman survivability—a major Congressional concern.

—The Soviets have challenged the idea of limiting all cruise missiles on aircraft other than heavy bombers through the Protocol period and only nuclear-armed cruise missiles on such aircraft thereafter.

In a very positive and important development, the Soviets yesterday basically accepted our Protocol position on cruise missile range limits. This will permit the testing of Tomahawk to 2500 km from heavy bombers and to 600 km from sea- and ground-based launchers. Our ability to thus continue the Tomahawk development program will be a major help in selling the cruise missile limits both to the Congress and our Allies. In addition, the Soviet SALT Delegation has indicated that they are prepared to negotiate the aggregate and MIRV level limits in Geneva.

II. General Evaluation

In evaluating the merits of the emerging agreement insofar as its impact on strategic forces, the basic issues are:

—Comparison between US and Soviet forces and measures of strategic capability under the agreement.

—Comparison between forces under the agreement and projected 1985 forces in the “no-SALT” case.

While there is some interest in comparing the emerging agreement with earlier negotiating positions (Vladivostok, February 1976, the Comprehensive March 1977 proposal, etc.), the acceptability of the agreement will eventually be much more dependent on the comparisons described above.

At Tab B4 is a set of force tables which provides the desired comparisons. While these tables are complicated, they represent the level of detail at which the arguments on these issues will be made. The tables reveal the following features of the emerging agreement:

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US Versus Soviet Forces Under the Agreement

—The US has a number of reasonable alternatives (four are shown) for dealing with the 1320 limit on MIRVed missiles and ALCM-carrying heavy bombers.

—The US will retain a significant advantage in numbers of strategic weapons (12,000–14,000 for the US in 1985 versus about 8500 for the Soviets). Missile RV numbers on the two sides will be about equal (about 8000).

—The Soviet Union will maintain a significant advantage in missile throw weight (12 million pounds versus over 4 million pounds for the US). However, when bomber throw weight is included, the differential narrows to 3–4 million pounds.

—The US cannot reach an aggregate of 2160 operational delivery vehicles without maintaining the Polaris SSBNs on operational status.

Comparison with the “No-SALT” Case (Based on “moderate best estimates”)

—The Soviet Union will have to dismantle over 600 delivery vehicles compared to the No-SALT case while the US will have to dismantle between 86 and 114 vehicles depending on how forces are distributed within the 1320 limit.

—The Soviets will also have to forego building an additional 150–190 delivery vehicles while the US would not build 24 Trident SLBMs and 20–33 heavy bombers with cruise missiles compared to the No-SALT case.

—The Soviet MIRV level will be 750 below the “No-SALT” level while the difference in the US MIRV level would be at most about 250 missiles (100 Minuteman III and 24 Trident which we would deploy plus additional Minuteman III and Poseidons).

—The Soviet missile RV level will be reduced by 2000–2500. In contrast, the impact on the US is about 500 RVs and possibly a few hundred bomber weapons.

Beyond the issue of static measures, there is also the issue of the impact of the agreement, in particular the Protocol, on development programs. The agreement will have no impact on US missile programs (M–X and Trident I) or the US ALCM development program. There will be restrictions on SLCM and GLCM testing to beyond 600 km but no real impact on the development program as long as Tomahawk can be tested from heavy bombers. In contrast, the Protocol will clearly delay testing of at least several of the new Soviet ICBMs as well as possibly the Typhoon SLBM.

As you are aware, it is difficult to predict what impact the collapse of SALT would have on US and Soviet force levels. Although the forces shown in the “No-SALT” case are our current “best estimates” under [Page 791] the assumption that neither side escalates the production of strategic weapons, they should clearly be recognized as “estimates”.

III. Criticisms and Responses

The principal public critics of the emerging agreement have been Senator Jackson, Paul Nitze, and the Wall Street Journal. As you know, the JCS have expressed some concern about certain provisions of the agreement (Backfire, etc.), although we anticipate that on balance they will support the agreement. The material which follows summarizes the major criticisms of the agreement and outlines appropriate responses.

The US made too many concessions, in particular as compared to the March proposal. This criticism will focus on our negotiating ability, not the agreement itself. The response:

—The agreement should be evaluated on its merits, not on how we got there.

—We believe our tactics in taking the high ground in March helped us to get the agreement we now have achieved.

—We have not abandoned the goals of the March proposal; some were achieved in the Treaty, the others are reflected in the Protocol, and Principles.

We have conceded the Soviets a permanent throw weight advantage in their heavy ICBM force. This criticism may also tie the Soviet heavy ICBM advantage to the Minuteman survivability issue. The response:

—We agreed to let the Soviets keep their heavy ICBMs in SALT TWO since this had essentially been agreed at Vladivostok.

—In spite of its throw weight, the SS–18 has only marginally better military capability than the SS–19. In this context, we thought that a limit on MIRVed ICBMs would be as good as a limit on heavy missiles.

—We are past the point where a limit on heavy missiles would impact on Minuteman survivability; this was true even of the 150 limit in our March proposal.

—Under the limits agreed so far, we could, if we desired, deploy heavy mobile ICBMs or heavy SLBMs to redress the throw weight disadvantage.

The agreement does nothing for Minuteman survivability. This argument should focus on the issue of restricting accuracy improvements. The response:

—It is extremely difficult to limit missile accuracy. Our proposal for a ban on new types of ICBMs should slow down the rate at which the Soviets improve their ICBM accuracy if we can ban hardware improvements. However, even this would only be a first step and further more restrictive measures, including testing limitations, would have to [Page 792] be agreed in SALT III to assure a significant impact on Minuteman survivability.

—Vladivostok would have done nothing for Minuteman survivability.

The SLCM and GLCM range limits are too restrictive. This criticism is likely to be tied to Allied interest in such cruise missiles. The response:

—We have essentially set aside the issue of SLCM and GLCM limits for negotiation in SALT II. The Protocol limits on SLCMs and GLCMs will not prejudice our position on these issues in SALT III.

—We had not planned to deploy SLCMs and GLCMs during the period of the Protocol.

—Because we will be testing the Tomahawk from heavy bombers, there will be significant limits on the SLCM/GLCM development program.

The ALCM range limit of 2500 km is too low. The concern will be the extension of this limit beyond 1980. The response:

—We have only agreed to this limit for the period of the Protocol. The limit for the period after the Protocol is a subject for future negotiations.

—A 2500 km ALCM range would provide adequate target coverage through 1985 under conservative projections of air defense improvements.

—While 2500 km standoff ALCMs cannot quite cover all targets in the Soviet Union, the combined coverage of the ALCMs and the penetrating bombers does achieve that coverage.

—We will be seeking air defense constraints in SALT III which could impact favorably on this issue.

Backfire should be counted as a heavy bomber. There may be criticism of the Soviet unilateral statement when it is negotiated. The response:

—The Soviet unilateral statement will freeze the Backfire production rate and impose further constraints on Backfire improvements, training, and refueling.

—The freeze in the production rate will result in a Backfire force 140 less than our previous best estimate of the 1985 Backfire force level.

The cruise missile limitations are unverifiable. This criticism will probably focus on the range limits. The response:

—Cruise missile limitations admittedly raise difficult verification problems, though more in some areas (e.g., conventional vs nuclear armed and range) than in others (e.g., the number of aircraft equipped with cruise missiles).

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—Today we are confident in our intelligence on current Soviet cruise missile developments and technology. If the Soviets maintain their current cruise missile test and deployment practices, this confidence should be maintained.

—We are looking at the possibility of alternative approaches to help cruise missile verification (such as the type rules which enhance MIRV verification).

—As with other verification elements, the Soviets would have to consider the consequences of violation. We have high confidence in being able to identify violations on a scale which would be strategically significant.

Mobile ICBMs should be permitted since there is so little chance of saving Minuteman. Nitze, in particular, is adamant on this issue. The response:

—The ban on mobile ICBMs is only for the period of the Protocol and will have no impact on the US M–X mobile ICBM development program. In the interim, we have halted the Soviet mobile ICBM program.

—If in fact, we can do nothing in SALT Three to enhance Minuteman survivability, then we will weigh the various strategic alternatives including deployment of mobile ICBMs.

—Permitting deployment of mobile ICBMs would open a new avenue in the strategic arms race and cause serious arms control verification problems. We have essentially deferred that important decision.

IV. Conclusion

I would stress two issues which, depending on how we get our message across, may have more to do with support for the emerging agreement than the debate on this or that specific. (If the issue is, in fact, joined at the concrete and technical level, then we will win handily because the numbers and provisions that are emerging are, in fact, good and readily defensible.)

First, the most dangerous dimension of the current campaign of criticism—and, in fact, the engine which powers so much of the anxiety and attacks—is the argument that we were forced to make concession after concession and gave up far more than we got. The Moscow proposal is generally held up as the measure of how far we have collapsed.5 For much of the public and many on the Hill, this is the level at which they evaluate what has been done—not the specifics of the agreement. Those making the argument can draw on the very deep [Page 794] -rooted public suspicion of Soviet aims and actions, and endemic fears that they will somehow successfully connive to get the best of us.

We should hit this concessions/competence argument very hard along these lines: The Moscow proposal was designed to push the Soviets off the Vladivostok proposal (which the United States had accepted) toward a more comprehensive and effective arms control agreement. It put terrific pressure on the Soviets, not least by challenging their claims to be the leaders in the effort for peace and arms control, and this, without any doubt, played a part in their flat rejection of it. We then entered a process—as one normally does in a serious negotiation—of seeking adjustments in the starting positions of both sides that would serve our purposes and move us toward our goals. We did not abandon the Moscow goals and, in fact, moved the Soviets a considerable distance toward accepting ideas that they at first bitterly resisted. We had to reckon with the broad consequences of continuing stalemate or even confrontation in SALT, but these consequences were, if anything, even more threatening for the Soviets, and it was probably this that impelled them to make the concessions they had to to move SALT forward.

Second, we cannot let the public discussions focus on this dimension or on the nuts and the bolts of the agreement without considering our larger objectives of strategic stability and reducing the risk of nuclear war; enhancing our security; and contributing to a more stable US/Soviet relationship overall, with all that implies for the outcomes of other major issues and, indeed, for the entire structure of world politics. Bluntly put, critics of the agreement cannot be permitted to define the issue of acceptance or rejection of a SALT agreement solely in terms of whether there are 50 or 100 missiles one way or the other, or 20 more or less ALCMed heavy bombers. These are differences at the margin of truly massive arsenals on both sides. More importantly, the critics must be forced—as we are—to weigh into the balance, when considering these specific issues, whether they are worth the failure of SALT with all the stability, security and political consequences that implies.

Finally, if the critics can draw on public fear and suspicion of the Soviets, so must we draw on the equally if not more powerful public impulse in favor of controlling nuclear armaments and reducing the risk of nuclear war.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 56, SALT: Chronology: 10/6/77–11/22/77. Top Secret; Sensitive.
  2. In a November 4 memorandum to the President, Harold Brown reported he had met with Senator Jackson on November 2. According to Brown, Jackson was “annoyed” that the Senate had not been more closely consulted on SALT, was convinced that the Protocol limits would become permanent, doubted Congress would approve funds for the MX if it was limited in the Protocol, and was dismayed at “a steady erosion of our position in the face of Soviet toughness.” Jackson implied, according to Brown, that even if the administration won all the remaining points, he would find SALT unacceptable. (Ibid., Brzezinski Material, Agency File, Box 4, Defense Department: 10–11/77)
  3. Attached but not printed.
  4. Attached but not printed.
  5. Reference is to the March 1977 proposals put forward by Vance in Moscow.