191. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Brown to President Carter1


  • SALT—Remaining Key Issues

While great progress has been made, a number of important issues remain unresolved in SALT: This memo sets forth my views on what the US must achieve in their resolution.

Timing. We should seek to sign a treaty and protocol in early spring. Both internationally (in terms of dealing with the Soviets and our allies) and domestically (in terms of achieving ratification before the 1978 congressional elections) that is a good window. The expected Senate action on the Panama Canal Treaties before the end of March, which we now have some reason to expect to be affirmative, should also be good. (I am, incidentally, inclined to doubt that a CTB can be ready by that time, if only because of the problem of “defining” a nuclear explosion, which is actually a problem of possible considerable difference in erosion of stockpile confidence as between the US and the USSR).

But while that is a good window, it is not a vital one. We must not let a target schedule governed basically by domestic political concerns make us the demandeur with the Soviets, i.e., more eager for an agreement than they. We should be clear with ourselves—and as necessary with them—that if they are not prepared to agree promptly to the terms on which we insist, we are quite capable of waiting them out.

Nor should we delude ourselves that a March signature is a sufficient condition for 1978 ratification, although it almost certainly is a necessary one. We may need a considerable time to persuade the nation and the Congress of the value of the agreement. We have learned that, I believe, from the Panama Canal effort. The 1972 experience with a 3-month campaign ending in overwhelming support is a valuable corrective to excessive pessimism now. But it is not, I think, a preview of the SALT TWO experience. SALT has become vastly more controversial—and the Republicans will not have any party reasons to support the President this time. We must recognize that this time too there will be technical ambiguities and strategic objections. Some of the latter are already being made; how many of the former are left will depend on [Page 799] the resolution of some matters now strongly at issue between us and the Soviets. Concerns of the sort that emerged fully only after SALT One ratification will be aired before and affect the ratification of SALT TWO.


Heavy bomber definition. This is an issue of utmost importance to the US and to the ratification process. It is also one on which the US and Soviet positions are far apart. We must maintain the right for the US to decide, free of Soviet veto, which aircraft the US will equip to serve as cruise missile carriers (CMCs). Also we must continue to rebut, as we have, Soviet arguments that large CMCs should possibly count as more than one in the MIRV count or the aggregate count. (Our bringing up the SS–18 seems to be effectively making this rebuttal.)

The SCC decided that the US can accept a type counting rule based on physical distinguishability corresponding to functional differences for distinguishing between: (1) heavy bombers and heavy bomber variants, and (2) heavy bombers equipped with ALCMs and other heavy bombers. I believe that such a rule can be developed which protects US rights to equip its aircraft with ALCMs as needed. Whether the Soviets will accept such a rule, and whether we can devise one which also meets our goals with respect to Soviet bomber variants, remains to be seen. Ideally, only functional differences would be recognized as a basis for distinctions. However, verifying such distinctions would probably require cooperative measures. It does not appear, for example, that B–52s carrying ALCMs need be externally different from those without them. This issue of what, if any, cooperative measures are acceptable and useful is still under technical review. We would probably be prepared to accept some, including a measure of on-site inspection, that the Soviets would find too intrusive. I continue to believe that unwillingness to provide such cooperative verification should inhibit the side that declines to do so, not both sides.

The application of these rules to the Soviet bomber variants could be difficult. Only functional distinctions give us much protection—and even these would not deal with the potential for rapid conversion. However, it may not be possible to devise a rule which catches all of the troublesome Soviet variants—including quickly convertible Bear ASW aircraft—but does not catch the less troublesome ones, i.e., the Bear reconnaissance versions, or transport variants of US CMCs or non-ALCM B–52s. However, letting the ASW Bear and future such variants go in return for the type counting rule we seek for ALCM carriers, which will count Bison tankers, may be an acceptable compromise. In that case, any exemption for Bison bombers converted to tankers or for the tankers would depend on working out conversion rules that would [Page 800] make reconversion to a bomber very difficult; we have not yet worked them out.

This rather arcane discussion suggests that technical ambiguities will not easily be eliminated from SALT Two. We need to take the time within the US government to come up with a defensible heavy bomber definition and then persuade the Soviets to accept it, because it is the sort of issue that Congressional opponents are likely to make much of.

Non-Circumvention. I believe we cannot, to maintain the alliance support we have gradually been gathering, go beyond our fallback language. (Even that should be presented only after a further round of consultation; in the present context we cannot rely on prior acquiescence.) For the present, however, I believe we should stand firm on our present position. There have been some hints from the Soviets that they will eventually move toward our position, but until we have some unequivocal indication that the fallback will be accepted, we cannot afford to present it, since once it is presented we have no maneuvering room left.

More generally, I think it important to move very carefully in any authoritative interpretation to either allies or the Soviets of what limits we believe the clause would put on our relations with the allies. Broad formulas like “giving primacy to alliance security interests” may in the end prove the best course, and are far less likely than detailed discussions of specific hypothetical cases to destroy the prospect of Soviet agreement to a generalized claim. Even so, we should have clear agreement on what to say before embarking on any interpretations—and no such agreed interpretations now exist. We need to work on this, and we are doing so.

Aggregates and Timing. I think that as an outcome, the current guidance—2200/1200/reductions completed by the expiration of the Protocol—remains acceptable. The 1200 MIRV level is essential to maintain the 120 gap before AHBs count as MIRVs. I underscore, however, the importance of a related issue: The duration of the Protocol. We should for the moment hold to our current proposal of expiration on 30 September 1980. A shift to “three years from signature” is acceptable if signature comes before, say, 1 April. Extending the Protocol limits to three years from ratification would almost certainly mean early 1982. This would be inconsistent with our repeated assurances as to the minimal impact of the Protocol on cruise missile deployment schedule and MX work. In addition to its effect on our programs such a date would significantly hurt ratification.

These timing issues are, I believe, far more important than the SNDV aggregate: We should not agree to delayed effectiveness (or a longer Protocol) merely to get an aggregate at the low end of the 2160–2250 range.

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New Types. A form of “single RV” exemption may prove attractive: It is now being studied, and I want to reserve final judgment until I can consider the results, especially in terms of effects on US programs. Any exemption is, in any case, most acceptable if the Soviets agree to our comprehensive ban on hardware changes in existing ICBMs. (That nonetheless, as we have informed the Soviets, permits us MK–12A since it has already been tested.) Also, any exemption must be reciprocal: i.e., the US would have a right to replace MMII with a silo-based single RV follow-on missile, of fully up-to-date design, provided only that its throw weight did not exceed that of the Soviet exemption (quite possibly the SS–19 throw weight, not that of the SS–11). For the Protocol period, that right may be academic, but symmetry is essential—and consideration of what it would permit the US makes it clear that the requested exemption is not trivial.

Cruise Missile Payload Definition. The Soviets have made a great play of the “absolute unacceptability” of our position that the cruise missile limits apply to conventionally armed CMs during the Protocol only, with later limits applying only to nuclear-armed cruise missiles on launch platforms other than heavy bombers, unless some other rule is later agreed. Because of the legitimate middle-term potential of conventional CMs, the very strong representations we’ve made to our allies and strong Senatorial opposition to limiting non-nuclear CMs, we should stand firm on this point. We should, of course, be prepared to consider a variety of formulas that might enable the Soviets to agree to the substance of our position. For example, we might have a separate limit on conventional CMs on other aircraft in the Protocol that expires with it; putting conventional CMs in a separate provision would indicate that nuclear-armed and conventionally armed cruise missiles are separate matters.

However, the Treaty already includes limits on ALCMs on aircraft other than heavy bombers that continue after the Protocol expires, so we cannot sidestep the post-Protocol definitional issue altogether. And we cannot leave until later defining what the Treaty limit covers. It is the US position that the post-Protocol Treaty is a complete agreement, to be supplemented by other agreements to be sure, if and as they are reached, but itself valid after the Protocol expires without requiring reaffirmation or further agreement. Requiring subsequent agreement on the scope of the post-Protocol Treaty provision limiting ALCMs on other aircraft would be inconsistent with that position.

More generally, our position on the payload issue is wholly reasonable and one we should not shrink from vigorously maintaining. The verification advantages of a broad definition are illusory, given the difficulty of verifying any CM limits—and in any event we can turn on the Soviets their old refrain that “national technical means are adequate [Page 802] to verify compliance with this provision if only you will take advantage of them and stop trying to expand the scope of the limitations in the name of verification.” The analogy to ballistic missiles is simply false. There is no prospect of any nation developing ballistic missiles of intercontinental range for use with non-nuclear warheads, but there is a very serious prospect of useful conventionally-armed cruise missiles with greater than 600 km range, and whatever else SALT is about it isn’t a proper forum for limiting conventional weapons.

Cruise Missile Range. Here again, we need to stand firm that the measure of range is maximum system operational range (MSOR), not distance which can be flown on an operational profile to fuel exhaustion (as the Soviets propose). We have given repeated assurances to Congress and to the allies—and we ourselves accepted the limits—on the basis that 2500 km was the militarily useful range we would have available, not something less.

However, the concept is not simple in application and it may well be appropriate to explain our definition more fully, along the following lines:

MSOR means militarily useful range and how a CM achieves that inherently reflects a variety of design and operational judgments as to such matters as type of fuel, altitude and speed profile, size and weight of payload, methods of controlling time of arrival, guidance and target acquisition requirements, assumed fuel consumption rates under different wind and weather conditions, and the like.

—Different judgments on many of these matters would, of course, produce different MSORs, but what counts is not how the system in question might have been used differently and, in particular, not its fuel exhaustion range, but how it is in fact planned to be used. The MSOR concept (like the Soviet “operational profile” concept) recognizes that the agreement does not seek to control how those judgments are made.

—Some variations in these elements would, we recognize, produce potentially a discrepancy between launch to target distance and odometer distance traveled. In that connection, the US is prepared to agree that such discrepancies shall not exceed 30% for a 2500 km range or 100% for a 600 km range. It must be understood that this percentage is applicable only to actual discrepancies between odometer distance and target range, and does not include the increased distance that could hypothetically be flown under different mission concepts, for example by using up all the fuel reserve intended to accommodate variations in weather conditions.

Statement of Principles. It is now clear that we are not going to get Soviet agreement to the sort of statement of SALT Three Principles we originally had in mind—an agreed fairly specific agenda for the next [Page 803] round. In particular, their FBS position guarantees (as it was no doubt intended to do) that agreed Principles would require long negotiations and, worse, payment of a substantive price for an agreed list. On the whole, we have little to lose from shifting to essentially rhetorical agreed principles. The domestic cost—retreat from the comprehensive proposal of March—should be manageable (and couldn’t be avoided by non-binding principles in any event if they were agreed):

• The concept of the March proposal was to advance a thoroughgoing offer dealing with fundamental current problems. That commitment remains for SALT Three—and can be reasserted in whatever unilateral statements accompany the Principles.

• Very general agreed principles permit sidestepping the whole complex of FBSCMTNF issues with the Soviets, permitting time for the US to reach substantive conclusions on our objective in this area—and agree on those conclusions with our allies.

Abandoning the pretense of an agreed agenda permits us a more adventurous unilateral list: We could, for example, make clear that we would propose eventually to return to the Backfire issue, or that of throw-weight inequalities.

In sum, I would favor moving to the two lists approach not seeking to go further with the agreed Statement than where we are now. (Indeed, in the context of dropping the unagreed specifics, we might carefully also drop the one that is agreed2—which could be read in the ratification process as contradicting slightly our position that the Protocol sets no precedent). More particularly, I do not think we should, in the face of their rejection of a “Shanghai Communiqué” or “two list” approach, seek any Soviet acquiescence to or recognition of the unilateral statement of SALT Three goals we would make, nor should we give any such status to whatever they may choose to say about FBS or the neutron bomb. It would be enough to say we expect to be making a policy statement of the US longer range goals for SALT.

Backfire. This issue is far from resolved. It is a matter to which the JCS attach great importance. In contrast to many other SALT issues, it is simple to understand and easily dramatized, with a concomitant potential impact on public opinion. The facts—the inherent intercontinental capability of the airplane—as well as ratification considerations justify insistence that the Soviets must give considerably more specific assurances than Gromyko offered in September, if the US is to change [Page 804] its JDT position that the plane count in the SNDV aggregate. Such assurances should include:

—an explicit statement of the current production rate;

—a definition of the profile on which the supposed 2200 km combat radius is achieved (and a statement of its range on such a profile; to avoid accepting that only two-way missions count—as you know, few US bomber missions are planned two-way in the SIOP);

—an agreement that existing medium bombers (Badgers and Blinders) will be retired in appropriate numbers as Backfires are built.

—more detailed and comprehensive limits on specific activities associated with preparation for an intercontinental mission, such as training, refueling, Arctic staging, technical upgrade, and equipping with cruise missiles of range greater than 600 km.

While this issue need not be discussed at Geneva, in deference to Soviet views that it’s not a fit SALT subject, it should not be deferred to a Summit. As we decided at our recent SCC meeting, the new US position should be presented through diplomatic channels. (Personally, I believe this is a good issue on which to establish the proposition that Mac Toon should be as much a SALT channel for the US as Dobrynin is for the Soviets.) Given the technical character of the question and the sensitivity of the JCS on the issue, it is particularly important that the process of negotiating the details be one which lends itself to thorough staffing and technical precision, as well as high level review.

Finally, we should consider consulting with key congressional leaders (as well as seeking the advice of counsel) on the appropriate form for the Soviet Backfire undertaking: We can agree to an obligation separate from SALT; we will have trouble with Congress if we agree to one less binding than the Treaty and Protocol.

MIRV Verification. We may be close to a satisfactory outcome here but the issue is of considerable importance and we need to understand where we are. The Soviets have accepted a “missile type” rule (if a missile is tested with MIRVs, all missiles of that type will be considered MIRVed missiles) and a “launcher type” rule (if a launcher is a MIRV launcher, all launchers of that type will be considered MIRV launchers). However, it is clear that the sides do not share an explicit common view on what is meant by “launcher type.” The Soviets are willing to acknowledge that Minuteman II and Minuteman III launchers are of different types, which is the US position. However, they continue to insist that the launchers at Derazhnya and Pervomaysk (which are indistinguishable to us) are also of two types, one MIRV and one non-MIRV—which, however, as a concession, they are willing to count all as MIRV. Moreover, they have withdrawn their footnote in the JDT that they are of two types. (The US earlier withdrew a proposed common understanding that they are of only one type.)

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If the Soviets are eventually willing to acknowledge that the launchers at D&P are of one (MIRV) type, we will have achieved what we have sought, i.e., an implicit recognition that launchers we cannot identify as non-MIRV will count as MIRV. In this case I believe we could rely on the Minuteman and D&P precedents for the future. I believe that on balance this is the preferred outcome and we should seek it.

However, if the Soviets will not acknowledge that all launchers at D&P are of one MIRV type, then we will not have a satisfactory precedent and must seek a different approach for the future. One such approach is an explicit rule that for the future (new or modified launchers) launchers which “look alike” (i.e., have the same external appearance to overhead photography) “count alike.” Although such a rule would not be foolproof (one would prefer that distinguishing features which permit launchers to be counted differently be related to capability to launch MIRVs, but this is probably not practical), it would be an aid to verification. Note that it could also be a nuisance for us in the future, should we, for example, want to replace some or all of our Minuteman IIs with a modern missile; we might be required to make unnecessary modifications to certain of the Minuteman launchers in order to preclude counting non-MIRVed Minuteman launchers as MIRV.

In my view all these outcomes are attainable in the negotiations—and attainable in time for a signature in early spring (in time for a fair shot at completing ratification this year). I believe an agreement with these provisions would be in our national security interest—and would be so clearly so as to be ratifiable despite all the doubts and questions. Conversely, I believe that failure to achieve the substance of these results would call into question both the acceptability of an agreement on the merits and the likelihood of its being ratified.

Harold Brown
  1. Source: Carter Library, NSC Institutional Files, Box 91, SCC 050, 1/9/78, SALT, Negotiating Options and Instructions. Top Secret.
  2. The JDT contains an agreed objective “Resolution of the issues included in the Protocol to the Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms” in the context of the negotiations relating to the aforementioned principles and objectives. [Footnote is in the original.]