209. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Brown to President Carter1


  • SALT: Protecting our MAP Option

The Soviet Union, through the Acting Foreign Minister, has explicitly and unequivocally rejected our position that the present JDT language, by permitting “mobile ICBM launchers,” permits a multiple aim point (MAP) system with hardened shelters. Clearly we cannot accept the Soviet interpretation or consider ourselves bound by it. This memo addresses the importance of preserving the MAP option, and our course in response to the Soviet position.

I want to begin by emphasizing the difference in my view between whether SALT should preserve our legal right to deploy MAP and whether we are now ready to decide we want to build the system. I believe it is important that we preserve the right, but I also believe we are not ready to decide the program issue—and should not do so until we have answers to some important remaining questions about the concept’s effectiveness, our ability to count Soviet launchers in a similar system, costs and security.

1. A major US defense interest is at stake. The unchallenged technical judgment is that by 1986 when SALT II expires, the US fixed ICBM force will be subject to virtual elimination by a Soviet attack. The US response to this challenge is among the most fundamental defense policy decisions you will face. There are important reasons to seek to preserve a survivable land-based element in our strategic nuclear force if it is feasible to do so at an acceptable cost. The Defense Department is still considering technical issues, and I am not yet in a position to make a definite recommendation. It is important to avoid a premature decision. However, many experts, both military and civilian, who have considered possible US responses have converged on the proposition that a system using multiple hardened shelters among which the launchers and missiles are moved is the most promising of the various alternatives. Some of them say it is the only feasible one. I am not convinced of that, and have directed the examination of other alternatives.

2. If militarily and technically feasible, construction of a MAP mobile ICBM system would be consistent with sound arms control policies. Most [Page 863] fundamentally, restoration of a situation of survivable land-based forces would contribute very greatly to strategic stability, which is the basic objective of our arms control efforts.

The principal specific objection to MAP on arms control grounds is verification, and especially the problem of whether the US could count Soviet launchers with sufficient accuracy if the Soviets adopted a MAP system. Undoubtedly there will be greater uncertainties about counting the launchers in a MAP (or other mobile) system than there are where only silos are used and we assume no Soviet efforts to hide silos. Our ability to count the Soviet launchers in the face of efforts to conceal, including a Soviet MAP system, is one of the issues still being examined. However, from the arms control point of view, the basic conclusion is clear: if the MAP system is to be militarily effective, our intelligence must be able to measure the size of the Soviet RV force with sufficient confidence to establish the necessary size of the US MAP system, i.e., to tell how many Soviet RVs the US system must be able to absorb. [9 lines not declassified] Clearly, we cannot ever be 100% sure of an answer to the question of precise numbers that depends on such methods. The issue is whether we can by these means count Soviet forces within margins of error sufficient for us to have confidence that the Soviets could not by clandestine deployment of additional RVs, in a MAP system or otherwise, defeat the survivability of a MAP system.

The arms control significance of this is, of course, that if we have that military confidence in our intelligence, we also would have confidence in the adequacy of verification for arms control purposes. For in this context as in others we do not require absolute certainty of verification but rather that no undetected cheating could alter the strategic balance or produce a significant unanticipated threat to the US.

It is also possible that we could establish practices by agreement that would contribute to confidence in our counts, but if the system is to be militarily effective, we cannot rely solely on them. Therefore, the likelihood of Soviet refusal to agree to complex (or perhaps even simple) cooperative measures is not decisive as to the compatibility of MAP with arms control—providing that our count of Soviet launchers is judged adequate in the absence of such measures.

3. A MAP system is compatible with our policies for SALT II and the terms agreed upon:

—Most important, we are considering a MAP system seriously only because the Soviets have throughout SALT II refused to agree to limits on their forces which we proposed that would have reduced to more tolerable levels their threat to our ICBM silos. Indeed, they have even refused to accept in principle that the threat is a problem—and it isn’t to them, because the US ICBM force projected through the mid-1980’s cannot threaten the Soviet silo force.

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—The Soviets agreed last fall that mobile ICBM launchers would be permitted after the Protocol expires. At the time the Soviets agreed, the US was considering only hardened mobile systems, including the vertical shelters now favored as well as the trench then most prominently discussed. Both in logic and law a system is no less mobile because the launchers move, as the MAP system launchers would, among hardened shelters rather than, as the Soviet SS–16 would, among concealed prepared surface positions. All the verification problems of the hardened shelter system are also present with the soft surface systems.

—The fact that the launchers would be concealed while deployed in the field cannot be regarded as a violation of the ban on deliberate concealment unless other actions with similar effects that both sides engage in are also violations—submerging submarines being the most straightforward case. The SALT obligation is to refrain from concealment that impedes verification of the agreement’s terms by national technical means. Provided that other aspects of the production, deployment and support of a system can be monitored sufficiently to count the numbers limited, concealment of operational deployment location is not barred.

—The fact that the shelters could, with the insertion of substantial additional equipment, be made capable of launching a missile does not make them additional fixed launchers whose construction is banned. The US has accepted the Soviet position that their III–X silos (presumably launch control complexes) are not launchers, precisely on the ground that, although they have all the hardening of launchers and could be converted to launchers by insertion of the appropriate equipment, we are satisfied that they do not now have the necessary equipment to serve as launchers. The Soviets are seeking to impose on us a rule they have explicitly rejected for themselves.

4. A basic test of the acceptability of a SALT agreement in the US will be whether it is consistent with US development and deployment of a MAP system. Whether a MAP system of one kind or another eventually is judged to be feasible on technical and military grounds, and to make a sufficient contribution to our national security to be worth its costs will be an important issue; it is one on which I have made no recommendation and on which you need not make a judgment now. Quite a different issue is whether it would be acceptable to the Administration, the Congress and the public, to have that judgment driven by SALT limitations. The defense technical community and the JCS views on this latter matter are strong ones. All other considerations aside, I am still of the view that no SALT agreement is likely to be ratifiable unless the Administration is able to demonstrate that under it, the US has the right to test, develop and deploy a MAP system, making the necessary judg [Page 865] ments as to technical, military, and cost issues essentially unconstrained by SALT.

That brings us to the issue of what to do in order to be able to make that demonstration. The Soviet position is a basic challenge to the SALT process and at best represents, in my view, an effort to gain bargaining leverage by repudiating past Soviet agreement on the mobile ICBM issue.

Ideally, it would be best both in substance and from the point of view of ratification, if the Soviets were to withdraw their rejection of our interpretation and agree in a suitable form that our interpretation is correct. This course, however, may not be necessary: Unilateral US action backing up reassertion of our interpretation can, if consistently adhered to, be an adequate substitute for Soviet agreement.

By such an announcement we would in effect say to the Soviets, “You are asking for the US to agree to an added restriction not now in the agreement text (no hardened shelters for mobile ICM launchers) and we do not agree to any such restriction. You can join us in working out the other issues and sign an agreement or not as you like, but we will not negotiate the MAP issue or treat the agreement as imposing any limits on our choice of whether to pursue the option of a MAP system.”

In light of the controversy over unilateral statements in SALT I, we must expect some criticism of this approach; some will press us to obtain explicit Soviet agreement. There is, however, a crucial difference between unilateral US declaration of what we will do ourselves and unilateral efforts to impose restrictions on the actions of the USSR.

The necessary elements of such a course are:

—An explicit, prompt and firm public declaration that the US interprets the Joint Draft Text as allowing the deployment of a MAP system, and an announcement that we will decide on our response to the challenge to the survivability of our Minuteman force on that basis: i.e., that we will consider technical, military (including intelligence), strategic (including effects on the arms competition), and economic factors as we would have done had there been no SALT agreement. While such a statement will not in itself commit us to build a MAP system—and I would strongly urge against any such commitment at this time—we must recognize that the credibility of this approach with the Soviets and with the Congress and public will be measured in large part by our subsequent program decisions. In the face of the Soviet position, many critics will assert that any later decision against MAP is “really” dictated by SALT considerations—which they asserted about B–1 with no more justification.

—It is important that any such announcement be cast affirmatively. An essential feature of such a declaration is the assertion that we [Page 866] are satisfied that a MAP system such as we are considering is permitted under SALT. It may be true that we will not choose to deploy the system if we decide it can’t be verified by NTM. But that would be a judgment made for military reasons—if, because of a Soviet MAP, we wouldn’t know how many Soviet RVs a US MAP system faced, we would not be able to size our system. But to make an announcement now in terms of not deploying a non-verifiable system would undoubtedly be interpreted by many as making our MAP decision governed by potential SALT limitations—the very burden we should avoid putting on SALT.

—Even if we do not seek explicit Soviet withdrawal of their rejection of our interpretation, and adopt the declaratory approach that I believe may be equally effective, we must, I think, also repeat our interpretation consistently in the negotiation. We cannot afford to leave the negotiating record with the Soviets having had the last word, without a US response. Public statements, however prominent, are not themselves part of the negotiating record. (We, for example, do not so regard Pravda editorials, despite their obvious authoritative character.) For reasons both of avoiding pressures for premature program commitments and for preserving our ability to secure ratification, I believe we must make our position clear directly to the Soviets in the context of the negotiations as well as in public statements—and we may very well need to repeat that interpretation at the point of final agreement on other issues.

Harold Brown
  1. Source: Carter Library, NSC Institutional Files, Box 97, SCC 100, 8/10/78, SALT Negotiating Options and Issues. Top Secret.