210. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • SALT


  • President Jimmy Carter
  • Secretary of State Cyrus Vance
  • Secretary of Defense Harold Brown
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Paul Warnke, Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency
  • General David C. Jones, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Admiral Stansfield Turner, Director of Central Intelligence
  • Reginald Bartholomew, NSC Staff Member (Notetaker)

At the President’s request, Dr. Brzezinski began the meeting by reviewing the attached comprehensive package proposal and its relationship to the proposal Gromyko had advanced in Geneva in July.2

Dr. Brzezinski: If the Soviets seek a lower SLBM RV limit, say ten, we can turn this to our bargaining advantage.

Secretary Brown: It may be simpler to have an RV limit at ten for both ICBMs and SLBMs.

The President: How would ten RVs on SLBMs hurt us?

Secretary Brown: It would not. It is simply that our current plans call for 14 RVs on SLBMs. But we have room to bargain on this.

The President: What is the difference in new types definition?

Secretary Brown: Our definition gives us an extra handle on RV fractionation.

The President: I think the Soviets will strongly object to no limits on numbers of ALCMs to 1985. I see that we are finessing it.

Dr. Brzezinski: Yes, we are using the same sort of approach that they are with Backfire.

General Jones: We have some problems and concerns with the fall-back on ICCMs—i.e., no limits. It is to our advantage to have a number somewhere in the agreement greater than 2500 km. A ban on ICCMs at 5500 km means that 2500 km is not necessarily the upper limit for ALCMs.

[Page 868]

Admiral Turner: Is it in our interest to ban ICCMs?

Secretary Brown: It may not be in the long run.

Mr. Warnke: I think the Soviets would accept a ban on ICCMs without a specific range number.

Dr. Brzezinski: We are all agreed that we should pursue depressed trajectory but that it is not worth that much and that we should not pay anything for it.

Admiral Turner: Our intelligence estimate of the order of Soviet objections to the comprehensive package is 2, 5, 6 and 7 (fractionation, number of ALCMs per heavy bomber, cruise missile range, and cruise missile definition).

The President: Do we all agree that number of ALCMs is what concerns the Soviets most?

Admiral Turner: Yes, but I believe they are equally concerned with fractionation.

Secretary Brown: I think they are using this for bargaining purposes because they can’t get to the proposed fractionation limits during the period of the agreement.

The President: Let’s go to the last two issues—dismantling and duration of the Protocol, and Backfire. Paul, why don’t you begin.

Mr. Warnke: My trip will be a waste of time unless we come up with something on the three elements that Gromyko raised in Geneva: number of ALCMs, dismantling and Protocol, duration, and Backfire.

Secretary Vance: I agree.

Mr. Warnke: Our proposal on number of ALCMs is not really responsive to the Soviets, but it is the best we can do. The question is what we can do on the other two elements. The most important thing for us is to tie dismantling and Protocol duration together and to have them coterminous. What we are proposing to the Soviets is minimally responsive, but a good position.

The President: I have no objection. I do not see this is an issue.

Secretary Brown: I am concerned about the tactics of the issue. I agree that the dates should be coterminous and that this is the key. But should we offer anything on dates before the Soviets accept that the dates will be coterminous? The Soviets could pocket our new date on dismantling and hold to their position on the Protocol. It might be better to tell the Soviets that if they agree that the Protocol will expire in 1981 and that dismantling will be completed on the same date, then we will be prepared to propose a later date than our current position.

Mr. Warnke (and others): But this would imply that we may accept their December 1981 date.

Mr. Warnke: The way I would put it to the Soviets is to tell them that it is essential to have dismantling and the Protocol end on the same [Page 869] date and that if they will agree to have the Protocol terminate on June 30, 1981, then we are prepared to agree to have dismantling completed on the same date.

The President: I think that is acceptable. What about Backfire?

Secretary Brown: David Jones has something to say on this that I think would be useful to hear at this point.

General Jones: The Backfire issue is more than one of tactics. We are now at a crossroads in SALT. I would like to give an overview of the situation which reflects a JCS consensus. Looking at the strategic balance and the overall military balance, there has been a dramatic shift from superiority to a balance that is moving against us. This is the direction of the trends. The Soviets may think that they can get some strategic advantage which would be useable in the early days of a crisis or conflict. I am not speaking of a spasm war in which the differences between the strategic forces are minimal. I am talking about the Soviets’ war-fighting doctrine and plans as described, for example, in NIE 11–4.3 We are heading into a situation in which any dramatic event in strategic forces could change the world’s perception of the balance. I would say this is the bottom line: we are a little better off in the balance today than is generally believed but will be substantially worse off in the future than is generally believed if the trends continue.

SALT will provide few restraints on either side. The US will be more restrained in a practical sense. Soviet programs are already underway. We have yet to start up our programs and it is always harder politically and financially to start programs. The throw weight imbalance will continue in SALT. We see increasing accuracy for the SS–17, 18 and 19. The Soviet new types definition will permit their ICBM programs and developments to go forward, and they will have a new types exemption as well. Then there is Typhoon and Backfire. There are some real limits. The 820 is one of them, but the reductions provided in the limits are really more conversions. For example, the SS–11 peripheral attack mission is being replaced by the SS–20.

[Page 870]

This is probably too bleak a description of SALT, but it is as accurate as statements that oversell SALT. The most important thing in SALT II is to get a cap on strategic forces. Maybe in SALT III we can get real reductions. Now Backfire is not important in a spasm war. But if there are substantial reductions in SALT III and Backfire numbers grow, then we have a real problem. Backfire will replace 80% of the Bisons as well as replace the Badgers and Blinders. There is no controversy about the intercontinental capability of Backfire, though the range is an issue. A recent study shows the Backfire has the same range as the B–52D using the same flight profile and payload. In military to military contacts between the US and the Soviets we have gotten Backfire range estimates all the way up to 9000 km. It is only when the discussions are in the political to political channel that the range comes down. Brezhnev said Backfire had one-half the range of Bison. He also said the range was calculated including some supersonic flight. But the most recent estimate given to us by Gromyko says it includes no supersonic flight so the Soviets are playing games on Backfire range, and there will be a problem unless this is resolved.

So the question is what to do. We think we should get all the mileage out of Backfire that we can. If we indicate we are prepared to talk about it, to be forthcoming, we will lose the leverage and we need leverage on the content of issues that count for us and run up against Soviet resistance—number of ALCMs and cruise missile range.

The JCS could support the comprehensive package proposal and are trying to be helpful. But we are close to the edge of what is acceptable. I cannot say whether the JCS will accept the SALT agreement if Backfire is not counted. The JCS have not addressed this question and they have not yet seen the whole final package. If we offer something on Backfire now—and we have to recognize that this comprehensive package proposal is unlikely to be the final package—we will be using our last arrow and this will cause great difficulty with some JCS members. If Backfire were held until the really final point, that would make things easier. So we would recommend that Paul say to the Soviets that they have given us a lot of ranges and that this creates difficulties that must be resolved. We would challenge the Soviets and make them worry on Backfire. If the Soviets say our package proposal is unacceptable, we would still have Backfire leverage available. If, on the other hand, the Soviets say the package is reasonable and they are prepared to accept it if we relent on Backfire, then we are in a good position. We will be better off either way with the JCS because we will have gotten a lot from Backfire. I also think that the Soviets have already discounted the Backfire so the absence of anything on it in our package will not make them less receptive to the package. Backfire is not just a symbolic problem for the JCS. There is sincere concern that though the Soviets may not plan to use it on intercontinental missions, Backfire gives them a break out capability in the post-1985 context with refueling and the like. The JCS can address any new proposal on Backfire rapidly.

Mr. Warnke: Backfire is an issue of tactics not substance. The issue is how to best use Backfire to get what we want on other things. There is no chance of counting Backfire. It would reopen FBS, create verifica [Page 871] tion problems, and mean potential restrictions on us. Just stating this would make the issue more difficult.

The President: I agree with the JCS. To tell the Soviets now that Cy may be forthcoming may get the Soviets to discount Backfire. I see equal and superior advantage in saying that the President and JCS are deeply concerned about Backfire and that it is the most difficult political issue in ratification. We should tell the Soviets that this set of proposals in the comprehensive package is a definitive package, not a contingency package. We recognize that Brezhnev is concerned about the Backfire, too. But if the Soviets settle the outstanding issues on the basis of our package, then the President will personally try to resolve the Backfire issue. I think that if we instead give them an indication that Cy will be forthcoming on Backfire that they may drag their feet on the other issues.

I do not want to write off Backfire. It is the most difficult issue I see with the US public. It is easy to grasp. Here is a regular bomber that is not counted.

These ten points in our package really are our final offer. I am not going to yield on ALCMs and the like. I do not feel strongly on dismantling and destruction. Brezhnev should note that I am deeply concerned about the Backfire issue and will consider it personally on a very sensitive basis with him. I want to reserve our options to be tough on Backfire, but you all understand that we will be forthcoming on Backfire.

Dr. Brzezinski: I am concerned that this may not be the best way to use the leverage that I think we have in this situation. The Soviets want SALT and a Summit. They are worried about the PRC connection. I think we should subtly use their desire for a summit as leverage to get them to accept our positions on the issues, including Backfire. We will not be able to do this if Backfire is left for the summit.

The President: I think what we are saying to the Soviets is that unless we can resolve the outstanding issues on the basis of our package then Backfire will be left to Brezhnev and the President. If they say the issue can be resolved on this basis, then we could tell them that Vance will be ready to trade on Backfire. If they accept our entire package in its totality, then the JCS could support the agreement including the treatment of Backfire.

Dr. Brzezinski: We should not tell the Soviets that Backfire will be left for the summit. We could lose the leverage on Backfire on the Soviets’ desire for a summit. They would think that they could do nothing on Backfire, resolve the other issues, and then say let’s go to a summit with Backfire still open and put the burden on us.

The President: Then I think we disagree. The only difference is whether we use the Vance-Gromyko level as the point to resolve Back [Page 872] fire or tell them now that it would be resolved in the Brezhnev-Carter level if they are ready to deal. We should not equivocate on our package in the meetings with Gromyko if there are substantial differences with the Soviets.

Mr. Warnke: I should underscore with the Soviets the importance of the Backfire issue by referring to the President without saying that Backfire will be settled at the summit.

The President: You should not say that Vance will be forthcoming. It should be a more serious tone, that I am personally concerned about it, and making clear that it is still a serious issue.

Secretary Vance: We should tell them that this comprehensive package meets their needs; the President believes that Backfire is critically important because of its political sensitivity; and that it must be resolved before the summit itself to insure the success of the summit and SALT ratification.

Secretary Brown: I think that as a general point we should take the stand that it will be the final, closing issue wherever it is dealt with.

Dr. Brzezinski: But what if the Soviets essentially accept our package and then propose to move to a summit with Backfire still unresolved.

Secretary Brown: But this means we would have what we want.

The President: The Backfire is politically almost as important as all the rest of the issues put together. Nothing equals it for Congress and the public. Other issues are more important militarily and strategically. But the whole tone of how we enter SALT III and the progress we make will be shaped by Backfire.

Dr. Brzezinski: And cruise missile definition.

The President: Yes. Escalating Backfire to its proper level of importance with the Soviets is the essence.

Dr. Brzezinski: So Paul will lay out the ten points in our package; note that Backfire is of critical importance to the President; that the Soviets have given us all kinds of ranges and that the Backfire issue is difficult for the President militarily, strategically and politically; that we will try to be accommodating provided the Soviets are accommodating on our package which is fair on its own; and the President will do his best to resolve the Backfire issue in the context of a settlement of the other issues on the basis of this package.

Secretary Brown: We should say that Backfire can only be resolved in the context of complete agreement on the other issues based on the proposals in our package.

The President: The essence is to reescalate the Backfire issue. Paul should say he met with me and this is what I told him.

[Page 873]

Dr. Brzezinski: So Paul will say: (1) this package is fair and balanced and meets your concerns; (2) he will stress the central critical importance of Backfire and the President’s direct and personal concern, and will raise the range problem; (3) and he will say that the Backfire issue can be resolved only if all other issues are resolved on the basis of our comprehensive proposal.

General Jones: I think he should add a last point repeating the seriousness of the Backfire issue.

Admiral Turner: Before the meeting ends, I want to address an item [less than 1 line not declassified] We noted that the Soviets are reopening work on the SS–19, which would put them 30 over the 820. We thought that they would reduce 30 SS–17s and noted that work on the SS–17s had slowed down. But just yesterday we learned that work is now back to normal pace on the SS–17. Though it is too early to say, this could relate to the single RV; or it may be a signal to put pressure on you on SALT.

[1 paragraph (4 lines) not declassified]

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Box 2, NSC Meeting #13, 9/2/78. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room of the White House.
  2. The comprehensive package proposal was attached; the approved version is Document 212. Regarding Gromyko’s proposal, see Document 208.
  3. NIE 4–11–77, “Soviet Goals and Expectations in the Global Power Area,” is scheduled to be printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Vol. IV, National Security Policy.