236. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense Brown1



  • SALT

1. In accordance with our memorandum2 of 12 October 1978, we have conducted an assessment3 of the emerging SALT II agreement.

[Page 937]

2. Throughout our efforts to reach a final judgment on the strategic implications of SALT II, we have been deeply concerned by a number of ambiguities which, if left unresolved, would render the agreement seriously flawed. In our judgment, unless these ambiguities are favorably resolved before the treaty is signed, SALT II cannot be considered to serve the national security interest.

a. Verification. Capturing Soviet fractionation potential is such a fundamental objective, and our already fragile verification capability is so central to success, that any ambiguity on limits or any impediments to verification would raise serious doubts as to the integrity of the agreement as a whole. In particular, we believe it is essential to gain explicit Soviet acknowledgment of these ICBM fractionation limits: SS–17=4; SS–18=10; SS–19=6. We strongly support the President’s commitment not to sign a SALT II treaty that cannot be adequately verified and, in our view, access to unencrypted telemetry that is essential for verification is an irreducible requirement without which Soviet adherence to fractionation limits and other critical constraints cannot be assured. We believe that these US understandings and interpretations regarding verification must be excluded from further negotiation or concession on our part and clearly recognized by the Soviets.

b. Protocol. If it were within the realm of practicality, we would prefer that the Protocol be dropped altogether in that its restrictions apply principally to US systems. Even though the Protocol has little practical near-term effect from a programmatic standpoint, our broader concern is that such a “temporary” device may become the baseline of an unnegotiated extension. In view of the Soviet theater nuclear threat, especially the SS–20, extending Protocol limitations on SLCM and GLCM without suitable Soviet concessions would be very harmful to Western security and undoubtedly would cause serious problems with our Allies. We recognize that the three-tiered approach is probably too deeply imbedded in the foundation of SALT II to be dislodged at this stage of the negotiations. Even so, we believe it is essential that US policy on the Protocol be clearly articulated, preferably by Presidential declaration, to include full assurance that no restrictions in the Protocol will be precedential.

c. Noncircumvention. No interpretation of noncircumvention provisions in SALT II must interfere with our options to share with our NATO Allies the technology required to counter the Soviet long-range theater nuclear threat. The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that US policy on this issue should be explicit and unmistakable (both to the Soviets and to our Allies) and should be made by a Presidential declaration.

d. MX Basing. One of the dominant factors in the eroding strategic balance is the growing vulnerability of the US land-based ICBM force. [Page 938] SALT II cannot be permitted to impede programmatic solutions to this problem, and any interpretation of SALT II which forecloses the deployment of MX in an appropriate multiple protective structure (MPS) mode would run counter to US security interests. The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that US policy on this issue should be explicit and unmistakable (both to the Soviets and to the American public) and should be made by a Presidential declaration.

3. It is critical that the remaining negotiating issues be satisfactorily resolved. The ones of greatest concern to the Joint Chiefs of Staff are that:

a. The armed definition of ALCM not be allowed to be applied to the GLCMs and SLCMs, except as the United States has specified in the Protocol.

b. Unarmed pilotless vehicles not be included in SAL.

c. ICBM “new type” limits be constrained so there truly would be only one new type.

4. Beyond ambiguities in language and intent and the need to resolve the remaining negotiating issues, we have further concerns with some of the more fundamental provisions of the emerging agreement. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have consistently recommended, and would have preferred, more extensive mutual reductions and constraints than SALT II will impose. The emerging treaty is at best an imperfect vehicle for advancing US strategic interests, for, throughout the treaty period, the Soviets will be able to continue with most of their strategic programs, and the numbers and accuracy of their reentry vehicles (RVs) will increase substantially.

5. Primarily as a consequence of actions and inactions extending back at least a decade, essential equivalence will be lost in the early 1980’s, with or without the emerging SAL agreement. Contributing heavily to this relative US decline will be the fact that we were unable to negotiate reductions in the 300-plus Soviet MLBMs or to capture the intercontinental-capable Backfire within the SNDV limit. All the Joint Chiefs of Staff share a deep concern over the impact of these systems on the strategic balance in the near term, as well as the longer term breakout potential they represent, and believe our national security interest is not served by failing to constrain these systems further. We prefer action that would redress these imbalances through restructuring of the treaty. Should the treaty not be restructured, these asymmetries will add to the substantial effort already required to redress the strategic balance and keep the US deterrent effective against threats to the United States and its allies.

6. These far-term actions must be accompanied by a longer term resolve to avoid the mistakes of previous years, especially the post-SALT [Page 939] I period, which have brought the nation to the certain prospect of strategic inferiority. We believe the American public does not adequately understand the magnitude of the Soviet military buildup or of the broader consequences of Soviet strategic superiority in terms of stability, global power relationships, and long-term US interests. The decades of US strategic preeminence and exaggerated expectations over the SALT process have bred a complacency which, in the final analysis, may represent the greatest potential risk in our arms control efforts. Some public figures assert that only by rejecting SALT II can the American public be “shocked” out of this complacency and induced to support the necessary measures to restore parity. We believe the more appropriate course is to cast SALT II in a balanced and realistic perspective, provided the ambiguities and other concerns expressed above can be satisfactorily resolved. SALT II should be acknowledged as a modest but useful framework which gives the United States flexibility to regain ultimate strategic parity, but it is by no means a risk-free panacea nor a substitute for modernization programs.

7. If concluding a SALT II treaty were to contribute to a perpetuation of public complacency, it would clearly not be in the country’s best interests. In such a climate, there would be virtually no prospect of gaining a firm commitment to the R&D and force modernization necessary to redress the strategic balance or of negotiating a follow-on SALT III agreement effecting substantial force reductions in a manner that is compatible with the country’s security interests. It should be recognized that, with or without a SALT II agreement, the strategic balance will continue to erode in the early 1980’s, further aggravating the adverse trends in the overall US-Soviet military balance. We highlighted in our memorandum4 of 26 December 1978, which forwarded to you the Joint Strategic Planning Document for FY 1981–1988, that the Soviets have already solidified their conventional superiority over us and that the currently programmed US force does not provide reasonable assurance that we can execute the national military strategy. Under these circumstances, prompt and resolute action to arrest, and ultimately reverse, the steady erosion of our relative strategic posture must become an objective of the highest national priority.

8. We request that you endorse these views and forward this memorandum to the President. Furthermore, we request an opportunity to meet with you and the President to discuss these issues and their im[Page 940]plications before any final action is taken to consummate a SALT II agreement.5

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

David C. Jones Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 54, SALT: 3/79. Secret.
  2. JCSM–321–78, 12 October 1978, “SALT II in Perspective (U)” [Footnote is in the original. For a summary of JCSM–321–78, see Document 220.]
  3. Assessment distributed through SAO channels; cite no. TSC 565723/79 [Footnote is in the original.]
  4. JCSM–359–78, 26 December 1978, “Joint Strategic Planning Document for FY 1981 Through FY 1988 (U)” [Footnote is in the original.]
  5. According to a June 12 memorandum from Fritz Ermarth of the NSC Staff to Brzezinski, “Harold apparently decided not to send the JCS memo. His office told me ‘not to worry; Harold is taking care of this by himself.’” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 54, SALT: 3/79)