244. Letter From Nineteen Senators to President Carter1

Dear Mr. President:

For some months now the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Armed Services Committee, and the Intelligence Committee have been carefully examining the SALT II agreement to determine if it meets our nation’s national security interests. Public hearings on the Treaty have been accompanied by numerous private meetings among Senators of both parties, Administration officials, and other individuals possessing experience and expertise in arms control and related matters.

From the hearings and from those individual meetings, a number of important issues have emerged regarding both the proposed SALT II Treaty and the state of our nation’s defense posture.

With respect to the Treaty, we as individual Senators are deeply concerned over certain provisions of, and omissions from, the Treaty. We hope that during the course of Senate deliberations our concerns can be met. We are concerned over the Protocol terms and their precedential effect. We are also concerned over the Treaty provisions relating to “heavy” missiles, verification, limitations on potential basing modes for the MX missile, the threat posed to the United States by the Backfire and other Soviet weapons not limited by the Treaty, and other issues. We are hopeful that these problem areas can be resolved in a manner that strengthens the SALT Treaty and improves the SALT process.

In addition to these Treaty issues, we are also concerned over the ongoing slippage in America’s comparative military position, awareness of which has been accentuated by the Senate’s deliberations on SALT and by recent international events. In the last decade, the Soviet Union has attained at the very least essential equivalence in strategic weapons, has eliminated NATO’s longstanding superiority in theater nuclear forces, and has expanded an already preponderant advantage in ground forces and civil defense capability. Furthermore, the Soviets are reducing our qualitative edge in tactical air forces and have [Page 969] constructed a navy that, for the first time in modern history, threatens traditional Western supremacy on the high seas. These trends have been accompanied by a growing Soviet and Soviet-sponsored threat to the West’s sources of energy and raw materials.

The erosion that has taken place in the East-West military balance can be principally attributed to the failure of the U.S. and our Allies to compete effectively with Moscow in the military arena in the past 15 years. While diverting substantial conventional forces to the conflict in Southeast Asia in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, we remained, in the category of nuclear arms, basically content to live off of capital invested in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. In so doing, we provided the Soviet Union the opportunity to steal a massive military march on the West. That the Soviets took advantage of that opportunity is no longer questioned.

During the period 1970–1978, the Soviet Union invested a total of $104 billion more than the United States in military equipment and facilities, and $40 billion more in research and development. According to the CIA, the Soviet Union is still militarily outspending the United States overall by at least 40 percent annually; in the critical categories of investment in weapons procurement and research and development, they are outspending us by a 2:1 ratio.

We do not believe that the SALT II agreement currently before the Senate can be held directly responsible for this erosion in America’s military position. However, during the seven years that the agreement was in negotiation, the hopes for significant arms control did influence our force planning and the support for defense initiatives. Thus, efforts which may have been needed to counter the mounting Soviet threat were delayed, curtailed, or even abandoned. Ratification of a SALT II Treaty will not reverse trends in the military balance adverse to the United States.

We applaud the statements by both you and Secretary of Defense Harold Brown relating to the Five-Year Defense Program.2 We reserve the right to examine the submittal in detail, but it does represent a positive step in acknowledging the Soviet buildup and in committing to real increases in defense spending and capability.

We have ourselves met on several occasions to discuss those considerations that will be foremost on our minds as the Senate approaches its full floor debate on the Treaty. All of us are agreed that the Treaty issues mentioned above are important and that the manner in which they are resolved will influence our final decision on Treaty ratification.

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We are also agreed that the SALT II Treaty cannot be judged in a vacuum. In our view, the Treaty represents but one facet of a much broader East-West relationship that encompasses political and economic, as well as military dimensions. Our final judgment on the Treaty will therefore not be confined solely to the merits or flaws of the Treaty alone. We regard the following considerations as crucial:

1. The absence of definitive Administration proposals designed to narrow the strategic nuclear window of vulnerability which will occur during the early and mid-1980’s.

2. The longstanding adverse trends in our own defense posture, and the extent to which the Administration’s proposed Fiscal 1981 Defense Budget and Five-Year Defense Plan establishes a firm foundation for reversing those trends, in both conventional and nuclear forces. We believe that an objective review must be made in the immediate future as to our manpower procurement problems.

3. The plans and programs envisioned by the Administration to improve our intelligence capabilities, with particular emphasis on investment in high-technology collection systems and professional analytic resources. The need is also apparent to reconstitute our sensitive operational intelligence capabilities.

4. The impact of the SALT II Treaty on our ability in concert with our NATO allies, to modernize European-based nuclear and conventional forces. We are particularly interested in the Administration plans as to the deployment date for ground-launched cruise missiles.

5. The global military and political climate, particularly the increasingly aggressive activities in the Third World of the Soviet Union and its proxies. We are interested in the Administration plans to deter and counter such behavior over the coming decade. We regard such behavior as inconsistent with the underlying spirit of the SALT process.

6. The effect of the Treaty on long-term prospects for meaningful arms control, with respect not only to the attainment in SALT III of “deep cuts” in existing levels of strategic armaments, but also to significant progress in our other arms control efforts such as the negotiations on Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions in Europe. The SALT process so far has failed to restrain the momentum of the Soviet Union’s ongoing military buildup.

We believe that the Salt II debate will provide a unique opportunity not only to examine the Treaty itself, but also to seek a bipartisan consensus on long-range national security strategy and arms control.

Further, we attach great value to the pursuit of arms control, provided it enhances our nation’s security. Should circumstances arise in which there are insufficient votes either to strengthen or to ratify the Treaty, we believe that serious consideration should be given to post [Page 971] ponement. In view of the unforeseen delays in the Senate debate, persistent worldwide tensions, and national political considerations, any such postponement should be effective through the Presidential and Senatorial elections of 1980. As we have indicated, we regard an effective SALT process as being in our nation’s interest.

Each of the undersigned, of course, gives different weight to these individual items but this letter expresses our general concerns. Because of our concerns, largely covered by this letter, we are uncommitted as to how we will cast our votes on the SALT II Treaty and proposed changes.

We look forward to discussing these issues in detail with you and members of your Administration.


  1. Source: Carter Library, Office of Congressional Liaison, Beckel, SALT II, Box 232, SALT II: Sen. Sam Nunn, 4/30/79–12/17/79. No classification marking. The letter was signed by the following Senators: Sam Nunn (D–GA), John W. Warner (R–VA), Lawton Chiles (D–FL), Henry Bellmon (R–OK), John Danforth (R–MO), Rudy Boschwitz (R–MN), Harrison Schmitt (R–NM), Pete Domenici (R–NM), Edward Zorinksy (R–NE), John Heinz (R–PA), Daniel Boren (D–OK), Richard Schweiker (R–PA), Lloyd Bentsen (D–TX), S.I. Hayakawa (R–CA), J.J. Exon (D–NE), Larry Pressler (R–SD), Dennis DeConcini (D–AZ), David Durenberger (R–MN), and Alan Simpson (R–WY).
  2. Apparent reference to Carter’s December 12 remarks to the members of the Business Council on U.S. defense spending. The text is in Public Papers: Carter, 1979, Book II, pp. 2232–2237.
  3. The letter is signed by all 19 Senators. Carter replied in December 19 letters to each of the Senators, noting his “desire to achieve a bipartisan consensus on these issues of long-range national security strategy and arms control.” See Public Papers: Carter, 1979, Book II, pp. 2256–2257.