248. Memorandum From Roger Molander and Madeleine Albright of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) and the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Aaron)1


  • SALT

The purpose of this memo is to assess the current situation with respect to SALT and related issues to include:

—Continued adherence to the SALT I Interim Agreement;

—Prospects for ratification of the SALT II Treaty; and

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—Maintaining the ABM Treaty in the possible absence of an agreement limiting strategic offensive weapons.

We will also be working with our colleagues in the coming weeks to include the following topics in this assessment:

—Impact of a SALT delay/failure on M–X;

—Impact of a SALT delay/failure on the defense budget; and

—Impact of a SALT delay/failure on TNF modernization.

Each of the first three issues listed above is treated in detail at Tabs A–C, respectively. A summary of the assessment for each of these issues is provided below.

Interim Agreement (IA)

It will be in our interest to maintain the informal adherence to the Interim Agreement for the foreseeable future, principally as a means of keeping the SALT process alive. We do not as yet know whether the Soviets are willing to continue to adhere to the IA. We should probably not raise this issue with them until just before (or at) the next SCC session which begins on March 18. When the first Trident SSBN goes on sea trials in July 1980, we will have to initiate dismantling of two Polaris SSBNs. The Navy has already removed two Polaris SSBNs from service, independent of SALT. Procurement of the funds required to dismantle these SSBNs under SALT procedures (about $5 million) could encounter stiff resistance in the Congress.

SALT II Treaty

The President’s letter to Senator Byrd2 did not preclude a subsequent request that the Senate take up the Treaty in 1980. Senators up for reelection and the President’s political advisors will undoubtedly argue that in the current and projected 1980 environment, a vote for SALT will be a political liability for both Senators and the President—with the worst of both worlds, narrow defeat of the Treaty, a real possibility. Several scheduling problems will also occur if an effort is made to shoe-horn SALT into the mid-1980 Senate calendar. At the same time, none of the basic arguments we have been making for SALT are invalidated by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, an environment which would permit these arguments to gain currency (in contrast to the anti-SALT linkage arguments) is unlikely to occur naturally in 1980. While a dedicated effort to create such an environment in 1980 is possible, it is clearly a dubious proposition.

If Senate consideration of the SALT II Treaty is delayed until 1981, there clearly will be internal pressures in the Soviet Union to give up on [Page 978] SALT II on the grounds that the prospects for ratification would be worse in 1981 than they appeared prior to the invasion of Afghanistan. The particular irreversible actions which they might take which are restrained by the SALT II Treaty include: (1) deployment of more than 820 MIRVed ICBM launchers; (2) full encryption of all ICBM and SLBM flight tests; and (3) testing of more than 10 RVs on the SS–18.

If Senate consideration of the SALT II Treaty is delayed until 1981, the terms of the Treaty dealing with the dismantling schedule will have to be renegotiated. In addition, the Soviets will probably insist on either extending the Protocol or, in light of our TNF decision, making the SLCM/GLCM negotiation a part of SALT II.

If settlement of the SLCM/GLCM issue is a prerequisite to completion of a new SALT II agreement, we are likely to find ourselves in a full-blown negotiation on long-range TNF in SALT II—with no assurance of being able to reach a settlement in any reasonable period of time.

If Senate consideration of the SALT II Treaty is delayed until 1981, the Treaty under Senate rules will be sent back to the SFRC, new hearings would probably be held, changes in at least the dismantling provisions would have to be made and negotiated with the Soviets, and, even under an optimistic schedule, ratification could not occur before mid-1981.

In light of the problems described above, we could seek Soviet agreement to a more formal “standstill” (i.e., specific agreement to abide by the terms of SALT II pending ratification). However, we unsuccessfully sought Soviet agreement to such a standstill both before and at Vienna. There is no assurance that the Soviets would accept a SALT II standstill in the current environment. Senate reaction would probably be negative. However, we could argue that it takes them off the hook for 1980, and point out that they always have the alternative of taking up the Treaty.

In sum, there are no good alternatives. A SALT vote in 1980 would require an extraordinary act of political courage on the part of the President and many senators. Soviet exercise of restraint until mid-1981 is a matter of hope—and may not be politically possible for the Soviet leadership in the current environment. An effort to achieve a SALT II standstill makes sense, and an initiative along these lines should be attempted as soon as the air clears a little. However, even a successful standstill agreement could leave formidable renegotiation problems in 1981 relating to Protocol duration and future SLCM/GLCM limits.

ABM Treaty

Because the ABM Treaty limits each side to strategically insignificant ABM levels, it ensures the penetration of not only US ballistic mis [Page 979] sile RVs but also those of Great Britain, France, and China. As a consequence, in the absence of an agreement limiting strategic offensive strategic weapons, the Soviets could be motivated to abandon the ABM Treaty and deploy a nationwide ABM system as a means of negating the retaliatory capability of Chinese, French, and British forces—as well as limit damage in a nuclear war with the US. If the Soviets deployed a nationwide ABM system, we would become increasingly concerned about not only the capability of the deployed system, but also the possibility of upgrading current and projected SAM air defense systems.

The absence of an agreement on offensive weapons could also stimulate Soviet interest in abandoning the ABM Treaty in order to defend their major investment in silo-based ICBMs.

In the absence of an agreement on offensive weapons, there will be increasing interest on the US side (already manifest in some newspaper articles) in abandoning the ABM Treaty and defending an MPS system (race track or vertical shelter) with an ABM system. We do not as yet have an estimate of the cost of an ABM system which would maintain the retaliatory capability projected for the race track MPS in the “with SALT” case—taking into account a probable Soviet ABM system. However, it is clear that the cost of such a system would be prodigious and undoubtedly face severe skepticism as to whether it would actually work.

Both Great Britain and France (and presumably also China) are in the process of designing their follow-on strategic ballistic missile programs for the balance of the century. With the ABM Treaty intact, these nations are virtually guaranteed a substantial retaliatory capability against the Soviet Union—and thus a deterrent. With a nationwide Soviet ABM, it is dubious whether any of these nations can maintain a retaliatory capability sufficient to deter Soviet attack without extraordinary and possibly prohibitive expenditures. The political conse-quences of this situation, in particular for Sino-Soviet relations, are unpredictable.

In sum, taking into account our own strategic interests and those of our Allies and China, it would not appear to be in our interest to abandon the ABM Treaty—or take steps that would indicate to the Soviets that we might move in such a direction. At the same time, we must be prepared to face a situation where the Soviets unilaterally move to terminate the Treaty, possibly invoking (with legitimacy) the emerging US threat to their silo-based ICBMs.



  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 55, SALT, 12/79–3/80. Secret; Outside the System. Sent for information. Not printed are Tab A, “Continued Adherence to the SALT I Interim Agreement;” Tab B, “Ratification of the SALT II Treaty;” Tab C, “Maintaining the ABM Treaty in the Possible Absence of an Agreement Limiting Strategic Offensive Weapons.” On January 11, Molander sent Brzezinski and Aaron a brief memorandum in which he explained that he was preparing this memorandum and on which Brzezinski wrote, “Grim, what is to be done?” (Ibid.)
  2. Document 246.