251. Memorandum From Roger Molander of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) and Special Counsel and Consultant to the President Lloyd Cutler1


  • Pre-November 4 Thoughts on SALT II Ratification

The purpose of this memo is to convey some thoughts on SALT II ratification in the relative calm of the pre-election environment. You can properly infer that such a statement connotes a concern that there may be a “rush to judgment” with respect to the handling of SALT II in the anticipated (and deserved) euphoria following the President’s reelection.

We know that the political and congressional environment following the November 4 elections will be dramatically different from that in which we have previously sought ratification. At the same time, we cannot at this time project with confidence what the characteristics of that environment will be in many important respects. Nevertheless, it is clear that there are four important areas in which we need to examine this issue:

Mandate from the Electorate. A victory by the President on November 4 in a context where SALT II has been a/the major campaign issue will result in at least a modest mandate from the electorate for moving forward on SALT II. There remains a possibility that this mandate will be more profound, and that the election will, in fact, be legitimately interpretable as a national referendum on SALT II with the power to dictate to the Senate that the SALT II agreement should be ratified essentially in its present form.

Composition of the Senate. We will need to carefully assess the impact of the possible loss of key senators from several standpoints. For example, we need to assess whether the loss of a particular senator means: (1) the loss only of a vote for SALT II (e.g., McGovern); (2) the loss of a vote for SALT II and the loss of a senator who would be critically important in making the case for the SALT II Treaty on the Senate floor (e.g., Hart or Culver); or (3) the additional loss of a senator who might have been able to deliver other senators (e.g., Cranston). Beyond this, with respect to new senators, we will also need to gain an appreci [Page 988] ation of “where their heads are.” Some may be of a moderate/conservative bent, but still vulnerable to the rational arguments in favor of SALT II.

Atmosphere in the Senate. When we were pushing the SALT II Treaty in the Senate in mid/late 1979, the President’s chances for reelection did not appear bright, and many senators were angry with Jimmy Carter for a multitude of different reasons. The attitude in the Senate toward a reelected Jimmy Carter will be profoundly different. All 100 of “them” are politicians of various sorts and hardly blind to the realities of having to deal with a President who will be around for four more years, and whose reelection is interpretable as a personal mandate reaching well beyond the national security area (and deep into their individual states).

Howard Baker. It seems clear from the Panama Canal Treaties’ experience and the SALT II ratification experience to date that Howard Baker is a key senator on the SALT II ratification issue—but not necessarily the key Senator. Baker’s support for the Treaty would probably be sufficient to ensure its ratification, but Baker’s support for the Treaty may not be necessary for that ratification if this Administration has its wits about it in terms of Senate strategy. Baker’s likely ability to assure SALT II ratification argues, of course, that we should make every effort to gain his support for the Treaty as is (i.e., as “modified” by the SFRC). This should include offering him the farm (a new TVA, “take me back to Nashville” as the new national anthem, or whatever), but we should not take the precipitous and dangerous step of bargaining with Baker on substantive admendments to the Treaty that would garner his support for it (see discussion below). If it appears that Baker’s support for the Treaty cannot be achieved by non-SALT carrots, then our first line of defense should be to minimize the impact of Baker’s lack of support. Howard Baker is not Everett Dirksen (much less Lyndon Johnson); he does not “deliver” his party, and it is possible to minimize the damage from Baker’s lack of support by approaching individual Republican Senators on the SALT II Treaty issue on its merits. We found that out in late 1979. Nevertheless, we should make every effort to cultivate Baker and to ply him with non-SALT concessions, since support from him (without substantive changes to the Treaty) is clearly the easiest route to ratification of the SALT II Treaty by the US and the Soviet Union. We should keep in mind that Baker is a thoughtful man as evidenced by his final statement on SALT in the SFRC hearings:

“I believe in the SALT process. I believe there is a moral imperative that should require the great nations of the world to try to reach an accord on the limitation of nuclear weapons . . . this treaty might be a good treaty at another time: After we have remedied the defects in our verification procedure; after we have moved along the development and deployment of our new weapon systems; after we are secure in the [Page 989] knowledge that we do, in fact, have a survivable and effective counterforce structure, the ability to retaliate that we are about to lose. It is not that this treaty is bad, per se, but it is bad at this time.”

You can properly infer that I (and virtually every other member of the SALT community involved in the actual negotiations of the Treaty) am deeply concerned that we might seek major substantive changes in the Treaty as the vehicle for obtaining SALT II ratification. Such changes would clearly prolong the ratification process—when we are already critically close to having the SALT II Treaty overtaken by events. For example, increased delays could make reopening of the Protocol duration issue an imperative.

I recognize that, at some point (after we have fully assimilated and analyzed the characteristics of the problems in the Senate), we may conclude that a substantive change to the Treaty will be necessary to gain ratification. If it comes to this, we will need to carefully assess which substantive changes might be sold to the Russians. Based on the experience of nearly seven years of SALT II negotiations, my preliminary judgment is that we might be able to sell the following attractive substantive changes to the Treaty:

—Equal US rights to heavy silo-based ICBMs in a context where heavy mobile ICBMs continue to be banned for both sides; and

—Extension of the Treaty period for an additional five years, i.e., to the end of 1990, possibly in return for a one-year extension of the Protocol. (My personal preference continues to be making the SALT II Treaty permanent with a five-year review clause as is the case with the SALT I ABM Treaty.)

In this context, I continue to believe that there is no chance of the Soviets accepting certain other substantive changes to the Treaty that have been raised at various times over the last twelve months, such as:

—Counting Backfire in the aggregate in return for counting US FB–111’s;

—Imposing an explicit numerical ceiling (e.g., 350 or less) on Backfire production;

—Banning all telemetry encryption; and

—Adjusting the heavy ICBM limitations to permit the US the rights to mobile heavy ICBMs in a context where we are also permitted the rights to 308 heavy silo-based ICBMs.

In the next few weeks, I will have a restricted subset of the SALT Working Group do some further thinking on the acceptable/unacceptable concessions question. In the interim, the message of this memo is: As we prepare to let the clutch out after November 4, let’s let it out in first gear, not in fourth.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Box 37, Serial XS–10/80–12/80. Secret. Sent for information. Copies were sent to Welch and Albright.