27. Memorandum From Philip Odeen of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • SALT without MIRV?

The Soviet position on MIRV limitations during your recent Moscow visit2 raises this question: What is the purpose and utility of SALT if MIRVs cannot be controlled?

This question may, of course, be premature. The Soviets could be taking a tough stance in order to increase their leverage to get the kind of MIRV deal they want. They may feel that we have stepped back substantially from the position we took last fall when you proposed that MIRVs be limited to one type ICBM. Now, of course, we are proposing that they have no MIRVs on any of their ICBMs.

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The Soviets may eventually accept some minimum MIRV deal.

—MIRVs on 1,000 light ICBMs on both sides.

—MIRVs on Soviet heavy ICBMs and on light U.S. ICBMs.

Since it now appears that the Soviets want to MIRV the heavy ICBMs, the latter may be what they want as a SALT outcome. As we discussed in San Clemente, these MIRV outcomes would be better than unlimited Soviet MIRVing. Even limiting Soviet MIRVs to their heavy ICBMs would be an accomplishment, but we should try in that case to limit the number of RVs per missile (e.g., three or four).

Even if the Soviet Delegation in Geneva completely rejects any MIRV limits, I see no reason to change our position now. We may want to dig in and try to make them pay some price for having a free hand on MIRV, as well as make clear that it is they not we who are not prepared to tackle MIRV limits.

Alternatives to MIRV Limitations

Nonetheless, there is a real question as to what our objectives might be if a significant limit on MIRVs is not achievable in SALT. If SALT is to become moribund without MIRV limits, we should know that now and plan accordingly—both in our strategic programs and in our diplomacy. However, on balance I do not believe that SALT would necessarily become a worthless and empty exercise.

There are essentially two broad approaches we would take toward SALT in the absence of MIRV limits.

—We could adopt strictly a quantitative approach, possibly involving reductions.

—We could seek mutual restraints on specific strategic weapon programs.

These approaches are not of course mutually exclusive.

More Comprehensive Quantitative Approach

This is the approach to SALT favored by the JCS and OSD. It would involve seeking an equal aggregate at the Soviet level, full freedom to mix and some rhetorical or real commitment to future reductions.

We would gain in two respects compared to the Interim Agreement:

—Freedom to build more submarines than 710.

—Freedom to substitute other systems for the expected vulnerability of land-based ICBMs.

We could get the same freedom by letting the Interim Agreement lapse. However, we would also lose control over the numerical level of Soviet missile forces. Thus, a new numerical agreement would basic [Page 86] ally be aimed at giving us greater freedom of action but holding the Soviets to their current levels.

We might have to pay a high price for such an agreement. We undoubtedly would have to put in our bombers, solve the FBS problem and possibly take a number of steps of interest to the Soviets as well, such as limiting ASMs.

As you are aware this approach will do nothing for us in terms of survivability, since MIRVs would be permitted. In fact, the survivability problem would be aggravated if we actually reduce our ICBMs. The only way reductions can help us in terms of ICBM survivability is if we can deploy mobile ICBMs and drastically cut Soviet throw weight, in other words phase out their MLBMs. Achieving the latter is an even more remote possibility than limiting Soviet MIRVs.

Finally, the quantitative approach will do little to restrain strategic arms developments and deployments on either side. Nor would it avoid most of the tensions, uncertainties and costs of what is now clearly a qualitative competition in strategic forces. In all likelihood it would do nothing to curb Soviet programs and inevitably would lead to pressures for new U.S. programs.


The other possibility would be to develop an agreement which would place concrete restraints on specific identifiable strategic programs. This might make a purely quantitative approach more meaningful, in terms of strategic stability and real security concerns. For example:

—The Soviets might agree on a conversion schedule for their ICBMs which would minimize uncertainties on our part, e.g., convert SS–9 to SS–18 at the rate of 20 per year, SS–11 to SS–17 at the rate of 50 per year.

—In return we might restrain the pace of Trident, B–1 or perhaps our air-to-surface missile programs.

—Alternatively, we might seek prohibitions designed to enhance survivability of other components of our strategic forces such as our bombers. This could involve a ban on depressed trajectory SLBMs and submarine standoff arrangements.

The purpose of this approach would be similar to MIRV limits. It would try to postpone the day when Minuteman or our bombers become highly vulnerable. It would also try to avoid the possibility of sudden changes in the strategic balance and therefore reduce somewhat the need for expensive and elaborate hedging programs.

It would make SALT an open ended process, for we would need to continually return to the negotiating table to deal with new potential strategic systems.

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This approach can be criticized as being mindless arms control. However, it is far less mindless than simple quantitative limitations or reductions. Moreover, it can make a serious contribution to stability—stability in the pace of weapon programs on both sides and in the confidence that each side can have over time in its strategic posture.

The major problem with this approach is that it may be difficult for either side to bargain in this fashion, i.e., trading schedules for major weapon developments and deployments. It would be strongly resisted by our own military and the degree of candor that may be required on the part of the Soviets could easily exceed their capacity for talking frankly (which is near zero at least thus far in SALT).


We should continue to make a strong effort to reach a MIRV limitation that is in our interest. If after some long time the Soviets are not prepared to limit MIRVs, we need not despair that there is no possible role for SALT. Further quantitative limitations particularly if combined with some concrete restraints on the most dangerous strategic programs can be useful in enhancing our security. However, we should not consider switching to this approach until our programs are more near to maturity and our bargaining leverage is enhanced—sometime late next year.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 889, SALT, SALT TWO–I–Geneva, April 1973. Secret; Outside the System. Sent for information. Kissinger initialed the memorandum.
  2. See Document 24.