3. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security (Kissinger)1


  • Further Thoughts on the Soviet SALT II Proposals

It is apparent from the discussions of the last few days and the contents of Dobrynin’s note (copy at Tab B)2 that we agree with the Soviets on the priority of a permanent agreement (rather than another interim solution), that is more comprehensive. It is also clear that both sides perceive serious deficiencies in the Interim Agreement.3 The perceptions of the deficiencies, however, are quite different and point either toward a serious stalemate, or the possibility of defining some ground for bargaining.

Allowing for their usual tactics of stating their maximum objectives, the Soviet note nevertheless conveys the view that the Interim Agreement is unsatisfactory to them because it fails to deal with the question of our forward bases, our bombers, and probable new US programs. (The forward base issue is probably perceived by the Soviets in much the same way as we perceive at least a part of the problem posed for us by the numerical disparities contained in the Interim Agreement. That is, they find these bases obnoxious mostly for diplomatic/political/psychological reasons rather than because they pose serious military threats, much as we find the 62:41 submarine ratio politically unacceptable as a long-term arrangement.)

In putting forward their proposals for dealing with these issues, however, the Soviets seem to be saying that they are add-ons to the Interim Agreement, rather than areas for negotiations in which the terms of the present Interim Agreement might be adjusted.

For example, the Soviets raise our submarine bases and restrictions on SLBM operating radius. At the same time, they confirm the SLBM levels of the Interim Agreement. Taken at face value this is unacceptable especially since the Soviets themselves have justified the 62:41 [Page 19] ratio in part because of our advantage in forward basing. But it would be a different matter if they were proposing to renegotiate the SLBM or ICBM levels if our bases were abandoned.

Our perception of some of the deficiencies of the Interim Agreement of course are quite different than those outlined in the Soviet note. We clearly face the problem of the vulnerability of our land-based force, which in part is a function of the unequal levels in the Interim Agreement and, in part, a function of the lack of any restraints on technology. Moreover, as noted above, for political-diplomatic reasons, the perpetuation of unequal numbers is regarded by a certain body of opinion, reflected by Senator Jackson, as an unacceptable long term arrangement, and acceptable in the short-term only because we still have technological advantages and strategic systems not covered by the agreement, and because theoretically at least, we can break out after 5 years.

Thus, the unanswered question posed by the Soviet approach, is whether they would consider accommodating our concerns, if we in turn consider the measures they propose, or whether we are faced with a series of additional demands that proceed from the assumption that the Interim Agreement will be the unalterable foundation for the permanent agreement.

Of the issues raised, we might divide them into categories where we could consider some bargaining, and those which we have very little freedom of action.

Submarine Bases, as the attached portion of the InterAgency study indicates (Tab A),4 are not a vital element to our capabilities in the long term. The reduction of time on station would be about 20 percent, if we did not operate out of Holy Loch and Rota. The study concludes that the “prompt retaliatory capability would be somewhat reduced”, but no reduction in overall survivability of the force or its retaliatory capability. Most important, the advent of Trident means this basing is almost irrelevant, strategically, though still important politically.

There is, however, a limit on the stand off radius that we could accept, without seriously degrading the prompt retaliatory capability. For example, 1200 nm restrictions reduce the number of RVs from Poseidon targetted on Moscow by 45 percent.

The point is that this may be an area for negotiation, if it is clear that, in return, we would aim for throw-weight units, or SS–9 reduc [Page 20] tions. The Soviets will also argue, of course, that they must receive compensation for the British and French submarines [although even this implies only 50 Soviet submarines].

Forward Based Aircraft and Missiles, are quite a different issue. They are integral to our European commitment and the plans for theater warfare. Even a partial withdrawal would raise political issues that could not be mitigated by some Soviet concession on equal central systems. We are highly unlikely to convince the Allies that giving up, say carrier aircraft in the Mediterranean and withdrawing F–111s from England, would be an acceptable price to pay for the reduction of some number of Soviet ICBMs.

Yet, we can be fairly certain that the Soviet General Staff would vigorously resist equal central systems, especially any reduction of a key system such as the SS–9, while our entire FBS arsenal was left untouched.

A third area of possible bargaining—if this is a legitimate interpretation of the Soviet note—relates to our new programs. They state that not starting major new strategic programs is an issue for SALT II. Their open literature suggests that they will make a strong case against the B–1 and Trident as “destabilizing.” Obviously, this is loaded against us. They propose, for example, to restrict the operational range of SLBMs, and presumably, also propose that we abandon Trident. In this light their proposal offers us nothing.5

The question for us to think about, therefore, is whether there is any freedom of action to adjust or even abandon these programs. While I feel this is highly damaging, we might want to consider: (1) whether our postponement of Trident by some years, or an agreed pace of deployment would be negotiable in return for, say, a lower Soviet SLBM level, or a deferral of the deployment of the new SS–9; (2) whether postponement or [less palatable] abandonment of B–1 is negotiable for reductions in the SS–9s, reductions in throw weight, etc. Since the Soviets have also raised bomber armaments, we might also consider such limits as part of the bargaining.

Finally there is the proposal to “exercise restraint in areas not limited by the agreement as well as not to start new major programs in the field of strategic offensive arms.” It is worth pointing out that this is lifted almost verbatim from the paper you gave Dobrynin,6 except that our proposal read to exercise restraint “on the understanding that neither side would undertake major new programs that had as their goal the destruction of the deterrent forces of the other side.” By dropping this phrase the [Page 21] Soviet proposal becomes a different issue. Whereas we had in mind counterforce capabilities, they are directing their proposal toward the Trident and B–1. Nevertheless, the key importance may be the implied suggestion that if there is no agreement on including a specific item (such as carrier based aircraft), they might be satisfied with a general promise to “exercise restraint.”

In sum, what strikes me about the Soviet proposal is the possibility that we might think about matching their demands against ours to establish a bargaining framework. Rather than countering their proposal for restrictions on SLBM operations with a flat rejection, we might propose to put this concession in the perspective of an overall settlement that establishes equality. Rather than trying to bargain our FBS against their non-central system, we might, for example, tie a general constraint to the settlement of equal throw weight in central systems. We might also match the B–1 against the SS–9 as possible bargaining areas, and the Trident against equal SLBMICBM levels. In short, we might simply say that we will consider their propositions, not as additions to the Interim Agreement but as elements paralleling our own concerns, which could constitute trading material for a permanent settlement.7

All of this leads me to think that we should not yet be too truculent in rejecting the Soviet approach, but concentrate on establishing our own parallel concerns. To some extent our demands are on the record in the papers you gave to Dobrynin for Brezhnev, and should be reinforced in the November–December discussions.

In the foregoing we would set aside qualitative limits, and try first of all to exploit Soviet concerns to achieve throw weight equality or SS–9 reductions, or perhaps SLBM equality. In this approach it would be important that we stress to the Soviets the vulnerability of their SS–9 force, which carries a large percentage of their megatonnage. To underline this vulnerability it is important that we not offer to trade our MIRVs at this stage. Any incentives to bargain that we hold out to the Soviets would thus be reinforced by the implied threat to develop our counterforce capability against their land-based systems.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 888, SALT, SALT TWO–I–(Geneva), Nov. 21, 1972–March 1973. Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Sent for information. Brackets are in the original. Kissinger wrote on the top of the first page: “Excellent—see p. 4. HK.” The reference is to Kissinger’s handwritten note in footnote 7 below.
  2. Document 1.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 1.
  4. Tab A, which contains the page of the interagency study described, is attached but not printed. The page discusses SSBN operational deployment and contains the explanation that “because of geographical constraints, the U.S. already stands off at least 500 nm from the Soviet Union in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and most of the Norwegian Sea. Denial of ports is an important consideration for a standoff measure.”
  5. Kissinger highlighted the last sentence of this paragraph.
  6. Not found.
  7. Kissinger highlighted this paragraph and wrote in the margin: “Hal—will you try this?”