35. Memorandum From William Hyland of the National Security Council Staff to Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff1


  • SALT Reexamined

The Soviet Perspective

It is important to bear in mind that the present stage of SALT coincides with a transitional period in Soviet strategic deployments. In effect, a decade of Soviet force build-up ended with the completion of the last SS–9, SS–11 silos, and the establishment of a ceiling on both land and sea-based ballistic missiles.

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For at least 5–7 years:

—The main backbone of the Soviet force will be about 1300 liquid propellant ICBMs, equipped primarily with single warheads and with a very limited hard target capability.

—The Soviet SLBM force will be about one-half Y–Class, with the limited range SS–N–6 and about one-half with the extended range SS–N–8 with little MIRV capability; the last of the 62 submarines permitted will become operational about 1978.

—The Soviets have not chosen to produce a new heavy bomber; their force of about 140 will become more or less obsolete. The Soviet force is a duad for all practical strategic purposes.

For public policy purposes, the Soviets claim that “parity” has been achieved, but in important areas of technology and in an overall strategic posture, the Soviets suffer from inferiority.

There is every chance that they can overcome their technical inferiorities and even achieve certain strategic advantages, particularly in the threat against our land-based missiles and bombers. This effort is now in its initial stage and its relationship to SALT is a key variable.

Having come this far since the Cuban missile debacle, and having achieved the plateau from which important advantages can now be reached, it is almost certain that the Soviets will not see SALT as a means to freeze the status quo, or to bargain away their opportunities. Given the record of obsession with “equality,” and their persistence in defining the global balance to include all of our striking forces, the Soviets are going to insist that their forces can in no way be “inferior.”

This means that they must be survivable—which means new, hardened silos; they must be more sophisticated than the first and second generation of ICBMs and SLBMs—which means more accurate; they must give the General Staff planners a greater degree of flexibility in strategic options—which means MIRVs.

In short, there is very little chance that we can use SALT to head off or drastically limit the next phase of Soviet strategic development.

Does SALT, then, have any strategic value, or is it to be pure politics?

SALT Alternatives

The answer is that SALT still has value as a means of stabilizing the relationship with the USSR, provided that we can work out an understanding about the pace of change in the next decade.

Both sides are contemplating major changes in their strategic arsenals—the US with the Trident and B–1 and perhaps an improved ICBM, and the USSR with a new family of ICBMs and probably yet one more version of an SLBM. If these systems are brought into operation at [Page 113] crash speeds and publicly justified as compensation for threats from the other side, then the impact will be unsettling politically and strategically. The ABM agreement will eventually come under attack, as it is now in some parts of the government. The chances for a viable SALT agreement will be reduced.

There is reason to believe that the Soviets, while not wanting to sacrifice major programs, are willing to negotiate about how each side makes changes. In the original SALT principles, the Soviets proposed the US and the USSR would “exercise mutual restraint with regard to new programs of armaments . . .” You will recall that we redrafted this to include both armaments that would be limited (ICBMs, etc.) and those not limited (FBS). The Soviets accepted this provision, but we dropped it.2

The point is that there has been some expression of Soviet interest in “restraint” and this could be the genesis of the Trident–SS 16/17/18 discussion.

The testing of new ICBMs is being pressed on all fronts, but some intelligence suggests that the deployment of the SS–18, for example, may follow the pattern established in the build-up of the SS–9. Thus, we have intelligence that through 1975 production calls for 215 missile/containers for the SS–18; some percentage of these are used for testing. Since we know that the target for 1974 and 1975 is 50 per year, a retrofitting program of about 40–45 would be plausible. Allowing about an 18 month period for silo retrofitting, beginning early next year, the full program would be completed in about 7 years or more.

In short, the SS–18 would be fully operational about the end of 1981. This is about the pace of the SS–9 deployment. Similarly, if the SS–17 or 19 replaces the SS–11, and the pace of the SS–11 deployment is followed, then we are also dealing with about an 8 year period of about 100 missiles per year.

The Soviets could plan to establish their new ICBM force by around 1981–82. The purpose of SALT would be to stretch this period by as many years as possible.

SALT could become a framework in which each side would proceed with its modernization but at an agreed pace. In effect we would buy time, time which we need to sort out our own response to the basic question of force survivability. We would postpone or defer the maximum threat to our land-based force by X years through an agreement in which each side will deploy only so many new ICBMs or SLBMs each year.

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During this period the US could and should decide whether to adopt the blue water option of shifting to sea or to procure a mobile ICBM or both. We could establish in SALT the schedule for Trident and for the B–1, along with a schedule for the SS–18 and the SS–17/19. Verification would be facilitated by the fact that the Soviets would be permitted to reconstruct their older silos for the new missiles.

For the US there would be the advantage that SALT would be predicated on the advent of our new systems. Thus Congress would be more or less obligated to accept them in the name of strategic stability. Yet the “arms race” would be greatly elongated, the changes in strategic arsenals could be accommodated since each side could gradually adjust its posture.

How Would MIRV Limits Fit In?

Perhaps the simplest approach would be to allow MIRVing and put the effort on controlling the deployments. Since the Soviets are certainly not going to hold their testing while we negotiate, denying MIRVs will become almost academic. In fact, if the approach of a slowdown is adopted, it may be in our interest to permit a free hand in developing the newer SS–17/18 systems as the MIRV carrier. In this way, we reduce any incentive to transfer MIRV from SS–17s and 18s to SS–11s and 9s. The Soviets can bring up their new MIRV force, but at a pace that is agreed through limits on the number of silos retrofitted.

Obviously, a tight constraint on MIRV would be preferable to defer a threat to Minuteman, but, on balance, it is probably utopian to expect the Soviets to abandon a major area of strategic technology. Our strategy, as suggested in this memorandum, should be to accept the inevitability of Soviet strategic “equality” and to concentrate on codifying through SALT those US programs that will offset the Soviet technological growth, and thereby make SALT politically dependent on their adoption in this country.

The Outline of an Agreement

1. New ICBM silo construction would be frozen as in the Interim Agreement.

2. Technology for Soviet ICBMs would be frozen at present models; the USSR could develop the SS–17, 18 or 19, with a defined number of RVs.

3. The retrofitting of silos would be set at, say, 100 in an 18 month period, i.e., no more than 100 would be torn down and reconstructed, and of this total no more than, say, 30 SS–9 type silos.

4. Mobile ICBMs would be permitted up to some agreed number, say 200, provided that fixed ICBMs were dismantled one for one.

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5. The Soviets could complete their SLBM build-up as in the Interim Agreement; at that point, however, modernization of SLBMs would then proceed according to an agreed schedule; this schedule would apply to Trident except that the US would have up to 740 SLBMs to accommodate ten 24-tube boats if necessary.

6. Bombers would be frozen at present levels; an agreed schedule for the B–1 would be negotiated.

7. Compensation for FBS would be in the Soviet throw weight and numerical advantages.

The net result would be something along the following lines:

—The Soviets would probably decide to deploy about 200 SS–16 mobiles, perhaps tearing down 60 SS–13 silos and 140 SS–11s.

—They would then have a force of about 1200 fixed ICBMs.

—Starting in 1974 they could modernize this force; if the agreement allowed 100 per 18 months, they could overhaul one-half of their force by 1983; if they abided by a 30 silo limit on heavy ICBM launchers for every 18 months, it would take 15 years to replace the SS–9 force. (Probably they would seek a faster pace, say 100–150 a year for all ICBMs. This would still require 8–12 years.)

—If the SLBM replacement rate were, say, three submarines per year beginning in 1979, then it would take until 1989 to modernize the Y Class with SS–N–8 or a follow-on missile.

—By the time the Soviets have a fully MIRVed force, the US could complete the changeover to Trident, B–1 and/or mobiles.

In sum, neither side could have an expectation of being able to launch, or to be threatened by a disarming strike, at least not before 1983. The impact of such an arrangement should give a major impetus to “stability” and “restraint.”

This could be the kind of protracted process that the Soviets might accept. It would be “equal”, but not require them to abandon their projected programs.

It is in the nature of a fallback, from the present course of limiting MIRV. It assumes that this effort will fail, in that no significant limits will be negotiable. It meets some of the JCS concerns about flexibility of force planning, yet includes sufficient “arms control” to satisfy others. Above all, it builds into an agreement with the USSR the right (and obligation) to proceed with modernization of the US strategic force and puts the worst case “threats” far into the future.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 889, SALT, SALT TWO–I–Geneva, April 1973. Secret; Sensitive. The memorandum was not initialed by Hyland. An attached note indicates it was sent to Kissinger as message Tohak 321, August 29.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 21.