4. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Issues in SALT

The first session of SALT opens in Geneva on November 21. Although this session will be exploratory, there are a number of issues which will need to be addressed so that our Delegation can conduct the explorations in a manner that does not foreclose key decisions after the first round.

The Verification Panel met two times last week,2 and certain general categories of issues have been discussed. There is a consensus that a permanent agreement, rather than another interim agreement should be the product of the next phase of SALT. This memorandum brings you up to date on the discussions and foreshadows the issues which will be discussed further in the Verification Panel and presented to the NSC.3

The issues are:

—What weapons systems should be included in a permanent agreement and at what level of the numerical limits.

—How do we respond to Soviet arguments pointed towards including our forward-based aircraft, missiles and submarines.

—Whether we raise the issue of qualitative limits such as MIRV bans and, if so, how far to go in the exploratory round.

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I. Quantitative Limits

There is general acceptance that a minimum requirement of a permanent agreement is that the U.S. and USSR have equal aggregate number of ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers with freedom to mix—that is to change the number of each system within the overall total so long as the number of ICBMs does not increase.

Beyond that, however, there are three basic issues to be considered:

—The specific composition of the equal aggregate.

—The numerical level of the equal aggregate.

—Whether the aggregate should provide equality in missile throw-weight.

On the issue of composition, there is a consensus that the aggregate shall cover ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers. There is common understanding on what constitutes ICBMs and SLBMs. However, the definition of bombers will lead to three questions:

—Should we include the 110 mothballed B–52 heavy bombers?

—Should we include the FB–111s? We have 70 of these aircraft which are part of our Strategic Air Command and built to perform the strategic bombing mission, but they are “medium” bombers.

—If we include the FB–111 should we also include the large number of Soviet medium bombers.

Including the mothballed B–52s and the FB–111s could be to our advantage in that we might later deploy more Trident missiles to substitute for them. By the same token, including the Soviet medium bombers means that they would be free to later replace them with far more capable submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

The question of whether to include these systems also depends on the aggregate numerical level we wish to achieve. We presently consider our aggregate level (2,200) to include only operational heavy bombers. Including the mothballed B–52s and FB–111s makes the most sense only if we want an agreement with a higher numerical level to allow us room to build up.

Another issue is whether we continue to oppose deployment of mobile ICBMs. You will recall that we have earlier argued to prohibit mobile ICBMs. In the face of Soviet insistence that mobile ICBMs be permitted we simply deferred the issue in the initial agreements. Inasmuch as mobile ICBMs are an important way to increase land-based missile survivability we need to consider carefully our position.

The issue of the numerical level of the aggregate limit on offensive forces comes down to three alternatives:

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Do we want to build up to the Soviet level (about 2,500). This is probably the easiest agreement to achieve. The question for us is whether the Congress would support a buildup of U.S. systems.

Do we want to reduce the Soviets to the U.S. level (about 2,200). This is clearly desirable, particularly if we can induce the Soviets to reduce SS–9s. The question is whether we have the bargaining leverage to achieve such unilateral Soviet reductions.

Do we want significant reductions (to about 1,500) requiring both sides to make large cuts in their strategic forces. This holds out the possibility of making a significant favorable impact on the strategic balance. However, we are still reviewing this question and there are still too many unresolved aspects to make a serious reduction proposal in the first round of talks.

Equality in missile throw-weight would rectify the major asymmetry in the strategic balance favoring the Soviets. (This stems from Soviet deployment of 300 heavy SS–9s.) Missile throw-weight—in effect its payload—is the basic determinant of MIRV capacity and other qualitative improvements. Thus for some, throw-weight is considered a problem of qualitative limits. However, in its simpler form it is a numerical problem and is treated as such in the Interim Agreement which freezes the number of “heavy ICBMs.”

Equal throw-weight is desired out of concern that the Soviet advantage in throw-weight might eventually be exploited to increase the vulnerability of Minuteman. To reduce this threat, the level of throw-weight would have to be set at our level and would in effect require phasing out the Soviet SS–9 force. In this connection, the current USSR throw-weight advantage would become a real threat to Minuteman as the Soviets proceed with their MIRV program.

There are three alternative throw-weight levels that could be chosen:

Soviet level—This would be the most easily negotiable and would prevent further Soviet increases. However, it would be of doubtful strategic value to the U.S. The main question is whether the Congress would support development and deployment of a large new U.S. missile to take advantage of the limit.

U.S. level—This would require the Soviets to unilaterally destroy their SS–9 missiles and new large missile. Without a MIRV ban, however, it would not remove the long-term threat to Minuteman from smaller Soviet missiles.

Some intermediate level—Could be used to limit SS–9s to a reduced level, and allow some U.S. increase. (It would also be possible to pose a direct limit on the number of large missiles on both sides.) This would not have any direct effect on the problem of Minuteman vulnerability.

In sum, you may wish to confine the Delegation to simply emphasizing the need for equal aggregates in central strategic offensive systems. However, you may want to authorize them to go beyond this [Page 25] to explore how this might be achieved—by building up to the Soviet level, by Soviet reductions to our level or appropriate reductions.

In addition, we could also raise the issue of equal throw-weight. For the initial talks we would not have to spell out how equality would be achieved. While a negotiable agreement on throw-weight may not be attainable, raising this issue from the outset could help build bargaining leverage for a more equitable overall agreement.

II. Forward-Based Systems (FBS)

We are already on notice that the Soviets will raise the question of our forward-based aircraft and missiles and our submarine bases at Holy Loch and Rota. This issue is critical to our Allies and, of course, critical to the flexibility we have to deploy forces in the future.

Our choices of responses in the initial round seem to be:

(1) We take a very firm line at least in the first round arguing that the issue of FBS cannot be addressed until the questions concerning central systems are resolved.

(2) We could reintroduce some variant of our earlier approach which only involves a general undertaking not to circumvent the agreement by rapidly building up systems not covered by the agreement.

(3) We could try to defer the issue by token measures such as including F–111s in the U.K. on the grounds that they can fly a low-level, two-way mission to Moscow.

(4) Argue that all of the equivalent Soviet systems which can reach our forces or bases must be included if ours are counted. For example, Soviet MR/IRBMs, submarine-launched cruise missiles, medium bombers are all in this class. This would create a virtual “Pandora’s Box,” and implies acceptance of the legitimacy of fringe systems in SALT.

III. Qualitative Limitations

There are a number of potential qualitative limitations which have been considered. They vary widely in their verifiability and their effectiveness. These constraints can be grouped into the following categories:

(1) Major limits which have decisive strategic impact, for example, a ban or limit on MIRVs, a ban on new missiles and components.

(2) Measures which have a strategic impact but of lesser importance; they could be treated separately or added to measures in the first category.

(3) Measures whose effect is largely to retard the pace of development, such as a limit on the annual number of missile tests, which also could be combined with other measures.

The principal issue is whether we want to open any discussion of qualitative limits in November. There are enormous differences in the government as to the strategic acceptability of various measures, and the confidence in verifying them.

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Should we decide to open the discussion, there are three alternative approaches which we could take to this area of discussion in the first session:

A. We can keep the discussion very general, leaving any specific limits for the next session of the talks. In this way we may see if the Soviets have any interest in qualitative limits without clearly committing ourselves to anything.

B. We could go somewhat further and select certain key limits to discuss. This approach permits us to focus on limits of interest to us but it also tends to commit us to proposals.

C. Or, we could go even further and discuss all of the various qualitative limits, indicating to the Soviets no preference, yet sounding them out on a wide range. This would have the disadvantage of opening up possible issues that we are not certain we want to pursue and of putting effort into uninteresting areas.

IV. Standing Consultative Commission

The final element which should be taken up in the exploratory discussion is the establishment of the Standing Consultative Commission (SCC). The first job for the SCC will be to determine destruction and replacement procedures. There are no important issues to be taken up regarding the SCC. There has been a minor controversy relative to organization which is being referred to you by separate memorandum.4

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 888, SALT, SALT TWO–I–(Geneva), Nov. 21, 1972–March 1973. Secret. A note on the first page indicates that the President saw the memorandum.
  2. For the Verification Panel meeting on October 31, see Document 2; for the meeting on November 2, see footnote 4 thereto.
  3. The issues were discussed further at the November 14 Verification Panel meeting, during which Kissinger told the Panel that since the President would not return from Camp David before the delegation left for Geneva, there would be no NSC meeting and the issues would be presented to the President in a memorandum. According to the Summary of Conclusions, the U.S. Delegation would adhere to the ban on mobile launchers, but if there was a possibility of reciprocity, would reexamine the position; would not initiate discussion on submarine FBS, unless discussions of equal aggregates could not be achieved without it; would not discuss ASW limitations; and would not discuss air defenses, unless it had bargaining value in the context of heavy bombers. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box H–107, Verification Panel Minutes, Originals, 3/15/72–6/4/74 [1 of 5])
  4. Not found.