47. Minutes of a Meeting of the National Security Council1


  • SALT


  • Principals
  • President Nixon
  • Vice President Ford
  • Secretary of Defense Schlesinger
  • Deputy Secretary of State Rush
  • JCS Acting Chairman Admiral Zumwalt
  • Director of Central Intelligence Colby
  • Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Ikle
  • Chairman, SALT Delegation, Ambassador U. Johnson
  • State
  • Mr. Helmut Sonnenfeldt
  • Mr. William Hyland
  • Defense
  • Deputy Secretary Clements
  • Mr. Paul Nitze (SALT Delegation)
  • JCS
  • Lt. Gen. Rowny (SALT Delegation)
  • CIA
  • Mr. Carl Duckett
  • ACDA
  • Mr. Sidney Graybeal, Chairman, SALT Consultative Committee
  • White House
  • Assistant to the President Kissinger
  • Mr. Melvin Laird
  • Mr. Bryce Harlow
  • NSC
  • Maj. Gen. Brent Scowcroft
  • Mr. Jan M. Lodal

[Omitted here is the President’s explanation of how he wanted the NSC to work during the remainder of his second term, printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume XXXVIII, Part 1, Foundations of Foreign Policy, 1973–1976, Document 26.]

Mr. Duckett: (Starts his briefing—says he will not stress ABMs or bombers since little has changed, but mentions there is one new ABM.)2

President Nixon: What, if anything, are the Chinese doing on the ABMs?

Mr. Duckett: They have nearly completed a radar which looks very much like the Soviet Dog House radar. It is clear that it is probably bore-sighted on Moscow and is, therefore, an anti-Soviet system. They are also developing some surface-to-air missiles, so it is clear that even [Page 159] tually they plan to get into ABMs, but I would not predict it in the near future.

President Nixon: At one of our next meetings, I would like to get a briefing on what the Chinese will look like in 10–15 years. When he was in San Clemente and we were talking about China, I said they would be a big power in 20–25 years; Brezhnev said that he thought the Chinese would be a significant power in 10 years. We often tend to underestimate what they would do, so I would like your analysis. Just give us an overview—will it be 15 years or 20 years? What do you think? I would also like to know what Japan could do if they decided to go into business for themselves.

Mr. Duckett: We will be happy to work on that for you, Mr. President. I would like to emphasize the four new Soviet ICBM programs. But first, I would like to show you a map indicating where the major Soviet ICBM installations are. (Secretary Rush drops the sugar dish.)

President Nixon: If I could interject a lighter remark here—Rush just smashed the silver, which reminds me of a story about Napoleon, who in his second year of exile, when his allowance was cut by the British King by 10,000 pounds per year, smashed up all the silverware and sold it so he could pay his bills (laughter).

Mr. Duckett: (Continues with briefing on Soviet missiles—970 SS–11s, liquid fueled; 288 SS–9s; 60 new small silos for SS-11 mod 3s. 33 Y-class submarines with SS–N–6s of 1300 nautical mile range. A new version with a 1600 nautical mile range and two RVs.)

President Nixon: Are you going to talk about the Soviet navy here?

Mr. Duckett: Only, sir, about the strategic missile launching submarines.

President Nixon: At some point I would like to have a briefing with regard to what Soviets are doing naval-wise compared to the U.S. The little reading I do in this area, I hear various stories, that despite the fact that we might have more numbers, our Navy is older and tired. I really want to know what the story is. We’ve increased our budget this year—you’re all happy with the budget, aren’t you? Is that a good budget?

Adm. Zumwalt: It’s the best budget on my watch, sir.

President Nixon: Well, cut it! (laughter).

Mr. Duckett: (Continues with briefing on SS–N–6 and new missiles. Talks about D-class submarines and their 4300 nautical mile missile. Discusses “stretched” D-class boat. Goes on to new ICBMs. Shows chart on different sized ICBMs. Describes SS–18, pop-up missile which replaces the SS–9. Describes SS–16—replaces the SS–13; perhaps mobile; no MIRVs, but testing a bus. Describes SS–17 and SS–19, says they’re probably in competition, but this is not unusual. Says the SS–19 [Page 160] has a much more efficient propellant, and, therefore, has [less than 1 line not declassified] the throw weight of the SS–11. Shows chart on test program and describes where each system is in its program. Points out that the programs were ongoing at the time of SALT I signing. [3 lines not declassified])

President Nixon: I recall an early press conference, I believe it was in ’69, Henry, where there was a tremendous argument over whether or not Soviets were moving ahead on MIRVs. I would like to know—have they gone as fast as we have expected them to?

Mr. Duckett: Well, sir, the answer is mixed. They started somewhat later than we expected them to—we had predicted they would begin testing MIRVs as early as two years before they did. However, they are now moving very rapidly with more systems than we expected. Thus, there are indications in both directions.

Secretary Schlesinger: In other words, Mr. President, we are not surprised by the pace of their programs, but by their breadth and depth. This is an extraordinary development; it reflects a major effort on their part.

Mr. Duckett: (Goes over chart used last March by Schlesinger as DCI. Explains what Soviets could do in total number of RVs under various assumptions. Emphasizes that the big change since last July is that the “medium” missiles are so much larger than we expected. The heavy ICBMs are no longer the major threat. They could deploy more throw weight through the 19 or 17 than through the 18.)

President Nixon: What I hear you say is that in the field of MIRVs, it’s somewhat mixed, but overall, they have done more than we expected.

Mr. Duckett: Yes, sir. Once again, the biggest surprise has been that the replacements for the SS–11 are over twice as large as the 11.

President Nixon: What about accuracy?

Mr. Duckett: [3 lines not declassified]

President Nixon: [1 line not declassified]

Mr. Duckett: [1½ lines not declassified]

[1 paragraph (4 lines) not declassified]

President Nixon: Do we expect demonstrations in Canberra? (Laughter)

Mr. Duckett: [2 lines not declassified]

President Nixon: Do others have any questions?

Secretary Schlesinger: Carl, with 300 SS–18s, they could get some 5 million pounds of throw weight. They could get another 7 million pounds or so with their medium missiles, giving them a total of 12 million pounds of throw weight. This compares with something like 2 mil [Page 161] lion pounds for the U.S. As good technology ultimately becomes available to both sides, throw weight becomes the main determinant of capabilities. We can live with some disparity, but that much disparity, over 5 to 1, is of some concern to us.

Mr. Duckett: [2 lines not declassified]

Secretary Schlesinger: I would like to emphasize that right now they have no great advantage. Up until the 1980s, they will have no counter-force capability against us. But we must be concerned with what we might end up with through a permanent agreement.

President Nixon: What do you mean by counter-force capability?

Secretary Schlesinger: Destruction of silos is one part of a counterforce capability. We can trade off yield for accuracy to some extent, but in the real world, one can never be sure about accuracies. The small degradation in accuracy would degrade our counterforce capabilities much faster than theirs since they rely on high-yield weapons. They might be able to contemplate a first strike against our silos, but so could we in all likelihood. Nonetheless, such a great disparity would be very bad for us politically.

President Nixon: What is the situation with respect to our tactical nuclear weapons? [less than 1 line not declassified] Are the Soviets developing them, and are they of any use? Are they of some use against China?

Mr. Duckett: They have a wide range of tactical nuclear weapons deployed. They have mobiles along the Chinese border, and they have a large inventory of tactical nuclear aircraft. Also, as you recall from the recent mid-East conflict, they have the SCUD missile, which was one of their first tactical nuclear weapons.

President Nixon: What’s the yield of that missile?

Mr. Duckett: [less than 1 line not declassified]

President Nixon: That’s quite a lot.

Mr. Duckett: [2 lines not declassified]

President Nixon: How many of those could they use versus the Chinese?

Mr. Duckett: They have approximately a hundred mobiles deployed along the Chinese border.

President Nixon: What do you mean by mobile?

Mr. Duckett: It’s something like a tank—it moves on its own, and has its own launcher, erector, etc.

President Nixon: What are they doing about mobility now—are their programs static?

Mr. Duckett: They have some systems under development.

[Page 162]

President Nixon: What is our situation with respect to mobile tactical nukes?

Secretary Schlesinger: We have movable tactical nuclear weapons such as Pershing.

President Nixon: But they are not like tanks?

Secretary Schlesinger: No.

President Nixon: We decided against that, if I remember correctly.

Secretary Schlesinger: Yes. Our emphasis is on accuracy and small yields. But we have no very good doctrine for tactical nuclear weapons. It’s not clear how we would employ them.

President Nixon: It all has to do with doctrine, doesn’t it? It finally gets down to that. I think we need more discussion on doctrine.

Secretary Kissinger: That has been one of my losing battles. When you say we have no use for them, what you should say is that we have no agreed doctrine. We don’t know how we would use them. And once we figure it out ourselves, we would have no agreement with our Allies.

Secretary Schlesinger: However, things seemed to be improving at the last NATO nuclear planning group meeting. They are beginning to focus on this problem.

President Nixon: I’m concerned about Western Europe—we think in terms of a decision by the President of the United States and the General Secretary when one of them pushes a button and kills 70 million people, and the other pushes a button and kills 70 million on the other side. That’s not much of an option.

Secretary Kissinger: Any leader who had only the option of killing 70 million people would not use it. I should say that there has been a tremendous improvement in this area in your administration. The targeting flexibility has increased tremendously. The new doctrine, which you recently issued in a new NSDM, has made a significant improvement in giving the military the doctrine they need to provide for flexible targeting.3 I must say it has not been matched with regards to tactical nuclear weapons.

President Nixon: I remember hearing the SIOP briefings, and I agree that no one would kill 70 million people just like that. Of course, escalation up to that point may be inevitable. [1 line not declassified]

General Rowny: [less than 1 line not declassified]

President Nixon: Do they have mobiles in Europe?

General Rowny: Yes.

[Page 163]

Amb Johnson: It’s also important to remember they have medium range and intermediate range ballistic missiles deployed against Western Europe and China. These somewhat offset our tactical nuclear weapons.

Secretary Kissinger: They also have SS–11s targeted versus China.

Mr. Duckett: [2 lines not declassified]

President Nixon: To what extent do they assess the importance of our tactical nuclear weapons?

Secretary Kissinger: We don’t know how they assess ours, but we do know that they plan an early massive use of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. Their plans call for such fast use that an orderly war might not really be possible.

Director Colby: [2 lines not declassified]

President Nixon: What have we decided about our weapons?

Secretary Kissinger: We haven’t found out how to use ours.

President Nixon: Do we have much mobility in Europe?

Secretary Schlesinger: We have such a different doctrine; we have highly vulnerable nuclear assets in Europe, and the irrationality of our policy gives them no assurance we would not use them. So they act as something of a deterrent.

Secretary Kissinger: There is certainly no way they could figure out how we would use our weapons, since we have not figured it out for ourselves.

Mr. Clements: The location of these weapons is apparent to everyone.

Secretary Schlesinger: We are moving to less vulnerable weapons which should allow us to remove some of the weapons we now have in Europe. We are also talking about trying to get agreement to localize use of weapons to say +30 miles of the FEBA. This would hopefully keep Germany from being totally destroyed.

Vice President Ford: Will this require new weapons or just a change in doctrine?

Secretary Schlesinger: There might be some change in the stockpile required, but with existing weapons like Lance, we can do most of it.

President Nixon: Alex, the Soviets always complain that we never count the British and French forces?

Amb. Johnson: There are two issues here. First, what we call in our shorthand FBS—our Forward-Based Systems and, second, the French and British strategic submarines. They say they are entitled to compensation for the British and French submarines. They have not raised the issue of French MRBMs.

President Nixon: And the British MRBMs?

[Page 164]

Amb. Johnson: There are no British MRBMs—just the submarines, and of course, the bombers.

President Nixon: Well, what good are bombers! (laughter) I guess there is no one from the Air Force here—

Amb. Johnson: The Soviet MR/IRBMs are a significant compensation for our FBS.

President Nixon: Let’s move on to Henry’s description of the issues.

Secretary Kissinger: Mr. President, the changes since we first talked about SALT have been very great. Then, we were talking about forces with single warheads, and there was a narrow gap between first and second strike capabilities. Now, the situation with MIRVs has inherent instabilities. There is a widening gap between a first and second strike when you have MIRVs, even leaving aside the question of throw weight. With five or more warheads on each missile, there is an apparent instability.

President Nixon: MIRVs provide an enormous advantage to the nation which strikes first?

Secretary Kissinger: Accurate MIRVs do, yes. This makes it much harder to determine our objectives in SALT. This is the big difference between SALT II and SALT I. For example, it affects a question like reductions. With single warheads, if you reduce, you make the first strike harder. But with MIRVs, reductions do not necessarily improve stability. This is not an acute issue, but it indicates some of the complexities we face in SALT II.

I would like to talk about two major aspects of SALT II. First, numbers and, second, warheads. That is, the question of the total aggregate, and how to handle warheads.

Secretary Kissinger: What we propose is to have a Verification Panel meeting and narrow the issues for your decision, and then have another NSC, perhaps more quickly than the thirty days you mentioned.

President Nixon: Whatever you say.

Secretary Kissinger: Continuing with the first set of issues I mentioned, mainly overall numbers—there are several different measures possible here. First, there is overall throw weight. Throw weight can be translated into a measure of the capability of each side. But there are problems associated with it. Second, the forces of each side are not commensurable. We have bombers and they have none; their SLBMs are inferior; we have already deployed MIRVed Minuteman, and the Soviets have not yet deployed any MIRVed ICBMs; nevertheless, they have a massive MIRV ICBM development program underway. They have [number not declassified] warheads per missiles, and if what Brezhnev [Page 165] said to me is right, that could go up to as many as eight. [1 line not declassified]

This would be bad enough with our existing systems, but the Soviets are also asking compensation for our allies and our FBS.

Overall, this is a situation of extraordinary complexity.

I agree with Jim that what we want is essential equivalence. But we have to be careful that we do not accept essential inequivalence in an arms race because we could not get what we thought was equivalence in SALT. The Interim Agreement has been criticized because the numbers are different, but what is important is that the Interim Agreement stopped no U.S. programs, and yet may have stopped several Soviet programs. In the absence of the Interim Agreement, we could have had much greater disparities between the two forces.

With respect to essential equivalence, one way to define it is by numbers of systems. But given the disparities in our forces, this would be difficult. We would have to count bombers; this gets into throw weight, and theoretically we could get equal limits of throw weight. But the throw weight of bombers is not the same as that of missiles—bombers are not a first strike weapon. Equivalence of throw weight overall is, in my opinion, primarily a way to convince Congress that we have reached an agreement of essential equivalence.

Many people have insisted on absolute equivalence in throw weight. I wish the same rigor were applied to our military programs as is applied to our SALT position. People have yet to explain how the throw weight of bombers gets related to the throw weight of missiles.

Nonetheless, the consensus is that equal aggregates at about 2350, reduced to something like 2000 over ten years, is a good position to start with. In my judgment, this position will not survive, but we don’t have to debate that now. I don’t think it will survive because it requires the Soviets to reduce and us to build up. Nevertheless, this is where we stand in terms of numbers. If the position doesn’t survive, we could start programs and see if our new programs might induce the Soviets to accept our position.

Now, going on to MIRVs. As you know, there is no way to reliably inspect whether a missile is MIRVed. Thus, there are two ways of controlling MIRVs—first, stopping the testing of MIRVs and, second, if we have confidence in our intelligence, we can monitor deployment of MIRVs if the missiles capable of carrying them require silo modifications. However, any weapon which has been tested in a MIRV mode must be considered as MIRVed. They could not test the SS–18 with both MIRVs and single warheads, and then be allowed to deploy it claiming it has only single warheads and not MIRVs. There is a consensus that the SS–19 would require silo modifications and that we could pick up [Page 166] its deployment. The SS–17 is not clear. On the SS–18, Carl, it sounded like you were saying it would fit in the existing silos?

Mr. Duckett: [1½ lines not declassified]

Secretary Kissinger: Well, we don’t have to settle that here.

We have abandoned two of our early approaches to controlling MIRVs—first, trying to achieve equal MIRVed missiles. Their missiles are considerably larger and can carry more warheads and higher yields. Thus, equal missiles would not be an equal deal. Second, limits on the number of individual warheads. The difficulty here is inspecting the number of warheads on each missile.

This leaves us with throw weight limits. There has been something of a consensus building around setting throw weight limits for the MIRVed missiles on both sides. We would be able to MIRV more missiles, since the throw weight of each of our missiles is less, but there would be an element of essential equivalence.

This raises the issue of an ICBM sublimit. If we have an overall limit on MIRV throw weight but if there is no sublimit on ICBMs, the Soviet Union might put most of their MIRVs into ICBMs which would give them a first strike counterforce capability. If the ICBM sublimit is much smaller, there would be considerably less of a threat. Thus, the tendency today is toward a total ceiling on MIRV throw weight, with no more than X million pounds allowed in ICBMs.

This approach has never been put to the Soviets in any formal way—it was discussed very briefly only in a conceptual way, but it has never been put forward in a formal proposal.

We have a chart which we sent to you which shows how the various throw weight limits might translate into different forces, but that is somewhat premature at this point.

There is also the issue of limits of SLBM MIRVs. We could live without a limit on SLBMs, but the Soviet Union will insist on a SLBM limit. If we pick the right limit, we could avoid interference with our follow-on SLBM program.

As my confused presentation has probably indicated, the main point is that SALT II is conceptually much more difficult than SALT I. There is no disagreement regarding the desirability of essential equivalence, but there is disagreement on what that might mean. There is substantial agreement that MIRVs can be limited only by throw weight and that we can limit MIRVed deployments only as far as silo modifications are required.

We will narrow the remaining issues, which, as you can see, are in many cases quite technical, and bring them to you in the next two weeks so Alex can have a position to put to the Soviets.

[Page 167]

I would like to say once again that it is important that we compare possible agreements with what is likely to result in the absence of an agreement, and not simply evaluate the proposal in the abstract. We must be realistic about what we will do without an agreement.

President Nixon: This is certainly more complex than SALT I. It is also true that they have a better bargaining position than we do. We talk as if we can have an agreement or not, but within this room, we shouldn’t fool ourselves—we probably aren’t fooling them either.

Suppose Brezhnev wants to agree, but his military does not. Their military may decide to go like hell. The U.S. might also wish to agree, and our military, while supporting an agreement, might think that a particular agreement is lousy. But we have to look at the political situation. Despite the fact that we could steam the country up in the absence of agreement, and tell them that we are in an all-out arms race, it is far more likely that the Soviets will move ahead more rapidly than we will.

Amb. Johnson: But the Soviets must account for the unpredictability of our reaction. They cannot assume we will do nothing.

President Nixon: That is right. We could turn hard right. Even some of the extreme peaceniks who two years ago said that we must have détente at any price are for political reasons now saying that détente is bad. But I don’t mind Jackson and Mondale rattling around like they do. In the back of their minds the Soviets know that we might turn to the right.

But we should look at the hard facts. We are putting in a bigger Defense budget, and maybe we’ll get it; but it may be substantially cut. What we have to figure on here is this—we talk about essential equivalence and other such gobbledegook, but suppose we can’t get it. Looking at the two countries, lacking an agreement, and having an all-out arms race. We just might not get the new programs from Congress. Especially when 56 percent of our budget is spent on personnel versus 26 percent of theirs.

I don’t mean to be telling our chief negotiator that we are in a weak position. We have got to go all out to get the agreement. But when you have your Verification Panel and when we make these decisions, we have got to realize that an all-out arms race may not be to our advantage.

Let me raise another strategic concept. We talk about the Soviet Union and the U.S., but by 1980 the Soviet Union will face Britain and France, who don’t have much, and potentially a very substantial China. For the U.S., we talk about planning for a two-ocean war or a one-ocean war. But at present, the threat from the Chinese is obviously considerably less. And Western Europe is no threat to us. For the Soviet Union it is not as easy—they have to worry about the U.S. first, but also Western Europe, which may matter at some point in the future, and the Chinese. [Page 168] Thus, central to our policy is what happens in China. Suppose there were a Soviet-Chinese détente or alliance. Dr. Judd was unhappy with our opening to China and I was not terribly happy about what it did to our friends in Taiwan. Also, we can’t forget that it was not an anti-Soviet move—at least that is what we say; we see good relations with both sides.

And without that, the U.S. ten years from now would be in a very dangerous position. Within ten years, as Brezhnev says, or within twenty to twenty-five years, it will happen—the Chinese will be very strong.

Dr. Kissinger: Both you and Brezhnev may be right at the same time. They could be a significant threat to the Soviets within ten years, although it might be twenty years before they were a threat to the U.S.

President Nixon: That is a good point, Henry.

Carl Duckett: [4 lines not declassified]

President Nixon: I remember when we were in Moscow for SALT—I must say I never went through such a week—our Russian friends do their business after midnight, right, Henry? During the Middle East negotiations at the last summit, Henry, as you remember, most of our conversations were between midnight and 3:00 a.m. In SALT I, everything was after midnight and went on all night long—at least that is what you said you were doing (laughter).

In a group of experts like this, this probably sounds poor, but I think we have to keep asking ourselves—why do we have it? What is it going to be worth ten years from now?

Brezhnev—he showers love and kisses on the U.S.—and bear hugs—he is a very physical man. But, when I saw him alone both here and at San Clemente, all he talked about was China. It might be an act, but it could be very real. If it is an act, he is the best actor in the world.

Dr. Kissinger: And so are the Chinese.

President Nixon: The Soviets are looking at this not in terms of SALT II, but ten years from now. They are thinking, as they always do, in historical terms. They know that the Chinese and the U.S., while not friends, are not opponents. So, in the long term, they have to think in terms of a much larger force. Today it is just the Soviet Union versus the U.S., but their worry is 1985. Alex, what do they say about the Chinese question?

Amb. Johnson: The word “China” has never been used in my conversations, although they frequently talk about “third powers.”

President Nixon: Yes, they refer to “those powers,” but they clearly aren’t interested in India or Ceylon—they mean the Chinese.

Vice President Ford: If there is no agreement, we clearly have the resources and the know-how, but perhaps not the political will. I as [Page 169] sume they have the will and the know-how, but do they have the resources?

President Nixon: Sure. We always have underestimated them—they have plenty of resources.

Director Colby: However, they do have an incentive to agree. Brezhnev has his entire reputation tied up in this, and also there are others behind him who are looking at the economic advantages of détente.

President Nixon: Yes, Brezhnev has staked a great deal on agreements with the U.S. Stalin killed everyone off, perhaps for pretty good reason, since they were out to get him—but we should remember, in the final analysis, because of the authoritarian character of their system, that it is in our interest to have a government in the Soviet Union as peaceful as Brezhnev seems to be now, even though they are being very tough in these negotiations. It could be a lot worse.

Secretary Schlesinger: I agree as Bill Colby has pointed out that Brezhnev has an interest in agreement. Therefore, I think we can arrive at least at “formal” equality which will allow us to build up to a level equal to theirs. We might not get the funds to do it, but I think it is important for appearance’s sake to have formal equality. We might have to accept their level of forces. But then, the pressure is on Congress to provide the essential equivalence they insist we must have. Today we spend only $8 billion on strategic forces—we probably spend that much on food stamps.

President Nixon: A lousy program.

Secretary Schlesinger: We could go up easily. They have an incentive to avoid a U.S. build-up.

President Nixon: Don’t misunderstand me. Our public position will have to be that we have the will, and will undertake the necessary programs. We don’t need agreement if they don’t want it. But in this room, we have to look realistically at a world where we go up and up. It is not clear such a world is in our interest. I don’t mind sounding like a peacenik here in this room—but I hope it doesn’t get outside.

Vice President Ford: Jim, are you saying we only spend about 10 percent of our budget on strategic forces?

Secretary Schlesinger: About 10 to 15 percent. We are spending less now than we were in 1964 in constant dollar terms. And with about $2 billion a year more we could undertake significant new programs.

Admiral Zumwalt: Two billion dollars would buy two more submarines a year.

Secretary Kissinger: Zumwalt will prove that to you no matter how a naval battle comes out—you would have been better off with more ships (laughter)

[Page 170]

Mr. Clements: The point is, it is relatively cheap to go up if we have to.

President Nixon: We will try to do it if we have to, but hopefully we will be able to get agreement with the Soviets. Thank you very much, gentlemen.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box H–110, NSC Minutes, Originals, 1971 thru 6–20–74. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room at the White House.
  2. The briefing is ibid., Box H–33, NSC Meeting, SALT, 1/24/74.
  3. Presumably NSDM 242, “Policy for Planning the Employment of Nuclear Weapons,” issued on January 17.