50. Letter From Senator Henry Jackson to President Nixon1

Dear Mr. President:

The tabling of a wholly unacceptable draft treaty at Geneva by the Soviets along with the relentless buildup of their strategic forces makes it essential, in my judgment, that we table at Geneva a proposal for serious strategic arms reductions down to a common ceiling.

In a speech on the Senate floor on December 4, 1973 I outlined the essential features of such a proposal.2 I am persuaded that if we were to [Page 175] make such an offer, the Soviets (whatever they may say now) would have great difficulty simply dismissing out of hand such a simple and obviously fair and equitable program for strategic arms reductions that would leave the United States and the Soviet Union in a position of manifest equality. For the Soviets to peremptorily reject such a program would risk the political gains they associate with the developing détente. During the negotiating interim following the making of such an offer, I am confident that we could mobilize Congressional support for the strategic budget, and, in the longer term, I am convinced that the Congress of the United States would give full support to any necessary defense effort following a failure to achieve equality through a mutual arms reduction proposal such as I suggest.

By reducing the strategic forces of both the United States and the Soviet Union to a total aggregate level of 1,760 strategic launchers we could achieve stability at a lower level of armament and expenditure, and by negotiating a formula providing for equal throw weight we will go quite far in diminishing the importance of MIRV as a destabilizing factor in the strategic balance.

I seriously doubt that we can expect to control effectively nuclear weapons technology through arms control agreements. This is especially true at a moment in history when the principal technical development impacting on strategic offensive capabilities is the improvement in missile accuracy—an area in which the verification problems are probably insurmountable and in which one would have to expect the possibility of rapid developments following the expiration of any limiting agreement of limited duration. In my judgment preoccupation with partial efforts to obtain limited and questionable limits on MIRV and/or missile accuracy are a diversion—perhaps a dangerous one—from what ought to be the main thrust of our approach to SALT II: the establishment of equal ceilings at reduced levels of strategic launchers.

Passage of my amendment to the SALT I Interim Agreement authorizing resolution,3 by placing the Congress on record in support of a SALT II agreement reflecting “equal numbers of intercontinental strategic launchers taking account of throw weight” was an important step in the process of building a Congressional base for a firm American negotiating position. I am concerned that proposals that reflect only cosmetic arrangements or that inflate the strategic assets of the United States by counting non-operational systems (such as mothballed aircraft) or by counting U.S. systems at numerical values greater than the actual number of units (e.g., considering 320 SLBMs as 480 because the [Page 176] 320 are based abroad) or by exaggerating the value of individual units (e.g., bomber throw weight) will do much to erode—perhaps even reverse—the profound and helpful concern and the negotiating leverage expressed in that amendment.

If, in order to facilitate any agreement we first convey the impression that the numbers in the SALT I Interim Agreement do constitute equality, our negotiating position will suffer irreparable harm. And if, in the worst event, U.S. proposals based on such an impression fail to eventuate in an agreement, we will be left in a weaker position than ever.

On the positive side I am optimistic that a proposal along the lines that I suggested on December 4 would have great appeal at home and consequent force internationally.

I hope that you will give serious consideration to such an approach.

If the Administration makes a determined good faith effort to negotiate stable strategic equality on the basis of mutual strategic force reductions, and if it becomes clear that the USSR remains intransigent rather than responsive to such a fair-minded and equitable initiative, I have no doubt that Congress will support whatever strategic programs are required to maintain Soviet-American strategic equality.

In the past thirty years, Congress has never failed to support a major strategic program when convincingly argued as being in the national interest. This is true of the land-based ICBM, the Polaris system, the ABM, and, most recently, the Trident and B–1 weapons systems. For the Administration to design its arms control proposals on the assumption that the Congress will not support strategic equality, especially with the language of my amendment now a part of our public law, would represent a most serious and unacceptable misreading or disregard by the Administration of Congressional will.

Recent Soviet commentary on Congressional sentiment indicates that the Soviets see the Congress as one major source of a “stiffening” in the American attitude toward these negotiations. It is fundamentally wrong to view the Congress as a weak link, rather than a source of strength, for the American negotiating position.4

Sincerely yours,

Henry M. Jackson
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 891, SALT, SALT TWO–I–Geneva, Jan. 1974. No classification marking. In a February 1 memorandum to Nixon, Kissinger stated: “Senator Jackson’s letter raises some important decisions and his pledge of continued Congressional support for our strategic programs is heartening. However, simple quantitative equality, in a world where qualitative developments are unconstrained, may have little prospect of stabilizing the strategic balance or curbing the arms competition between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, we are at present time analyzing the subject of reductions in regard to our security requirements and possible reductions to other elements of a U.S. negotiating position.” (Ibid.)
  2. In his speech, Jackson claimed that the SALT negotiations were at an impasse and proposed that each side reduce its ICBMs and land- and sea-based launchers to 1,760 and equalize the total payload of the launchers. (“Jackson Sees U.S.-Soviet ‘Impasse’,” The New York Times, December 5, 1973, p. 4)
  3. Reference is to the Jackson Amendment to Senate Joint Resolution 241 on the Interim Strategic Offensive Arms Agreement, August 7. 1972. The amendment mandated equality in U.S. and Soviet strategic arms.
  4. Nixon wrote on Kissinger’s February 1 memorandum: “K, remember that his letter & our reply will be used by him for press purposes.” The President’s reply to Jackson is Document 56.