6. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Laird to President Nixon1


  • SALT Objectives and Approaches

I recommend the U.S. delegation to SALT be instructed:

1. To tell the Soviets the U.S. seeks a treaty which:

a. Provides the basis for enduring strategic stability and parity.

b. Deals only with ICBM and SLBM systems and heavy bombers.

c. Provides equal aggregate numbers of these systems for the two sides.

d. In addition, provides equal aggregate missile throw weights for the two sides.

e. Reduces the aggregate numbers and throw weights of offensive systems in a step-by-step process over time.

2. Not to propose, initially, any reduction in U.S. heavy bombers, but to express U.S. willingness to reduce heavy bombers within the equal aggregate numbers when such an offer is useful to reach agreement on the objectives cited above.

3. Not to initiate discussion of MIRV bans or other qualitative limits (except those associated with verification of missile throw weight limits), and to respond to any Soviet discussion of such limits with the view that they are not useful in establishing an enduring strategic balance and should not be included in the treaty.

4. Not to initiate discussion of U.S. forward bases or forward based systems, and to rebut any Soviet proposals to limit, reduce or compensate for these systems or their bases. Only when an adequate treaty is clearly within reach should we consider agreeing that neither side will upset the resulting strategic balance through major shifts in its level or deployment of other nuclear systems.

I further recommend that no fall-back positions be formulated or authorized at this time. We wish to negotiate as forcefully as possible for the treaty outlined above. Only after such an intensive negotiating effort should we determine what fall-back positions, if any, may be nec [Page 29] essary or desirable. Establishment of fall-back positions at this time may weaken our negotiating effort, or may leak and so weaken our negotiating effectiveness.

My reasons:

I believe our objective in SALT–II must be a treaty limiting strategic offensive systems which can provide the basis for strategic stability and parity with the Soviets over the long term.

To do this with confidence the treaty must provide for the elimination, over time, of the Soviet advantages in the number and the throw weight of strategic missiles.

The reason is that we cannot confidently stop the Soviets from bringing their technology of MIRVs and missile accuracy up to the level of ours, yet when the Soviets do close this technology gap they can convert their missile throw weight advantage into a major strategic advantage. Specifically they could then deliver substantially more warheads of a given yield accurately onto targets than we can. This means that in nuclear exchanges they could raise the ante more times than we, while still holding in reserve an ultimate retaliatory capability. We would therefore be under great pressure to back away from any major confrontation with the Soviets.

The treaty must, moreover, equalize the number and throw weight of strategic missiles by requiring Soviet reductions rather than depending upon U.S. deployments of missiles with very large throw weights.

The reason is the uncertainty of Congressional support for such major new programs, and the fact that fixed undefended ICBM launchers on both sides may be expected to become vulnerable to missile attack in the next few years. We should therefore be reducing rather than increasing their numbers and their share of the total strategic capability.

A MIRV ban would not be in the U.S. interest even if it were verifiable. We need MIRV as a hedge against Soviet violation of the ABM treaty. The ABM treaty permits stockpiling of ABM interceptors and launchers, partly because we cannot verify the level of stockpiling. With the radar base permitted the Soviets, and the possibility for rapid deployment of such stockpiles, we could not have confidence in our retaliatory capability without MIRVs. We also need MIRV to provide adequate target coverage in retaliation or in escalating limited exchanges. Other qualitative limits serve at best only to slow the rate at which the Soviets close the gap in technology, but cannot prevent them from closing it.

The Soviets will be pressing us hard on Forward Bases and Forward Based Nuclear Systems (FBS). Our NATO allies will be watching [Page 30] for signs of U.S. willingness to compromise our NATO commitment for our own security. We must resist inclusion of FBS or compensation for FBS in the aggregates.

Soviet agreement on all these points is not likely to be reached easily or quickly. But our goal should be to negotiate, before the end of the 5-year duration of the Interim Offense Agreement, a treaty of enduring strategic value.

To arrive at an acceptable treaty will require that we continue to develop major new strategic options such as Trident and the B–1 which could lead to significant U.S. strategic growth after the expiration of the Interim Offense Agreement. It will also require great firmness in our negotiating stance.

Our starting position must be clear, tough and strategically defensible. Even if we should later decide to settle for an agreement which does not provide substantial reductions or full equalization of aggregate missile throw weights, we will be in a superior negotiating posture if we have made these objectives clear and firm.

Melvin R. Laird
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box H–013, Verification Panel Meetings, SALT, 11/14/72. Top Secret. On November 16, Deputy Secretary of State Irwin also sent Kissinger, at his request, his advice on strategy for SALT II. Irwin suggested “that we avoid putting forth detailed proposals at the first session.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 888, SALT, SALT TWO–I–(Geneva), November 21, 1972–March 1973)