60. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Leonid I. Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Central Committee, CPSU
  • Andrei A. Gromyko, Member of the Politburo of the Central Committee, CPSU, and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR
  • Anatoly F. Dobrynin, Ambassador to USA
  • Andrei M. Aleksandrov, Assistant to the General Secretary
  • Georgi M. Korniyenko, Member of the Collegium of the MFA; Chief of USA Department
  • Victor M. Sukhodrev, USA Department, MFA (Interpreter)
  • Andrei Vavilov, USA Department
  • Oleg Sokolov, USA Department
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Walter J. Stoessel, Jr., Ambassador to the USSR
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Counselor of the Department of State
  • Arthur A. Hartman, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs
  • William G. Hyland, Director—INR
  • Jan M. Lodal, NSC Senior Staff
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff


  • US-Soviet Relations; SALT; Other Arms Control
[Page 227]

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT II.]

Strategic Arms Limitation Talks

Brezhnev: We start with strategic arms.

Kissinger: Please.

I gave to your Ambassador, Mr. General Secretary, some ideas which we developed to advance the discussion [Tab C, US note of March 21].2 I don’t know if we should use those as a starting point.

Brezhnev: I think we should basically proceed from the fact that our delegations discussing the matter find themselves deadlocked. They have engaged in discussions but have not moved very far. Past experience has shown that this is the time for decisions to be taken at a higher level.

Kissinger: That is our view.

Brezhnev: I would just like to make an observation here: If we let our purely military men into this sphere we’ll end up with an unprecedented arms race; I say that in a full sense of responsibility. Your military men and ours are the same. You can’t really blame them. What they say is, we don’t care about all these policies, and there is the Secretary of Defense saying the United States has to be militarily stronger.3 And there are others in the United States echoing these views and saying “We have to talk to the Soviet Union from a position of military strength.”

Surely, Dr. Kissinger, if we let ourselves be carried away by that kind of talk, all our discussions will come to nothing. What we have based ourselves on in the past, and the greatness of what we have achieved, is that we first of all achieved a freeze of existing arms and agreed on reductions, but without changing the balance. Only on that basis can we maintain coexistence.

So let us endeavor to decide something at this level without giving new instructions at Geneva. If we achieve something, our delegates will talk a different language.

[Page 228]

Kissinger: I agree, this is the best way to proceed.

Brezhnev: But I really would like you to pay attention to this fact, all those statements about the United States needing to be strong.

Aleksandrov: [Correcting Sukhodrev’s translation] Stronger.

Brezhnev: Unless we put a stop to this kind of talk in the United States, people will become accustomed to this need, that is, the need to talk to the Soviet Union from a position of strength. And not for the record, perhaps, but let me say that living generations of Americans have never experienced war on their own territory and never experienced a fascist advance as far as Stalingrad—so they are prone to this kind of talk. Americans have not had 20 million deaths from war.

Gromyko: Think of how many widows and orphans there are.

Brezhnev: In Belorussia, every fourth person died in the war. That is why we in this country—I can’t speak for the United States—are very sensitive to these issues. I have emphasized this to everyone—to Chancellor Brandt, for instance. Even if the Senate didn’t appropriate additional sums of money to the Pentagon, and if the Pentagon didn’t always shout about it, it would still be a very sensitive subject for us. But the sensitivity is heightened by these statements. We can’t help it.

I would like to emphasize, Dr. Kissinger, you and I don’t have an easy task before us, but we are duty bound—I repeat, duty bound—to find an acceptable solution, a solution which will give no advantage to either side. That is the principle we agreed on with President Nixon, and I would like to see it observed.

Kissinger: Mr. General Secretary, the entire policy of the Administration is based on the presupposition that neither side can achieve military superiority over the other and should not attempt to achieve military superiority over the other. If either tries to talk to the other from a position of strength, it will be a disaster for our two peoples and for all mankind. I have made this point in every public statement, and so has the President. Since we speak here as friends, I can tell you certain circles in the United States have taken advantage of certain domestic developments to say things that would be difficult to permit otherwise. But the basic direction of our foreign policy is fixed. And of course our people are also watching Soviet developments, and as the Soviet Union develops new weapons, they are used as a justification for our new weapons.

Brezhnev: I don’t quite agree on that, and here is why:

By the time the SALT agreement was signed, the United States already had its multiple reentry vehicles and we were behind the United States in that field. But nonetheless we did agree to sign the agreement on that score, proceeding from the most humane goal, which is embodied in the preamble of that [agreement]. And we undertook not to [Page 229] introduce any new missile systems and we accepted certain conditions for those, and those are being scrupulously observed.

Kissinger: We don’t question that.

Brezhnev: By the beginning of next year, perhaps I or perhaps someone else will be entrusted with making the relevant report, but we will accurately report what is taken out of commission and made into submarines. But we are not making any new weapons. It was agreed we both could engage in certain improvements but without any increase in diameter or any new systems. We have developed a MIRV but that is all that is taking place. So it is wrong to say we are devising something new. Even if something is being invented, we are not deploying anything in contravention of the agreement.

President Nixon said there are new submarines being developed in the United States, but while there are 42 . . .

Kissinger: 62.

Brezhnev: Yes, 62, we won’t develop any new ones.

Kissinger: If you want to make it 42, we won’t object.

Brezhnev: We scrupulously observe that. We know you are making MIRVs on the submarines and replacing Poseidons with Minutemen.

Kissinger: No.

Brezhnev: You’re installing new missiles in place of older models.

Kissinger: That is true.

Brezhnev: Within the limits of the improvements allowed by the agreement. So it is wrong to conclude that we’re doing anything in contravention of the agreement. So as of this time, it is certainly a fact you are ahead of us in multiple warheads. As this is one aspect that can’t lend itself to control by national means of detection. Since you were ahead, we assume you have more. If we have to apologize for something we’re not doing . . . The numbers you have are in excess of what we have. I’m not complaining about that. We should both scrupulously observe the agreement. You are refusing to take into account forward-based systems. Who are these aimed at? Not against France, because France can’t declare war on the United States.

Kissinger: But this may change if things keep up

Brezhnev: Or Holland or Belgium, or the GDR or the FRG. I can show you a map. You said the agreement should relate to American missiles that could reach the Soviet Union and Soviet missiles that could reach the United States. That is the significance of those forward-based missiles. [He shows a small map] They can reach Tashkent, or Baku.

Kissinger: The submarines?

[Page 230]

Brezhnev: Yes. And air bases. More than one-half of the European part of the Soviet Union is within range of those.

Kissinger: We have to separate the problems.

First of all, if M. Jobert makes more of his speeches, we’ll need some of those missiles against France.

Brezhnev: You can’t blame me for that! No speech ever caused destruction; only weapons have.

Kissinger: This shows submarines?

Brezhnev: It shows all kinds of bases and ships.

Kissinger: So this line is the range of the submarines, and they’re being counted. They are part of the agreement. They are not forward-based systems. They are counted in the Interim Agreement.

Gromyko: But they are pointed at us—whether submarines or carrier-based aircraft. The first agreement left aside strategic aviation.

Kissinger: I agree with that. That’s a separate problem.

These are our fighter aircraft?

Brezhnev: It’s not a good picture, is it? Those are European-based aircraft carrying nuclear weapons. Then nothing else remains for us but to have our aircraft carrying nuclear weapons or missiles.

Kissinger: I have two separate problems, Mr. General Secretary. According to our estimate, you’re developing four new missiles. That’s not in violation of the agreement. In fact, one of them impresses our people very much, and if that’s only an improvement, I’d hate to see what a new system looked like. In fact, if I see Mr. Smirnov. I’ll congratulate him on this new system.

Brezhnev: I can reply in place of Mr. Smirnov, and I can say we’re not making a single new missile. We are improving our missiles.

Kissinger: It’s just a question of definition. It’s such a great improvement that to our people it looks like a new one. But I won’t debate it. But we’re not saying it’s in violation of the agreement.

Brezhnev: Let us not proceed from what people think but from official statements of governments, and from what lends itself to control.

Kissinger: I agree.

Brezhnev: If we really get down to business, we should proceed from the assumption that in the time left before President Nixon’s visit, our delegations will hardly be able to proceed without us. We will hardly be able to work out a solution that can be a permanent agreement.

Kissinger: I agree.

Brezhnev: Let me suggest, perhaps then we could undertake to enter into a new arrangement where the first operative paragraph—after the preamble—says that the two sides have agreed to prolong the [Page 231] provisional agreement in its full measure, let’s say, until the year 1980. That’s the first point. That is, both remain with the existing levels. But just that alone would not exactly satisfy certain circles in US.

Kissinger: Not in its exact details.

Quite candidly, this would be quite impossible in present conditions in the United States. It would strengthen Senator Jackson, quite frankly.

Brezhnev: So then, after this, we could have a second paragraph couched in the most categorical terms, which would say roughly that the two sides undertake that their delegations will continue their work to convert the provisional agreement into a permanent one. But even that would not be enough, I gather. Since these multi-warheads are constantly in the news, let’s decide on a certain number of warheads on a certain number of missiles.

Korniyenko: The number of missiles to be equipped with multiple warheads.

Gromyko: That will be MIRVed.

Brezhnev: They could be listed in quantities or in percentages. For example, the United States will be entitled to MIRV 1,000 missiles and we will be entitled to MIRV 1,000 ICBM’s.

Kissinger: ICBMs or missiles?

Brezhnev: It is only about land-based ICBM’s.

[Aleksandrov gets up and confers with Brezhnev and Gromyko]

Gromyko: Both land-based and sea-based.

Brezhnev: One total percentage, and it is for the side itself to decide whether it wants them on land or sea. Therefore if we decide to install more on submarines, then we can do less on land. And that will be done at the discretion of each side. And that certainly will be a substantial element.

Kissinger: Is that a firm figure, or just a suggestion? The 1,000.

Brezhnev: I put it forward as a proposal for discussion.

Kissinger: To 1980, or now?

Gromyko: Until 1980.

Brezhnev: Since, as we suggested, paragraph one would state that the provisional agreement is prolonged until year 1980, this third point, regarding MIRVed missiles, would also apply until the year 1980. Here, one point is the fact that you have more missiles on submarines than we do.

Kissinger: But not by 1980.

Brezhnev: Yes, but the agreement in substance gives us seven submarines but to compensate from that, we have to withdraw some of the land-based ICBMs.

[Page 232]

Kissinger: What seven?

Brezhnev: Under the agreement we withdraw some of our missiles of land-based type and replace them with missiles on submarines. We had an additional seven submarines to compensate for the geographical factor. For the rest, we have to withdraw the land-based.

Kissinger: They are dying of old age.

Brezhnev: They’re not all that bad. They can still carry atomic weapons.

Kissinger: That’s a correct statement. I won’t argue.

Brezhnev: [draws a silo diagram on a piece of paper] Say we had a silo launcher and our designer invents a narrower one; it’s not a new missile. So we’re free either to reconstruct this or install it on a submarine.

Kissinger: Now I understand the difference between a new missile and an improvement. I have to compliment your designers; they’ve used the existing space with great skill.

Brezhnev: I can just say you have some very wonderful designers too. They’ve put Minuteman III in the same hole, though it is a new rocket.

Kissinger: [Laughs] All I can say is, I hope you never come up with a new missile.

Brezhnev: Yours too.

Kissinger: But basically we both have the same problem. Could I take a two-minute break?

Brezhnev: Certainly.

[There is a break in the meeting from 12:58–1:02 p.m. At a table near the wall, they look at a blow-up of a picture taken of Major General Brezhnev in Red Square at the Victory parade on June 24, 1945. The meeting then resumes.]

Brezhnev: Dr. Kissinger, you said the situation would change by 1980. That is true; the situation can change. But if so, we will revise the terms. But another thing that can happen is that we can prolong the agreement until 1980, add a couple of paragraphs to it, then let’s say by 1975, by the time I pay another visit to the United States, our delegations could reach an agreement, and if so, we could sign a new agreement without waiting until 1980. That is another possibility. But until that happens, and considering that the delegations up to now have been unable to find common language, we could sign an agreement with a good preamble, and with a paragraph one saying the agreement is prolonged, and another paragraph saying the delegations are charged with making every effort to convert it into a permanent agreement, and then a paragraph on multiple warheads, saying that each [Page 233] side is limited to 1,000 MIRVed missiles, and it is up to each side to decide whether to MIRV land-based or sea-based missiles.

Also, and concurrently, we could also reach a new understanding on ABM systems. Under our agreement, you remember we both agreed the United States was building one ABM area and the Soviet Union was building one, and both were entitled to build another. So we could refrain from building the additional ABM area and agree we both stay with the one we have.

Further, you’ve been working on the B–1 bomber, and we are building our plane, the 160. We could agree to cease work on the 160 on our side if you agree to cease on the B–1.

If we want to proceed towards détente, all those would be elements of détente.

That could of course be part of a separate understanding, but I am just mentioning them in one package.

Let us reach an agreement to end underground nuclear testing. Let us agree, say as of an agreed date, say 1975, 1976, or 1977, we shall both cease underground nuclear tests and call upon all others to do so. Say by January 1, 1976. And we would add a paragraph that if other nations do not discontinue testing, then each of us will be free to act at our own discretion.

Also, we could enter into an agreement that United States and Soviet Union could agree to withdraw all nuclear systems from the Mediterranean.

Kissinger: Ban them?

Brezhnev: Withdraw them. We’d withdraw all nuclear weapons carriers, and you too. Both surface vessels and submarines.

Kissinger: Missiles, or anything?

Gromyko: Carriers of any type of nuclear weapons.

Brezhnev: Of course, conventional naval vessels would be permitted to remain in the Mediterranean.

There, Dr. Kissinger, you have before you a program for strengthening security, and equal security for both sides.

[Kissinger and Sonnenfeldt confer.]

One more suggestion. Our provisional agreement is due to last until 1977. At that time President Nixon said the United States would engage in a new type of submarine, the Trident, but that the United States would not manufacture those submarines until 1977.

Kissinger: Right.

Brezhnev: We accepted that. But I guess there are certain pressures in the United States to build them.

Kissinger: Not to complete them until 1977.

[Page 234]

Brezhnev: Not commissioned until 1977.

Kissinger: That is correct.

Brezhnev: But I have to be very frank, that if you commission Trident, we will have to build new submarines too. So let us agree that neither of us commissions them—or if either of us does, we do so in equal measure. But that would continue the arms race.

Kissinger: By 1980.

Gromyko: Yes, if we prolong the agreement.

Brezhnev: Those are the suggestions I wanted to make. And I suppose they all presuppose equality of strength.

Kissinger: May I make some comments, Mr. General Secretary?

Brezhnev: Certainly. Please.

Kissinger: As you know, Mr. General Secretary, we have come under strong attack in the United States for the existing agreement, so extending it is not an easy matter. But let me leave this problem aside for the time being.

Of your additional suggestions, first, elimination of the additional ABM, we will probably be able to accept.

Brezhnev: I’d suggest that that would be a necessary step and would not create any problems.

Kissinger: On the B–1, I don’t know what your 160 is—we are not familiar with that. We can only hope your airplane designers are not as good as your missile designers. But we don’t know it.

Brezhnev: They’re both lethal weapons. Whether the plane is better, or the missile, both are the same.

Kissinger: It hasn’t flown yet?

Brezhnev: They haven’t told me yet.

Kissinger: [Laughs] They do that to us too. The Chief of Staff of the Air Force reports to the President that he’s just flown a new airplane.

Brezhnev: I saw one of your aircraft journals 10 years ago. There was a picture of what purported to be an atomic-powered aircraft flying over Moscow. But no one has built one.

Kissinger: If so, it is flying over Moscow, because we don’t have it in America.

Brezhnev: The staffs tell you anything.

Kissinger: On the B–1 airplane, we can agree it would not enter our force during the extension of this agreement.

Brezhnev: What would you mean by that, Dr. Kissinger? It was built but not introduced into the Air Force? It would just stay on the ground? What we are suggesting is that you don’t build it, just as we wouldn’t build our 160. We take a serious view of our agreement.

[Page 235]

Kissinger: I think not building it is going to be difficult. The rate of deploying it is something else. But I am afraid it would raise major problems of what is operational.

Brezhnev: It means aircraft tested and introduced into service.

Kissinger: I think we could find it, but as you know, an aircraft is tested for many years before it becomes operational.

Brezhnev: That is quite true. But every new test brings closer the time when it is part of the armament.

Kissinger: That is true.

Brezhnev: It usually takes five–six years, but the end result is that a new plane is born.

Kissinger: That is true.

Brezhnev: Dr. Kissinger, all that from a purely human standpoint is aimed at lessening the temptation to increase nuclear weapons on both sides.

[Gromyko gives Brezhnev a paper]

It turns out, on the one hand, that we write and sign very good papers and proclaim very good objectives, and on the other hand we listen to our staffs and we build the Trident and B–1 long-range bombers, and we on our side build the 160 bomber with long-range nuclear missiles. When the people get to the bottom of what is happening, they will start criticizing us.

Kissinger: Let me turn to the 1000 missiles that the General Secretary mentioned. There are a number of problems in connection with this.

One, the fact that you have more warheads on each of your missiles than we do. Or will have. And each of the warheads is of greater weight.

Secondly, you do not yet have multiple warheads for submarines. So if you put all your permitted warheads on land-based missiles, then by the end of this period, you will be free to put multiple warheads on all your submarines. And since there is only a certain amount you can do anyway, this only means that we are only endorsing your existing program. The end result would be that on land-based missiles you would have many more warheads than we do.

Brezhnev: Dr. Kissinger, I listen to you and I hear the exact words of our general staff when they report to me. But vice versa. Our people say the Americans have more than we do.

Kissinger: True.

Brezhnev: And you have 12 on a rocket.

Kissinger: What 12?

[Page 236]

Brezhnev: They say the Americans are putting multiple warheads on their older missiles. So in your place I keep seeing our chief of the general staff reporting on developments in the United States. What is a warhead? One block with a capacity of a million tons. When you divide it into six warheads, the capacity will no longer be a million tons. The whole thing becomes weaker by half.

Then there are those in the military who believe it is better to have one warhead but a bigger one, and there is another school of thought who think the more the better. But what is the difference between one kiloton and 50 kilotons? Both mean death and destruction. In World War II, you dropped two and wiped out populations.

I read the American press quite attentively and I don’t think anybody in the United States is so critical of the agreement. What they are proposing has nothing to do with the agreement.

Kissinger: No, there is increasing criticism—but we should not debate it. Most of it is by dishonest people, I must say.

Brezhnev: Undoubtedly.

Kissinger: But that is an American domestic complexity.

Brezhnev: What do you suggest in place of it?

Kissinger: We gave you our ideas in the note to your Ambassador on Thursday. [The note is at Tab C]

We don’t exclude a limit on the number of missiles that can be MIRVed, and we would have to make some calculations to see whether 1000 or 900—that clearly is not unacceptable. And you would certainly listen to a counter proposal on this.

Brezhnev: I am waiting for it.

Kissinger: I have just heard your idea for the first time. Let me think about the number for a while. Our basic problem is that it would have to be based on an agreement on how many would have to be land-based.

Brezhnev: This is not something—MIRVing—that can be done in just one year, so it is hard to predetermine at once the number of land-based missiles.

Kissinger: Since we may have completed 80% of our MIRVing, while you haven’t even started, the practical result is that we would have to stop for five years while you were given time to catch up. That is how it would be seen in America.

Gromyko: But you will have advantages in that situation. You have got it in your pocket already.

Kissinger: Yes, but then why is it in our interest to tie ourselves to figures we have already?

Gromyko: Otherwise, the whole question of limitations will simply soar. It will be an unlimited race.

[Page 237]

Kissinger: If the Soviet side could accept some of the principles in the paper we gave to the Ambassador, then we could consider an upper ceiling. Then we could consider numbers.

Brezhnev: Although within the limits of the agreement you have already in fact violated the balance of forces.

Kissinger: How?

Gromyko: Of this proposed agreement. Now we have agreed not to build any new missiles until 1977. But improvement is permitted, and you want to deprive us of any chance to improve it.

Kissinger: I think, Mr. General Secretary, we are arguing semantically about new missiles and improvements. My briefers tell me about your new systems. We do not have any change of that same magnitude. We are not saying it is a violation of the agreement, Mr. Brezhnev. I can only answer in the same vein.

Brezhnev: You have built an entirely new type of missile. Instead of one warhead, now each carries five.

Dobrynin: What is the number?

Kissinger: That we would have to discuss. I agree to an interval, because I have a slight insurrection on my staff.

Gromyko: We will issue a communiqué to the press about our meetings at the end of the day.

Kissinger: Good. We won’t report back to Washington yet.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT II.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 76, Country Files–Europe–USSR, Secretary Kissinger’s Pre-Summit Trip to Moscow, Memcons & Reports, March 24–28, 1974. Secret; Nodis. All brackets, except for those inserted by the editor to indicate omitted passages, are in the original. The meeting took place in Brezhnev’s office in the Council of Ministers Building at the Kremlin. Kissinger visited Moscow March 24–28 to meet with Brezhnev, Gromyko, and other Soviet officials. Kissinger and Brezhnev had an additional, inconclusive discussion about SALT from 5:45 to 10:32 p.m. The full text of both memoranda of conversation are printed as Documents 165 and 166 in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. XV, Soviet Union, June 1972–August 1974.
  2. Attached but not printed. The note included the following proposal: 1) limits on MIRVed ICBM deployments to three launch sites, which would permit 500 Minuteman III for the United States and either 300 SS–19s or 180 SS–19s and 64 SS–18s for the Soviets; 2) a limit of approximately 1,500 MIRV re-entry vehicles (warheads); 3) a statement keeping the question of SLBM limitations open; and 4) a proposal on extension of the Interim Agreement, assuming some modifications.
  3. Possibly a reference to a statement by Schlesinger on March 3 when he released the Department of Defense annual report to Congress on the U.S. Military posture. He expressed his concern that the Soviet Union was trying to exploit the numerical advantage in missiles it was granted in the Interim Agreement to gain diplomatic leverage over the United States. He believed the Soviets were striving to achieve equality in the number of MIRVed missiles and he urged the United States to begin development of new weapons. (“Schlesinger Defends Pentagon Budget,” The Washington Post, March 4, 1974, p. A2)