68. Minutes of a Meeting of the National Security Council1


  • SALT


  • The President
  • Secretary of State Kissinger
  • Secretary of Defense Schlesinger
  • JCS Chairman Admiral Moorer
  • Director of Central Intelligence Colby
  • Director of Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Ikle


  • State
  • Under Secretary Sisco
  • Mr. Helmut Sonnenfeldt
  • Ambassador U. Alexis Johnson
  • Defense
  • Deputy Secretary Clements
  • Major General John Wickham
  • Mr. Robert Ellsworth
  • CIA
  • Mr. Carl Duckett
  • ACDA
  • Mr. Sidney Graybeal, Chairman SALT Consultative Commission
  • White House
  • Mr. Kenneth Rush, Counselor to the President
  • General Alexander Haig, Chief of Staff
  • Mr. Ron Ziegler, Assistant to the President
  • Major General Brent Scowcroft
  • NSC
  • Mr. Jan M. Lodal

President Nixon: Henry, before we start our review, would you like to outline the issues first, or do you prefer to have an intelligence briefing?

Secretary Kissinger: I believe we should see some of Bill Colby’s charts which show what would happen without an agreement first.

Mr. Colby: (See attachment for transcript of remarks read by Mr. Colby and copies of charts.)2

President Nixon: Thank you Bill. Henry, would you like to outline the issues?

[Page 267]

Secretary Kissinger: Mr. President, as I understood your purpose for this meeting, you would like to go through a summary of the issues likely to arise at the Summit on arms control matters. There are three major topics likely to arise—ABM, SALT, and the threshold test ban. I suggest we take up the ABM issue first. It is the simplest and, I believe, relatively non-controversial.

President Nixon: Then let’s go to the next one! (Laughter) Senator Fulbright said this morning that the ABM was no good, so we don’t need to talk about it anymore

Secretary Kissinger: Fulbright also said he did not understand how we had rejected a Soviet proposal to drop our B–1 and Trident programs.

President Nixon: Well, he knows more than we do.

Secretary Kissinger: I’m sure they would let us drop them.

With respect to the ABM, the background to this issue is that, as you know, in 1972 we reached agreement which permitted each side to have two ABM sites—one at the national capital and one at an ICBM site. We opted for defending our ICBMs, and the Soviets chose their capital. Neither side has proceeded to construct a second site. As you know, the Soviets proposed several months ago dropping the rights of each side to deploy a second site. We have reviewed this in the Verification Panel, and I understand that the consensus among the agencies is that it is alright—that we can move our defense from our missiles to our capital if we wish. The Soviets have accepted our proposal that either side would have the right to switch once on the occasion of the five year review provided in the ABM treaty.3 On the basis of what we know now, I believe we would recommend that you sign a protocol to the ABM agreement with these provisions. I do not believe that there is any interagency disagreement on this issue.

Secretary Schlesinger: There is one minor issue I would like to raise. First, this agreement is certainly consistent with our budget submissions of the past several years. We have not asked for a second site. However, the preference of the Defense Department would be for a termination date in the agreement of something like 1980, rather than having a permanent agreement. This is an issue of detail and not of principle. Admiral Moorer may have something more to say on this.

Admiral Moorer: The Chiefs have supported two ABM sites consistently. Our site defense program has in the past received support from Congress by only five votes. We figure that with a reduction to one site, we may lose this program altogether. Also, we would certainly want the right to relocate as you have discussed—this is a key provi [Page 268] sion. Finally, the Soviet Union does have one advantage—their NCA defense also covers 300 of their missiles, although our missile defense does not cover Washington. There is this asymmetry between the two sides. But if such an agreement were restrained timewise, such as to the duration of the Interim Agreement, it would probably be all right.

Secretary Kissinger: The question of the time limit is not a detail. What we are proposing is a protocol to the permanent ABM agreement.

Deputy Secretary Clements: Would our rights to switch expire?

Secretary Kissinger: No that option would not expire.

Admiral Moorer: You mentioned a five year review.

Secretary Kissinger: I was speaking of the five year review provisions in the ABM agreement.

Deputy Secretary Clements: It’s very important to retain the options to switch to a defense of our NCA. Having such an option on a continuing basis is important.

Secretary Schlesinger: There is no disagreement on that. As to Henry’s point that this is not a detail, I still say that it is secondary to the main issue. Relative to the basic choice of both sides to go from two sites to one site, this is a detail. If we didn’t have a limited time, it would not be very significant with respect to the future of the strategic balance.

Secretary Kissinger: Mr. President, perhaps we should turn to the second area—a more difficult one—SALT.

President Nixon: Why don’t we take up the threshold test ban next.

[Omitted here is discussion of a threshold test ban, which is scheduled to be published in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. E–14, Part 2, Documents on Arms Control, 1973–1976.]

Secretary Kissinger: On SALT, we’ve had several discussions here. It’s not easy to predict which way things will go. Therefore, perhaps it’s best if I review where we stand. With respect to the strategic balance, it remains much today as it was in 1972 when we signed the Interim Agreement. The Soviets remain ahead in the number of missiles, and throw weight, and we remain ahead in numbers of warheads. In ’72, we had a three-to-one advantage in total number of weapons, including bombers, and about two-to-one advantage in missile warheads.

Today, we have over a three-to-one advantage overall and somewhat greater than two-to-one advantage in missile warheads. But as Bill Colby has pointed out, this will reverse in the 1980’s if we stick to our program and they go ahead.

We should remember that the structure of US forces, in terms of numbers of launchers and throw weight, does not result from anything [Page 269] we have done in SALT. Rather, it results from unilateral US decisions. SALT stopped not one US program. Low throw weight is a result of our own decisions and has not been imposed upon us by SALT agreements. We could have greater throw weight in existing silos with systems compatible with the Interim Agreement. I think Admiral Moorer can tell you this. And I know of no request for any large missiles that has been turned down at this level in this Administration.

Secretary Schlesinger: We could have a 6,000 pound throw weight missile the same size as the SS–19.

President Nixon: I would be willing to take a recommendation now.

Secretary Schlesinger: We have just had money approved by Congress to develop a larger missile.

Secretary Kissinger: The US can close the throw weight gap whenever we chose to do so, within the Interim Agreement. In addition, when multiple warheads were first developed, they were perceived primarily as a counter weight to ABMs. Since ABMs do not exist now, the strategic impact is different today than when the systems were first designed.

With no added US forces, the Soviet Union will pass the US in number of MIRVed missiles by the 1980’s, perhaps by 1980, maybe by 1982. This depends on the rate of building. At the maximum rate they have gone in the past, the gap would become quite dramatic. Our real choice is either to achieve constraints on their programs, or have a build-up of our own. The worse case is to have no constraints on their program and no build-up of our own.

President Nixon: I want to reemphasize that this is not just a theoretical exercise. Henry’s point brings up that we should take a hard look not just at what they can do but what they will do. If there were no constraints, we could raise hell to try to drum up Congressional support and that might happen. But I am mainly concerned that it might not happen either. Thus, we have to consider reasonable proposals for constraints. If we can constrain them, we’ve gained something. No matter what the plans are that we talk about here in the NSC and get developed in DOD, we might not get support for these programs.

Secretary Kissinger: With respect to the status of any negotiations, the negotiations for a permanent agreement in Geneva have been based on the notion of essential equivalent, which we have defined as equal aggregates at 2350, equal MIRV throw weight, and other propositions. The difficulty of the Geneva negotiations has been that both sides can look at the other as attempting to prevent the things they are best at. The practical consequences of their proposal are to eliminate B–1 and Trident. In our favor, 2350 has the effect of increasing US forces by 200 and reducing theirs by 250. Therefore, we have a stalemate. We have [Page 270] also argued for equal MIRV throw weight. This would restrict the Soviets to 300 MIRVed missiles, although Bill’s projections show they are easily capable of going greater than a thousand. Therefore, the status of the negotiations is as follows. The current scheme we were talking about would be an extension of the Interim Agreement numbers to perhaps 1979 or 80—the date is important here because Trident comes in in the 1977–78 period. In return for this, we would expect to achieve limits on the total number of MIRVed missiles. They have offered us 1100 versus a thousand for them. We have told them that this is not adequate. It would stop us essentially in the next year or so, and allow the Soviet build-up to continue. I know of no one in the government that recommends accepting this approach. But they may offer a better differential. The question is what our position should be if they offer a better differential. Especially if we were able to fulfill our program while we restrained theirs, we should consider it. In any event, we would be able to put bigger missiles in our force so that we would not be constrained from increasing our throw weight. Right now, Mr. President, you have no decisions to make.

We have an offer, but only an unsatisfactory offer.

But suppose they should increase the gap—would we then be prepared to extend the Interim Agreement to 1979 or 1980, and bring some larger missiles into our deployments. This would deprive us only of the option to increase our number, not limiting our improvements in our existing system. You may face such decisions. I have no indication that you will, and in fact my prediction is that you will not have to face it, because they won’t offer an increase in the differential.

Secretary Schlesinger: There is a relationship between MIRVs, throw weight, and stability. As Henry indicated, we can increase the throw weight of our existing missiles. But it is undesirable for both sides to increase MIRVed throw weight—particularly the ICBM throw weight. There are particular problems with ICBMs—they have greater accuracy and yield and are on alert. The reasoning used when you proposed equal ICBM MIRV throw weight is still valid. When Secretary McNamara first made the decision on MIRVs, he looked upon MIRVing as a way to hold down increases in the size of the force—to hold down counter force capability. Matching throw weight increases would create instabilities. Our concern is that an expansion on both sides collectively is not in our mutual interest.

Mr. President, you asked that we consider what we might do in this area, taking into account our objectives. We have gotten together inside the Defense Department and we all agreed that it is advantageous to both sides to exercise restraints. If the Soviets are willing to exercise restraints, we should pay the price. We have developed a new proposal with five elements, which I believe is workable: (1) We would [Page 271] agree that neither side would have more than 2500 launchers. This would help with our Congressional problem in establishing the basis of equality. (2) The US and the Soviet Union would agree to discuss seriously reductions from the 2500 level. (3) The Soviets would agree not to deploy more than 360 MIRVed ICBMs by 1979. (4) The US would be limited to no more than 550 Minuteman III and would agree to cease Minuteman III production. With no agreement, I recommend we go with Minuteman III to at least 700. (5) We would extend the Interim Agreement during this period.

This would give us in a formal sense approximately equal MIRV throw weight and help with the reduction of instabilities. The impact on the Soviet program would be to reduce their deployment from 200 per year to approximately 85 per year. We think this is a reasonable price for them to pay in order to bring about restraints in US programs. We would be giving up the ability to deploy more Minuteman III.

As Henry indicated, it is important that we provide restraint. This would provide restraint on both sides. The Soviet Union could say that it had headed off a US build-up. We believe this a reasonable package. It would give the Soviet Union 2100 MIRV reentry vehicles—a powerful force—powerful enough according to some analysts to threaten our Minuteman, although I do not subscribe to that analysis.

Secretary Kissinger: Mr. President, I believe that it is important to make it very clear that this is a proposal which the Soviet Union has already rejected. First, it stops Minuteman at about our current program. Second, it leaves MIRV submarine launchers free. We have 496, and with three Trident boats coming in we’ll have up to 6000 warheads. But by the end of the Interim Agreement, the Soviets could have no more than about 100 MIRVed SLBMs. Therefore, when we look only at 360 to 550, this would be acceptable if there were no other weapons. But it is unacceptable when you consider the SLBMs. This is essentially the proposal we made in Moscow in March, and they made their counterproposal of a thousand. With respect to the 2500, total number, this might be all right in a permanent agreement.

Secretary Schlesinger: It would also be helpful in an Interim Agreement. It provides a good base. It says we could have 800 bombers, considering the other constraints of the Interim Agreement, which everyone knows we would not deploy. But it would still set an equal base. I was not aware that they rejected 360. My understanding was in March that they rejected 200 missiles. Our proposal for 360 is somewhat more. On SLBMs, this approach would leave the Soviets free to deploy SLBMs. [less than 1 line not declassified] But one cannot compare ICBMs and SLBMs simply by counting warheads. An SS–9 [less than 1 line not declassified] could destroy all of Los Angeles, but a Poseidon, with its 14 [Page 272] warheads, if dumped on the city would leave one-half of the city surviving.

There are advantages to the Soviet Union in this approach. We cease Minuteman deployment and avoid a build-up in our forces. The Soviets have always been worried about stirring the American public into counteraction. I’m not aware they have rejected 360 and I would urge you to try it out on them.

Secretary Kissinger: No, they rejected 200, but I can assure you they will reject 360 also.

Secretary Schlesinger: Mr. Brezhnev has a very high respect for you, Mr. President. You can be very persuasive—you have great forensic skills. I believe if you can persuade them to slow down to 85 per year versus 200 per year, you will have achieved a major breakthrough. The Chiefs have been apprehensive about MIRV agreements, but I believe that most of them would endorse this approach.

Admiral Moorer: The Chiefs have been apprehensive about any extension of the Interim Agreement. We believe this leaves the US in a disadvantageous position if we need to break out and start our program. We were testifying before Jackson’s committee this morning, and several members of the committee, including Stennis and others, indicated that they would support an increase in our budget if we can’t get an agreement. I should mention that the CNO, I believe he sent a 17 June letter to you,4 did not support this approach. Also we have to examine verification constraints. [1½ lines not declassified] Overall, I believe the proposal the Secretary of Defense has made offers a means for breaking our deadlock.

President Nixon: What does the CNO recommend?

Admiral Moorer: I believe he has five points. First, he was concerned about some of the verification problems [less than 1 line not declassified]

President Nixon: That’s a profound observation

Secretary Schlesinger: Let me see if I can summarize his arguments. He is in favor of going only for a permanent comprehensive agreement. He believes we should go for a straight out attempt to get such an agreement.

President Nixon: You mean he prefers no agreement.

Secretary Schlesinger: No, he just wants only a permanent agreement.

President Nixon: Let’s put it all out on the table. When he suggests something that has no chance of success, that means he wants no agree [Page 273] ment. He has now written his letter for the record and I’m sure he will go out and say it publicly. But that’s OK; I will have to take responsibility for it, he won’t have to.

Secretary Schlesinger: I believe the other four Chiefs support the approach I’ve outlined. Also, it fits in well with the test ban approach you have discussed.

President Nixon: Alex, what do you think about this?

Ambassador Johnson: Well, I’m confident the Soviets would come back hard on the SLBMs. The SLBMs would be the big question.

Secretary Schlesinger: We have too many warheads in our force now. We have more small yield warheads than we need. They were first developed for ABM penetration. The thrust of the Soviet program lies in forces of large missiles being MIRVed. And there’s definitely a difference between an SS–18 [less than 1 line not declassified] and a Poseidon with [less than 1 line not declassified]

Secretary Kissinger: Mr. President, I want to say that I believe there’s no level of forensic ability with which you could sell this program. Thus, the practical results of it would be that we would go forward unconstrained—the Soviet Union deploying at the rate described by Bill Colby, we deploying heavy missiles in our silos. This would be our only choice, and clearly would lead to instability.

Secretary Schlesinger: Mr. President, I would urge you to put your forensic ability to the test. I think you should try out this approach. And another point: the break-out situation described by Bill Colby is a projection which assumes that the Interim Agreement were abrogated. Otherwise, we have three years left in order to get the degree of restraint that I want, Henry wants, and Colby wants.

Deputy Secretary Clements: Mr. President, I believe there would be therapeutic value to doing that. You have only two or two and one-half years to go. I believe the treatment you would receive that would come about from taking that position—treatment from the American public and from your friends in the Senate—would be very favorable.

Dr. Ikle: We talk a lot about bargaining chips and so forth, and new programs. I think it’s important that, in whatever Summit statement is made, we emphasize the outstanding work which needs to be accomplished by follow-on negotiations. There are very important items left such as cruise missiles and bombers.

President Nixon: Well, it will be interesting to see what Mr. Brezhnev will have to say. We all tend to be experts in predicting how the Soviets will react. But no one ever knows until we sit down. But based on our past experience, unless Brezhnev becomes totally convinced that his interests are being served, no amount of forensic excel [Page 274] lence affects him much. We will try—we will run out every option before getting down to our bottom line. But comparing today to before 1972 or 1973, I think we should realize that his bottom line is so far from ours, that the possibility of reaching agreement is unlikely. We won’t go in with that attitude—we will say the right things. It’s going to be a cold turkey proposition. There will be no amount of midnight sessions and toasts which will change our position on this.

Mr. Duckett: [2 lines not declassified]

Secretary Schlesinger: Carl’s proposition would be fine if we could get them to agree. The Soviets are aware of the importance of large throw weight. They have certainly invested a large amount of money in it.

President Nixon: I’ll go into the wrestling match, I hope, as well prepared as Brezhnev will be—maybe better prepared. This will be a real test of Soviet intentions. They have been making statements about “they think the Summit will be successful” and so forth. If we are able to reach agreement, it will be only after extensive discussion. It will be one we can support in the national interest. But I will say that one thing that we will not accept are patently cheap shots such as what CNO has done—after the support the Navy has received from this Administration, which he’s aware of. He knows what we have gone through. We saved the US from a diplomatic disaster by the wrong kind of end to the war in Vietnam. To come forth on paper with a position, which he knows to be unacceptable, and I’m sure he plans to go public with it. I hear a lot of this from our military—of course not from anyone in this room. The rest of you have different opinions. Under our system, that’s why the decision has to be made at the highest levels, taking into account all views. But I hope you will all support whatever happens. You may end up not having to support anything. But if that is the way it ends up, no one will be able to say much more than who won the debate. And who won the debate isn’t going to mean much. People will say “I won; my point of view prevailed.” But that will not help us. That is why we have to take a hard look at all that has been said. I cannot accept a proposition that an arms race with no constraints is in our interest. And also I will have to respectfully disagree; the US public is not going to react strongly like we did to Sputnik. There are strong tides running in this country and fires building—many fires which were fed by Vietnam. But thank God for some people like Stennis and his Armed Services group. Other than that, we have a majority only in the House, and only barely.

If we have no agreement, we will do our best to match them. But the tendency of many of us is to look at this too lightly—to see what the consequences of failing to make progress in this area would be. They’re potentially very great.

[Page 275]

Let me close on one point. Worse than an arms race would be agreeing to freeze us in a position of inferiority. We won’t do that. But somewhere there’s a middle ground. That is what we will look for.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box H–110, NSC Meeting Minutes, Originals, 1971 thru 6–20–74. Top Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room.
  2. Colby’s briefing, but not the charts, are ibid., Box H–33, NSC Meeting, SALT, 6/20/74.
  3. See Document 67.
  4. Not further identified. Admiral Zumwalt was the Chief of Naval Operations.