79. Paper Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency for the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

The Relationship of SALT and Détente

Brezhnev and other Soviet spokesmen have said more than once that political détente must be accompanied by military détente. Where SALT is concerned, the question is whether the Soviets see the need to translate this principle into specific decisions and actions, rather than merely covering up political, strategic, and economic contradictions under generalities.

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Opinion in the Soviet leadership no doubt strongly favors preserving SALT as a process.

—How interested the Soviet leaders are in obtaining significant new agreements in the next stage of SALT is another matter.

Most probably, there are uncertainties within the Politburo as to what suitable terms would be. To complicate matters, much of the expert advice on which they base their assessment of the present and future strategic balance is slanted toward a worst-case analysis.

There are also questions of timing.

—An appreciation of Soviet technological inferiority can be used either as an argument for holding off until something has been done to repair it, or for moving to agreement before the lag becomes wider.

—Similarly, uncertainty over the policy direction the new US administration will take can be seen as a reason for delay and caution, or for trying to achieve an agreement that will help to sustain US interest in détente.

—And the slow pace of movement in other areas of US-Soviet relations may prompt some to urge a tough stand at SALT and others to look at progress in SALT as a means of developing momentum in these other areas.

Which way Brezhnev leans will have a good deal to do with the Soviet position. He cannot simply impose his own views on his colleagues. The evidence available suggests that, for all the growth in his authority in recent years, he works to a very large extent through consensus. Senior leaders such as Kosygin and Suslov—and Grechko—cannot be easily bypassed. Moreover, uncertainty generated by the change in administrations in Washington may on balance make Brezhnev somewhat more cautious than in the recent past about taking a forward position concerning US-Soviet relations. But Brezhnev is the pivotal influence; unless he pushes, Soviet SALT policy is unlikely to budge.

Brezhnev’s interest in further agreements on the limitation or reduction of strategic arms is probably genuine. In speaking of détente and the need to make it “irreversible,” he has argued that, though there are risks in limiting or reducing arms, there are greater risks in continuing the arms race. But his attitude toward arms limitation also derives in good part from his commitment to détente in general. This policy has become a big ingredient in his political strength over the past four years. It is also the basis for many domestic programs and plans with which he is identified. The consumer programs, the large-scale development projects, the attempt to promote economic growth with Western technology, and the efforts at long-range planning all assume to varying degrees that international relations and the arms burden will remain manageable and that commerce with the West will expand.

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A serious setback to détente need not be politically fatal for Brezhnev. But it would mean, at least, a diminution of his authority and require him to search for new political alliances and new policies in many areas. He can be expected to go a long way to avoid that, particularly at this advanced stage in his probable political tenure. His eagerness for arms agreements will depend, among other things, on how much damage he believes an impasse on this question would do to the overall US-Soviet relationship.

The following paper is cast in the form of an intelligence assessment. Without taking up the specifics of a possible SALT agreement, it analyzes the broad consequences of success or its absence in the broad SALT undertaking. It is meant to organize a set of arguments which, accompanied by personal elaborations, could impress Brezhnev and his colleagues with the value of a success in this enterprise and, conversely, the ramified costs to Soviet interests of a continued stalemate.

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Executive Registry Files, Job 80M01048A, OPI 10, Box 8, Folder 28. Secret. Sent under an October 18 covering memorandum from Colby to Kissinger in which Colby wrote: “As I proposed to you last month, we have given some thought to the kinds of arguments which might be useful, if directed to and discussed among Soviet leaders, in nudging them into action on the SALT question. Enclosed is a short background paper on the Soviet political factors affecting this matter.” Also attached to Colby’s memorandum was what Colby described as a “presentation, cast in the form of an intelligence assessment, of the broad gains available to the USSR in a SALT II agreement, as well as the losses which the USSR is likely to suffer in the absence of an agreement. It is for your possible use or even passage to a Soviet counterpart, if you think that desirable.” (Ibid.)