80. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Ford1


  • SALT Options


There is probably uncertainty in Moscow over the new Administration’s policies and over the likely course of Soviet/American relations. It is fairly clear that the Soviets have decided to temper their détente rhetoric.

—This does not mean they are changing course, but that they see the situation as sufficiently murky to warrant a more prudent posture toward your Administration.

—Moreover, the “crisis of capitalism” brought on by Western economic problems may give them grounds to believe that events will turn in their favor without Soviet concessions.

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—Thus, Brezhnev may feel that the burden of proof is on the US to demonstrate continuity.

With this background, it is likely that SALT will be the key issue. Brezhnev clearly understands that a reduction of tensions is impossible while both sides continue an unlimited buildup of arms, threatening the basic security of both sides.

Reaching some accommodation on SALT is crucial to the further development of US/Soviet relations.

Your Negotiating Options

You are aware of the proposal I have discussed with Dobrynin informally for Soviet consideration.2 The key elements are:

—Reductions to equal aggregate levels of ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers at 2200 each.

—No more than 60% of each side’s launchers can be MIRVed missiles (i.e., no more than 1320 MIRVed missiles each).

—No more than 250 “heavy” systems, either missiles or bombers.

—No MIRVs on heavy missiles or long-range missiles on heavy bombers.

—No more than 175 new missiles on bombers deployed in any one year by either side.

This approach picks up the best elements of each of the options considered by the Verification Panel; it represents the only feasible starting point we could take with the Soviets.

It is already apparent from the position taken by the Soviet delegation in Geneva that I will have to defend this approach against a Soviet counterattack. The strongest Soviet argument will be against equal aggregates. They will argue that our FBS advantage and the threat they face from our Allies and from China justify unequal numbers in their favor. This raises the question of how to respond to the Soviet counterattack.

It is highly unlikely that the Soviets will go along with any agreement which does not provide at least a minimal face-saving for them on major elements of their position. In particular, they will probably insist on:

—Some concessions on FBS.

—At least a slight inequality in the aggregate numbers in their favor (although this can be balanced by other inequalities in our favor).

—Flexibility concerning limits on the throw weight of their missiles.

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—A MIRV limit high enough to give them a chance to reduce the gap in total warheads.

—A fair accounting of the overwhelming US advantage in heavy bombers.

Of course, we do not have to accept the Soviet position in its entirety on any of these points; the key difficulty is convincing those within the Administration and Congress who insist on a maximum approach to the negotiations that some compromise and flexibility is essential if we are to reach an accommodation. Many who take an inflexible position do not want an agreement; they sincerely believe that we will prevail in an arms race with the Soviets.

In my opinion, this attitude is risky. It ignores:

—The economic problems we face which would make it very difficult to support the $5.7 billion per year increase in the Defense budget we would need to carry out such an arms race.

—The risk to international peace and stability which would be associated with the inevitable breakdown of US/Soviet relations.

—The near majority in the Senate who take a “minimum deterrence” approach to strategic forces, believing that we need no additional strategic forces, regardless of what the Soviets deploy.

The interagency working group has continued to refine the various options discussed at the last NSC meeting.3 The key elements of each are as follows:

Agency Options

Option A. The first option is a simple “equal aggregates” approach with reductions to 2,000. There would be no other significant limitations.

Option B. The second approach adds strict constraints on total missile throw weight and MIRV missile throw weight to an agreement on equal aggregates.

Option C. The third approach balances a Soviet advantage in total numbers versus a US advantage in MIRVs.

Option D. The fourth approach is one you suggested at the last meeting—giving each side the right to have either more total missiles and bombers or more MIRVed missiles, but not both; each side would be free to choose its program. This approach provides “equal rights” to each side.

I have prepared tables giving numerical comparisons for each option if you would like to study them further.

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Other issues have also been considered by the interagency working group.

—There is little disagreement concerning the desirability of grouping heavy missiles and heavy bombers into a single category and attempting to negotiate sublimits on the number of launchers in this category.

—On FBS, there is little opposition to two concessions: agreeing to consider reduction of European-based nuclear forces in MBFR, and eventual withdrawal from our European submarine bases, which we will not need once the longer-range Trident I missile is deployed.

—Finally, there is the issue of limitations on total missile warheads. This issue is complex technically, and you need not take it on unless the Soviets raise objections to our warhead advantage. In this case, we may wish to counter with a proposal to limit warheads to equal levels.

On strategic grounds, there are few differences between most of the options. In all cases, our Minuteman will become “technically vulnerable.” Soviet rejection of the “equal MIRV throw weight” approach we proposed last winter made this inevitable.

Nevertheless, only Option A, which has no qualitative limits, would permit Soviet force levels so high that they could have any confidence in a first-strike attack against our Minuteman.

While there is considerable agreement that the options do not differ significantly in their strategic impact, there is considerable disagreement concerning their impact on the “political perceptions” of the strategic balance.

Secretary Schlesinger and the JCS have argued strongly, as has Senator Jackson, that we must have absolute equality in the number of central system launchers. They argue that any inequality will lead to a widespread perception that the US has accepted a position of inferiority.

There are serious questions concerning the validity of this argument. In particular:

—I do not believe the Congress, the American people, or our Allies have such a simplistic view of the strategic balance that they ignore all considerations other than the number of missiles and bombers.

At a minimum, it is difficult to see how the Soviets can ignore British and French SLBMs which are clearly no threat to us but a threat to them.

In the absence of an arms control agreement, there is no question but that our military would choose to have relatively smaller numbers of higher capability systems, rather than sacrificing quality for quan [Page 346] tity. Thus, they are arguing that we cannot accept in an agreement what we would inevitably do without an agreement.

Finally, no one has proposed agreeing to an inequality in total levels without a compensating US advantage in other areas, such as a number of MIRV launchers.


In sum, the major issue you face is whether to allow for a flexibility and some compromise with the Soviets, or to stand firm on a position we know they will find unacceptable, leading to an inevitable stalemate.



OPTION A—Equal Aggregates of Control Systems

“Baseline” Option Change from “Baseline” Program
Missiles and Bombers 22925 26006 2000 2000 –292 –600
MIRVed Missiles 1786 1794 1661 1364 –125 –430
Total Warheads 19246 10662 17201 3432 –2045 –2230
Missile Throw Weight 6.4 14.2 6.1 12.1 –0.3 –2.1
Total Throw Weight
(Including Bombers)
13.9 15.7 11.2 12.1 –2.7 –3.6

—Under this option, there would be no constraints on modernization or deployment of MIRVs. U.S. deploys Trident, MX, and B–1; Soviets MIRV all of their ICBMs and one-third of their SLBMs.

—Soviets must reduce 600 below projected force level of 2600. Reductions would include 100 bombers and 500 ICBMs.

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—Rough equality in missile RVs; Soviet throw weight advantage balanced by a U.S. advantage in total warheads.

OPTION B—Equal Aggregates With Throw Weight Limits

“Baseline” Option Change from “Baseline” Program
Missiles and Bombers 2292 2600 1986 2000 –306 –600
MIRVed Missiles 1786 1794 1286 912 –500 –882
Total Warheads 19246 10662 14764 7676 –4482 –2986
Missile Throw Weight 6.4 14.2 4.4 6.0 –2.0 –8.2
Total Throw Weight
(Including Bombers)
13.9 15.7 7.2 9.7 –6.7 –6.0

A limitation on total missile throw weight of 6 million pounds and on MIRV missile throw weight of 4 million pounds would have the effect of requiring either a radical restructuring of Soviet forces, or of limiting them to numbers of MIRV well under proposals they have already rejected because:

—They would have to reduce virtually all of their heavy missile force (308).

—They would have to limit their new medium ICBM to no more than 380 out of a possible 1030 if they wanted to maintain a level of SLBMs close to their projected force.

—To reach their MIRV throw weight limit, they could have only 900 MIRV launchers, a 50% reduction in projected MIRV deployments.

OPTION C—Compensating Asymmetries

“Baseline” Option Change from “Baseline” Program
Missiles and Bombers 2292 2600 1986 2200 –306 –400
MIRVed Missiles 1786 1794 1286 1050 –500 –744
Total Warheads 19246 10662 15726 6138 –3520 –4524
Missile Throw Weight 6.4 14.2 5.7 11.3 –0.7 –2.9
Total Throw Weight
(Including Bombers)
13.9 15.7 9.4 11.3 –4.5 –4.4
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—Soviet advantage in number of missiles and bombers balanced by U.S. advantage in MIRVed launchers.

—Soviets retain large throw weight advantage, but most throw weight is in unMIRVed missiles.

—Heavy systems (missiles and bombers) limited to set ceiling on throw weight.

—Soviets’ MIRVs would include 650 ICBMs and 400 SLBMs; U.S. would have 550 MIRVed ICBMs and 740 SLBMs.

OPTION D—Equal Deployment Rights

“Baseline” Option Change from “Baseline” Program
Missiles and Bombers 2292 2600 1986 2200 –306 –400
MIRVed Missiles 1786 1794 1286 1050 –500 –744
Total Warheads 19246 10662 14976 6138 –4270 –4524
Missile Throw Weight 6.4 14.2 5.0 11.3 –1.4 –2.9
Total Throw Weight
(Including Bombers)
13.9 15.7 8.7 11.3 –5.2 –4.4

—Both sides have choice of one of two force levels by 1985:

Aggregate of 2000 with 1300 MIRV launchers

Aggregate of 2200 with 1050 MIRV launchers

—Designed to achieve equality in heavy systems and to limit competition in medium and light missiles through throw weight and RV ceilings.

—Soviet force same as Option C; U.S. limited to 100 MX rather than 250 as in “Baseline” and Option C because of RV ceiling for medium and light missiles.

  1. Source: Ford Library, NSC Institutional Files, Box 8, NSC Meeting, 10/18/74–SALT. Top Secret; Sensitive. The memorandum was not initialed by Kissinger. It was included in his briefing papers for the NSC meeting of October 18; see Document 81.
  2. See Document 78.
  3. See Document 76.
  4. Secret; Sensitive.
  5. Baseline includes the planned 2000 “first line” launcher (1000 MM, 496 Poseidon, 240 Trident, 240 B–1), plus 50 “modernized” Titan launchers and 250 older bombers. [Footnote is in the original.]
  6. Includes 1090 light ICBMs; 300 heavy ICBMs; 950 SLBMs; 180 land-mobile ICBMs, and 90 bombers. [Footnote is in the original.]