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


  • Our SALT Proposal

Prior to my October meeting with Brezhnev,2 we had proposed the following:

1. Both sides limited to 2500 ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers, with reductions to 2350 by the end of 1982 and 2200 by the end of 1983.

2. No more than 250 heavy systems on each side, including both heavy missiles and heavy bombers.

3. No more than 1320 MIRVed missiles for each side.

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

Brezhnev’s response was as follows:

1. He accepted the limit of 1320 on MIRVed missiles.

2. He agreed to the limit on long-range air-to-surface missiles on heavy bombers (which we have), but did not accept the corresponding [Page 374] prohibition of MIRVs on heavy missiles (which they have). Further, he insisted that any short-range missiles deployed on heavy bombers would have to be counted within any aggregate numerical limit one-for-one as strategic launchers.

3. He did not comment on the proposed limit of 250 on heavy systems, other than to implicitly reject it by stating that each side should have the right to determine what type of systems it deploys.

4. On the basic numbers, he proposed 2400 for the Soviets and 2200 for the U.S., with the U.S. achieving “rights” to 2400 in 1985. Apparently, he would expect us to agree not to exercise our rights to go to 2400. He justified the differential of 200 on the grounds that our Allies also have SLBMs. (Significantly, Brezhnev did not also insist on compensation for our “forward-based” systems.)

5. Brezhnev also proposed a limit of ten on the number of Trident submarines and comparable Soviet submarines (which he referred to as “Typhoons”).

Brezhnev’s proposal has several obvious difficulties:

—His insistence that we count short-range air-to-surface missiles on bombers as strategic launchers is nonsense. Most of these weapons are short-range attack missiles (SRAMs) designed to penetrate Soviet air defenses. They are more analogous to the warheads on a missile than they are to the missile itself.

—His insistence that we limit the range of air-to-surface missiles on bombers without a compensating Soviet concession, such as banning MIRVs on heavy missiles or banning land-mobile missiles, is also unacceptable.

—His two proposals concerning (1) aggregate numbers and (2) limits on Trident/Typhoon, while not acceptable in their present form, are serious proposals which could form the basis for constructive negotiations in Vladivostok.

The following sections analyze Brezhnev’s proposal in more detail and suggest elements of a possible U.S. counter-proposal.


Brezhnev’s proposal essentially comes down to 2400 launchers for the Soviets versus 2200 for the U.S. In strategic or programmatic terms, such an arrangement would present few difficulties; the problem with it is political in that it might not provide the “perception of equality”.

The basic U.S. program consists of 1976 launchers—1000 Minuteman ICBMs, 496 missiles on Poseidon submarines, 240 missiles on Trident submarines, and 240 B–1 aircraft. Thus, even to reach 2200 we will have to retain some combination of 224 obsolete Polaris missiles and B–52 bombers. To go above 2200, we would have to retain even [Page 375] more obsolete systems (at high operating costs), or build additional Tridents and B–1s (at very high procurement costs).

On the Soviet side, the extra 200 launchers they would be permitted would consist entirely of unMIRVed missiles, since neither side could have more than 1320 MIRVed missiles. Given the tremendous difference in military capability between MIRVed missiles and single warhead missiles, these 200 launchers would be worth very little in strategic terms.

Nevertheless, given the adverse political reaction you might suffer if you accepted this disparity in launchers, I believe we must press Brezhnev to accept numerical equality. He has indicated, in a somewhat ambiguous manner, that he would agree to equality at the end of the period. However, to be meaningful, equality must be reached sometime before the end of the period. I would suggest that we insist on rights to equal numbers of central systems at least throughout the final two years of the agreement—1984 and 1985. Through 1983, we could accept limits of 2200 on the U.S. versus 2400 on the Soviets, but only if the Soviets agree to some compensating asymmetry in our favor, such as a U.S. advantage of 200 MIRVed missiles. Thus, we could stick with our proposal of limiting MIRVed missiles to 1320, but insist that prior to 1984, the Soviets build up to no more than 1120 MIRVed missiles. Correspondingly, while the final limit on launchers would be 2400, we would agree to stay 200 below this level (at 2200) through 1983.

This scheme would provide for a superficial equivalence. In practice, we would have to make a choice between having our permitted 1320 MIRVed missiles in 1983, and having 2400 total launchers in 1985. The reasoning behind this is somewhat complex; however, it can be summarized as follows:

—If we meet our MIRV limit of 1320 in 1983, we will be able to increase our force levels in 1984 and 1985 only by deploying new unMIRVed systems. We could not build up by using older systems, because any excess in older systems above 2200 would have to be phased out before 1984 to stay within the earlier 2200 limit. Thus, we would be left with the B–1—the only new unMIRVed system we will have available to deploy. Our planned production rate for the B–1 is four per month, and it would require an all-out crash program to deploy more than four per month, or 96 during this two-year period. Thus, we could add only 96 new launchers to our 2200, leaving us at 2296—104 short of our limit of 2400.

—Alternatively, we could stretch out the Trident program, leaving the last four ships with 96 missiles for deployment during 1984 and [Page 376] 1985. Since these would be MIRVed, we would have to stay 96 below our MIRV limit of 1320 in order to have room to add these Trident missiles to our force.

In practice, we would probably do something between these two alternatives. The present Trident program calls for nine ships to be completed by the end of 1983. This would give us 1262 MIRVed missiles at that time, 58 short of our 1320 limit. In 1984 and 1985, we could build 96 B–1s and 3 more Trident ships with 72 missiles. This would give us a total force of 2344 (56 short of our permitted 2400), with 1318 MIRVed missiles.

What this means in practice is that you have some bargaining room concerning Soviet insistence on counting Allied SLBMs. In the past, the Soviets have insisted on compensation for both our Allies’ SLBMs and our “forward-based systems”. Brezhnev has now limited this to Allied SLBMs alone. Further, in my October talks with him, he strongly indicated that his primary concern was with British SLBMs, implying that he would be willing to overlook the French SLBMs.

There are 64 British SLBMs on four Polaris submarines. There is virtually no chance that the British will want to increase this force during the next ten years. Thus, counting them within our 2400 limit would leave us 2336 launchers—only eight short of the maximum number of 2344 we would be able to deploy in any event. In Vladivostok, you will not want to sign any statement which explicitly acknowledges that we will count the British SLBMs. However, if Brezhnev is insistent on this, you may wish to indicate that we will give it favorable consideration, even though we want to leave it open for the time being.

It should be pointed out that during the period of the agreement, we could also, if we choose to do so, replace all 496 Poseidon C–3 MIRVed missiles on Poseidon submarines with the new higher-capability C–4 missile being developed as part of the Trident program. Furthermore, we could triple the throw weight of our land-based MIRVs by replacing MM–III with the new M–X missile.

The prospective agreement would leave the forces of the two sides in rough overall balance. Both sides would have about 7500–10,000 missile warheads, depending on exactly how each side chooses to configure its MIRV force. The Soviet missiles would be heavier—their total missile throw weight would be 14.2 million pounds versus 4.5–6.5 million pounds for the US. On the other hand, the US would have 6–10,000 bomber weapons, compared to only a few hundred for the Soviets. We would also retain our forward-based systems, although this capability would be offset by the Soviet medium bombers and intermediate range missiles.

[Page 377]

Limits on Trident

Brezhnev proposed a limit of 10 on the number of Tridents and an equal limit on the number of comparable Soviet “Typhoons”. We have no evidence that the “Typhoon” exists, although the Soviets would certainly be capable of building such a ship within the next 10 years.

The only difficulty with the limit of 10 on Tridents is that it would force us either to stretch out our Trident program or to terminate it before the end of the agreement. If we terminated Trident, we would have no active missile program at the end of the agreement, giving the Soviets a potential break-out capability relative to us. Thus, we suggest you accept Brezhnev’s proposal in concept, but counter-propose a limit of 12 rather than 10. Twelve would allow us to continue the Trident program at its planned rate of one ship every 8 months through 1985.

Heavy Missiles and Heavy Bombers

As mentioned above, Brezhnev pocketed the half of our proposed limits on heavy missile MIRVs and bomber armaments favorable to him and rejected the limits on heavy MIRVs favorable to us. Furthermore, his position on bomber air-to-surface missiles was totally unacceptable.

I believe you should make every effort to avoid getting bogged down on the topic of bomber armament and heavy MIRVs at Vladivostok. Time will be very short and you should concentrate on getting agreement on basic numbers. Thus, I suggest that we simplify our approach, proposing numerical limits on the numbers of new heavy bombers (250) and new heavy missiles (180), eliminating all reference to heavy MIRVs or bomber armaments.

Summary and Recommendations

In summary, although Brezhnev’s proposal contains some unacceptable provisions, it offers a basis for further negotiations. I suggest that we follow up with a counterproposal with the following key elements:

1. A limit on total launchers of 2400 and MIRV missiles of 1320 for the last two years of the agreement (1984 and 1985).

2. Through 1983, US agreement to stay 200 below the 2400 launcher limit, and Soviet agreement to stay 200 below the 1320 MIRV missile limit.

3. A limit of 250 new strategic bombers, 312 SLBMs on Trident-type ships (13 ships), and 180 new heavy ICBMs.

This approach would lead to something like the following forces on the two sides:

[Page 378]
At the End of 1983
MIRVed Missiles
MM–III – 550 SS–17/19 – 730
Poseidon C–3/C–4 – 496 SS–18 – 180
Trident C–4 – 216 Typhoon – 210
1262 1120
Other Missiles
MM–III – 450 SS–9 – 128
Polaris – 48 SS–16 – 60
SS–11 – 300
D–class – 408
Y–class – 318
498 1214
Total Missiles 1760 2334
B–1 – 154 Bear/Bison – 66
B–52 – 286
440 66
Total Launchers 2200 2400
[Page 379]
At the End of 1985
MIRVed Missiles
MM–III – 550 SS–17/19 – 930
Poseidon C–4 – 480 SS–18 – 180
Trident C–4 – 288 Typhoon – 210
1318 1320
Other Missiles
MM–III – 450 SS–9 – 128
Polaris – 48 SS–16 – 60
SS–11 – 220
D–class – 408
Y–class – 318
498 1134
Total Missiles 1816 2334
B–1 – 250 Bear/Bison –66
B–52 – 278
528 66
Total Launchers 2344 2400

If you approve, I will pass on this counterproposal to Dobrynin in order to give Brezhnev time to study it before the Vladivostok meeting.3

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Subject File, Box 19, SALT (10)–(21) [Nov. 1974–Aug 1975]. Secret; Sensitive. Ford initialed the memorandum. In a November 8 memorandum to Kissinger, Lodal, Sonnenfeldt, and Hyland analyzed the Soviet proposals, Brezhnev’s proposal in Moscow, and a note from the Soviet Embassy delivered at 12:24 p.m. on November 8, which they considered “generally consistent.” The note and the memorandum are ibid.
  2. See Documents 8284.
  3. See Document 86.