90. Minutes of a Meeting of the National Security Council1


  • SALT


  • The President
  • Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger
  • Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger
  • Director of Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Fred Ikle
  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General George S. Brown
  • Director of Central Intelligence William E. Colby


  • State
  • Deputy Secretary Robert Ingersoll
  • Ambassador U. Alexis Johnson, U.S. Representative, SALT
  • Defense
  • Deputy Secretary William Clements
  • White House
  • Mr. Donald Rumsfeld, Counselor to the President
  • Mr. Robert Hartman, Counselor to the President
  • Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft
  • NSC
  • Mr. Jan M. Lodal

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT II.]

[President Ford:] In Vladivostok, General Secretary Brezhnev and I established a good working relationship. He knows I was firm, and I understand his firmness. We were both acting in the best interest of our countries.

The main accomplishment was that we went from non-equivalence to equivalence. We agreed on a limit of 2400 on the aggregates and 1320 on the number of MIRV missiles. There’s no compensation for FBS or the nuclear capability of the French and the British. I think we came away with a good agreement. George, I think you understand the 600 km range limitation—anything more would be counted, anything less not counted.

We put a cap on the arms race. Sure, we would have liked to have gotten 1700 or 2000, but these were negotiations. I was looking at the estimates of the intelligence community and when I saw that the minimum, median, and maximum were all higher than the limit we negotiated, I see that where we ended up was very good. If the public is given [Page 394] this information, I think they will agree. There are people on either side, both the left and the right, who don’t understand the facts.

Mr. Colby: Mr. President, that is equally true on MIRVs (shows chart).2

President Ford: Right—I looked at the figures. How much of this can we safely let out?

Mr. Colby: Many of these projections are judgmental and might be open to attack.

Secretary Schlesinger: You can make two observations. First, it is universally recognized that the Soviet program could go beyond 2400 SDVs, and second, the numbers here are lower than the numbers in the Interim Agreement.

Ambassador Johnson: We also got a start on controlling MIRVs.

Secretary Kissinger: You can make an absolutely flat statement that these numbers are below what the Soviets could have done in the absence of the agreement and below the numbers permitted in the Interim Agreement. They wanted a thousand MIRVs and a five-year agreement and we knew that was their minimum program.

Ambassador Johnson: Will you give out the numbers tonight?

Secretary Kissinger: I’m going to see Dobrynin at 2:30, and I am sure we will be able to give out the numbers, although there are a few other minor problems being worked out.3

Ambassador Johnson: That will be helpful if you can give out the numbers.

President Ford: I agree. We have to go on the attack. I have no qualms about the agreement; I think it was good. At the end of the first night, Henry, I didn’t think we would come out this well.

Secretary Kissinger: When we talked the next morning, we thought we would have to show more flexibility. I had got in touch with Jim, and we wanted to protect the SRAM on the B–1—nothing else. As it turned out, we did a hell of a lot better than that. There are many things we accomplished—equal aggregates; no FBS compensation; no compensation for the Chinese or what they have called geographic disparities. These are all out for a ten-year period. And anyone who talks about strategic superiority—our FBS might not be worth much in a second strike, but in a first strike, they could do a lot of damage to the Soviet Union—

[Page 395]

Secretary Schlesinger: I hope you will not use that argument publicly

Secretary Kissinger: The Soviets are concerned about FBS. Grechko once showed me a map showing the capabilities.

We would not trade our forces in the 1980’s for theirs, and we have great flexibility. If we want more throw weight, we can deploy a bigger missile. We can put missiles on aircraft. We have 200 extra launchers we can play with. We could go heavier on Trident if we wanted to.

Secretary Schlesinger: We shall.

Secretary Kissinger: We know they plan 200 or more mobiles, and these will now have to come out of their ceiling. We got far beyond what we thought we could.

A number of people have argued that this was a quickie deal. That is nonsense. We had several NSC meetings here. Then the President in October ordered a combination of the Chiefs position and some MIRV limits. In Moscow we started with two gory days of battle. Finally, on Saturday, I took Brezhnev aside and told him that if we had no agreement, we were going to increase our force levels.4 I also told him that it was important to agree in 1975 because 1976 was an election year. I told him the President could go either way. He called a politburo meeting and came back and proposed equal aggregates in 1985, but unequal in the Interim. The U.S. would be limited to 2200. There would also be a 2000 kilometer limit on ASM range and a limit of ten on the number of Tridents and “Typhoons”.

At one point he proposed a limit on their 160 bomber—I said we would trade the B–3 for that! (laughter)

But this was the state we were in after my trip to Moscow. After our deliberations here, the President then ordered that we propose to accept the unequal aggregates through 1973, but with a MIRVed differential to offset it plus a sublimit on heavy missiles with MIRVs.

We met for six hours the first evening. Brezhnev even cancelled a state dinner he had planned. He started out insisting that we count the British and the French submarines and accept a 3000 kilometer limit on ASMs. He had two generals sitting behind him and every time he moved, they came up with a piece of paper.5

Secretary Schlesinger: We could arrange that for you also, Mr. President! (laughter)

[Page 396]

Secretary Kissinger: You should have seen how he solved that problem—He insisted that we continue in a restricted meeting

Ambassador Johnson: Do you know who they were?

Secretary Kissinger: One was the Deputy Chief of their general staff—Hyland knows both of them.

In the end, we proposed a limit of 200 on MLBMs MIRVs. Their people said they were not planning any more, but their generals, and generals must be the same the world over, would not give up rights to have more. I think they were stupid. They will have to count all their 18s as MIRVs or keep the 9 in the force.

With what we came up with, what difference does it make whether the ceiling was 2400 or 2200. There’s no difference. When people say we have negotiated to leave a machine gun in everyone’s hands, that is nonsense. An overkill capability exists at any level.

Secretary Schlesinger: We should stay away from that argument publicly. We are trying to get our defense budget passed, and if we tell them we have overkill, it won’t help.

President Ford: Now that we have set a cap, we have to fight to keep our forces up to the agreed level.

Secretary Kissinger: If the Congress does not agree to keep our forces up, they are buying perceived inferiority. All the arguments we made before on the defense program can be made now.

I would also like to say that I think this could have been done only at the Summit. Semenov could never have agreed to equal aggregates with no compensation.

Ambassador Johnson: I said right here in this room that it would be very difficult to get equal aggregates in 1985—I made that point at every opportunity.

President Ford: I remember that.

Secretary Kissinger: I think our allies will see this as an unbelievable achievement. We have gotten rid of the FBS problem for 10 years. They didn’t even ask for noncircumvention.

Ambassador Johnson: Is that still open?

Secretary Kissinger: I think we would have to do it if they asked.

Ambassador Johnson: If it’s properly framed, it’s probably in our interest so that they can’t build up their non-central system.

President Ford: What does this mean?

Secretary Kissinger: This is a question of agreeing not to circumvent the limits by building up systems not covered.

I think we were able to get the agreement for several reasons. Brezhnev was dealing with a new President, and wanted to do so in a constructive way. Détente has been under attack, and he knew he [Page 397] would be dealing with the President who could be around for six years and was not a lame duck. He wanted to strengthen détente. And I think he was somewhat afraid of an arms race with the U.S. He knew you were making final plans for your defense budget. Finally, Brezhnev wanted, with the new President, to get off in the right direction. But this agreement could not have been made at any lower level.

Without the agreement, the total would have been even higher again and we would have been less capable of getting an agreement later. On MIRVs, the only way we could have gotten a lower level was to have a big program of our own. Once the Russians would see what Congress was doing, we would never get agreement. If we hadn’t done this, we would have been in the worst possible position—no programs and no agreement—if we had stuck at 2100.

President Ford: The next Congress will give us even more trouble. I think one thing that might have helped was that in my opening statement I told Brezhnev that I had to decide on our defense budget very soon.

Secretary Kissinger: One of the dangers is that if we try to drive the defense budget down now, there are a thousand ways to hang up the agreement between now and the next Summit. If the Soviets really believe that we haven’t a chance of meeting our levels, they could hang it up. This is why we have to have at least Jim’s budget. I’m opposed to cutting it in the executive branch.

If this agreement becomes like the trade issue, I think we will see a massive reversal of the Soviet position on détente. This agreement will not be easy for Brezhnev. For him, every weapon comes out of somebody’s pocket. The levels permit us to go up.

President Ford: We have even more flexibility than we would have under the 2200 limit in 1983.

Secretary Kissinger: In China, nothing helped as much as having made the agreement in Vladivostok.6 In our first meeting, the Chinese said “we hear that our relations are not so good. That’s not true on our side; is it true on your side?” On the other hand, the fact that you are going to go to China will help tremendously with the Soviets. We have this triangular game going again as a result of Vladivostok. The more we talk Soviet strategic superiority, the more it hurts us with China. It’s imperative that they not believe we are inferior militarily to the Soviets. We can make a good case here for this agreement.

[Page 398]

President Ford: Brezhnev started out charging that we had violated the agreement, talking about covers over our silos. He had his generals there—

Secretary Kissinger: He kept saying that Kissinger tells us the concrete gets soft without the covers! (laughter)

President Ford: We agreed that neither party can build new missile silos.

Secretary Kissinger: The Soviets had no objection to counting land mobiles.

Secretary Schlesinger: Mr. President, you can win on this—you’ve got the high ground. This is an equal agreement. Some will say that until 1980, it will reduce the incentive for reductions. But you can say that we want reductions, are prepared for them, and hope to induce the Soviets to reduce, but we will not reduce unilaterally as long as I am President of the United States.

As you said, we did better than we expected, but don’t say that publicly! In the next round, Brezhnev will not ask how soft your position is. You held on equal numbers and no FBS. We should come up with the right position and stick with it.

In the area of violations, you do have some vulnerability. People will say that even if the agreement is good, how do we know the Soviets will hold to it if they violate their existing agreements? This has to be thought out with considerable care. With respect to SALT I, you can simply say that there are ambiguities and that we are going to discuss them with the Soviets.

President Ford: And we have a good system of verification.

Secretary Kissinger: You can say that if we are convinced of a violation, we will take action. There are always ambiguities and we will get clarification. If we don’t get clarification, we will take action.

I agree with Jim—we should be positive about this. But I think it is equally important that we do not say that this proves what we can get if we were tough. We should say that both sides looked at the situation and concluded that this was right. It would not hurt to praise Soviet statesmanship somewhat. If we say that this proves what a tough President can achieve, this will simply force the Soviets to be tougher in the future. We should say that we stuck with a reasonable position and the Soviets responded in a statesmanlike manner.

Deputy Secretary Clements: I would like to endorse what Jim said about reductions. I talked to Brent about this—we should emphasize that further talks will start not later than 1980 as agreed. The public wants some reduction of the threshold. We should emphasize that we had to first cap off the race, then discuss reductions.

[Page 399]

President Ford: I raised this with the Congressional leadership; we can and will emphasize this point.

Secretary Kissinger: I agree. The point was that with the forces going up, we didn’t have an agreed base from which to begin reductions. We should calmly speak about reductions, but not be too anxious on reductions. First, we have to support our defense budget. And second, we don’t want the Soviets to get the idea that we are so anxious for changes in the agreement until we get this one signed and sealed.

Secretary Schlesinger: We can say that we are prepared for reductions and that this provides the basis for reductions.

Secretary Kissinger: Exactly.

President Ford: Jim, I want to talk to you about your budget levels. I understand you want about $95 billion and OMB wants about $93 billion. I want to talk to you, George, and Henry about both the substance of your request and this question of perceptions related to the agreement. Do you want $95 billion?

Secretary Schlesinger: $94.6 billion in outlays. But the real problem is in TOA. We have to make good significant underfunding in our procurement because of inflation. To be frank, we can manage outlay somewhat. The outlays this year are less serious. We can make $94.6 billion in outlays without reducing our programs.

President Ford: For procurement?

Secretary Schlesinger: Total, including procurement. The FY 75 budget was first projected out to $93 billion, but then we have projected the inflation since then. I think Roy has agreed to $94 billion, but I would like for him to speak for himself.

President Ford: We should get together and discuss this on both substance and perception grounds.

Secretary Schlesinger: There is one other question, on throw weight. On this you can say that throw weight is just one variable. We are prepared to agree on limits, but it requires unilateral (sic) agreement. But the agreement you have made does not permit them to outclass us. There is no limit on throw weight. From an arms control standpoint, it would be more advantageous for both sides to agree to limits on throw weight.

President Ford: We have the flexibility to increase our throw weight; we have the flexibility to deploy a new larger land-based missile or deploy missiles on aircraft. We can do this if our military decide they want to go up from our present throw weight to a substantially larger throw weight.

It was interesting that when this topic came up, Brezhnev drew silos. He and Henry got into an argument about whether we are ex[Page 400]panding our throw weight. Henry pointed out that they were digging their silos deeper.

Secretary Kissinger: His argument was that to deploy their new missiles they were making their silos narrower. I said yes, but that they were digging them deeper. Brezhnev said “you were more farsighted—you left room in your silos to deploy larger missiles, and I know you are doing it. Kissinger keeps trying to tell us that the covers are there because of the sun and the rain, but he knows it’s because you’re deploying larger missiles.” He said we were increasing our silos by 15% and deploying a new missile up to 200 tons in weight. He said he knows we can increase 15%, but pointed out that even the existing holes can take bigger missiles. He said “I don’t object,” and said repeatedly that they were deploying no new silos.

Secretary Schlesinger: If he were smart they would object and accept restraints on themselves in return for restraints on us.

Secretary Kissinger: If he were smart, but he was taking his military’s position into account.

Secretary Schlesinger: Most of what was in the Wall Street editorial was nonsense.7 Mr. President, you can say categorically that you have not put the U.S. in a position of inferiority.

Secretary Kissinger: This agreement will not put us in a position of inferiority. If we are inferior, it will be by our own decision, but I wouldn’t say that publicly.

President Ford: Should we think of a rebuttal to this editorial?

Secretary Schlesinger: We should get the other side out—these criticisms are all being fed by the Jackson staff.

Counselor Rumsfeld: Perhaps you could use this exchange of aides-mémoire. Since the President has now come out with the details, they could get off the hook, now that they have the numbers.

President Ford: The editorial says they have 500 medium bombers in Cuba. George is that right?

Secretary Schlesinger: Maybe they’re talking about Backfire.

General Brown: They have 135 Bears, 35 Bisons, and 35 Backfires.

Secretary Kissinger: They are talking about bombers going to Cuba and back?

Secretary Clements: They’re talking about the Badgers.

Secretary Schlesinger: Those are offsets to our FBS.

[Page 401]

President Ford: Logistically, they have no armaments in Cuba and they aren’t prepared to operate there.

Secretary Kissinger: If our Air Force saw these bombers heading to Cuba after launch—

President Ford: If they launch 500 aircraft, we’re not going to sit around and let them have a free ride.

I have another meeting in five or ten minutes so unless there are any questions, perhaps we should wrap up—Fred?

Dr. Ikle: On verification, I think it is important if we can be very forthcoming on the covers. Otherwise, we will lose our argumentation on that.

President Ford: I’m not sure I understand you—

Dr. Ikle: The Soviets have argued that we cover our missiles, and if we don’t agree to do something about it, they will argue that they can cover theirs. We don’t want this.

Secretary Kissinger: We scheduled a Verification Panel meeting to look at both these compliance issues and the whole verification question, prior to another NSC. We should be prepared for an NSC within a month.

Secretary Schlesinger: Mr. President, the attack will probably come from the left, not the right. The Jackson staff has gone haywire on this, and I think Scoop will suffer for it. Jackson has always argued for equal aggregates, and you got that.

Secretary Kissinger: The problem will come from the left. But we can say we will put a ceiling on. There were two alternatives—to let the Soviets increase, only to counter their build-up, and continue to build on both sides, or the agreement.

Dr. Ikle: How soon will the negotiations on further reductions be resumed?

President Ford: We have to get this one signed and sealed first, but we are flexible. Sometime between 1975 and 1980 we can move for additional reductions.

Dr. Ikle: Now that we have this framework, we can add additional restraints.

Secretary Kissinger: But our major object is to get this agreement signed. We should not get too cute about further reductions and restraints until we get this one signed.

President Ford: We will have 4½ years subsequent to getting this one completed for the other matters.

Secretary Schlesinger: I’m not sure some of this attack isn’t beneficial. If the whole attack were from the left, you might have even more of a problem.

[Page 402]

President Ford: We need to be unified and forthright. We should make a maximum effort in the coming days.8

  1. Source: Ford Library, NSC Institutional Files, Box 1, SALT. Top Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room.
  2. Not found attached.
  3. No record of Kissinger’s meeting with Dobrynin has been found. The two men talked at 10:23 a.m. and agreed to meet at 2:30 p.m. at the Department of State. (Department of State, Electronic Reading Room, Kissinger Transcripts of Telephone Conversations)
  4. Saturday, October 26; see Document 84.
  5. Kissinger is referring to the meeting on the evening of November 23; see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. XVI, Soviet Union, August 1974–December 1976, Document 91.
  6. Kissinger visited Japan and China November 25–29 after leaving Vladivostok.
  7. The editorial, entitled “Whose Triumph?”, published on December 2, contended that President Ford had reached an agreement that meant there would be no meaningful reduction in nuclear arms until 1985 and that allowed the Soviet Union a three-to-one advantage in missile force over the United States. (Wall Street Journal, December 2, 1974, p. 18)
  8. Preparations for the next round of negotiations in Geneva continued in the Verification Panel, which met on January 3, 1975. According to a memorandum from Lodal and Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger dated January 2, the purpose of the meeting was to get a handle on four issues: “counting definitions (or collateral constraints) required for adequate verification of the 1320 limitation on MIRVed launchers; how to handle air-launched cruise missiles; whether to propose a combined ban on land-mobile and air-mobile ICBMs because of the verification problems associated with these systems; and how to define a heavy bomber, with particular emphasis on whether or not Backfire and the FB–11 will be included in the definition.” (Ford Library, NSC Institutional Files, Box 3, Verification Panel Meeting, 1/3/75, MIRV Verification) Minutes of the January 3 VP meeting are ibid., Box 23, Meeting Minutes–Verification Panel (Originals), January 1975. At a Verification Panel meeting on January 10, Kissinger informed the participants that “the President has ordered me to tell you all that there is to be no further discussion of the characteristics of various weapons or of the positions to be taken when the talks resume.” Minutes of the meeting are ibid.