121. Editorial Note

The National Security Council met on January 23, 1970, to discuss Safeguard. According to the President’s Daily Diary, attendees included President Nixon, his Assistant for National Security Affairs Kissinger; [Page 419]Vice President Agnew, Secretary of State Rogers, Attorney General Mitchell, Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Gerard Smith, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Wheeler, Director of Central Intelligence Helms, Director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness Lincoln, Deputy Secretary of Defense Packard, Under Secretary of State Richardson, and Science Adviser to the President DuBridge. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room of the White House beginning at 10:10 a.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)

No complete record of the proceedings was found. But according to his talking points, prepared by the National Security Council Staff, Nixon was advised to open the meeting by reminding attendees of its purpose and by introducing Kissinger. (Ibid., NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–126, NSC Meeting, Safeguard (ABM), January 23, 1970) According to his talking points, Kissinger was prepared to recapitulate the major factors affecting the decision on the Safeguard deployment: the threat, technical developments, and SALT. (Ibid.) As for the threat, Kissinger’s talking points noted that the Soviet force buildup had continued “at a steady pace without sign of slackening,” while the “most likely date for the first operational Chinese ICBM has been pushed back a year.” This data had led some to “give highest priority” to protecting Minuteman and to argue that area defense could be safely delayed. Others pointed out, however, “that the Chinese could still have significant numbers of ICBMs by the mid-1970s, which is as soon as a real nationwide area system could be ready.” Turning to technical issues, Kissinger’s talking points noted that, while its test program was proceeding smoothly, there was disagreement about whether Safeguard was the best way to defend the deterrent force. Finally, before outlining the deployment options, Kissinger’s preparatory materials mentioned that principals also disagreed about how a decision to deploy Safeguard further would affect SALT.

Following Packard’s briefing on the Department of Defense’s review of the ABM system, Nixon’s talking points advised him to invite general discussion, particularly from Smith, who felt that he had not had adequate opportunity to present his views. The President was also expected to announce that, rather than making a determination during the meeting, he would “take this problem under advisement and let you know of my decision shortly.”

However, the President departed from his scripted remarks, according to the handwritten notes of Under Secretary of State Richardson, the only record of the meeting found. Richardson’s notes of Nixon’s comments read as follows: “China will be in roughly same position as Sovs at the time of Cuban missile crisis. People in SE Asia—part of Asia petrified at possibility of Chinese. China is just big. They see the enormous threat of Chinese influence quite apart from crossing borders. [Page 420]They sit there with a few IBMs [ICBMs]. How many does it take to take out Taiwan, Jakarta, Manila? Doesn’t take many missiles. Would they do it? If they have forty, we have 1,000. What American President is going to trade any American city for Jakarta or Manila. The answer is ‘none.’ They […] huffing and puffing, threatening Singapore or Manila or Bangkok. We can say, ‘lay off’ (treaty obligations). No President is credible unless he has that kind of defense.” According to Richardson’s notes, Nixon indicated that in the United States 10 cities constituted 20 percent of the population. In the Soviet Union, it would take 100 cities to constitute 20 percent of the population, and in China 1,000 cities to measure up to the same percentage of the population. The President continued, “I have determined to go along with Defense Department.” According to Richardson’s notes, Nixon had recently reviewed the threat and had found that “not less than a year ago, Soviets slightly greater.” Helms agreed that Soviet capabilities had grown “a little bit stronger lately.” Continuing, Nixon stated that the Chinese threat had been “pushed back a year.” “Lucky for us,” Helms added. “We’re talking about diplomacy,” the President continued. “We have to have a credible policy in the Pacific. We see Japan sitting there. Some talk re. great responsibilities militarily. I will predict that within five years we’ll be trying to restrain them. We’ll guarantee to Japan its credibility.”

According to Richardson’s notes, Nixon then stated, “You come to the third point—SALT—that’s a tough one. We must take into account men who are on the ground. My view is probably a minority one. Have never felt that what we did in this field had too much to do with their willingness to negotiate. Editorials thought otherwise. I don’t believe going ahead with area defense. I have decided we will go forward with DOD program. Wash. Or NE, we can decide later,” Nixon continued. “I don’t want there to be any doubt that I’m committed to area defense. In terms of negotiations, I feel we must go forward with the plan, etc.”

Nixon concluded, “Within admin. […] must have a disciplined line in admin. We’ve got to play the game better than last time. I will write memo—take into account adv. Group’s views. Criteria one may work. Threat probably greater. Negotiations: close point. I doubt the views of those who believe harmful. Will take into account in terms of how we lay out the program.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Richardson Papers, Box 97, Memcons, January 1970) The meeting concluded at 12:48 p.m.