125. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1

    • Alternative Sites for FY 71 Safeguard ABM Deployment

At the NSC meeting on January 23,2 you indicated that, while you had decided to accept the Defense Department’s recommendation to begin construction in FY 71 of additional Safeguard sites as a step toward the full Phase 2, 12-site system, you wanted to have a further review of the particular sites for actual construction in FY 71.

The Defense Program Review Committee has met to consider alternative deployment options.3 Although the number of theoretically possible combinations is very large, there appear to be only three plausible alternatives:

  • Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri (a Minuteman field) and in the Pacific Northwest, with “advanced preparation, “i.e., site selection and survey work for Washington D. C., New England (NE), and Michigan/Ohio (M/O) sites;
  • Whiteman and Washington, D.C., to defend the National Command Authority (NCA), with advanced preparation for NE, M/O, and Northwest;
  • —construction of Whiteman only, with advanced preparation of NE, NW, NCA, M/O, and Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming (another Minuteman site).

Each deployment combination would also provide funds for:

—substantial R&D funds for improving the Minuteman defense capability of the system to respond to technical criticisms—mostly about radars—of continued exclusive reliance on Safeguard components for Minuteman defense.

By contrast, no similar technical objections to the Safeguard system used for area defense have been advanced by the President’s Science Advisory Committee or the special group of scientists the [Page 444] Defense Department asked to review the ABM program.4 The technical concept of Safeguard for area defense is sound. (However, judgments about the size of attack the system can defeat, and the likelihood of rapid Chinese development of devices and methods to penetrate the system, differ sharply.)

The alternatives do not differ significantly in costs or completion schedules, and, because Whiteman would be built in each, all offer some increased protection for the Minuteman force.

In addition, ACDA has tried to revive its proposal that there be no additional deployments in FY 71, but that Phase 1’s two sites be continued, with heavy funding of R&D on new hard point defense components and an express commitment to resume deployment unless a SALT agreement were reached promptly.

The pros and cons of the alternatives are discussed in detail in the paper at Tab A.5


The ACDA proposal to “leave Phase II in R&D” is completely incompatible with your decision to proceed with additional deployments.

Among the three deployment plans, Whiteman plus Northwest is in many respects the best, especially from the point of view of giving strong public emphasis and commitment to area defense against China. However, it appears to be ruled out as a practical possibility, because Senator Jackson, whose support is crucial to Senate approval of the program, strongly opposes having construction of a site in his home state begin in a year in which be must run for re-election.

Of the remaining possibilities, I believe Whiteman plus Washington, D.C. (NCA) is the better on the merits:

  • —There is a strong military case for protecting the NCA, which is explained at pages 3–4 of the paper at Tab A.6
  • —If we build the Washington site, we will have a militarily useful installation as soon as it is operational, and there need be no delay in completion of the full area system, providing Defense Department schedules for starting sites in FY 72 and subsequently are adhered to.
  • —Building the Washington site starts a site which (when adequate radar support is available from sites to the north) will make an important contribution to area defense. On the other hand, unlike the Northwest site, it serves other purposes and so in the debate this year need not be justified primarily by its area defense mission.
  • NCA defense is more attractive to ACDA and State from the SALT point of view than the Northwest site because it is not a “pure” area site and can be presented as analogous to the Moscow system.

On the other hand, there are some substantive arguments against defense of the NCA, e.g., that the debate may serve only to call attention to the vulnerability of our command and control long before a defense is operational. More important, although Bryce Harlow believes that congressional opposition to NCA defense would be less than to Northwest, there are political disadvantages to the Washington site:

  • —Several sites must be found within 10–15 miles of the city, i.e. inside the Beltway, which is likely to set off strong local opposition.
  • —There may be protests, however irrational, against defending “politicians and generals but not ordinary people.”
  • —Senator Jackson also opposes a Washington site for FY 72 on the ground that it introduces unnecessary complications into the debate.

That leaves the “Whiteman only” plan. Such a deployment has significant disadvantages:

  • —Any program which gives primary emphasis to Minuteman defense will focus attention on the technical criticisms, which could call into question continuing the two Phase I Minuteman sites, as well as starting a new one.
  • Whiteman is, like all the other Phase 2 sites, a part of the full 12-site, and also the 7-site “interim,” area defense system, but it does not protect the heavily populated parts of the country.
  • —A deployment limited to one new site might appear to the Soviets to be a backing away from your commitment to expand ABM and might, therefore, cause them to feel less incentive to be serious in the SALT talks.

On the other hand, it is essential that whatever is proposed receive Congressional approval and the “Whiteman only” plan has substantial support:

  • —Secretary Laird now favors this over the other alternatives.
  • —Our understanding is that the JCS would prefer to include the NCA or Northwest site along with Whiteman but that, should you [Page 446] choose the Whiteman only option, they would support you in your decision.
  • ACDA’s position is that, from the SALT point of view, it is better to have the fewest possible new sites and to build sites whose primary purpose is something other than area defense, so they would presumably prefer “Whiteman only” to the other possible new deployment plans.
  • —State’s view is that a deployment program—such as “Whiteman only”—which does not require extremely heavy public emphasis on protection against China is advisable because it maintains flexibility in responding to Soviet initiatives in SALT, with only minimal delays in finishing the entire full anti-China system should we decide to proceed with it in FY 72.
  • —Senator Jackson favors having the FY 71 construction program focus entirely on Minuteman defense, with construction beginning on the Whiteman site only.

Whatever is proposed must get Congressional approval, and I cannot judge whether for that reason, a minimum deployment, i.e., White-man only, must be accepted for this year.

Whiteman plus Northwest7

Whiteman plus NCA

Whiteman only (Secretary Laird’s recommendation)

No new deployments8

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 840, ABM/MIRV, ABM System, Vol. III. Top Secret. A handwritten note on the first page of the original indicates that it was “OBE.” Lynn sent the memorandum to Kissinger under a February 6 covering memorandum, recommending that Kissinger send it to the President. A handwritten note on Lynn’s covering memorandum indicates that the memorandum was sent to the President on February 7.
  2. See Document 121.
  3. See Document 124.
  4. Kissinger was referring to the report of the Ad Hoc Panel on Ballistic Missile Defense, which raised no objections on technical grounds to using Safeguard for area defense. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–99, DPRC Meeting, January 15, 1970) See footnote 3, Document 117.
  5. Attached but not printed at Tab A is an 8-page paper prepared by the NSC Staff, February 4, entitled “Alternative Sites for FY 71 Safeguard ABM Development.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–26, NSC Meeting, January 23, 1970)
  6. The paper gives three military arguments in favor of defending the NCA: 1) “it would greatly reduce the possibility of a ‘disorganizing’ or ‘catalytic’ attack by a third country, hoping to set off a U.S. attack on the USSR;” 2) “The Soviets would be forced to launch a very large attack to be sure of destroying the NCA, thus eliminating a potentially attractive less-than-all-out attack option;” 3) “Even against a massive strike, the time for decision (or evacuation) by the President and other senior officials would be extended by some thirty minutes, […] if submarine missiles were used to attack the capital.”
  7. There is no indication on the memorandum that Nixon approved any of the proposed options, but Laird, in his first full military posture statement, asked Congress on February 20 for authorization to proceed with a Modified Phase II Safeguard ABM system. He specifically requested authorization for an ABM site at Whiteman and advanced preparation for five additional sites, including Warren, near Washington, D.C., and unspecified locations in the Northeast, Northwest, and Michigan/Ohio region. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 840, ABMMIRV, ABM System, Vol. III)
  8. On September 24, a conference of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees limited the administration’s plans when it agreed to accept a defense procurement and research authorization bill (P.L. 91–144) that provided for only two additional Safeguard sites—Whiteman and Warren—useful mainly for defending Minuteman bases. (New York Times, September 25, 1970, pp. 1, 5)