146. Editorial Note

President Nixon held a series of meetings in the summer of 1970 during which he discussed the fiscal year 1972 Department of Defense budget. On July 21, Nixon hosted Republican Congressional leaders in the White House Cabinet Room. Attendees at the meeting, which lasted from 8:37 to 10:41 a.m., included Vice President Agnew; Director of the Office of Management and Budget Shultz; Senators Scott, Griffin, Young, Allott, and Tower; and Representatives Ford, Arends, Taft, Rhodes, Anderson, Smith, Poff, Cramer, Wilson, and Bow. (National [Page 532] Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)

After covering the economy and domestic spending, the meeting turned to the Defense budget. President Nixon spoke “about the Soviet strategic capability, that they had more missiles than we did, they were ahead of us in conventional weaponry, they had a 3–1 advantage in throw-weight. We were not building any more missiles, by 1974 the President said they will catch and pass us in nuclear submarines. While we are ahead in MIRV, the Soviets have an MRV which carried 3–5 warheads in the 5 megaton range, which is 5 times the size of our Minuteman Missile. He said American power and superiority which has been responsible for avoiding a world war thus far; it is the only thing now standing between the expansion of powers and their expansion.

“He noted that the Soviets had built 40 land-based missiles in the last few months. The President said further that he is utterly convinced that the decisions we make now about defense are the decisions this country is going to have to live with the next few decades. I know it is not fashionable to put things in cold war rhetoric, but we’ve got to come out and tell the truth about these things.” (Notes of the meeting; ibid., White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Box 81, Memoranda for the President, Beginning July 19, 1970)

Six days later, on July 27, according to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with Secretary of Defense Laird, Deputy Secretary of Defense Packard, and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Kissinger at his office in San Clemente, California. No record of the meeting has been found. According to a July 26 memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon, the main subject of discussion was expected to be the FY 1972 Defense budget. Kissinger advised the President that Laird would “emphasize that reduced defense expenditures” would have numerous harmful results, including base closures, reduced research and development, and delays in force modernization and the move toward an all-volunteer armed force. Kissinger recommended that Nixon assure Laird that he placed great stock in the ongoing Defense Program Review Committee deliberations, which were “designed to surface the very problems” raised by Laird. (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 225, Agency Files, Dept of Defense, Vol. 8, 21 Jul 70–Sep 70)

Following his return from San Clemente, Laird discussed the budget situation, “the toughest problem we face now,” at length during his weekly meeting with his staff on August 3. According to the minutes of the meeting:

Laird said we need to make an all-out effort to save as much as we can whenever we can with as little public exposure as possible. This will be the take-off point for the Congress. The President will probably veto several appropriations bills to dramatize his concern. He will [Page 533] emphasize security and foreign policy concerns. The U.S. faces the SALT negotiations, the NATO/Warsaw Pact problems, the Middle East problems, etc; and this is not the time to use the National Security Budget as a substitute for taxation and other problems. Each Presidential veto hardens the Congressional attitude and they will generally override future Presidential vetos. We are coming to a period where the President will make an all-out effort to dramatize the need for present Defense budget. The over-all situation puts us in kind of a bind. We will not only have to go through much of FY 1971 without a budget, but will have problems in FY 1972 as well.”

Laird added, “we have to make an all-out fight in FY 1971 to keep our powder dry for FY 1972.” Packard later echoed those comments. “Defense is the dog getting wagged by the tail. We have to make a greater effort than ever made before,” he said. Although Packard “thought we were in bad shape last year,” the Defense Department was now in a more serious “appropriations crunch.” (Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330-76-0028, Chronological File)