169. Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Staff1


NSC Meeting on Safeguard and SALT

January 27, 1971


Last year we requested, in the FY 1971 President’s Budget, funds for:

  • Construction of an additional site at Whiteman, Missouri (in addition to the Phase I two-site construction at Grand Forks, North Dakota and Malmstrom, Montana).
  • Advance preparation of five sites at: Warren, Wyoming, Northeast, Northwest, Michigan/Ohio, and Washington, D.C.

The Congress approved construction at Whiteman and advance preparation of Warren only.

In announcing the Safeguard Program,2 you said your decision on subsequent deployments would be based on a review of:

  • —technical developments;
  • —changes in the threat; and
  • —the diplomatic considerations, including SALT.3

Review and Conclusions

In reviewing Safeguard, we had to take into account:

  • —our future plans for Safeguard in the absence of a SALT agreement;
  • —the implications of ABM alternatives in SALT, both those in our current proposal and other alternatives;4
  • —the effects of your ABM decisions on the future of SALT.

The following general conclusions were reached as the results of review and discussion:

There are no significant technological problems. Successful intercepts of ICBMs have been conducted by both Sprint and Spartan and there are no significant problems with other components. However, there are significant increases in cost estimates since last spring. Last year we estimated total deployment costs of $12.3 billion; the estimate is now $14.8 billion, an increase of $2.5 billion.
In the absence of a SALT agreement, we would want to continue to develop an Area Defense. An examination of the threat shows that your reasons for initially deciding to deploy Safeguard remain sound. Indeed, the Chinese have tested a ballistic missile to a range in excess of 2200 miles. This indicates that they can have an ICBM capability in the early 1970s.
As a result of our SALT negotiations over the past year, however, it would be inconsistent to request preparation of sites for the area defense. In your decisions on SALT you decided you would give up area defense in return for the increased strategic stability of an agreement. The Soviets have indicated an interest in ABM limitations, proposing an agreement on NCA levels. Until it is clear we are not going to achieve a SALT agreement, it would be inconsistent to seek extensive deployment of an area system.

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The U.S. ABM Position in SALT

In reviewing our ABM position in SALT, a number of issues were raised suggesting changes in our SALT position. Alternatives were discussed to provide background for the decision on the FY 1972 Safeguard Program. We will make recommendations relating to SALT as appropriate prior to our return to Vienna on March 15; however, no decision is needed at this time.

Alternative FY 1972 Safeguard Program

  • A high-level, full construction program which involves construction at Warren and Whiteman in addition to Grand Forks and Malmstrom. Additionally, advance planning would be requested for the NCA. This is the DOD recommended alternative. 5
  • —An intermediate level would be to begin the authorized construction at Whiteman, but make Warren contingent upon SALT (e.g., the Warren site or the NCA site, depending on the progress in SALT). As a practical matter, the DOD proposal would have this effect since we would stop work on Safeguard and continue the NCA work if we had an agreement. However, an explicit proposal of this nature might be more attractive to Congress and could facilitate negotiations. SALT>SALT (e.g., the Warren site or the NCA site, depending on the progress in SALT). As a practical matter, the DOD proposal would have this effect since we would stop work on Safeguard and continue the NCA work if we had an agreement. However, an explicit proposal of this nature might be more attractive to Congress and could facilitate negotiations. OMB supports this proposal and Defense would probably not be opposed to it.
  • A low-level program which would continue minimal construction on the Grand Forks and Malmstrom sites, but do no construction at Whiteman or Warren. Advance planning for NCA would also be done. This is Gerry Smith’s proposal and he is supported by State. 6

Arguments Surrounding the Alternative Levels

In deciding how to proceed in the FY 1972 Safeguard program, we have to consider the effect on negotiations and the political problems we may encounter.

If the Soviets are concerned about the irreversibility of our ABM program, it can be argued that:

  • —We should give some signal of our seriousness in negotiations by proposing a lower level program for 1972, i.e., a slowdown in the work on the four-site Safeguard defense.
  • —If the recent slowdown in SS–9 deployments7 is an attempt to give us a signal of Soviet intent, we should respond by slowing down our defense against the Minuteman threat.

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On the other hand, it can be argued that, if the Soviets are seriously concerned about irreversibility, they should be all the more eager to make some agreement, perhaps at Vienna, which will limit Safeguard. Moreover, if they can get us to slow our ABM deployment by merely talking, they will continue to talk rather than negotiate. Therefore, to slow the deployment at this time would be a serious negotiating error.

The other major consideration in deciding on the FY 1972 Safeguard level has to do with Congress.

If we accept that it is inconsistent with our position in SALT to ask for any area sites in FY 1972, we have, to a great extent, de-fused our political problems.

  • —We have support in the Congress for the four-site Minuteman defense.
  • —If presented as a part of an arms control package, we could probably get support for initial NCA work. Although Congress rejected the Washington site last year, the rejection may have indicated opposition to an area defense, rather than to the idea of NCA defense.

To the extent we ask for less than full construction for the four sites for Minuteman defense, it can be argued that we will minimize Congressional opposition.

On the other hand, if we do not ask for full construction, it can be argued that:

  • —We are weakening our entire ABM position with the Congress and inviting the opposition to more determined efforts to kill ABM completely.
  • —We would, in effect, be denying our own arguments from last year concerning the importance of a “bargaining chip.”

We might soften some of the effects of asking for less than full construction by tying it to the SS–9 slowdown, but it may be dangerous to do so if we don’t have any assurance that the Soviets really intend to stop deploying SS–9s.

Failure to go ahead with the full construction would delay completion of the four-site defense and the area defense by a year. (Extends four sites from 1977 to 1978, area defense from 1980 to 1981. It costs about $1 billion in total costs for each year the program is stretched out.)

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–30, NSC Meeting, Safeguard, 1/27/71. Top Secret; Nodis. Kissinger sent the paper to Nixon as an attachment to a January 26 memorandum.
  2. See Document 25.
  3. In a November 28, 1970, memorandum to Rogers, Laird, Helms, Moorer, McCracken, Shultz, and Gerard Smith, Kissinger announced that Nixon had ordered a review of the Safeguard program covering these topics. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 842, ABMMIRV, ABM-System, Volume VI, May 70–30 Jul 71)
  4. Kissinger met with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin on January 9 and informed him that the United States was “prepared to make an ABM agreement, provided it was coupled with an undertaking to continue working on offensive limitations and provided it was coupled with an undertaking that there would be a freeze on new starts of offensive land-based missiles until there was a formal agreement in limiting offensive weapons.” He added that there might be some special provision that would have to be made for submarines. (Memorandum of conversation; ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 78, Country Files, Europe, USSR, SALT) For the text, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972, Document 124.
  5. See Documents 166 and 165.
  6. See footnote 3, Document 167.
  7. See footnote 3, Document 159.