170. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Laird to President Nixon1

    • 1972 Safeguard Program

I regret that my commitment to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee precludes my attending the NSC meeting today on the FY 72 Safeguard program. Dave Packard will represent Defense.

In my view, there is a clear contradiction between the strategic sufficiency criteria of NSDM–16,2 and the SALT guidance of NSDM–74.3

The sufficiency criteria call for area defense of our population against Chinese or other small missile attack. This criteria can only be satisfied by deployment of the full 12-site Safeguard (area defense).

The criteria also require that we give the Soviets no incentive to strike first in a crisis, and therefore require that we assure the survivability of our deterrent forces. The currently authorized 4-site Safeguard system would perform this function. We have another system in development (Hard Site Defense—HSD) which may prove capable of supplementing Safeguard to handle projected qualitative improvements in the Soviet threat, or of replacing Safeguard as a missile defense of Minuteman only.

NSDM–74 specifies our willingness to forego area defense of the country and any defense of our deterrent forces against Soviet missiles, if the Soviets will agree to limit ABM’s to Moscow and Washington and to accept numerical limits on offensive systems.

These are in contradiction because the provisions of NSDM–74 allow improvements in the Soviet missile threat which could by the mid-70’s make Minuteman vulnerable, and because these provisions preclude our area defense without limiting the Chinese or other threats identified in NSDM–16.

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Abandoning area defense may be, on balance, a proper price to pay to achieve a strategically acceptable agreement with the Soviets. I believe, however, that we cannot tolerate a vulnerable Minuteman force. Therefore, I recommend that NSDM–74 be modified to make clear that the agreement described is an initial agreement which must be followed before the mid-70’s by a further agreement which adequately fixes the vulnerability problem (for example, by mutual reductions in offensive forces), or else the U.S. must then proceed to deploy defenses of Minuteman.

The immediate issue to be presented at the NSC meeting is the FY 72 Safeguard program. There are two options:

1. Continue with the 4-site program already authorized at our Minuteman fields, and add advanced preparations for a site near Washington, D.C.

2. Slow the program to deployment at only 2 Minuteman sites and add “design study” of the Washington, D.C. site.

I support the first option for the following reasons:

  • • The NSDM–16 criteria must be satisfied unless we have an arms control agreement. We need to proceed at least this fast to keep up with projected threat improvements.
  • • With a strategically acceptable agreement, we may still need 4-site Safeguard on this schedule for defense of our deterrent.
  • • We need to determine Congressional willingness to support defense of Washington, D.C. before proceeding further towards a commitment to it in SALT.
  • • This is not the time, before the next round of SALT in Vienna in March, to back down from the Safeguard program already authorized by Congress.

Either option includes advanced development of the Hard Site Defense system in FY 72 as a hedge against possible threat developments, but not a commitment to deploy the system.

There is no significant difference in FY 72 outlays between these two options.

Mel Laird
  1. Source: Ford Library, Laird Papers, Box 27, Safeguard. Top Secret; Sensitive. Haig forwarded the memorandum to Kissinger under a covering memorandum dated January 27. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–30, NSC Meeting—Safeguard 1/27/71)
  2. Document 39.
  3. See footnote 15, Document 168.