171. Memorandum of Conversation1

    • NSC Meeting: SALT and Safeguard ABM
    • President Richard Nixon
    • William P. Rogers, Secretary of State
    • General George A. Lincoln, Director, Office of Emergency Preparedness
    • John N. Mitchell, Attorney General
    • David Packard, Deputy Secretary of Defense
    • John N. Irwin, Under Secretary of State
    • Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, Joint Chiefs of Staff
    • Lt. Gen. Royal B. Allison
    • Richard Helms, Director of Central Intelligence
    • Gerard Smith, Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency
    • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
    • Dr. Edward David, Science Advisor to the President
    • Paul Nitze, Department of Defense
    • Ronald Spiers, Department of State
    • Philip Farley, Deputy Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency
    • Dr. Wayne Smith, NSC
    • Helmut Sonnenfeldt, NSC
    • Colonel Richard T. Kennedy, NSC

[The meeting began with a 15-minute briefing by Director Helms (attached) on Soviet ballistic missile forces, the Soviet ABM, and the Soviet attitude to Safeguard].2

RN: Thank you. As I understand it, the latest information is not clear about whether the Soviets are slowing down their SS–9 deployment purely for refitting them.

Helms: The information is not conclusive.

RN: It would take two years for them to develop a MIRV? Helms: Yes.

Rogers: What significance do you attach to their abandonment of the sites? Have they done this before?

Helms: They may be trying to see the effect on us.

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RN: What is the significance of the testing they’ve been doing?

Helms: Our information on their testing is better now; thus our data over the past year may be a reflection of this. But the fact is that their testing has been heavy this past year.

RN: Would they know about our testing program?

Rogers: Yes.

Moorer: They have a trawler in the area.

RN: In sum they have not cut back their testing of new programs.

Helms: Yes. And with the 1400 launchers they have already, if they put in more it will cause us concern. They may be doing it.

RN: The submarine program continues?

Helms: Yes, they are going up to launching eight submarines a year. They have three on station now and we can expect an increase—they are about 1300 miles off our coast.

RN: What about Chinese testing?

Helms: There has been some. There have been some deployments of what may be an MRBM. They do it in the most secretive way; it’s all hidden. Its range would cover Asia but they’re mostly aimed at the Soviet Union.

RN: Henry, can you fill us in on where we stand?

Kissinger: The Verification Panel has discussed three issues,3 Mr. President, though we need a decision only on one of them.

  • —What kind of Safeguard ABM system would we want in the absence of a SALT agreement?
  • —Whether our position in SALT should be changed because of flaws in it?
  • —What is the right program for us for next year to keep open your options?

There is no consensus yet for a change in our SALT position. Nevertheless our present position has the following anomalies: Our ABM was originally justified in SALT as an area defense. We are now building four sites to defend Minutemen. And we have proposed an agreement to the Soviets on NCA, which we are not building. We will put this before you in February. We have a defense concern as to Option 34—it does little to defend our forces yet our forces become more vulnerable every year as Soviet numbers and accuracy increase. The Soviet threat is growing to the survivability of our Minuteman.

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The problem we face today is what should we do in next year’s programs. We asked last year for the construction of one site in Missouri and advance preparation at four other sites. Congress approved Whiteman in Missouri and one preparatory site at Warren but not the others. The alternatives are:

  • —Defense recommends we go ahead with the four sites approved and request authority for Washington—the NCA site.5
  • —The second choice is to ask for four sites but have Warren and NCA interchangeable and dependent on SALT progress.
  • —Third, we could go ahead with only three sites and ask for advance preparation at Washington.
  • Gerry Smith’s proposal is that we go ahead with construction of the original two sites, and with advance preparation at Washington.6

There are two issues: What effect will it have on our overall ABM program? And what effect will it have on the SALT negotiations? Anything other than the Defense proposal will mean a delay of a year in the program. If Safeguard is not the best system to defend Minuteman—which has been the justification to the Congress—Defense would prefer to go to different radars and missiles. If we slow down, one view says, the Soviets will see this as a sign of our serious intent in the SALT negotiations; it will show we are not sliding into the Safeguard program and instigate suspicion that we are using SALT as a means to cover Safeguard development. Others believe that the maximum incentive is given by a full program go-ahead until they agree; they have an incentive then to agree and not just to negotiate to hold us up. The judgment then is between these two assumptions. In either event we need another discussion of what the best ABM program is. These options keep your options open for another year. All here agree that we need to do something on Washington to make our position plausible.

RN: What is the timing of the talks?

Kissinger: March 15.

RN: Then we need not only a budgetary decision but also a position for the talks. We have to decide what we do and also how we package it for the talks.

Kissinger: One argument for going for NCA this year is to find out whether the Congress will approve it.

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Rogers: The alternative Minuteman/NCA option looks like we are going ahead with confidence but it wouldn’t commit us. The fourth site option is still open to the President.

Mitchell: But if we go for only three sites it’s not.

RN: Dave [Packard], what is the status of our program? Packard: Our progress in testing has been good. Our computer capabilities are coming along well. The status is as follows: In the construction at Grand Forks, as of June 30 this year, 60% of the big radar construction will be complete, and 15% of the missile site. By 30 June 1972, it will be 95% complete.

We planned the schedule so that at Malmstrom the hard construction will be 10% along by June 1971. At Whiteman, there will be no construction by June 30 this year. About 5% of the hardware is under contract.

At Warren, there will be nothing by June of this year. The key dates are: At Whiteman, the main construction sites’ contracts are to be let by August ’71. At Warren, we have a full calendar year to decide; it’s a March ’72 contract date.

The cost picture looks like this: There’s a $1.8 billion added cost, due to inflation and accounting. There’s $0.6 billion added due to program changes, and $0.1 billion in other costs. We are spending $100 million monthly. 50–100,000 people are involved. Whether we go for four or three or four and NCA will make little difference in the fiscal costs in 1972. If you terminate the program here will be a significant effect in 1972.

The Defense Department recommends that we go ahead with the three sites already authorized; that we go ahead with the Warren site; and that we begin the advance preparation for the NCA site in Washington. We believe the original objectives of 1969 are still valid—that our own progress is good, that SALT is not moving, and that the threat continues to develop.

No decision is necessary now as to the hardsite program. The original plan could handle 1500 reentry vehicles, and this remains the goal. If the situation changes we can reevaluate it. We don’t recommend going ahead with anything except hardsite components at this time.

Therefore, we believe we should go ahead on the program and we have provided funds for four sites and NCA plans and hardsite components research.

RN: How do you see the developments in the past two years? Packard: The program has been going well, and except for the SALT issue I would recommend we go ahead with the original 12-site plan.

RN: If Congress allowed.

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Rogers: Will the Congress see hardsite component research as an expanded program?

Packard: No, it is a supplement if you have more reentry vehicles—but this plan was meant as an area defense against light attack, accidental launch and bomber bases. For defense of Minuteman you would need some more.

RN: Thank you. Gerry?

Smith: I think the best program from the SALT point of view is to go ahead with construction of two sites, don’t construct the third, don’t ask for the fourth, and do the design of an NCA. A moderate pace is desirable. This is the diplomacy of restraint. The situation has changed since 1969 and we can afford a slower pace. Even a full SS9 program would be near 300, rather than the 420 as we earlier thought. They could turn it on again, of course—but a moderate pace would deter them.

RN: Is there a public point before the March talks?

Smith: Yes, the budgetary decision.

The Soviets have accepted our view of an ABM at a low level or zero. This is evidence that the SALT process is working. They don’t have a new program but they have the R&D to do it. We don’t want to push them into it.

If our program is a bargaining chip, we will pass the point of no return: if we get beyond three sites the Soviets will question whether we would demolish it. Thus I conclude that the program I suggest gives us a better chance of getting a SALT agreement.

RN: Paul Nitze, do you have anything to add?

Nitze: No, I think the issues have been put well.

RN: I think we understand the issues.

Lincoln: We have to bear in mind the relation to the continuity of the government program. We would probably need to improve it over the next year. If there is to be a defense of Washington, we need to prepare. It would have a major impact on what we need to do to improve the reliability of the current program.

Packard: The area defense consists of 100 interceptors, a combination of Sprints and Spartans, with missile site radars and perimeter acquisition radars. The Spartan components would cover a defense from the Canadian border to Florida. But we would have only 100—which could be overwhelmed. It could handle a few submarines. The incremental cost would be within reason and would be worthwhile.

Rogers: Can you get into an NCA as fast as Warren?

Packard: No. We couldn’t let the contracts until April 1973. That would put a hiatus on the program in manufacture and would be difficult.

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Moorer: The Defense Program gives the greatest flexibility. It gives the option over two years of moving in either direction.

RN: All of us are working to the same goals. We don’t know what the results would be on the diplomacy. It has subtlety; it’s a question of the thrust it would have.

Nitze: If the Russians would give us a real word on what they mean by slowdown, we could have money in the bank.

Rogers: Why don’t they tell us?

Nitze: They are not authorized to tell us anything now.

Rogers: If we could give some gesture not affecting our security, it would be helpful, but Packard says the program would be set back a year.

RN: Thank you, gentlemen.

[The meeting adjourned.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–110, NSC Minutes, Originals 1971 thru 6–20–74 [5 of 5]. Top Secret; Ruff; Umbra. The meeting, held in the Cabinet Room of the White House, ended at 11:13 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) All brackets are in the original.
  2. The text of Helms’s briefing is attached but not printed.
  3. See Documents 167 and 168.
  4. Reference is to the third of the four alternatives listed below.
  5. See Documents 166 and 165.
  6. See footnote 3, Document 167.