179. Editorial Note

The National Security Council met on March 8, 1971, in the Cabinet Room of the White House. Attendees included, among others: President Nixon; Vice President Agnew; Secretary of State Rogers; Secretary of Defense Laird; Kissinger, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs; Deputy Secretary of Defense Packard; Moorer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Director of Central Intelligence Helms; Gerard Smith, Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency; and John J. McCloy, Chairman of the President’s Disarmament Committee. The meeting was primarily held to discuss the strategic arms limitation talks (SALT). Relevant portions of the minutes are printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972, Document 137.

Helms began the meeting by briefing the NSC “on the latest intelligence on Soviet programs.” Helms’s notes indicate that he briefed the Council on new intelligence regarding the construction of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos “of an entirely new type” by the Soviet Union. Notes of Helms’s briefing are in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–31, NSC Meeting, SALT, 3/8/71. Laird had informed Nixon about this new intelligence in a March 1 memorandum. (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 715, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XIV)

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After Helms completed his briefing, the minutes of the meeting read as follows:

“President: It’s clear there’s a throw weight advantage to the Soviets. In nuclear submarines of the Polaris type, they will equal the United States by 1975. In aircraft, I see we still have a three-to-one advantage.

Laird: They have superiority in air defense.

“President: In ABM, are the Soviets ahead of us or behind us in the technology?

Helms: They’re ahead in deployment but behind us in the technology.

Rogers: What about MIRVs?

“President: The Soviets have or have they not tested MIRV on the SS–9?

Helms: They have tried but they have not really tested a MIRV yet successfully. [2 lines not declassified]

Laird: They don’t really need MIRV’s as long as they’re targetting our Minuteman fields. But it is clear they can get MIRV if they want.

“President: In accuracy, are we far ahead?

Laird: We’re not sure how far ahead we are. We can’t make a claim that we are far ahead. They can acquire accuracy. They have the technology to do it.

Helms: We are ahead in MIRV accuracy.

Laird: But our missile systems in general are much more accurate.

Smith: In calculating the strategic balance we have to remember our forward-based systems in Europe. They add a great deal to our capability.

Laird: We should not believe that all our forward-based aircraft with nuclears could hit the Soviet Union. They could hit the Pact area but not necessarily the Soviets unless they’re one-way missions. The Soviets have their IRBM’s targetted on Western Europe.

Rogers: What would the penetration capability of the forward-based aircraft be?

Laird: Their penetration could be effective.

Smith: We have a calculation of producing 20% casualties in the Soviet Union by an attack with the forward-based aircraft. We have to take this as a plus.

Laird: Let’s assess the threat. We have to be a little pessimistic in our assumptions. Their new silo work is a source of concern to us. So my recommendation is we have to be tougher in the negotiations. Success [Page 735] depends on the kind of agreement we get, not just that we get an agreement. I believe we need to modify our proposals. We must allow mobile sea-based and land-based systems. Because of new information we have on the Soviet momentum on their larger systems.

“On ABM, protection of the National Command Authority is important because their attack should not reach Washington, D.C. Our proposals should allow us to decide where we want to have our system. The decision on location should be up to us; the numbers should be negotiable.

“The major Soviet concern is our ABM system. They show some concern over the forward-based aircraft and other items but most of their concern is on our ABM.

“We should not bargain on less than 250 large missiles—preferably 300.

“There is little likelihood of approval of an NCA (Washington, D.C.) ABM system.

“We should modify our proposal. This is my position. If an agreement is entered into, there should be a termination date if this is a limitation rather than a reduction. We’ll never get funding if we are talking treaty. They can do it but we can’t. No President can take action—he won’t get support.

Moorer: Our great concern is that the potential is high for changing the strategic balance by an agreement. So we must look at it in detail. We should use the negotiations to determine the sincerity of the Soviets. There is indication that they want to build a superior position while we talk. Our ABM and forward-based aircraft are our key leverage in the negotiation. We should look at the ABM in the broader context—what is the best way of protecting our systems?

“If we start negotiations on FBS posture, that will have a major effect on NATO. It will cause serious doubt among our allies. The nuclear capability we provide has been the cohesion to keep the Alliance together.

Packard: We should keep the overall strategic problem in mind: The Soviets have built land-based missiles in greater numbers and bigger than ours. There is no need to debate whether their accuracy can be improved; they can do it. We must therefore decide to move to control the numbers both of their large missiles and of all their missiles. They are concerned about Safeguard—but this we should use this to get control of their numbers. An agreement limiting ABM only would be a mistake.”

After discussion of SALT, the meeting continued:

“President: When we announced our Safeguard ABM program in 1969, we said there would be three criteria for its continuation: the [Page 736] threat, progress in arms control, and developments in technology. How is the technology progressing?

Packard: It’s coming well. We’ve had live intercepts in the past year. The test record is very satisfactory—in fact, above average. Construction is moving. There are no problems in the radar. The problem is to get the whole system working together with the computers. For this we’ll need one full year at Grand Forks.

“President: How about progress vis-à-vis other powers than the Soviets?

Packard: If there is a weakness, it is in the inability to deal with a large number of warheads. It’s O.K. against a few incoming missiles. It would do O.K. against the Chinese threat.

“President: Are the Soviets O.K. against the Chinese, too?

Packard: Yes, but their effectiveness is limited to a Chinese-type threat. We have many more interceptors. Despite all the criticism, our system is better than the Soviets’ in capabilities.”

After further discussion of SALT, the meeting continued:

“[President:] We must realize—Jack McCloy understands this—that when the American people and others who rely on the credibility of the American word and on our nuclear deterrent—when they realize that we are only the second most powerful nation, there will be a serious effect everywhere. We must refer to the facts in ‘who is first.’ We are a sea power and they are a land power. They have land threats, we don’t. What is sufficient for them is different from what is sufficient for us.

“It is important—I say this to Mel—that we have some advantages. In our NATO strength we are better off than the Pact. We look good; they have problems on the other side. We must have adequate naval power. Despite the Soviet Navy’s growth we have an enormous advantage in naval power around the world. So we can’t give the impression we are Number 2. Look at Japan, Germany, the Europeans—we must not talk in terms of superiority but must say that we have enough to deter any threat and to meet all our treaty commitments. And we must be sure our naval power is not eroded.”