183. Editorial Note

President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs Kissinger discussed the Soviet Union’s strategic defense capabilities during a conversation held in the Oval Office on April 21, 1971. While discussing various negotiating options to limit strategic offensive and defensive weapons, Nixon agreed with Kissinger’s comment that the “trouble” with defensive systems “is that they’re not very good.” Kissinger explained, “they will not be good enough to stop a fully coordinated first strike.” Yet, if a side “has a very good defensive system and launches a first strike and then catches what’s coming back with its defenses—I don’t think the Russians, no matter how good their defenses, could keep us from getting through if we attacked first. But if all they had to worry about was our second strike, which would be ragged, uncoordinated, and small after they had launched a first strike, then their defense could be very effective. If we go first we will have about 4,000 warheads. If we go second, we’re lucky to have 400.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of Conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, Oval Office, Conversation No. 484–13)