20. Memorandum From the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (Smith) and the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Johnson) to Secretary of State Rogers1

  • SUBJECT
    • ABM Decision

We continue to have serious reservations regarding an ABM decision at this time. It is not clear why this decision has to be taken now. We are concerned that, due to the shortness of time, the rationale has not been fully thought through—and the Administration is going to be [Page 71]subject to informed skeptical probing by the Congress, the press, the public and our Allies. The Senate Disarmament Subcommittee of the SFRC, for example, has just begun its hearings on the ABM.

More broadly, the ABM program is only one aspect of the strategic weapon balance between the U.S. and the USSR, which in turn is only one part of the broader military stance being studied by Deputy Secretary Packard pursuant to NSSM 32—which has been well publicized. Also, weapons build-ups—as contrasted with arms control negotiations—are only one option in trying to assure a future stable and secure balance.

To the extent that any one weapons system such as ABM is costly but perhaps marginal in improving our security, there is presumably a decision to be made as to whether in a time of budget stringency we should give priority to the ABM or other weapons over whatever domestic program is most pressing.

Any such decision will be scrutinized by Congress, by the press, and the public, not just in a partisan spirit but out of real and informed concern as to whether this is the right thing to do and the right time to do it.

Quite aside from whether the Administration wins such a debate, the wrong image could result for the President and the Administration. A premature decision is contrary to an image of calm, balanced, objective action rather than hurried and over-dramatic action.

There is also the serious consideration that, if Congress refuses to appropriate funds for this ABM program, the U.S. SALT negotiating position may well be weakened.

The President has said publicly he will take and announce a decision early this week. If there is opportunity to pause and reflect, is there an alternative?

We believe there may be. We recommend that the President ask the DOD why it would not be consistent with the national security to proceed as follows: The President would decide and announce that he considered the proper ABM system to be the one recommended by Packard, with the switch from defense of cities to protection of retaliatory forces. But the President would confine action now to that conclusion and to ordering redesign, survey for sites, continued research and development, and perhaps some contracts for long-lead-time equipment. Any decision as to initiating construction and deployment could be taken in coming months as (a) the broad strategic review is completed, and (b) the possibilities of SALT negotiations are ascertained.

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This is an approach which would maintain Presidential control and direction without drift or loss of initiative, but does not preempt Congressional and public consideration and debate or appear to give undue priority to individual military proposals over broad strategic, foreign policy, and domestic interests. It would command broad Congressional support and preserve a firm basis for SALT negotiations.

Elliot Richardson has not seen this memorandum, but it reflects the views he expressed on seeing the White House draft Presidential statement.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Entry No. 5000, S/S–NSC Meeting Files, 1969–70: Lot 71 D 175, Box 3, NSC Meeting, March 5, 1969. Top Secret. Drafted by Farley. Printed from a copy that was not initialed by Smith or Johnson. There is no indication on this copy of the memorandum that Rogers saw it.
  2. Document 2.