201. Conversation Among President Nixon, Secretary of Defense Laird, and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here is discussion of topics—including foreign aid, Vietnam, and United States relations with the Soviet Union and West Germany—unrelated to national security policy.]

Nixon: Also, I think it’s important, as you—that we have new regard for all these budgetary considerations. [unclear]. Now, since you [Laird] left, I had a meeting with Shultz [unclear]. Yeah, with Shultz and with Weinberger.2 And I said, “Now look. Now I know that what you’ve said—and I know [unclear].” And I said, “Now, I want you to go back and look over these figures. And see what we can come up with.” One area that I feel very strongly about after hearing that briefing the other day3—I do think we can make some adjustments in terms, let’s say, looking at the things that you’ve been emphasizing. The ICBMs, [unclear], et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. [unclear] in terms of air defense, conventional air defense, that’s an area—you could trim that area to make more available in this area. The key point that I would really like to get out [unclear], is what—is how we could do any more with the Defense budget now that would delay the strategic weapons. Now on that score, you see, I’m not thinking about modernization of the Navy or more Army divisions. That’s—but, you really get down to the fact that should we build more ICBMs? I mean, should we build more Minuteman? Should we have a bigger program on ABM? A proposal you can negotiate on. [unclear] Now, if the recommendation had come up [unclear], even though [unclear], it would be my inclination to lean very strongly in that direction. I think that could be quite a help in our negotiations with the Soviets. Do you agree, Henry?

Laird: Well, I have a memorandum to you [unclear exchange]. I sent Henry a memorandum4 with the seven things that I think we should do for SALT. It will increase our position there. And one of—

[Page 888]

Kissinger: [unclear]

Laird: Well, no I won’t. But I think it’s a good idea to give you a little [unclear].

Kissinger: But he has made some recommendations on how to keep up the strategic forces and [unclear] proposals. And it runs parallel to what you were discussing with SALT the other day. Also pushing ULMS, for example. Putting them [unclear]. Putting several more of the Polaris [unclear].

Laird: Yes. And we think we could—

Nixon: We could do that?

Laird: Yes. We can step up—[unclear].

Nixon: That’ll be done this year.

Laird: We could do a couple more submarines. See, and we could—

Nixon: You know what—

Laird: Conversions.

Nixon: Conversions. And could that work go forward immediately?

Laird: Yes.

Nixon: I’m speaking of the job [unclear].

Laird: Well. It’ll take—

Nixon: [unclear]

Laird: It’ll take us about six months to get the thing in the docks.

Nixon: They could start then and—

Laird: But it would show us a movement—

Nixon: Yeah.

Laird: —because [unclear].

Nixon: Maybe by July and then we could get going.

Laird: Yes. But this was in the memorandum, which I sent to—

Nixon: Good.

Kissinger: On the way.

Nixon: We’re all on the same—we’re all the same—

Laird: Well, I sent it to you, Henry. I think I did.

Kissinger: Yeah, but I didn’t [unclear]. I know—

Nixon: I haven’t seen it.

Kissinger: Well I’m summarizing it. [unclear exchange]

Laird: You know, I sent it to Henry.

Nixon: On defense now, I am not—I just want to be sure to get [unclear]. It is my view, which is just as strong as anybody could possibly be, that we not be in a weak position when we go to deal with the Soviets, or, for that matter, the Chinese. They must not think, the Chinese, that we’re getting the hell out of Asia, or we don’t have any [Page 889]bargaining position. And, by the same token, the Russians must not think that regardless of what they do on arms control, that we’re going to, you know, piss it away anyway. So my view is that we have—that [unclear]. Could be right for domestic and political reasons that we have some pretty tough critics that say, “What the hell are we doing here?” I think that’s important. On the other hand, the numbers are important.

Laird: This won’t affect our expenditure program. The problem we had in ’73 [unclear]. There’s very little money involved [unclear].

Nixon: Well, that’s the thing. Remember I told you I didn’t want it. Well that’s this. But on the other hand, another thing I want you to go out and explore is what could we spend, speaking just of [unclear], what could we spend? But suppose they wanted—suppose they gave me a billion dollars more or something. Does it help the defense? Even marginally? Does it have a considerable impact on jobs [unclear]? Got anything like that?

Laird: Oh, yes. We had that—we’re looking—

[Omitted here is an exchange about scheduling meetings to discuss the Defense budget and discussion of Vietnam, particular weapons systems, and German financial support for United States forces in Europe.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of Conversation among Nixon, Laird, and Kissinger, Executive Office Building, Conversation No. 302–32. No classification marking. The editor transcribed the portion of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume. The transcript is part of a larger conversation that occurred from 2:54 to 4 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)
  2. See Document 199.
  3. See Document 191.
  4. In an October 29 memorandum to Kissinger, Laird argued that it was time for the United States to demonstrate its will to react to the continuing buildup in Soviet strategic offensive weapons by deploying new SSBNs. For the text of Laird’s memorandum, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972, Document 208.