207. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1

    • The Strategic Initiative

Last fall, you decided that we should plan improvements to our sea-based strategic deterrent forces in light of the continuing Soviet build-up.2 Accordingly, Secretary Laird was asked to evaluate the alternative approaches to achieving this improvement.3

The Problem

As you know, the essence of the problem is as follows:

  • —Our strategic retaliatory capability is and will remain secure provided that a strong sea-based deterrent force is retained.
  • —There is no strategic threat to the survival of our sea-based force for the foreseeable future. Given the potential vulnerability of our land-based bomber and missile forces, however, there is a good reason to have solid hedges against new developments.
  • —We have adequate numbers of weapons in our current Polaris/Poseidon force to satisfy fully in sufficiency criteria. But the rapid Soviet submarine building pace and the likelihood that they will have more SLBMs than we do in two years may raise questions of the diplomatic sufficiency of our forces.

Therefore, our purpose in undertaking to improve our sea-based forces should be to convince the Soviets that they have nothing to gain by further increasing their strategic forces.

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The DOD Proposal

In light of this problem Secretary Laird prepared two alternatives worthy of serious consideration (see Tab B).4

  • Building an improved version of our most modern submarine—the 640 class boat.
  • Accelerating the development of an entirely new submarine—the ULMs. It would be initially deployed in 1978 instead of 1981 as currently planned.

Under either option, a new extended range missile would also be developed that itself would enormously increase Soviet difficulties in tracking or destroying our missile submarines.

In assessing these alternatives, the DOD study raises the following points:

  • —The new submarine (ULMs) would require more development time with the first boat not ready until 1978. Also the building rate in the first few years would be slow, with only 2 or 3 per year being feasible. In contrast, a modified 640 system could be ready by 1977, and we could build 7 to 10 annually.
  • —Consequently, the most effective means to increase our capabilities quickly is with the 640 class. By 1980, we could have up to 6400 additional re-entry vehicles while the ULMs could yield 2240 at most.
  • —Neither system is a perfect hedge since the nature of the threat, if any, to our submarines is unknown at present. However, we would be “locking up” the design of this new boat before an anti-submarine threat has appeared.
  • —Neither system would enable us to match a Soviet build-up of their sea-based strategic forces for many years, though either would provide a credible signal that we would not be content to fall behind.
  • —The ULM submarine will cost about 50% more over the next five years.

In my judgment, while you faced a difficult decision, the modified 640 class boat deserved the edge because it permitted us to expand capabilities more rapidly.5 Dr. David shared this view in the conviction [Page 939]that the ULMs program involved such substantial technological risk that the probability of failure, delay, and cost growth was high.

Unfortunately, however, your freedom to choose among these alternatives has been effectively precluded by Secretary Laird and Admiral Moorer who both support the ULMs proposal. In particular, Secretary Laird:

  • —Delayed submitting the SLBM options paper for nearly a month, thus preventing you or your staff from carefully assessing the alternative.
  • —Informed Congress that you had approved the ULMs program before submitting alternatives for your consideration.
  • —Publicized the FY 73 budget request for ULMs authority even though specifically asked to forego public discussion until you had reached a decision. Your State of the Union message has been left deliberately vague.6

Regardless of the substantive merits, therefore, I believe you have no choice now but to publically support Secretary Laird. If there were a fight within the Administration, the likely effect would be for Congress to kill the initiative.

In the longer run, however, I think that there are compelling strategic reasons to reconsider ULMs initiative and reshape it in terms of the difficult situation we face with the Soviet Union particularly in the SALT talks.

Accordingly, I have prepared a memorandum for Secretary Laird advising him that you wish to review the ULMs program in the NSC next summer considering questions arising from the above discussion.


That you approve my signing the memorandum for Secretary Laird (Tab A).


Approved, sign the memorandum to Secretary Laird.7

Other, see me.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 230, Agency Files, Department of Defense, Vol. XVI. Top Secret. No drafting information appears on the memorandum, which bears a stamped note indicating that the President saw it.
  2. President Nixon concluded an NSC meeting on November 12, 1971, devoted to SALT proposals to limit ABMs with the following statement: “I want to see what we can do on building subs. I see the arguments against but we still need to look at this. We’ve been frozen so long in all areas. There is lots of steam and concern that we are going to a position of inferiority. We just may have to go the sub route. Please give me the numbers.” The minutes of the NSC meeting are printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972, Document 211.
  3. See Document 205, footnote 2.
  4. Attached at Tab B is Document 205.
  5. Odeen sent Kissinger a memorandum on January 28 questioning Laird’s recommendation to accelerate the ULMS submarine. Odeen questioned the recommendation on the following grounds: the ULMS submarine was relatively expensive and technologically uncertain, it would dictate a new boat design before the Soviet sea-based threat was entirely clear, and it offered “the least effective solution for rapidly deploying more submarines.” In response, Kissinger indicated that he wished to review the issue “with a select group.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 880, SALT, SALT Talks (Helsinki), Vol. XIV)
  6. In his Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union delivered on January 20, President Nixon called for “an increase in defense spending” directed particularly toward improving, diversifying, and dispersing U.S. “strategic forces in ways which make them even less vulnerable to attack and more effective in deterring war.” Accordingly, he requested “a substantial budget increase to preserve the sufficiency of our strategic nuclear deterrent, including an allocation of over $900 million to improve our sea-based deterrent force.” (Public Papers: Nixon, 1972, pp. 45–46)
  7. President Nixon initialed his approval. See Document 208.