35. Editorial Note
The National Security Council met on June 13, 1969, to discuss the U.S. strategic posture. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting was held in the Cabinet Room of the White House from 3:40 to 5:21 p.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White [Page 134] House Central Files) The following account of the meeting is based on the handwritten notes of Alexander M. Haig, Jr., the most complete record of the proceedings found. Haig’s notes are ibid., NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–109, NSC Meetings Minutes, Originals, 1969.
After introductory remarks by President Nixon, Deputy Director of Central Intelligence Robert E. Cushman, Jr. briefed the National Security Council on current and projected Soviet strategic capabilities. Some Council members pointedly questioned the estimate of Soviet offensive capabilities. Secretary of State William P. Rogers asked whether the SS–9 was equipped with MIRVs or MRVs. Cushman responded that, while the issue was still “open,” it was the opinion of the intelligence community that Soviet missiles were not equipped with independently targetable reentry vehicles. Nixon, paying particular attention to strategic aircraft, asked, “What is their bomber production status? Any new generations? [Are the Soviets] going up or staying level?” Deputy Secretary of Defense David Packard responded that both superpowers were simply maintaining their strategic air forces.
The President then made sweeping critiques of the American intelligence community and its recent track record in estimating Soviet strength. The last such briefing given to President Johnson in 1968 had been “way off,” he claimed. Worse, “Intelligence has been wrong on Soviet projections since 1962.” Nixon, angered that critics of the administration’s defense policies within the intelligence community were allegedly leaking misleading information to Congressional opponents and to the press, suggested that such experts only leaked low estimates of Soviet capabilities and kept high ones to themselves.
Cushman then gave a briefing on Soviet defensive capabilities, stating that intelligence indicated that the Soviets had “cut back” and were attempting to improve Tallinn, the ABM system surrounding Moscow, because they lacked confidence that it could cope effectively with United States offensive missiles. The President interrupted the briefing to critique the estimating process, insisting that the intelligence community was too willing to provide policymakers with a single “opinion” to explain such actions of Moscow’s when several alternative interpretations were possible. Nixon, developing a question first raised by Rogers, illustrated his point by noting the intelligence community’s estimate that by 1975 the Soviet ABM “would be effective against limited attack.” Addressing Cushman, the President said, “You’ve expressed opinion on why Soviets cut back ABM. Why have they gone with new one? You say this is to get more effective ABM. What is effectiveness of their ABM against Chinese attack?”
A general discussion of ABMs followed. The President was skeptical that the Soviet ABM system actually worked. Packard, replying [Page 135] to a query from Rogers, stated that Moscow had conducted some successful tests of its missile defense system. He added that the Soviets had the equivalent of a 2-year lead on the United States in developing and deploying a missile defense, but that the Soviets’ radar was not electronic and that the American system was technologically superior. Both Rogers and Kissinger were particularly concerned that the United States had not yet developed a loiter capability, whereby an interceptor missile can be launched before its target has been fully identified and flown in such a manner as to await the separation of a reentry vehicle from its penetration aids, and probably would not do so for another 2 years. Kissinger argued, “We must increase ours [ABM] to meet Soviet ABM.” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Earle G. Wheeler assured the NSC, however, that United States military planners had targeted Tallinn in order “to protect our capability” and that the nascent United States missile defense system had complicated Soviet planning. The President ended the discussion, saying simply “these are tough questions.”
The discussion turned briefly to civil defense. George A. Lincoln, Director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness, asserted that the United States had fallen behind in this area too. Reports about the relatively extensive program in the USSR suggested that the Soviets “are better organized than we are.” Nixon agreed, asking “What happened to us on this?” Lincoln believed it was “important” to do something to augment American civil defenses once the analyses commissioned by National Security Study Memorandum 57 (Document 28) had been completed.
Nixon, Kissinger, Packard, Wheeler, and Attorney General John N. Mitchell then engaged in a discussion about Soviet strategic doctrine and war-fighting capabilities vis-à-vis the United States. The President was particularly concerned that he lacked sufficient options, short of all-out nuclear war, to employ American forces in regional conflicts, including the Middle East, with the Soviet Union.
Packard next summarized the analyses prepared in response to National Security Study Memorandum 3 (see Document 36), detailing five alternative strategic force postures first delineated by the Department of Defense and then reviewed by the Interagency Steering Committee that he chaired. According to Packard’s talking points, the first option, Category I, would greatly expand and improve United States strategic offensive and defensive forces at an annual cost of $18–23 billion. This option would provide a hedge against a greater than expected Soviet threat and significantly reduce damage if either the United States or the Soviet Union struck first. The enhanced United States posture would likely stimulate a Soviet response, however. Category II would expand United States offensive capabilities, but only slightly increase [Page 136] its defensive forces at an annual cost of $15–23 billion. For $13 to 16 billion per year, Category III would maintain the current United States strategic program, allowing for some qualitative improvements in weapon systems. Category IV, projected to cost $13–14 billion each year, would slightly reduce offensive and defensive weapons. Without a viable arms control agreement, Packard cautioned, forces in this category would involve considerable military risk. Finally, Category V, estimated to cost $15 billion per annum, depended upon an arms control agreement and emphasized defensive over offensive weapons.
Packard’s committee had concluded that the United States could not hope to regain strategic superiority since the Soviets could effectively respond, neutralizing any temporary gains. On the other hand, unilateral reductions in the United States posture, although unlikely to jeopardize the deterrent, would almost certainly raise doubts about Washington’s resolve among its allies. The committee also had determined that the United States retained and could maintain sufficient capability to deter a Soviet attack and emerge in an advantageous position if deterrence failed. Packard’s group identified two major issues for consideration by the Council and the President. First was how to deal with uncertainty regarding the Soviet threat in planning United States strategic forces. The committee recommended that a defense posture be crafted with a conservative, i.e. high, estimate of the threat in mind and that redundancies be programmed in United States forces. Second, the President needed to choose one of the five strategic options, selecting the one that best improved the United States posture, conveyed an image of strength, and promoted prospects for strategic arms limitations. Packard’s talking points are in National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H Files), Box H–127, NSSM 3.
Following Packard’s briefing, according to Haig’s notes, the President reminded the Council of the uncertainties involved in strategic planning, especially since some seemingly well-designed weapons systems would inevitably fail during wartime use. Yet, he said, “We must recognize that this game is all about diplomacy.” Nixon used the Cuban missile crisis to illustrate the fact that the “diplomatic equation must be weighed heavily” when making military decisions. The United States had enjoyed a commanding four-to-one strategic edge on the Soviet Union in October 1962, he said, a military preponderance that “paid off” during the crisis. The Soviets had since redressed the strategic imbalance. But, according to Nixon, European allies still thought the United States was stronger. “They think this and it has effect. If we accept parity or inferiority, in a diplomatic sense we [would?] be in a tough” position. “We’re not settling for second place,” Nixon announced. Rogers agreed, arguing, “We need sufficiency, not parity.”
The President then directed the National Security Council to examine the “China nuclear problem.” The Chinese, armed even with [Page 137] primitive nuclear weapons, could effectively hold American cities hostage, thereby blackmailing United States policymakers and forcing them to surrender Manila, for instance, in exchange for their safety. This scenario, Nixon believed, offered yet another argument for Safeguard, which gave the United States additional credibility in the Pacific. “Diplomacy is problem,” he concluded, “not cost effectiveness,” adding that the United States could not appear to be weak in the eyes of its allies.
The attendees then discussed the U.S. strategic posture. Wheeler stated that the Joint Chiefs of Staff, believing that shelters were effective, wanted to upgrade civil defense. Lincoln agreed, adding that an extensive shelter network could pay dividends in the event of natural disasters. Wheeler also recommended that policymakers respond to the increase in Soviet capabilities either by qualitatively improving U.S. offensive forces, deploying multiple reentry vehicles, or upgrading missile defense. He also disagreed with Rogers, arguing that strategic objectives, rather than a theoretical definition of “sufficiency,” should guide the eventual National Security Decision Memorandum that established the United States defense posture.
Ultimately, the President declined to make a decision at meeting’s end, preferring to wait until the Council had considered strategic issues and SALT more fully.