5. Minutes of National Security Council Meeting1

Briefing by Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff

  • Compared payload of SS–9, Titan II.
  • Alert U.S. weapons=1/2 megatonnage of Soviet threat.
  • Soviet ABM defends 48% of Soviet targets.

Nixon: What can their ABM do? What intelligence do we use?


Nixon: Do we assume theirs works?

Ans: We have low confidence. Talinn2 is [not] ABM, but prudence dictates we treat it as such.

Helms: Our statements of Soviet accuracy based on real world, not estimates.

Nixon: Observers say Soviets emphasize defense, we emphasize offense. Why?

Laird: Soviets spending 3/2 $ on offense over last 24 months, several dollars to one on defense. Their GNP is half of ours.

Nixon: We are only puttering in defense. Critics say, but then you make war more respectable.

Rogers: Ten percent of our missiles targeted against their ABM, also average delays 22 minutes before we launch?

Laird: Our committee more impressed with delay factor.

Helms: They have good ABM only around Moscow. Talinn isn’t ABM.

They have cut back, not expanded. Cut from 128 to 64. They realized they couldn’t keep our weapons out.

Laird: You can’t measure time in dollars and cents (ref. delay).

Briefer: We have significant vulnerabilities.

468 of his hard ICBMs untargeted, rest get only small damage.

[Page 9]


During Cuba: We could win under any circumstances.

Showed megaton exchange

5–1 in favor of U.S. preemption.

68–86% U.S. Population Surviving

We had clear advantage, position of strength. But picture has been changed. Today’s megaton exchange. They are now ahead or equal.

Nixon interested in megaton figures—

Seems to say rough parity. Parity may not exist, balance may easily be upset. e.g., Today our missiles are vulnerable to pindown; theirs aren’t.

Our bomber force vulnerable to inadequate warning.

Our command control is vulnerable.

Adm:3 Our computers on missiles are high speed. Theirs aren’t. Fallout from way it works.

In Soviet perspective: They are way ahead. Thus he may become bolder and more direct in his aggression.

Nixon: Because he knows we aren’t confident.

Briefer showed force trends:

They’re doing better. (No MIRV).

If Soviets are planning to MIRV, they have more throw weight. They could do better. (McConnell: They will be less accurate).

[Page 10]

Nixon: Astounding change in six years. When did we become aware of this change? When did SIOP plans warn of this.

Ans: Some people knew it.

Helms: They put in their missiles very fast.

McConnell: And we cut our bombers.

Nixon: What about our projections now? Whack! 5 to 1 and we’re now even.

Nixon: Can’t use projections. We have tended to underestimate.

Helms: We’ve both over and underestimated. We saw it in 1966.

McConnell: We made no effort to keep ahead except quality.

Laird: We’re tied down in the war. That had highest priority.

Nixon: Also, some were willing to accept parity concept.4

McConnell: I was surprised in 1966.

[Briefer:] Forces adequate for reprisal, not adequate to produce favorable advantage for the U.S.

McConnell: Must remember that of missiles untargeted, most won’t be there, and we can’t get them with more forces.

[Briefer:] Soviet rate of growth exceeds ours, we don’t know where they’re going.

We’re concerned with SS–9, and their Polaris-type submarine.

We see new land mobile ICBM, FOBS, MIRVs. Their R&D may exceed ours by factor of two. Pindown possible.

We have assured destruction, but not damage limiting.

Our population losses exceed those of Soviets. Their wpns bigger, our population more concentrated.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–109, NSC Meetings Minutes, Originals, 1969. Top Secret; Sensitive. No drafting information appears on the minutes, which incorrectly lists February 10 as the date on which the meeting was held. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting was held on February 12 from 10:36 to 11:52 a.m. in the Fish Room of the White House. The following attended the meeting: President Nixon, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, Secretary of State William P. Rogers, Melvin R. Laird, Lincoln, Chief of Staff of the USAF General John P. McConnell, Richard Helms, Bryce Harlow, Kissinger, and Lynn. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)
  2. Construction began on Talinn, a Soviet defensive missile system, in 1964.
  3. The Admiral, not further identified, was apparently a member of the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff.
  4. Nixon later recalled that it was clear to him by 1969 that “absolute parity” between the two superpowers was illusory given the quantitative and qualitative asymmetries between the U.S. and Soviet nuclear arsenals. Furthermore, he wrote, the United States, if it had chosen to pursue nuclear superiority once again, would succeed only in escalating the arms race. “Consequently, at the beginning of the administration I began to talk in terms of sufficiency rather than superiority to describe my goals for our nuclear arsenal.” (Nixon, RN, p. 415)