50. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Buchanan) to President Nixon1

One Observor’s Notes from Republican Leadership Meeting, Tuesday, September 30, 1969

[Omitted here is discussion of topics unrelated to national security policy, including crime and Supreme Court nominations.]

Now we move into a very confidential area. The President said he had some new intelligence and this is extremely sensitive.2 The Soviets are apparently going full speed ahead with their testing of MIRV. It is quite clear they don’t mean any business with the SALT talks. In megatonnage they are now ahead of the United States, and in the total number of missiles, they have pulled abreast of the U.S. If they move as they have been moving with MIRV, the President said, they will be substantially ahead of us in a year or two. He said I3 would hold the Democrats feet to the fire on this; it is an issue of national security. He said we might even pull the old Lombardi4 trick that New Orleans looks awful tough. In other words, indicate that we are going to have a tough time getting it through.5

Mr. Kissinger spoke up now. He said the Soviets are continuing to test entirely new missile systems other than the SS–9 or SS–11 with an entirely new warhead on the 9, and another and much heavier war-head on the SS–11 which we don’t even know anything about. He said [Page 210] it lends itself to any number of applications.6 Kissinger stated “that the Soviets are conducting a broad-gauge, systematic, wide-ranging program, that not a week goes by without some new system being tested.” The President said the Soviets have shown no interest in a moritorium on MIRV; he said if the other side has one of these things, then I want one too. He said it would be disastrous for the United States to be in a position inferior to the other, while the other side is making a great leap forward. He said we probably will get a response from the Soviets on the SALT talks in the next few days; once they make a response it will be a few months before they talk about verification of tests. In the meantime, one got the impression that the Soviets would be moving ahead full speed with deployment. The President said that in verification with our satellites, we can’t know how many warheads are on top of their missiles, even if we know how many missiles there are.

Margaret Chase Smith said the President should keep quite close to the MIRV resolution now in the U.S. Senate, Senator Brooke’s resolution.7 Congressman Anderson spoke up and said he supported Brooke’s effort in the House, but the basis was that MIRV was still a negotiable issue. Is it still negotiable, Mr. President? The President said yes it is. ABM is also negotiable, except for the ABM directed against the China threat. The President said the Soviet ABM radar is now turned against China rather than against the United States.8

Congressman Rhodes said [if] the Soviets are engaged in a massive effort to build strategic weapons, certainly it would be good policy not to keep it quiet, but to take it to the public. The President said there were some problems with taking it to the public, for example, if the Socialists over in Germany should make a deal with this tiny 5% party, it would mean the Socialists would govern Germany, and you can be sure if they got the first inkling that the U.S. was strategically inferior to the Soviet Union, they would have every incentive to make a flip in their position.

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The President asked Dr. Kissinger to speak for a few minutes. How many missiles did the enemy have in the Cuban missile crisis? Kissinger indicated they had about 35 long-range missiles, and the U.S. had close to 400, something like a 15–1 margin. That no longer exists, said the President. We have now reached parity and as I9 indicated, the Soviets are now moving full speed ahead toward superiority. He said when Golda Meir was here she assumed that if they moved against the Israelis and smashed the Israelis that the United States would move in also if the Soviets did. The President said perhaps we would have done that awhile ago, but that has to be doubtful now. He said it’s true that the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean is a “hostage there”. The President said that the U.S. is the only power in the world that can deter war, and to keep our diplomacy credible, we have to keep our power credible.

[Omitted here is discussion of topics unrelated to national security policy, including the war in Vietnam and Congressional pressure for American withdrawal from Vietnam.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Box 79, President’s Meetings File, Beginning September 28, 1969. Confidential. The following attended the meeting, held from 8:31 to 10:20 a.m. in the Cabinet Room of the White House: Nixon; Richardson; Kissinger; Senators Hugh Scott (Minority Leader), Robert P. Griffin (Minority Whip), Margaret Chase Smith, Milton Young, Gordon Allott, and John G. Tower; and Representatives Gerald R. Ford (Minority Leader), Leslie C. Arends (Minority Whip), John B. Anderson, William C. Cramer, Richard H. Poff, John J. Rhodes, H. Allen Smith, Bob Wilson, and Robert Taft, Jr. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)
  2. The Soviets were prepared to resume testing MRVs, according to a September 13 memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon based on CIA reports vetted by the NSC staff. (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 10, President’s Daily Briefs, September 1–22, 1969)
  3. Buchanan.
  4. Vince Lombardi, coach of the Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins of the National Football League.
  5. Possibly a reference to the FY 1970 Defense Department appropriation authorization bill, which was approved on November 19.
  6. An undated and uninitialed memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon informed the President of recent intelligence reports from the CIA indicating “that the Soviets are now testing what could be two different ballistic missiles of an unknown nature.” According to Kissinger, the two missile systems, which the Soviets had been clandestinely developing for 17 months, raised serious questions about the United States’ ability to monitor a strategic arms limitation agreement. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 78, Country Files—Europe—USSR, Consequences of MIRV Flight Ban)
  7. See Document 43.
  8. A July 7 memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon summarized a DIA report estimating that Soviet ballistic missile defenses were oriented against China. A stamped note on the report reads, “President has seen.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 844, ABMMIRV, Sentinel ABM System, Vol. 3)
  9. Nixon.