6. Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Staff1
Summary of Paper
We can view the general objectives of our strategic forces as follows:
- We want to reduce the likelihood of a Soviet nuclear attack on the U.S. or its allies; that is, we want to deter a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. We also want our strategic forces to contribute to the deterrence of other forms of attack on vital areas.
- If a nuclear war nevertheless occurs with the Soviet Union or anyone else, we want to be capable of limiting damage to ourselves and our allies to the extent that it is technically and economically feasible to do so.
- We want to be able to respond to limited and perhaps protracted nuclear conflicts that may come about either deliberately or by accident.
We can pursue these objectives by developing and buying strategic forces with three types of capability:
- The capability to inflict heavy damage on enemy population and industry, even after our own forces have been attacked.
- The capability to limit damage to ourselves and our allies during the course of a nuclear exchange—for example, by being able to destroy enemy forces before they are launched, to intercept and destroy enemy weapons that have been launched, or by providing protection against blast and fallout for U.S. population and industry.
- The capability to use and control forces deliberately and selectively to achieve limited objectives against targets in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe or China, perhaps in a protracted conflict.
However, just as we react to important developments in Soviet strategic capabilities, they probably react to changes we make in our forces in accordance with their own strategic objectives. For example, the large build-up in our ICBM and Polaris force in the early 1960s was probably a reaction to the possibility of a “missile gap” vis-à-vis the Soviet Union; the Soviets have understandably reacted to close the missile gap that they in fact have faced because of our build-up. The Soviet Talinn air defense system is possibly a reaction to the prospect that we would deploy a B–70 bomber. We have reacted to the Talinn system by pushing the development of Multiple Independently-Targetable Re-entry Vehicles for our offensive missile force, because we feared, wrongly, that Talinn was an ABM system. The Soviets may now feel compelled to go ahead with mobile ICBMs and a Polaris-type force in the face of our MIRV threat.
Understanding the action/reaction process is complicated by the fact that the current Soviet build-up may have already anticipated new developments on our part, so that go aheads on new U.S. programs would not necessarily lead to additional Soviet reactions.
The critical question is, after we trace through the consequences of future actions and reactions by both sides, will we be better able to meet our strategic objectives by changes in our posture? Will nuclear wars be less likely? Will war outcomes really be more satisfactory to us in the event deterrence fails? Both we and the Soviet Union now may have the capability largely to offset attempts at significant improvements in offensive and defensive capabilities by the other side. This factor, in addition to the many technical problems in designing strategic systems, may make it very expensive to pursue significant improvements in relative capabilities.
Today, for example, both we and the Soviet Union can kill about 40 percent of the other’s population—80–90 million people—even after absorbing an all-out surprise attack on our strategic forces. Though each side plans to use part of its forces for limiting damage to itself, both sides will suffer very heavy destruction in a nuclear war. Such capabilities can probably be maintained by both sides throughout the 1970s. Moreover, today neither side has any incentive to strike the other first; both sides lose very heavily no matter who starts the war.
Nevertheless, both the Soviet Union and China are increasing their strategic nuclear capabilities. Both have strategic research and development programs which could lead to technological breakthroughs that threaten our security. We cannot risk such breakthroughs. There is a wide variety of strategic options that we should consider when [Page 13] deciding how to deal with this situation and meet our strategic objectives.2
Dominance would seek to get a clear margin of superiority over the Soviets. We would seek significant increases in both damage-inflicting and damage-limiting capabilities against the Soviet Union and attempt to achieve them with high confidence. We would take the initiative in force development and deployment, and we would avoid falling behind in any important force category such as ICBM launchers.
Improving the Balance would provide for more modest increases in damage-inflicting capability. We would actively pursue damage-limiting programs such as ABM defenses to the extent they are technically and economically feasible. We would improve our capability for selective nuclear response.
Maintaining the Balance would seek to preserve present relative U.S. strategic capabilities vis-à-vis the Soviet Union with about the same degree of confidence. However, we would maintain the necessary options to respond efficiently and promptly to Soviet force improvement initiatives.
Stable Deterrence would have the same requirements for damage-inflicting capability as the previous option, but we would not feel compelled to insure as heavily against unexpected threats. No significant damage-limiting programs would be undertaken. We would emphasize programs which reduced the vulnerability of our forces.
Minimum Deterrence would base U.S. deployments on probable rather than highly unlikely Soviet threats and maintain options to meet high estimates of the Soviet threats. We would not buy forces for damage-limiting, nor would we emphasize strategic capabilities for less than full-scale nuclear war.
The Strategic Policy Issues paper gives pros and cons for each option. In general, the critical issues in evaluating these options are likely to be:
- The nature and likelihood of Soviet reactions and how this
would affect: [Page 14]
- The extent to which we can actually improve our capabilities.
- Our own course of action in the face of Soviet reactions.
- The prospects for getting started on arms limitation talks and the possibilities for reaching agreement on the strategic balance implied by this option.
- The political value to us of having improved strategic capabilities (or creating the presumption that we have them).
- The value to us of improved military capabilities in terms of deterrence and war outcomes.
- The size of the strategic forces budget relative to the benefits obtained.
There are several types of FY 70 strategic force budget decisions that can be made now. We could:
- decide to procure certain systems now in development, e.g., an advanced manned strategic aircraft (AMSA) or an anti-Soviet ballistic missile defense system;
- increase research and development efforts for possible new systems;
- add to or accelerate programs currently approved for deployment;
- delay approved strategic programs such as Sentinel.3
Certain budget decisions should probably be made only after basic policy has been decided. Therefore, policy decisions could await the completion of the Interagency Military Posture Review now underway. On the other hand, the Secretary of Defense may want to consider certain FY 70 budget amendments on the merits of the individual issues. Such amendments should be made only after careful consideration of their implications for overall strategic policy and arms limitation possibilities.
The attachment discusses the Sentinel issue in some detail.
Arms Limitation Talks
Recent interest in pursuing strategic arms limitation talks is motivated not only by the present state of the strategic balance but also by the likely outcome of attempts by either side to increase its relative capabilities in the absence of an agreement.
- Both the U.S. and the Soviet Union can launch a massively destructive attack on the other after absorbing an all-out attack on its strategic forces.
- Neither side in the foreseeable future can hope to be able to alter significantly this ability to damage the other.
- The present costs of strategic forces are large and will get significantly larger if additional programs go unchecked.
Therefore, negotiating a strategic arms limitation agreement can have at least three objectives in terms of the strategic balance:
- By reducing the strategic arms competition, an agreement could reduce many of the uncertainties which now influence our programs.
- Just by talking, we might gain valuable information and improved understanding with the Soviet Union on how each side sees nuclear forces and strategy.
- In the long run, the costs of our strategic forces will probably be lower with an agreement than without one.
The primary question on strategic grounds is, should we go forward with strategic arms limitation talks in the near future or delay a decision pending completion of the military posture review (in six months or, if the strategic portion is accelerated, in two months)? Regarding this issue, there are two questions:
- What would be the consequence of waiting six months in terms of the strategic balance?
- What might the conclusions of the military posture review suggest concerning the U.S. position for possible talks with the Soviets? How soon could enough of the review be completed to reach these conclusions?
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–20, NSC Meeting, February 14, 1969. Top Secret. No drafting information appears on the paper, which summarizes a 21-page paper, entitled “Strategic Policy Issues,” included in the President’s briefing book for the NSC meeting of February 14. Kissinger sent the complete paper to Agnew, Rogers, Laird, and Lincoln on February 12 to serve as the basis for the NSC’s discussion of strategic policy issues. (Ibid.) The NSC Review Group discussed a draft of the full-length paper during its meeting on February 6. (Ibid., Box H–34, Review Group Meeting, February 6, 1969)↩
- In a February 5 briefing memorandum sent to Richard Pedersen, Philip Farley considered the paper’s five alternative strategies to be insufficient. He proposed two additional strategic alternatives for the Review Group’s consideration. The first included offensive forces without MIRVs coupled with a “minimum” ABM area defense directed against China. The second included the same offensive posture but with a larger urban defense than that planned for Sentinel. (National Archives, RG 59, S/S–NSC/Cabinet Files, 1970–72: Lot 73 D 288, Box 6, NSC Review Group Memoranda)↩
- See footnote 4, Document 4.↩