8. Minutes of National Security Council Meeting1

President introduced Henry to discuss the options.

HAK: Difficulty: In addition to military factors, psych factors play an enormous role. For deterrence, what other side thinks is as important as what we think. Bluff taken seriously … (quote from NATO book).2 Can’t prove why something is not happening (also from NATO book). Answer can’t be settled conclusively.

Paper3 indicates a view of basic options; categories to use in analyzing them—lists: cost, political, military reactions.

RG laid out five basic options.

1. Dominance—summarizes (Refer to long paper).4

Discusses arguments. Mentions now we have no first strike capability (like we had in 1962), particularly for NATO. Dominance might get us back.

Also, gives us political & psychological advantages. But hard to recapture 5 to 1 superiority—constantly increasing level damage. (Using long paper)

2. Improving the Balance

(Again uses basic paper)

3. Maintaining the Balance

(quotes paper)

Adds argument against: utility of forces for Allied deterrence becomes demonstrably less.

4. Stable Deterrence

Deliberate deterrent force.

5. Minor Deterrence. Fashionable at MIT and Harvard.

Present Posture—a little short of having a significant edge.

Choice is not purely technical, but theory of use of nuclear forces, role in arms control, reactions. Will have significant influence on Packard [Page 24] recommendations, Alliance policy, arms control policy, East-West Relations.5 Nixon asked Packard for types of things you are looking at.


Purposes and choices of ABM.

Neither side has dominance.

Soviets deploying additional missiles. They will be superior in number of missiles. We are now superior in SLBMs but they want parity. We have substantial superiority in manned bombers.

Two extremes: What is required for Dominance?

Destroy enemy’s offensive force so he can’t strike back.
Tough, can’t destroy subs. We would need more accurate, heavier missiles, bombers can’t be used in timely way.
Other side: Provide very good protection of targets.

Problems with ABM.

New substantial amount of protection—very efficient; but Soviets can keep up by proliferating, MIRVs. They can counter at low cost. ABM is ineffective protection. HAK: against full-scale Soviet attack.
Use of tactics effective against ABM; Soviets can concentrate and overwhelm parts. ABM not attractive at this time.

What is required for deterrence?

1. Protect second strike capability.

Situation is fairly good now. Land-based missiles in hardened sites, vulnerable to bigger more accurate missiles.

Bombers are vulnerable except those on alert. SLBMs bring our bombers under attack.

Our own SLBMs are excellent deterrent.

2. We can use ABM to protect missile & bomber forces. Fact ABM isn’t perfect isn’t so troublesome; you complicate Soviet problem, aren’t losing people.

You could increase deterrence by building up offensive forces. But you don’t need this for second strike capability.

Not sound to say we will protect cities; is sound to say we will protect second strike capability.

[Page 25]

This deployment doesn’t threaten Soviets.

Nixon: Neither one does, or does cities protection threaten them psychologically?

Packard: They would see cities defense as prelude to other offensive build-up.

Nixon: Suppose you could defend cities. Really means credible threat of first strike would be much greater if they are screwing with Allies.

Packard: Wouldn’t really give you first strike.

Smith: Population protection is historically a signal of going for first strike. Would be more threatening.

Nixon: We say glibly we will fire on warning. Who’s sure? As soon as you do, you are risking great destruction.

Laird: Issue is that we can’t move toward defense of cities. Impossible to solve this equation. We should assure our people of this. We can handle other threats, adding to our deterrence. Shouldn’t care about what Soviets think, but what’s best for our security, security of our nation.

Nixon: It is important to game plan it from their point of view. Important for arms control discussions.

Laird: They have ABM, but they may be protecting other targets.

Packard: We don’t know why their ABM. Use of ABM to protect our offensive forces would be stabilizing, would help with strategic arms limitation talks.

Nixon asks Smith what he thinks.

Smith: Doesn’t make much difference one way or other as far as talks. Ongoing program isn’t decisive on talks issue.

Rogers: Isn’t having option good negotiating point?

Smith: Best posture is ABM connected with signs of progress on SALT and with signal they aren’t going for first strike capability.

Parochially I am against ABM. I would urge at same time as ABM decision, say we have reviewed last proposal—approved by Chiefs—we are now in position to begin talks. Announce we will limit number to say Moscow’s number, not deploy then on first strike mode.

Wheeler: If I thought technically, fiscally feasible to [develop?] ABM defense which gave first strike capability, I would advocate it, destabilizing or not. Wouldn’t bother me.

Nixon: Wouldn’t bother me either. Nuclear umbrella in NATO a lot of crap. Don’t have it.

Wheeler: IR/MRBMs are targeted by our forces. This decrement to what we have to protect the U.S. Allies extremely sensitive to this. Of course, we are protecting our own assets in Europe.

[Page 26]

Nixon: NATO sensitive, want to make sure we continue to target weapons aimed at them.

Wheeler: Present system does not give protection against sea-launched systems.

Nixon: We could keep more bombers on alert with political warning.

Wheeler: Now 25% alert rate.

HAK: They wouldn’t give political warning.

Nixon: I mean, over months we could bring it up.

Wheeler: It would be expensive.

Nixon: Let me talk of firing on warning. We have subs, bombers, non-hardened Soviet sites. Your plans assume the worst, that we don’t fire on warning. It is vitally important to assume this because of confusion that would exist.

Wheeler: You can get false radar signals. We’ve had them. We might get warning in form of getting signals of increased deployments of say submarines. Could be cause of putting bombers on increased alert. Now we have no means of detecting launching of missiles from submarines unless patrol planes pick it up. Since bombers are important, a reorientation to close this gap is important.

Nixon: What does it cost to increase faces on radars?

Packard: Not much, about $100 million.

Packard: You can build more or less of a system. We couldn’t defend some cities. But you could defend some bases. This dilutes protection against China because you need full area coverage. But you could begin getting useful protection.

Nixon: Discuss Chinese situation. It would have to be a first strike. Why would it be against our second strike capability? Wouldn’t they destroy cities? Why does this answer a Chinese attack?

Packard: (Shows chart) Area defense will give early protection against early Chinese threat. This Spartan protection only against primitive system. Penaids [penetration aids] will defeat it.

Lincoln: Proposition: by starting but not stating how far we will go will aid Gerry [Smith].

Smith: No, would prefer number. We could increase if it we had to.

Rogers: Art VI of NPT—says parties will enter into arms limitation agreement. Important to non-nuclear power. With NPT notified [ratified], we should proceed in good faith.6 I was asked this yesterday. [Page 27] We are obligated to go ahead with talks, in good faith, language of treaty is clear.

Nixon: But not what and when. We’re not tied down.

Rogers: Of course, but we must proceed in good faith. If Soviets say let’s talk, we have to. We’re under the gun.

Wheeler: Haven’t we been under that obligation for a long time in representations to U.N.?

Rogers: This is treaty obligation.

Smith: We are already in negotiations. Public statements have a meaning. Gore7 thinks we should start just on ABM. I think Soviets want talks both on offensive and defensive missiles.

Laird: Soviets don’t want to negotiate defense.

Rogers: We should have total offensive/defensive.

Nixon: For trip,8 I want to be kept as flexible as possible. Same with decision on ABM. It would be unhelpful to make it appear that we are leaning (don’t debrief Depts and have it appear in papers) though arguments appear convincing. Then if we decided to move, that could be important gesture in arms control problem. We’re not sure what affects them; then let’s not appear too precise until we get some leverage.

Laird: Though cutback may be in FY 70 budget, it will add on $200 million over long haul.

Packard: You can say categorically that you’re never going to $100 billion or $50 billion system. You’re going completely away from fixed system. Also, we should present problem more effectively. Too few people understand it. (In terms of American reaction.)

Laird: March 17 is date to present. Congress wants to see amendments first, they’re jealous.

Nixon: Let’s plan it out rather than leak it out and screw it up!

Nixon, Rogers: Soviets want to talk both offensive/defensive missile systems.

Nixon: Leave out option on minimum deterrence. But in your review, take a look at those options.

HAK: Each should have package, analysis of implications.

Nixon: Helpful to have costs of these strategies.

Packard: Prices will be good enough for general decision, not difficult. General purposes forces the real problem. Strategic isn’t that significant in the total budget; 20% more isn’t that much. Difficulty with Dominance is that it’s damn near impossible.

[Page 28]

Rogers: Present it well.

Nixon: When you’re talking about converting it, you’re knocking out the Chinese defense.

Packard: We will have some area protection through ’75. Main change is getting completely away from protecting our cities against Soviet threat.

Wheeler: Complicates targeting problems of the Soviets. For example, they will have to put more weapons on Washington.

Nixon: You’d be more willing to fire defensive weapon on warning than those which go over to them. Very important point.

Nixon: How does it work?

Packard: Excludes 4 M7 warhead. Would increase radiation, but fallout problem is a minor one.

Smith: Any problems with Canadians?

Wheeler: We have a group at NORAD discussing with Canadians. But they will want to know more about it. Canadians have a number of questions.

Nixon: I wouldn’t make point that this will increase our bargaining leverage with Soviets. Let’s do these things, they know what we’re doing. We shouldn’t appear to be too obvious. Henry do you agree? Leverage is real, but talking about it would make it unreal.

HAK: I agree.

Packard: But there will be questions.

Laird: It will begin tomorrow.

Nixon: Say, major consideration is defense of the U.S. This isn’t simply a bargaining counter. Now will this help negotiations? Answer: I won’t try to evaluate what they’re thinking. But in negotiating it will be overall offensive/defensive strength we will be negotiating.

HAK: It wouldn’t hurt for Mel to speak strongly for defense.9

Laird: I will say we haven’t made a decision.

Nixon: Absolutely, it’s important. Decisions that will be made will be what is best for the U.S. This will be taken into account by our arms control negotiation. Not that we’re doing this to strengthen our hand.

Smith: We can say that ABM won’t have serious effect. We don’t know what effect it will have but I don’t think it will be decisive one way or another.

Nixon: Does deployment allow you to keep pace with developments in the art? This constantly worries me. Can we learn anything?

[Page 29]

Packard: We will learn something. We will not be limited in what we learn as we deploy it. Various improvements will be possible. Various ideas can be investigated: non-nuclear technology, use of laser beams. This technology looks very interesting. We want to continue work doing [along] these and other interesting lines.

Rogers: Will our program prevent Soviets from achieving a decisive breakthrough?

Packard: We will do everything we can.

Nixon: I think this gives us a better chance to keep up. We have to do what he is doing. At least until Mr. Smith negotiates …

Smith: Do we need to keep development progress going?

Packard: Technology needs to be married to a requirement to get real benefits. It’s difficult to develop a useful, practical system in a vacuum.

Laird: Strategic price cut is one thing. Real difficulty is conventional forces. Soviets can buy more cheaper than we can. Our costs will go up. Schroeder10 wants to know will we send more force over if we have strategic agreement.

Nixon: On presentation. Intellectual community is getting hysterical about ABM, partly because we don’t have facts.

Will cost $100 billion—(we’re getting away from thick system).
We’re threatening Soviets.

This is confrontation between Admin & Mil/Industrial complex. Will we listen to JCS, Sec Def or to State. Acid test of presenting issue properly. We have to explain decision when it is made that it doesn’t give credence to Mil/Indust complex, doesn’t look like new round in arms race, doesn’t frighten Soviets, doesn’t worry money people. We have to say, failing to do this little would be highly irresponsible act. We can’t be apologetic.

Would be a mistake to indicate we will delay modest program until we see talks results. Shouldn’t tie them together.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–109, NSC Meeting Minutes, Originals, 1969. Top Secret; Sensitive. No drafting information appears in the minutes. The participants continued the discussion of strategic policy issues begun during the NSC meeting of February 14. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the following attended the meeting, held in the Cabinet Room of the White House from 10:26 a.m. to 12:26 p.m.: the President, Kissinger, Agnew, Rogers, Laird, David Kennedy, Lincoln, General Earle Wheeler, Helms, Packard, Gerard Smith, and Veatch. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)
  2. Not further identified.
  3. See Document 6.
  4. See footnote 1, Document 6.
  5. The National Security Council was also scheduled to discuss East-West relations during its meeting of February 19. Time did not permit such a discussion, which was supposed to focus on a paper entitled “East-West Relations,” prepared by the NSC’s Interdepartmental Group for Europe. The paper outlines three basic alternative approaches toward Soviet-American relations: mutual antagonism with minimal cooperation, détente, and a limited adversary relationship. According to the paper, proponents of the latter alternative, including the White House, agreed “that a strong U.S. nuclear deterrent and a continuing strong NATO are necessary in order not to tempt the Soviets into military or diplomatic adventures.” See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Document 18.
  6. The U.S. Senate ratified the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in March 1969. It entered into force in March 1970.
  7. Senator Albert A. Gore, Sr. (D-Tenn.)
  8. President Nixon traveled in Europe from February 23 through March 2.
  9. Laird testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 20. See footnote 3, Document 16.
  10. Secretary Laird and Gerhard Schroeder, Minister of Defense of the Federal Republic of Germany, discussed the U.S. military commitment to Europe during a meeting held on February 1 at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York. (Ford Library, Laird Papers, Box 13, NATO, Vol. 1)