109. Action Memorandum From the Acting Director of the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs (Goodby) and the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Lord) to Secretary of State Kissinger1

DOD Strategic Force Program Decision—The M–X Missile

In the Briefing Memorandum sent to you on November 2 (Tab 3), we highlighted major strategic force programs which we understand will be included in the FY–78 Defense budget and the associated Five-Year Defense Plan (FYDP)—both of which will be presented to Congress in January.2 We expressed special concern over the program for developing a large payload ICBM, the M–X. The FY–78 budget accelerates development of the M–X missile to provide for initial deployment in 1982, if the present FYDP recommendation on this system remains firm.

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Inherent in this proposal are two departures from existing policy which deserve serious review.

First, accelerating development implies a decision to acquire a substantially improved hard-target kill capability against Soviet missile silos, since this is a key rationale for modernizing the present Minuteman ICBM with the more powerful M–X system. Advocates for improving US hard-target kill potential argue that such programs, which enable us to equal or exceed the USSR’s ability to destroy military targets, are necessary for deterrence and for maintaining an advantageous “warfighting capability.”

This decision raises important questions regarding US strategic policies. With M–X deployed, the Soviets could expect to lose nearly 90 percent of their total strategic warheads from a US first strike in the mid-1980s. This is a reasonably close approximation of a disarming first strike and flies in the face of several statements made by this Administration that it was not acquiring this capability. It is significant to note that our counterforce improvements can pose a potentially greater threat to the USSR than in the reverse situation, since Soviet ICBMs represent a much larger fraction of the USSR’s overall deterrent than is the case with US ICBMs. Indeed, even without M–X, planned improvements to Minuteman ICBMs will give the US a capability to destroy half of the USSR’s silo-based ICBM force, representing a loss of about 60% of the Soviet’s total strategic warhead capacity.

The second problem is that a decision to accelerate development of the M–X missile, with initial deployment in 1982, apparently requires that it be deployed in fixed silos. Development of alternative basing modes for survivability, notably land-mobile schemes, raise difficult cost, feasibility, and domestic issues which may be impossible to resolve in time to meet a 1982 operational date. The rationale for accelerated modernization of our ICBM force by installing M–X in silos largely stems from a belief by some that we must match the USSR rapidly, system-by-system, in order to satisfy “perceived equality” concerns.

However, to deploy a new ICBM in fixed silos, in the face of Soviet offensive improvements that call into question the survivability of fixed launchers, runs counter to the general policy of acquiring strategic forces which are survivable. Moreover, last year the Congress explicitly forbade the expenditure of any M–X monies to develop the silo-basing option, precisely because of its concern about survivability. Deploying M–X in silos could also create instabilities in crises as pressure mounts for one side pre-emptively to launch its vulnerable ICBM force, fearing that an attack from the other side is imminent.

To sum up, current strategic policy emphasizes forces which are survivable and which will not be seen as providing the US with a disarming first-strike potential. These two objectives are contravened by [Page 460] M–X missiles with improved hard-target kill deployed in vulnerable silos. At the very least, this strategic environment runs counter to the basic stability objective of SALT, and movement by the US in this direction could send signals to Moscow that stability is no longer a central US concern.

We believe that major defense program decisions that reflect fundamental doctrinal judgments and can affect our foreign interests and negotiations (such as the M–X) should not be made by DOD on a business-as-usual basis in the course of developing its annual budget, especially in a time of transition to a new Administration.

Secretary Rumsfeld plans to present his Defense budget and program recommendations to the President in late November. There is apparently some last-minute review of the M–X issue underway, but we have no assurance that the plan to accelerate the program and use silo-basing will be reversed.

We suggest that you phone Secretary Rumsfeld, or send him the attached letter,3 with a view to determining whether he indeed plans to recommend the silo-based M–X system, conveying our concerns over such a decision, and suggesting that the two of you meet to discuss the matter. If the Secretary of Defense is willing to consider modifications before formal submission of the Defense budget to the President, we would prepare a brief analysis of this issue that you could then make available to him.

If DOD’s recommendations on M–X remain unaltered, we believe that you should raise the matter with the President and lay out for his consideration alternative program choices and their likely impact.


1. That you telephone Secretary Rumsfeld on the M–X issue, drawing upon the talking points in Tab 1.

2. Alternatively, that you send the attached letter to Secretary Rumsfeld (Tab 2).4

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P760191–0294. Secret. Drafted by Jerome H. Kahan (S/P), Louis V. Nosenzo (PM/NPO), and Goodby on November 10. Sent through Sonnenfeldt. “OBE” is written at the top of the memorandum as are the words, attributed to Kissinger: “Do not want to get involved now. This is a transition matter.”
  2. Vest’s memorandum addressing strategic and general purpose force issues is attached, but not printed.
  3. Neither the attached letter nor the talking points mentioned below are printed.
  4. A handwritten note indicates that no action was taken on the recommendations.