20. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Dr. James R. Schlesinger, Secretary of Defense
  • Major General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • William P. Clements, Jr., Deputy Secretary of Defense
  • Carl Duckett, Central Intelligence Agency
  • Mr. Roberge,2 JCS briefer
  • Mr. Welch,3 JCS briefer

Kissinger: Can’t Stennis get control when he gets back?4

Moorer: I think that is part of the game. Symington is not going to give up power easily.

Schlesinger: Symington’s comments about CIA 5 were an attack on Stennis. We will go after Hughes.6 Ask if he wants more men killed, etc. [Some talk about the progress of the Defense Appropriations.]

Moorer: We should not modify it in a way that we degrade the present SIOP.

Kissinger: Isn’t that Catch 22?

Moorer: No, we can do it, it depends on how long we take. It depends on how quick we can get a decision and how quickly we can retarget.

There is a clear distinction between operations on a third country and those on the USSR itself. The latter certainly risks a general war. The problem is not military—it’s political and policy. It would be helpful if we could get the President involved in exercises, etc.

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Kissinger: The President has to know in a crisis what options are available. Then we can get him involved in exercises.

Moorer: There’s a difference between tactical and strategic weapons.

Kissinger: The President will not authorize their use in the blind, without knowing just what will happen.

Moorer: A quick decision is what I was referring to.

Kissinger: The President must know at least the categories of targets—airfields, etc.

Clements: The NSDM 7 is deceptive. We don’t have the capability to do what the NSDM asked for. The forces aren’t that flexible.

The President shouldn’t think he will have these options if he approves them.

Schlesinger: It’s a matter of time. We can’t put the mechanical flexiblity into the forces until we know what is wanted.

Kissinger: The Soviet Union is building forces for something. I want to avoid the military telling the President they can do anything he orders.

Moorer: We can do better in preemption than in retaliation.

Schlesinger: I am not sure a strike (very limited) on the Soviet Union is more hazardous than taking out all the airfields in Poland.

Roberge [begins briefing:] We are looking at the different options which would cover the whole range of possibilities. In outline, there are:

—Regional options—theater options.

—Limited options.

—Selected options.

—Major options.

The prime change in target base was in army units and political and economic targets.

We identified five Soviet [Major?] attack options.

(1) The Soviet nuclear threat to U.S.—7,000

(2) The Soviet nuclear threat to Europe—886

(3) The Soviet nuclear threat to forces in Asia

(4) The PRC nuclear threat to U.S.

(5) The PRC nuclear threat to U.S. forces in Asia

Kissinger: But the key is what it is we are trying to accomplish.

Schlesinger: For example, what are the political and military options?

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Roberge: Those were our criteria for developing these options.

Kissinger: We would like to know what those are.

Schlesinger: We need to show the ultimate objective—not that it is “the destruction of 11th Rocket Army.”

Welch: We would like to have you look at the case studies and tell us if these are the kinds of things we need.

Kissinger: What is the next step?

Schlesinger: We are trying to convey a message to stop. “We are showing your vulnerability and demonstrating the hazards of further escalation.”

Otherwise you would have to look over the whole 4,000 target list individually.

For example, we destroy the targets on the Chinese border, leaving the USSR open to Chinese attack; that could convey a signal of a USPRC alliance, which may or may not exist.

You tell us what message you want to convey.

Kissinger: It’s the chicken and the egg. We had done good contingency planning in Jordan and it went well in ’70.8 We wouldn’t have an idea what to do in case of an attack on Iran or Europe.

If the Soviets could make us back down anywhere in the world, the result would be disastrous.

Moorer: You are right about the chicken and the egg. That is why we need a dialogue.

Duckett: Should we include options where disengagement is easy? Air or sea attack?

Kissinger: There are several categories. A European incident; a Soviet move against third countries; a third country conflict which may involve the United States.

Take Jordan—I think we scared the Soviets by pouring forces in at a reckless rate.

I think a serious crisis is almost inevitable with the world the way it is.

Schlesinger: Take Tito’s death.9

Kissinger: Yes. I’ve had a NSSM on this kicking around for a year.10

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Conceptually there are two theories: escalate slowly, or take a big jump at once.

Schlesinger: Computationally I lean to the second. Nuclear, I lean toward the first.

In Iran, for example, if we were to fly in some F–111s, we convey a message. Then maybe privately refer to Caspian oil fields.

Kissinger: We need to move this discussion from the theoretical to actual packages for actual areas. The most likely areas are not too legion. Let’s meet after Labor Day.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1027, Presidential/HAK MemCons, MemCons—HAK & Presidential, April–November 1973 [3 of 5]. Secret; Nodis. The breakfast meeting was held at the Pentagon. In a memorandum, August 8, Odeen informed Kissinger that the meeting’s main topic of discussion would be United States nuclear policy, the subject of NSSM 169. (Ibid., NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–195, Study Memorandums, NSSM 169 [1 of 3]) All brackets in original memorandum.
  2. Colonel Ronald A. Roberge, Plans and Policy Directorate.
  3. Captain Edward F. Welch, Jr., Plans and Policy Directorate.
  4. On January 30, Stennis was shot twice during a robbery attempt in front of his Washington home. He did not return to the Senate until September 5. Symington served as acting chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services during his absence. (New York Times, January 31, 1973, p. 1; September 6, 1973, p. 39)
  5. Not further identified.
  6. Senator Harold Everett Hughes (D–Iowa).
  7. A reference to the draft NSDM appended to the response to NSSM 169, which is Document 17.
  8. Apparently a reference to the Jordan Crisis of September 1970. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. XXIV, Middle East Region and Arabian Peninsula, 1969–1972; Jordan, September 1970, Documents 199334.
  9. Josip Broz Tito, President of Yugoslavia.
  10. For NSSM 129, “U.S. Policy and Post-Tito Yugoslavia,” June 15, 1971, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. XXIX, Eastern Europe; Eastern Mediterranean, 1969–1972, Document 227.