77. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to President Ford 1


  • SALT Contingency Planning

A contingency plan has been prepared for our strategic forces to form the basis for a supplemental or amended budget request to the Congress if SALT would fail or became deadlocked, or if the Soviet Union should increase the pace of its strategic force modernization under a SALT agreement. This memorandum briefly summarizes the alternatives considered and how they would be influenced by Soviet actions, and recommends a course

In planning for US strategic forces through 1985, we have taken a prudent course, taking into account all the knowledge we have at this time, yet preserving our options for the future. We assume that the Soviets will continue to modernize their strategic forces within the provisions of the Vladivostok accord and at a pace consistent with more likely projections of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE).2 However, our planning provides for modest hedges against the failure of negotiations, abrogation of existing or future agreements, and/or Soviet force modernization which is within the SALT limits but exceeds the likely projections of the NIE. Our planning would make it possible to accelerate our modernization plans if the Soviets did indeed modernize their own forces more rapidly than we currently expect.

Failing to achieve a SALT agreement, our actions would be aimed at satisfying two key objectives:

1. Continuation of Negotiations. Our near-term objective would be to show the Soviets that the US could take actions more detrimental to Soviet interests than continuation of negotiations toward an agreement along the lines of the US proposal. Therefore, continuation of satisfactory negotiations would be in their best interest. Our near-term action would be to make program changes which would contribute toward this end.

2. Maintaining Strategic Stability and US Security. If our near-term actions fail at continuing satisfactory negotiations, US longer-term actions, perhaps including general purpose force modernization, would [Page 321] be aimed at maintaining strategic stability and US security in the face of expanded Soviet modernization.

Specific US long-term actions, in large part, would be influenced by specific Soviet actions and our assessment of the success or likely prospects of Soviet efforts to augment strategic force capabilities through technological improvement. The development of Soviet strategic forces in the absence of a SALT TWO agreement could take one of several significantly different courses:

—maintain roughly their present strategic force levels, near but not reduced to Vladivostok limits, and succeed in modernizing them at the pace presently projected as likely (NIE 11–3/8–75, Force 2);

—significantly increase force levels but not achieve a higher pace of modernization than currently assessed as likely (NIE 11–3/8–75, Force 4 force levels, but Force 2 or lower qualitative improvements);

—maintain roughly present strategic force levels, but modernize them at a pace significantly higher than presently considered likely (NIE 11–3/8–75, Force 2 quantitative levels, but Force 4 qualitative improvements);

—significantly increase strategic force levels and achieve a high rate of force modernization (NIE 11–3/8–75, Force 4).

Even with a SALT TWO agreement, Soviet strategic capabilities could vary significantly. Qualitative improvements in Soviet forces limited by SALT could be achieved at the pace which we consider most likely, or at a more rapid pace, posing a more severe threat to the US (NIE 11–3/8–75, Force 3).

Alternative US contingency plans have been developed to respond to the more threatening among this range of possible Soviet force developments. These plans have been grouped in two alternative menus of possible US actions described in detail in the attachment.3 The actual selection, combination, timing, and extent of any set of US actions would, of course, depend on the circumstances assessed at the time of decision.

The actions we could take in the near-term could range across the following:

—Maintain our current course, recognizing the 20% growth in the FY 77 strategic forces budget for modernization, under the assumption reflected in the current NIE (or possible tacit understanding) that the Soviets will show restraint in modernization with or without a SALT agreement.

—Gradually increase strategic spending starting with an amendment in the FY 77 budget request of about $800 million. Such a program could increase our negotiating leverage in the near-term and at the [Page 322] same time provide a basis for force expansion and modernization over a longer term to maintain rough equivalence with the Soviets. While such an increase might encourage the Soviets to continue or resume negotiations, it might also lead them to accelerate their own programs. Continuation of such a program over 5 years would require up to $7.6 billion for DoD and $400 million for ERDA.

—Accelerate strategic force modernization starting with a supplemental to the FY 76/7T budget of about $320 million and a $2.1 billion increase in the FY 77 budget. Such a program should provide greatly increased leverage for negotiation while at the same time providing a base for US force expansion and modernization to maintain a strategic balance with the Soviet Union under conditions of the highest level of the NIE. There would, however, be some risk that such a US action could trigger a counteraction by the Soviets making near-term negotiations more difficult and lead to more intensified arms competition. Continuation of such a program over the next five years, if necessary, would require $19.6 billion for DoD and $3.3 billion for ERDA.

In addition to these alternatives we have investigated possible program packages which might be implemented individually upon detected violation of the SALT ONE Agreements, and a program package involving augmentation of our conventional forces upon the failure of SALT. The details of these packages are also included in the attachment.

The actions proposed assume a breakdown of negotiations or cheating under existing SALT ONE Agreements. However, it should be recognized that even if a suitable SALT TWO agreement is reached, the pace and extent of Soviet force modernization under the provisions could be substantially greater than we might expect using more likely estimates of the NIE. Should this prove to be the case, it might be necessary to proceed with some of the US actions described herein even though negotiations were viewed as being successful.

The newly formed Defense Review Panel (DRP) has reviewed4 the alternatives and has made the following recommendations:

Adequacy of the Contingency Plan

Use the contingency plan as presented as a point of departure for development of a specific US response if and when needed. Members of the DRP reserve judgments at this time on the specific actions to be taken since they would depend strongly on the circumstances surrounding a failure of SALT, as well as other factors, including the impact on stability, the effect on possible future negotiations, and the pace of Soviet programs.

In particular, the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that recommendations concerning specific actions should fully recognize the necessity [Page 323] for a balanced approach to Triad improvements and the more general but nevertheless important relationship between strategic and general purpose forces in achieving deterrence. Additionally, given the potential threat of BACKFIRE to the United States, regardless of whether the negotiations succeed or fail, the JCS believe that the United States should initiate actions to allow earlier deployment of AWACS for CONUS Air Defense from within the Air Force planned program of 34. In their view, this action, together with the introduction of the Follow-on Interceptor (FOI) and the collateral support of tactical fighters from the general purpose forces, could discourage the intercontinental employment of BACKFIRE.

The Department of Defense is continuing its current consideration of proposals appropriate to this end.

Course of Action

Take no additional action now but continue to state that the US is prepared to take the necessary steps to maintain US security and strategic stability with or without a follow-on SAL agreement. It is important for the Congress and the public, as well as the Soviets, to recognize that we have been exercising restraint in our strategic force funding based on our hopes for SALT and that a failure of SALT would require an additional US response. Accordingly, the FY 77 Defense Report notes, and I have also stated in my testimony before Congress, that in the case of SALT failure we will need to take actions on our strategic forces that go beyond the current FY 77 Budget Request.

Donald H. Rumsfeld
  1. Source: Ford Library, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box 21, Defense Review Panel Meeting, 4/7/76—SALT (1). Top Secret.
  2. Reference is to NIE 11–3/8–75 dated November 17, 1975. See Document 158.
  3. An undated DOD paper, “SALT Contingency Planning,” is attached, but not printed.
  4. See Document 76.