26. Minutes of a National Security Council Meeting1


  • SALT


  • Principals
  • President Nixon
  • Vice President Ford
  • Secretary of Defense Schlesinger
  • Deputy Secretary of State Rush
  • JCS Acting Chairman Admiral Zumwalt
  • Director of Central Intelligence Colby
  • Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Ikle
  • Chairman, SALT Delegation, Ambassador U. Johnson
  • State
  • Mr. Helmut Sonnenfeldt
  • Mr. William Hyland
  • Defense
  • Deputy Secretary Clements
  • Mr. Paul Nitze (SALT Delegation)
  • JCS
  • Lt. Gen. Rowny (SALT Delegation)
  • CIA
  • Mr. Carl Duckett
  • ACDA
  • Mr. Sidney Graybeal, Chairman, SALT Consultative Committee
  • White House
  • Assistant to the President Kissinger
  • Mr. Melvin Laird
  • Mr. Bryce Harlow
  • NSC
  • Maj. Gen. Brent Scowcroft
  • Mr. Jan M. Lodal

President Nixon: This is the first National Security Council meeting of the new year. For your planning purposes, I would like to plan on a formal NSC meeting once every thirty days. Of course, I will carry out all kinds of consultation—with Henry, Schlesinger, and others—which will affect policy in addition to the formal meetings. But we have an NSC system which we’re proud of and which I intend to use. In this light, I would like you to note that although he is Secretary of State, Henry is sitting in this meeting as Assistant to the President. So at this meeting, Ken (Rush) will have to speak for State.

I want these monthly meetings because there is a need for regularity. Last year we were not as regular as perhaps we should have [Page 136] been. In the first year or two we were setting basic policy—considering NSSM’s and meeting on other topics. Now we are more in the process of executing policy. Nonetheless, there are a number of areas we have to take a look at—Latin America, Africa, Europe. Of course, there are limits to how much time we can devote to some of these. Mike Mansfield said to me this morning that he hoped I would mention Latin America in my State of the Union Message.2 There are so many topics to talk about I would never get through if I covered them all in detail. Nevertheless, I believe it is very important, particularly in the second term of an administration, not to be like an exhausted volcano—there’s a continual need to re-evaluate policy and positions.

In my first term our major foreign policy accomplishment was certainly the Vietnam War. Not that it would not have ended eventually in any event—it had to end. But we had to take many tough decisions—Cambodia, Laos, May 8, December 18. History might record that our opening to China was the most important accomplishment, or perhaps our opening to the Soviet Union. Yet, had we not done Southeast Asia properly, the others would not have been possible.

When you have ideas I want you to throw them in. This applies to the Deputies as well; I consider you as much a part of this group as the Principals. I heard a good idea today from my daughter, Julie. Julie is a good friend of former Agriculture Secretary Hardin. Secretary Hardin said, “He who holds the oil of the world, holds the world by the tail.” Julie also made a point of her own, that food is tremendously important. Whoever can feed himself will be in an excellent position. Food can be even more important than energy, and if there’s anything we’re good at, it’s agriculture. Secretary Butz was just telling me about the excellent crops we’re going to have. As you might expect, the lure of $5 wheat leads to tremendous plantings and will be leading to surpluses once again. Back to foreign affairs, our role will not be limited only to the U.S., but also to what we can contribute to the rest of the world.

I remember an incident in Latin America many years ago. All the leaders I met then have either died or have been assassinated by now, so I can’t remember the names. But whoever I was speaking to was the head of Peru at that time. I told him we could send our experts to improve his agricultural technology. But he said, “That’s not our problem—our problem is that 45 percent of our food spoils on its way to market.” That’s what is so great about the United States—we not only have the agricultural technology, but we know how to store and transport and market the food we produce.

[Page 137]

Another example is Brazil. Brazil is an unbelievably rich country. When Kubitschek put the capital out there in Brazilia,3 I thought he was a damn fool. But he was brilliant; the heart of Latin America is in its center.

Domestically, Jerry,4 we must never go back to scarcity again. In our foreign policy, I don’t want to export our farmers, but one of the most important exports we have is know-how—not just planting and growing, but transporting and marketing also.

Having started in so idealistically, which I’m not sure you’ll pay much attention to in any event, I will now turn to other topics.

Jerry, since this is your first meeting, I would like to say a little bit about how we operate. We do not make decisions here. I have to make the decisions, and I make them after the meeting. Sometimes I change my mind, so please don’t hold me to any comments I might make here. I want to emphasize once again the importance of the NSC operation here in the White House. It’s important to understand that when you talk to Henry or Scowcroft, you’re talking to me. We have big plays left to make. It’s like Joe DiMaggio—I remember his marvelous plays. He nearly busted his ankle every time, but he would always catch the ball. He was expected to make big plays. It’s expected now that we make big plays. And even if there might not be many big plays left to make, there are certainly big mistakes which can be made. Therefore, we have to use this process. What happens here in this room is still more important than what happens anywhere else in the world. Not because of the personalities involved, but because of the richness of our country, and because we have power and have shown our willingness to use power. When we sneeze, everyone else gets pneumonia, and that’s the way it’s going to be for a while—unless we decide to give up our power and retreat into ourselves.

That’s the end of my introductory remarks for this first meeting. Let me say once again that if you think our policies are wrong, please say so. Of course, if you think the policies are right, say it publicly! We’ve met today to talk about SALT, and I hope these meetings can be essentially one-topic meetings. My understanding is that there is a wide difference of opinion on SALT around town, which just goes to show that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Let’s start now with a briefing from CIA.

[Page 138]

[Omitted here is discussion of SALT.]

President Nixon: This is certainly more complex than SALT I. It is also true that they have a better bargaining position than we do. We talk as if we can have an agreement or not, but within this room, we shouldn’t fool ourselves—we probably aren’t fooling them either.

Suppose Brezhnev wants to agree, but his military does not. Their military may decide to go like hell. The U.S. might also wish to agree, and our military, while supporting an agreement, might think that a particular agreement is lousy. But we have to look at the political situation. Despite the fact that we could steam the country up in the absence of agreement, and tell them that we are in an all-out arms race, it is far more likely that the Soviets will move ahead more rapidly than we will.

Amb. Johnson: But the Soviets must account for the unpredictability of our reaction. They cannot assume we will do nothing.

President Nixon: That is right. We could turn hard right. Even some of the extreme peaceniks who two years ago said that we must have détente at any price are for political reasons now saying that détente is bad. But I don’t mind Jackson and Mondale rattling around like they do. In the back of their minds the Soviets know that we might turn to the right.

But we should look at the hard facts. We are putting in a bigger Defense budget, and maybe we’ll get it; but it may be substantially cut. What we have to figure on here is this—we talk about essential equivalence and other such gobbledegook, but suppose we can’t get it. Looking at the two countries, lacking an agreement, and having an all-out arms race. We just might not get the new programs from Congress. Especially when 56 percent of our budget is spent on personnel versus 26 percent of theirs.

I don’t mean to be telling our chief negotiator that we are in a weak position. We have got to go all out to get the agreement. But when you have your Verification Panel and when we make these decisions, we have got to realize that an all-out arms race may not be to our advantage.

Let me raise another strategic concept. We talk about the Soviet Union and the U.S., but by 1980 the Soviet Union will face Britain and France, who don’t have much, and potentially a very substantial China. For the U.S., we talk about planning for a two-ocean war or a one-ocean war. But at present, the threat from the Chinese is obviously considerably less. And Western Europe is no threat to us. For the Soviet Union it is not as easy—they have to worry about the U.S. first, but also Western Europe, which may matter at some point in the future, and the Chinese. Thus, central to our policy is what happens in China. Suppose there [Page 139] were a Soviet-Chinese détente or alliance. Dr. Judd 5 was unhappy with our opening to China and I was not terribly happy about what it did to our friends in Taiwan. Also, we can’t forget that it was not an anti-Soviet move—at least that is what we say; we see good relations with both sides.

And without that, the U.S. ten years from now would be in a very dangerous position. Within ten years, as Brezhnev says, or within twenty to twenty-five years, it will happen—the Chinese will be very strong.

Dr. Kissinger: Both you and Brezhnev may be right at the same time. They could be a significant threat to the Soviets within ten years, although it might be twenty years before they were a threat to the U.S.

President Nixon: That is a good point, Henry.

Carl Duckett: [3½ lines not declassified]

President Nixon: I remember when we were in Moscow for SALT—I must say I never went through such a week—our Russian friends do their business after midnight, right, Henry? During the Middle East negotiations at the last summit, Henry, as you remember, most of our conversations were between midnight and 3:00 a.m. In SALT I, everything was after midnight and went on all night long—at least that is what you said you were doing (laughter).

In a group of experts like this, this probably sounds poor, but I think we have to keep asking ourselves—why do we have it? What is it going to be worth ten years from now?

Brezhnev—he showers love and kisses on the U.S.—and bear hugs—he is a very physical man. But, when I saw him alone both here and at San Clemente, all he talked about was China. It might be an act, but it could be very real. If it is an act, he is the best actor in the world.

Dr. Kissinger: And so are the Chinese.

President Nixon: The Soviets are looking at this not in terms of SALT II, but ten years from now. They are thinking, as they always do, in historical terms. They know that the Chinese and the U.S., while not friends, are not opponents. So, in the long term, they have to think in terms of a much larger force. Today it is just the Soviet Union versus the U.S., but their worry is 1985. Alex, what do they say about the Chinese question?

Amb. Johnson: The word “China” has never been used in my conversations, although they frequently talk about “third powers.”

[Page 140]

President Nixon: Yes, they refer to “those powers,” but they clearly aren’t interested in India or Ceylon—they mean the Chinese.

Vice President Ford: If there is no agreement, we clearly have the resources and the know-how, but perhaps not the political will. I assume they have the will and the know-how, but do they have the resources?

President Nixon: Sure. We always have underestimated them—they have plenty of resources.

Director Colby: However, they do have an incentive to agree. Brezhnev has his entire reputation tied up in this, and also there are others behind him who are looking at the economic advantages of détente.

President Nixon: Yes, Brezhnev has staked a great deal on agreements with the U.S. Stalin killed everyone off, perhaps for pretty good reason, since they were out to get him—but we should remember, in the final analysis, because of the authoritarian character of their system, that it is in our interest to have a government in the Soviet Union as peaceful as Brezhnev seems to be now, even though they are being very tough in these negotiations. It could be a lot worse.

Secretary Schlesinger: I agree as Bill Colby has pointed out that Brezhnev has an interest in agreement. Therefore, I think we can arrive at least at “formal” equality which will allow us to build up to a level equal to theirs. We might not get the funds to do it, but I think it is important for appearance’s sake to have formal equality. We might have to accept their level of forces. But then, the pressure is on Congress to provide the essential equivalence they insist we must have. Today we spend only $8 billion on strategic forces—we probably spend that much on food stamps.

President Nixon: A lousy program.

Secretary Schlesinger: We could go up easily. They have an incentive to avoid a U.S. build-up.

President Nixon: Don’t misunderstand me. Our public position will have to be that we have the will, and will undertake the necessary programs. We don’t need agreement if they don’t want it. But in this room, we have to look realistically at a world where we go up and up. It is not clear such a world is in our interest. I don’t mind sounding like a peacenik here in this room—but I hope it doesn’t get outside.

Vice President Ford: Jim, are you saying we only spend about 10 percent of our budget on strategic forces?

Secretary Schlesinger: About 10 to 15 percent. We are spending less now than we were in 1964 in constant dollar terms. And with about $2 billion a year more we could undertake significant new programs.

[Page 141]

Admiral Zumwalt: Two billion dollars would buy two more submarines a year.

Secretary Kissinger: Zumwalt will prove that to you no matter how a naval battle comes out—you would have been better off with more ships (laughter)!

Mr. Clements: The point is, it is relatively cheap to go up if we have to.

President Nixon: We will try to do it if we have to, but hopefully we will be able to get agreement with the Soviets. Thank you very much, gentlemen.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–110, NSC Meeting Minutes, NSC Minutes Originals 1971 thru 6–20–1974. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room. The complete minutes are scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXIII, SALT II, 1972–1979.
  2. Nixon delivered his State of the Union address on January 30. See Public Papers: Nixon, 1974, pp. 56–100.
  3. During former Brazilian President Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira’s tenure (1956–1961), the capital moved from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia.
  4. Appointed on October 12, 1973, Ford was confirmed as Vice President on December 6.
  5. Reference is to former Representative Dr. Walter H. Judd (R–Minnesota). Prior to serving in the House, Judd worked as a medical missionary in China during the 1920s and 1930s. Defeated for his seat in 1962 as a result of redistricting, Judd eventually assumed the chairmanship of the Committee for a Free China.