The strategic balance

Last year I reported on a new strategic policy for the 1970s. In assessing the changed strategic relationship, we faced the following realities:

Until the late 1960s, we possessed strategic forces that provided a clear margin of superiority.

In the late 1960s, however, the balance of strategic forces changed. While our forces were held at existing levels, the Soviet Union moved forward vigorously to develop powerful and sophisticated strategic forces which approached, and in some categories exceeded, ours in numbers and capability.

By any standard, we believe the number of Soviet strategic forces now exceeds the level needed for deterrence. Even more important than the growth in numbers has been the change in the nature of the forces the U.S.S.R. chose to develop and deploy. These forces include systems -particularly the 55-9 ICBM with large multiple warheads - which, if further improved and deployed in sufficient numbers, could be uniquely suitable for a first strike against our land-based deterrent forces. The design and growth of these forces leads inescapably to profound questions concerning the threats we will face in the future, and the adequacy of our current strategic forces to meet the requirements of our security. Specifically:

Does the Soviet Union simply seek a retaliatory capability, thus permitting the pursuit of meaningful limitations on strategic arms?

Or does the Soviet Union seek forces which could attack and destroy vital elements of our retaliatory capability, thus requiring us to respond with additional programs of our own involving another round of arms competition?

The past year has not provided definitive answers. Clearly, however, the U.S.S.R., over the past year, has continued to add significantly to its capabilities.

Operational United States and Soviet Missiles
Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles 1965 End 1969 End 1970
United States
Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles
United States

By the mid-1970s we expect the Soviets to have a force of ballistic missile submarines equal in size to our own. Furthermore, the Soviet Union has continued to make significant qualitative improvements in its strategic forces. These include new and improved versions of their Minuteman-size SS- 11 missile, continued testing of multiple warheads, research and testing of ABM components and improved air defense systems.

An additional source of uncertainty is China's possession of nuclear weapons. China continues to work on strategic ballistic missiles and by the late 19705 can be expected to have operational ICBMs, capable of reaching the U.S.

On the other hand, the Soviet Union in the past few months appears to have slowed the deployment of land-based strategic missile launchers. The significance of this development is not clear. The U.S.S.R. could be exercising self-restraint. Its leaders may have concluded, as we have, that the number of ICBMs now deployed is sufficient for their needs. Or the slowdown could be temporary and could be followed, in due course, by a resumption of new missile deployments. The delay could mean that the Soviet Union is preparing to introduce major qualitative improvements, such as a new warhead or guidance system. Finaily, the slowdown could presage the deployment of an altogether new missile system.

We will continue to watch Soviet deployments carefully. If the U.S.S.R. is in fact exercising restraint, we welcome this action and will take it into account in our planning. If it turns out to be preparatory to a new intensification of the strategic arms race, it will be necessary for us to react appropriately.