Go figure: The very first conversation between Washington and Moscow on the relationship between strategic offense and missile defense took place at Glassboro, New Jersey. Soviet Premier Alexey Kosygin was visiting the United States in June 1967, and President Lyndon Baines Johnson arranged for him to listen to Robert McNamara discuss this subject over lunch. Secretary of Defense McNamara had the unenviable task of trying to contain an open-ended, interactive strategic arms competition marked by the prospective deployments of MIRVs and ABMs. As if this wasn’t hard enough, McNamara also needed to convince Kosygin that a defense of the Motherland was a bad idea. LBJ wasn’t inclined to buck hawkish sentiments on Capitol Hill and among the Pentagon brass, but there was no harm in allowing McNamara to try.
Much later, McNamara recounted his version of the Glassboro meeting in Michael Charlton’s The Star Wars History – From Deterrence to Defence: The American Strategic Debate (1986):
I said, ‘Mr. Prime Minister, you must understand that we will maintain a deterrent under any circumstances. And we view a deterrent as a nuclear force so strong that it can absorb your nuclear attack on it and survive with sufficient power to inflict unacceptable damage on you. And therefore, if you put a defense in place, we’re going to have to expand our nuclear offensive forces. You may think, as the Congress apparently does, that a proper response to the Soviet defense is a U.S. defense; but I tell you the proper response – and it will be our response – is to expand our offensive force.’
Kosygin normally wore a poker face. Perhaps he initially looked at McNamara as if he were from a strange, distant planet. Then, in McNamara’s recollection, “He absolutely erupted. He became red in the face.” McGeorge Bundy recalls otherwise in Danger and Survival — that Kosygin “had himself a good time” arguing what was then the standard Soviet line, that defense was a moral imperative and that a nuclear arms race was immoral.
What subsequently transpired, of course, was that the United States and the Soviet Union pursued both MIRVs and ABMs – the former in large measure, the latter in very limited fashion. Washington and Moscow subsequently traded positions on the morality of national missile defenses. Ed Ifft, a former State Department official who sat in on his share of negotiating sessions, has noted, with great irony, that the two superpowers often embraced the same position in arms talks, but rarely at the same time.