Michael KreponThe Jackson Amendment

Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson was a tenacious, well-informed, defense-minded Democrat who played a central role in arms control debates during the 1960s and 1970s. He was a reliable vote for progressive domestic causes, and a deep skeptic of détente with the Soviet Union. Jackson favored missile defenses and was greatly concerned about trend lines in U.S.-Soviet strategic capabilities. He viewed the 1972 SALT I accords — the ABM Treaty and the “Interim Agreement on Strategic Offensive Arms,” which was sent to both houses of Congress for approval as an executive agreement — with deep foreboding. He valued the Kremlin’s potential advantages in land-base missiles far more than U.S. advantages in sea-based and bomber capabilities.

Jackson was outmaneuvered on the SALT I accords by two cold warriors in the White House, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, who wanted deals with the Kremlin and who understood the art of the possible – which did not include the deployment of nationwide missile defenses.

The Nixon administration badly oversold the SALT I accords on Capitol Hill. Secretary of State Wlliiam Rogers testified that, “A brake has been applied to the build-up of Soviet strategic forces,” and that, “As a result of our current success we are provided a more secure and stable strategic relationship with the U.S.S.R.” Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird testified that the SALT I agreements “move us closer to our ultimate goal – a world system in which peace is a universal practice rather than a hope.” Rogers was cut out of the negotiations by Kissinger, and Laird must have had a hard time keeping a straight face when he delivered these remarks.

Jackson knew that the deck was stacked in favor of the SALT I accords. (Only two Senators voted against the ABM Treaty and the Interim Agreement.) His game plan was to seek overwhelming passage of a motherhood and apple pie amendment that would provide greater U.S. leverage in negotiations to follow, while also laying the foundation to critique the resulting agreement. As the amendment’s champion, Jackson positioned himself to become the arbiter of how poorly the executive branch fulfilled his guidelines.

The language of Jackson’s amendment, expressing the sense of the Congress:

… urges and requests the President to seek a future treaty that, inter alia, would not limit the United States to levels of intercontinental strategic forces inferior to the limits provided for the Soviet Union.

What could be more motherhood and apple pie than that?

In Senate debate over his amendment, Jackson artfully used different constructs to explain his intent. Here are some samples from my shoe box:

All I am asking is what is wrong with parity so that we have the same number of land-based ICBMs and sea-based missiles? (August 3, 1972)

I am confident that the Senate of the United States would not wish to see this country undertake, in an international treaty having the force and weight of the Constitution itself, ceilings on U.S. defenses that are greatly inferior to the levels permitted the Soviet Union. (August 3, 1972)

When we talk about equality, we must talk in terms of equality in numbers of launchers, taking into account of throw-weight. (August 11, 1972)

What I am certain that we can agree on is the necessity that we not accept in SALT II levels of intercontinental strategic weapons that are inferior to the levels of intercontinental forces permitted for the Soviet Union. My amendment does that. (August 14, 1972)

Over the long run, there is no substitute for equal numbers of launchers taking account of throw weight differentials. (August 14, 1972)

I have said repeatedly that the intercontinental strategic forces to be balanced on the basis of equality are ICBMs, SLBMs, and intercontinental-range bombers. (September 7, 1972)

The Senate passed the Jackson amendment by a vote of 56 to 35 on September 11, 1972. Not surprisingly, Senator Jackson judged the Carter administration to be woefully deficient in meeting his standards for the SALT II Treaty.

The Senator who now comes closest to emulating Scoop Jackson’s methods is Jon Kyl, who rounded up Republican votes to block ratification of the CTBT in 1996. Senator Kyl, as Jeffrey has posted, is now seeking to define what constitutes an acceptable strategic arms reduction treaty after the one now being negotiated by the Obama administration.


  1. FSB

    Unfortunately for senator Kyl, however, the Cold War is over. Perhaps he ought to figure this into his future thinking. About 5 minutes of hard thought with a regular ol’ hominid brain is all it really takes.

  2. MK (History)

    My post contains an error: Sen. Kyl is attempting to shape the contents of current treaty negotiations with Moscow, not the next one. I suspect that one reason why some of his co-signers joined him was to prevent Senator Kyl from being the sole arbiter of his amendment.

  3. Alex W. (History)

    This is very apropos of nothing, but I have this wonderful little clip from an executive session of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy that involves Jackson, from July 1950. They were having a meeting with Admiral Hillenkoetter, head of the CIA, on detecting whether the Soviets were busy building an H-bomb:

    McMahon: “Have you given any consideration lately to getting high level photographs?”

    Hillenkoetter: “We are working on that, sir.”

    McMahon: “I won’t got into any further detail on it. I assume you will do it if you can.”

    Hillenkoetter: “We would like to do so if it is possible.”

    Hickenlooper: “I suggest you get hold of Al Capp. He has a flying saucer going around.”

    Elston: “On that flying saucer idea—when people like Eddie Rickenbacker say there is such a thing, I begin to wonder. Do you know if there is anything like that?”

    Hillenkoetter: “We haven’t been able to find out, the Air Force hasn’t been able to find out, and neither has the Navy.”

    Jackson: “If they are coming from Mars, maybe that would be one way to unify the whole world. They would get together to fight the invader.”

    Cole: “Is your answer to Mr. Elston a straight, clear, open answer?”

    Hillenkoetter: “Yes, sir.”

  4. bobbymike (History)

    There seems to be a forgetfulness amongst many proponents of continued nuclear disarmament of how far we have come since the end of the Cold War. The US is ALREADY on the path to reduce deployed strategic warheads to between 1700 and 2200. This is from OVER 12,000.

    Many arms control proponents language seems to imply that we have a Cold War sized arsenal today. Calling someone, politician or otherwise, who wants to maintain and modernize the current arsenal as “stuck in a Cold War mentality” is really disingenuous.

    As I have said on this forum many, many times there is absolutely no, none , nada, zip reason to reduce below the Moscow Treaty levels given the current geostrategic environment.

  5. FSB

    “As I have said on this forum many, many times there is absolutely no, none , nada, zip reason to reduce below the Moscow Treaty levels given the current geostrategic environment.”

    Guess what? You have been wrong many many many times.

    What geostrategic environment?

    That China will attack us and lose all the money we owe them?

    There is every reason to sit down with China and Russia and work towards reducing our arsenals to ~30 nukes each. ~30 nukes each is more than a sufficient deterrent to nations such as N. Korea who may be a future threat to us.

    China and Russia are our friends and trading partners — we have no reason to aim nukes at each other. None.

    1700 nukes seems like a few because of our idiotically inflated baseline from the Cold War.

    Furthermore, we need to ditch the triad and just use subs. There was no rational reason to to a triad even in the Cold War — it was a defense dept. pork and influence issue.

    1700 nukes is 1670 nukes too many.

  6. yousaf

    From the NSA:

    “Exactly these questions of “how much is enough” were raised fifty years ago in secret debate within the U.S. government, when Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Arleigh Burke argued that a small force of mainly nuclear missile-launching Polaris submarines was enough for deterrence. Burke and Navy leaders developed a concept of “finite” or “minimum” deterrence—highly relevant to today’s debate—that they believed would make the United States safer because it would dissuade nuclear attacks while removing pressures for a dangerous “hair-trigger” posture.

    In early 1960, when Eisenhower’s budget director Maurice Stans was told that the U.S. Navy’s Polaris missile-launching submarines could “destroy 232 targets, which was sufficient to destroy all of Russia,” he asked defense officials, “If POLARIS could do this job, why did we need other … ICBMs, SAC aircraft, and overseas bases?” According to Stans, the answer “he had received … [was] that was someone else’s problem.” An electronic briefing book of declassified documents obtained through archival research and published for the first time by the National Security Archive shows how the U.S. Navy, tried to take responsibility for this “problem” by supporting a minimum deterrent force that would threaten a “finite” list of major urban-industrial and command centers in the heart of the Soviet Union.

    “With their capability to destroy key Soviet targets, Burke believed, the virtually undetectable and invulnerable Polaris submarines could “inflict terrible punishment” and deter Moscow from launching a surprise attack on the United States or its allies. By contrast, Burke saw land-based missile and bombers as vulnerable to attack, which made the U.S.-Soviet nuclear relationship dangerously unstable. While he did not propose eliminating all strategic bombers and ICBMs, he believed that a force of about 40 Polaris submarines (16 missiles each) was a reasonable answer to the question “how much is enough?”

    That was during the Cold War.

    Far fewer are now needed.