The following article is adapted from the book, Aircraft Carriers at War. A Personal Retrospective of Korea. Vietnam and the Soviet Confrontation by Admiral James L. Holloway, III, USN (Ret).
The book has recently been awarded one of two honorable mentions for the 2007 Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Naval History Prize, which honors outstanding work on American naval history’. It is given each year by the New York Council of the Navy League in cooperation with the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and the Theodore Roosevelt Association. The prize commemorates the contributions made by Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt while serving as assistant secretaries of the Navy and their support of the Navy during their presidential administrations.
The book has also been selected by the Chief of Naval Operations for inclusion in the Navy Professional Reading Program as a primal)’ offering ill the “Leadership” collection. It is one of five books to be added to the NPRP library since that program was launched in October 2006.
In early 1976, President Gerald Ford was running hard for renomination facing a very strong challenge from Ronald Reagan, and he was very anxious to consummate some sort of a SALT II agreement to show progress in his administration for arms limitation.
At that time the Secretary of State and National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, was in Europe negotiating with the Soviets on these issues and Kissinger cabled back from Vienna the outlines of a new treaty to which he had tentatively agreed. This agreement would ban the deployment of the Tomahawk missile on submarines, and limit its deployment on surface ships to only ten cruisers with ten Tomahawks each.
Kissinger had previously sent the outline of this agreement to the Pentagon for comment. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Chairman of the JCS General George S. Brown both indicated their agreement by initialing the draft. General Brown had previously shared this information with me, aware that the Navy was the principal service affected. I told him that the Navy would definitely oppose such an agreement, as Tomahawk was very important in the future plans of the Navy. It was essential to provide our submarines, cruisers, and destroyers with standoff weapons. This was absolutely necessary to provide them with an offensive capability into the twenty-first century and thus extend their useful life in the Fleet.
I told General Brown-and this was in my authority as a member of the JCS- that I wanted a meeting of the Chiefs to review this proposal and to develop a formal position for the JCS, with all of the members participating. General Brown agreed to call a meeting of the Chiefs to get a JCS position on the cruise missile before the proposal went to the NSC for a final decision.
However, very shortly after that, both General Brown and Secretary Rumsfeld left Washington to attend a NA TO ministerial meeting in Oslo, Norway. It was at that juncture that the President called a meeting of the National Security Council to formally review Kissinger’s proposed agreement. In the absence of the Secretary of Defense and the CJCS, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Bill Clements, and I as acting Chairman attended.
The announcement of the NSC meeting came on very short notice and I had Jess than an hour to prepare myself before going to the White House. I immediately tried to call all the chiefs, but I could locate only General Lou Wilson, the Commandant of the Marine Corps. He felt we should not agree to a treaty without a formal review by the Joint Staff and a meeting of the JCS. Armed with this backing, I went off to represent the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a NSC meeting chaired by the President.
President Ford first spoke to the Council very much in favor of the proposal, remarking on the fortunate political timing of the agreement. Then, the President went around the table, asking each representative for his position, I was under tremendous pressure.
All of the other members of the National Security Council, as they were queried, were voting in favor of the Kissinger agreement. I was one of the last members the President called on and he probably expected me to echo General Brown’s position. But George Brown had not brought the matter before the Joint Chiefs of Staff so, by initialing the proposal, he was only expressing his personal position, not that of the Chiefs. I replied that I was aware of the President’s desire for a SALT agreement, and how important it was to the nation that we have one. But in representing the Chiefs, I had to say that our responsibility was to secure the SALT agreement that was best for the security of the nation, both now and in the future, and that I was persuaded that this was an unbalanced agreement in that we were giving up a tremendous military capability in the cruise missile for a transient reduction in throw-weight on the part of the Soviets. I was convinced that the potential for the cruise missile in the U.S. Navy was virtually unlimited. We saw it as the principal weapon of the future for our cruisers, destroyers and submarines and were considering an airborne version for use by naval aircraft. I added that, given an opportunity to review the treaty, the JCS would not recommend it be accepted.
The President was obviously upset. But he was honest and in his reply said, “Admiral, I asked for your view and you gave it to me, but I want you to think about it very carefully, because this is a vitally important decision we are making today.” I replied that there was no question in my mind that the Chiefs would not be in favor of it, but I pointed out in words to the effect that, “Mr. President, you are the person that has to weigh the considerations from all aspects, including domestic politics, the views of our allies and the reaction of the USSR. You can certainly make the decision to go with this agreement with the Chiefs registering their disagreement. It is a Presidential decision. If you say it will be done, the treaty will be approved by the NSC. But in the ratification of the treaty in the Congress, the Chiefs will be called upon for their views. It is the responsibility of each member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to give his personal opinion, and the Chiefs will have to say we disagree, and that we advised the President of our disagreement.”
The President then said, “We have everybody in the room voting for it, except for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But I have to say, I will not go against the judgment of the JCS in matters such as this. Jim, will you go back and meet with your colleagues and discuss this with them again, and make sure you are accurately representing their position? We will reconvene the NSC meeting at 4:00 p.m. this afternoon.”
When I arrived at the Pentagon, the other Chiefs were standing on the front steps of the River Entrance to meet me, and we immediately went into executive session in the tank. The Chiefs, to a man, were very positive in their position that we should not give up the cruise missile for the tradeoff that was offered in the proposal.
At the 1600 White House NSC meeting, I reiterated the fact that the Chiefs were unanimous in recommending in the strongest terms that the President not agree to this proposal. So the NSC meeting was adjourned with the NSC Staff being directed to send a message to Secretary Kissinger that the Joint Chiefs of Staff were opposed to the agreement, and that the President had decided he could not agree to the proposal without JCS support.
As you can imagine, I was not very popular at that time. The only people who told me that I did the right thing were Fred Ikle, who was the Head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and his deputy, John Lehman, who was eventually to become the Secretary of the Navy. Lehman discusses this incident in some detail on page 167 of his book, “Command of the Sea.”
As a sequel to this story, many years later in 1988, I was a member of the Commission For a Long Term Integrated Strategy, along with Henry Kissinger among others. During one of our meetings, Dr. Kissinger said to me privately, “Admiral, at one time I was very mad at you.” And I knew he was referring to the cruise missile incident. I said, “Mr. Secretary, I know you were, but we all have to do what we have to do.” He chuckled and said, “Well I’m not sure your decision wasn’t the right one.”
The Tomahawk cruise missile has become the most important offensive weapon in the arsenal of the U.S. Navy’s surface combatants, destroyers and cruisers as well as submarines. Ballistic missile submarines are being modified to remove SLBMs and replace them with Tomahawks. It is effective against ship and land targets. Modem warships carry up to 80 of these missiles in vertical launchers. During the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan, the submarines, destroyers and cruisers of the Fifth Fleet, operating off the coast of Pakistan in the Arabian Sea, fired 176 Tomahawks in the first hour of the war against targets in Afghanistan with 90% effectiveness, to pave the way for the carrier strikes and the airborne assault. In the shock and awe phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom, 250 cruise missiles were fired into Iraq from the Fifth Fleet surface combatants and submarines.