378. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Laird to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Proposed US Position on UK Sale of Satellite Earth Station to PRC

In the attached message, the Department of State proposes to raise no objection in COCOM to UK sale of another satellite earth station to the PRC.2 It would be comparable to the one which RCA sold, ostensibly in connection with the President’s visit.3 I would like to state my non-concurrence in the proposed U.S. position.

Approval of the UK sale will establish another precedent weakening the U.S. negotiating position on strategic communications export controls to the PRC and Eastern Europe.

The stated technical merits of the case set forth in paragraphs 2(a) through (d) are questionable. The PRC cannot on its own operate “within the Intelsat framework” until she joins the International Telecommunications Union. She is unlikely to join the ITU as long as the Republic of China is a member. In the meanwhile her only point of contact with Intelsat is through RCA. The PRC’s need to have several satellite earth stations for international communications has not been established. It is also not “clearly established” that Intelsat offers sufficient control against strategic use. If the PRC obtains more than one earth station, and later orbits its own satellite, the resulting system could be used for any purpose and in a country as deficient in strategic communications as the PRC, this risk would be significant. The argument that satellite communications are more expensive than land communications is not convincing in view of existing facilities in the PRC. Working up from the present low level would be costly and time-consuming. Satellites would seem a quicker and cheaper means of attaining a trunking system to meet the most urgent, immediate need for strategic communications.

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The RCA sale has been taken as a precedent for the UK application and the Japanese are close behind. I now gather that the two video-voice terminals delivered by RCA to Shanghai apparently had nothing to do with the President’s visit, except in the company’s press releases and in its statement of end use which we in State, Commerce and Defense unfortunately accepted. I understand that the White House communications people did not allow the use of the Shanghai earth station for public radio or television purposes, on the advice of PRC officials, even during the portions of the visit in that city and in Hangchow. I do not believe we should now throw good money after bad. The difference between one earth station in the PRC and two stations is the potential for internal strategic communications. If we go to two, I do not see how we can hold the line at four, eight, or any number. Hence, my nonconcurrence in the proposed U.S. position on the UK sale.4

Melvin R. Laird
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Country Files-Europe, Box 729, UK, Volume VII 9/71-9/72. Top Secret. Copies were sent to the Secretaries of State and Commerce.
  2. Not printed; the proposed telegram to the Mission to OECD was circulated to the Commerce and Defense Departments for clearance. The telegram dealt with a number of issues, including relations with INTELSAT, INTELSAT controls, numbers of stations, and prior COCOM licensing practices and decisions.
  3. Reference is to the President’s visit to China February 17-28.
  4. No Defense clearance is shown on the text of the attached telegram as sent on March 21 as telegram 48327 to USOECD, repeated to Tokyo, London, Oslo, Rome, Bern, The Hague, Brussels, and Ottawa. The text was cleared by Meyer at Commerce/OEC and Haig at the White House. The U.S. delegate was authorized to inform COCOM that the United States raised no objection to the proposed U.K. export. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Country Files-Europe, Box 729, UK, Volume VII 9/71-9/72)