151. Letter From Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev to President Carter1

Dear Mr. President,

I have carefully studied your letter dated February 14, 1977.2 I want to talk bluntly about our impression and thoughts it evoked. As I understand, you are for such straightforward talk.

The statements of a general nature in support of peace and curtailing arms race contained in the letter are certainly consonant with our own aspirations. We are definitely for working towards the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons, and even more, towards general and complete disarmament under an effective international control.

However, the movement toward these lofty goals will by no means be expedited but on the contrary it will be hindered if we, first of all, do [Page 658] not treasure what has already been achieved in that direction over recent years and, secondly, if we supplant a balanced and realistic approach to the definition of further specific steps with putting forward deliberately unacceptable proposals.

Looking at your considerations from this very angle, we unfortunately did not see in many of them a striving for a constructive approach, a readiness for seeking mutually acceptable solutions to the problems which are the subject of our exchange of views.

As I have already written to you,3 we firmly proceed from the premise that it is necessary in the first place to complete the working out of a new agreement on the limitation of strategic offensive arms on the basis that was agreed upon in Vladivostok. It is a fact that the basic parameters of the agreement which were put down there, as well as additional provisions specifying those parameters which were agreed on during later negotiations, were the product of enormous efforts. On a number of occasions not easy decisions were required indeed for finding a mutually acceptable way out of the situations which seemed deadlocked. And to the extent that the agreement has already been completed, all its elements are interconnected, i.e. it is impossible to remove any important element from it without destroying its whole foundation.

It is sufficient to remind, for example—and it should be known to you, Mr. President, from the documents on the negotiations—that the method of counting the missiles equipped with MIRVs was clearly conditioned by achievement of agreement on the whole complex of cruise missiles. The US side not only agreed with that in principle, but in January last year a concrete formula for the accounting of air-to-surface cruise missiles within the aggregate of strategic arms was practically agreed upon. It remained to agree on concrete formulation regarding sea-based and land-based cruise missiles. True, the US side did try later to propose to leave the issue of sea-based and land-based cruise missiles outside the main agreement, but we categorically rejected such an attempt to depart from the agreement reached earlier.

Now we are invited to leave altogether outside the agreement the whole question of cruise missiles. How should we understand that return to the stage left far behind, to a completely non-perspective raising of the question? To agree with this proposal would mean that by closing one channel of the strategic arms race we open right away still another channel. And what is the difference indeed for people what kind of missile will kill them—a cruise missile or a non-cruise missile? [Page 659] There is no basis whatsoever also to think that it will be easier to resolve the question of cruise missiles later when the sides start deploying them, if we fail to do it now when they are still at the stage of development. The experience testifies convincingly to the contrary.

The continued intention, as is seen from your letter, to artificially retain the question of the Soviet medium-range bomber code-named Backfire in the US does not correspond in any way to what was agreed. Let be no doubts to this effect: we resolutely reject such an approach as not in keeping with the aims and the subject of negotiations and as pursuing only one thing—to complicate deliberately and even generally to cast a doubt upon the conclusion of an agreement.

And is the United States less interested than the Soviet Union in this agreement? We do not believe it and if someone thinks otherwise then it is a serious delusion.

In connection with the question you raised on a possibility of substantial reduction of levels of strategic forces agreed in Vladivostok it is appropriate to remind that we, on our part, have been and are in favor of ending the arms race and for the reduction of strategic forces as well. Agreement reached in Vladivostok testifies to that which for the USSR means a unilateral reduction of strategic delivery vehicles. This is a strive in deeds and not in words for reduction of armaments.

We are for confirming the results achieved in Vladivostok in an agreement without further delay and for moving on ahead. As it was agreed, we are ready immediately after the conclusion of the said agreement to proceed to talks about next steps and to discuss also possible reductions in the future.

However, there should be full clarity: any such steps should be first of all and in full degree in conformity with the principle of equality and equal security of the sides. I think, Mr. President, that no one can challenge the legitimacy of such a position.

Then, how does the idea of drastic reduction of the nuclear and missile forces of the USSR and US look like in that light? In your letter it is advanced separately from all the other aspects of the existing situation. Meanwhile it is evident that in that case there would be an immeasurable increase of importance—and to the unilateral benefit of the US—of such factors as differences in geographic positions of the sides, the presence of the US forward based nuclear systems and aircraft carrier aviation in the proximity of the USSR territory, the possession of nuclear weapons by the US NATO allies and other circumstances which cannot be discarded. The impossibility to ignore all these factors in considering the question of reducing the nuclear missile forces of the USSR and the US is so evident that we cannot fail to raise the question what is the true goal of putting forward proposals of that kind—which outwardly may be appealing to laymen but in fact are aimed at gaining [Page 660] unilateral advantages. You yourself justly note that attempts to seek at negotiations advantages for one side over the other can only be counterproductive.

The same one-sidedness can be discerned in proposals about prohibiting all mobile missiles (meaning also intermediate missiles which have nothing to do with the subject matter of the Soviet-American negotiations), limiting throw weight, on-site inspections.

You know better, of course, the reason for presenting all those questions in such an unconstructive way. We, on our part, are in favour of having from the very beginning a business-like talk, for seeking mutually acceptable—I stress mutually acceptable—agreements. The Soviet Union will henceforth defend firmly its own interests in all issues while a realistic and constructive approach by the US side will always be met with our understanding and readiness to reach agreement. It is that balanced approach that we hope to see when Secretary Vance comes to Moscow.

It applies both to the problem of the limitation of strategic arms and other questions related to ending the arms race.4

[Omitted here is discussion of issues unrelated to SALT II.]

L. Brezhnev
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Box 69, USSR: Brezhnev-Carter Correspondence, 1–2/77. No classification marking. Unofficial translation. Brzezinski noted in his memoirs that Brezhnev’s letter was received on February 25. (Brzezinski, Power and Principle, p. 154)
  2. Carter’s February 14 letter to Brezhnev is scheduled to be printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Vol. VI, Soviet Union. In the letter, Carter suggested that a SALT II agreement include “some substantial force level reductions” and that it might be helpful to separate cruise missiles and Backfire bombers from SALT II and save them for follow-on negotiations.
  3. Brezhnev had replied on February 4 to a January 27 letter from Carter. Documentation on the exchange is scheduled to be printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Vol. VI, Soviet Union.
  4. Carter sent Brezhnev a letter, March 4, in which he replied generally to Brezhnev’s points. Carter noted: “The fact is that no final agreement was ever reached at Vladivostok nor in the subsequent negotiations regarding cruise missiles or the Backfire bomber. I am confident that such agreements can be attained in the future, and I am eager to seek them.” Carter suggested “the rapid conclusion of a formal agreement between us on those issues on which both of us seem predisposed to agree.” The letter is also scheduled to be printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Vol. VI, Soviet Union.