153. Letter From Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev to President Carter1

Dear Mr. President,

Having studied your letter of March 4,2 I would like to set forth once more the substance of our understanding of the way the things are with the working out of an agreement on strategic offensive arms limitation (to be effective till 1985), as well as to state in more detail our position on specific questions which are still outstanding.

Here are some general observations to start with. We are naturally in favor of concluding an agreement as soon as possible, without delay. However, an attempt to do it on the basis of some artificially simplified version does not by any means expedite the matter if we keep in view the aim we place before us, namely, to really limit strategic arms, being guided by the principle of undiminished security for either of the contracting parties. Just the same, the preparation of an agreement would in no way be expedited if, putting aside some questions which, for that matter, have been worked up in many respects, we would start attaching to it some new issues which, besides, have no direct relation to the subject matter of the agreement.

Conclusion of a new agreement between our countries on limiting strategic arms would certainly have great political significance both for Soviet-US relations and on a broader plane. However, it will be feasible only if the agreement constitutes a real step in the direction of limiting strategic arms. Otherwise, it would be counterproductive.

That would be precisely the case if the question of cruise missiles were left outside the agreement. That question is not only most directly related to the core of the new agreement but it also—which is essential—has been worked up in many respects. Even some specific formulas have been agreed upon. To propose now to put cruise missiles outside the framework of the agreement would mean not only a step back to the initial positions but would also leave a way open for expanding the arms race to a new dangerous direction.

That, we think, corresponds in no way to the goals of rapid conclusion of an agreement on limiting strategic arms. Therefore we confirm our concrete proposals on the whole complex of cruise missiles, namely:

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—To consider heavy bombers when equipped with cruise missiles capable of a range of 600 to 2500 kilometers as delivery vehicles equipped with MIRVs and to count them correspondingly in a certain ratio (depending upon the type of a heavy bomber) against the agreed level for such delivery vehicles—1320; air-to-surface cruise missiles capable of a range in excess of 2500 kilometers should be completely banned; the equipping with cruise missiles capable of a range of 600 to 2500 kilometers of other aircraft except heavy bombers, should be also banned;

—All sea-based and land-based cruise missiles capable of a range in excess of 600 kilometers should be completely banned.

I would like to remind once again that our agreement to include into the aggregate number of the missiles equipped with MIRVs (1320) all the missiles of the types, of which even one has been tested with MIRVs, was and remains conditioned upon reaching a final agreement on the questions of cruise missiles.

As for the Soviet medium bomber code-named by you Backfire, we have given official data about the range of this aircraft (2200 km) and expressed readiness to enter into the records of the negotiations this data as well as our intention not to provide this aircraft with capabilities to operate at intercontinental distances—all this on the condition that the issue of Backfire is completely and totally withdrawn from further negotiations. We confirm that position of ours.

The issue of mobile launchers for ballistic missiles of intercontinental range naturally should find its solution in the agreement in question. Earlier we proposed to agree that over the period that agreement remains in force the sides should refrain from deploying land-based mobile ICBM launchers.

Our approach to the question of a possibility for subsequent reductions of the USSR and US strategic forces is set forth in my letter of February 25.3 I repeat that we shall be ready to proceed to the discussions of this issue immediately after the signing of the agreement. However, it is necessary that account should be taken here of those factors which I already wrote you about on February 25, i.e. 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.

Having in mind these factors and the above mentioned considerations regarding cruise missiles, it could be possible not only to limit the levels of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles for the sides (2400 and [Page 665] 1320) but also to consider the number of such delivery vehicles to be reduced even before the expiration of the agreement being worked out.

The above considerations represent our position of principle which we intend to adhere to in the forthcoming talks with Secretary Vance. The additional questions which are mentioned in your letter, Mr. President, also undoubtedly deserve attention. We shall be prepared to set forth our preliminary considerations on those matters. On those of them, where a prospect appears for finding mutually acceptable solutions special negotiations would be conducted. If progress is achieved, appropriate agreements could be signed simultaneously with the strategic arms limitation agreement.

In conclusion I would like to note, Mr. President, that I do not quite understand the meaning of your reference to the tone of my letter of February 25. Its tone is usual—business-like and considerate. If you have in mind the direct and frank way in which it expounds our views, then I proceeded and do now from the premise that a dialogue of that very nature is in the interests of the matter. If you yet have in mind our attitude of principle toward the attempts to raise issues which go beyond the relations between states, and in general are far-fetched, then no other reaction from our side can be expected.

I assume that our personal correspondence will serve the interests of constructive development of the relations between our countries.


L. Brezhnev
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Box 69, USSR, Brezhnev-Carter Correspondence, March to April 1977. No classification marking. Unofficial translation.
  2. See footnote 4, Document 151.
  3. Document 151.