88. Executive Summary of a Study Prepared by the National Security Study Memorandum 223 Ad Hoc Group1


Executive Summary

Arms transfers are not an end in themselves, but rather are a useful implement of foreign policy and national security. Since World War II, the US has followed a regulatory arms transfer policy as opposed to the extreme alternatives of laissez faire or total embargo. Moving from a regulatory policy towards either extreme alternative is not in the best interests of the US. The successful application of arms transfers in any given situation requires striking balances among competing US objectives. Thus no single decision can resolve “the arms transfer problem”; rather, a continuing policy management process must balance important competing national interests for specific arms transfer decisions in terms of the particular circumstances involved.

Three options exist for improving the regulatory policy management process:

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—Creating new arms transfer procedures

—Modifying existing procedures substantially

—“Tuning” existing procedures.

These options differ in internal impact, external image, and probable effectiveness.

In 1974 the US delivered $5.4 billion worth of defense-related articles and services and transacted orders and agreements for $12.8 billion worth, to be delivered over several years. US deliveries were approximately three times that of all other free world suppliers combined and nearly twice that of the Communist countries. US superiority in orders and agreements was even greater, indicating that our lead in deliveries will continue for several more years. However, less than half of US deliveries constitute actual weapons and ammunition; the remainder is made up of spare parts, support equipment, and supporting services.

It has been increasingly difficult to convince the Congress that all arms transfers are soundly justified. In an effort to force the Executive Branch to increase consultation, the Congress has moved in favor of more and more restrictive legislation, this deprives the Executive of needed flexibility in making foreign policy and raises the issue of constitutional prerogatives.

National interests which may be supported by arms transfers include, in addition to collective security: access to important overseas facilities, securing strategic and critical resources, supporting diplomatic initiatives to resolve local conflicts or establish regional stability, strengthening political ties with friendly nations, improving the US balance of payments, reducing unit costs of US weapons, and keeping essential defense industries operating.

National interests that are served by selected restraints on arms transfers include: dampening arms races and discouraging local hostilities that risk US involvement, inhibiting the spread of nuclear delivery capability, reducing the threat of terrorist acquisition of sophisticated portable weapons, preserving US technological leadership, maintaining US force readiness, and avoiding adverse political reactions.

US arms transfers are currently addressed in two essentially independent administrative management systems. Those involving appropriated funds (i.e., grants and credit sales) are programmed through the Security Assistance Program Review Committee (SAPRC); transfer decisions for individual countries or regions are addressed on an ad hoc basis by NSC/Interdepartmental Groups (IG) or by National Security Study Memoranda. The latter transfer decisions are handled with less standardized (and usually narrower) participation and dissemination of results. Clearance of specific transfers is highly fractionated; there is insufficient coordination among the various clearance mechanisms and little between the decision and operating levels.

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The existing approach has been slow to resolve a number of policy issues, most relatively minor and administrative, but some of serious import. The latter include the relationship between the needs of US armed forces and the desires of foreign buyers for early delivery; potential erosion of US technological lead through transfers; conflicts between long-term and short-term foreign policy objectives, and the impact of transfers on our bilateral relations and on demand for US uniformed personnel.

Criteria for successful resolution of the existing problems are:

(1) a two-tier management system (a policy level advisory mechanism for exposing national interests, and an operating level coordinating mechanism to implement decisions and formulate new issues);

(2) regular channels for progressive consideration of policy questions;

(3) participation by all interested agencies; and

(4) centralized coverage of all transfers regardless of purpose or funding arrangements (with provision for exceptional treatment of highly sensitive policy issues).

Three action options are identified that would satisfy the above criteria but which would differ in impact and image:

Option I

—Creation of a regularly meeting inter-agency Policy Board3 and supporting Coordinating Group, including all interested agencies and overseeing all categories of transfers;4

Option II

—Enlarging SAPRC responsibilities, regularizing its activities to cover all categories of transfers, and formalizing its Working Group accordingly;

Option III

—“Tuning” existing processes:

Variant A:

By broadening the SAPRC charter, increasing participation in studies and dissemination of results, and improving coordination of clearance procedures.

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Variant B:

By providing a more active role for the Interdepartmental Groups in arms transfer decisions (leaving SAPRC unchanged), and by developing written guidelines under the auspices of the Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance in order to better identify potentially controversial or sensitive transfers, set forth more specifically the channels of responsibility for approving such transfers, and guarantee appropriate review of foreign requests for price and availability data in advance of US response.

Although there are substantial impediments to successful Executive consultation with the Congress at this time, there are various consultative efforts which the Executive Branch could pursue in order to reduce the sense of frustration in the Congress about being allowed insufficient participation in arms transfer decisions.

On the basis of this study:

—The Department of State and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency recommend selection of Option I: Creation of a new Arms Transfer Policy Board5 and supporting Coordinating Group;

—The Department of Defense recommends selection of Option III B: “Tuning” existing arms transfer processes by providing a more active role for the Interdepartmental Groups and by developing written guidelines under the auspices of the Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance.

[Omitted here is the entire 56-page paper, divided into five sections: The Central Issues—Different Views; Dimensions of U.S. Defense Transfers; The Case for Defense Transfers; The Congressional Challenge; Recommendation.]6

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, S/S–I Files, Lot File 80D212, NSSM 223. Secret; Noforn. Although no drafting information appears on the study, James M. Patton (S/P) forwarded a draft to Vest under a covering memorandum, June 1, in which he wrote that the NSSM had “exposed some very sensitive nerves in Defense and ACDA, as well as here in State. He continued, “The institutional momentum of the arms transfer program and the contrary momentum of ever more restrictive legislation registered on the draft response to the NSSM, ordaining it to be controversial.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, CL 326, Department of State, Bureaus, Policy Planning, History Project, Selected Papers, Vol. 11) Vest forwarded the study to Scowcroft under a covering memorandum, June 4. (National Archives, RG 59, S/S–I Files, Lot File 80D212, NSSM 223)
  2. Document 53.
  3. ACDA would limit the role of the Policy Board to be strictly advisory. [Footnote in the original.]
  4. Including not only the FMS, MAP and Security Supporting Assistance programs addressed here, but also commercial sales, co-production arrangements, ship transfers, excess defense articles, and third country transfers, all in a fully coordinated USG management system. [Footnote in the original.]
  5. ACDA would limit the role of the Policy Board to be strictly advisory. [Footnote in the original.]
  6. On December 9, Scowcroft sent a memorandum to Kissinger, Rumsfeld, Ikle, and Bush informing them that the NSSM 223 study had been reviewed. He noted, however, that the study had neither included a review of arms transfer policy nor had it addressed the issue of alternative arms transfer policies, as specified in the NSSM. Scowcroft therefore referred the study back to the Ad Hoc Group for revision. (Ford Library, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box 35, NSSM 223 (5)) No further action was taken for the remainder of the Ford administration.