98. National Security Council Decision Memorandum 92A1 2


  • Re-examination of US Policy on Space Launching Assistance for Other Countries (NSDM 187)

As directed, the Under Secretaries Committee has re-examined present US policy (NSDM 187) on launching satellites for other countries and international organizations.

The present policy provides that US launch assistance will be available on a reimbursable basis for satellites which are for peaceful purposes and are consistent with obligations under relevant international agreements and arrangements. All interested agencies agree that these basic requirements should be retained.

There is disagreement, however, concerning the desirability of retaining two special conditions established by NSDM 187.

1. The first condition applies to satellites for international public telecommunications. Under the INTELSAT agreements,* countries desiring to [Page 2] launch such satellites are required to consult INTELSAT. Although this provides an opportunity to assess the economic and technical effects of proposed systems on the INTELSAT network, INTELSAT’s views are advisory, not binding.

Where INTELSAT renders a favorable advisory opinion, our policy contemplates providing launch assistance even if we had opposed a particular system during INTELSAT’s deliberations. Launch assistance would also be provided a proposed system which fails to obtain a favorable advisory opinion if the US supported the proposal within INTELSAT. Where a proposed satellite system is not favored by either INTELSAT or the US, our policy retains flexibility as to whether we would or would not ultimately provide launching assistance. In arriving at a decision, we would take into account the degree to which a proposed system had been modified in the light of the factors which had caused lack of support within INTELSAT.

2. The second special condition applies to other types of applications for which satellites might be used. Under the present policy, we would launch such satellites only if they had received broad international acceptance. This was intended as a hedge against the possibility that we might be asked to launch some types of satellites under circumstances which might prove internationally divisive.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the staff of the NSC and CIEP believe that both of the foregoing special conditions should be rescinded. The Department of State and the Office of Telecommunications Policy believe both conditions should be retained. The Department of Defense believes strongly that the second condition should be retained but is neutral as to the first.

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The principal arguments for dropping these conditions, or alternatively, for maintaining the present policy without change, are summarized below and reviewed in detail in the enclosed report.

Arguments for Rescinding the Special Conditions

NASA and the staff of the NSC and CIEP believe that the INTELSAT condition is an irritant in our relations with the Europeans, some of whom feel that the US has unilaterally undertaken to “police” the INTELSAT agreements.

These agencies point out that although we and other INTELSAT members have agreed that INTELSAT’s advisory opinions would not be binding, withholding launch assistance would have the effect of enforcing such advisory opinions. They believe that INTELSAT is now well-established and should deal with the problem of potential competition through its own mechanisms.

Respecting the condition requiring “broad international acceptance” of other types of satellites, these agencies are concerned that we might be put in the position of refusing to launch for others types of satellites we would launch for ourselves.

In the view of NASA and the staff of the NSC and CIEP, the special conditions established by our launch assistance policy will become ineffective if current European and Japanese launcher development programs mature. However, they consider that dropping these conditions might remove a potentially serious competitor to the Space Shuttle since a more forthcoming US policy on launch assistance might undercut European interest in developing an independent launcher and might possibly lead to cancellation of the L3S (“Ariane”) [Page 4] launcher being developed by the French on behalf of their partners in the European Space Research Organization.

Finally, these agencies believe that dropping the special conditions would be consistent with the thrust of President Nixon’s statement of October 9, 1972, on launch assistance policy which affirmed “the need for a dependable capability which would make it possible for nations to have access under equal conditions to the advantages which accrue through space applications”. They believe our own interests can be adequately protected through retention of the basic requirement that satellite launchings be for peaceful purposes and consistent with international agreements and arrangements and through our own participation in INTELSAT.

Arguments for Maintaining the Present Policy Without Change

The Department of State and the Office of Telecommunications Policy point out, with respect to the INTELSAT condition, that the present policy leaves open the possibility that we would launch a satellite even if INTELSAT had rendered an unfavorable advisory opinion. However, they believe that to guarantee launch assistance regardless of INTELSAT’s views would undercut the incentive of the Europeans and others in the future to modify proposed systems in the light of objections which INTELSAT might raise. These agencies believe that this does not constitute “policing” of the INTELSAT agreements but rather encouraging a bargaining process which might not occur if INTELSAT’s potential competitors had no need to bargain.

The Department of State and the Office of Telecommunications Policy are concerned that dropping the INTELSAT condition could be interpreted as reflecting a lessened US commitment to [Page 5] INTELSAT and that this interpretation would be disturbing to many of INTELSAT’s members, to interested Congressmen, and to the Communications Satellite Corporation (COMSAT), which represents the US in INTELSAT.

Respecting the “broad international acceptance” condition for other types of satellites, the Departments of State and Defense and the Office of Telecommunications Policy believe this condition continues to be useful since the rapidly developing technology of satellite instrumentation could lead to requests that we commit ourselves to launching various applications satellites intended to be used in ways which, in our view, might cause international debate and made more difficult the eventual establishment of acceptable international arrangements.

Finally, the Department of State and the Office of Telecommunications Policy doubt that the French would abandon the L3S launcher as the result of any change in US launch assistance policy. On the other hand, if actions on our part were viewed as intended to undercut an independent European space launching capability, the reaction would be adverse.

* * *

NASA and the staff of the NSC and CIEP believe that some of the problems foreseen by other agencies as a result of changing our present policy could be ameliorated if the change were handled in a low key. They recommend a tentative decision be made to drop the two special conditions contingent upon exploratory discussions with COMSAT and the concerned Congressmen.

The Departments of State and Defense and the Office of Telecommunications Policy believe that while our present policy affords assurance [Page 6] of launch assistance in most foreseeable cases, it also provides a desirable degree of latitude in arriving at decisions on particular launchings which might present special problems. These agencies, therefore, favor maintaining the present policy although the Department of Defense is neutral as regards the INTELSAT condition.

In addition, the Office of Telecommunications Policy has expressed the view that consultations should be held with interested members of the Congress and with COMSAT before you arrive at a decision on this matter.

Robert S. Ingersoll
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P810014–1034. Confidential. The attachment has been published in the Department of State Bulletin, November 6, 1972, p. 534.
  2. The memorandum informed President Ford about disagreements between executive branch agencies concerning U.S. policy on space launching assistance for other countries.
  3. The agreements which govern the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (INTELSAT) were signed in 1971. The organization now has 85 members.