12. 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 not treasure what has already been achieved in that direction over re[Page 35]cent 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, 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? 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.

[Page 36]

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 unilateral advantages. You yourself justly note that attempts to seek at negotiations advantages for one side over the other can only be counterproductive.

[Page 37]

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. We definitely expect that the US side will support our appropriate proposals including those on banning the development of new types and systems of weapons of mass annihilation, on banning chemical weapons, on concluding world treaty on non-use of force. Our proposals on those and a number of other questions, including the one of the Indian Ocean were expounded not once and in detail particularly in the UN. We could discuss as well such issues mentioned in your letter as notification of missile test firings, reduction of sales and transfer of conventional weapons to the third world countries etc., being guided by the interests of international security and strengthening peace.

We attach great importance to an agreement on reduction of armed forces and armaments in Central Europe without prejudice to the security of any of the sides.

However, in your letter a onesided approach is clearly seen with regard to the negotiations in Vienna as well. Only in this way one can judge, for example, the words to the effect that the US side is viewing its position in connection with the negotiations in Vienna in the light of some “concern” about “an excessive increase” in the military strength in Eastern Europe. Not only an objective estimate of the actual situation is absent here, but the constructive proposals of the USSR and other socialist countries—participants in the negotiations aimed at achieving progress at the Vienna negotiations are totally ignored as well. We are also prepared henceforth to seek solutions and decisions, and we are ready for endeavours which do not imply acquiring by anyone unilateral advantages. But if we are expected to reduce unilaterally our defensive capabilities and thus to put ourselves and our allies in an unequal position, then nothing will come out of it.

It is impossible to agree with the evaluation given in the letter, of the situation regarding the carrying out of the Quadripartite Agree[Page 38]ment. The USSR has not and does not infringe on a special status of West Berlin and the appeal to facilitate alleviating the tensions in that area is sent to a wrong address. The fact that there still appear complications is connected with a quite definite policy of the FRG, which is pursued with the connivance of the three Western powers and in fact is aimed at eroding the Quadripartite Agreement and its corner stone provision that West Berlin does not belong to the FRG and cannot be governed by it. And the attempts to violate that provision constitute a very slippery way leading to the exacerbation of the situation. We proceed from the fact that the Quadripartite Agreement is to be observed strictly and steadfastly by all parties concerned. We shall strive in every possible way not to allow a return to the period when West Berlin served as a constant source of dangerous frictions and conflicts.

Without going now deeper into the details I shall say that your letter does not indicate at all any changes also in the US approach to such issues as the settlement in the Middle East or the correcting of the situation in the field of trade and economic relations between our countries, which would testify to an intention to really move to their successful solution.

And now the last thing. A so called question of “human rights” is raised again in the letter. The way we qualify the essence of this question and US administration’s behavior in this connection was recently communicated through our Ambassador.3 This is our position of principle. We do not intend to impose upon your country or upon other countries our rules but neither shall we allow interference in our internal affairs, whatever pseudo-humanitarian slogans are used to present it. We shall resolutely respond to any attempts of this kind.

And how in general should we regard the situation when the US President sends messages to the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU and at the same time enters into correspondence with a renegade4 who proclaimed himself an enemy of the Soviet state and speaks out against normal, good relations between the USSR and the US. We would not like to have our patience tested in any matters of international policy including the questions of Soviet-American relations. This is not the way to deal with the Soviet Union.

Those are the thoughts, Mr. President, which occurred to my colleagues and to myself in connection with your letter. I did not choose rounded phrases, though they might have been more pleasant. The question is about too serious things to leave a room for any ambiguities or understatements.

[Page 39]

My letter is warranted by the sincere concern about today and tomorrow of our relations and it is this main thought that I want to bring to you in all directness and confidentiality.

I hope that with the understanding of that high responsibility which is placed on the leadership of our two countries, we shall be able to insure progressive development of Soviet-American relations along the road of peace in the interests of our and all other peoples.


L. Brezhnev5
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Outside the System File, Box 69, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR): BrezhnevCarter Correspondence: 1–2/77. No classification marking. Printed from an unofficial translation. Carter recalled in his memoirs, “Brezhnev’s tone changed to harshness in his second message on February 25. His primary objection was to my aggressive proposals on nuclear arms limitations—advocating much deeper cuts than had been discussed at Vladivostok in 1975—but he also expressed strong opposition to our human-rights policy. He seemed especially provoked by my corresponding with him and at the same time sending a letter to Sakharov, who was considered by the Soviet leader to be ‘a renegade who proclaimed himself an enemy of the Soviet state.’” (Keeping Faith, p. 146)
  2. See Document 7.
  3. See Documents 10 and 11.
  4. Reference is to Sakharov.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.