169. Letter From President Carter to Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev 1

Dear Mr. President:

I have read attentively your letter of December 27 concerning the sale of weapons and military hardware to the People’s Republic of China.2 I want to assure you that in considering such matters, the United States adopts a responsible approach, taking into account the broadest interests of enhancing stability and world peace.

As you mention in your letter, it has been and remains our policy not to provide arms to the People’s Republic of China, nor do we encourage others to do so. At the same time, every nation has the right to acquire defensive arms, and the United States does not have the authority to prevent other sovereign nations from selling such defensive arms to China.

When the issue is not weapons per se, but technology with possible military applications, obviously a judgment must be made in each transaction about the likelihood and magnitude of possible diversion of such technology to military purposes. We intend to scrutinize all sales in this category from a standpoint of maximum restraint.

In this question, we anticipate that some other nations may hold a different view about the level of technology that should be made available to the People’s Republic of China. While we will express our viewpoint in such cases, we believe the ultimate responsibility for decisions on such sales to China rests with the government of each sovereign country.

Normalization of United States relations with the People’s Republic of China is a realistic step toward improving the international situation and reducing the risk of conflict. It is not a matter of favoring one country over another, nor of seeking to use one country against another. Rather, we see benefit in drawing China into responsible participation in the international community. We believe our long-term in[Page 509]terests are best served by an approach that respects the basic interests of all countries, and we are therefore determined to act in such a way that no country need fear that its interests are jeopardized. This will be our attitude towards arms sales or any other proposals that may arise in the course of future relations with China.

I welcome this opportunity to exchange views on a matter which we understand is important to you, and I am confident that you will appreciate the responsibility and seriousness of our approach to the matters you raised.

I would not wish to close without expressing again my earnest hope that we can move without further delay toward the successful conclusion of our SALT negotiations and an early meeting. I firmly believe that when we are able to discuss these and other important matters face-to-face with complete cordiality and frankness, it will contribute constructively to a further desirable improvement in relations between our two countries.


Jimmy Carter
  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Geographic File, Box 18, U.S.S.R.—Carter/Brezhnev Correspondence: (1/79–6/79). No classification marking. Sent under a January 17 covering memorandum from Brzezinski to Vance, via the Alpha Channel. According to Brzezinski’s memorandum, the letter was to be delivered by Toon to Gromyko “and/or other appropriate senior Soviet official.” (Ibid.)
  2. See the attachment to Document 168.