186. Letter From Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev to President Carter1

Dear Mr. President:

I considered it necessary to raise with you an urgent and most serious question. According to reports which have been received citing U.S. military authorities, the United States plans to conduct this year very large strategic exercises “in simulation of nuclear war.”2 In this connection it is reported that the exercises will involve U.S. strategic systems located both inside U.S. territory and at bases abroad. Among other things it is planned to launch strategic bombers toward the Soviet Union.

Naturally, every country has the right to conduct training and exercises of its armed forces. But the exercises now planned by the United States far exceed the framework of normal training, both in scope and in character. What we have here is a global military-political action on an unprecedented scale, and moreover, directed against the Soviet Union.

The reasonable question arises—for what purpose and for what sake is this openly hostile step, provocative to the Soviet Union, being undertaken? Does the current international situation and the nature of relations between our countries really warrant such “global games” using strategic weapons? And how would the U.S. Government feel if Soviet strategic systems were suddenly and without warning launched toward American territory?

In short, there is no justification, nor can there be, for carrying out such exercises. They do not in any way correspond with statements made by the U.S. Government in favor of strengthening peace and in[Page 542]ternational security. And as such this runs counter to the joint efforts we are now undertaking for completing the negotiations on limiting strategic offensive weapons, i.e., in the long run, reducing the danger of an outbreak of nuclear conflict, easing Soviet-American relations, and improving the international climate in general.

Finally, one also cannot overlook the great risk associated with this, since in such a situation one cannot exclude, as a practical matter, the possibility of some unauthorized or unforeseen actions.

Taking all of this into account I would like to count on you, Mr. President, to regard this message with utmost seriousness and to give us appropriate clarification—and in any case not to allow steps which could lead only to an increase in tension in relations between our two nations and in the world in general.

Respectfully,

L. Brezhnev3
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Outside the System File, Box 70, USSR: BrezhnevCarter Correspondence: 1–6/79. No classification marking. Printed from an official U.S. translation. Bartholomew forwarded the letter to Carter under an April 14 covering memorandum. (Ibid.)
  2. Reference is to exercise “Global Shield 79.” The press release jointly issued by the Department of Defense and the Strategic Air Command on April 9 read in part: “The Strategic Air Command announced today that it will conduct a major command-wide, no-notice exercise later this year, nicknamed ‘Global Shield 79.’ Global Shield 79 will include command post and field training exercises designed to test the ability of SAC forces to implement emergency war orders (EWO) which support U.S. national policy if deterrence fails. All SAC units and selected Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard units will participate in one or more aspects of Global Shield 79. This exercise is strictly a training exercise based on a hypothetical scenario. Global Shield 79 will not affect SAC’s ability to meet its day-to-day alert, and other commitments. Aircraft flying exercise missions will not carry nuclear weapons.” (Telegram 93209 to Moscow, April 14; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840176–1003)
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.