41. Memorandum From William Hyland of the National Security Council Staff to President Carter1


  • Oral Message from Brezhnev to You

The Soviet Minister delivered an “oral” message from Brezhnev to you concerning South African nuclear weapons. The burden of the message is that the Soviets believe the South Africans are building nuclear weapons and preparing to conduct underground tests and are practically ready to begin. Brezhnev emphasizes that should this occur it would do great damage to the Non-proliferation Treaty2 and weaken international efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and reduce the danger of nuclear war. The Soviet statement also emphasizes that all countries should undertake extraordinary, urgent efforts to prevent South Africa from conducting nuclear tests and building nuclear [Page 181] weapons. The message concludes by noting your personal interest in non-proliferation and asking for your views on what effective measures might be taken.

The Minister added that a public statement, roughly along the same lines, will be issued in Moscow on Monday3 and that similar messages from Brezhnev had been sent to London, Paris and Bonn. The Soviets do not plan to announce the fact of these messages, however. I told the Minister that I would relay the message immediately to you and that you would consider how and when to reply. I did note to the Minister that the Soviet information did not seem to be in accord with our own information on the imminence of the South African test but this was not my area of expertise.

I have informed Warren Christopher of this message and I will send you the full text as soon as it is translated. We will also send you a draft reply, though it is obvious that the Russians intend this primarily for propaganda since they intend a public statement on Monday.


Oral Message From Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev to President Carter 4

We would like to draw your attention to a matter which in our opinion is of quite considerable importance from the point of view of its consequences to the development of the international situation and furtherance of detente. This matter concerns our countries as Permanent Security Council Members which carry a special responsibility for the maintenance of peace and international security.

According to incoming data on the South African Republic, they are completing work on building nuclear weapons and on carrying out the first nuclear test. In the desert of Calabari they have built a testing site which is practically ready for such tests underground.

These facts testifying to the possibility of building nuclear weapons in South Africa could not but cause us a grave apprehension. Naturally if this state, which carries out a policy of apartheid with regard to the African population of their land and does not take into account United Nations decisions, acquired nuclear weapons then this [Page 182] would sharply aggravate the situation on the African Continent and would as a whole increase the danger of the use of nuclear weapons.

The emergence of such weapons in the hand of the SAR would certainly be used by some other countries to justify the building of their own nuclear devices. It is easy to see what a damage this would cause to the treaty on non-proliferation and how considerably it would weaken the framework of non-proliferation, to strengthen which joint efforts of the USSR and the USA are directed. No one has the slightest doubt that the SAR is in a position to build nuclear weapons only through the help of other states. One also knows that the SAR has access to the latest research in the nuclear field, that it received and continues to receive nuclear equipment and materials. “The London Understandings”5 demand, as we know, fulfillment of a number of conditions aimed at preventing the use of materials, equipment and technology to build nuclear devices. The world public will be justified in asking this question: since these understandings failed to prevent the emergence of nuclear weapons in the SAR, then what are they worth?

We in the Soviet Union consider it a matter of extraordinary and urgent importance to make all efforts to prevent the SAR from conducting nuclear tests and building nuclear weapons. On our part we have in mind publishing in the nearest future an appropriate statement, having in view drawing the attention of the governments and the public to the dangerous plans of the SAR. As to the USA we understand that you have at your disposal the necessary channels and probabilities to render directly a holding influence on this state.

Addressing ourselves directly to you, Mr. President, we take into account the great attention which you personally pay to the problem of non-proliferation. Cooperation between our two countries along the lines of strengthening the Treaty on Non-proliferation is developing. Our states have taken on themselves certain obligations on the prevention of a nuclear war. Now a situation has developed where it is quite necessary and urgently at that to undertake energetic efforts to prevent the emergence of new nuclear powers and holding at bay the growth of nuclear danger.

I hope that this appeal of mine would meet with your, Mr. President, understanding and from the US part appropriate and effective measures would be taken.

On our part we would like to learn what are your views on the above-mentioned matter.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Outside the System File, Box 48, Chron: 8/77. Secret; Sensitive.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XV, Soviet Union, June 1972–August 1974, Document 122.
  3. August 8.
  4. Secret; Sensitive.
  5. Reference is to the Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines, first published in 1978. The Nuclear Suppliers Group, established in 1975, was initially composed of seven nuclear supplier states that limited their export of nuclear materials to non-nuclear states.