7. Letter From President Carter to Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev1

Dear Mr. General Secretary:

I am very pleased that our initial exchange of letters2 has led us immediately into an examination of the central issues of world peace. Our two great countries share a special responsibility to do what we can, not just to reduce tensions but to create a series of understandings that can lead to a more secure and less dangerous world political climate.

I know and admire your history. As a child, I developed a literary taste by reading your classics. I know also how much, and how very recently, your people have suffered in the course of the last war. I know of your personal role in that war, and of the sacrifices that were imposed on every Soviet family. That is why I believe we are both sincere when we state our dedication to peace, and this gives me hope for the future.

The question is how to translate that dedication into reality. How can we set in motion a process that widens our collaboration as it contains and eventually narrows our competition? That competition—which is real, very expensive, and which neither of us can deny—can at some point become very dangerous, and therefore it should not go on unchecked. To me, this dictates nothing less than an effort, first, to widen where we can our collaborative efforts, especially in regard to nuclear arms limitations; and, second, the exercise of very deliberate self-restraint in regard to those trouble spots in the world which could produce a direct confrontation between us.

I welcome particularly your desire for increased cooperation looking toward an ending of the arms race and the achievement, without delay, of specific disarmament agreements.

It is in the arms control field that I feel we should place greatest emphasis. I will continue to give this my personal attention and can assure you that those who are responsible for these affairs within my administration will give any and all proposals made by you the closest and most positive examination.

Obviously, we must be mutually secure from successful attack, and we must take advantage of our roles as the most powerful nations [Page 22]to initiate substantive reduction in the level of conventional and nuclear armaments. We need not meet deadlines as such, but we do need to make maximum progress without delay.

I agree that in our exchanges and in the conversations which Secretary Vance will have in Moscow at the end of March, we should give priority attention to obtaining a SALT II agreement, perhaps including some substantial force level reductions. It might help us to achieve a successful conclusion to these negotiations if we agree that this is but a first step in a process that may lead to much greater reductions in the size of our respective nuclear arsenals. I wonder in this respect if it might not be helpful to examine the possibility of separating the cruise missile and Backfire issues from SALT II. We could return to those issues immediately in follow-up negotiations. If our objectives are sufficiently ambitious, and particularly if our desire is to achieve real disarmament within minimum forces left which are adequate to assure security to both parties, we may be able to deal more easily later with what appear now to be significant and difficult technical issues.

I hope that our additional personal exchanges and Secretary Vance’s talks in Moscow will cover the broadest range of possibilities. I can assure you that the review I am currently conducting of our policies in the arms control field will examine all relevant proposals. As I have discussed with your Ambassador,3 I hope that we may look not only at possible drastic limitations in the total number of nuclear weapons, i.e. a minimum number of missiles that would allow each nation to feel secure from a preemptive strike, but also at restrictions on throw-weight, the possibility of prohibiting all mobile missiles, foregoing any further civil defense preparations, and such additional confidence-building measures as advance notification of all missile test firings and an agreement not to arm satellites or to develop a capability to destroy observation satellites. We also need to explore practical ways to satisfy our mutual need for assuring compliance with our agreements. Such matters as on-site inspection and unrestricted surveillance from space should not become subjects for misinterpretation. They are tools that can be used to make progress and gain public support and understanding for our efforts.

In all these areas, our ultimate aim should be to do more than our technicians tell us may now be advisable. If we keep our sights set on the most ambitious goal, we will be able to achieve a significant change in the level of threat to ourselves and the rest of the world.

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It is counterproductive to attempt to negotiate an advantage over one another. We will try to consult without artifice or unnecessary delay, but without pressure or undue haste.

I welcome your willingness to intensify efforts to reach agreement on a comprehensive test ban. I recognize that there are remaining issues with respect to other countries who continue to have test programs and the possible use of peaceful nuclear explosions for mining or construction, but I believe there are satisfactory ways of dealing with these issues. I intend to ask the Congress to ratify the two existing agreements which have been negotiated between our two governments but I consider these only steps toward a common objective of a complete cessation of nuclear tests. In the meantime these unratified agreements will be honored by our government.

In the past, I know that there have been proposals for a demilitarization of the Indian Ocean and that these proposals were not seriously examined. I have asked my colleagues to look closely at the question of the Indian Ocean so that we may be prepared to comment in some detail on the possibilities for an agreement which would advance the cause of world peace. Please let me know specifically what you have in mind. I assume that in such a proposal adequate attention would have to be paid to military activities of both sides in the area. This seems to be a clear case where mutual benefit would require a balanced agreement which leads to a general lessening of military effort in the entire area.

As you know from my public statements, I intend to proceed vigorously in an attempt to reduce the sale or transfer of conventional arms to the third world and hope that you will join in this effort. It seems to me that this is a senseless competition and we, as major suppliers, have a particular responsibility to put limits on such transfers. Obviously other suppliers should be involved in such an effort and we will broaden the discussion to include them.

I also welcome your desire to proceed more vigorously with the Vienna negotiations on reducing armed forces and armaments in central Europe ultimately to minimum acceptable levels.4 We have been quite concerned about what seems to be an excessive increase in your military strength in Eastern Europe. We are currently reviewing our positions on this matter, while at the same time instructing our delegation to pursue the examination of data that has been submitted by both sides.

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These are subjects that I hope Mr. Vance can discuss in some detail after we have completed our own review. We will, of course, conduct this particular review in complete consultations with our NATO allies.

I would like to make one remark with reference to the Quadripartite Agreement.5 As you know, we consider that this Agreement applies to all of Berlin and not just to West Berlin. It is very important for us to carry out the letter and the spirit of that Agreement. We will make every effort to avoid sensitive issues but we must insist that this Agreement, which is so central to our ability to develop peaceful relations in Europe, be implemented in full. Recently there seems to have been an increasing inclination to create new tensions and constraints in Berlin, which could cause deterioration in the delicate political balance there. I trust that you will help to alleviate these tensions.

We look forward to cooperation in pursuing further steps in implementation of the understandings reached in Helsinki regarding human rights.6 As I have said to Ambassador Dobrynin, we hope that all aspects of these understandings can be carried out. It is not our intention to interfere in the internal affairs of other nations. We do not wish to create problems with the Soviet Union but it will be necessary for our government to express publicly on occasion the sincere and deep feelings of myself and our people. Our commitment to the furtherance of human rights will not be pursued stridently or in a manner inconsistent with the achievement of reasonable results. We would also, of course, welcome private, confidential exchanges on these delicate areas.

I have noted your response to my earlier comments on the importance of improving trade and economic relations. Your frank expressions in this regard are in a spirit of candor that I admire, but we need to do something practical to bring about the removal of obstacles. For my part I intend to do what I can to achieve mutually beneficial increased trade, but you are aware of some of the Congressional inhibitions with which I must deal.

Let me say a word about our efforts to develop improvements in other areas where disharmony and potential conflicts exist. In the Middle East we are about to begin direct discussion with the parties in the area and it is then my hope to pursue with vigor the process of bringing about a just and lasting settlement. Mr. Vance will welcome the opportunity in his discussions at the end of March to obtain your views on this, including matters of direct interest to our roles as Co-Chairmen of the Geneva Conference.7

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In Southern Africa we believe Africans should resolve their problems without outside interference. It is to this end that we have been urging peaceful solutions responsive to majority desires and have restricted taking actions that add to the potential for violence.

We have moved to open a dialogue with the Socialist Republic of Viet-Nam, to establish a basis for normal relations with that country. Elsewhere, we will also be guided by our commitment to true freedom, self-determination and economic progress.

I hope that we can continue these written exchanges in order to clarify our thinking and to engage in the widest possible examination of matters which are of such fundamental importance to our two peoples and to the peace of the world. From these frank communications we can evolve clear and concise bases on which to prepare for our discussions in person, a prospect which I await with great anticipation.

With best personal regards,

Sincerely,

Jimmy Carter
  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.
  2. See Documents 1 and 4.
  3. See Document 3.
  4. See footnote 4, Document 4.
  5. See footnote 6, Document 3.
  6. See footnote 5, Document 4.
  7. See footnote 5, Document 3.