328. Memorandum From Roger Sullivan of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Taiwan Issues

David asked that I prepare a memorandum on the two pending issues relating to Taiwan: (1) an arms package requiring Presidential approval as well as notification to the Congress, and (2) a request from Taiwan for price and availability data on the two F–X aircraft (F–5G and the F–16/79). The operational question is whether to approve these sales now or to leave them for the new Administration.

The general argument in favor of approval now is that this would leave the new Administration with a “clean slate” on Taiwan, giving them time to think through their China policy without pressure to take precipitate action on Taiwan. The argument for deferral is that the Reagan Administration will come under pressure to do something on Taiwan immediately upon taking office whether we act on these arms transfer issues or not. Therefore it is preferable to leave them decisions they could make immediately which might satisfy the demands that they “do something”, but which would be less damaging to the US–China relationship than other actions the Administration might be pressured to take if there were no “easy” decisions left to make. In short, the deferral argument maintains there can be no “clean slate” because each decision the Administration might make would only leave the new Administration with more difficult issues to face or the de[Page 1159]mand that it do more for Taiwan than the outgoing Administration was prepared to do.2

P&R Data on F–5G

In June, State approved munitions control licenses to Northrop and General Dynamics for initial F–X sales presentation to a number of countries. We made clear at the time to the countries concerned, the Congress, and the PRC this action did not imply any commitment to sell. Taiwan has now asked for official budgetary and cost information (P&R data) for both the Northrop F–5G and the General Dynamics F–16/79.

Deferral keeps all options open. The new Administration could elect to study the issue or simply approve the request for data without further commitment, thereby buying more time. If the P&R data request is approved now, the new Administration will almost immediately face pressure to do more than the Carter Administration: e.g., either to approve an actual sale or possibly even to reconsider President Carter’s earlier turn-down of the Taiwan request for even more sophisticated aircraft.

Arms Package

Defense and State are in the final stages of processing a memorandum for the President recommending action on the remaining outstanding requests for arms which Taiwan gave us at the beginning of this year. Most items are non-controversial and approvable. Both State and Defense recommend (with JCS agreement) that the President disapprove the Harpoon missile. If we go forward with this package as it stands, the effect would be to focus attention on the Harpoon turn-down, thereby putting great pressure on the new Administration to “do more” and reverse the Harpoon decision.

An alternative would be to approve the entire package, including the Harpoon. There is no way to demonstrate under those circumstances whether this would leave a clear slate or whether it would prompt Taiwan to come up with a new list. It would seem likely, however, that Taiwan and its advocates would expect and demand that the new Administration do more—if not in arms, then on other difficult issues (e.g., upgrading the relationship with Taiwan).

We need to also have in mind that the decision on how to proceed now, and in the early months of the new Administration, will be made while the Dutch are considering, in the face of strenuous Chinese objection, a proposal to sell submarines to Taiwan. Any damage to the US–China relationship resulting from approval of any US arms transfer [Page 1160] action would eventually be compounded if the Chinese concluded that we also by our actions emboldened the Netherlands Government to go ahead with their controversial sale.


That we defer action on the FX and arms package issues until the next Administration when they can be considered in the context of the broader China policy.3

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Meetings File, Unfiled Files, Box 127, China: 10/77–1/81. Secret. Sent for action. Sent through Aaron. Concurred in by Robert Kimmitt. A stamped notation at the top of the page reads, “ZB has seen.” Underneath, a handwritten note reads, “1/19/81.”
  2. Brzezinski drew a line through the first two paragraphs and wrote, “OK.”
  3. Brzezinski checked the Approve option and initialed “ZB.”