71. Action Memorandum From the Adviser to the Secretary of Defense on NATO Affairs (Komer) to Secretary of Defense Brown1


  • Using China to Help NATO

We need further analysis of how NATO might confront the USSR with more of a perceived two-front strategic problem (recall my comments on PRM–10). Of course, Peking has been actively pushing a similar theme. US hesitations seem to arise largely from (a) concern lest overtures to Peking adversely affect our ability to reach arms control agreements with Moscow (a dubious argument to this one-time Soviet NIE drafter); and (b) the fact that the new Administration has had so many other things on its plate and it’s never really gotten around to China policy.

In any event our dominant NATO interest dictates exploring soonest at least a modest step to sharpen the constraints on Moscow without going so far as to risk the alleged adverse results. Since DoD has a major stake in this matter, we also need some such concrete proposal to use as a vehicle for moving the USG China debate off the plane of lip service in theory but immobilism in practice. Is there any such step which also would avoid the Taiwan issue? That would bring our Allies (Europe and Japan) into the act? That would be cheap enough to be practical, yet have significant impact?

An ATGM sale or license would meet all these criteria, in my view. One of China’s greatest military vulnerabilities is to Soviet armored blitzkrieg tactics. Hence modern ATGMs would be very useful, yet not increase Chinese offensive capabilities. My hunch is that Peking would be as eager to acquire them as the US, Japan, and WE should be to sell them. Three possibilities seem worth prompt analysis:

1. Sell X-number of TOWs directly, or better still a facility to produce them. This probably would have the greatest direct impact on Moscow [Page 280] (and Peking) perceptions, but also raise the most issues here and in Taiwan. So let’s look at indirect sales.

2. License Japan to produce TOWs (or are they already?) and to sell X-number to China. Japan has at least as much strategic interest as the US in strengthening China’s defenses.

3. Discreetly propose that France/FRG sell or license MILAN facility. MILAN is probably the best ATGM for Chinese, since it has 2000m. range (in between TOW and Dragon) and is simplest to use. I’ll bet both Paris (commercially) and Bonn (strategically) would be interested.

Recommendation. I’m not arguing that DoD should float the above right now, merely that we internally analyze the pros and cons. But if the proposal stands up under our own analysis, it is a logical initiative for DoD to launch. Therefore, why not ask ISA to look at this and any other relevant ideas, and give you a preliminary reaction by say 15 February. You could do so simply by endorsing this memo.2

R. W. Komer3
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–81–0202, China (Reds), 092. Secret. Copies were sent to William Perry, David McGiffert, Russell Murray, and Morton Abramowitz. Stamped, “6 Jan 1978. SecDef has seen.” At the top of the page, Secretary Brown wrote, “1/4 RWK—This issue clearly involves US relations with PRC, with USSR, and with NATO. I believe that Mort A. + Dave McG should consider this particular weapon—ATGMs—carefully. The issue of whether US does it, encourages it from others, is neutral, discourages it—is an interagency one. I don’t want a big study or publicized discussion of it in DOD, though obviously we should have a substantial input. HB.”
  2. Brown did not check either the Approved or Disapproved option.
  3. Komer initialed “RWK” above this typed signature.