101. Memorandum From Gary Sick and James Thomson of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • SCC Meeting on PRM/NSC–25

You are chairing an SCC Meeting at 9:30–11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, May 4, to discuss the US approach to Indian Ocean Arms Control and to the initial working group meetings with the Soviets. The interagency response to PRM–25 is at Tab B.2 At Tab A is a briefing paper which summarizes what we believe are the key points in the interagency paper.3


We believe that three issues should be resolved at the meeting: (1) what are our objectives in an agreement with USSR; (2) how should we use the first working group meetings to further those objectives; (3) how should the first meeting be organized—that is, when will it occur and who will represent the US.

Arms Control Objectives. The President has stated that “demilitarization” is his objective. Will this be our objective for an initial agreement with the USSR or will we seek something less ambitious? In Section III, the PRM response suggests three alternatives: (1) demilitarization; (2) limitations short of demilitarization; (3) a freeze at roughly current levels. The last two alternatives could be initial steps toward demilitarization.

The Initial Working Group Meeting. In Section IV, the PRM response proposes four options for our approach to the first meeting: (1) a general exchange of views; (2) a general exchange of views plus some proposals for confidence building measures (pre-announcement of deployment, etc.); (3) a preliminary meeting to set agreed ground rules for a subsequent formal negotiation; (4) the first round of a formal negotiation. Only for the last option would we need a detailed arms control proposal before the meeting; but clearly we must have a good idea of our objective before we begin any Working Group meeting.

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Organization. The PRM response proposes that, except for Option 4 above, our working group could be chaired by the Director of Political-Military Affairs in State (Les Gelb), with representatives from CIA, NSC, OSD, JCS and ACDA. It is proposed that for Option 4 (formal negotiations), the President appoint a special representative. This working group should have the responsibility not only for meeting the Soviets but also for carrying out preparations for the first meeting. The group should, therefore, be established immediately. The SCC should also discuss the date for the first meeting that we will propose to the Soviets; this date will determine the pace of our consultations with allies.

What Do We Hope to Achieve in the SCC?

The fundamental policy question which needs to be resolved at this time is: Is demilitarization of the Indian Ocean a sufficiently realistic goal to justify proceeding with concrete proposals at this time, or should we instead regard it as a long-term goal and focus our initial efforts at sounding out Soviet views on various definitional issues? Once this question is resolved, the subsidiary issues of organization and approach to the initial meeting largely take care of themselves.

We have prepared two draft Presidential Decisions 4 which spell out these two alternatives in terms of concrete proposals. PD #1 identifies demilitarization as the eventual goal of US policy and would begin a cautious long-term process to achieve that goal.

PD #1 calls for the first Working Group meeting to be devoted to seeking Soviet views on (1) a draft mutual declaration of restraint while discussions are in progress; and (2) a series of proposed definitional issues which will necessarily arise in the context of any eventual arms control agreement.

PD #3 recognizes that the Soviets are reluctant to move very fast on this issue, and it provides an opportunity to sound them out on a number of the most controversial elements of an arms control package.

—At least at the working level, this is the preferred approach of State, Defense and ACDA.

—This approach sets the stage for a systematic series of discussions, probably extending over a considerable period of time, which would seek to define areas of mutual agreement between ourselves and the Soviets.

—It would also allow time for the various bureaucracies to examine in greater detail the potential tradeoffs involved in any arms control agreement and to test these views against Soviet reactions at each step.

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—The proponents of this view (which include the overwhelming majority of those who prepared the basic study) believe that complete demilitarization of the Indian Ocean is an unrealistic near-term policy goal: they are concerned that demilitarization will unduly restrict our military flexibility; they believe that pushing the Soviets too hard too fast would result in nothing but a flat rejection by the USSR and a hollow propaganda victory for the US.

PD #2 takes the view that the President is serious about his call for demilitarization of the Indian Ocean and that the only way to achieve that objective in view of Soviet reluctance is by making a strong initiative ourselves.

—By focusing on the outcome of the negotiations and the steps required to achieve it, the PD attempts to structure the discussions with the USSR toward specific objectives rather than generalized discussions of controversial issues.

—This approach reflects the views of a distinct minority that the difficulties and risks involved in complete demilitarization of the Indian Ocean have been overstated and that it is primarily a political, as opposed to a military problem.

—It is recognized, however, that there is a risk that the Soviets would react to a comprehensive proposal of this nature as a propaganda ploy intended to place them on the defensive and that they might reject it out of hand. At a minimum, it would be necessary to make our initial approach on a private and confidential basis as a working proposal, not as an ultimatum, and indicate to the USSR that all aspects of the proposal would be negotiable.

—If the Soviets agree to pursue this option, it will probably be necessary to appoint an Ambassador to conduct the actual negotiations, though the proposed Indian Ocean Panel should be adequate to make the initial presentation.

Structure of the Meeting

We recommend that you begin the meeting by identifying the fundamental policy question outlined above. The two draft PD’s have not been circulated to other agencies. We prepared them in order to structure our own thinking and to specify what a feasible outcome of the SCC meeting might be. However, you might wish to summarize the main points of each approach during your introductory remarks in order to sharpen the focus of the meeting and to serve as the target for comments around the table. We anticipate reactions along the following lines:


—A comprehensive proposal calling for complete demilitarization is too big a bite to take at once, and the Soviets would probably choke on it.

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—The Soviets have not been particularly forthcoming on this issue to date, and it would be better to ease into the problem with an initial exploration designed to elicit general areas of mutual agreement.

—The specific elements of a negotiating package (ship levels, bases, aircraft, etc.) involve complex tradeoffs which should be examined in much greater detail within the USG before committing ourselves to a comprehensive negotiating strategy.


—Our presence in the Indian Ocean relates to our overall interests in the area and predates the Soviet presence by 20 years; we should not relinquish our military flexibility to respond to contingencies by tying our force presence too closely to the Soviets.

—Our interests revolve primarily about access to oil and support of our defense commitments in the area (CENTO, ANZUS). We should not risk losing our ability to defend these interests by giving up the right to employ military forces in the region.

—The Soviet Union has a significant geopolitical advantage in the area since Soviet strike aircraft can operate directly from bases in the USSR. Demilitarization would reduce our ability to respond to a direct Soviet threat.

—No arms race is currently going on in the Indian Ocean; both the US and USSR have reduced the level of their military presence over the past two years. Demilitarization is an extreme response which is unwarranted under the circumstances.

—Demilitarization would establish precedents which might be used against us in other areas, e.g. the Mediterranean where our interests are much greater. By agreeing to “parity” in this area, we would be leaving ourselves open to a Soviet effort to establish naval parity world-wide, despite our vital reliance on sea lanes for trade and the defense of our interests—as compared to the USSR which is essentially a land power.

—The structure of the Soviet military presence in the Indian Ocean is essentially different from our own: they keep a large permanent presence, we deploy in force only periodically; they do not have carriers, we do; their “base” facilities in Somalia are politically insecure, while ours are based on a 50-year agreement with the UK. Consequently, tradeoffs between the two forces will necessarily be asymmetrical and could cause us to give up considerably more than the Soviets with no realistic opportunity to regain a position (e.g. access to Bahrain and Diego Garcia) once we have relinquished it.


The above objections present only one side of the case:

—Although there is no arms race underway today, our main concern is the possibility of a significant Soviet buildup in the not-too-[Page 355]distant future (i.e. missile-armed aircraft staging from Berbera) which would face us with the choice of significantly increasing our own force presence.

—Our forces for responding to such a challenge are extremely slim: two carriers in the entire Western Pacific for the foreseeable future. Consequently, it is in our favor to prevent a new stage of military rivalry by stopping it before it starts. Who else is in a position to threaten us?

—Although a comprehensive package is a lot for the Soviets to swallow at once, we should remember that this is our initiative and they will be looking to us for concrete proposals. If we do not seize the initiative, we could bog down indefinitely trying to work out abstract definitions with the USSR, e.g. measurement of naval presence, what constitutes a base, etc. [This has been the fate of all previous US studies on this subject.]

—Although the interests of the US and USSR are different, the real question is whether our interests would be more or less secure in the absence of Soviet forces. We cannot do anything about the geographical position of the USSR, but we can raise the political threshold of intervention through an agreement.

—The President has identified demilitarization as our goal. By proposing a comprehensive demilitarization agreement from the beginning, we are more likely to get a direct reading of Soviet attitudes than if we nibble away at the edges of the problem. We could always negotiate a less comprehensive agreement in the face of Soviet objections, but in the meantime we would be on record in favor of a comprehensive arms control arrangement and would keep Soviet feet to the fire.

—A proposal for demilitarization underlines the changes of political attitudes of this Administration in responding to Third World concerns and could serve to bolster our relations with these nations in other areas.

Other Issues

The answers to the remaining questions largely flow from the discussion above:

Should an interagency panel be formed under the chairmanship of the Director of the Political-Military Bureau at State to make the initial presentation to the USSR? We anticipate full agreement.

Should our initial presentation be aimed at an exploration of views or presentation of concrete proposals? Depends on the answer to the fundamental issue raised above.

When and where should our first meeting with the USSR take place? We recommend early June in Washington.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 85, SCC 012, 05/04/77, Indian Ocean. Secret. Sent for action. Brackets are in the original.
  2. Attached; printed as Document 100.
  3. Attached but not printed.
  4. Attached but not printed.