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


  • Indian Ocean Talks

We had five meetings with the Soviet delegation, including one restricted session in the office of Ambassador Mendelevich which lasted more than five hours and involved a comprehensive review of every significant issue.2 In each case, the meetings were positive in tone and conducted in a serious, businesslike manner without polemics. Ambassador Mendelevich, who has been the Soviet Deputy Permanent Representative at the UN and the chief negotiator for CSCE, has been assigned full-time to the Indian Ocean negotiations. The apparent relish with which he approached his task belies the earlier report that this assignment may have been a punishment for his performance at CSCE. He was meticulously prepared, and the voluminous notes to which he referred had been written out in his own hand.

The initial Soviet suggestion that the talks last two weeks was clearly a measure of the importance they ascribe to these talks, as well as a practical evaluation of the volume of material to be covered (it was a frantic week). They were miffed at our insistence that the talks be limited to a single week, and the experienced Soviet-watchers in the delegation detected evidence of their pique in small gestures, e.g. as the lack of refreshments at the circus and ballet and a poorly organized and lunchless trip to the countryside. (The signals were totally lost on the rest of us, who considered the hospitality lavish.)

There was substantial agreement on a number of issues and technical questions, including the bilateral nature of these talks, their confi [Page 372] dentiality, coordination on any report to the UN, possible prenotification, need to preserve freedom of navigation and scientific activities, the nature of transits, and the definition of ship-days and ton-days as possible measures of naval presence. Differences were greater on the definition of the area (the Soviets want to include the waters north and south of Australia), what type of ships should be included as auxiliaries, and whether support facilities can be defined in terms of usage. On the latter point, the Soviets insisted that control of a base was the key factor and minimized their usage of Berbera to such a degree that Mr. Warnke was led to remark that he was happy to learn that Berbera was used only for “rest and recreation for tired fishermen.”3

Soviet Position

The Soviet position as presented in the course of the talks can be summarized as follows:

—Both the US and USSR have legitimate interests in the Indian Ocean, theirs to protect the transit route connecting the eastern and western USSR, ours to protect the oil shipping lanes.

—However, the US presence today (attack carriers) exceeds our legitimate needs, and we appear to be laying the groundwork for the deployment of strategic forces (B–52 bombers and SSBNs) into the Indian Ocean which could directly threaten the USSR.

—The asymmetries in the USUSSR position in the Indian Ocean favor the US in four ways: (1) Our strategic forces can strike the USSR from there, while the reverse is not true; (2) We have operational control over our base (Diego Garcia) while they must rely on facilities which belong to other nations (Berbera); (3) The US has forces and access to facilities in areas adjacent to the Indian Ocean (Subic Bay and Simonstown) which permit rapid buildup of a military presence, while Soviet bases are “thousands of miles away;” and (4) The US has allies (France and the UK) which operate military forces in the Indian Ocean, while the USSR has none.

—Consequently, they strongly implied that the US should be prepared to give up more than the USSR in any agreement, specifically: (1) Dismantle all bases as a first step; (2) Ban outright the deployment of carriers, SSBNs and strategic bombers; and (3) “Take into account” the presence of our allies and adjacent facilities, presumably by accepting deeper cuts in force presence than the Soviets.

Mendelevich made it clear that he was aware of the maximalist nature of this position and he indicated a willingness to exercise flexibil [Page 373] ity in seeking an agreement. For example, on the demand that the US unilaterally dismantle Diego Garcia as a first step, he commented: “I realize that is not what you have in mind, and we will give your statement careful consideration.”

Elements of a Possible Agreement

The basic Soviet objective in these talks is to prohibit the deployment of “strategic” US systems (Carriers, SSBNs and B–52s). In return, they are prepared to accept some limitations on their own force levels and on usage of regional facilities, e.g. Berbera.

The key issue which will have to be addressed in the September meeting4 with the Soviets (whether here or in Moscow) will be what is meant by “stabilization.” In particular, the Soviets will want to know whether stabilization will mean stopping the runway expansion on Diego Garcia and whether “strategic” systems will be prohibited.

My own view (which is not widely shared at State, DoD or ACDA),5 is that we have the ingredients for an effective package which could meet most of the Soviet concerns while significantly limiting Soviet military capabilities in the Indian Ocean for now and the future. This package would be composed of three interrelated elements:

1. A ban on all submarine deployments to the Indian Ocean except for transits. We would give up a future option of deploying SSBNs while the Soviets would give up an integral part of their naval presence (submarines) which constitute a significant potential threat to our sea lanes.

2. A ban on deployment of all land-based strike aircraft involving flights over the waters of the Indian Ocean. We would give up the future option of B–52 deployments (and exercise deployments of combat aircraft to Iran) while they would give up the option of missile-armed strike aircraft to support their naval forces.

3. Limits on at least combatant naval deployments by both sides at approximately the level of 1976, expressed in a combination of ship-days and ton-days, and limitations on the use of support facilities.

We would insist on retaining the right to deploy carriers, but might accept a fall-back position that we would not send carriers into the Persian Gulf (where the aircraft could reach the USSR).

Next Steps

The Working Group should analyze the results of the Moscow talks and prepare specific options for US strategy and objectives, to be [Page 374] considered by the SCC in the second half of July.6 The choices in that meeting are likely to revolve about a “high” option, consisting of a US initiative such as I have outlined above, and a “low” option, which would either attempt to negotiate a generalized declaration of mutual restraint or simply to focus on technical data at the next meeting, responding to whatever the USSR may propose.7

In any event, I believe no action should be taken until Mr. Warnke has had an opportunity to report his own impressions of the Moscow talks to the President.8

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 26, Indian Ocean Talks: Round I Moscow: 6–7/77. Secret. Sent for information. Brzezinski wrote “good ZB” at the top of the page.
  2. The discussions with the Soviets took place in Moscow June 22–27. The initial session on June 22 was summarized in telegram 8997 from Moscow, June 22. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770223–0299) The second meeting, a restricted session held June 23, was summarized in telegram 9055 from Moscow, June 23. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770225–0144) Telegram 9157 from Moscow, June 25, summarized the third meeting, and telegram 157305 to USUN, July 7, summarized the fourth and fifth sessions. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770228–0235 and D770240–0999, respectively) Telegram 156073 to Moscow, July 5, covered Warnke’s June 27 briefing to the North Atlantic Council on the negotiations. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770238–1287)
  3. Brzezinski placed a vertical line in the left-hand margin next to this sentence beginning with “such a degree” to the end.
  4. Brzezinski underlined the words “in the September meeting.”
  5. Brzezinski underlined the words “My own” and “not widely shared.”
  6. Brzezinski underlined the words “second half of July.”
  7. Brzezinski drew a vertical line in the right-hand margin next to this entire paragraph.
  8. Inderfurth added a handwritten note following this last paragraph: “Gary is going to prepare a brief summary of this report for possible inclusion in this week’s W[eekly] R[eport]. Rick.”