117. Memorandum From the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (Warnke) to President Carter 1


  • The Third Round of Talks on Indian Ocean Arms Control, December 6–10, 1977

The third U.S.-Soviet meeting on Indian Ocean arms control was held in Bern, Switzerland, on December 6–10. As in previous rounds, I led the U.S. delegation and Ambassador Mendelevich headed the Soviet delegation.

The Soviets owed us a response from the last round, held in Washington in September, at which we had tabled a draft agreement.2 Soviet expulsion from Somalia and their consequent loss of access to Berbera had, however, introduced uncertainties into the question of base facilities in the Indian Ocean.3 We therefore approached the round with caution, prepared to listen rather than to put forward any new U.S. positions. I felt personally that there was a good chance that this round would not turn out to be a particularly significant one.

Somewhat surprisingly, however, substantial progress was made during the round, both in establishing a common framework for seeking a stabilization agreement and in further identifying similarities and differences between the two sides’ positions. It now appears that the Soviets are prepared to work seriously toward an agreement based on our proposal that both sides essentially freeze forces and facilities at present levels.

The Soviet delegation tabled their own draft,4 in response to the U.S. draft tabled at the last round. Their draft represented a serious effort on their part to work within the scope of our stabilization concept, though they would go further in linking stabilization to a reduction phase than we would. Soviet positions, while still firm and at variance with ours on some key issues, showed real movement in some areas, as well as a potential for further modification.

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The Soviets made only brief reference to their expulsion from Somalia, and did so by way of reinforcing their earlier insistence that they have no “bases” in the Indian Ocean. It may be that the weakening of their position in the Indian Ocean lies behind their increased interest in early agreement and their movement toward the U.S. position on several specific issues.

Ambassador Mendelevich pressed for establishing a semi-permanent Indian Ocean negotiation in Bern, apparently to be conducted along lines similar to the SALT and MBFR negotiations. We rejected this approach as unnecessary and as impractical for the U.S. side. We agreed, however, to a target date of February 1 for a fourth round of talks.5

While important differences remain between the Soviet and U.S. positions, I believe the next round could result in a “joint draft text” of a stabilization agreement, with unresolved issues shown by bracketed language. One or two additional rounds would then probably be needed before full accord could be achieved.

If a stabilization agreement along the lines we are developing can be concluded, I believe it would advance our security objectives in the Indian Ocean area, support our political objectives in the littoral states, and give impetus to other bilateral arms control efforts. It would also lead to U.S.-Soviet discussions on possible arms reductions in the area. It might be possible to have an Indian Ocean stabilization agreement completed and ready for signature within the next six months, perhaps at a summit meeting.

For any such schedule to be maintained, the Soviets will have to take some major steps toward us in the next rounds, since the fundamental elements of our position cannot be altered. However, we must be prepared to be flexible on a few issues, while holding to our basic position.

The following is a brief summary of the current state of play on the major remaining issues between ourselves and the Soviets:

1. Form of Agreement. The Soviets seemed prepared to consider our approach of a general stabilization agreement, supplemented by agreed documents, which would be incorporated into the agreement by reference, describing each side’s recent military activities in the Indian Ocean area. But they pressed for such statements to be more specific and quantitative than seems to me to be necessary or desirable for a stabilization agreement. They have also suggested some criteria for measuring military activity in the area which would tend to operate to U.S. disadvantage.

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2. Commitment to Reductions. While accepting the concept of stabilization, the Soviets continued to seek a commitment, in the agreement itself, to reductions. We took the position that we were prepared to commit ourselves to consider mutual reductions in follow-on negotiations, but that we could not agree in advance either that there would be such reductions or what form they might take.

3. Strategic Systems. The Soviets dropped their insistence on any sort of special limitations on aircraft carriers or carrier-based strike aircraft; they seemed content with our position that we would not deploy strategic aircraft to the area under stabilization. They continued to press for a specific ban on SSBNs, which I firmly rejected. In response to our earlier proposal that all submarine support facilities be banned from the area, they continued to argue that only SSBN facilities should be banned and that they should have the right to deploy a conventional submarine tender.

4. Definition of the Area. We agreed that a definition should be part of the agreement, but continued to disagree about its eastern boundary—particularly about the waters to the north and south of Australia. In the next round we will work toward a definition which is mutually acceptable for purposes of arms control in the Indian Ocean area.

5. Allies and Adjacent Areas. The Soviets sought to deal with our refusal to have allied forces in the area taken into account by proposing a “compensation” formula, which would allow increases by one side to offset increases by an ally of the other side. We rejected this notion as unnecessary and destabilizing, and argued instead that a “supreme national interest” withdrawal clause requiring no prior notice would provide an adequate safety valve. It may be that we will be able to deal with Soviet concerns over allied forces in the Indian Ocean and our forces in adjacent areas through a general non-circumvention clause.

6. Facilities. The Soviets, alluding to their loss of Berbera, reaffirmed their position that they have no land-based support facilities in the area. They said they must, therefore, be free to move their floating support units to other ports around the littoral. We stressed the need to make a distinction between utilization of facilities and routine port calls, and the importance of preventing a proliferation of facilities that could be inconsistent with stabilization.

I am sending copies of this memorandum to the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director, Central Intelligence Agency.

Paul C. Warnke
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 27, Indian Ocean Talks: Round III Bern: 12/77. Secret. Sent under cover of a December 27 memorandum from Brzezinski to Carter in which Brzezinski highlighted three points Warnke’s memorandum raised. Carter initialed both the covering memorandum and Warnke’s memorandum.
  2. See Document 115.
  3. On November 13, the Somali Government renounced its Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union and ended Soviet use of naval facilities at Berbera.
  4. An unofficial translation of the Soviet draft is in telegram 5726 from Bern, December 6. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770454–0133)
  5. For information on the February 1978 talks, see Document 120.