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


  • The Fourth Round of Talks on Indian Ocean Arms Control, February 7–17, 1978

The fourth round of talks on Indian Ocean arms control was held in Bern, Switzerland February 7–17, 1978. In view of the current Soviet activity in the Horn of Africa, we did not expect any major progress [Page 400] during this round. This proved to be the case, but there are indications that, if we elect to pursue the negotiations, solutions may be found to the principal outstanding problems.2

In addition to continuing the negotiations directed toward obtaining a stabilization agreement, our aim was to make it unmistakably clear that the United States considers current Soviet activity in the Horn of Africa and the related increase in Soviet naval forces to be inconsistent with the substance and spirit of our talks.

There is no question that the Soviet Delegation took the point, although they argued that, based on their estimate of their own naval deployments in recent years, the current activity is consistent with previous levels. They stated also that outside events of a largely political nature should not be injected into these negotiations and that they could cite U.S. activities in Africa or elsewhere which they regard as improper.

Unless mediation can bring about an early settlement, the situation in the Horn will continue to present us with some difficult decisions as we proceed with these negotiations. At the beginning of these talks, the United States decided to confine any agreement to naval and air presence because we were unwilling to accept restrictions on our ability to supply military equipment and to provide military advisors to littoral states. We wanted also to retain the ability to surge into the area at a time of political crisis affecting American security interests.

However, we have told the Soviets that their use of naval forces to influence developments in littoral states is incompatible with the substance of a stabilization agreement and their large-scale supply of military assistance to Ethiopia inconsistent with the spirit of these negotiations. At the same time, we wish to retain flexibility in the way we will use our naval forces in the future. Therefore, we need to consider carefully how far we should go in linking these types of activities to the continuation of arms control negotiations.

Also, I do not believe that our disapproval of current Soviet military assistance to Ethiopia should lead us to link these talks in any way to mutual restrictions on military assistance to the littoral states. Any agreement that would inhibit our freedom to provide military assistance to the littoral states should be the result of separate negotiations and understandings.

Another issue that may merit reconsideration is the question of limitations on land-based aircraft. Because the Soviets have not in the past deployed strike aircraft in the Indian Ocean area, it has been our [Page 401] thought that restrictions on possible future deployment would be in our interest and indeed become a major U.S. goal in the talks. It now appears, however, that Australian sensitivity about the way in which an Indian Ocean agreement will apply to Australian territory may cause us serious political problems. We will be consulting closely with the Australians on this issue, but should decide whether the effort to obtain limits on future Soviet aircraft deployments is of sufficient importance to warrant potential difficulties with Australia arising from the possible impact on U.S. aircraft operating from Indian Ocean littoral states.

None of the major issues have been resolved. These include Soviet insistence on barring U.S. strategic forces from the Indian Ocean, the nature of restrictions on use of Indian Ocean ports and facilities, Soviet demands that the agreement include some recognition of the presence of American allies and U.S. forces in adjacent areas, the format and methodology for describing recent military activity which is to be stabilized, and the definition of the Indian Ocean boundaries. On some of these issues, the head of the Soviet Delegation, Ambassador Mendelevich, indicated in heads of delegations meetings that compromise is possible. For example, he suggested dealing with the issue of strategic forces in the preamble and describing the existing situation as a factor contributing to the stabilization of military activity. On the question of allied forces, he hinted that a joint appeal for restraint might be feasible. On Indian Ocean boundaries, he asserted that compromise between our position and theirs could be worked out, presumably minimizing the waters off the Australian coast to be included.

From the beginning of these talks, we have felt that an agreement of the kind under consideration would be in our interest. It would prevent an accelerated military competition in the area and prevent any significant increase in Soviet offensive naval capabilities there. Stabilization would formalize existing U.S. advantages. What we would be foregoing is any significant future deployment of U.S. strategic forces, that is, heavy bombers and ballistic missile submarines, while the agreement continues. Such deployments have not been made in the past.

Accordingly, we see no reason to disagree with the most recent SCC assessment3 that negotiating a stabilization agreement, along the lines we have proposed, is in our best interests, both politically and militarily.

[Page 402]

In accordance with our instructions, the time and place of a fifth round of talks was left open for future determination by the governments.

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


Paper 4


Supplemental Statements

The Soviets have said that they are prepared in principle to agree to the U.S. suggestion for supplemental statements, but that their final position would depend on the content of the statements. During meetings of the experts’ group, there was a useful discussion on how the presence of naval forces should be expressed. Both sides have agreed to study the technical issues involved, and their different approaches to exchange of information, i.e., our preference for broad descriptions and the Soviets’ for a detailed quantitative description.


The Soviets agreed to consider the U.S. preference for an agreed definition of a routine port call and took note of the U.S. view that the agreement should limit both afloat and ashore facilities. They continue to maintain that they have not had any ashore facilities, but do agree that their afloat auxiliary ships provide support to their combatants. Both sides agreed to consider how the utilization of support facilities, either ashore or afloat, should be limited in the agreement and reflected in the supplemental statement.

Strategic Forces

The Soviets suggested a possible compromise that would move the reference to strategic forces from the operative text of the agreement to the preamble. Our reaction to this will depend on whether or not [Page 403] the Soviets are prepared to agree to preambular language that does not state there has been a total absence of all strategic forces, including SSBNs. The Soviet definition of strategic forces is not yet entirely clear.


Both sides agree on the definition of a naval auxiliary with regard to this agreement. The U.S. stated that all naval auxiliaries should be included in the limitations of the agreement. The Soviet position is that all auxiliaries should be exempt from the agreement. The Soviets dropped their previous insistence on a distinction between those auxiliaries with stationary armaments and those without.


Both sides agree that ships in transit should not be counted as part of the naval presence in the Indian Ocean. The Soviets suggested that ships in transit be permitted 90 days to complete the crossing; the U.S. suggested 30 days. The experts’ group considered this issue and the Soviets are prepared to work for a compromise on this question, as is the U.S.

Definition of the Area

The U.S. explained to the Soviets that our problem with the Soviet proposal to include the waters north and south of Australia in the agreement stems from the objections of the Australians, who are concerned that this agreement not adversely impact on their security interests. The Soviets recognized this as a political problem, but did not fall off their previous position, although they did state that some compromise was possible.

Diego Garcia

The Soviets again argued that continued construction on Diego Garcia would be inconsistent with stabilization. We reiterated our position that completing the modest construction program on Diego Garcia and agreeing not to go beyond this program would be consistent with stabilization.

Allied and Adjacent Areas

The Soviets again stated that the presence of U.S. Allies and U.S. forces and bases in adjacent areas must somehow be taken into account. We stated that we considered these talks to concern only U.S. and Soviet forces in the Indian Ocean.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 27, Indian Ocean Talks: Round IV Bern: 3–4/78. Secret.
  2. An unknown hand underlined the portion of the sentence beginning with “if we elect” to the end.
  3. See Document 118.
  4. Secret.