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


  • Talks with Australians on Indian Ocean

A high-level delegation of the Australian Ministry of Defense spent three days in Washington this week for comprehensive talks about Indian Ocean arms limitations. The basic Australian concern relates to internal political problems and particularly the concern that, by accepting limitations on Indian Ocean activities, the United States will in effect relegate the western coast of Australian—the Indian Ocean coastal area—to a lesser security status than the eastern part of the country. (S)

This is a hot political issue, and even the appearance of somehow treating the westerners differently than the easterners for security purposes, i.e. for purposes of exercises or implementation of the ANZUS treaty, would be internal dynamite. In addition, the present Government opposed the previous Whitlam Government’s support of Indian Ocean arms control,2 and the distaste of at least their representatives at these meetings for any US-Soviet agreement was quite apparent. They raised a number of fundamental questions about any potential agreement:

—Since stabilization appears to favor the U.S. rather dramatically, why are the Soviets willing to go along? (We are offering to forego certain strategic options in the future which the Soviets obviously find desirable.)

—If both parties can deploy forces within the context of a stabilization agreement, will there not still be competition and possible conflict even with an agreement? (A stabilization agreement is not intended to settle every possible difference in the area, but it should at a minimum reduce the potential level of confrontation.)

—Since there appears to be no present cause for anxiety about the Soviet presence following the loss of Berbera, does this issue need to [Page 406] be addressed at this time? (At least until the recent episode in the Horn, the apparent stability in force levels offered a good opportunity for negotiations, rather than a time of crisis or escalation.)

Les Gelb responded to all of these points, and in three days of official and private meetings the US delegation gave a candid and complete picture of our own policy viewpoint, including those areas where we have no ready answers, e.g. the best method for limiting land-based strike aircraft. (S)

Although they wavered on occasion, the Australians were not prepared to be persuaded. It was clear to me, particularly in private conversations, that they could appreciate some of the military advantages for us—and even potentially for them—in such an agreement with the Soviets. But these advantages were too abstract or too distant to compensate them for the immediate domestic political pain which they anticipate and for which they have no easy remedy. They readily agreed that their job of explanation would be made much simpler if the Soviets were showing signs of getting military access to Gan Island or some other facility closer to their west coast. Ethiopia is just too far away to seem a real threat to Premier Court of Western Australia,3 who comes through in their comments as a peculiarly Australian combination of Ronald Reagan and Bella Abzug. (S)

We ended with the following points of agreement:

—We will look closely at possible compensatory moves we could take, e.g. ship visits to Western Australia, possible exercises, or other evidence that we are not abandoning western Australia.

—We will continue to consult very closely through diplomatic channels, and at some point we recognize the possible value of a return visit by a US delegation to Canberra.

—We will consider their suggestion that the Vice President might consider a stop in Western Australia during his forthcoming trip4 (no commitment was made, of course). (S)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 23, Indian Ocean: 1–4/78. Secret. Sent for information. Quandt initialed the memorandum in the upper right-hand corner. A copy was sent to Armacost.
  2. Reference is to Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s 1972–1975 Labor Party government.
  3. Reference is to Charles Court, Premier of Western Australia from 1974 until 1982.
  4. Mondale traveled to the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand April 29–May 10. On May 10, Mondale summarized his trip in an address delivered in Honolulu at the East-West Center. For the text of the address, see the Department of State Bulletin, July 1978, pp. 22–25.