272. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Arms for Ecuador


You will recall that Mrs. Carter’s conversation with the Supreme Council of Ecuador was dominated by their requests for U.S. arms and/or Kfirs,2 and as a result, State and Defense were asked to prepare an options paper for your consideration. It is attached at Tab A.3

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I agree with State’s assessment that Ecuador exaggerates the possibility of a Peruvian attack, but I understand why the threat might be seen differently in Quito than in Washington. Even a ten percent chance of attack can be a powerful incentive to obtain a defense capability, particularly considering the inadequacy of current Ecuadorean defenses. Also, of course, there is the memory of Peru’s attack in 1941–42, when one-third of Ecuador’s territory was captured, as well as Ecuador’s current fear that Peru might attack again to take the oil fields in the south.

The Ecuadoreans are about to agree to pay $710 million for very advanced French F–1 aircraft and used Israeli Mirage–5s and Anglo-French Jaguars. They are very disturbed that the U.S. has not responded sooner and more positively to their requests, particularly given the good feelings exchanged during Mrs. Carter’s trip, their supportive stand on human rights at the OAS General Assembly, and their desire to press forward toward a democratic and civilian government.


All agencies agree on the importance of diplomatic initiatives, regardless of the decision on arms sales. The State Department is presently following up with President Perez on his proposal to try to reduce tension in the Andean region by seeking support for Bolivia’s request for access to the sea. Perez also said that he wanted to eliminate—not just reduce—the tension by arranging a multilateral effort to develop and de-militarize the border area.4

State’s memorandum lists five options, but the four agencies involved in writing the paper (State, ACDA, Defense, JCS) have only recommended two of these. Because the other three options do not, in fact, provide much realistic choice, I have dropped them and added a third, combining some aspects of the others, in an attempt to balance your desire to restrain arms sales with the reality that Ecuador is about to conclude a pact with France that will set the arms race in the region spiraling upward.

1. Refuse to sell either aircraft or surface-to-air missiles. State, DOD/ISA, and ACDA support this option because they believe Ecuador’s fears are without foundation, and we should maintain our past policy of restraint on arms sales to Latin America.

2. JCS supports the sale of F–5Es (we offered them to Ecuador in 1974, but they rejected it thinking they could get Kfirs), and sending a site survey team to evaluate the need for the Vulcan-Chapparral, basic HAWK, or I–HAWK air defense missile systems.

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3. Send a survey team to offer F–5Es and explore an air defense system and anti-armor capability (explicitly exclude the advanced I–HAWK missile system since we do not intend to sell it to Ecuador in any case). The team should also be prepared to discuss anti-tank weapons (TOW and others) to address Ecuador’s concern over Peru’s armored forces.

I recommend the third option because it is responsive to Ecuador’s requests, and for a variety of reasons (human rights, movement toward democracy, U.S. fishing boats, cooperation in the UN and OAS General Assembly), it is in our interest to be responsive at this time. Secondly, our “package” would not be large or sophisticated enough to provoke a new escalation in the arms race as the proposed purchase of French F–1s would. At the same time this plan stands a fair chance of satisfying the Ecuadoreans while allowing us to make clear that we have no intention of helping Ecuador build up an arsenal to rival Peru’s. (We have previously transferred F–5Es to Brazil, Chile and Venezuela.) The sale would be entirely consistent with arms transfer guidelines of PD–13.5 Finally, the F–5E is substantially less sophisticated than the Kfir, and so the sale would not conflict with our rejection of the Israeli sale.

On the other hand, note that this would probably be a FY 1978 sale, and we will be working under a tight ceiling.

1. Refuse to sell aircraft or surface-to-air missiles. (State, DOD/ISA, and ACDA recommend.) _______
2. Sell F–5Es, send an air defense site survey team to evaluate the need for the Vulcan-Chapparral, basic HAWK, and I–HAWK. (JCS recommends.) _______
3. Send a survey team to offer F–5Es and explore an air defense system and anti-armor capability (though not the I–HAWK). (NSC recommends.)6 _______
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Materials, Country File, Box 17, Ecuador: 1/77-1/81. Secret. Sent for action. Carter initialed the memorandum. According to another copy of the memorandum, Denend, Tuchman, and Pastor sent it to Brzezinski under a July 19 covering memorandum, recommending that Brzezinski sign the memorandum to Carter. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor, Country Files, Box 19, Ecuador, 2-12/77)
  2. See Document 268.
  3. Attached but not printed is a July 14 memorandum from Vance to Carter.
  4. See Documents 336 and 337.
  5. For Presidential Directive/NSC-13, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XXVI, Arms Control and Nonproliferation, Document 271.
  6. Carter checked the approve option and initialed below. A July 29 memorandum from Brzezinski to Vance reports that Carter, on Vance’s recommendation, amended this decision by removing the F-5Es from the offer to Ecuador. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor, Country Files, Box 19, Ecuador, 2-12/77) The survey team traveled to Ecuador in December. A summary of its report is in telegram 8540 from Quito, December 23. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770480-0492) In November 1978, the GOE decided not to purchase the Vulcan/Chaparral air defense system, citing economic reasons. (Quito 8159, National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780482-0489)