18. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter 1

SUBJECT

  • U.S. Position Regarding Anti-satellites (ASAT)

You will recall as a result of recommendations emanating from PRM/NSC–23, “A Coherent Space Policy,” that you established several principles related to Arms Control for ASAT Systems. These included:

—A goal for our negotiations with the Soviets of a relatively comprehensive agreement which would seek to ban all ASAT capabilities except electronic warfare.

—Discontinuance of testing, use, and dismantling of projected or current Soviet ASAT capabilities.

—Emphasis on verifiability of our proposals and any subsequent agreement.

—Vigorous pursuit of our own comprehensive ASAT R&D program short of operational or space based testing, carrying to production those elements not included in a treaty, and continuing U.S. R&D after a treaty as a hedge against breakout.

It is on this latter point that our additional deliberations have caused me to recommend a change in tactics. I now have concerns that our own prohibition in our directive on U.S. space base testing may in fact be counterproductive. No doubt the contents of the restriction in [Page 45]the PD (TAB A)2 are by now known to both the Congress and the Soviets providing:

—A disincentive to the concerned oversight committee in Congress to fund an ASAT R&D program the President has restricted from what they perceive to be realistic testing—this could put us even further behind the Soviets unless we make a concerted effort to properly educate the Armed Services and Defense Appropriations Committee leadership on the complexities associated with verification, testing, protection from breakout, etc., an effort we are now undertaking, but which could fail to be persuasive given the mood on the Hill.

—A disincentive to the Soviets to stop their own testing in space, knowing that you have precluded U.S. testing in space.

A useful solution you should consider as a political move is, for the record, to remove the restriction against U.S. testing in space (which means little technically today—as we could not do it in the near term, with great certainty, anyway) which would be a positive sign that we intend to seek equivalent capabilities as soon as possible unless the Soviets are willing to take positive steps to stop testing, dismantle, and agree to substantive verification techniques.

I believe the timing is such that we should modify the existing PD before Cy Vance has his initial talks with the Soviets to assure that they have this message.

RECOMMENDATION

That you direct removal of the restriction on “operational or space based testing,” authorizing the Secretary of Defense to pursue, for planning purposes, a U.S. ASAT development program encompassing that testing in space or against U.S. objects in space deemed essential to demonstrate a capability.

Approve ______

Disapprove ______

Other ______3

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 20, PD/NSC–33. Top Secret. Sent for action. In the upper right-hand corner, Carter wrote “Zbig—on something like this always get DOD & State comment. J. p.s. It’s probably o.k.” On February 25, Brzezinski forwarded the memorandum to Vance and Brzezinski and added “I believe the timing is such that we should modify the existing PD before the Secretary of State has his initial talks with the Soviets to assure that they have this message.” He also requested “your views on this approach by 1 March.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harold Brown Papers, Box 82, Brown Files—General #1, ASAT Arms Control)
  2. Tab A is printed as Document 11.
  3. Carter did not indicate his preference with respect to the recommendation.