271. Presidential Directive/NSC–131


  • The Vice President
  • The Secretary of State
  • The Secretary of Defense


  • The Secretary of the Treasury
  • The Director, Office of Management and Budget
  • The Chairman, Council of Economic Advisers
  • The Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency
  • The Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • The Director of Central Intelligence


  • Conventional Arms Transfer Policy

After reviewing results of the Policy Review Committee meeting held on April 12, 1977,2 to discuss US conventional arms transfer policy, I have concluded that we must restrain the transfer of conventional arms by recognizing that arms transfers are an exceptional foreign policy implement, to be used only in instances where it can be clearly demonstrated that the transfers contribute to our national security interests.

In establishing this policy of restraint, the United States will continue to utilize arms transfers to promote our security and the security of our allies and close friends. Recognizing that unilateral restraint can have only limited effectiveness without multilateral cooperation, the United States will continue its efforts to urge other suppliers to join us in pursuing policies of restraint. In addition, we believe that regional agreements among purchasers of arms can contribute significantly to curbing the proliferation of conventional weaponry, and we will assist in whatever way possible in the conclusion of such agreements.

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The United States will give continued emphasis to formulating and conducting our security assistance programs in a manner which will promote and advance respect for human rights in recipient countries.

Further, an assessment will henceforth be made of the economic impact of proposed transfers of major defense equipment to those less developed countries which receive US economic assistance.

In recognition of our special treaty obligations with NATO countries, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, these countries will be exempted as appropriate from the dollar volume restraints and other controls established below. The United States will remain faithful to its treaty obligations, and will also honor its historic responsibilities regarding Israel’s security.3

In furtherance of this policy of restraint, and except in extraordinary circumstances personally approved by me or where I determine that countries friendly to the United States must depend on advanced weaponry to offset quantitative and other disadvantages in order to maintain a regional balance, I direct that:

1. The dollar volume (in constant 1976 dollars) of new commitments under the Foreign Military Sales and Military Assistance Programs for weapons and weapons-related items in FY 1978 will be reduced from the FY 1977 total. It will be our goal to continue to reduce total dollar volume in each subsequent year.

2. With regard to newly-developed advanced weapons systems:

a. The United States will not be the first supplier to introduce into a region an advanced weapons system which creates a new or significantly higher combat capability.

b. Commitment for sale or coproduction of newly-developed advanced weapons systems is prohibited until the systems are operationally deployed with US forces.

c. The Secretary of State will establish more extensive guidelines for assessing requests for newly-developed advanced weapons sys-tems, including requirements 1) that supplying the system would uniquely strengthen the requestor’s ability to perform military functions which serve US security interests, 2) that less-advanced, existing systems with roughly comparable capabilities are unavailable from the United States, and 3) that providing these systems will not require the presence in country of large numbers of Americans for long periods of time.

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3. Unique advanced weapons systems developed or significantly modified solely for export will be transferred only within the treaty relationships referred to above.

4. Agreements for coproduction of significant weapons, equipment, or major components, beyond assembly of subcomponents and the fabrication of high-turnover spare parts are prohibited. Requests for any other items (e.g., major overhaul facilities) will be subject to guidelines applied globally, analyzing closely whether the proposed coproduction project would over time provide equipment in excess of local needs. In each approved agreement, terms under which third-country exports will be permitted, if at all, will be stipulated, emphasizing that coproduction is intended for the coproducer’s requirements and not for export.

5. In addition to the requirements of law and existing policies concerning re-transfer assurances, the US, as a condition of sale for certain weapons, equipment, or major components, may stipulate that the US will not entertain any requests for re-transfers.

6. Policy level approval by the Department of State will be required before authorizing 1) licensing for sales promotion or technical data transmission by private firms, and 2) US military or civilian briefings, site surveys, transmissions of technical information, or any similar activity which might promote the sale of items of major defense equipment. Further, US embassies and military elements will not promote or assist in the promotion of arms sales without specific authorization. Finally, the Secretary of Defense will continue the review of government procedures which may promote the sale of arms, reporting the results of this review within 60 days.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Global Issues, Mathews Subject File, Box 4, Arms Transfers: Presidential Directive/NSC–13: 5–11/77. Secret; Sensitive. Carter signed the top of the first page and initialed the bottom of pages 2 and 3. Carter announced the new policy on May 19. (Public Papers: Carter, 1978, pp. 931–932) The Department of State informed all diplomatic posts that PD–13 had been publicly announced and provided guidance for an explanation of the new policy to be held “at highest appropriate Foreign Ministry level” with each host government. (Telegram Tosec 40353/115244 to all diplomatic posts, May 19; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770179–0462)
  2. See Tab C, Document 268.
  3. At a May 16 Cabinet meeting, Brzezinski noted that the PRM had been “revised in accordance with the President’s directive. It now recognizes the special status of Israel.” White House Counsel Robert “Lipshutz and others have reported that the policy is being favorably received in the Jewish community.” (Minutes of the Cabinet meeting, May 16; Carter Library, Cabinet Meeting Minutes, Box 7, 1/24/77–5/23/77)