285. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union1

310500. For Ambassador from Gelb; White House for Brzezinski. Subj: “Non-Paper” on US-Soviet Conventional Arms Transfer Talks.

1. Ambassador should seek appointment with Khlestov and transmit to him personally, on behalf of Gelb, text of “Non-Paper” that summarizes US presentation to Soviets during talks.

2. Purpose of “Non-Paper” is to provide on an unofficial but written basis central thrust of US presentation.

3. Begin text:


The United States believes that the preliminary meeting on this subject, held in Washington on December 14 through 19, 1977, was an important and useful step toward improving our mutual understanding of this complex topic.


The US and USSR have many parallel if not common interests in restraining conventional arms transfers. The US has taken the first steps toward this objective by adopting a policy of restraint in its own arms sales. This effort has the active support of President Carter. Measures taken to implement this new policy of restraint were described by the US representatives at the December meeting.

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As a practical matter, however, the US ability to sustain its restraint policy depends, in part, on the demonstration of progress toward restraint by other suppliers, including the USSR. Without international cooperation, the prospects for continuing US restraint are uncertain.

The United States believes that US-Soviet cooperation in restraining arms transfers is as important as the most important other items on our arms control agenda; further, that talks on controlling the arms trade fall within the spirit and context of the mutual obligations we assumed when our two countries signed, at the highest level, the “Basic Principles of Relations between the US and the USSR,” on May 29, 1972.2

Our common interest in restraining arms transfers has been demonstrated in the past when situations developed in which our respective supply of arms to opposing sides in local conflicts led to tensions in our own relations, and adversely influenced the political climate for progress in other arms control negotiations. Other important common stakes in arms transfer restraint include:

—Prevention and/or limitation of regional conflicts: unrestricted arms transfers could help spark dangerous and destabilizing local conflicts, perhaps drawing US inadvertently into unwanted and dangerous confrontations.

—Assisting efforts to stem nuclear proliferation: unrestrained transfers of conventional military technology might gradually undermine our cooperative efforts to stem nuclear proliferation, through states opting for nuclear weapons to offset changes in local balances of conventional military forces resulting from arms transfers.

—Avoiding manipulation by recipients: the US and USSR should aim to avoid situations in which recipients of our arms might be tempted to play us off against one another.

—Reducing supplier uncertainties: future policies of our arms recipients are not predictable, arms supply relationships often prove to be of only limited political value.

—Reducing costly and unnecessary weapon acquisitions: the US and USSR should encourage the use of scarce financial resources in the third world for more constructive purposes than arms acquisitions.

—Encouraging other suppliers to restrain arms exports: any US-Soviet understandings on restraint cannot be fully effective without parallel action by other suppliers. Yet, as the two largest suppliers, our cooperation is necessary as an example to others.


The United States believes that common acceptance of the following criteria would constitute a first step toward cooperation:

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—There should be no advantage for any supplier;

—The fulfillment of recipients’ legitimate security requirements must not be jeopardized;

—Any steps toward cooperation must be flexible, and reflect both our common concerns and respective national security requirements.

The London Nuclear Suppliers’ Group may be a relevant precedent. There, the emergence of harmonized national guidelines was the most useful result. We could strive for similar harmonization in arms transfer restraint.

Possible forms which such restraint guidelines might take include:

—Advanced systems restraint: introduction of advanced weapon systems into a region where they have not previously been deployed could endanger peace and stability by creating a significantly higher combat capability in the area. Guidelines could be discussed concerning the definition of “advanced systems” in specific regions of the world.

—Limitations on selected weapons: certain categories of weapons, for a variety of reasons, are almost always inherently destabilizing, and susceptible to misuse by criminals and terrorists. Discussions of guidelines which would limit the spread of such weapons appears to be in our mutual interest. Man-portable air defense systems are illustrative of the type of weapons system that might be limited.

—Co-production restrictions: both the US and USSR have entered into agreements with third countries for the co-production or licensed production of some important weapon systems. Problems which arise in connection with co-production include the transfer of important technology to the co-producer and the possible export by the co-producer of surplus production. Consideration might be given to guidelines which would call for foregoing co-production arrangements with developing countries for significant weapons or components of major weapons.

—Retransfer controls: as with nuclear proliferation, failure to adopt tight retransfer controls could lead to circumvention of arms restraint, thereby undermining Soviet–American interest in avoiding the dangers and destabilizing consequences of particular arms transfers. It may be in both our interest to assure that weapons either of us might supply not be retransferred without our approval.


Although the US would not totally rule out any approach at this point, it is not our intention to seek agreement on the total amount of arms each country should sell. The different requirements of friends and allies of each supplier would make negotiation of overall ceilings extremely difficult. In our view, the development of common restraint guidelines for certain kinds of weapons and regions would have a more direct impact in reducing the risk of regional conflict and the danger of US-Soviet confrontation.


Our governments have a common interest in the conventional arms transfer issue at the SSOD because of our responsibilities as major [Page 705] suppliers and our need to respond credibly to critics about our intention to restrain arms transfers. Although the problem can not be solved by any single state or group of states, it might be useful for the US and USSR to consider consultations with regard to this issue prior to the SSOD.


The great number of mutual interests and problems involved in the arms transfer restraint issue strongly suggest the need for ongoing Soviet-American consultations.

Further talks would present an opportunity for both sides to discuss possible policy guidelines and specific restraint measures in greater detail. We also anticipate the Soviet Union may wish to discuss further its policies and practices during future sessions. Finally, a continuation of this dialogue will provide US with the opportunity to talk about transfers contemplated by either side which might be subject to misinterpretation by the other side.

The problem of how to accommodate the legitimate defense needs of recipients while involving them in the restraint process is also one which we have not fully addressed. One way to involve recipients might be through regional approaches to restraint. Additional consultations on this issue would be particularly useful in preparation for the SSOD.

In summary, the United States believes that future talks on these questions are very important and would help to make clear our mutual stakes in cooperation to prevent further escalation of the conventional arms trade.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840081–2373. Secret; Nodis. Sent for information to the White House. Drafted by Robert Mantel (PM/SSP); cleared by Gary Matthews (EUR/SOV) and John Thyden (S/S); and approved by Gelb.
  2. For the complete text of the Joint Declaration see Department of State Bulletin, pp. 899–902.