290. Summary of Conclusions of a Policy Review Committee Meeting1


  • Talks with the Soviets on Arms Transfer Restraint


  • State

    • Leslie Gelb, Director, Office of Politico-Military Affairs
  • Defense

    • David E. McGiffert, Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs
  • JCS

    • Lt. General William Smith
  • CIA

    • George Allen
  • ACDA

    • Spurgeon Keeny
    • Barry Blechman, Assistant Director, Weapons Evaluation and Control
  • White House

    • David Aaron
    • Jessica Tuchman, NSC
    • Reginald Bartholomew, NSC

The PRC met to discuss plans for the next round of talks with the Soviets on supplier restraint in the transfer of conventional arms. The following issues were raised and positions taken.

The discussion focused on two issues: What our goals should be for this round of talks; and, what approach to use in pursuing those goals. On the first question there were two views. NSC and ACDA argued that as the Soviets have not yet had their interest engaged in this process, the purpose of this round must simply be to hook them into it, and to get their agreement to continuing series of full-fledged working group meetings. If this proves successful subsequent rounds could address specific tough issues. State argued that this round is the time to begin discussion of the difficult issues because otherwise we would be offering the Soviets the opportunity to string us along, which they would be happy to do indefinitely. In so doing, we would lose our slim remaining chance of engaging British and French cooperation in this effort. Neither Defense nor JCS took a clear position on this issue.

Regarding the approach to be taken, two approaches—overlapping, but differing significantly in emphasis—were presented.2 The [Page 718] regional emphasis approach would highlight the need for restraint in specific regions, and would present these as the focus for future discussions. State, which argued for this approach, proposed that three types of regions be presented: trouble spots (e.g., the Horn); potential trouble spots (e.g., Southern Africa); and, relatively quiescent regions (e.g., Latin America).

ACDA favored a functional emphasis which would seek to involve the other suppliers in a multilateral effort to harmonize their respective national policies along the lines of the guidelines the United States has adopted unilaterally (e.g., agreement not to be the first to introduce new, more potent systems into a region; severe limitations on coproduction; ban on transfer of particularly sensitive weapons such as MANPADS, etc.). ACDA argued that in many cases the guidelines are designed to be applied regionally, and could therefore be used as a vehicle for concrete, tough negotiations.

During the discussion the following positions emerged. State favored the regional approach, citing such controversial regions as the Horn and Southern Africa. NSC and ACDA argued that there was nothing in that presentation to attract the Soviets and that it would seriously diminish our chance of getting them to agree to future meetings on that basis. Acknowledging this argument, Defense and JCS concluded that we should use the regional approach but cite as examples only non-controversial regions such as Western Africa, Latin America and South Asia. State argued that such an approach would destroy the credibility of the entire supplier restraint effort. NSC noted that if any type of regional approach were used, the list of examples should include regions, such as the Middle East, which would be uncomfortable for us to address, as well as those which would be uncomfortable for the Soviets.

Finally, NSC and ACDA agreed that in order to maximize our chances for a continuing process, and since we have not developed any specific regional proposals to lay on the table, we should adopt the functional approach in this round, but should make clear to the Soviets that we would intend at an early stage to address specific regional problems in that context.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Subject File, Box 29, Meetings—PRC 60: 4/26/78. Secret. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room.
  2. Tarnoff sent Brzezinski an undated Issues Paper, “Strategy at the Helsinki CAT Talks,” that discussed the two approaches. (Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 68, PRC 060, Arms Transfer Talks, Helsinki, 4/26/78)