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


  • Talks with the Soviets on Conventional Arms Transfer Restraint

A PRC meeting was held yesterday concerning the approach to be adopted in next week’s talks with the Soviets on supplier restraint in arms transfers. The discussion revealed a sharp difference of opinion as to how we should approach this round of talks. The debate centered on whether we should raise specific contentious issues in this round, or whether we should aim only to secure Soviet agreement to participate in a serious, continuing process. Tab A2 is the Summary of Conclusions of the meeting which outlines the arguments made.

Subject to your approval, I intend to resolve the issue with the directive at Tab B. Also, in order to demonstrate to the Soviets that this effort has high level support, I believe it would be helpful for the delegation to have with it a statement from you expressing your personal commitment to arms transfer restraint and your concern for the success of these talks. A draft statement is at Tab C for your approval.


That you approve the directive and statement at Tab B and C respectively.

Approve Presidential Directive


As amended


Approve Presidential Statement


As amended


[Page 720]

Tab B

Draft Presidential Directive5


  • The Secretary of State
  • The Secretary of Defense


  • The Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency
  • The Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • The Director of Central Intelligence


  • USUSSR Talks on Conventional Arms Restraint

The President has approved the following directive.

The United States Delegation to the USUSSR talks on conventional arms transfer in Helsinki May 4–8 should view its primary objectives in this round to secure Soviet agreement to participate in a continuing and regular series of working group meetings on multilateral supplier restraint.6

To this end, the Delegation should continue the functional guidelines approach in its presentation to the Soviets. The Delegation should also make clear that we believe that meaningful arms restraint talks must address specific regional situations in troublesome, potentially troublesome, and currently calm areas, and that we intend to make specific proposals in this regard in the next round and thereafter. If the Soviet delegation cites specific regions where our arms transfer policies concern them, the U.S. Delegation should cite the Horn and Southern Africa as regional situations where Soviet arms transfer policies concern us. If the Soviets show inclination to engage at this meeting in discussion of arms transfer restraint in specific regional situations, the Delegation is authorized to do so coordinating with Washington as required.

The Chairman of the Delegation is authorized to make use of the attached Presidential statement as he deems appropriate, in order to [Page 721] demonstrate the commitment and support of the highest levels of the United States Government to this effort.

Zbigniew Brzezinski

Tab C7

President Carter has asked me to make this statement on his behalf:

This is an opportunity to convey my personal concern, and that of the United States Government, over the growing world trade in conventional arms, and the urgency I attach to international cooperation to reduce that trade. The unrestrained transfer of conventional weapons represents a serious and continuing threat to peace, and a diversion of resources badly needed for economic and social development.

As great powers, and as the world’s leading arms suppliers, the United States and the Soviet Union have a special responsibility to restrain this traffic in armaments. We have distinct but common interests in doing so. Moreover, without US-Soviet restraint, others will not alter their arms transfer practices and opportunities for meaningful multilateral restraint will be lost. And without multilateral restraint, no single supplier could be expected to sustain a policy of restraint for very long.8

Restraint does not mean an end to arms sales. Obviously, the legitimate defense needs of friends and allies must be fulfilled. Neither of us would have it otherwise. Restraint does mean that we take steps in common—in cooperation with suppliers as well as with recipients—to prevent sales from increasing the risk of war or inflaming regional and global tensions. Regional conflicts cannot be solved by arms transfer restraint alone. But restraint can contribute to the resolution of such problems and help avoid future conflicts.

To my way of thinking, our common responsibilities in this area flow naturally from the basic tenets of our relations—from the principles agreed to at the highest levels of our governments on May 29, 1972.9 These principles affirm the importance of preventing the devel[Page 722]opment of situations which can lead to confrontations or aggravate problems in our relations. They also affirm our readiness to exchange views at the highest level when necessary on various problems in our relations.

I regard progress in this field as one indication of the importance we each ascribe to these principles. In particular, our governments must take clear, visible steps now, in Helsinki, to record our mutual determination to restrain arms sales, and to create machinery appropriate to this purpose.

By enlarging our arms control agenda to include restraint in transfers of conventional arms, we take one more important step away from conflict and confrontation, and toward more cooperative relations.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Subject File, Box 29, Meetings–PRC 60: 4/26/78. Secret. Sent for action. Carter wrote “C” in the upper right-hand corner of the memorandum.
  2. Tab A is printed as Document 290.
  3. Carter changed “Approve” to “Disapprove” on this line, underlined it twice, and checked this option. In the right-hand margin he wrote “We should move quickly & forcefully to spell out “functional” & “regional” restraint proposals. Give Soviets copy of our unilateral arms sales policy, & see early if they are serious.”
  4. Carter checked the “As amended” option.
  5. Secret.
  6. Carter bracketed this paragraph in the right-hand margin and underlined the phrase “to secure Soviet agreement to participate in a continuing and regular series of working group meetings.” In the left-hand margin he wrote “not enough—Let’s get to the point.”
  7. No classification marking.
  8. Carter crossed out the word “restrain” and substituted “curb” in the first sentence and added “such” before the words “a policy” and crossed out the words “of restraint” in the last sentence
  9. Carter crossed out “To my way of thinking,” capitalized the letter “O” in “our,” crossed out the phrase “agreed to at the highest levels,” and substituted “accepted by the leaders” in the first sentence. For the final text of the “Basic Principles of Relations Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, issued on May 29, 1972, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1972, pp. 633–635.