299. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in France1

265150. Subject: Conventional Arms Transfer Restraint.

Embassy should deliver, as appropriate, following Presidential message to President Valery Giscard D’Estaing. (FYI:—There will be no signed original transmitted. End FYI.)

Dear Valery:

On several occasions during the past year, you and I have exchanged views on the international arms trade. I believe we are in agreement that unrestrained arms transfers—especially to particular regions—can have serious consequences for regional stability and for diversion of scarce resources needed for civilian economic needs. We also agree, I believe, that controlling the arms trade cannot come solely from efforts by supplier states to impose restraints on recipients, or by ignoring the legitimate defense needs of individual nations. Instead, there must be a cooperative approach, including both suppliers and recipients.

Last year, representatives of our governments met, with their West German and British counterparts, to compare views concerning the basic issues involved, and to discuss possible steps to gain some control over the arms trade. You indicated that France would be ready to take part in seeking restraint, provided that initiatives came from particular regions, and provided that the Soviet Union were prepared to cooperate.

At the UN Special Session on Disarmament, you expanded on the regional approach, proposing that restraint should develop through consultations within regions, and indicating that France would be prepared to support such regional agreements. You also suggested that the most realistic way to achieve restraint would be through joint supplier-recipient limitations.

I am pleased to note that this approach has begun to materialize. During the Special Session on Disarmament, eight Latin American countries signed a declaration reaffirming their intentions to seek a lim[Page 740]itation on arms purchases. In August, Mexico hosted a meeting of all but three Latin American countries to extend this commitment on restraint to the entire region and to begin to develop concrete ways to carry it out.

As you know, we have also been actively pursuing this issue with the Soviet Union. In our last round of bilateral talks with the Soviets in July, we made considerable progress in defining a framework for restraint in conventional arms transfers, which provides, among other things, for the development of general criteria that could guide the activities of both suppliers and recipients in their arms transfer activities. The Soviets also indicated that interim restraint arrangements are possible where regional conditions are favorable. It is my judgment that this framework, if agreed upon among a number of suppliers and recipient nations, can provide the basis for working toward genuine restraint, thus slowing the pace of East-West competition in the arms trade.

Neither we nor the Soviets, however, contemplate a purely bilateral solution to the problem of arms transfers. Proceeding on the basis of the UN SSOD program of action, we are exploring ideas for practical discussions on restraint arrangements between suppliers and recipients. In this regard, the Soviets have also asked US to come to the next meeting in December prepared to discuss ways of involving other major suppliers who seek solutions to this problem, as well as means to achieve practical discussions between suppliers and recipients.

I believe, therefore, that the time is right to try building further upon the approach which you outlined at the UN Special Session. Thus, I would like to propose that representatives of our two governments undertake further discussions, designed to explore the possibilities of supplier and recipient cooperation in support of efforts for restraint. These talks could most usefully take place in concert with the British and Germans, and I am writing in this vein to Jim Callaghan and Helmut Schmidt. Of course, I would also welcome separate discussions with your government, either before or after a four-power meeting.

I am particularly mindful of the practical problems which arms restraint would pose for individual supplier nations. The arms trade does not exist in a vacuum, but is also related to weapons production for national defense and our common security; to national balances of payments; to arms trade among nations in the Western Alliance; to fostering national technological bases that will help sustain civilian economies; and to our common security concerns in the developing world. At some point, these issues will also need to be considered, if we are to ensure that no supplier nation is to bear a disproportionate burden.

In view of the complex factors involved, including the differing national interests and perceptions of suppliers and recipients, it will not be easy to achieve an international regime for arms restraint, even for a [Page 741] single region. But I believe that we need to begin the patient work that is essential to progress toward the goal you and I both share.

I would very much welcome your views on this critical issue. And I hope it will be possible for representatives of our two governments—along with the British and Germans—to resume discussions in the very near future.

With warmest regards,


Jimmy Carter

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840139–2046. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. The text was received from the White House. Drafted by Priscilla Clapp (PM); cleared by Tarnoff, Feurth (EUR/RPM), Gary Matthews (EUR/SOV), Thomas Hirschfeld (ACDA/WEC), William Marsh (T), John Rowe (DOD/ISA), and John Merrill (JCS); and approved by Jerome Kahan (PM). Carter sent a similar letter to British Prime Minister James Callaghan in telegram 265150 to London, October 19. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840139–2042)