30. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Anti-Satellite Systems

PARTICIPANTS

  • U.S.
  • Dr. Herbert F. York
  • Dr. G.W. Johnson
  • USSR
  • Academician A.N. Shchukin

On Monday, June 5, Shchukin entertained Johnson and me and our wives at the USSR Mission in Geneva, Switzerland. The most substantive part of the conversation concerned ASATs.

Shchukin started that part of the conversation by saying he was familiar with ASATs and invited me to ask any questions I wished about them. I started by asking him why the Soviet side had undertaken such a program in the first place. In reply he said that the program simply consisted of experiments whose purpose was to understand the possibilities and that in addition one might want to inspect some satellite up close in order to determine if it was complying with the rules outlawing nuclear weapons in space. At this point I noted we both have developed manned and unmanned systems for rendezvous in space, and he agreed with that. (Neither at this point nor at any other did he once mention the Shuttle). In this same context he also added that there were [Page 66]often enthusiasts for particular programs and he cited an entirely different example wherein he had successfully coped with some Colonel who was pushing a pet but dubious idea involving balloons.

The only technical details about their program that he mentioned were in negative terms. He said that at very high altitudes, “where the communications satellites are,” it was too difficult to make an attack. He also said that attacks must be co-orbital for two reasons, first, because it is too difficult and takes too much propellant to make a turn in space, and second because orbits which intersect at large angles mean that one must control both the time and place of intersection very exactly, and that in turn is much more difficult than the ICBM accuracy problem where only the place is important. I noted to myself that these were all accurate statements about the limitation of their current system, but I did not mention that fact to him.

He then asked me “what about direct attacks from the ground?” I asked whether he meant ABMs or lasers, and he replied “yes, lasers.” I commented that we both had a wide variety of laser development programs now under way and that lasers would be harder to verify. He said he agreed.

He said, and I agreed, that both SALT and CTB were more urgent, but in reply to a direct question he stated he personally believed ASATs should be banned.

Also in direct response, he indicated that he was acquainted with Khlestov but that he did not know Mayorskiy and (though I am not sure of this) he seemed not even aware of him.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harold Brown Papers, Box 82, Brown Files—General #1, ASAT Arms Control. Secret; Exdis. The meeting took place at the Soviet Mission. Drafted by York on June 6.