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


  • The FY 1979 Arms Transfer Ceiling

The State memorandum at Tab A2 presents the FY 1979 Conventional Arms Transfer Ceiling Management Plan and recommends that the eight percent reduction achieved in FY 1978 be repeated in FY 1979.

The ceiling for FY 1979 has been calculated based on the FY 1978 ceiling after adjusting for inflation.

FY 1978 ceiling $8.551 billion
Inflation (FY 1978 to FY 1979–7.2%) +.616
FY 1979 ceiling baseline 9.167
8% reduction −.733
FY 1979 ceiling $8.434 billion

State and Defense have identified a worldwide total of $10.5 billion in potential sales which might be concluded in FY 1979. However, for a number of reasons (normal attrition; uncertainties surrounding sales to Iran; no sale of F–16s to Korea this year; formal requests have not yet been received for some sales) roughly $2.5 billion of that total is unlikely to be signed in FY 1979. Therefore, we are faced with a realistic demand of roughly $8.0 billion which can easily be accommodated within a ceiling of $8.4 billion.

The announcement of the FY 1979 ceiling will be an important factor in our efforts to secure multilateral cooperation in restraining arms transfers. Virtually all agencies believe that FY 1979 will be the true test of that effort, that our prospects are sufficiently encouraging to pursue the CAT talks over the next 12 months with real vigor, and that continuing an eight percent reduction sends the appropriate signal to the other suppliers and to recipients.

The Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (OJCS) points out that in the year since we began talking about multilateral restraint no suppliers or recipient nations have adopted concrete measures of restraint comparable our unilateral ceiling. The OJCS would prefer a smaller reduc[Page 746]tion—say two to five percent—in FY 1979 to signal our concern and put the others on notice that we are not prepared to sustain unilateral restraint indefinitely.

While I take the OJCS point that U.S. unilateral restraint may not be possible to sustain indefinitely, I feel strongly that for an undertaking of this complexity one year is simply too short a period to expect measurable results. My recommendation is to repeat the eight percent reduction of last year: first, because it provides continuity for the CAT talks, and second because it can be done in FY 1979 without seriously affecting any of our security assistance plans.

A draft statement at Tab B has been prepared for the public announcement of the FY 1979 program.3


That you approve an eight percent reduction in FY 1979 and the proposed public statement (Tab B).4

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Global Issues, Mathews Subject File, Box 5, Arms Transfers: 8–10/78. Confidential. Sent for action.
  2. See Document 301.
  3. Not attached. Carter issued a statement on November 29 saying that “Conventional arms restraint is an important objective of this administration and the Congress. To ensure U.S. leadership and to supplement existing legislation, I established for the first time a set of quantitative and qualitative standards by which arms transfer requests considered by this Government would be judged. The principle consideration in the application of these standards is whether the transfer in question promotes our security and the security of our close friends.” (Documents on Disarmament, 1978, pp. 691–692)
  4. After “(Tab B),” Brzezinski wrote “making further reductions also dependent on the cooperation + restraint of other suppliers.” Carter checked the “Approve” option and beneath the approval line wrote: “This is not much of a restraint. J”.