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306. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Brown to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Conventional Arms Transfer (CAT) Talks (U)

(S) On March 6, 1979 a mini-SCC meeting was held2 to determine an appropriate response to the Soviet proposal that the Conventional Arms Transfer (CAT) Talks be reconvened.3 At that meeting it was decided to explore alternative approaches for establishing an agreed agenda for the next round of negotiations. The following considerations reflect the views of the Department of Defense on that subject.

(S) The Department of Defense has been supportive of conventional arms transfer (CAT) restraint to the extent that it promotes collective security by seeking to limit unrestrained and potentially destabilizing transfers. In this regard, Defense has consistently held that concrete regional application is essential for any meaningful CAT restraint regime. Moreover, it is the DOD position that an appropriate means be found to test the willingness of the Soviets to commit themselves to concrete restraint without establishing the legitimacy of Soviet-proposed regions.

(S) Defense believes the approach offering the best prospect for success is one that would allow the talks to proceed with the understanding that each side would be allowed to nominate regions for restraint but that actual restraint proposals could not be presented until both sides agreed on the appropriateness of a candidate region. Given the exemptions and exclusions previously identified by each side, these ground rules would most likely lead to a discussion of Africa, if discussion of any region is in fact possible.

(S) Defense views sub-Saharan Africa as the best prospective regional candidate, as US and Soviet interests are not as directly engaged there as they are elsewhere. There are practical advantages in seeking restraint in Africa, given both existing legal and political constraints on [Page 766] US arms transfers to the area and demonstrated willingness by the Soviets to devote massive military assistance resources in an effort to expand their influence in the region.

(S) The United States should not, however, entertain discussion of Soviet-proposed regions merely as a quid pro quo for Soviet agreement to discuss Africa. Guidance for the Mexico City round was necessary tactically to establish this point with the Soviets firmly. Having established that position, the United States must not allow the Soviets to exploit the current impasse by focusing the talks on general principles which they consider essential while ignoring the regional discussions which we consider essential. Such exploitation would be effectively blunted by making agreement on candidate regions a pre-condition of actual restraint proposals.

(U) The Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, concurs in this memorandum.

Harold Brown
  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harold Brown Papers, Box 78, 1977 Arms Transfer/FMS Policy. Secret.
  2. No minutes or summary of conclusions for this meeting have been found.
  3. McGiffert informed Brown that the Soviets had proposed that the CAT talks be resumed on March 20 however the “United States put them off temporarily, but the Soviets are expected to raise the issue at the summit [in Vienna scheduled for June].” (Memorandum from McGiffert to Brown, April 13; Ibid.)