31. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter 1


  • US/Soviet Meeting on Anti-Satellite Matters

The SCC met on June 1, 1978, to discuss final preparations for the US/Soviet preliminary meeting on ASAT matters at Helsinki, June [Page 67]8–18.2 There is agreement that we should continue to pursue a course of action ultimately leading to as comprehensive a formal agreement as possible, subject to the original constraints you established in your original PD 3—e.g., dismantling of Soviet ASAT capabilities, emphasis on verifiability, and an end to Soviet testing. However, the Summary of Conclusions at Tab A,4 as well as Harold’s memo at Tab C,5 demonstrate that there is still considerable interagency disagreement over some of the fundamental issues we intend to initially raise with the Soviets. There is also some concern among several principals that, despite over nine months of study, we do not fully understand the implications of what we intend to propose. The disagreements are summarized below:

Hostile Acts. Consistent with the results of an earlier SCC meeting, Cy Vance has told the Soviets that we are interested in an agreement that attacks on each other’s satellites would be considered “hostile acts.” However, there is interagency disagreement over whether we ought to consider only physical attacks as hostile acts, or interference—a broader term encompassing both physical attacks and electronic warfare (EW). ACDA, DOD and JCS favor the former, State the latter. [1½ lines not declassified]

Physical attacks would be easier to verify than interference, [4 lines not declassified] vulnerability of our fleet. State argues that “interference” is a term already in use in other US/Soviet bilateral agreements (concerning the operation of National Technical Means), and negotiations might prove easier if there is consistency among the various agreements.

No First-Use Pledge. ACDA, supported by State, suggested that, to make the talks more meaningful, we ought to propose at Helsinki that both sides pledge not to be the first to attack a satellite of the other side. DOD and JCS prefer to await the results of the Helsinki meeting before deciding whether to propose such a pledge. [3 lines not declassified] Additionally, Harold Brown, who is inclined to favor some non-use pledge in peacetime, has asked for more time to consider whether we want a “no-first-attack” pledge in wartime.

In addition, we do not currently have a good capability to monitor some kinds of ASAT attacks on our satellites, but we could—and probably ought to—substantially improve our monitoring capability over the next several years by installing on-board attack sensors on all our important satellites (long-term costs: $250–300 M).

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Type of Agreement to be Reached with the Soviets. There was general agreement that our ultimate goal was to reach a bilateral (or perhaps multilateral) formal agreement, subject to Congressional ratification. As we proceed serially from talks of an exploratory nature to step-by-step agreements, however, no consensus was reached on the form any interim agreements might take. ACDA favors bilateral parallel statements regarding hostile acts and no first use, which in their view requires no Congressional consent.

Testing Ban. This is the most contentious issue—whether and for how long an ASAT testing ban ought to be proposed. The crux of this issue is the existing asymmetry in orbital intercept capabilities. Because our ability to verify the dismantling of the existing Soviet interceptors is poor, a testing suspension could codify the current asymmetry in real capabilities. Nevertheless, there was general agreement that it is important to ban testing now before the Soviets run any high-altitude ASAT tests, because many of our most important satellites are out of reach of the current Soviet orbital interceptor. Several also felt that an immediate ban on low altitude testing is appropriate because the current Soviet interceptors do not seem very good, and because it might be difficult to verify that low altitude testing will not lead to a high altitude capability.

As a result of an earlier SCC, Cy Vance told the Soviets we were interested in a test suspension during the talks. State, OSTP and ACDA favor proposing an indefinite moratorium on ASAT tests, but with the proviso that tests could be commenced with six months’ notice. Harold prefers a high-altitude test ban with a one-year “escape clause,” and a low-altitude test ban on the Soviets, but with a promise that the US will give them six months’ notice if the pressures of the existing asymmetry favoring the Soviets require us to commence such testing. The JCS supports the high-altitude moratorium but opposes any low-level test ban.


1. In light of the complexity and sharply divergent opinions about how to resolve the fundamental issues, and the fact that we do not have even a hint how the Soviets feel about the ASAT negotiations, I feel the only prudent decision I can recommend at this juncture is that the Helsinki talks be “exploratory” in nature. Harold’s memo to you (Tab C) supports this point. Under such an approach the Soviets would be told that we are prepared to explore with them the possibility of: (i) treating physical attacks on satellites [less than 1 line not declassified] as hostile acts; (ii) pledging not to conduct such attacks; (iii) placing an indefinite moratorium on high-altitude tests with a one-year right of withdrawal; (iv) placing a six-month moratorium on low-altitude testing while we explore the possibilities for an agreement that will guarantee no significant asymmetries in overall ASAT capabilities.

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We would not seek to finalize any agreement at this first meeting. After raising the key points, our objective would be to gauge Soviet reactions—which will give us a better idea of where we go from here.

In the unlikely event the Soviets are interested in coming to any sort of immediate agreement, our Delegation should seek further instructions. We would not put forth concrete proposals until after a substantive review in Washington.

______ Approve, as outlined above and specified in the PD at Tab B.6

______ Disapprove, develop specific proposals.

2. Recommend you approve the Summary of Conclusions at Tab A, and sign the PD at Tab B.

______ Approve

______ Disapprove

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 95, SCC 082, Space Policy, ASAT Hostile Acts and Tests, 6/1/78. Top Secret; Codeword. Sent for urgent action. Carter initialed the memorandum.
  2. See Document 29.
  3. See Document 24.
  4. See Document 29.
  5. Not attached.
  6. Carter checked the “Approve, as outlined above and specified in the PD at Tab B” option, and wrote “J” in the left-hand margin.