316. Editorial Note

On December 28, 1979, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance submitted a report to the United States Congress on the progress of comprehensive arms restraints discussions. “The principal objective” of the talks, he explained, had been “to bring about reductions in worldwide arms transfers, particularly those that could worsen regional instabilities or stimulate regional arms races, introduce new levels of weapons technology into a given region, or prove susceptible to misuse by terrorists.” The United States and the Soviet Union, he reported, had held four rounds of talks, and had begun to draft “common texts” on the need for conventional arms restraint. However, “the sides were unable to move forward on the important third part of the framework, regional application of criteria, because they were unable to agree on candidate regions for restraint.”

Vance, nevertheless, said that the two sides had made “progress” by agreeing that “arms transfers are an urgent international problem,” had “developed a framework for addressing arms transfer issues,” and had “begun to develop a common text of criteria that define the legal principles and the kinds of transfers that are of critical concern.” While he conceded that “[m]uch remains to be done in the bilateral talks,” Vance contended that a policy of comprehensive arms transfer restraint “has and will continue to serve U.S. interests.” (“Report by Secretary of State Vance to the Congress: Multilateral Discussions on Conventional Arms Transfer Restraints,” December 28, 1979, Documents on Disarmament, 1979, pp. 828–834)

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In January 1980, the New York Times reported that anonymous U.S. officials said that “President Carter has instructed ACDA to stop arms control negotiations in the wake of the Afghanistan invasion.” (Telegram 7624 to all NATO capitals, January 11; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800018–0763) However, Department of State Spokesman Hodding Carter III denied that President Carter had issued a memorandum containing such instructions. Hodding Carter III also told the Associated Press that “no dates have been set for resumption of long-stalled talks on limiting conventional arms transfers, anti-satellite warfare and armaments in Indian Ocean region.” (Telegram 8435 to the Mission in Geneva, January 11, 1980; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800020–0155) Vance, however, told the New York Times that the Carter administration should “continue to pursue limits on conventional arms transfers with understanding that when our friends are placed in jeopardy by actions or threats that are directed against them, we will help them and provide them with military assistance. We will continue that policy.” (Telegram 18290 to Brasilia, January 22; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D80038–0064)

In March 1980, Vance told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that while the administration “remained convinced” that agreements to reduce conventional arms transfers “can contribute to a safer world, we do not at this time foresee progress. In the absence of agreed international restraint, we do not plan to reduce further the ceiling on our own arms transfers.” (Documents on Disarmament, 1980, pp. 176–179) Later that evening, the Department of State told the Mission in Geneva that “mutual disagreements over regional applications prevented the negotiations from moving forward. There are no plans at present for another CAT round. Recent events affecting the stability of key regions and involving US-Soviet interests, including Afghanistan, have obviously complicated the climate. We intend to monitor the bilateral atmosphere and regional situations closely, and we hope that it will eventually be possible to reconvene the CAT talks.” (Telegram 81683 to the Mission in Geneva, March 27; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800156–0303)