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


  • Instructions to the Delegation to the 2nd Round of ASAT Talks (U)

We are scheduled to begin the second round of ASAT talks with the Soviets on January 23 in Bern. In preparation for this meeting the SCC met on January 18.2 In this meeting the SCC agreed that our strategy should be to continue to explore potential areas of agreement on an informal basis until the main elements of a reasonable initial agreement seem fairly clear to both sides. When this situation has been reached—and it may not take long—we would make a formal proposal. Staying informal makes talking with the Soviets somewhat easier: there are several issues the Soviets owe us a response on, and this approach presents the smallest risk that we will generate a formal Soviet rejection which would reflect badly on SALT. (TS)

In the first round of talks, the Soviets suggested that we negotiate an initial agreement banning damage, destruction or unauthorized displacement of the other side’s satellites—an agreement that would stand independent of the success or failure of any following negotiations on other ASAT issues. Following instructions, the Delegation responded that any initial agreement should also include a moratorium on ASAT tests. (S)

Since the end of round one, the SCC’s discussions have thus concentrated on the question of what should be included in an initial agreement and how such an agreement should be linked to continued negotiations toward dismantling and the comprehensive limits on ASAT testing, deployment, and use that you originally set as our goals. (TS)

We could negotiate an initial agreement banning just damage, destruction, and unauthorized displacement but this approach, in addition to allowing Soviet testing to continue, may not take full advantage of the bargaining capital inherent in the Soviets’ demonstrated concern that we might consider displacing some of their satellites with the [Page 83]space shuttle. The SCC thus believes we should continue to try to achieve more in the initial agreement than the Soviets have proposed—and has been able to agree that at a minimum, the initial agreement should include a ban on testing high altitude ASAT interceptors. On several other issues, however, we have not been able to agree, so you will have to resolve our differences. (TS)

Low Altitude ASAT Interceptor Testing

In round one, we attempted to raise the testing suspension idea with the Soviets and were told that they were not ready to discuss testing. Later in a private meeting with the head of the Soviet Delegation, Ambassador Warnke, described our original idea of an indefinite high altitude test suspension and a six-month moratorium on testing at low altitudes, but this suggestion is not yet part of the record. (TS)

In this next round we will probe the Soviet reaction to our suggestion. But we need to decide whether to stay with our earlier suggestion, or change to some other formulation as suggested in the SCC. (TS)

ACDA and State argue that we should pursue a testing suspension that doesn’t discriminate between high and low altitudes—ACDA believes the suspension should last two years; State proposes only one year. Both argue that a testing suspension that covers all altitudes will be easier both to negotiate and to verify, and that such a suspension would only impact on the Soviets since we aren’t scheduled to begin testing our miniature homing vehicle ASAT until 1981. (TS)

JCS and OSD prefer no low altitude test suspension at all. They believe that the current asymmetry in ASAT interceptor capabilities is unacceptable, and are pessimistic about the prospects for identifying and negotiating verifiable arrangements for eliminating the current Soviet orbital interceptor—they see the testing of our MHV system as the only way to eliminate the asymmetry. They further believe that a satisfactory way to draw an altitude distinction can be identified and negotiated without much difficulty, and that even a short suspension of low altitude testing will inhibit Congressional funding for our ASAT development program. Finally, they believe that there will be significant pressures to extend such a suspension later, thereby perpetuating the asymmetry. (TS)

I believe that a one-year moratorium is the best position for this round of talks, primarily because it can be quickly negotiated if the Soviets are willing to shut off their testing. While it would be nice to be able to include an indefinite ban on high-altitude testing in an initial agreement, our studies suggest that drawing a meaningful distinction between high and low altitudes is a complex proposition. (TS)

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Your Decision:

______ No low-altitude suspension; indefinite high (DOD)

______ One-year suspension at all altitudes (State, NSC)3

______ Two-year suspension at all altitudes (ACDA) (S)

[5 paragraphs (60 lines) not declassified]

Coverage of the Testing Suspension

ACDA and State believe that any test ban or suspension should cover tests of ASAT systems rather than ASAT interceptors. They are particularly interested in stopping possible tests of high energy laser ASAT systems. (TS)

NASA is against such broad coverage because it could be interpreted as including testing of systems for displacing satellites, and thus would cause trouble for our plans to use the Space Shuttle to retrieve our own satellites from orbit. [2 lines not declassified] (TS)

DOD and I believe that the test suspension should only cover ASAT interceptors because of the verification and shuttle problems. It seems clear, however, that the pursuit of limits on high energy laser ASAT applications should get high priority in follow-on negotia-tions. (TS)4

Your Decision:

______ Cover tests of ASAT interceptors only (DOD, NSC, NASA)5

______ Cover tests of all ASAT systems (ACDA, State)

At Tab A is a draft set of instructions to the Delegation reflecting my recommendations on the above issues. (U)


That you approve my issuing instructions of the form given at Tab A, suitably modified to reflect the above decisions. (U)6

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 21, PD/NSC–45. Top Secret. In the upper right-hand corner, Carter wrote “Zbig. J.”
  2. See Document 35.
  3. Carter checked this option and initialed “J” after the sentence.
  4. Carter underlined the phrase “should get high priority in follow-on negotiations” in this paragraph.
  5. Carter checked this option, and drew an arrow to the previous paragraph and wrote “Let this be known to Soviets.”
  6. Carter approved this option and underlined the words “suitably modified” in this paragraph.