40. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affaris (Slocombe) to Secretary of Defense Brown1



Attached is PD–45,2 which I assume you’ve seen, setting forth this round’s instructions for the ASAT negotiations. Substantively, DoD seems to have won on interference and lost on testing. More than usual, however, the instructions are something of a surprise, given the substance of the meeting, and deserve some comment.

1. Testing: The approach of a one-year ban with no distinction between high and low altitude satellites may make sense if one is trying to reach quick agreement with the Soviets in order to bolster SALT ratification prospects (although it could backfire with Senators concerned about USUSSR military asymmetries). Herb York has also argued, perhaps correctly, that a test ban of sufficient duration would be to the United States’ advantage. A one-year ban, however, immediately raises the question of renewal. If we do think it desirable to go ahead with MHV testing in mid-1981, we will need to make the case soon as to why that is so. Otherwise, we are likely to find that what is formally a one-year ban will be continuously extended. Even the prospect of such [Page 91] renewal could present problems, as we are learning in SALT (with Protocol) and CTB.

The Delegation has been instructed to report back on the Soviet response to our proposals. An appropriate time to raise the renewal question would be when we see their response.

2. Dismantling: I thought we had closed this issue out, but it seems to have raised its head again. The first ASAT SCC for this round decided that the US should listen to and probe Soviet proposals for dismantling the orbital ASAT but not make proposals of our own since “we have not found a proposal that would satisfy our concerns, and we must be prepared to live with any proposal we made.” However, in order to draw the Soviets out on dismantling their orbital ASAT, the PD as written allows the Delegation to “draw on the ideas contained in the interagency study” and make dismantling “suggestions.” The Delegation also is to make clear that it is not making any dismantling “proposals.”

The PD’s statement on US suggestions (which, I am fairly sure, reflects an NSC staff decision) formally adheres to, but in practice may reverse, the SCC conclusion since the interagency study referred to is in reality an ACDA paper whose suggestions were the ones that did not satisfy the SCC’s concerns. Buchheim is an able negotiator, however, so I really don’t expect anything untoward will happen in Berne. Nonetheless, we should take action in Washington to reestablish the SCC conclusion (perhaps doing this also in the context of any discussion about the Soviet response to our proposals).

3. Lasers: The PD—reflecting, we are told, the President’s personal initiative—says that the Delegation should make it clear to the Soviets that investigating the possibility of limits on high energy laser ASAT applications should get high priority in future talks. While, in the abstract, I have no quarrel with “investigating” this, there is reason to believe that limitations on laser ASAT applications will be difficult to construct. For this reason, the interagency ASAT working group had agreed not to discuss lasers with the Soviets. Given the President’s interest, I think it would be wise for DoD to move out smartly on seeing whether something can be done, especially in light of our and Soviet non-ASAT laser programs. From DoD’s point of view, there are substantial arguments for continuing our laser R&D programs as an ASAT hedge and for non-ASAT applications and substantial doubts about the verifiability of any limits on lasers for ASAT use. Clearly, others disagree, at least at this point. Accordingly, if you agree, I will arrange with Bill Perry to (1) survey US and Soviet current and planned laser programs, (2) provide a menu of choices and costs (especially impacts on those programs) necessary to get an effective ASAT laser limitation, and (3) analyze monitoring/verification issues relevant to possible [Page 92] ASAT laser limitations. We would then have the basis for analyzing specific proposals in the interagency group.

Walter Slocombe

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense

International Security Affairs

Agree: ______3

Other: ______

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harold Brown Papers, Box 50, ASAT. Top Secret. The memorandum is stamped “SECDEF Has Seen 8 Feb 1979.”
  2. See Document 38.
  3. Brown wrote “HB 2/8” in the “Agree” option.