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406. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to Secretary of State Vance, Secretary of Defense Brown, and the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (Warnke)1


  • Protocol I of the Treaty of Tlatelolco

Attached is a decision memorandum on whether the United States should adhere to Protocol I of the Treaty of Tlatelolco on creating a Nuclear Free Zone in Latin America.

Please state your Department’s preferences on the options presented by COB Monday, Apr 11, 1977, so that the President will have time to consider whether or not he would like to include an announcement on adherence in his Pan American Day speech on April 14.

Zbigniew Brzezinski


Decision Memorandum 2


  • U.S. Adherence to Protocol I of the Treaty of Tlatelolco

The Issue

Whether we should adhere to Protocol I to the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America (Treaty of Tlatelolco), which would obligate us to prohibit and prevent the testing, use, manufacture, storage, installation, deployment, or possession of nuclear weapons in territories located in Latin America for which we are internationally responsible—principally Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guantanamo Naval Base, and the Canal Zone.

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The U.S. supported the negotiation of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which was concluded in 1967, and in 1971 adhered to its Protocol II, under which nuclear weapon states undertake to respect the nuclear-free zone and to refrain from using nuclear weapons against its parties. (The UK, France, and China have also joined Protocol II, while the USSR has not.) However, citing primarily the integral relationship to the U.S. of Puerto Rico as well as its importance to hemispheric defense, we have stated that we were not prepared to adhere to Protocol I. (Of the three other states eligible to adhere, the UK and the Netherlands have joined, while France has not.)

U.S. adherence to Protocol I would eliminate one of the few remaining requirements specified in the Treaty of Tlatelolco for the full entry into force of the nuclear-free zone regime, which would involve commitments by all Latin American states to forswear acquisition of nuclear weapons and to accept IAEA safeguards on all their nuclear facilities. (The remaining requirements would be Soviet adherence to Protocol II, French adherence to Protocol I, and Cuban and Argentine ratification of the Treaty of Tlatelolco. Brazil has already ratified, but unlike most other Latin American states that have done so, has exercised its right under the Treaty not to be bound until all the specified conditions are met.)

When the question of U.S. adherence to Protocol I was last reviewed internally, a Strategic Air Command squadron equipped with nuclear weapons was deployed at Ramsey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico and nuclear anti-submarine warfare devices were stored at Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Puerto Rico. At present, however, we do not deploy or store nuclear weapons in any Protocol I territory. Moreover, while we continue to have operational requirements for nuclear-armed naval vessels to call at ports in the zone and to pass through the Panama Canal as well as to patrol and conduct training exercises in the Caribbean area, U.S. adherence would not abridge transit rights or freedom of navigation on the high seas, and therefore those requirements would not be affected.

U.S. adherence would, however, rule out existing contingency plans, which could be activated at a time of advanced readiness, for transferring nuclear depth charges to Roosevelt Roads for use by the squadron of P–3 ASW aircraft stationed there. Alternatives would be available for performing the ASW mission envisaged in those plans [2 lines not declassified] although these alternatives could involve some loss of [3 lines not declassified]

A potentially controversial legal matter involves a provision of the Treaty of Tlatelolco specifying that, upon fulfillment of all requirements for full entry into force, the Treaty’s zone of application would [Page 1034]expand to a large area extending at some points up to 1500 miles from the Latin American coast. While the authors of the Treaty presumably intended this provision to have some constraining effect, our legal analysis indicates that the activation of this “extended zone of application” would not have any practical effect on U.S. obligations under Protocol I and II, and would therefore not in any way restrict U.S. freedom of navigation on the high seas surrounding Latin America. However, to insure against future controversy, we would want to place our interpretation of this provision on record at the time we signed the Protocol and deposited our instrument of ratification (presumably after consulting with key treaty parties and determining that they would not object to our interpretation).

Advantages of U.S. Adherence

—Would have a favorable effect on U.S. relations with Latin America, particularly with Mexico, the principal sponsor of the Treaty, and Panama.

—Would generate pressures for Soviet adherence to Protocol II, which would obligate the Soviets not to store or deploy nuclear weapons in any Latin American territory.

—Would enhance prospects for adherence to the Treaty of Tlatelolco by Brazil, Argentina and Cuba although the latter two would still have the legal power to block the Treaty’s full entry into force if they considered it in their interest to do so. (In the absence of such adherence, there is a serious risk that Argentina and Brazil will follow the Indian route to a nuclear explosive capability.)

—Would not affect any current U.S. operational requirements or deployments.

Disadvantages of U.S. Adherence

—Would rule out existing contingency plans for storing nuclear ASW devices in Puerto Rico, although alternative (perhaps less optimal) means for implementing those plans would be available.

—Would limit U.S. flexibility to deal with possible future threats in the Caribbean and South America by deploying or storing nuclear weapons in our Protocol I territories.

—If we adhered without requiring adherence by other holdouts (e.g., Cuba, USSR), could be perceived as giving up military options in the Caribbean area without requiring reciprocal restraints and as reducing the leverage we might otherwise have for inducing those holdouts to take corresponding actions.


(1) Continue existing policy.

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(2) Adhere to Protocol I without conditions. If this option were chosen, it could be announced in the April 14 Pan American Day speech, although it would be important to contact the Puerto Rican government before any announcement in order to confirm that they would not have objections.

(3) Adhere to Protocol I when Cuba joins the Treaty and the USSR joins Protocol II. If this option were chosen, it is assumed that, in view of the sensitivity of current discussions with Cuba, we would proceed through diplomatic channels rather than through an announcement in the April 14 speech, which might be resented by the Cubans as placing public pressure on them. While this option would reduce possible criticism on the grounds that we had not required reciprocal restraints by others, it could entangle Protocol I in other U.S.-Cuban and U.S.-Soviet matters, and thereby delay U.S. adherence and any benefits resulting therefrom.

(4) Adhere to Protocol I when all other requirements for full entry into force of the Treaty of Tlatelolco are fulfilled. Since the focus on Cuba would be diluted, this could be announced on April 14 or pressed through diplomatic channels. Although this option would ensure full reciprocity, it could delay U.S. adherence indefinitely and might be criticized by Latin Americans as imposing unreasonable conditions on U.S. adherence.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor Subject, Treaty of Tlatelolco, Box 66, Brazil, 3–12/77. Secret.
  2. Secret.