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

SUBJECT

  • ASAT (U)

As you may recall, in the second round of ASAT talks in Bern2 the Soviets argued that our bilateral agreement should not provide protection for (1) satellites performing “illegal” acts, and (2) satellites of 3rd countries. (S)

The SCC has been studying these issues since the talks adjourned, and met March 12 to discuss possible ways to resolve them (Summary of Conclusions at Tab A).3 The SCC agreed to approach the first issue by offering to recognize in the Treaty both parties’ inherent right of self defense as stated in the U.N. Charter. At the same time we do this we would note the statements made by the Soviets in both rounds of ASAT talks that their concerns with “illegal” satellites are not a pretext for retaining ASAT capabilities. This should resolve the issue if the Soviets’ [Page 102]purpose is to avoid any implication that by banning the use of ASATs, they are renouncing all rights to defend themselves against a type of hostile activity. (S)

All except JCS agreed to a DOD solution to the second issue—third country coverage. We would insist that the treaty cover any space object we launch (unless we specifically waive protection) or claim we have an interest in. We would also leave the door open for multilateral participation in the treaty. (S)

JCS prefers the position taken by the Delegation in Bern—that all space objects independent of ownership be covered in any initial agreement. They are concerned that failure to cover 3rd party satellites would provide a basis for the Soviets to retain an ASAT capability. (S)

In our view, ultimate Soviet willingness to limit their ASAT capabilities will not be significantly influenced by whether or not an initial ASAT agreement limiting their use covers third countries. While it would be nice to have all space objects covered in the initial agreement as the JCS prefer, the more limited DOD proposal can lead to a useful initial agreement, leaves us no worse off with respect to our ultimate goal of limiting ASAT capabilities than we are today, and would provide an incentive for multilateral participation later on—a positive feature. (S)

We need your decision on the above issue; as soon as we have it we would like to present a démarche to the Soviets indicating how we would approach the problems discussed above, and suggesting that we get the Delegations together to work out an initial agreement in time for the Summit. (TS)

Moving along fast enough to achieve this may not be possible, of course—and the services are unhappy at our efforts to restart the negotiations so soon. In our view, however, the issues are second order, straightforward—and our proposed solutions would not compromise our objectives. (S)

RECOMMENDATION

That you approve the Summary of Conclusions at Tab A. (U)4

That we adopt the DOD proposal for resolving the third country coverage issue. (U)5

That we proceed with a démarche to the Soviets outlining our ideas, and suggesting that the Delegations reconvene to see if we can work out an initial ASAT agreement in time for the Summit. (TS)6

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 102, SCC 148, ASAT, 3/12/79. Top Secret. Sent for action.
  2. See Document 41.
  3. See Document 43.
  4. Carter checked the “Approve” line.
  5. Carter initially checked the “Approve” line, then crossed it out and wrote “Prefer JCS position” in the right-hand margin.
  6. Carter checked the “Approve” line and wrote “If the SU continues to develop ASAT in order to destroy a rudimentary PRC satellite, what have we gained?” at the end of the memorandum.