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45. Memorandum From Secretary of State Vance and Secretary of Defense Brown to President Carter 1

SUBJECT

  • Anti-Satellite (ASAT) Negotiations

You decided that all space objects, regardless of nationality, should be protected under the interim ASAT agreement. However, we ask that you reconsider and decide instead that the agreement should cover the satellites of the two sides, including those in which either side shares an interest with third parties. This will fully protect our security and foreign policy interests.

As nearly as we can tell, the Soviets will not agree to an ASAT treaty that protects all (which they read as “PRC”) satellites. Especially if we are to get a useful, if limited ASAT agreement in time to help SALT ratification (but probably in any event), there will have to be some compromise on the ownership question.

We know you may be concerned that the Soviets would use this position in the future as an excuse for retaining ASAT capabilities. However, given the multi-functional nature of most ASAT components and the attendant verification problems, the difficulty involved in eliminating all ASAT capabilities does not derive solely (or, even, mainly) from the nature of an interim agreement. To the extent the nature of the interim agreement is a problem, we can deal with that by making clear that in our view less-than-comprehensive coverage in an interim agreement is neither a precedent nor a legitimate excuse for retaining ASAT systems.

If you’re concerned about the foreign policy drawbacks of excluding satellites operated exclusively by third countries, we can show those countries that an early interim agreement can benefit them as well: (1) the test suspension will benefit them directly by impeding Soviet ASAT development; (2) We can move from an interim agreement to negotiations aimed at limiting ASAT systems directly; and (3) We can invite others to join the process in the future. We should also seek [Page 104]provisions permitting additional countries to adhere to the agreement, thereby protecting their satellites (and agreeing not to attack those of other parties).

Your main immediate aims in the ASAT negotiations have been to take a first step toward a comprehensive agreement and to stop the Soviet testing program for one year. The change we suggest combined with the pressure on Soviet leaders at the upcoming Summit will present us with a unique opportunity to accomplish these aims, and will help us with SALT ratification.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harold Brown Papers, Box 50, ASAT. Top Secret. On April 2, Brzezinski informed the Secretaries that “the President has decided that the agreement need only cover satellites the two sides own or share an interest in with third countries. At the same time, the President notes that his concern with this approach remains. He stated ‘The Soviets can develop a very advanced AS (anti-satellite) capability ostensibly just to destroy PRC satellites. What have we gained?’” (Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 102, SCC 148, ASAT, 3/12/79)