48. Telegram From the Embassy in Austria to Telegram the Department of State1

4406. US ASAT Three 014. From Buchheim. Mil addressees handle as Specat. NASA for Krueger. Subject: (U) Restricted Meeting, May 4, 1979—Part Two.

1. (Secret—Entire text.)

2. Part one of this report is ASAT Three 013;2 there are only two parts.

3. Summary: Restricted meeting was held at Soviet Embassy at 10:30 a.m., Friday, May 4, 1979. Attendees: U.S. side: Buchheim, Bradburn, Darbyshire and Smith (interpreter); Soviet side: Khlestov, Mayorskiy, Pisarev, Terekhov (interpreter). Buchheim presented prepared statement (see ASAT Three 013) on view of U.S. side on possible differences of approach between U.S. and Soviet sides with respect to what we are trying to deal with in a prohibited-acts element. U.S. side seeks prohibition of certain acts against space objects; Soviet side appears to be trying to deal also with acts against missions in which space objects are used. U.S. side suggested that unknown future contingencies can be dealt with through provisions for consultation, amendment and withdrawal, and argued against an exception for cases of “hostile acts”. Soviet side did not agree. Soviet side asserted need to be permitted by the terms of the agreement to take immediate steps, including the acts otherwise prohibited in the agreement, to defend itself in case of a “hostile act” against it. End summary.

4. Following Buchheim’s prepared statement, Khlestov said he understood that the U.S. side appeared to be recognizing the viewpoint of the Soviet side, that a state whose legitimate interest had been violated retained the right to defend itself. But, he said, he had the impression that the U.S. was opposed to including an exception for “hostile acts” in a prohibited-acts element. He said the U.S. had suggested a right of [Page 110] withdrawal as a substitute for a “hostile acts” exception. He asked if there was not a contradiction in the U.S. view, because if the U.S. recognized the right of a state to take actions against space objects carrying out pernicious acts, why shouldn’t that right be specified in the agreement?

5. Buchheim said it could be viewed as a matter of scope. In the U.S. view, there should be a complete ban on damaging, destroying, or changing the trajectories of space objects, that is, acts against the objects themselves. There are many other ways to render ineffective or inefficient or harmless an attempt to carry out its mission using a space object. In the U.S. view, Buchheim said, our agreement should not address any such measures because they are beyond its scope. As for rights now held by the two countries, nothing would be changed except that the two sides would have recorded an agreement not to damage, destroy, or change the trajectory of a space object. The U.S. side’s specific concern with the Soviet side’s third text3 (on hostile acts) is that it would give, in advance, on an unspecified basis, legitimacy to damaging, destroying, or changing the trajectory of a space object as appropriate immediate remedies if there ever were a space object which carried out pernicious actions, as construed by the side undertaking the prohibited acts.

6. Buchheim said it was the U.S. side’s view on this matter that there is now, and for the foreseeable future will be, no reason to believe that violent remedies are necessary or appropriate and, therefore, they should not be provided for in the agreement. On the other hand, the U.S. side is completely willing to include provisions in the agreement which would provide a basis for dealing thoughtfully with future circumstances. Future circumstances are unpredictable; the Soviet side has said that perhaps these problems may never occur. Contingency measures should begin with consultations to determine whether one side or the other side or both sides wanted to do something about some new circumstance. A further measure could be to amend the agreement, if appropriate, taking into account specific circumstances. These are steps the sides could take together. They are normal measures provided for in most agreements. To take the case to the extreme, if one side or the other decided it could no longer abide by the agreement, it could withdraw from it under conditions of a conventional nature.

7. Khlestov said there was a difference here in characterizing the actions; the Soviet side had one term, and the U.S. had another. In the event of such action, a state had the right to protect itself from such actions of space objects. Khlestov said he had the impression that the [Page 111] viewpoints of the sides coincided here. Buchheim stated that in general this was correct, but he would state it somewhat differently. He would say that, with regard to this agreement, the situation should be that after signing the agreement nothing would have changed regarding the rights now held by both sides except that they had recorded obligations not to carry out certain specified acts against space objects. This should be the full scope of this aspect of the agreement.

8. Khlestov said the sides seem to have a common understanding that even with the agreement under negotiation the right was recognized for a party to the agreement to protect itself against space objects used for hostile or pernicious actions. This was the first point. The U.S. view was that a state could use any measures for protection against such acts except those listed in an agreement, namely, damaging, destroying or changing the trajectory of space objects. Any other measures could be used. Perhaps he was inexperienced in this, but he wondered if Buchheim could give any examples of other measures besides those prohibited in the agreement. Buchheim responded that Khlestov could get a better answer to this question from his own experts. Khlestov said he was not trying to make Buchheim say anything. He said that there were other methods and if Buchheim did not wish to talk about them Khlestov would ask his own specialists. Buchheim replied that that would be better. He could answer only in general terms. Since the Soviet side had thought so much on these matters, and particularly about what you call “hostile acts”, surely it had thought about measures that might be taken against such missions. He could not believe that, with its scientific, technological and military resources, the Soviet Union could not think of any measures other than blowing up a space object. Soviet specialists surely knew of other examples. Khlestov said that the U.S. viewpoint is that a state should undertake other measures for protection against pernicious acts. The Soviet viewpoint is that—in those instances—a state must have the right to take actions which are prohibited in the agreement, that is damaging, destroying or changing the trajectory of a space object. This is the difference between the sides.

9. Khlestov said the Soviet side wanted to include in the agreement an exhaustive list of actions against space objects which would be prohibited, because such actions were effective when used against space objects. He meant not only damaging or destroying a space object, but all acts should be prohibited which would affect the space object and would make it inoperative as a result of the acts. The Soviet side had introduced the act of displacing a space object from orbit. The two sides had discussed the meaning of “not to destroy” for a long time. The Soviet side understood that a wide spectrum of instances were being talked about, not destroying on board equipment or not interfering [Page 112] with the functioning of that equipment. In other words, the purpose of our work is to ban any and all actions against space objects which would impede their normal functioning. If they had left any out, they would just have to add them. The purpose of the main provision was to give an exhaustive list of all forms of action which could be taken against a space object which would impede its normal functioning.

10. With such a comprehensive approach, Khlestov said, a state could not protect itself from pernicious actions carried out using space objects. If it took steps to interfere with pernicious actions, it would violate the provisions of the agreement. The U.S. idea to include provisions for making an addition to the agreement several years in the future was not very consistent. It would not be good to wait for such an action to occur. It was better not to have such an action. Including a provision now was an additional guarantee that cases of a space object being used for pernicious actions would not happen. Since there would be full clarity in the text on space objects used for pernicious actions, no one would want to carry out such actions.

11. Khlestov said the Soviet side proceeded from the premise that there would not be cases when a space object would be used deliberately for pernicious actions. They referred to a hypothetical case. Without their “hostile acts” provision, in order to carry out “prohibited” acts a side would have to quickly withdraw from the agreement. In situations relating to space objects, the time factor would be very important. Withdrawal from an agreement would require certain time-consuming procedures. A question of countering a space object used to carry out pernicious actions might take minutes or hours but no more. A question of withdrawing from the agreement would take weeks or months. Therefore, this is not a solution to the problem.

12. Buchheim said that the Soviet side’s concern over timing and taking rapid measures raised questions on the U.S. side. He wondered if the Soviet side brought this up because it foresaw some activity by the U.S. (or for that matter the USSR) representing real and practical problems. The U.S. side did not. He thought that an obligation not to damage, destroy, or change the trajectories of each other’s space objects included the presumption that both sides would be careful in what they did with their space objects. As Khlestov had said yesterday, each side knew how to use space objects properly. He thought that in the spirit of the common purpose that this agreement could serve, early indications of a move toward missions which one side would find troublesome should lead to consultations with the other side, and not to abrupt exercising of a provision giving a right to begin destroying, damaging or changing the trajectories of a space object.

13. Buchheim said the U.S. side was only acknowledging a hypothetical possibility, making an agreement easy to implement if unfore [Page 113] seen circumstances should arise; but the Soviet viewpoint, involving an explicit exemption and describing urgency in terms of minutes of time, leads the U.S. side to wonder if the Soviet side has some specific problem in mind, as to the present or the near future.

14. Khlestov said that both sides are talking of hypothetical possibilities which might suddenly happen or might never happen. In the hypothetical situation he was referring to, the Soviet side proceeded from a consideration of what rights a state should have if the situation were to happen. He was speaking only of this, of a hypothetical situation which might occur and the rights a state must have to deal with it.

15. Buchheim replied that this was encouraging. He had spoken of consultations in the event of signs of the appearance of a real problem. If the Soviet side sees a real problem, the time to consult is now. However, if the Soviet side is speaking only of hypothetical possibilities, this is pleasant to know.

16. Bradburn said that the ideas the U.S. side had brought today represented an attempt by the U.S. Delegation to find common ground regarding the concerns about hostile acts and provisions for taking into account these actions. The U.S. side had difficulty with the Soviet side’s formulations because their acceptance in the agreement seemed to provide for the exercise of whatever defensive measures a side wished to take and this seemed to be exactly what a side could do if there were no agreement. One could say that the sides did not accept any limitations in entering into this agreement. On the other hand, if the agreement were made without any exceptions and if the provisions on hostile acts were taken care of by consultations and maybe even withdrawal from the agreement, then the sides would be accepting constraints. These limitations might be seen as an advantage by the sides because the obligations to consult would insure that if a hostile act occurred, or if a side believed it had and raised a question, the actions taken would permit a solution of the problem and this would be seen as preferable by the sides as compared with the alternative of carrying out prohibited actions.

17. Bradburn said the U.S. side thought it would be a disadvantage in an agreement which would seem to allow the carrying out of prohibited actions while the agreement was in force under cirumstances when the sides perhaps did not understand or did not agree on the seriousness of the problem. He thought the obligation to consult would serve the interests of the two sides better than would an exemption which would permit the carrying out of prohibited acts because this exception would lead to the possibility of taking violent measures and would increase the seriousness of the situation. However, the obligation to consult and even to withdraw before carrying out prohibited acts would lead to a possibility to defuse this situation.

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18. Khlestov stated that he had listened with interest to Bradburn’s ideas. He said the mechanism of consultations between sides participating in a treaty is a normal process. Even if the sides do not specify in the treaty that they will consult, it is nevertheless presumed. Khlestov did not know of any case in normal diplomatic relations in which a side wished to consult about a problem and the other side said it did not want to talk. Usually they started an exchange of opinions on the question. What Bradburn had just said about the consultations sounded logical but it did not resolve the problem at hand, namely, how to deal with space objects used for pernicious acts. He thanked Bradburn for his attempt to find a mutually acceptable solution to the problem, but did not regard this way as an answer.

19. Buchheim said he wished to try to understand the essence of the Soviet side’s viewpoint. The Soviet side’s main considerations seemed to boil down to two. The first is the view that there is a hypothetical possibility that space objects could be used for missions of such character that they must be countered in order to preserve national interests, and that no other measures that might be taken against such missions were adequate except for damage, destruction, or changing the trajectory of the object being used. The second consideration is that such a hypothetical possibility could materialize into a reality so suddenly that it would require immediate action. Therefore, consultations and accommodation between the sides were not feasible approaches. Is this the essence of the Soviet side’s point of view?

20. Khlestov said that he would emphasize different things so that Buchheim could understand his viewpoint better. First of all, an agreement was being concluded and the sides would undertake obligations not to damage, destroy or change the trajectories of space objects. In other words, all the most effective means of countering the space object that had been invented were included in this list. The U.S. and Soviet sides together had listed all the effective ways of countering space objects. The Soviet side proceeded from the premise that always and in every case the sides were committed to carry out their obligations; that is, not to commit prohibited acts. A state did not have the right to act otherwise. It was obligated always and in every case to observe the “prohibited-acts” element of the agreement. He wished to direct Buchheim’s attention to the second side of the problem, a hypothetical case which could arise in which a space object carried out a pernicious act. A state must have the right to protect itself against these acts. This was the common approach of both sides. Perhaps in practice this would never happen, and the Soviet side did not want it to happen. However, the sides were concluding an agreement of unlimited duration and they did not know what might happen in practice.

21. Khlestov said that, according to the agreement’s present shape, it was possible that suddenly this hypothetical situation could occur for [Page 115] reasons the sides could not now see, and, if there were no exception provisions, neither side would have the right to take the most effective measures to counter missions of the space object. If other, permitted, measures were not effective in protecting against the space object, and if there were no exemption provision in the agreement, the sides could not do anything that was on the list of prohibited acts. Therefore, the Soviet side believed that, if a hypothetical situation were practically realized, in case of necessity a state could carry out prohibited acts against a space object and this should be so specified in the agreement. Of course, consultations could take place but, because of the time factor, consultations were not enough. Logically, this brought them to the last stage of events. Khlestov said he had in greater detail paraphrased what Buchheim had said about the Soviet viewpoint.

22. Buchheim stated that the U.S. side did not deny that it could not predict the future and that hypothetical situations could not be ruled out. The two sides acknowledge that they are speaking of hypothetical unknown possibilities of the future. The idea that such a hypothetical situation might suddenly turn into a monster which could devour the whole city of Cleveland with one bite in a few seconds was difficult for him to take seriously. He thought that if the Soviet Union undertook to build such a monster, the U.S. would know about it beforehand because this could not be done in one day. The U.S. would have many ideas to discuss with the Soviet side in order to head off such a realization. It seems at present that the views of the Soviet side on the need for quick action as compared to the more deliberate process of diplomacy was a specific difference to be considered further. As General Bradburn had stated, the U.S. side is uneasy with the idea that the agreement might on the one hand specify that certain acts would not be carried out, but, on the other hand specify that a side could carry out any of these acts quickly if something angered it.

23. Buchheim said that the U.S. side, correctly or not, proceeded from the premise that the Soviet side would never destroy a U.S. space object unless it had serious reasons to do so. This is certainly true of the U.S. side also. The U.S. side looked forward to an agreement which would enhance stability of relations between our two countries. It is the view of the U.S. that the undertaking should be not to carry out the actions specified—period. If circumstances change in the future, and such an undertaking seems to be of doubtful desirability, the sides should take steps to amend the agreement or conclude a new agreement or agreements to remove the troublesome circumstances or take other appropriate measures. He thought the two sides had made important progress today toward bringing their viewpoints closer together and he hoped that they would continue to do so.

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24. Buchheim said that he remembered that the question of “hostile acts” had first arisen in Helsinki.4 As he recalled, at that time the U.S. side asked the Soviet side if it had brought up this matter out of concern about what the U.S. might do with space objects, or was it concerned about third countries, or was this a general concern. The Soviet side had replied in Helsinki that it was not concerned with U.S. actions but with what somebody else might do. However, from the discussions in Bern, including Khlestov’s answer to a specific question, the U.S. side now understood that the Soviet side’s third text reflects concern over what the U.S. might do. Is there merit in our reviewing this question again?

25. Khlestov said that, frankly, the word “concerned” over what the U.S. or a third country might do did not exactly convey the right meaning intended by the Soviet side. They had spoken of a hypothetical case. They realize that a hypothetical case could come from either side or from elsewhere.

26. Khlestov said that the Soviet side would, as promised, provide answers to the questions raised by the U.S. side at the meeting on 3 May 1979.5 Since they had been raised at a plenary meeting it was logical to answer them at a plenary meeting.

27. Next plenary meeting will be held at U.S. Embassy at 3:00 p.m. on May 8, 1979.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790206–0901. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Sent for information Immediate to the National Security Council, the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and Moscow.
  2. ASAT 013 is telegram 4398 from Vienna, May 4, and reported that Buchheim read a prepared statement to the Soviet Delegation that focused around the question that was “impeding general agreement between us.” The two sides needed to decide whether they were “seeking solely to set forth undertakings not to carry out certain acts against space objects, or are we also trying also to deal with missions?” The United States believed that the answer was the former and that “in these discussions we are not engaged in the latter task, and that we should not try to deal with that task.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790204–0313)
  3. See footnote 4, Document 47.
  4. See Document 33.
  5. Telegram 4397 from Vienna, May 4, describes the May 3 plenary. However, it notes only that Buchheim “read list of questions” but does not provide the actual questions. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790204–0217)