481. Memorandum From Secretary of State Vance and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Special Session on Disarmament

In your note of February 272 you expressed concern about (1) our overall position at the UNGA’s Special Session on Disarmament (SSOD) next May/June; and (2) our vulnerability in the SSOD context on arms sales and ER weapons issues.

We have committed ourselves to a positive and forthcoming approach to the Special Session. We intend to be receptive to the views of others and to put forward new ideas of our own at New York.

To carry out this approach we are working on a three point program:

I. Working from the base of our current arms control policies we are developing guidance for our SSOD delegation which will en [Page 1190] courage support for these policies and which will exploit positive achievements. We will emphasize our SALT and CTB efforts, our non-proliferation programs, and our CW and RW negotiations.

II. Recognizing that our current efforts in the disarmament field cannot produce sufficient demonstration of momentum by the time of the SSOD, we are examining what possible specific arms control initiatives the US might be able to put forward which would have merit in themselves and which would strengthen our overall position. Proposals being considered include: (1) Cut-off by nuclear weapons states in the production of fissionable materials for weapons use; (2) Some forms of preferential assistance for peaceful use of nuclear energy by countries that have adhered to the NPT; (3) An international agreement for reporting on nuclear accidents; and (4) A proposal to meet Third World demands that the developed countries recognize a relationship between savings from disarmament and economic and social development.

These possible initiatives are being analyzed carefully to determine their feasibility and effectiveness. We will also have to weigh how we will surface any one or more of them that we finally approve. The disarmament-development initiative represents at once an area of great interest among the LDC’s and the area in which it will be difficult for us to advance a sufficiently specific proposal.

III. We will be instructing our delegation for the final session of the SSOD Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) session in April so they can play an active role in developing draft language for a Declaration on Disarmament and a Program of Action, key elements of a final SSOD document. We are also consulting with Allies and a number of nonaligned states on the question of possible modifications in the multilateral disarmament machinery (the UN and the CCD).

Our soundings thus far and our experience at the meetings of the PrepCom, the most recent of which ended on February 24, have convinced us that Third World expectations are extremely high. What the non-aligned—led by India and Yugoslavia—really want is for the US and Soviets to come to some sort of agreement that will constitute a “breakthrough” in the direction of nuclear disarmament. This expectation goes beyond SALT and CTB agreements, which they assume will be achieved by that time and, thus, the Soviet proposal for a ban on ER weapons would likely find a receptive audience. If SALT and CTB are still pending, we can expect an even greater sense of disillusionment among the non-aligned and greater difficulty in promoting our other arms control objectives in the SSOD.

On their part, the non-nuclear weapon states want to receive assurances that nuclear weapons will not be used against them. Two Allied [Page 1191] countries—Canada and the UK—are planning to propose formulas providing such assurances at the Special Session.

Most UN member states want to have a greater voice in disarmament decisions. While we want to be responsive to this desire, we intend to protect the negotiating effectiveness of bodies such as the CCD.

We are fully conscious of these considerations as we move forward in our planning.

Obviously, a six-week conference of 140 nations is not an effective context within which specific arms control agreements can be negotiated, and thus major breakthroughs cannot be expected. At best, we can hope to start a process which may lead to significant progress in subsequent negotiations. While offering constructive initiatives ourselves, therefore, we will also seek to moderate or reduce unrealistically high expectations on the part of the LDC’s and non-governmental organizations.

All of our work is now being carried out in the Interagency Backstopping Committee, chaired by ACDA, which the NSC recently established. We recognize that if we are to achieve our goals, we must accelerate our preparations. We will have to be able to respond to others’ initiatives as well as to field our own. It’s clear that key SSOD policy issues will have to be addressed very soon by all interested agencies at high levels.

On the two specific issues which you raised in your memorandum we have the following observations:

Arms Sales. At the several PrepCom meetings that have been held and in ongoing bilateral and multilateral consultations, we have sought support for universal adherence to conventional arms transfer restraint. There is substantial resistance among the LDC’s to endorsing arms transfer restraints. We (and the other arms suppliers) must expect to take some flak at New York on this issue, unless we can succeed in making the case that all nations would profit from restraints that reduce risks and costs while permitting legitimate defense needs to be met.

ER Weapons. We have proposed to our Allies that we link ER weapons and arms control in a way that would offset anticipated Soviet propaganda at the SSOD.3 Our proposal would focus attention on the modernization of the Soviet theater nuclear system and would involve a ER Weapon/SS–20 tradeoff. While there was general agreement at the last NAC (February 24) that an arms control strategy for ER [Page 1192] weapons is needed,4 additional consultations will be required before we can come up with a NATO position. Most of our Allies, including Bonn, agree with us on the need to put the ER decision behind us before the SSOD and the NATO summit.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Brzezinski Office File, Subject Chron File, Box 118, Special Session on Disarmament: 2–5/78. Secret.
  2. See Document 480.
  3. Not found.
  4. Not found.