482. Memorandum From Secretary of State Vance and the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (Warnke) to President Carter 1

SUBJECT

  • The US Position on Cut-off in Production and Transfer of Fissionable Materials for Use in Nuclear Weapons

We believe that an interagency study should be completed as soon as possible on the desirability of proposing at the UN Special Session on Disarmament (SSOD), negotiations on a cut-off in the production of fissionable materials for nuclear weapons. We should also study the desirability of transferring agreed amounts of enriched uranium from US and Soviet weapon stockpiles to peaceful purposes. Even without a transfer, a cut-off agreement would represent a major step in our efforts to halt and reverse the nuclear arms race.

[4½ lines not declassified]

While a preliminary assessment by ACDA concludes that such an agreement could advance US security interests,2 we believe a comprehensive examination of the issues involved in cut-off and transfer should be undertaken immediately by all appropriate Executive Branch departments and agencies. The impact on US nuclear force planning options should be analyzed under a variety of possibilities, ranging from projections of likely force levels to various higher options. We should assess the impact on Soviet capabilities, and the extent [Page 1193]to which such constraints on the Soviets would reduce our own requirements. A cut-off and transfer proposal would involve important national security issues, but we believe this Administration’s commitment to nuclear arms control requires that we give the most serious consideration to reaffirming our previous proposals in this area.

A cut-off proposal has been advanced in various forms by four previous US Administrations, beginning with that of President Eisenhower. We will have to face this issue in any event at the Special Session, for it is part of the Program of Action of the non-aligned, and may be advanced as a suggestion by some of our allies as well.

A cut-off and transfer would be complementary to SALT TWO and a Comprehensive Test Ban, and could be presented as a logical follow-on to those treaties. Together with these ongoing efforts, it is regarded by non-nuclear weapon states as one of the primary requirements to maintain and strengthen the NPT and the overall non-proliferation regime. Proposing such negotiations would demonstrate our intention to deal ultimately with a central issue of nuclear disarmament—halting the continued production and stockpiling of nuclear weapons. As such, it directly addresses the concerns expressed by Prime Minister Desai and hence would improve the prospects for obtaining Indian acceptance of full scope safeguards—one of our priority non-proliferation objectives.

It is not clear that reaffirming a cut-off and transfer proposal would lead to productive negotiations with the Soviets. They have in the past rejected the cut-off, and Brezhnev’s November 2 proposal for a halt in the production of nuclear weapons,3 beginning with a ban on “neutron weapons,” carries obvious difficulties for the US. The likely Soviet rejoinder would be a call for negotiation of a production ban on nuclear weapons as well as on fissionable materials. They have informally indicated to us in New York during the Special Session Preparatory Committee meetings that a cut-off could be a corollary to a weapons production ban. We could counter that such a ban applicable to all nuclear weapons states appears unattainable now, but as evidence of our desire for progress, the US stands ready to initiate discussions now on materials cut-off.

We could also consider transferring an agreed quantity of highly enriched uranium from our special nuclear weapons material stockpile, diluted to lower enrichments, to applications supporting US non-proliferation objectives (e.g. research on more proliferation-resistant fuel cycles). This offer could be conditioned on Soviet willingness to do [Page 1194]the same. Such a materials transfer would serve disarmament and non-proliferation objectives, and it is something specific that could be accomplished sooner than a cut-off agreement.

Despite the uncertain prospects for early completion of negotiations on a cut-off, it would be productive to make such a proposal at the SSOD, and would give substance to our expressed desire to move in the direction of nuclear disarmament. It would also help to fulfill the pledge you made to the General Assembly last March that the US would make a strong and positive contribution to the SSOD.4

As has been the case when the US has advanced the proposal in the past, the United Kingdom has expressed some concern about the idea of a cut-off proposal because of the effect such an agreement could have on its nuclear weapons program. This concern might be eased by extensive advance consultations and by initially proposing only US-Soviet exploratory discussions. Should such discussions take place and provide the basis for beginning serious negotiations, we would again consult with the UK to see whether their concerns could be met adequately.

It should be noted that while any inspection of Soviet territory would be difficult to negotiate, one of the advantages of our present cut-off proposal is that on-site inspection requirements would be handled by an international body (IAEA). Furthermore, such inspection would be limited to safeguards to preclude the diversion of nuclear materials to weapons purposes. Previous US proposals (in the 1960’s) had included IAEA inspection of shutdown military facilities, as well as civil facilities, and US adversary inspection rights for suspected clandestine activity—both of which were strongly opposed by the Soviets. [7 lines not declassified] This is a critical issue that should also be addressed in the interagency study.

We recommend that you sign the memorandum at Tab 15 directing the preparation of an interagency study of the issues involved in reaffirming at the SSOD US proposals to negotiate an adequately verified cut-off and transfer agreement.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, James Schlesinger Papers, Box 1, Chronological File, 1978 Apr. 1–22. Secret; Restricted Data. Vance did not initial the memorandum.
  2. Not found.
  3. The “Address by President Brezhnev Before the Central Committee of the CPSU: Halting the Production and Testing of Nuclear Weapons [Extract],” November 2, 1977, is in Documents on Disarmament, 1977, pp. 679–680.
  4. See footnote 4, Document 473.
  5. Not attached.