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483. Memorandum from Secretary of Defense Brown to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • U.S. Position on Cut-Off in Production and Transfer of Fissionable Materials for Use in Nuclear Weapons

Yesterday, I was informed that a memorandum for the President had been sent to the National Security Council staff asking that an interagency study be conducted on the desirability of proposing at the UN Special Session on Disarmament (SSOD) negotiations on a cut-off of fissionable materials for nuclear weapons and the transfer of enriched uranium from stockpiled weapons to non-aligned nations for peaceful purposes.2 I agree that a thorough analysis of these important issues may be useful. However, I do not believe that it would be in our best interest at this time to initiate a chain of events that is implicitly assumed to lead to a reaffirmation of a cut-off or transfer proposal of the sort we first made in 1963, at the upcoming SSOD. Rather, we should await the outcomes of the current CTB and SALT negotiations before we consider proposals to further constrain our freedom of action in the nuclear weapons area. Only when these negotiations are completed will we have a firm understanding of our future weapons needs and be in a position to address a cut-off of production of fissionable materials.

The strategic situation has changed since the United States first advanced a cut-off proposal in 1963.3 At this time, we enjoyed a significant advantage over the Soviet Union in terms of nuclear weapons materials. [6½ lines not declassified] The potential political advantages of reaffirmation of the cut-off and transfer proposal must be weighed against current and projected U.S. need. The projections of requirements may have to be modified based on SALT outcomes. We must avoid being constrained on future weapons decisions because of a lack of availability of weapons grade materials.

To meet the fissionable material requirements of the FY 78–80 Nuclear Weapons Stockpile Plan approved by the President in PD/[Page 1196]NSC–264 and the FY 81–85 projections as noted by the President will require all the material currently available, plus the output of the Department of Energy’s three operating production reactors through 1985. Should a SALT agreement not be reached, options to increase rapidly our strategic forces capability by beginning new or accelerating planned systems (e.g., SLCMs, GLCMs, CMC) are likely to require all the above material and the restart of some reactors currently maintained in standby status. In addition, some strategic options such as the MX 5 would require more highly enriched uranium than is currently available for the weapons program. Thus, a cut-off or mandated transfer out of stockpiles could pre-empt our ability to deploy systems currently under development. Additionally, continued production of tritium is mandatory to maintain operational warheads now stockpiled.

[1½ lines not declassified] The Soviets have consistently opposed IAEA safeguards for any of their facilities. It is therefore unlikely that they would agree to any intrusive verification provisions that allowed for on-site inspection. [7 lines not declassified]

In addition to the technical difficulties associated with a cut-off initiative, the diplomatic utility of such an effort is also open to serious question. The U.S. has offered similar proposals on at least four other occasions, and the Soviets have rejected each one. It is no more likely that the U.S.S.R. will accept this initiative than it has the others. Given that this initiative would be only a reintroduction of a very old idea that has never produced any tangible results, and given that the Soviets are likely to respond negatively, the effort could be attacked by some non-nuclear weapon states as a calculated and empty gesture on the part of the United States.

Some of our closest allies appear to be opposed to the idea of a cut-off or transfer. For example, the British, in reaction to a similar Canadian proposal, argued in February6 that a cut-off would be “injurious to the development and refurbishment of UK nuclear weapons,” and thus harmful to the UK as well as the NATO nuclear deterrent. They noted that a cut-off would be [less than 1 line not declassified] and went so [Page 1197]far as to enlist U.S. support in helping dissuade the Canadians from pursuing this proposal.

There are clearly major differences of view among the various agencies, about the national security effects, political feasibility, relative effect on U.S. and Soviet stockpiles, and verifiability of such an initiative. It is unfortunate that lack of prior consultation with the Department of Defense in the formulation of the memorandum has prevented any attempt to compose them before it was forwarded to the President for his decision.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff shares these views.

Harold Brown
  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; Restricted Data.
  2. See Document 482.
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. VII, Arms Control and Disarmament, Document 313.
  4. Presidential Directive/National Security Council-26, “FY1978–1980 Nuclear Weapons Stockpile,” December 27, 1977, is scheduled to be printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. IV, National Security Policy.
  5. The proposed MX (Missile Experimental) Missile was a Multiple Independently Targeted Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) nuclear weapon that the Carter administration considered deploying on railroad tracks as a mobile system. For more on the MX, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. IV, National Security Policy, and Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXIII, SALT II, 1972–1980, Documents 80, 81, 130, 188, 191, 197, 205, 236, 239, and 244.
  6. The British objection to the Canadian proposal is in telegram 2787 from London, February 17. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780074–0713) The Canadian proposal was not found.