484. Memorandum from Secretary of Energy Schlesinger to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • The Vance-Warnke Proposal Regarding a Cut-off of Production and Transfer of Fissionable Materials2

I have now had a chance to peruse the subject memorandum on fissionable materials production cut-off and transfer. My comments are as follows:

1. Given a production cut-off, there is no way, repeat no way, to fulfill the stockpile objectives embodied in the Presidentially-approved nuclear-weapon stockpile paper.

2. The alternatives facing the President under such conditions would be simple. We could fail to produce the weapons for the strategic forces—the Trident, Minuteman III upgrade, and the Cruise Missile—prospectively entering into inventory. Alternatively we could achieve constraint by a substantial drawdown of tactical weapons. This would imply a significant withdrawal from the [number not declassified] weapons now deployed in Europe with all that that would entail for [Page 1198]Alliance relationships and the MBFR negotiations. Additionally, we might attempt to straddle the issue by some drawdown from the tactical weapons stockpile while reducing strategic force objectives.

3. One of the Savannah River reactors now is devoted to the production of tritium. A cut-off of tritium production, since it has a half life of 12.5 years, and has to be replaced every 4 to 8 years, would essentially eliminate stockpile effectiveness in a few years.

4. Substantial production of highly enriched uranium (HEU) is indispensable for fueling the nuclear navy. While the proposal is obscure on this point (since it would presumably cover all such materials that could be used in weapons), it seems difficult to imagine that we would accept conditions in which we were unable to provide sufficient fuel for Polaris, Poseidon and other nuclear powered vessels.

5. [5½ lines not declassified] To suggest that the IAEA, with minimal clout, a spotty track record, and modest resources, could enforce such an agreement strikes me as quixotic.

6. Given the requirement for some reactor products (i.e., one or two operating reactors to produce tritium to maintain operable weapons) and given the requirement for highly enriched uranium production to provide fuel for naval reactors, any agreement acceptable to us would imply the type of qualifications and ambiguities which the Soviets could continuously exploit in raising questions regarding our compliance.

7. Weapons production by the Department of Energy is responsive to DOD requirements as established by the President. Our force structure is designed in response to national security objectives, which are themselves constrained by ratified arms control agreements such as SALT I and prospectively SALT II. It would seem to me that the appropriate initial determination is that of the force structure. Requirements for weapons and, derivatively, for fissionable materials should flow from that initial determination—without the imposition of an arbitrary limitation on materials. We can be assured that the Soviets will not fail to derive their fissionable material requirements in this manner. We should take care to avoid haphazardly constraining our own force structure through such a Procustean device.

8. While I have no inherent difficulty with a study of the issue, since it is likely (for the reasons developed above) to put to rest this type of long speculated-on initiative, I do have serious concern with the proposed crash-effort study. The Special Session on Disarmament has long been scheduled. Why could not this issue have been developed in an orderly manner, rather than accept the risks attendant in attempting to cram such a study into three weeks time?

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, James Schlesinger Papers, Box 1, Chronological File, 1978 Apr. 1–22. Secret.
  2. See Document 482.