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

SUBJECT

  • Anti-Satellite Negotiations

Considerable progress has been made in the current round of negotiations on limitations on ASAT systems. An agreement, however, will require resolution of several differences between the U.S. and Soviet approaches.

The U.S. has proposed an initial agreement consisting of a Treaty prohibiting damaging, destroying, or changing the trajectories of satellites, and a one-year suspension of ASAT interceptor testing. We would pursue a more comprehensive agreement in follow-on negotiations.

The Soviets would go beyond our proposal to prohibit additional actions against satellites, in particular the use of electronic counter-measures. The U.S. wants to avoid this subject. Another troublesome issue, whether satellites used by the U.S. together with third countries are to be protected by the Treaty, is now close to resolution by the Delegations in Vienna.

A potentially serious problem is a Soviet proposal to exclude from coverage satellites which engage in “hostile” or “illegal” acts. Soviet ex[Page 119]amples of “hostile” satellites have been rather far-fetched (e.g., satellites which harm the environment, or satellites which swoop down into national airspace). Such an exemption could legitimize the retention and use of ASAT systems, thus undercutting the basic objective of the agreement. We are attempting to persuade the Soviets that provisions for consultation and withdrawal as well as the inherent right of self-defense provided for in the UN charter are adequate to deal with such a contingency should it arise. Cy has made these points to Dobrynin.2

The Soviets broke their long silence on a test suspension by proposing last week to suspend until January 1, 1981 testing in space not only of ASAT interceptors (our proposal), but of any means of damaging, destroying, or changing the trajectory of satellites.3 Restrictions on changing trajectories could impair the operations of the space shuttle, and have been rejected. The other principle difference concerns whether or not to suspend testing of ASAT systems other than interceptors, primarily ground-based lasers. For verification reasons, the U.S. proposed to suspend only interceptor tests since monitoring covert tests of Soviet lasers against satellites would require U.S. intelligence collection systems not yet in being or programmed.

Since we are aware of no U.S. plans to test a laser against a satellite before 1981, it is tempting to consider the broader approach the Soviets have proposed. However, given the importance of verification of Treaty obligations, we recommend that the U.S. hold to the position to suspend only ASAT interceptor tests. If the Soviets insist on the broader approach, we recommend that the U.S. offer to state that we do not plan any tests of other forms of ASAT systems before 1981, and will notify the Soviet Union of any change in these plans. The Soviets would have to make the same statement. This would not be an obligation but a statement of fact. Such an exchange of statements of plans could encourage the Soviets to accept the U.S. approach. It could also avoid a situation in which the Soviets circumvent the interceptor test suspension by testing a ground-based laser against a satellite, which the Soviets may be in a position to do by 1981.

Cyrus R. Vance
George M. Seignious II
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 4, Anti-Satellite System (ASAT): 7/77–10/80. Secret.
  2. See Document 49.
  3. See Document 48.