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

SUBJECT

  • Antisatellite Negotiations

Considerable progress has been made in the ASAT negotiations. We recommend that an effort be made this week to push these negotia[Page 124]tions toward the conclusion of an initial agreement which could be signed at the Summit or closely thereafter.

The remaining issues have been described in an inter-agency status report forwarded to you separately.2 The Soviets have agreed to the approach the US suggested—an initial agreement prohibiting certain actions against satellites and a temporary test suspension. The remaining problem is how to deal with a number of additional issues which the Soviets have raised. There is no need to reconsider our position on many of these issues, such as the scope of coverage of the prohibited acts agreement, and the Soviet proposals to ban non-destructive interference with satellites, to limit Shuttle operations, and to permit attacks on “illegal” satellites. The Delegation is pursuing solutions which are face-saving for the Soviets but retain the substance of the US approach. Cy has discussed the most troublesome of these, the proposed exemption for “illegal” satellites, with Dobrynin,3 and plans to take this issue up again.

The one area where we recommend reconsideration of our position is the scope of the test suspension. Although the US goal is a comprehensive ban on all ASAT systems, we proposed an initial test suspension only on ASAT interceptors [2½ lines not declassified] and we should pursue this.) The Soviets have countered with a proposal to suspend testing to January 1981, of not only interceptors but any means of damaging or destroying satellites.4 They point out, correctly, that a suspension of interceptor testing would appear one-sided and aimed only at their interceptor program. A broader suspension would appear more evenhanded (and allay their suspicions that we plan other forms of ASAT tests).

Since we plan no tests of any ASAT system before 1981, and the Soviets may be in a position to test lasers as well as interceptors during this period, we believe it would be in our interest to broaden our approach on the suspension. There are two ways we could do this:

We could replace our proposal for a ban on interceptor tests with an offer to exchange statements that neither side plans to test in space any means of damaging or destroying satellites before 1981, with notification to the other side if plans should change. This would not represent an obligation not to test, so the verification problem would be reduced. Some SALT issues were resolved with such exchanges of statements of plans.

The Delegation recommends a second approach—to retain a formal test suspension and broaden it to include all ASAT means. They [Page 125]believe this would be a significant step toward our objective of a comprehensive ASAT agreement, and it would prohibit all Soviet ASAT tests until 1981. They recognize the verification issue but believe it can be dealt with by citing (1) the fact that the US is giving up nothing because it plans no ASAT test of any kind during this period, (2) the limited duration, and (3) the breadth of our intelligence capability.

We recommend that we be authorized to explore a broader test suspension with the Soviets along the lines of the two discussed above. Depending on your preference we could try either one first (the Soviets would probably prefer the obligation to a statement of plans). We would make clear to the Soviets that we are prepared to take this step towards them provided the other issues in the Treaty can be resolved on the basis of our position.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harold Brown Papers, Box 50, International Security Affairs, Negotiations, ASAT. Secret. A stamped notation reads “SECDEF HAS SEEN.” In the upper-right hand margin, Brown wrote “6/9. WS [Walter Slocombe]—Doesn’t the Delegation’s proposal give up some of our highly classified programs? I suppose it depends on the language—‘destroy/damage’ might be OK. HB.”
  2. Not found.
  3. See Document 49.
  4. Not found.