60. Report Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1

Soviet Interests in ASAT Talks

If US-Soviet talks on limiting antisatellite (ASAT) weapons resume, the Soviets would have several specific objectives beyond reviving the arms control dialogue and putting Afghanistan farther behind them. They especially wish to extend to their other satellites legal protection akin to that afforded to satellites involved in monitoring SALT. In addition, they want to curtail or slow down US development of ASAT weapons while retaining the right to take action against satellites whose missions they consider inimical to Soviet interests. They would probably be willing to alter their positions somewhat on some of the remaining unresolved issues in order to obtain an accord. [handling restriction not declassified]

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Status of the Talks

Three sessions of the USUSSR bilateral talks on limiting ASAT weapons have taken place since the United States proposed such negotiations in March 1977. So far, tentative agreement has been reached on two substantive elements of a possible accord:

—An article that would prohibit either party from destroying, damaging, or changing the trajectory or orbit of a space object in which the other party had an interest.

—An article requiring notification by either party in case of accidental or unforeseen risk to a space object of the other party.

The key issues that remain unresolved are:

—The definition of what space objects are to be covered by the agreement.

—Whether space objects that engage in hostile or illegal actions are to be excluded from coverage.

—The scope, duration, and format of a test suspension. [handling restriction not declassified]

The ASAT arms control negotiations are not regularly scheduled, and the beginning date and location for each session are decided by mutual agreement. At the close of the most recent session in Vienna in June 1979 (at the time of the US-Soviet summit meeting during which the SALT II treaty was signed) the Soviets indicated their interest in resuming the negotiations in Vienna in the fall of 1979, and it was agreed that there should be no unnecessary delay in setting up the next session. The talks, however, have not resumed. The atmosphere in US-Soviet relations worsened in the late summer and early fall, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December further clouded the future of ASAT talks by causing postponement of Senate consideration of SALT II and curtailment of other aspects of the bilateral relationship. [handling restriction not declassified]

Activity Since the Last Session

Soviet Diplomacy. Since the last session there have been indications of continued Soviet interest in resuming ASAT talks. In September 1979 and again in February 1980 the second-ranking member of the Soviet ASAT Delegation indicated to a US official that the Soviets had expected to hear from the United States regarding resumption of the negotiations. In April a Soviet Embassy official in Washington—after being told that a test of the Soviet antisatellite interceptor (against a recently launched target satellite) would be considered by the US to indicate a lack of Soviet seriousness toward the negotiations—complained that all indications pointed to a lack of serious US interest in ASAT talks. [classification not declassified]

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Soviet Public Commentary. Shortly after the diplomatic conversation in February, Soviet press and radio commentaries seemed to indicate a growing Soviet concern over the expanding US military space effort. They cited in particular the increased US budget for space weapons and a potential military role for the US space shuttle. A Red Star article in March called for international talks as a means of curbing the US military space programs. A Warsaw Pact declaration issued in mid-May and an editorial published in Pravda on 17 June called for the resumption of all disarmament negotiations that had been suspended or broken off. [3½ lines not declassified]

[2 paragraphs (25 lines) not declassified]

Soviet Objectives

Protecting Soviet Space Systems. A main Soviet objective is to extend to other important satellite systems, especially those that serve national security purposes, legal protection akin to that afforded satellites involved in monitoring SALT. From the outset of the talks the Soviets have expressed a willingness to sign a relatively simple treaty having satellite protection as its principal operative provision. To this end Moscow has tentatively agreed to a provision that would mutually prohibit damage, destruction, or changes in the trajectory of any space object in which the sides have interests. [handling restriction not declassified]

Moscow insists that a comprehensive agreement, which would include a requirement to dismantle existing ASAT systems, a ban on ASAT development and deployment, and a test suspension, is unrealistic. Implementation of an agreement to liquidate existing ASAT systems would be difficult for the Soviets to accept because equipment used in their ASAT system is used in other important space systems as well. [handling restriction not declassified]

The Soviet dependence on space systems for a variety of purposes, including military, will grow in the future, and the legal regime of mutual protection sought by Moscow would help assure that its investment in space will return maximum benefits. A simple treaty would allow the Soviets to maintain their orbital interceptor as a contingency against possible abrogation of the treaty, the use by other nations of space objects for hostile acts, or war. [handling restriction not declassified]

Preserving Soviet Sovereignty. The Soviets remain distrustful of certain activities the United States could undertake in space. They want the treaty to limit the definition of “space objects in which a party has an interest” to those used exclusively by either of the two sides and those used jointly by either side with other states “for peaceful purposes”—that is, for non-military purposes. If adopted, this provision could be used by the USSR to claim that a potentially wide range of sat[Page 140]ellites is excluded from the treaty’s jurisdiction. [handling restriction not declassified]

They also insist on reserving the right to take action against activities they consider inimical to Soviet interests. The Soviets insist that an ASAT treaty exclude from its protection provision those satellites that deliberately engage in “hostile” or “illegal” actions against the other country. Such actions, according to Moscow, include non-weapons-related activities and are defined as acts that violate a state’s sovereignty, its air space, or its territory, or that damage its environment. The Soviets have cited several examples of activities that would render a satellite legally unprotected according to their position, including the use of direct broadcast satellites without prior consent. A similar issue—which has not been discussed at the ASAT talks but has been raised repeatedly by the USSR in the UN Outer Space Committee—is the sharing of information about a country from a civilian program such as LANDSAT if that country regarded the information as not serving a peaceful purpose. This Soviet approach, stressing the missions of satellites, contrasts with the US approach, which focuses on space objects themselves, and has implications for US space cooperation with its allies and other countries, including China. [handling restriction not declassified]

Constraining US Programs. The Soviets are aware that the United States is developing a “miniature homing vehicle” ASAT weapon system that is designed to be considerably more capable than their own orbital interceptor. They are also aware of the superior US technology base that would enable the United States to outpace them in developing future ASAT weapon systems, including laser systems (they know about the efforts of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop space-based and land-based laser ASAT systems). [handling restriction not declassified]

They are concerned too about the ASAT potential of the space shuttle, in particular about its capability to change the trajectories of space objects. Although they have raised in the ASAT talks their concern about the shuttle, they probably realize that the United States would never agree to significant limitations on its testing, and they are in any case probably more worried for the long term about the specific US ASAT weapons programs. [handling restriction not declassified]

Since they already possess a usable ASAT interceptor weapon that has been successfully tested and the United States does not, the Soviets have resisted US efforts to limit a test suspension to interceptors of space objects. Instead, they have argued that the test suspension should accord with the treaty provision on prohibited acts by applying to “any means” of damaging, destroying, or changing the trajectory of a space object, not just interceptors. [handling restriction not declassified]

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Reinforcing the USSR’s “Superpower” Status. As demonstrated in the recent series of manned Soviet space flights involving nationals from various “socialist” countries (including most recently a Vietnamese cosmonaut), the USSR sees its space program serving important political as well as technical military purposes. The bilateral nature and highly technical subject of the ASAT talks underscore the “superpower” status of the USSR and its image as an equal of the United States. (In arguing that they cannot accept a test suspension that would affect only their ASAT interceptor program, the Soviets have maintained that the provision must “look” good as well as be good.) These same features of the talks, the Soviets hope, will serve to remind the United States that it must look to the USSR—not to China or other powers—for resolution of certain critical security problems. [handling restriction not declassified]

Maintaining the Arms Control Dialogue. The Soviets almost surely view ASAT negotiations as a useful part of the overall arms control dialogue with the United States. Aside from its indirect contributions to the overall economic and political relationship, the entire arms control process, including ASAT, contributes a measure of predictability to the Soviet security environment. In a period when the centerpiece of the dialogue, SALT, is in trouble, and when the overall strategic arms competition appears to be increasing, talks on other questions such as theater nuclear forces or ASAT are seen by the Soviets as a means of keeping the dialogue from languishing. [Classification not declassified]


The Soviets would welcome resumption of the talks and probably still actively desire a bilateral ASAT accord. They probably feel that their private inquiries in late 1979 and early 1980, combined with their public call for resumption of interrupted talks, remain sufficient indications of their interest. [handling restriction not declassified]

The Soviets probably realize that alterations in their positions on some of the unresolved issues will be necessary. The most likely area for change is the test suspension. The current Soviet position on this issue, which addresses “any means” of damaging, destroying, or changing the trajectory of a space object, was probably adopted to counter and perhaps even to remove what they regarded as a one-sided US position. They seemed taken aback when told that this position would limit some of their own current systems used for, or in support of, manned missions (i.e. Salyut, Soyuz, Progress). A long-term test suspension, combined with an exception for manned or reusable systems, might come to be viewed in Moscow as suited to the Soviet aim of constraining the long-term, potential, US ASAT threat. Even if a long-term suspension could not be agreed upon, the Soviets might still hope that such a proposal would cause the United States to drop its insistence on [Page 142] having a test suspension. This could enable the sides to agree to the sort of minimal treaty Moscow has sought from the beginning. [handling restriction not declassified]

Prospects for change are less clear for the sovereignty issues, where the Soviets have shown little flexibility. Their longstanding record of applying a very broad definition to what is encompassed in state sovereignty suggests no likelihood for Soviet compromise in this area.2 [handling restriction not declassified]

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 4, Anti-Satellite System (ASAT): 7/77–10/80. Secret; [handling restriction not declassified]. A note at the bottom of the page reads: “This memorandum was prepared by the Office of Political Analysis and the Office of Scientific and Weapons Research. It has been coordinated with the Office of Strategic Research, the National Intelligence Officers for the USSR and Eastern Europe and for Strategic Programs, and the Arms Control Intelligence Staff. [Omitted here is information on where comments and queries may be addressed.]”
  2. The ASAT negotiations were not resumed during the last five months of the Carter administration.