9. Memorandum from the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter 1


  • PRM/NSC–23 Issue: Arms Control for Anti-Satellite (ASAT) Systems

Harold Brown, as Chairman of the PRM/NSC–23 Policy Review Committee, has forwarded (Tab A)2 for your review and decision the subject issue. At Tab B is a decision paper which summarizes the issue, discusses the options and provides agency positions. The more detailed paper done by the PRM/NSC–23 study group is at Tab C.

Arms control is but one aspect of overall U.S. policy toward military, civil and intelligence space activities. Other elements include our survivability measures, our ASAT capabilities and the military utility of space to U.S. strategic and tactical forces. Arms control is not a substitute for survivability measures, although it could affect long-term requirements. As we have discussed before, there is a definite interrelationship between arms control of ASAT and many other space related issues. With these considerations in mind, the PRM–23 study developed four approaches to ASAT arms control as follows:

Approach One: No Agreement: This approach is important because the Soviets may not be willing to agree to any substantive and equitable ASAT limitations. They may feel the U.S. is merely attempting to impede activities in a realm where they have advantages.

Approach Two: Emphasis on Peacetime Problems: This would not limit the capabilities of ASATs, but would focus on peacetime problems, proposing “rules of the road” and a ban on peacetime interference to emphasize the importance of satellites to strategic stability.

Approach Three: Selected Limits to Control the Scope of ASAT Activity: This would in effect create a partial sanctuary by prohibiting ASAT systems which do not yet exist.

Approach Four: Relatively Comprehensive ASAT Arms Limitations: This would attempt to preclude significant arms competition in ASAT systems.

A useful summary comparison of the approaches is provided at Tab C in Table 4 including possible provisions and problems.

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While the JCS supports Approach One, OSD supports Approach Two. (Their views are at the red tags at Tab B) On the opposite end of the spectrum, State, ACDA, OSTP and OMB support Approach Four. I recommend you support the most comprehensive approach—Approach Four. [5 lines not declassified]

There will probably not be a better time to seek an ASAT arms control agreement. The Soviets probably believe they are temporarily ahead in the ASAT race; however, their present system is limited. The U.S. has a better system in development, and we will have a Space Shuttle after 1979. They respect our space technology and our ability to rapidly deploy advanced weapons systems, and may see the logic of an arms control agreement now.

Approach Four would prevent any further testing or deployment of the present Soviet ASAT interceptor, and the testing or deployment of any additional destructive Soviet ASAT system. It would ban the testing or deployment of any destructive U.S. ASAT system. Obviously, there would be an asymmetry: the USSR would have an unsophisticated but tested system for use at lower altitudes, and we would not. This should encourage Soviet interest in such an agreement. However, the U.S. will enjoy an asymmetrical advantage in another potential anti-satellite system—the Space Shuttle—and the Soviets are well aware of this. [2½ lines not declassified]

In addition to these advantages, Approach Four would have additional arms control benefits that the other approaches lack. A ban on peacetime use only (Approach Two) would encourage unrestrained development of more sophisticated ASAT systems for both sides. Essentially, it does not add—except cosmetically—to what presently exists.

A ban on advanced systems (Approach Three) would encourage development of ASAT systems at low altitudes. Confidence developed in programs at low altitudes could be extended in the future to a high altitude capability. It would, however, place limitations on advanced systems such as lasers in space for which the U.S. has considerable concern and a promising development effort.

During any negotiations that might ensue with the Soviets on any of the approaches adopted to place limits on ASAT systems, we should vigorously and publicly pursue research and development on all U.S. ASAT systems, carrying to production only those elements which we cannot get the Soviets to include in a treaty. I do believe that, short of operational testing, some R&D should be continued as a hedge against Soviet breakout.

Harold has suggested that because of this issue’s importance, and the widely differing views, that an NSC meeting might be held to further [Page 32] discuss the subject. On the other hand, I believe there has been adequate debate. All the material necessary for a decision is in this package. Moreover Harold does not feel strongly that a meeting is necessary.


Approve Approach Four as the desired goal for the purposes of developing terms of reference for our negotiating team. I will notify the PRC.

APPROVE ______3

DISAPPROVE, schedule NSC meeting first for further discussion ______

OTHER ______

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 41, Folder 3, PRM–23 [3]. Top Secret; Talent Keyhole; Comint.
  2. Tab A is Document 7. Tab B is the attachment to Document 7. Tab C is Docu-ment 6.
  3. Carter checked “Approve.” Underneath he wrote “a) Continue our own R&D on ASAT pending agreement b) Insist on strict terms in any agreement re Soviet testing, use, dismantling. J.C.”