Structure and Scope of the Foreign Relations Series

This volume is part of a subseries of volumes of the Foreign Relations series that documents the most important issues in the foreign policy of the administration of Jimmy Carter. The subseries presents a documentary record of major foreign policy decisions and actions of President Carter. This volume documents U.S. arms control policy during the entire Carter administration, in six chapters: Anti-Satellite (ASAT) Weapons and Talks; Chemical and Biological Weapons (CBW) and the Sverdlovsk Incident; Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB) and Peaceful Nuclear Explosions (PNE); Conventional Arms Talks; Nuclear Non-Proliferation, Safeguards, and the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation (INFCE); Nuclear Non-Proliferation in Latin America; and the Special Session on Disarmament (SSOD).

Arms control initiatives were at the top of Carter’s foreign policy agenda, just as they had been in the Nixon and Ford administrations, and much of the negotiations took place between the United States and the Soviet Union, China, and European allies. This volume is therefore best read in conjunction with other volumes in the Nixon-Ford and Carter subseries, in order to understand the breadth and scope of U.S. arms control policy during the Carter administration. The most important of these volumes include Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union; Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XIII, China; Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXIII, SALT II, 1972–1980; Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XIV, Korea; Japan; Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XXVII, Western Europe; Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol E–11, Part 1, Documents on Mexico; Central America; and the Caribbean, 1973–1976; Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–11, Part 2, Documents on South America, 1973–1976; and Foreign Relations 1977–1980, vol. XXIV, South America; Latin America Regional.

Focus of Research and Principles of Selection for Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XXVI

The focus of this volume is on the arms control initiatives other than the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) undertaken by the Carter administration. Each of the six chapters is presented in chronological order, and each documents the challenges Jimmy Carter faced in the latter period of détente. Carter and his national security team inherited a number of initiatives from the Gerald Ford administration, but in the first year of his administration, Carter focused on reorienting U.S. [Page X] arms control policy. Carter’s emphasis on the promotion of human rights, which the Nixon and Ford administrations had chosen to downplay, also impacted his arms control policy. Carter wanted to reduce conventional arms sales and transfers to U.S. allies who did not place a high value on human rights. At the same time, Carter’s experience as an engineer who studied nuclear physics allowed him to take a personal interest in many of these new initiatives, in particular the Non-Proliferation and INFCE discussions, from 1977 through the early part of 1979. However, after Carter was drawn into the Iran Hostage and Afghanistan crises, and as détente faltered, many of these non-SALT arms control initiatives waned in importance. His personal involvement notably decreased, and he began to act in ways similar to the Nixon administration, most noticeably when he began to approve nearly all conventional arms sales requests.

Unlike Nixon and Ford, who met regularly with Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, Carter and Brezhnev only met once, in Vienna in 1979. Thus, they communicated most frequently by letter, and proposed arms control initiatives such as ASAT negotiations and the general issue of non-proliferation in outer space, CBW discussions, the CTB and PNE talks, and general nuclear non-proliferation initiatives. The ASAT negotiations were hampered not only by technical definitions of anti-satellite capabilities, but also Moscow’s insistence that the U.S. space shuttle program be subject to any ASAT agreement. The CBW talks, just like in the Nixon and Ford administrations, got set back over the issue of how to identify incapacitants as well as how a treaty would be verified. The United States insisted that a treaty could only be verified by on-site inspections (OSIs), but the Soviets balked at allowing such visits of their facilities. The CBW talks were also particularly affected by accusations that the Soviets and their allies were using chemical weapons in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia, and especially by the belated discovery in 1980 of a 1979 outbreak of anthrax in a Soviet biological weapons factory in Sverdlovsk, which violated the Biological Convention signed by Nixon and Brezhnev at the 1972 Moscow Summit.

The CTB/PNE negotiations also involved the United Kingdom, and were affected by the Labour government’s fall in 1979, the rise of Margaret Thatcher’s conservative rule, and British opposition to the construction of multiple National Seismic Stations on its soil. Verification of a potential CTB treaty remained a sore point, as the Soviets refused to allow OSIs. In the fall of 1980, the U.S. repeatedly accused the Soviet Union of conducting high-yield nuclear tests in violation of the 1976 Threshold Test-Ban Treaty (TTBT). Coming on the heels of the Soviet invasion of, and the charges of their use of chemical weapons in, Afghanistan, and the Sverdlovsk incident, the alleged TTBT violations further chilled U.S.-Soviet relations.

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Carter’s nuclear non-proliferation initiatives, including his concern that nuclear facilities and materials ostensibly meant for “peaceful” purposes could be diverted into weapons programs, worried U.S. allies, in particularly Japan, who wanted to decrease their dependence on oil imports by using nuclear energy. In Latin America, meanwhile, Carter engaged allies in an attempt to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. In the first three months of his administration, Carter’s opposition to the Federal Republic of Germany’s (FRG) 1975 sale of a nuclear reactor and plutonium technology to Brazil threatened to disrupt U.S.–FRG and U.S.-Brazilian relations. Carter also followed Mexico’s lead and spent much of his administration trying to convince Brazil, Argentina, and Cuba to sign and/or ratify the 1968 Treaty of Tlatelolco, which banned nuclear weapons throughout Latin America. After much pressure from its European allies and developing nations, the administration also devoted significant attention to the 1978 UN Special Session on Disarmament

The majority of communication and policy making was done at the Secretary of State/Foreign Minister or Ambassadorial levels. Cables and memoranda of conversation thoroughly document these interactions. Much of the correspondence was transmitted as cables through embassies, not through the hotline that had become popular under Nixon. Although Secretary of State Cyrus Vance met with Soviet officials both in Washington, D.C. and abroad, National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, a Soviet expert, clearly carved out a space for himself and sought greater influence through his meetings with Soviet officials and his communications with Carter as the administration progressed. Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, Secretary of Energy James Schlesinger, and Carter’s Special Assistant for Non-Proliferation, Ambassador Gerard Smith (who had been Nixon’s Representative during the SALT I talks) also emerged as significant players in the many inter-agency arms control meetings. As a result, the hierarchy that was clear during the Nixon administration was more complex during the Carter years, in part because Carter sought to be receptive to and inclusive of a variety of ideas and people.


The editor wishes to acknowledge the assistance of officials at the Jimmy Carter Library, especially Ceri McCarron, Brittany Parris, and James Yancey. Thanks are also due to Nancy Smith, then Director of the Presidential Materials Staff at the National Archives and Records Administration, and to the Central Intelligence Agency for arranging access to the Carter Library materials scanned for the Remote Archive Capture project. Special thanks are due to Ernest Emrich, who helped facilitate access to the Harold Brown and James Schlesinger Papers at the Library of Congress.

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The editor collected and selected documentation and edited the volume under the supervision of Kathleen B. Rasmussen, Chief of the Global Issues and General Division, and Stephen P. Randolph, then the General Editor of the Foreign Relations series. He also coordinated the declassification review, under the supervision first of Susan C. Weetman, then Chief of the Declassification and Publishing Division, and later Carl Ashley, Chief of the Declassification Division. Thomas I. Faith performed the copy and technical editing. Do Mi Stauber prepared the index.

Chris Tudda