147. Information Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Abramowitz) and the Legal Adviser of the Department of State (Sofaer) to Secretary of State Shultz1


  • ABM Treaty Negotiating History—Soviet Arguments and U.S. Responses

At the summit, the Soviets may raise the issue of whether the ABM Treaty bans testing and development of an SDI system or components. This memorandum articulates some of the arguments that the Soviets might make (based on the U.S. version of the negotiating record), along with potential U.S. responses.

1. The Soviet Interpretation

The Soviets contend that Article V’s ban on the development, testing, and deployment of non-fixed land-based ABM systems and components applies to future systems and components based on “other physical principles.” The Soviets view Agreed Statement D as merely reinforcing the limitations on deployment of future systems imposed by Article III.2

[U.S. Response: The ABM Treaty deals with future systems exclusively in Agreed Statement D, which bans only their deployment. The definition of “ABM system” in Article II does not apply to future systems based “on other physical principles,” but applies only to systems based on interceptor missiles, launchers, and radars. Article V similarly does not apply to systems or components based on other physical principles.”]

2. The Soviet Argument

A. The Soviets might concede that they began the negotiations opposed to any restrictions on future ABM systems and components. [Page 644] As the negotiations progressed, however, they accepted the U.S. argument that such limitations were necessary. By the fall of 1971, the Soviets might argue, the Soviet delegates had sought to alter the proposed text of Article V in a manner designed to secure a ban on future components that were not fixed land-based.

[U.S. Response: The Soviet delegates stubbornly resisted U.S. efforts to regulate future systems. In September 1971, they forced the U.S. to drop a provision that expressly would have extended the ban on mobile systems (contained in Article V) to “other devices for performing the functions” of interceptor missiles, launchers, and radars. Although the Soviets eventually agreed to ban the deployment of systems based “on other physical principles,” they did so only after prolonged opposition to any regulation of “unknown” systems. Even then, they refused to address such systems in the body of the Treaty, but would accept only a side understanding. The Soviets never agreed to apply the Article V ban to systems based on “other physical principles.”]

B. By December 20, 1971, the Soviets might argue, discussions had made clear that the Article II definition of “ABM system”—and, therefore, the entire text of the Treaty—was intended to apply to future systems as well as to those then in existence. On that date, the Soviets complained that Article II lacked connecting language between the paragraph defining “ABM system” and the following three paragraphs defining components. They proposed to add the connective “namely” or “consisting of” to the text. A U.S. delegate, seeking a more “precise” connective, suggested the phrase “currently consisting of.” He argued that both sides recognized that future systems could be devised and that, although the question of constraints on future systems would be settled elsewhere than in Article II, the correct way of indicating a connection between systems and components in Article II would be to include the word “currently.” The Soviets ultimately agreed, and the phrase “currently consisting of” appears in the final text.

[U.S. Response: This is a distortion of what occurred. The Soviets proposed to use “namely” or “consisting of” after the first paragraph in Article II in order to restrict the functional definition of “ABM system” to the specific types of components listed in the next three paragraphs; that enumeration was limiting, not illustrative. Indeed, Karpov had earlier stated explicitly that the Soviets sought to limit only systems that used interceptor missiles, launchers, and radars. The Soviets accepted the term “currently consisting of” only after the U.S. delegate assured them that this would not resolve “the question of constraints on future systems [, which] would be settled elsewhere than in Article II.”]

C. The Soviets might contend that at that point, with the Article II definition extended to cover future ABM systems and components, and with the development, testing, and deployment of future systems and components that are not fixed land-based banned by Article V, what remained was to extend Article III limits on deployment of fixed [Page 645] land-based systems to future (“other physical principle”) systems. That was done in February 1972, in the form of Agreed Statement D, which requires discussion and agreement prior to deployment of such systems.

[U.S. Response: The parties debated the provision that became Agreed Statement D (previously Article V (3)) intensely for six months. At no time did any delegate suggest that this provision applied only to future fixed land-based systems. Nor did the delegates treat this as an incidental “clarifying” provision; rather, they fought over whether any restriction on unknown systems was appropriate. Moreover, if the Soviet reading of Article II were correct (i.e., the definition encompassed future systems), then Agreed Statement D would have been unnecessary, because Article III already specified the only type of fixed land-based system that could ever be deployed.]

3. Some Supporting Statements

A. On September 15, 1971, during discussion of a Soviet-proposed change to the draft text of Article V, Soviet advisor Karpov confirmed that the Russian word that the Soviets proposed to use for the U.S. word “components” would mean “any type of present or future components” of ABM systems. This, the Soviets might argue, effectively included future components in the ban on sea-, air-, space-, and mobile land-based systems and components.

[U.S. Response: Karpov made this comment on the same day that the Soviets forced the U.S. to drop language that expressly would have applied Article V to “other devices for performing the functions of these components.” They replaced that language with the word “components.” The Soviets recognized that the word “devices” was broader than “components”; the latter was understood to refer to interceptor missiles, launchers, and radars, while the former encompassed substitutes based on other physical principles. Moreover, the Soviets continued their principled opposition to placing any limits on unknown, future systems for at least three months after Karpov’s September 15 statement.]

B. In a discussion on December 4, 1971, Soviet advisor Chulitsky argued that “the prohibition on air-based, space-based, land-based, etc. ABM systems [Article V] is adequate to cover the problem of future systems.” The Soviets might argue that Chulitsky’s remark referred to what were later called “other physical principle” systems, and that the Article V prohibition on development, testing, and deployment extends to those systems if they are not fixed land-based.

[U.S. Response: In the same conversation, Chulitsky reiterated Soviet opposition to attempting to regulate what “no one knew”; he said “it is difficult to argue with the technical people [that unknown systems should be proscribed].” His statements make sense only if he meant that the Article V prohibition applied to systems based on technology [Page 646] available when the Treaty was ratified, even if built in the future—not to systems developed in the future based on other physical principles.]

C. In a January 7, 1972 discussion, Soviet delegate Shchukin stated that an effective territorial defense of a country against a major attack was not feasible using then-current technology, but that it was important to give assurances that a base for such a defense was not created, because “perhaps future advances in technology would make such a defense possible.” The Soviets might argue that, because preventing a territorial ABM defense is the overriding purpose of the Treaty, Shchukin’s remark indicated that the Soviets considered all the Treaty provisions—including Article V—to apply to future ABM systems and components based on other physical principles.

[U.S. Response: Shchukin’s statement is consistent with the U.S. interpretation. The parties’ central concern was to prevent deployment of territorial ABM systems, whether based on current or future technology. Deployment of current systems (other than specified fixed land-based) was banned by Article I, III, and V. Deployment of systems based on future technology (i.e., “other physical principles.” was banned by Agreed Statement D. Shchukin’s statement does not suggest that the Treaty limited development or testing of such systems.]

D. On January 11, 1972, Soviet delegate Kishilov conceded that Articles I, II, and III together would ban future ABM systems and components. The Soviets might argue that this statement demonstrated their acceptance of the applicability of these articles (including the Article II definition of “ABM system”) to future systems and components.

[U.S. Response: The Soviet statements at this meeting were flatly contradictory. For example, Grinevsky stated that the Treaty would allow either party to deploy a system using future components, even without the other side’s agreement. He went on to argue that “the treaty referred to ABM systems, which were defined in Article II. It could not deal with unknown other systems.” Moreover, Kishilov’s remark involved only the deployment of future systems.)

[Note: You may also wish to emphasize two points about prior Soviet interpretations of the Treaty:

1. Initial Soviet criticisms of SDI were wide-ranging and argued that deployment would violate the ABM Treaty. But not until very recently—after the McFarlane statement—did the Soviets publicly claim that SDI development and testing would violate the Treaty.

2. According to Ambassador Cooper, Soviet delegates to the current Geneva talks repeatedly made statements consistent with the “broader” interpretation prior to the recent debate. For example, on July 18, 1985: “Detinov said that as far as the ABM systems covered by Article V were concerned, it would be possible to develop devices which would not fit this definition—that is without involving ABM interceptor missiles, ABM launchers or ABM radars. He did not preclude the possibility of such devices in the future.”]

  1. Source: Reagan Library, George Shultz Papers, Executive Secretariat Sensitive (11/16/1985–11/20/1985); NLR–775–14–77–10–1. Secret; Sensitive. All brackets are in the original. Drafted by M. Sigler (INR/SFA/SF) and B. Feldman (L); cleared by Nitze. An unknown hand initialed for Nitze.

  2. An undated memorandum from the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, entitled “The Meaning of Agreed Statement D of the ABM Treaty Based on the Negotiated Record,” explained the “record of negotiations of the ABM Treaty in order to shed light on the purpose and meaning of Agreed Statement D.” The memorandum provided an “overview of the issues and a summary of conclusions, followed by a chronology of statements and events which bear on the interpretation of Agreed Statement D.” (Reagan Library, Ronald Lehman Files, Summit—Geneva (3))