Abstract Mechanically stabilized walls can sometimes be economically constructed over poor foundations such as a soft clay. A major design concern in such a case, however, is the stability against deep-seated failure where the potential slip surface passes through the unreinforced backfill and the clayey foundation. To attain a prescribed safety margin against deep-seated instability, a high-strength geosynthetic sheet, placed at the backfill-clay interface, can be used. The objective of this paper is to present an analysis method which enables the user to determine the required distribution of tensile resistance of the reinforcing sheet and therefore can be used as a design tool. The analysis is based on limit-equilibrium and by virtue of the mechanism used it is rigorous in the sense that no statical assumptions are utilized. Its predictions compare favorably with some conventional methods; its application, however, is easier. It is demonstrated how the analysis results can be condensed into a useful format of design charts. Since the direction of the reinforcement's tensile resistance is not known, a zone is suggested within which is the probably required distribution of this force.