110. Information Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • President’s Letter to Secretary Rogers on Criteria for US Foreign Aid Policy

I am disturbed by certain implications in the President’s letter, which I saw for the first time today (copy attached).2

There can obviously be no quarrel with the dictum that we need to examine each case on its own merits, although I trust that those “merits” will not be artificially confined to the one country concerned. Plainly, what we do or do not do with respect to a particular country can have impact on others as well. The “merits” we examine would, I hope, continue to fit into a broad conception of our interests.

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More baffling, however, is the proposition that we should not “permit ourselves to be forced into actions which are undesirable … simply because we are told that otherwise the countries will move into the Soviet or Chinese sphere …” Of course much depends on who is “we” and who does the “telling.” Surely, there must be cases where our government tells itself that unless we take a certain course of action there is palpable risk of a shift in the orientation of a country. There may even be cases where “simply” that kind of a conclusion is all that is required to dictate action on our part. I agree of course that we should “not permit ourselves to be forced” into “undesirable” actions. But even a government as capably staffed as ours may sometimes find events creating certain imperatives. And what criteria govern what is “undesirable” when we perceive a vital interest at stake?

Nor, says the letter, should we be forced into “expensive” actions simply because a country may go Communist. Do we really want to make expense the overriding criterion in these cases? Obviously not—viz. our recent assurances to the Europeans that our expensive troops are there solely for security reasons. Presumably, this means that they are there “simply because we are told that otherwise the countries will move into the Soviet sphere of influence.” At least I can think of no other security reason than that one.

Then there is the “axiom” that we must not be put into a position where a government “can pretend that it is worse for us than for it if it goes Communist or pro-Communist.” Let us leave aside whether governments can “pretend” that sort of thing in 1969; and let us also for the moment not argue whether at this late date we can or need be put in any position at all by what some other government “pretends.” But is it really so axiomatic that just because a country may suffer more than we because it gets taken over by Communists our interests may not also be adversely affected? No doubt it would have been “worse for” France, or Italy, or Greece or Turkey, or Iran 20 years ago if they had “gone” Communist than it would have been for us. But are you really arguing that we should not on that account have taken “expensive” or perhaps even otherwise “undesirable” actions to prevent it, or that we should not do so now in similar circumstances? If on the other hand the burden of that sentence in the letter is to be carried wholly by the word “pretend,” then I think you are stating an “axiom” that is a straw man.

And then there is the notion that governments “go Communist” of their own volition. Admittedly, one or two have turned that trick (e.g., Castro’s self-proclaimed transformation). Usually, however, the problem is that a government may be replaced by Communists, including by the use of force. Thus, a government may make its plea for aid not on the grounds that it will change colors but that others of a different color will displace it. I would hope that that is the risk we will consider in [Page 261] determining our commitments rather than the possibility (remote in most cases at present) that one and the same government will one morning call itself Communist. The same point applies to the earlier portion of the letter which warns against our being blackmailed by countries which threaten to go Communist. “Threaten” has a transitive and an intransitive meaning. What if there is a threat that a country will “go Communist?” That does rather confront us with a choice of some magnitude in certain cases—whether you call the situation one of “blackmail” or not.

And, again, the idea of countries “deliberately subordinating” themselves to the Soviet Union or China. Has there yet been such a case? Why merely “doubt very much” that this might happen. But why not address the real problem: that countries may indeed find themselves drifting gradually, because they cannot stop it by their own means, into a state of subordination to the USSR or China. That, indeed, seems to be the problem you pose at the top of page 2 of the letter. I very much hope that the addressees will come to grips with it, as well as with the implication that lurks beneath much of the letter; that even if that is their fate it may make no difference to us.

But what I find most baffling in a letter apparently intended to get away from a single rationale for our aid programs is that in the end you do no more than ask this one concrete question: what is it that drives countries closer to the Soviet Union or China? (Incidentally, is this synonymous with the “appeal of Communism?”) I had thought that what you would want to ask in 1969—and what most people concerned with aid policy in the Executive and the Congress have long since learned to ask—is what factors, apart from the Communist danger, may make it desirable for us to assist or otherwise cooperate with other countries.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Agency Files, Box 193, AID, Volume I 1969. Secret.
  2. Not attached, but printed as Document 109.