141. Message From President Ford to French President Giscard d’Estaing 1

WH 52262. Deliver at opening of business.

Dear Mr. President:

I thank you for your message of November 19 and welcome the opportunity to respond to your questions on Angola.2 I am replying at some length because I regard this problem as one of great importance, which has ramifications that go well beyond southern Africa.

Moscow has given the MPLA financial and military aid since 1956. In 1972, Moscow’s interest in the MPLA appeared to wane because of factional disputes within the movement, but after the coup in Portugal in 1974, the Soviets renewed their support. Deliveries of military aid were stepped up in the fall of 1974 and had become particularly evident by March 1975.

There are many reasons why the USSR has committed itself in Angola:

pro-Soviet regime in Angola would enable the Soviets to exert a major influence on the liberation drive in southern Africa, which they have publicly pledged to support.
support for the MPLA contributes to Soviet credibility and influence with other clients in the region, such as Congo-[Page 356]Brazzaville, Guinea and Mozambique, with the Portuguese Communist Party and with other liberation movements in Africa and elsewhere.
Soviets regard the Chinese as their major competitors for influence with militant regimes in Africa in general and with liberation movements in southern Africa in particular; they do not want to be bested in this competition.
Angola would be of significance to the Soviets if they contemplate an expansion in their naval activities in the South Atlantic on a scale that would require a naval base in the region. For the time being, however, we believe that their primary goals are political rather than strategic.

Since March 1975, when the Soviet supply effort assumed large proportions, we estimate that the USSR has delivered over 10,000 tons of arms and equipment to the MPLA. We believe that this effort is continuing, and that the rate of deliveries has increased in the past few weeks, especially since the beginning of November. We understand that deliveries have included armored vehicles, heavy artillery, air defense weapons, anti-tank missiles, mobile rocket launchers, infantry weapons, and possibly MIG aircraft.

There are indications also of the presence in Angola of some Soviet advisers and technicans performing support functions as well as advising on military strategy. We know that Soviet technicians are in Brazzaville to instruct MPLA personnel in the use of new weapons. If the sophistication of the weapons provided by the USSR increases, more Soviet technicians will be required in Angola. Up to now, however, the Soviets have allowed the Cubans to act as their surrogate in many support roles.

The estimate of Cubans now in Angola is 2,500–3,000. This includes advisers, technicians, and direct combatants in Cabinda and thoughout Angola, and possibly pilots.

The inflow of Soviet aid is critical to the MPLA’s fortunes. Earlier this year, Soviet weapons and equipment permitted the MPLA to expand greatly the territory under its control and to threaten the very existence of FNLA and UNITA. The new and heavier influx of arms, together with Cuban and possibly Soviet personnel and technical advisers, suggests that the military balance may once again turn in favor of the MPLA.

We do not believe that Soviet assistance is intended to permit the MPLA to negotiate with the other movements but is rather intended to give the MPLA the means necessary to achieve a victory. Having accorded immediate recognition to the MPLA regime and endorsed the MPLA’s claim to be the sole legitimate representative of the Angolan people, the Soviets have publicly staked their prestige on the outcome [Page 357] in Angola. Despite the damage to its relations with other African governments as a result of its commitment to the MPLA, Moscow seems to believe that there is more to be lost by backing down than by pressing on with its present policy.

Should it prove impossible for the MPLA, even with substantially increased Soviet assistance, to gain a decisive military advantage, Moscow would be obliged to reconsider its present course. We do not believe the USSR is prepared to commit its own combat forces to Angola, although it may introduce pilots and send more technicians and advisers. Even if the Soviets opt for a political solution in Angola in the future, they will want to assure that the MPLA negotiates from a position of stength and emerges as the dominant force in any agreed upon coalition government.

With regard to the effect on Soviet-American relations we have already made it clear to the Soviets that we view this blatant intervention of theirs with deep concern and we intend to pursue this theme more publicly in the coming weeks. Frankly, Mr. President, we are inclined to believe that there is a substantial anti-Chinese character to the Soviet move. They hope to demonstrate to militant Third World leaders that only with Soviet aid can they pursue their revolutionary ambitions.

With regard to our aid, we feel the problem now is less one of matériel than an aggressive offensive effort which depends on inspiring confidence in local forces and providing them with adequate leadership and training. Nevertheless, our commitment is a continuing one though, for obvious reasons, we will not make it public.

As far as negotiating a ceasefire is concerned, we should be prepared to accept a ceasefire in place, but this would have to be conditioned on an end to Soviet military aid. Moreover, we would not object to the idea of a tripartite coalition, and, in general, our strategy is to support OAU and other African efforts to promote a ceasefire and settlement. As you know, our original aim in supporting FNLA and UNITA was to prevent a massive MPLA victory before independence. That has been achieved and we now believe the political dimension should be given more emphasis, especially in terms of working with key African countries in support of a reasonable settlement. In this regard, we hope to work closely with you and we hope that your government can play a key role in developing African support. As an immediate concrete step toward the achievement of a peaceful settlement, Mr. President, I urge your government to use its influence to persuade other governments, especially in Africa, to restrict overflight and landing rights for Soviet aircraft en route to Angola with cargoes of arms and other military equipment.

The United States seeks neither to dominate an independent Angola nor to confront the Soviet Union there, but we cannot remain aloof [Page 358] in the face of a clear Soviet power play. I hope, Mr. President, that you will convey this assurance to African heads of state.

I am grateful for this opportunity to exchange views on the Angolan situation with you, Mr. President, and I hope that we can work closely together on this problem in the future. Perhaps we should initiate further contacts among our senior officers responsible for these matters. I would welcome your own views on this serious and complex issue, and propose that we stay in contact on this matter. If you would find it useful, I would be glad to send someone over to discuss the subject in greater detail.


Gerald R. Ford
  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger-Scowcroft West Wing Office Files, Box 12, General Subject File, France, General (4). Secret; Sensitive. Written on November 24.
  2. In a November 19 message to Ford, Giscard d’Estaing expressed apprehension over growing Soviet aid to the MPLA and inquired whether the United States would continue to support the other liberation movements, or promote a cease-fire and establishment of a coalition government. (Ibid.)