170. Message From the United States Government to the Soviet Government1

We have studied with great care the communication from Moscow concerning Angola which was delivered to us on January 9.2

We do not propose to engage with the Soviet side in further disputations about “fictitious” or “real” foreign interference in Angolan affairs, we will evidently not agree on this matter. Our purpose is to have foreign interference ended, whatever characterization is applied to it. In that regard, we have noted with interest the statements in the Soviet communication concerning the military intervention of South Africa. It appears from these statements that the Soviet side now envisages the termination of all foreign military presence in Angola when the above military intervention has ended. We consider this Soviet position to be significant. For its part the US is willing to use its influence to bring about the cessation of foreign intervention. At the same time, we would appreciate having explicit confirmation from Moscow that the Soviet side will end its own military role as well as seeing to it that the military role of Cuba, with which the Soviet role is inextricably linked, will also end. The Soviet communication states that this problem will “solve itself in a natural way.” It will be important to know Moscow’s view as to the time frame in which such a solution, that is, the termination of Soviet and Cuban military presence and activity in Angola, would take place after South African withdrawal has been accomplished.

We would like to be certain that there is complete understanding in Moscow of our fundamental view of the Angolan issue, as it has evolved in recent months.

Angola would never have become a critical issue in American-Soviet relations if there had not been massive infusions of Soviet and Cuban military equipment and forces into the country. We have proceeded from the assumption that the essence of our relationship, if it is to proceed along the lines mapped out in the discussions and understandings of 1972–74, is that neither side will seek to obtain positions of unilateral advantage vis-à-vis the other, that restraint will govern our respective policies, and that nothing will be done that could escalate situations, where there may be turbulence or instability for other reasons, into confrontations between our two countries.

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It has been our view that these principles of mutual relations were not simply a matter of abstract “good will” but that they are at the very heart of how two responsible great powers must conduct their relations in the nuclear era. For it must be clear that where great powers are concerned, when either one succeeds somehow to obtain a special position of influence based on military intervention, in some locale because of certain temporary political opportunities and irrespective of original motives, the other power will sooner or later act to offset this advantage. But this will inevitably lead to a chain of action and reaction that was typical of other historic eras in which great powers maneuvered for advantage only to find themselves sooner or later embroiled in major crises and, indeed, open conflict.

But it is precisely this pattern that we sought to break.

Whatever justification, be it as a matter of “principle” or in real or alleged requests for assistance, the Soviet side may consider itself to have had in intervening itself and actively supporting the Cuban intervention in Angola, the fact remains that there has never been any historic Soviet, or Russian, interest in that part of the world. It is precisely because the United States respects the position of the Soviet Union as a great power that it was bound to see the Soviet move into Angola, whatever the motivation, as running counter to the crucial principles of restraint, eschewal of unilateral advantage and scrupulous concern for the interests of others which we jointly enunciated in the early seventies.

It is not for us to lecture the Soviet side about its own interests. But we cannot help observing that whatever the attitudes of the African states with respect to South African intervention and in regard to the three contending factions in Angola, all the major African states view with utmost dismay the establishment of a Soviet/Cuban military position in the region of southwest Africa. Moreover, the Soviet side must be aware also that the steady trend toward a normalization of American relations with Cuba, which we had initiated not least in order to further the process of normalizing US-Soviet relations, has been most seriously damaged by what has happened in Angola. We believe that this is a wholly unnecessary setback to the constructive trends in our relations to which we jointly committed ourselves and we cannot believe that this is ultimately in the Soviet interest.

It is against the background of these very fundamental considerations, going to the very heart of our relations and indeed of a peaceful world order, that Moscow should evaluate our position on Angola. And that is why the speedy clarifications of Soviet policies and intentions for which we are asking in the first part of this message are of such vital importance. We believe there remains time and opportunity for the kind of statesmanship, on both sides, that will avoid our two coun[Page 425]tries once again becoming the victims of the iron laws of great power competition which had such disastrous consequences in the past and which it is our historic task to overcome.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger-Scowcroft West Wing Office Files, Box 29, General Subject File, USSR—The “D” File. No classification marking. A handwritten notation on the first page reads: “Delivered to the Soviets.”
  2. Document 169.