90. Minutes of Secretary of State Kissinger’s Regional Staff Meeting1

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to national security policy.]

Secretary Kissinger: Well, this just can’t be bought off. We have to fight it. We cannot buy off. The question is whether human rights is the only objective of American foreign policy, and that’s what it’s rapidly coming down to.

Mr. Maw: And it’s almost the only objective under the new security assistance bill.2 It’s going to be terrible, the information that we have to pull together.

Mr. Habib: Well, in the past we’ve been able to argue in certain cases that there’s not a consistent pattern of gross violation.

Mr. Maw: That’s right.

Mr. Habib: The word “gross violation”—that means if they don’t give the guy a right to see his attorney six-eight months before the trial, it’s not a gross violation—as I understand it.

Mr. Leigh: That’s the way in Nicaragua. They never let them see an attorney.

Mr. Shlaudeman: That doesn’t merit attention: “without charge.” Every one of these countries can take them without charge and the [Page 382] whole people for lengthy periods. It’s an old custom down there. (Laughter.)

Mr. Habib: It’s a custom in a lot of places. But I mean in Indonesia they’ve held people for ten years without charge. But we managed to convince the Congress [by] dint of explaining the circumstances in the situation, that it is not a pattern of gross violation.

I don’t know how we did it, but we did it. You know, you point out to them what these guys are trying to do and how they keep them.

Secretary Kissinger: And Asians have no concept of time anyway. (Laughter.)

Mr. Habib: I’ve argued human rights up on the Hill probably as much as anybody.

Ambassador McCloskey: That’s why we are where we are. (Laughter.)

Mr. Habib: But they’ve never cut a program on the basis of the human rights argument, if you go up and give them the total nature of the situation.

Mr. Leigh: They don’t have to take the responsibility, you see. They direct the Executive Director of the World Bank to vote against. That’s the difference, you see. They’ve removed the responsibility.

Mr. Maw: We’ve passed the buck back again under the new security assistance bill because we don’t have to make the determination now to cut it off.

Secretary Kissinger: Every year when we sell a few pounds of flesh to them will lead to massive intrusion of the United States into the domestic policies of almost every country of the world. And it makes human rights the only objective of American foreign policy.3 And, in the process, it undermines every government in which we have a strategic interest.

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I can’t think of any government in the Western Hemisphere, after spending three years putting a Western Hemisphere policy together, that for the first time has a collaborative concept. We’re going to drive them all, and they’re strong enough now to do it without us.

Brazil doesn’t need us. I mean it needs us, but it can manage on its own and turn rapidly anti-American. And in Argentina we are organizing them on an anti-U.S. basis.

Mr. Habib: Generally speaking, the amount of money involved is very marginal.

Mr. Shlaudeman: It’s symbolic.

Mr. Habib: That’s right. I mean you’re only talking in many cases of a few million dollars.

Secretary Kissinger: We should not interfere with the domestic policies of every country. If we bring someone down, then we’re stuck with a successor and have to build him up.

Mr. Shlaudeman: That’s all.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to national security policy.]

Secretary Kissinger: Carl, do you have anything?

Mr. Maw: Well, the President signed last night the new security assistance bill, and also the appropriation bill, so that we were able during the evening to—

Secretary Kissinger: Well, that means—did we lose the Africa thing?

Mr. Schaufele: No, no.

Ambassador McCloskey: No, no. What he signed was two years of authorization, one year of appropriation. That was ’77.

Secretary Kissinger: I tried to get Brooke.4

Ambassador McCloskey: Did you try to reach him?

Secretary Kissinger: Yes.

Mr. Maw: We managed to get 1.2 billion in additional credits.

Secretary Kissinger: That’s a big achievement. How did you do it?

Ambassador McCloskey: I’m overwhelmed by that, I must say.

Mr. Maw: That’s the only reason we got the bill through in the shape it’s in; and it’s full of reporting problems, human rights problems.

Ambassador McCloskey: But you have to acknowledge it’s a better bill than what the President vetoed earlier on. It’s not good, but it’s better than it was.

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Mr. Maw: That’s true. We have 60 days in which to promulgate regulations concerning agents fees on arms sales, and we’re in the midst of trying to come up with proposed regulations. And of course it’s a hornet’s nest, but we’ll have something before the next week is out to start with.

Secretary Kissinger: O.K.

(Whereupon, at 9:08 a.m., the Secretary’s Staff Meeting was concluded.)

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Transcripts of Secretary of State Kissinger’s Staff Meetings, 1973–1977, Lot File 78D443, Box 10, Chronological File. Secret. According to an attached list, the following attended the meeting, which began at 8:07 a.m.: Kissinger, Robinson, Habib, Rogers, Maw, Sonnenfeldt, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs William E. Schaufele, Jr., Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs Harry W. Shlaudeman, Acting Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Robert H. Miller, Hartman, Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Sober, Saunders, Lord, Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs Joseph A. Greenwald, Special Assistant to the Secretary and Spokesman of the Department Robert L. Funseth, Vest, Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs Samuel W. Lewis, McCloskey, Legal Adviser Monroe Leigh, Borg, and Special Assistants to the Secretary David Passage and James P. Covey.
  2. See footnote 4, Document 89.
  3. On June 16, Kissinger also discussed security assistance during his seminar with senior government officials, held on June 16 in the Secretary’s Conference Room. When asked about the relative viability of security assistance, Kissinger responded: “My honest opinion is that if you ask the American public, ‘security assistance’ is a hell of a lot more palatable to them than a ‘development’ assistance which they consider ‘long hair’ and ‘giveaway.’ And it is usually a lot easier to sell military programs than it is to sell economic programs.

    “It is also true, regrettable as this might be, that usually you gain more influence in countries by military assistance than by economic assistance; because economic assistance can be replaced a lot easier than when you have the military forces of the country dependant on the spare parts.” He later added, “in terms of political influence you get more with military assistance than with economic assistance. But in terms of long term international stability you probably get more from economic assistance.” The minutes of the meeting are in the National Archives, RG 59, Transcripts of Secretary of State Kissinger’s Staff Meetings, 1973–1977, Lot File 78D443, Box 10, Chronological File.

  4. Senator Edward William Brooke, III (R–Massachusetts).