67. Statement by Secretary of State Kissinger 1

Implications of Angola for Future U.S. Foreign Policy

I appear before you not to score debating points in an abstract contest over executive-legislative prerogative. What faces us is a congressional decision of potentially grave magnitude2 taken after the executive branch had complied with all legal requirements for the kind of operation involved in Angola and after eight congressional committees had been briefed over 20 times without foreshadowing any opposition in principle. The issue is not “victory” of one branch over another. The issue is what constitutes a victory for the national interest.

I welcome this opportunity to explain the global significance of what is now happening in Angola, the events that have brought us to this point, the U.S. objectives, and the major consequences which can result if we fail to pursue those objectives.

The Soviet Union’s massive and unprecedented intervention in the internal affairs of Africa—with nearly 200 million dollars’ worth of arms and its military technicians and advisers, with 11,000 Cuban combat troops, and with substantial sea and airlift and naval cover in adjacent waters—is a matter of urgent concern. Not only are the interests of the countries directly affected at stake but also the interests of all nations in preserving global stability—which is the precondition for all else mankind aspires to accomplish.

In recent years the United States has sought to help build a new international order less tied to the traditional patterns of power balances. It was the United States which took the initiative in seeking to resolve the most dangerous problems of our time by negotiation and cooperation rather than by force of arms. It was we who saw that the historical necessity of this period required a more stable relationship between the two nations that possess the capacity to destroy civilization.

We have sought—and with some successes—to build more constructive relations with the U.S.S.R. across a broad range: to contain [Page 362] strategic arms; to institutionalize cooperation in economic, scientific, and cultural fields; to reduce tensions in areas where our vital interests impinge on one another; and to avoid destabilizing confrontations in peripheral areas of the globe—such as Angola. The classical pattern of accumulating marginal advantages must be overcome and mankind must build more constructive patterns if catastrophe is to be avoided. No one has been more dedicated than the President and I to working for these principles.

But our efforts have been founded upon one fundamental reality: peace requires a sense of security, and security depends upon some form of equilibrium between the great powers. And that equilibrium is impossible unless the United States remains both strong and determined to use its strength when required. This is our historic responsibility, for no other nation has the capacity to act in this way. While constantly seeking opportunities for conciliation, we need to demonstrate to potential adversaries that cooperation is the only rational alternative. Any other course will encourage the trends it seeks to accommodate; a challenge not met today will tempt far more dangerous crises tomorrow.

If a continent such as Africa, only recently freed from external oppression, can be made the arena for great-power ambitions, if immense quantities of arms can affect far-off events, if large expeditionary forces can be transported at will to dominate virtually helpless peoples—then all we have hoped for in building a more stable and rational international order is in jeopardy.

The effort of the Soviet Union and Cuba to take unilateral advantage of a turbulent local situation where they have never had any historic interests is a willful, direct assault upon the recent constructive trends in U.S.-Soviet relations and our efforts to improve relations with Cuba. It is an attempt to take advantage of our continuing domestic division and self-torment. Those who have acted so recklessly must be made to see that their conduct is unacceptable.

The history of the postwar period should give us pause. Military aggression, direct or indirect, has frequently been successfully dealt with, but never in the absence of a local balance of forces. U.S. policy in Angola has sought to help friends achieve this balance. Angola represents the first time since the aftermath of World War II that the Soviets have moved militarily at long distances to impose a regime of their choice. It is the first time that the United States has failed to respond to Soviet military moves outside their immediate orbit. And it is the first time that Congress has halted the executive’s action while it was in the process of meeting this kind of threat.

Thus to claim that Angola is not an important country or that the United States has no important interests there begs the principal ques[Page 363]tion. The objectives which the United States has sought in Angola have not been aimed at defending, or acquiring, intrinsic interests in that country. We are not opposing any particular faction. We could develop constructive relations with any Angolan government that derives from the will of the people. We have never been involved militarily in Angola. We are not so involved now. We do not seek to be so involved in the future.

Our objective is clear and simple: to help those African countries and those groups within Angola that would resist external aggression by providing them with needed financial support. Those whom we seek to assist are our friends; they share our hopes for negotiated solutions and for African self-determination. They played a larger role than the MPLA [Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola]3 in striving toward Angolan independence.

But our deeper concern is for global stability. If the United States is seen to emasculate itself in the face of massive, unprecedented Soviet and Cuban intervention, what will be the perception of leaders around the world as they make decisions concerning their future security?

Will they feel they can proceed to develop their nations in an international climate which fosters cooperation and self-determination? How will they adjust their conduct in the context of such events? And what conclusion will an unopposed superpower draw when the next opportunity for intervention beckons?

America’s modest direct strategic and economic interests in Angola are not the central issue. The question is whether America still maintains the resolve to act responsibly as a great power—prepared to face a challenge when it arises, knowing that preventive action now may make unnecessary a more costly response later.

Let there be no mistake about it—the culprits in the tragedy that is now unfolding in Angola are the Soviet Union and its client state Cuba. But I must note with some sadness that by its actions the Congress has deprived the President of indispensable flexibility in formulating a foreign policy which we believe to be in our national interest. And Congress has ignored the crucial truth that a stable relationship with the Soviet Union based on mutual restraint will be achieved only if Soviet lack of restraint carries the risk of counteraction.

The consequences may well be far-reaching and substantially more painful than the course we have recommended. When one great power attempts to obtain special positions of influence based on military interventions, the other power is sooner or later bound to act to offset this advantage in some other place or manner. This will inevi[Page 364]tably lead to a chain of action and reaction typical of other historic eras in which great powers maneuvered for advantage, only to find themselves sooner or later embroiled in a major crisis and often in open conflict.

It is precisely this pattern that must be broken—and that we wanted to break until stopped—if a lasting easing of tensions is to be achieved. And if it is not broken now, we will face harder choices and higher costs in the future.

It is in this context that we have framed our goals in Angola. Simply put, we wish to see:

—A cease-fire, ending the tragic bloodshed in that country;

—Withdrawal of outside forces—Soviet, Cuban, and South African;

—Cessation of foreign military involvement; and

—Negotiations among the Angolan factions.

We are prepared to accept any solution that emerges from African efforts. And we are ready to offer economic assistance to the people of Angola when a legitimate government is established there.

We have consistently advocated such a government representing all three factions in Angola. We have never opposed participation by the Soviet-backed Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, the MPLA. What we do oppose is the massive Soviet and Cuban intervention and their expressed aim of denying the other two groups any part in governing the country. Our overriding goal has been to assure that Africans shape their own destiny and that traditional colonialism not be replaced by a more modern version.

For the United States to be found wanting as a credible friend, precisely at a time when moderate African states have clearly and repeatedly expressed their hope that America provide the necessary balance to the Soviet Union and Cuba, will have a major impact on those countries on the continent of Africa which resisted all pressures and stuck by their position even after the Senate cut off aid; on our allies in other parts of the world who look to us for security; on other countries that seek ties with us primarily because they see us as the guardian of international equilibrium.

[Omitted here is discussion of the record of events from the beginning of the Angolan independence movements to 1976.]

The United States Position

This, then, is the significance of Angola and the record to date. In elaborating further the U.S. position, I want to respond directly to some of the issues raised in the current debate.

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Our principal objective has been to respond to an unprecedented application of Soviet power achieved in part through the expeditionary force of a client state.

During 1975 the Soviet Union is estimated to have contributed nearly 200 million dollars’ worth of military assistance to Angola. This equals the entire amount of all military aid from all sources to sub-Saharan Africa in 1974.

Soviet arms have included infantry weapons—machineguns, bazookas, mortars, and recoilless rifles—armored personnel carriers, heavy artillery, light and medium tanks, truck-mounted multitube rocket launchers, helicopters, and light aircraft. There are unconfirmed reports that the Soviet Union will provide the MPLA with MIG–21 aircraft to be piloted by Cubans.

A total of at least 46 flights of Soviet heavy and medium military transports have ferried Soviet military equipment from the U.S.S.R. to Luanda and Congo (Brazzaville), while a steady stream of Soviet and Cuban aircraft has continued to bring Cuban troops across the Atlantic. Soviet naval involvements clearly related to the Angolan event have continued in west African waters for several weeks.

The implications of Cuba’s unprecedented and massive intervention cannot be ignored. It is a geopolitical event of considerable significance. For the first time, Cuba has sent an expeditionary force to another nation on another continent. About 11,000 Cuban military personnel have been sent to Angola.

If allowed to proceed unchecked, this blatant power play cannot but carry with it far-reaching implications—including the impact it will have on the attitudes and future conduct of the nations of this hemisphere. Indeed, friend and foe alike cannot fail to contrast the sending of a large Cuban expeditionary force with our apparent inability to provide even indirect financial assistance. The failure of the United States to respond effectively will be regarded in many parts of the world as an indication of our future determination to counter similar Communist interventions.

We have been asked why we do not respond with other pressures on the Soviet Union.

The first answer is that many of the links the Administration has tried to forge—such as trade and credit, which would have provided incentives for restraint and levers for penalties—have been precluded by earlier congressional actions. But two other instruments have been suggested: wheat sales and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks.

A moratorium was placed on wheat sales for four months in 1975. To use this device every three months is to blunt it permanently. Above all, economic measures take too much time to affect a fast-moving situ[Page 366]ation like Angola; any longer term impact would be of little use to those immediately threatened. We should also ponder whether we want to return to the situation, now prevented by the grain agreement,4 in which the U.S.S.R. can capriciously enter and leave the U.S. grain trade.

As for the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, we have never considered these to be a favor which we grant to the Soviet Union to be turned on and off according to the ebb and flow of our relations. The fact is that limiting the growth of nuclear arsenals is an overriding global problem that must be dealt with urgently for our own sake and for the sake of world peace.

Still, we have made clear that a continuation of actions like those in Angola must threaten the entire web of Soviet-U.S. relations. In this sense, both negotiations and the overall relationship are in long-term jeopardy unless restraint is exercised. But there is no substitute for a local balance; indirect pressures can succeed only if rapid local victories are foreclosed.

Have we really thought through the implications of our decisions? Do we really want the world to conclude that if the Soviet Union chooses to intervene in a massive way, and if Cuban or other troops are used as an expeditionary force, the United States will not be able to muster the unity or resolve to provide even financial assistance to those who are threatened? Can those faced with such a threat without hope of assistance from us be expected to resist? Do we want our potential adversaries to conclude that, in the event of future challenges, America’s internal divisions are likely to deprive us of even minimal leverage over developments of global significance?

Our second objective is to help our friends in black Africa who oppose Soviet and Cuban intervention.

Only in recent years has Africa become free of great-power rivalry; it must not once again become an arena in which the ambitions of outside forces are pursued. We have sought with our African friends to maintain a local balance of power so there can be no imposed solution that would deprive the Angolan people of the right to determine their own destiny.

We are told that we need not concern ourselves, because in the final analysis and at some indefinite date in the future, African nationalism will reassert itself and drive out foreign influence. Even were this to prove true, it still ignores the fact that governments under pressure will be forced to yield whenever a threat develops. Those who are threatened cannot afford to wait; they must decide whether to resist or [Page 367] to adjust. Advice which counsels patience and confidence in the verdict of history is a mockery to those who are concerned for the fate of their country today. History rarely helps those who do not help themselves.

Some charge that we have acted in collusion with South Africa. This is untrue. We had no foreknowledge of South Africa’s intentions and in no way cooperated with it militarily. Nor do we view South African intervention more benevolently than we do the intervention of other outside powers. Indeed, we have formally proposed that the removal of outside forces begin with those of South Africa and have asked—in vain—for an indication of how soon thereafter Soviet and Cuban forces would be withdrawn.

It is also claimed that because of our support for the side which later felt itself compelled to seek the aid of South Africa, we have lost influence in black Africa. One cannot generalize so easily about the perceptions of the African people, as the firm stand at Addis Ababa of 22 OAU members against OAU recognition of the MPLA should demonstrate. Behind this stand, which coincided with the U.S. position, was awareness that the MPLA represented only a minority of Angolans, and also a genuine apprehension over Soviet and Cuban, as well as South African, intervention. Indeed, it is our inability to support our African friends that will cost us influence in Africa.

We are firmly convinced that, had there been no outside interference initiated by the Soviet Union, the Africans would have found their own solution. No single movement would have been strong enough to take over. The resulting solution would have been more representative of the people of Angola than a government imposed by an outside power and representing only a minority faction.

The outcome in Angola will have repercussions throughout Africa. The confidence of countries neighboring Angola—Zambia and Zaïre—as well as other African countries, in the will and power of the United States will be severely shaken if they see that the Soviet Union and Cuba are unopposed in their attempt to impose a regime of their choice on Angola. They and others elsewhere may well adjust their policies to what they consider to be the forces of the future.

The means we have chosen have been limited, and explained to Congress.

Our immediate objective was to provide leverage for diplomatic efforts to bring about a just and peaceful solution. They were not conceived unilaterally by the United States; they represented support to friends who requested our financial assistance.

We chose covert means because we wanted to keep our visibility to a minimum; we wanted the greatest possible opportunity for an African solution. We felt that overt assistance would elaborate a formal doctrine justifying great-power intervention—aside from the technical [Page 368] issues such as in what budgetary category this aid should be given and how it could be reconciled with legislative restrictions against the transfer of U.S. arms by recipients.

The Angola situation is of a type in which diplomacy without leverage is impotent, yet direct military confrontation would involve unnecessary risks. Thus it is precisely one of those gray areas where covert methods are crucial if we are to have any prospect of influencing certain events of potentially global importance.

We chose a covert form of response with the greatest reluctance. But in doing so, we were determined to adhere to the highest standard of executive-legislative consultation. Eight congressional committees were briefed on 24 separate occasions. We sought in these briefings to determine the wishes of Congress. While we do not claim that every member approved our actions, we had no indication of basic opposition.

Between July and December 1975 we discussed the Angolan situation on numerous occasions with members of the foreign relations comittees and the appropriations committees of both Houses and the committees of both Houses that have CIA oversight responsibilities. The two committees investigating CIA activities—the Church Committee and the Pike Committee—were also briefed. Altogether more than two dozen Senators, about 150 Congressmen, and over 100 staff members of both Houses were informed. I am attaching to my statement a list of all the briefings carried out.5

Mr. Chairman, where are we now?

We are told that by providing money and arms in Angola we are duplicating the mistakes we made in Viet-Nam. Such an argument confuses the expenditure of tens of millions of dollars with the commitment of U.S. troops. If we accept such a gross distortion of history—if we accept the claim that we can no longer do anything to aid our friends abroad because we will inevitably do too much—then the tragedy of Viet-Nam will indeed be monumental.

We will have lost all ability to respond to anything less than direct and substantial challenge. And having lost that ability, we will eventually discover that by failing to respond at an early stage, our ultimate response will have to be greater and the stakes will be higher. If we do not exercise our responsibilities to maintain the international balance, if Congress and the executive are unable to act in concert when vital national interests are affected, then world security may well be seriously undermined.

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Many of the members of this committee have expressed their general support for our policy of easing tensions with the Soviet Union. We in the executive branch are grateful for that support. But this process cannot be divided into those segments which the Soviets will honor and those which we will allow them to ignore. What the United States does when confronted with a challenge like Angola can be of great significance in shaping our future relationship with the Soviet Union. A demonstration of a lack of resolve could lead the Soviets to a great miscalculation thereby plunging us into a major confrontation which neither of us wants. Credibility determines, to a great degree, what a nation can accomplish without a resort to force. And as credibility is reduced, the eventual need to resort to force increases. And in the end, we are all the losers.

The United States must make it clear that Angola sets no precedent; this type of action will not be tolerated elsewhere. This must be demonstrated by both the executive and the Congress—in our national interest and in the interest of world peace.

To the Soviet Union and to Cuba, the Administration says: We will continue to make our case to the American public. We will not tolerate wanton disregard for the interests of others and for the cause of world peace.

To the American people, the Administration says: The time has come to put aside self-accusation, division, and guilt. Our own country’s safety and the progress of mankind depend crucially upon a united and determined America. Today, as throughout our 200 years, the world looks to us to stand up for what is right. By virtue of our strength and values we are leaders in the defense of freedom; without us there can be neither security nor progress.

To the Congress, the Administration says: Whatever our past disagreements, let the Congress and the executive now resolve to shape a cooperative relationship that will enable the United States to play a responsible international role. Both branches will have to do their share in restoring the kind of nonpartisan support that has served our foreign policy so well in the past.

On the issue of Angola, the Administration is now seriously considering overt financial aid, and we will soon be consulting with the Congress on this possibility. But whatever that decision, let us work together with an appreciation of the larger interests involved and with a sense of national responsibility. A united America cannot be ignored by our adversaries. Together we will preserve the independence of those who face the prospect of oppression. Together we will hearten the friends of liberty and peace everywhere.

  1. Source: Department of State Bulletin, February 16, 1976, pp. 174–182. The statement was made before the Subcommittee on African Affairs of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
  2. In addition to the recent passage of the Tunney amendment (see Document 64), the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was considering the Clark amendment to the 1976 security assistance bill. Proposed by Senator Dick Clark (D–Iowa) on December 15, 1975, the amendment would prohibit any assistance to military or paramilitary operations in Angola, except under specified conditions. The bill was passed with the Clark amendment on June 25 and signed by the President on June 30 (P.L. 94–329).
  3. Brackets are in the original.
  4. A U.S.-Soviet agreement on the sale of U.S. grain to the Soviet Union was signed on October 20, 1975, in Moscow.
  5. Not printed here; for text, see press release 40. [Footnote is in the original. The Pike Committee investigation of the effectiveness of the Central Intelligence Agency ran parallel to that of the Church Committee (see footnote 6, Document 66).]