- The US, Zaire and Angola
The following message was prepared by the political and economic reporting officers of the Embassy. ********* *****************. The premises and conclusions have been drawn without detailed knowledge of our Angola programs. The officers involved, however, see what is going on and they—like all other observers in Zaire—have come pretty close to assessing the degree of US and Zairian commitment to preventing a Neto takeover. The drafters have accepted the fact that I cannot share with them all the information pertinent to such an analysis and they understand that the message must be sent in this channel. I, in turn, have not tinkered with their draft.
1. Quote. The purpose of this message is to flag certain risks involved in our present policy in Angola, to urge measures airmed at limiting out commitment to that policy, and to recommend a more flexible, two-track alternative to the present line of march.
2. I. U.S. policy. The following points are regarded as given.
1) The establishment of a communist or a communist-dominated government in Angola is not in the U.S. interest. As presently consitutued, the MPLA is a communist-dominated party.
2) While maintaining a public posture of neutrality, the United States, through Mobutu, is seeking to prevent the establishment of such a government.
The above policy has been conceived and implented largely by executive authority and without exposure to American press or public opinion.
3. II. Risks
The following risks are perceived:
1) US and Zairian interests in Angola are not perfectly congruent. In some circumstances Mobutu, after accepting substantial US aid, might opt for a solution which would cover his interests (assured access to the sea, a secure border with Angola, guaranteed use of the Benguela railraod) but leave ours unprotected.
2) Zaire could over commit itself in Angola. Mobutu’s freedom of action in Angola is limited by social unrest, anti-war sentiment, and financial crisis at home. By miscalculating the extent to which we might be prepared to back our bet in Angola, Mobutu could over-extend himself militarily and financially, destabilizing—possibly destroying—his own regime at home.
3) A Zairian grab for Cabinda could be embarrassing to the United States and financially disastrous for Zaire. Such a grab would compromise Mobutu as a third world leader, a leader whose influence has, on occasion, been useful to us. The compromise would be the greater, given the US (Gulf) commercial interest in Cabinda these effects are probably inescapble regardless of the means used direct occupation, sponsorship of a FLEC takeover, or support for an FNLA or FNLA/UNITA initiative. The latter, however, may be the least transparent of the three alternatives. But such a move would probably jeopardize the bi-lateral and multilateral financial assistance now being considered for Zaire. Neither American nor European donors would willingly become involved in financing Zairian participation in an Angolan civil war. It is doubtful, moreover, whether oil revenues from Cabinda could effectively replace such assistance in the time frame allowed.
4) Having read the official statements on Angola, Congress and the American public, as they become aware of the extent of our present involvement, may not support the present policy. A mandate for an extended or escalating commitment may not be attainable. But, at the present juncture, this appears to be precisely the kind of commitment required if we are to “win” in Angola. The Soviets, aware of these restraints on US action and lacking similar restraints on their own—presumably have factored this perception into a determination to outlast and outbid US in Angola. If we are to win with the present policy it will probably have to be at a fairly low level of resource commitment and in a relatively brief time frame. We could, of course, attempt to pressure the Soviets elsewhere—e.g. cancellation of the grain deal. But the global consequences of this kind of action are difficult to assess, and uncertain of effect. Baldly stated, then, the present policy offers only the slimmest hope of success.
5) Official statements, combined with actual thoughts indirect involvement in Angola, are already straining our credibility as neutral. For Africans, and for the Third World generally, another “climbdown with honor”—this time in Angola—would vitiate our credibility as ally as well. Unless, then, we are prepared to escalate to the point (wherever that may be) of certain victory, we had better set our limits and devise an alternative to the present policy.
6) Too close and open association with Mobutu in an unpopular (in Zairian eyes) involvement in Angola could eventually have its political price with a successor regime in Zaire. The price would, of course, depend on the success of the venture, mounting in proportion to the cost to Zaire in blood and treasure. The people of Zaire probably have a fairly low tolerance for what is generally regarded as an unnecessary military adventure in Angola.
4. III. Recommendations
With little prospect of a coalition of the three liberation movements and an orderly transfer of power when the Portuguese depart the territory on (or before) November 11, the prognosis is for continued, possibly escalating, conflict in Angola. The risk of deeper US involvment will increase. To limit the danger of a reflex escalation, and to suggest an alternative policy line, the following recommendations are offered for consideration:
1) We should attempt to fix a sustainable level of commitment, one which preserves a close proportion between resource allocation and the clearly defined US interest in Angola. Ideally the limits should be precisely and firmly fixed. Pratically this may be impossible. As a minimum, however, we must devise a kind of policy “fail-safe” which will trigger a full-dress reassessment prior to any escalation. Checkpoints can be conceived. In the present circumstances, would, for example, we should erect a policy barrier at the trans-shipment to Angola of US-supplied arms—certainly at the introduction of US advisors or technicians.
2) Mobutu, Holden and Savimbi should be informed that US support to them will not be unlimited. We may not wish to say much more than this.
3) We should make it clear to Mobutu that too-open and too-deep involvement in the Angolan civil war could jeopardize US, other bi-lateral, and multilateral financial assistance to Zaire—assistance which will be required to meet essential import requirements and to service medium and long-term debts.
4) Our objectives and conditions should be spelled out clearly to Mobutu:
A) The United States opposes the establishment of a communist or a communist-dominated state in Angola, or in any part of the territory. In principle, it does not oppose MPLA participation in a coalition government. The United States recognize that, given its resource limitations and its preference for free elections, it may have to settle for something less than its optimum objectives.
B) Positively stated, US policy advocates free elections in Angola—and in Cabinda, should it become separated.
C) While we recognize a common interest with Mobutu in securing Cabinda against control by a communist or a communist dominated government in Angola, we should not encourage him to direct action. We may not be in a position to make good the financial loss he could suffer as the result of too blatant an intervention (see II, 2 above).
5) While applying every appropriate pressure to make the Soviets cease their support to the MPLA, we should continue (within the defined limits) to challenge the communist initiative in Angola. We should, at the same time, initiate an international demand for a ceasefire and negotiations under UN auspices. We should actively lobby in the UN and elsewhere for free elections, the desire for which has been expressed—at one time or another—by each of the contending parties in Angola. Unquote.
- Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 257, Geopolitical Files, Zaire, August-November 1975. Secret; Priority; Nodis; Cherokee.↩
- Chargé Walker transmitted an assessment by the Embassy’s political and economic reporting officers regarding U.S. policy in Zaire and Angola. They noted that Mobutu’s interests were not entirely congruent with U.S. interests and cautioned against being drawn too deeply into the Angolan conflict.↩