10. Memorandum From Zbigniew Brzezinski to Jimmy Carter1


  • The forthcoming foreign policy debate and my recent trip to Europe

1. Leadership is the issue.

I think it is essential that the public be given a sharper sense than was the case in the domestic debate2 as to what is the key issue. In my judgement, taking into account international expectations as well as the domestic mood, the two key and interrelated issues—which stand above the others—are:

  • 1. Presidential leadership
  • 2. The American leadership in the world.

The first of the above requires more affirmative and explicit leadership by the President himself; the second a clearer definition of goals for the United States and the global community, a more affirmative expression of a sense of historical direction, and a greater awareness of global issues.

Bearing the above in mind, I have a concrete suggestion for the debate, in order to set the tone for it:

1. If you are asked to make the opening response, use the initial part of the first three minutes for stating that whatever the question is it has to be viewed in a larger context or perspective; then go on to affirm that the major issue confronting us is the absence of effective Presidential leadership and the related absence of a clear sense of historical direction projected worldwide by America. You can then go on to use the rest of the three minutes to answer the specific question and you will have still additional two minutes as a follow-on.

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2. If your opening comment involves a reaction to Ford’s response, you can use that opportunity to raise the above theme very briefly, indicating to the public that this is the key question for Americans to ponder, then attack Ford on the specific question, and then use your own opening answer for a fuller definition of the basic theme as suggested under #1 above.

3. Remember: your audience is the nation and not the questioners. So focus on the fundamentals and not only on the questions—and keep hammering at the basic theme of no Presidential leadership and of no American vision for a world that needs direction and architecture.

4. In general, I feel that Ford’s non-performance in this area ought to be attacked more sharply and more pointedly than was the case with his domestic performance.

For example, on detente, does he agree with Kissinger or with Reagan? On Cyprus, he should be faulted in some detail for his non-performance and for tolerating Kissinger’s poor record.3 The critical implications of this for Western Europe and for Israel ought to be underlined.

Similarly, on Angola, the ineptness of his leadership and of Kissinger’s handling of this matter ought to be highlighted and related to the present uncertainties about the future of the African continent.4 (Kissinger’s recent “success” regarding Rhodesia5 can be diminished by the suggestion that it was made necessary by his failings in the past and that in fact the “success” is still very uncertain.)

In general, I should think that a major purpose of the debate on foreign policy would be to leave the public with a clear impression that Ford has provided no leadership. In other words, even if Ford claims successes for his foreign policy, the public should be left with the view—as [Page 50] suming he is convincing—that it was not due to him. Has Ford in fact given any major foreign policy speeches?

2. Likely focus of the debate.

The discussion of foreign affairs—assuming the domestic discussion is any guide—is likely to concentrate on no more than two or three major themes of interest to the newspapermen. I would anticipate that these themes would be:

  • 1. East-West relationship (or detente);
  • 2. Defense;
  • 3. Middle East;
  • 4. Maybe Africa.

These subjects should be well-covered in your briefing book. I would only add that on East-West you ought to stress the excessive promises made, Ford’s ambiguity on detente (the non-use of the word,6 the Solzhenitsyn incident,7 etc.), the indifference to human rights, etc.

You will probably be asked how you expect to negotiate more toughly with the Russians, and what you propose to do to increase East European independence. Your answers on these issues ought to be well-balanced: tough on fundamentals but showing a willingness to accommodate. With regard to the Russians, you might stress in general that domestically they are quite weak (their economy is in difficulty, there is social unease, the non-Russian nations are gradually becoming restless), and hence that they need a genuine and truly reciprocal detente quite as much as we. This is not a matter of forcing them to change their system but of realizing that we do not need to appear as needing the detente more than the Russians.

On the East Europeans, you might first say that the Republican position on Eastern Europe has been ambiguous, then go on to stress the importance to us and to West Europe of both Romanian and Yugoslav independence, also emphasize that it is in the general interest of Europe that countries such as Poland become more autonomous. You could [Page 51] then follow by stressing that you would seek to deal more directly with the East European states, rejecting the notion that Eastern Europe is a Soviet sphere of influence and that all arrangements for Eastern Europe have to be cleared or channeled through Moscow. Finally, you might emphasize that you will insist on a scrupulous fulfillment of the Helsinki Agreement,8 and that you will have a special review process set up to monitor the extent to which this Agreement has been fulfilled.

On the Middle East, the thing to stress would be the insecure nature of the stalemate, the different things said by Mr. Kissinger to the Arabs and the Israelis, and the uncertainty produced in Israel by American pressure and threats of a “reappraisal”. You might also, in responding to any claims about the Middle East by Ford, emphasize the proposition that the Republicans have done absolutely nothing about the energy problem. Accordingly, the United States remains as vulnerable as before to an oil crisis, and this simply enhances the threat inherent in the Middle Eastern situation.

I believe you have said that our imports of oil, as percentage of consumption, should not be allowed to increase above present levels and this goal is certainly the most honest and practical one set since October 1973.9 In contrast, Kissinger stated in July of 1976 that “despite efforts to conserve oil and develop alternative energy sources, Western oil imports from OPEC would increase from 27 million barrels/day to as much as 37 million/day in 1985”.10 This could amount to between 3–4 times higher than the present situation, and the political implications of this are far-reaching. This is another example of Ford’s non-leadership.

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3. Counter-attack: Attack is the best defense.

I think you ought to strive to the extent that you can to shift the discussion to such matters as:


Republican failures in Cyprus and Angola

Republican indifference to the human rights issue, especially in the Soviet Union

Republican disinterest and absence of leadership with regards to global issues (including on the last item, paralyzing differences between the Treasury Department led by Simon and the State Department)

Absence of an energy program.

4. Beyond Debates.

It is my general view that the debates will not be decisive the way the Kennedy-Nixon debates may have been. The public is essentially looking for indications of true Presidential ability, and you will have shown that in the debates, but more than the debates will be required. This is why I feel strongly that you should give at least one presidential-type speech a week (of the kind that you gave to the FPA in New York).11 Insofar as foreign affairs are concerned, I think you ought to give a responsibly tough-nosed speech on East-West relations, along the lines of the draft that I have sent to you.12 There is bound to be disagreement among your advisers on the tone and substance of this speech but I lean towards moderate and responsible toughness as being justified both by domestic political needs and actual international realities. In addition, you should demonstrate responsible humaneness and vision on the larger global issues and here a serious discussion of the North-South relationship would be the proper focus.

All of the above can be, and should be, reinforced by periodic release of position papers with a more sharply defined focus.13

5. European Expectations.

I was in Europe in connection with my regular work. I met there a number of people I know quite well (the Foreign Minister and President of Italy; the principal foreign policy advisers to President Giscard; some top British and German business and political leaders; as well as some key journalists).

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I was struck by the great expectations that the Europeans seem to have regarding your prospective Presidency. There is a striking sense of anticipation as well as curiosity. I was plied with endless questions about you personally as well as about your likely policies. (Needless to say, I made it very clear that I was not speaking for you).

One important impression that I gained was that there may be in the foreseeable future real opportunity for a renewed and truly serious dialogue between the U.S. and France on both East-West and North-South problems. The French hinted that they would like to have serious discussions with us about their nuclear policies; this could involve some accommodation on their part with regards to their role in nuclear proliferation in return for some consideration on our part for their strategic concerns.

I should add, in passing, that the new French foreign minister is de Guiringaud. You might remember that I placed him on your right when you were making your speech before the FPA in New York. He was enormously impressed by you and I strongly suspect that the fact that he got to know you somewhat and had a serious conversation with you may have had a bit to do with his recent selection to be the Foreign Minister.

  1. Source: Carter Library, 1976 Presidential Campaign, Issues Office, Issues Office—Stuart Eizenstat, Box 9, Debates—Briefing Material [2]. No classification marking. Carter initialed the top right-hand corner of the first page of the memorandum. Brzezinski circled the word “debate” in the subject line of the memorandum. Brzezinski attached a copy of his Columbia University business card to the memorandum and added the following handwritten comment: “Stu—I hope the enclosed is of help in order to focus the debate. ZB.” The second Presidential debate was scheduled to take place in San Francisco on October 6; for additional information, see Document 11.
  2. The first Presidential debate between Ford and Carter took place in Philadelphia at the Walnut Street Theater on September 23. According to The New York Times, 90 million people watched the live televised debate, moderated by NBC News correspondent Edwin Newman, during which the candidates discussed domestic and economic policy. (R.W. Apple Jr., “Ford and Carter, in First Debate, Trade Charges on Economic Issue: Tone is Restrained,” September 24, 1976, pp. 1, 22) A transcript of the debate is printed in Public Papers: Ford, 1976–77, Book III, pp. 2283–2312.
  3. Reference is to the ongoing conflict between Turkish and Greek Cypriots on Cyprus. On September 30, Kissinger addressed the UN General Assembly and referenced the “stalemate on the Cyprus problem.” He noted that any settlement of the problem would need to come from the Cypriot communities, although the United States would assist in “restoring momentum to the negotiating process.” For the full text of Kissinger’s address, see Department of State Bulletin, October 25, 1976, pp. 497–510. For documentation on U.S. policy toward the Cyprus conflict, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXX, Greece; Cyprus; Turkey, 1973–1976.
  4. Presumable reference to the three-way struggle for political control over the former Portuguese colony of Angola. The Ford administration had covertly supported the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) during the Angolan civil war. Congressional opposition to this support culminated in an amendment to the FY 1976 Defense Appropriations bill (P.L. 94–212) prohibiting any use of funds in the bill for indirect or direct activities in Angola. (Congress and the Nation, volume IV, 1973–1976, p. 878) On January 29, 1976, Kissinger testified before the Subcommittee on African Affairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, outlining the implications of Angola for U.S. foreign policy. For the transcript of his testimony, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXVIII, Part 1, Foundations of Foreign Policy, 1973–1976, Document 67.
  5. Presumable reference to the September 24 announcement that Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith would accept a British-U.S. formula for the transition to majority rule in Rhodesia. (Bernard Gwertzman, “Kissinger Cautions That Decision By Rhodesia Is ‘Only the Beginning’,” The New York Times, September 25, 1976, pp. 1, 5) Kissinger had met with Smith and a Rhodesian delegation in Pretoria, South Africa, during his September 14–24 trip to Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa, Zaire, Kenya, and the United Kingdom.
  6. Ford campaigned in Florida prior to the March 9 Republican primary there. During a television interview, in response to a question regarding Chinese views on détente, Ford commented: “I don’t use the word ‘détente’ any more. I think what we ought to say is that the United States will meet with super powers, the Soviet Union and with China and others, and seek to relax tensions so that we can continue a policy of peace through strength.” The transcript of the interview is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XVI, Soviet Union, August 1974–December 1976, Document 268.
  7. During the summer of 1975, the AFL–CIO decided to honor Soviet dissident and author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn at a banquet to be held at the Washington Hilton Hotel. Meany invited Ford to attend; Helms and Thurmond requested that Ford meet with Solzhenitsyn. Ford turned down both requests but later issued an open invitation for Solzhenitsyn to visit the White House. Solzhenitsyn ultimately rejected the invitation. For additional information, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XVI, Soviet Union, August 1974–December 1976, Documents 155, 156, 158, 163165, 170, 171, 178, and 215.
  8. See footnote 7, Document 4.
  9. Reference is to the OPEC oil embargo imposed during the Arab-Israeli War of 1973.
  10. Kissinger attended the Council of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), meeting at the ministerial level in Paris June 21–22. In a statement before the Council on June 21, Kissinger highlighted the need for continued cooperation among the industrialized economies in four areas: noninflationary economic growth, international trade, transnational investment, and cooperation in energy. With regard to the last area, he noted: “For the next several years, our nations’ heavy dependence on imported oil will contribute to our political and economic vulnerability. The outlook for reducing our dependence in the next decade is not encouraging.” He then referenced the current and projected barrels per day figures, yet added that the industrial countries needed to reduce their immediate dependence on imported oil and develop alternative energy systems. (Department of State Bulletin, July 19, 1976, p. 77) The complete text of Kissinger’s statement is ibid., pp. 73–83. Presumably Brzezinski drew the quotation from a July 13 article by Clyde Farnsworth, in which Farnsworth noted that the figures “were buried in a recent speech” that Kissinger had delivered, and then proceeded to list the figures, adding: “In other words, so long as the OPEC members maintain their alliance with non-oil producing countries of the third world, they will probably be able to extract concessions from the West in the negotiations over new international economic structures.” (“West Affirms Oil Import Needs,” The New York Times, July 13, 1976, p. 58)
  11. See Document 6.
  12. Not found and not further identified.
  13. The Carter campaign released a series of position papers in six categories under the headings “The Federal System,” “The Citizen and the System,” “Agriculture and the Economy,” “Business and Labor,” “Energy and the Environment,” and “Foreign Policy—U.S. Security.” The issues papers are printed in The Presidential Campaign 1976, volume I, part I, Jimmy Carter, pp. 581–699.