137. Editorial Note

President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Zbigniew Brzezinski took part in a briefing for non-Washington editorial page editors and writers on January 8, 1980. The briefing took place from 11:36 a.m. to 12:01 p.m. in the Old Executive Office Building. Brzezinski initiated the session by stating:

“I thought that it might be most useful if I were to open with a few little comments, and then perhaps respond to any questions that you may wish to raise. We are obviously going through a very serious beginning for the new decade. Perhaps, however, it is not only symbolic that these events are taking place in the first year of the 1980s.

“We have entered the fifth decade of U.S.-Soviet competition. I think it is useful to think about that, particularly for you, since you are editorial writers, in an historical perspective. The decade of the ’40s was the decade of U.S. entrance into world affairs, and of Soviet expansion because of the vacuum that developed as a consequence of World War Two.

“The decade of the ’50s brought the definition of clear lines in the West and in the Far East; Berlin and Korea; and obviously I am oversimplifying here. The decade of the ’60s was that premature global competition, with the Soviets, under Khrushchev, moving out too abruptly and without sufficient power base, resulting in the conflict in Cuba and the respite for the United States, this shaken by the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

“The decade of the ’70s was the decade of Soviet build-up, but also accommodation; the search for a more enduring cooperative relationship. What will the decade of the ’80s be? That is the central issue now confronting us. And that is the issue which is at stake in Afghanistan.

“It can also be a decade of cooperation, not only under arms control but over the wider issues that should concern too much U.S. global [Page 690]power—global cooperation and so forth. It can, however, also be a decade of conflict, of conflict arising out of the new reality of overlapping imperial power. For the first time, not only is American power global but Soviet power is becoming global.

“The President takes a very serious view of the Soviet action in Afghanistan because it is an exercise of power outside of the established perimeters, whatever the moral justification, drawn as a consequence of World War Two. It is the first time that Soviet military forces have been used beyond the lines that were drawn historically by May, 1945. And they are being used, also, not against a country engaged in the East-West conflict, but a neutral, non-aligned country.

“We have undertaken a response to this action of Soviet intervention and aggression. That response is designed to be punitive and also to be a warning. That response requires national support. I do hope, I expect, that it will be forthcoming, because I think the American people realize that there are important issues involved. That response will be a sustained one. It is not a flash in the pan.

“But beyond that, as a nation, and U.S. opinion-makers, we have to think about not only responding to the act, but also of responding to the consequences of the act. The consequences of the act are regional and strategic in nature, and not local and limited; they are regional and strategic in nature. They do involve the stability of the region, which is potentially of vital importance to us, and to those who are of vital importance to us.

“And this is why we are confronted with a problem which in some respects bears historical analogy to the challenge that President Truman confronted when, in the late winter of 1947, he was abruptly informed that he had six weeks in which to decide whether to replace the British as the stabilizing ally for two wobbly, internally-ruled, highly-vulnerable countries remote from the United States by distance and culture: Turkey and Greece. These were countries much further from us geographically then than are Pakistan and Iran today.

“So this is the perspective which I would like to share with you on a problem which is a serious one, and which requires a great deal of national attention, which calls for a very mature and responsible response, which we do not view as a subject that requires a debate, but rather a serious national commitment.

“It is useful in this context to be reminded that this is not, this is the Soviet Union—this is part of a process which has involved us now over four decades. Perhaps that is enough by way of a very broad connection. Perhaps I can now respond to more specific points. And I would appreciate it if you would identify yourselves, because I don’t know who you are, and maybe your colleagues don’t know.”

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then responded to questions concerning Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and India. He concluded his remarks by thanking the participants, adding:

“I wish this could go on longer because we are dealing here with some vital issues. But I wish you well. And I think particularly at this time it is terribly important that the American public, through you, look at the problems we face in a realistic way—but also not in an overly dramatized fashion. I think what they have to understand is that this is a long haul proposition. The competition has lasted for 40 years; it is not going to end quickly; there are not going to be victors or losers in it very quickly, unless we fold up entirely, which we do not intend to do.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Schecter/Friendly (Press) File, Box 1, Brzezinski Briefings and Backgrounders (Press and Public): 1/80)