145. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Foreign Policy Discussion (U)

I think it would be useful if in the informal group discussion you took Senator Muskie through the following process:

1. Outline to him your fundamental approach to world affairs and the key principles of your foreign policy.

2. Indicate to him very clearly the central guidelines that you have set on some key issues. This is essential to avoid new disputes and zigzags. The world must understand that there is constancy and continuity in Washington and that we are not entering into a new grand debate. (You might give him your State of the Union message2 to read and tell him that this is where you stand.)

3. Focus on those genuinely important issues that do require a policy review and new decisions. Indicate the preparations needed and our approach to upcoming key events (a calendar is attached).3

4. Run through more quickly the remainder of the U.S. foreign policy agenda (as per the attached papers).4

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To facilitate the above, I would recommend that you proceed as follows:

1. Fundamental Approach. The distinctive quality of the Carter foreign policy is that it blends the two main strands of traditional American thinking on foreign policy issues—strands that have often been seen as in conflict.

You favor a more open, positive approach toward the Third World—but you also believe it is essential to maintain a power equilibrium. The former is designed to shape a more decent world in a revolutionary age—for otherwise America would be isolated and increasingly vulnerable. The latter is designed to prevent Soviet exploitation of that revolutionary process and to create the preconditions for a more genuine and stable detente. (McGovern and Kennedy have emphasized the former and slighted the latter; Nixon and Kissinger have stressed the latter and ignored the former.)

In addition, in the more immediate future, we must face the fact that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan poses a very major strategic threat, both in the region and because it is clearly international aggression, and failure to resist it undermines a central principle of world order since the Second World War. It is not Afghanistan per se which is the issue but the simultaneous disintegration of Iran as the American strategic pivot and the disappearance of Afghanistan as a buffer that invites Soviet political meddling and quite possibly even military intrusion into a region of vital importance to us. This is why it is no exaggeration to say that we confront the most serious long-term strategic challenge since the inception of the Cold War. Failure to recognize its magnitude and to respond accordingly would be an historic error, with probably irreversible consequences.

(Your State of the Union message is germane here.)

2. Central Guidelines. On four broad issues, your position is clear and firm, and there will be no deviation:

a. Soviet Union: The Soviet Union must be made aware tangibly that aggressive behavior entails costs. This means no sudden warming of relations while the Soviets are busy suppressing the Afghans and thus altering the strategic situation in the third central strategic zone of vital importance to us.

b. Western Europe/Japan: We need to establish close unity, and that will be the major purpose of the Venice Summit.5 At the same time, the Allies must be made to recognize that detente is not divisible and they [Page 723] have an interest in supporting our efforts in Southwest Asia/Persian Gulf and with the Soviet Union. We must find a way to more effectively interact with the EC–9 to shape common perceptions and actions.

c. Security Framework for Southwest Asia: Your State of the Union message commits us to shaping quietly a regional security framework. This means a gradually enhanced U.S. military presence and the development of a variety of security relationships. These efforts are now in train, and they will continue.

d. Middle East: The Camp David process will move forward; May 26 must be seen as marking genuine progress;6 we will work closely with both Sadat and Begin to the extent that it is possible, and we will not be diverted by European or other initiatives from the Camp David approach.

3. Policy Issues. Please see the attached papers for a somewhat more specific summary of key policy issues. The four mentioned above come first, and in addition to them, Iran clearly poses more immediate policy dilemmas.

Basically, we need to focus on the following issues:

a. What specifically do we say to Gromyko at the May 15 meeting?7 How do we keep the pressure on Moscow to draw the right lessons from Afghanistan? How do we avoid Soviet expansion into Iran?

b. What are our goals for the Summit? How do we prevent our Allies from fragmenting security/detente into self-serving compartments? How and when do we revive SALT without weakening allied resolve? How do we move forward on TNF?

c. What should our strategy be in Iran, given the likely allied steps? What if economic sanctions fail? Can we diminish the issue? Should we act militarily at some point? Should we contemplate another rescue?8

d. What do we do if Begin refuses to budge? How do we engage the moderate Arabs, especially Jordan and Saudi Arabia? How do we react if Sadat decides to bring the issue to a head?

The above is treated in more detail in the enclosed papers, and I would suggest that you then simply go through them, since each is de[Page 724]signed to facilitate a quick review and to highlight both your policies and the key objections that we might confront.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 38, Memcons: President: 5/80. Secret. There is no indication that the President saw the memorandum. On May 3, the President met with Brown, Brzezinski, Muskie, Aaron, Christopher, Owen, Tarnoff, Lake, Newsom, and Read at Camp David from 9:05 a.m. to 12:02 p.m. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials, President’s Daily Diary) A record of this meeting is in the Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 38, Memcons: President: 5/80. In his diary entry for May 3, the President noted that the participants had “discussed the relationship between State and the NSC, Defense, the White House, and Congress. I emphasized that I wanted to work with the deputy and assistant secretaries in State so I could have some benefit from their proposals, other than just to have a conglomerate watered-down, lowest-common denominator recommendation—which has always been the case. It became more obvious as we discussed the situation that Cy had been bogged down in details and captured by the State Department bureaucracy. Everyone felt good after the meeting, and it resolved a lot of problems that could have been handled a long time ago had Cy been willing to let anyone penetrate the State Department shell.” (White House Diary, pp. 424–425)
  2. See Document 138.
  3. Not attached.
  4. Attached but not printed are 11 papers: “The USSR,” “Western Europe,” “Middle East (less Persian Gulf,” “Iran Crisis,” “Security Framework—Southwest Asia,” “Latin America and the Caribbean,” “East Asia,” “Defense Posture in Support of Foreign Policy,” “Global Issues,” “Economic: International Energy,” and “Economic: North-South.”
  5. The Venice Economic Summit was scheduled to take place June 22–23. Documentation on the summit is printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. III, Foreign Economic Policy. For the text of the declaration issued at the conclusion of the summit, see Department of State Bulletin, August 1980, pp. 8–11.
  6. In a March 26, 1979, letter to the President, Begin and Sadat indicated that they would do everything possible to complete negotiations associated with the comprehensive peace settlement by May 26, 1980. (American Foreign Policy: Basic Documents 1977–1980, Document 302)
  7. Muskie and Gromyko met on May 16 when they were in Vienna to attend ceremonies marking the 25th anniversary of the Austrian State Treaty; see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Document 278. Prior to this, Muskie and Brown were in Brussels to attend a joint session of the NATO Defense Planning Committee May 13–14.
  8. See Document 144.