156. Memorandum From William Odom of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • East-West Relations: A Formula for U.S. Policy in 1981 and Beyond

I want to offer some perspectives on the current state of East-West relations and an integrating formula for putting both the resources and a clear sense of strategic direction into our policies toward the Soviet Union in the next four years. You will recognize much of the analysis, but I hope the framework is helpful for tying rhetoric to actions and programs in a comprehensive fashion. The inspiration for this memo comes in part from Sam Huntington’s recent paper on U.S.-Soviet relations which he wrote for Hedley Donovan,2 but it also stems from my own efforts in strategic doctrinal changes, the Persian Gulf Security Framework, and East-West technology transfers. We have accomplished a great deal over the past three years, and I would like to maintain the momentum and include additional areas and programs.

The East-West Balance

In early 1977 you told Sam and me to “tell us how we are doing in the world vis-a-vis the Soviets.” PRM–10 Comprehensive Net Assessment was the reply.3 It treated military and non-military categories as well as all major regions of U.S.-Soviet competition.

1. The military balance was judged as “essential equivalence” and the trends as adverse. That judgment looks sound in retrospect.

2. In the non-military categories of technology, economics, diplomacy, and political institutions, the U.S. was ahead although the critical military-related technology gap was closing in several areas. In retrospect this judgment has been vindicated.

3. In the major regions outside Europe, Soviet prospects were judged best in Africa and the Persian Gulf region. The Caribbean was cited but without alarm. In retrospect, the record is mixed in Africa; Iran as a crisis point was predicted; we were too optimistic about the [Page 781] Caribbean; and Southeast Asia has been more volatile than anticipated. In East Asia, our normalization with the PRC faces the USSR for the first time ever with a China-Japan-U.S. tie of good relations.

4. In Europe, PRM–10 emphasized the certainty of political uncertainty in both Eastern and Western Europe. That judgment remains valid. The emergence of a more traditional German Ostpolitik, exploited by Moscow in the traditional manner, signals growing difficulties in West-West relations, i.e., within the Alliance. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has given unambiguous evidence of the strategic interaction between the Persian Gulf region and European-Soviet relations: Soviet power projection that affects the oil states of the Persian Gulf tends to reinforce the accommodationist politicizing forces in Western Europe and thereby exacerbates U.S.-European relations vis-a-vis Moscow and the Persian Gulf.

The Transition from Era I to Era II in East-West Relations

Critics within the U.S. and abroad have complained that the U.S. has not pursued a steady or consistent course in U.S.-Soviet affairs. The President, in particular, is believed by many to be responsible for this. It is, in their view, all his fault.

To some extent, the apparent inconsistency is real. Soviet power projection has been used more extensively in the last few years than even informed policy and intelligence circles believed it would be. “Changing” U.S. policy, therefore, has been “catching up” U.S. policy. Consistent policy outputs are impossible when the inputs differ substantially from those anticipated.

To a larger extent the inconsistency is only apparent. It looks that way because the foreign policy and press elites themselves are split on fundamental assumptions about U.S. foreign policy. They are awakening to and becoming disturbed by the transition from the first era in East-West relations—1945 to the mid-1970s (U.S. dominance and Pax Americana)—to the second era—the 1980s and 1990s (the nature of which is still being defined, as Soviet military power makes itself felt). But they are reacting to this awakening in quite different ways. At least three fissures divide foreign policy and media elite views, and perhaps even the broader public, as they assess the incipient realities of Era II.

First, there are fundamental differences over the political utility of military force. At the strategic nuclear level, some believe “assured destruction” is enough. Others believe force balances and capabilities make a political and diplomatic difference. At the conventional level, some argue that our Vietnam experience shows that conventional military power is greatly overrated. Others say that Vietnam proves the importance of using conventional military power effectively, of not squandering it where our interests are small.

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The second fissure is East-West versus North-South primacy, between those who view East-West relations as still the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy and those who believe that North-South relations rival if not exceed East-West relations for the cornerstone role.

The third fissure concerns economics—the growing incongruities between economic power on the one hand (Europe, Japan, and Saudi Arabia) and military security responsibilities on the other hand (the U.S. carries them all). It is only vaguely recognized, but it has enormous potential to evoke an “isolationist-internationalist” dichotomy in security policy prescriptions.

These fissures prevent a foreign policy consensus on East-West relations and mean that in the 1970s, and perhaps into the 1980s, no U.S. policy toward the USSR can have broad and constant support. The domestic need to accommodate both sides of each fissure, particularly in Congress for budgets, inevitably creates the impression, if not the reality, of a wavering U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union and our allies. Thus, blaming the President is far from an adequate explanation.

The primary task for U.S. foreign and defense policy in the early 1980s, therefore, is to complete the transition to Era II peacefully and to give that era a definition and direction appropriate to changed realities. Success will depend in part on closing the three fissures, and a compelling formula articulated by the President will help close these. Only their closure will provide the liberal consensus necessary for a sustained realistic policy.

A U.S. Policy for Era II

Era II may or may not be dominated by the U.S. A return to the Cold War is not possible because regaining the military preponderance of that time is not feasible. Were it feasible, a Cold War balance would be the best choice because it was a period relatively secure from general war. A return to detente of the early 1970s is equally infeasible. The Soviets would demand higher terms and be no less aggressive in projecting power into the disputed regions. Even if the Soviet leaders personally desired a relaxation, the centrifugal forces within the USSR, in the Warsaw Pact, and in client states elsewhere would make it too risky. They are trapped in their own expansive dynamic which limits fundamental choices.

Neither the containment policy nor the detente policy alone is adequate to deal effectively with the new level of Soviet power. A more comprehensive approach is essential. The U.S. must neither rely largely on military power nor passively “contain” Soviet power. The U.S. must engage the USSR competitively.

Huntington defined four elements of a policy toward the USSR on which “competitive engagement” can be built.

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a. Maintenance of military deterrence.

b. Containment of Soviet expansion where deterrence fails.

c. Offers of politically conditioned economic benefits.

d. Reduction of Soviet influence over client states, bloc states, and minority nationalities in the USSR.

A number of things have been accomplished over the past three years to provide the programs and policies for “competitive engagement” over the next four years. When they are specifically related to the four elements of the policy, a clear view of how to proceed in East-West relations begins to emerge. That follows for each element.

a. Maintenance of military deterrence through military pre-eminence.

The doctrinal changes marked by the “strategic” PD–41, 50, 53, 57, 58, and 59 provide the direction our military programs must take to maintain deterrence in the 1980s.4 The gap between our political objectives and our military capabilities must be reduced. This can be accomplished through simultaneous improvements in our force posture and meaningful arms control agreements.

Force Improvements. We must address our military deficiencies in a three-pronged attack which includes:

The Budget. Not only must the budget be increased, but Defense, FEMA, and the DCI must let the strategic PDs guide their program choices. To date, they have yielded little to the new doctrine.

Organization. All three agencies must be reorganized to improve “factor productivity,” with particular emphasis on the Pentagon. The President tried to reorganize DoD once, but the effort failed. He succeeded with FEMA. He must succeed in the next term with DoD.

Manpower. We must also solve the military manpower problem. That probably means a return to the military draft.

The objective of these measures may not be “military superiority” but it should be “military pre-eminence” for the US and its allies, in terms of both nuclear and conventional forces.

Arms Control. Arms control, too, plays a part in the military balance. Arms control, however, is headed for indefinite dormancy in the 1980s unless it is tied symbiotically to our defense policy. PD–50 prescribed the process that can achieve that symbiosis. ACDA, State, and even ISA at Defense have failed to see this merit in the directive. Yet it is precisely arms control that is at risk without the PD–50 approach.

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SALT I and II were developed to support our assured destruction defense policy of the 1960s. In the 1970s, that policy became inadequate. ACDA and State drifted into the position of seeing arms control as a surrogate for a defense policy. Now we are hesitantly awakening to the defense policy problem in Europe. We cannot move with confidence into TNF and SALT III negotiations because we are in transition with our defense policy. That is not the only defense policy problem for arms control. ASAT negotiations move on although we have not the slightest idea of our force goals for space. No military service has responsibility for them. The same is true for CTB. We have not developed our defense requirements for nuclear weapons development and production of nuclear materials. Yet we are on a CTB track that enjoys no interagency consensus.

Two major PD–50 tasks must be launched to extract us from this disastrous course on which arms control now proceeds toward self-destruction. First, an across-the-board assessment of all negotiations vis-a-vis one another is essential. Second, a somewhat more narrow review of the TNF/SALT III sector is needed to clarify what kind of SALT III can assist our national security in an unambiguous and objective way. To do that, we must also review the whole of our strategy and force structure for the defense of Europe. Both efforts should be complete by next spring. To make these serious endeavors, the President will have to reconfirm his commitment to the PD–50 process within the agencies.

b. Containment of Soviet expansion where deterrence fails.

We must devote special attention to the three interrelated strategic regions of Europe, East Asia, and the Persian Gulf. The Caribbean region is also overdue for our security attention as is Southeast Asia.

We have major work to accomplish in each area, notwithstanding much that has already been accomplished. NATO, as mentioned in connection with PD–50, needs a reassessment of our strategy for its defense. The Persian Gulf Security Framework effort must be kept on track, a separate unified command being one of the first steps next year. For the Caribbean we must begin a similar security framework effort. In East Asia, the nature of military ties with China will need further definition.

In addition to these regional activities, some key functional area reviews must be accomplished:

—A successful policy of containment depends on capable conventional force projection. We have a modest beginning in the RDF.

—Security Assistance policy needs significant revision, budgeting, and perhaps changed legislation.

—Our intelligence capabilities in each region must be improved and expanded with all the speed possible.

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—Military training assistance and advisory policy needs repair.

The most difficult area in the 1980s may prove to be Europe, West-West relations. Overcoming the lag between our own recovery from the hopes of the early 1970s and Europe’s recovery from its present illusion of divisible detente, will not occur without political trauma. How to defend Europe effectively cannot be dodged as it has been for three decades. And until that is decided, arms control within that theater will be difficult to implement in a way that is not politically and militarily injurious to the West. The LTDP was a modest beginning which must be turned into a major revolution in the 1980s.

c. Offers of politically conditioned economic benefits to the East.

The Soviet Union and East Europe will continue to look to the West as a source of reprieve from their economic plight. The West must exploit that need with offers of economic assistance based on rigorous and measurable political conditions.

With the new COCOM policies, we have begun to control more effectively the strategic technology transfers. The next step is East-West trade coordination. Credits and trade must be coordinated on an alliance basis. Such a step logically follows from our COCOM policy. Otherwise, the “alternative supplier” problem will continue to deny us the political advantages of our greatest edge over the Soviets—economic advantage. In the “process know-how” proposal to COCOM we have already moved slightly toward trade coordination. That is why Europe resists it. The diplomatic efforts now in progress to prevent the FRG (Kloeckner) and France (Creusot-Loire) from taking our ARMCO and ALCOA deals with the Soviet Union can be the seed from which East-West trade coordination grows. If the Germans believe that Soviet markets are critical for their machine exports, then we can retaliate by denying them our import market. We have strong laws that allow the President to force Europe to choose between the US as a trading partner and the Soviet Bloc as a market. Once the allies are whipped into line, we can dictate the political terms of East-West trade.

The Soviets deeply fear a Western united economic front. If we do not present them with one in the 1980s, the incongruities between security burdens and economic power in NATO will create a political backlash in the US which will destroy public support for US troops in Europe. The Mansfield Amendment was merely a hint of what can come5 if the Europeans continue to can get without paying for, because we choose not to tax them [sic].

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To move from the rhetorical to the operational, we should use the post-Afghanistan policy with our allies to lay the basis for East-West trade coordination at the Economic Summit in Canada next summer. Once the Soviets see an emerging united economic front, we will have important opportunities for our economic diplomacy.

d. Reduction of Soviet influence over 1) client states, 2) bloc states, and 3) national minorities in the USSR.

It is time to reduce the spheres of Soviet influence, and the opportunities are large. We have the beginnings of a policy for the three non-Russian areas of Soviet influence.

Client States. In Southwest Asia, in the Horn of Africa, in Southern Africa (Angola), in Yemen, in the Caribbean, and in Southeast Asia we can and should bring some reverses to the Soviet projection of power. This will involve more vigorous support for anti-Soviet movements afoot in all areas.

Bloc States. We already have a policy for East Europe of encouraging its autonomy vis-a-vis the USSR. We must help Poland consolidate recent gains.

Minorities in the USSR. We can do more on the nationality question within the USSR. The human rights policy is, of course, already a weapon in our arsenal. In an age of nationalism, there is nothing permanent about Soviet “internationalism” and Soviet borders—something we can imply and encourage others to say explicitly.

A competitive approach to spheres and areas of Soviet influence will make further Soviet projection of power more difficult. A passive containment approach will permit Soviet consolidation of recent gains and new efforts to expand further.

The Soviet Union, however militarily strong it is becoming, suffers enormous centrifugal political forces. A shock could bring surprising developments within the USSR, just as we have seen occurring in Poland. The dissolution of the Soviet Empire is not a wholly fanciful prediction for later in this century. US policy should sight on that strategic goal for the longer run. When it comes, Era II will be at an end, and we can anticipate Era III.

To sum up, through a strategy of “competitive engagement” the President can, I believe, heal some of the fissures in our foreign policy and media elite opinion on the three key assumptions for US military, foreign, and economic policy. In a second term he will be freer to stand above the day-to-day criticisms that have heretofore made a steady course difficult to follow, particularly funding programs and pursuing adequate legislation. He also has the enormous advantage of several inchoate policy developments (as outlined above) that will allow him, rather than the Soviets and our allies, to define the nature of Era II in [Page 787] East-West relations. Basic steps have already been taken in each of the four elements of “competitive engagement.” As policy slogans form each element, the following are possibilities:

a. Maintenance of military deterrence.

US “military pre-eminence” is the essential basis for deterrence and security. We shall acquire it and maintain it with our allies.

b. Containment of Soviet expansion where deterrence fails.

“Three interrelated security zones” are the basis for containing Soviet power projection.

c. Offers of politically conditioned economic benefits.

“Reciprocally advantageous East-West trade” is our goal, but trade is not compatible with threats to our security and foreign policy interests.

d. Reduction of Soviet influence over client states, Bloc states, and non-Russian minorities in the USSR.

“Resistance to Soviet internationalism” is encouraged wherever states and nations find it oppressive and unwanted.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office File, Outside the System File, Box 58, Chron: 9/1–9/80. Confidential. Sent for information. The President wrote “Very interesting. J” in the top right-hand corner of the memorandum.
  2. Presumable reference to Huntington’s contribution to the “U.S. Foreign Policy Objectives and Priorities, 1980–85” report coordinated by Donovan; see Document 141.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 36.
  4. Copies of PD/NSC–41, “U.S. Civil Defense Policy,” September 29, 1978; PD/NSC–50, “Arms Control Decision Process,” August 14, 1979; PD/NSC–53, “National Security Telecommunications Policy,” November 15, 1979; and PD/NSC–57, “Mobilization Planning,” March 3, 1980, can be found at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library website. Documentation on PD/NSC–59 is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. IV, National Security Policy.
  5. Senator Mansfield proposed amendments in 1971 and 1974 to reduce the American troop presence in Europe. Both were defeated.