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


  • Four-Year Goals: Preliminary Statement

Purpose and Scope

The memorandum which follows is an attempt to define your four-year foreign policy goals. It is not meant to be a public statement—and its publication or revelation would be counterproductive. It would provide your critics with ammunition (both now and four years hence) and public disclosure would also make it more difficult to attain many of your goals. Moreover, in some ways any such statement is bound to be arbitrary and even simplistic—but otherwise it would have to be a book, with all the explanations, elaborations, and nuances included.

The document is not an interagency consensus statement. It was prepared, on the basis of the conceptual framework which you and I have often discussed, by Sam Huntington and myself, with NSC staff inputs. (Sam is also coordinating the PRM 102 effort.)

As of now, you are the first consumer of this statement. It has not been cleared with the Secretary of State nor with any other members of the Cabinet. At this stage, the document is meant only for your personal consumption. Once revised on the basis of your instructions and following a discussion with your principal advisers, it should become a [Page 148] decision paper from the top down, rather than a consensual statement filtered upwards through the bureaucracy.

This statement sets out ten central objectives for the next four years. It does not prescribe specific tactics but it does propose steps for the attainment of these ten central objectives, in addition to some others as well.

I believe the four year objectives—though ambitious—are realistic. In any event, they provide both stimulus and discipline for the development of specific policy choices for your decision. I should note that the second of these central objectives—that we cultivate the new “regional influentials”—is likely to be both controversial and possibly even occasionally in conflict with some of the other goals. Yet I believe that American interests and global stability require that we nourish a better relationship with these key states. Not to do so is to deprive ourselves of potentially very constructive relationships. Given the importance and sensitivity of this proposal, I attach a special annex (Tab IV),3 pertaining to these states.

Basic Concept

These ten central objectives are derived from a basic concept of what U.S. foreign policy should be at this historical stage. I want to stress to you the importance of that concept. A foreign policy to be effective must rest on a reasonably accurate assessment of the basic historical need. The Soviets periodically undertake a very deliberate reappraisal of their foreign policy based on the question: what is the nature of our historical phase? Has that phase changed, and—if so—what are the implications for the Soviet foreign policy? We should be similarly alert to the meaning of historical change. U.S. foreign policy in the past was relatively successful because the notions of Atlanticism and containment did correspond to the major needs of the late 40’s and early 50’s. Accordingly, this document is based on a unifying theme and you have to decide whether the definition of that theme—in the section called “Overall Concept”—is congenial to you.


Accordingly, I would recommend: (1) that you review the document, make whatever changes you deem necessary, and give me further guidance; (2) that following further revisions in the light of your directives, the document be used as the basis for discussion with your principal advisers (such as the Secretary of State), and possibly even with top Congressional leaders (though perhaps without actual distribution); (3) that you give a comprehensive speech, maybe after the [Page 149] summit, using largely the conceptual part in order to educate the public and to convey to all concerned that your various actions are part of an overall scheme (contrary to some criticisms that are now being voiced).

Even then, the document should not be distributed except perhaps at a restricted NSC meeting itself.

Please indicate whether this approach meets with your approval.4




Let me also raise here the possibility that you consider using your Notre Dame University Address5 to develop the above approach. You might remember that I proposed a few days ago that you give a conceptual speech, attempting to integrate your overall policy, and follow it shortly thereafter by a town hall meeting specifically on foreign policy. The Notre Dame date comes roughly two weeks after the summit, and it might be a good place to summarize your basic conclusions, and then go on to deliver a more far-reaching and essentially conceptual statement on your foreign policy.6





Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Staff7

[Omitted here is the Table of Contents.]

Four-Year Foreign Policy Objectives


U.S. foreign policy can be expressed in terms of several broad purposes. Though interrelated, these purposes imply, though not rigidly, a [Page 150] basic hierarchy. (At a specific level, choices are often necessary—as in the exemption of South Korea on security grounds from aid cutoff on human rights grounds).

These broad purposes are:

1. To assure the security of the United States;

2. To enhance peace by reducing international tensions and the probability of war;

3. To promote the prosperity of the United States;

4. To advance global wellbeing by creating an open, cooperative and equitable international economic order;

5. To expand fundamental human rights.

The document which follows is designed to promote all of these broad purposes, and it attempts to translate them into more specific goals in the political, economic and defense areas.

The basic conceptual frame of reference for the more specific goals is a historical perspective, which sees the United States as having to play a creative role in world affairs, in some ways similar to the role that the United States played following 1945. At that time, the United States in effect shaped a new international system, replacing the one that had collapsed during World War II. That new system then endured and worked reasonably well for the next quarter of a century or so. During much of that time, the basic concept that guided U.S. foreign policy was a combination of Atlanticism (primacy of the US-European link) and containment of the Soviet Union.

Faced in the early 70’s with major world changes, the previous Republican Administration then developed a foreign policy focused primarily on a flexible balance of power, and on maneuver. It was also very pessimistic foreign policy, based on the notion that America had no permanent friends nor institutions on which it could rely, and that deeprooted trends were against us.

Your policy, as recommended here, is different. It places emphasis not so much on maneuver, but on building new structures—new relationships with friends, with adversaries, with the developing world, even with the whole world—that we hope will have a measure of permanence. It is, therefore, an optimistic policy—we hope to build a better world—not simply survive in a hostile one. It is a policy of constructive global engagement.

Its fundamental premise is that the U.S. needs to play today a role as constructive as the one it played after World War II, but in a vastly changed context.

The U.S. has to help in the shaping of a new international system that cannot be confined to the developed countries but must involve increasingly the entire international community of more than 150 nation states. Unlike the years 1945–50, this calls not for American dictation [Page 151] but for more subtle inspiration and cooperative leadership on a much wider front. The international community, in addition to the traditional dilemmas of war and peace, now confronts global problems never before faced by mankind.

The need thus is not for a new anti-communist coalition, nor for an updated Atlanticism, nor for a policy focused only on the new nations, and certainly not for protectionism and isolationism. Rather, it requires a broad architectural process for an unstable world organized almost entirely on the principle of national sovereignty and yet increasingly interdependent socially and economically. In that process of widening cooperation, our relationships will have to involve varying degrees of intimacy:

1. With our closest friends in the industrial world—countries which share our values, have political systems similar to ours, and which because of their wealth have a special burden of responsibility to the rest of mankind—we will seek to deepen our collaboration;

2. With the emerging states, we will seek to develop close bilateral relations in some key cases, and to widen and to institutionalize arrangements for more genuine global cooperation;

3. With states with which we compete militarily and ideologically, we will seek through appropriate arrangements to reduce the chances of war and to codify more precise rules of reciprocal restraint.


With that basic concept as our point of departure, and in keeping with it, it is recommended that your foreign policy seek to attain during the coming four years these central ten goals (developed more specifically in the third part of this document):

1. To engage Western Europe, Japan and other advanced democracies in closer political cooperation through the increasing institutionalization of consultative relationships, and to promote wider macro-economic coordination pointing towards a stable and open monetary and trade system. Genuine collaboration with these states is the foundation stone of U.S. policy, and we must seek to intensify and to multiply our consultative links;

2. To weave a worldwide web of bilateral, political and, where appropriate, economic cooperation with the new emerging regional “influentials”—thereby widening, in keeping with new historical circumstances, our earlier reliance on Atlanticism or, more lately, on trilateralism. These regional influentials include Venezuela, Brazil, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, India, Indonesia, in addition to our more traditional friends;

3. To exploit the foregoing in the development of more accommodating North-South relations, both political and economic, through [Page 152] such devices as the Global Development Budget, the institutionalization of CIEC, the shaping of links between OECD and OPEC, etc.;

4. To push U.S.-Soviet strategic arms limitation talks into strategic arms reduction talks, using the foregoing as an entering wedge for a more stable U.S.-Soviet relationship. At the same time, we should seek to rebuff Soviet incursions, both by supporting our friends and by ameliorating the sources of conflict which the Soviets exploit. We should match Soviet ideological expansion by a more affirmative American posture on global human rights, while seeking consistently to make detente both more comprehensive and more reciprocal;

5. To normalize U.S.-Chinese relations in order to preserve the U.S.-Chinese relationship as a major stabilizing factor in the global power balance, offsetting Soviet conventional superiority and preventing the Soviet Union from concentrating its resources on a westward (Europe) or southward (Middle East, Africa) expansionary drive;

6. To obtain a comprehensive Middle Eastern settlement, without which the further radicalization of the Arab world and the reentry of the Soviet Union into the Middle East cannot for long be avoided, generating in turn serious consequences for Western Europe, Japan, and the United States;

7. To set in motion a progressive and peaceful transformation of South Africa towards a biracial democracy and to forge—in connection with this process—a coalition of moderate black African leaders in order to stem continental radicalization and to eliminate the Soviet-Cuban presence from the continent;

8. To restrict the level of global armaments through international agreements limiting the excessive flow of arms into the Third World (though with some consideration for goal No. 2), cooperative international restraints on nuclear proliferation, and a comprehensive test ban on nuclear testing;

9. To enhance global sensitivity to human rights through actions designed to highlight U.S. observance of such rights and through multilateral and bilateral initiatives meant to influence other governments to give higher priority to such human rights;

10. To maintain a defense posture capable of deterring the Soviet Union both on the strategic and conventional levels from hostile acts and from political pressure. This will require the U.S. to modernize, rationalize, and reconceptualize its defense posture in keeping with the broad changes in world affairs that have already been noted, to improve NATO military strength and readiness, and to develop capabilities to deter or to counter Soviet military intervention in the Third World.

It should be noted in connection with these broad objectives that the promotion of human rights is a goal that cross-cuts our relations [Page 153] with the Soviet Union, the developing countries, and particularly the new regional influentials. In all these cases, our leverage should be used discreetly to advance human rights but no specific targets can be prescribed precisely.

Moreover, the point to stress is that human rights is a broad concept. These two words should mean much more than political liberty, the right to vote, and protection against arbitrary governmental action. Human rights, and this we should stress, means also certain basic minimum standards of social and economic existence. In effect, human rights refers to all three (political, social, and economic) and this is why these words have such universal appeal.

Such a broader, and more flexible definition would have several advantages: it would retain for us the desirable identification with a human cause whose time has come, and yet it would avoid some of the rigidities that are potential in the narrower political definition. It would give us the freedom to point at the most glaring abuses (e.g., political suppression in some countries, or total social indifference in others), though leaving us the necessary margin of flexibility in dealing with most governments. In general, we should stress that achieving human rights is a process and that we are watching carefully progress toward greater respect for human rights, realizing that there is no single standard for all the countries of the world.

The ten central objectives are refined and time-targeted in the pages which now follow. If approved by you, all of the specific as well as broader objectives will become, at appropriate times, the subject of action directives from you, requiring the pertinent department to submit more detailed studies and proposals for implementation.

[Omitted here are Part III: Central Objectives and Specific Steps and Part IV: Annex on Regional Influentials.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office File, Outside the System File, Box 63, Goals: Four Year: 4–7/77. Secret. Brzezinski sent the memorandum and the attached “Four-Year Foreign Policy Objectives” paper to the President under an April 29 covering memorandum, suggesting that Carter review the “objectives” paper prior to the upcoming London summit meeting. Although there is no indication that Carter saw the memorandum, in his diary entry for April 29, the President wrote: “The National Security Council staff has prepared for me what we call our international goals. This is a good framework around which to build our day-to-day decisions. I think a growing consciousness of these tangible goals will be good to bind us all together in a common effort.” (White House Diary, p. 45) For additional information about the preparation of the “objectives” paper, see footnote 4, Document 19. Earlier versions of the April 29 memorandum are in the Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 27, Goals/Initiatives: 4–5/77. Mondale’s May 12 response to the memorandum is printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. II, Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, Document 43.
  2. In PRM/NSC–10, issued on February 18, the President called for a comprehensive review of overall U.S. national strategy and capabilities. Documentation on the PRM–10 process is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. IV, National Security Policy.
  3. Not printed.
  4. The President neither approved nor disapproved this option.
  5. See Document 40.
  6. The President neither approved nor disapproved this option.
  7. Secret.