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


  • Western Europe: An Overview

The issues you will face with Chancellor Schmidt (and later with Prime Minister Andreotti) are not limited to those two countries.2 They are part of wider developments in Western Europe—and the relations of these countries with us—that have been characterized as malaise or stagnation.

Today’s problems have several causes. Among them are:

—The mismanagement of the U.S. economy during the Vietnam War (particularly 1967–71) helped hasten the end of the effective workings of an international economic system that had prospered—with American strength and leadership—since the War. Since then, the central pivot of stability and confidence in the global economic system has been missing.

—The oil price rises of 1973–75 deepened gathering economic problems, pushing inflation into double digits and unemployment to levels not seen in post-Marshall Plan Europe. And these countries, after all, have much more searing memories of the 1930’s economic failure than in the United States.

—In Europe—as here—there are few economic answers to what seem endemic problems; in Europe, even more than here, there has been a loss of confidence in the ability of institutions and leaders to solve the new economic riddle of “stagflation.” Only Germany, among the major states, is relatively untouched: but there the fear of economic collapse is deepest of all.

—Political institutions also seem unable to cope with basic social problems. With recession, there has been a widening gap between economic expectations that had come to be taken for granted (particularly in welfare states), and the ability of governments to deliver. These problems are particularly acute among the young—which is one reason the issue of youth unemployment was put in the agenda at the London [Page 209] Summit. As governments conspicuously have failed to come to grips with economic and social problems—which are only partly of their making—loss of confidence has spread widely. Ironically, one of the most talented groups of European statesmen in recent memory presides over a collection of governments facing constant challenge—from both left and right. Protest voting has become almost the rule.

—In several European countries, the major political parties themselves are overdue for renewal (especially in Italy and from the center to the right in France); or they are so riven with factionalism—as in Britain—that even talented leaders are unable to effect reforms that will broaden their political base.

—At the same time, economic difficulty struck in the middle of a hopeful development: the progressive modernization of most European societies—searching for means of coping with post-industrial problems in labor-management relations, social organization, and cultural development.

—The European Community, meanwhile, lost the economic basis of its past success, at about the point when it was seeking to build a broader European political society on its economic strength. Yet instead of stepping back to re-establish the economic strength of the Community and its member nations, they are concentrating upon enlarging the Community and holding European elections. While both are worthy objectives—which politically we must support—they are being used as a substitute for the economic strength, cooperation, and purpose that the Community’s founders and best minds have always known must be the basis of an effective Community.

Communist Parties (and Internal Reform)

It is against this background that the growth of West European Communist Parties is so unsettling. If West European economies were strong—and if there were strong confidence in the economic and political role of the United States on the Continent—there would be far less uneasiness about the French and Italian Communist parties (and far more optimism about dealing with them, based on democratic successes in Portugal and Spain). There would be more confidence that left-wing movements—engaged in needed transformation of societies—could in the process contain or simply pre-empt the influence of the Communists.

As it is, there is too little optimism in Europe that moribund governments can cope with the discipline of the Communist parties—acting with or without support from Moscow. The French Socialists and the Italian Christian Democrats each believe they can somehow derive strength from the more energetic Communists, without succumbing to them. In normal times, the intellectual left in these coun [Page 210] tries would be fighting anti-democratic movements tooth and nail. Now it, too, has lost its spirit and courage.

If Communists do gain or share power, the political impact will derive in large part from what this change will say about the perceived poverty of democratic alternatives. A victory by the Socialist-Communist coalition in France next March would very likely hasten the entry of the Italian Communists into the government in some form. It would almost surely drive Germany to the right—thereby polarizing the European Community and NATO (in addition to the problems a Mitterand Government would directly pose for those institutions). The United States and Germany would be bound even more closely together, and would be effectively isolated in the Atlantic relationship, along with a more conservative but ineffectual Britain. A further fear is that the United States would in some way withdraw from the Continent—a fear that is actually greater than the fear that the Soviet Union would gain direct advantages from Communists in a West European government.

The prospect of Communists in government also raises longer-range questions: which groups will manage social, economic, and political change in the major West European countries? Will they have enough political strength to manage these changes effectively? And who will provide the sense of direction and purpose for the European Community—assuming that it continues at all as more than a loose customs union?

Relations with the United States

At the heart of the Atlantic relationship, our European friends and allies look to us most for two kinds of “security”: military and economic.

1. Military security is more than just the continuation of our commitment to NATO, to its doctrines, and to deterrence of the Soviet Union. Here your London NATO visit—with your emphasis on reassurance and the steadfastness of American purpose—had a positive impact; and except for Germany, our allies place a lower estimate on the chances of a European war than we do.

Even more important as a political factor in Atlantic relations, our allies need to have confidence in our ability to manage relations with the Soviet Union. Almost without exception, they have been noticeably uneasy during the past few months—in part reflecting disquiet at the beginning of every new Administration.

But, there is also deep concern over the course of the SALT negotiations—as much for what “failure” would imply politically in East-West relations as for what it could mean in strategic terms. And widespread European concern earlier this year about our resolve in Africa [Page 211] was heightened by worries that we are not able to manage the overall U.S.-Soviet relationship.

Less important, but more visible, is widespread European uneasiness about your human rights policies (especially in Germany and France). This uneasiness is only in part based on different tactics or different concerns (as with the ethnic Germans in the East). It is more a fear that basic relations with Moscow will be damaged. Brezhnev has been quick to exploit these fears: in his visit to Paris, in his courting of the Germans, and in the effort to split us off from our allies at the Belgrade conference by presenting a “non-confrontational” alternative to Soviet-American bickering on human rights. In fact, however, your human rights position will in time be seen as a basic underpinning of European society—i.e., as supporting democratic structures and practices. It is already proving to be a weapon against the West European Communist parties.

For our allies, the alternatives to our effective managing of relations with Moscow are not pleasant: a return to earlier tensions; pressures to build up defenses (which their economies and their populations would not tolerate); damage to independent initiatives with the East (particularly by Germany and France); disruption of trading relations with the East; and perhaps even being left holding the sizeable debts of the Soviet Union and East European states.

Difficulties in U.S.-Soviet relations also remind our allies that they have very little influence over the course of these relations—on which so much depends for them. Thus our Indian Ocean policy illustrated for Britain and France that security decisions are being taken about an area in which they have interests and involvements, but without their playing a real role. If it can happen there, what about in Europe?

2. Economic security for our allies in Europe depends in large part on their confidence that we can cope effectively with our own problems, that we will not export our problems to Europe (e.g., through protectionism), and that we will in fact see our economic future as bound up with Europe’s. The London Summit was an excellent beginning—but only that. The Europeans are waiting to see:

—Can we continue our economic recovery—without excessive increases in exports to Europe or succumbing to protectionist efforts to decrease their exports to us?

—Will we adopt a truly effective energy program to reduce dependence? (This deep concern is partly psychological: constant European pressing on this point goes far beyond the merits or value of an effective energy program, to the heart of our determination—or lack of it—to take the energy problem seriously.)

—Will we help finance weak European economies to avoid their having to impose import restrictions or undertake drastically restrictive measures?

[Page 212]

—Are we truly committed to revitalizing international institutions, like the IMF, and are we prepared to follow through on the commitments made (jointly) in London?

—Will we approach the multilateral trade negotiations in ways which avoid threatening fundamental EC institutions like the Common Agricultural Policy?3

—Are we capable of preventing another Middle East war, that would cripple the European economy in another oil embargo?

—Can we understand—and account for—their long-range fears of being swamped by a more productive and innovative economy? Concorde, non-proliferation, defense procurement, and arms transfer policy are thus seen by many Europeans (especially in France) as interrelated. These issues raise real questions about the capacity of European economies to compete with the United States in an age increasingly dominated (in exportable goods) by high technology.

—Conversely, can we work with Western Europe (and Japan) so that the restoration of their economic strength will not lead to another period of intense economic competition (like that of 1970–73), in which the United States again defaults on its pledges to respect and support a strong European Community?

—Can we work out differences on North-South issues with them and the LDCs to prevent economic disruptions adverse to the more vulnerable European economies?

U.S. Leadership

Your Administration holds out great promise for Europe—and what it can derive from renewed American strength of will and purpose. You have effectively put Vietnam and Watergate behind us, and have offered the promise of new vigor in a host of areas. The “European first” strategy is attractive—but there is still a lot of cynicism about what you will do in practice. Even after the Summit, many Europeans are still from “Missouri.”

The issue is complicated by what has long been European ambivalence about American leadership: when it is not there (as during the Vietnam/Watergate years), there is deep concern about our will and purpose; but when we exercise leadership, there is contrary concern about specific actions and U.S. dominance. Thus many Europeans could welcome the vigor of your early decisions, and yet object to policies like [Page 213] the one on non-proliferation that seem to strike at their economic interests. This contrary European reaction has happened in past Administrations—and it will happen again.

Unlike times in the past, however, the relative economic and political weight of the United States is not enough on its own to carry the day—against the ambivalence of Europeans, but perhaps to their ultimate self-interest.

Now, more than before, U.S. leadership must involve prodding, cajoling, consulting—and a lot of stroking. At times it will be valuable to accept European views of policy that are different from ours—simply as part of the relationship (as we did in not objecting to the most recent EC statement on the Middle East). You are the only Western leader with a firm mandate for the next four years—and you pay the penalty that weak European leaders will lean upon you, while at the same time trying to have their own way. There will be a further failure of European will if we seem not to respond to European needs, but little thanks if we do.

Above all else, you (and the government behind you) must convince the Europeans that you know what you are doing, that you have a sense of where you are going—and can articulate it—and have the strength to carry it through, beginning at home. You must convince them that you have some economic answers—even though they clearly do not; and you must convince them that you can manage all those other relations (with the Soviet Union, and in the Middle East) on which for them so much depends.

But even with economic recovery—and with a clear demonstration of your competence, purpose, and openness—the Europeans must do the rest for themselves (and you can encourage greater European leadership). But their doing this is complicated by the fact that the particular leaders you are dealing with this year have their own agendas of simply staying in power. We must find a way to reach beyond their short-term needs, to build relations with countries that will outlast this group of leaders.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, 1977–1981, Box 63, PRC 023, 7/9/77, Schmidt Visit. Confidential. Printed from an uninitialed copy. Scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XXVII, Western Europe.
  2. The President was scheduled to meet with Schmidt on July 13 and with Andreotti on July 26.
  3. The 1957 Treaty of Rome, signed by Belgium, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, defined general objectives for a Common Agricultural Policy, which included the initiation of subsidy payments and price supports designed to stabilize European agriculture. The European Commission proposed the CAP in 1960; provisions went into effect in 1962.