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


  • Foreign Policy Priorities and East-West Relations

The drift of the discussion on “our priorities” at the staff meeting last week provokes me to comment on a number of items, first on the drift, then on priorities, and finally on the East-West relationship.

There was some talk of the shift of emphasis to Western Europe and “security” that occurred in 1973, talk in answer to your question about the “priorities” of the previous administration. The fundamental reason for that shift, however, was not underscored, not even mentioned. Kissinger had to shift. He did not want to. During the October War, he became hysterical at both the Soviets and the NATO allies because they were not following his script. He called the West Europeans “jackals” and “hyenas” when they did not dance to his tune during the Middle East War. The Europeans simply had taken him at his word: he asserted that he and the Soviets had established a special relationship to make the world safe. A little war in the Middle East was surely manageable by the superpowers. SALT was not NATO business; why should the Middle East be different? Henry cut out the allies, and they drew their conclusions. They cut him out of their economic affairs (oil) [Page 314] and left the security field entirely to him. I watched this from Moscow.2 NATO diplomats in Moscow refused to believe that this was a crisis. Neutral attaches blamed the U.S. for making it into a crisis. During the first days of the Egyptian offensive, Soviet generals told me that if the U.S. and USSR stick together, we can overcome any other state that troubles us. (This “condominium” preference was voiced most recently at Belgrade by Vorontsov when he suggested that the U.S. and the USSR work out a draft alone; then all other attendees would have to accept it!)3 After the Israeli counter-offensive, and our strategic alert, these same generals lectured me on the dangers of war!

The lesson was clear. Neither SALT nor trade nor credits had basically altered the competitive character of the East-West relationship. The OPEC embargo forced Henry to consider the North-South axis however much he had previously tried to ignore it. The Vietnam “end game” was additional evidence, for those who cared to understand, that his East-West scheme was based on dubious assumptions.

I repeat this, although you know it well, because it refutes those who argue, as Rosenfeld, Kraft, and others do, that the outlines of our present foreign policy (“priorities,” if you will) are a legacy from Kissinger. Our legacy today is Henry’s failure, not his outline of a new direction. His efforts failed: (a) to stabilize the strategic balance; (b) to moderate Soviet competitive behavior in the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia; (c) to produce significant U.S.-Soviet economic interaction; (d) to address the North-South economic and political issues. At the same time, his East-West policy exacerbated tensions in our own alliance system while facilitating Soviet management of the Warsaw Pact.

Detente has not only produced mixed results from our viewpoint; it has also failed to meet key Soviet objectives. The crux of the policy for Moscow is taken from two sources: “Two Tactics of Social Democracy”4 and the “law of primitive socialist accumulation.”5 In 1905 and in the mid 1920s, the question was the same: could a weak “working class” (or socialist sector) politically lead (economically exploit) the stronger peasant (capitalist) class? The Leninist answer was yes, with correct party leadership. Soviet policy toward the West in the 1970s is designed for a similar correlation of political and economic forces, but [Page 315] now on a global scale. Correct political leadership plus a firm grasp of the “military question,” these were the essential prerequisites for 1905 and the Five Year Plans, and they remain so for Soviet policy today. Soviet consciousness of these historical analogies was vividly demonstrated in 1975, the 70th anniversary of the writing of “Two Tactics,” when the theme was played throughout the year in the Soviet press. By 1974, however, it was already clear that “law of primitive socialist accumulation,” that is, large credits and technology from the West, was not as active as expected. The U.S. would not be as easily “collectivized” as the peasantry. The collapse in South Vietnam and the swing of U.S. military attention back to Europe altered the “military question.” The Middle East, of course, was also a strategic setback. The only thing left of detente was SALT, and SALT’s importance for Moscow was everything but arms control. It had become the single factor that might prevent the alteration of the East-West relationship by the changing North-South and East-West relationships. The Soviet slogan was and remains, “the most important thing today is to prevent nuclear war” (omitting to observe, of course, that it is the “least likely” kind of war today). And it means, “If the U.S. doesn’t give us priority attention over West-West and North-South, we have the military might to regain American attention.”

As I understood your statement of the “priorities” of this Administration, it took basic account of these realities of strategic and economic relationships which Henry had reluctantly faced after 1973 but could not adapt to without surrendering the primacy of “cooperation” over “competition” on the East-West front.

Human rights meant recognition of the necessity of a national consensus for the main thrusts of any foreign policy, and it meant recognition that some foreign policies and alliances are not viable for the U.S. if our political values conflict too sharply.

Emphasis on the tri-lateral region meant recognition of the true sources of our economic, political, and potentially, our military power. And it meant recognizing that a large number of problems of interdependency have been neglected for some time.

A new context for the East-West relationship meant evading the Soviet strategy taken from “two tactics” and “primitive socialist accumulation.” It meant leaving the cooperative door open, but it also excluded the practice of paying the Soviets to behave, to refrain from bully-boy tactics in international affairs.

Attention to the North-South dimension meant a lot of things, many of which strike me as still muddled and confused, but it put priority on the OPEC connection in the international economic structure, and it seemed to recognize changing power realities in the third world as more than a simple function of the East-West competition.

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Those priorities strike me as sound for 1970, 1973, 1977 and for the foreseeable future. Looking back over the year, however, I find a number of mistakes in our managing of these priorities.

The opening shots on the East-West front last spring were well aimed, and we appeared launched on a promising campaign, clarifying the realities of the relationship and the price of the game. By summer, however, our policy was shot through with schizophrenia. Dropping off the comprehensive SALT proposal and allowing confusion to creep into the human rights policy, muting it, put the Administration right back in Henry’s position. On the one hand, it appeared that we might indeed make the East-West relationship fit the realities of a “new context.” On the other hand, we seemed to believe that politically we need a SALT deal as badly as the Soviets do. Moreover, putting SALT above the West-West relationship (NATO) was bound to create difficulties with the allies, as it clearly is doing. And it was bound to give the Chinese cause to lecture us just the way they lectured Henry about the USSR.

The proliferation of other arms talks, in a different context, could be a strong gambit, but in the present context, it may be confusing to our allies, the Soviets and to our own public and the Congress. It locks us more firmly in Henry’s predicament of an unrealistic promise of what the talks will yield and prevents their effective use as part of a political strategy.

The only part of the East-West front where we have avoided a misstep is in economic interaction. The Jackson-Vanik amendment6 is saving us from ourselves by preventing movement while we are not organized for a coherent strategy in trade, credits and technology. Here we need both a strategy and an Executive Branch organization for controlling the East-West economic interaction in and for cooperation with the Congress. In the best event, the returns on this front will be modest, but certainly we can avoid “giving away the farm,” or creating that impression.

How can we overcome this schizophrenia in East-West relations?

First, we must realize that politically Moscow needs SALT much worse than we do. We only need SALT if it is something like the comprehensive proposal, i.e., if it constrains and reduces in a very significant—not a marginal—way. The Soviets greatly need the talks politically as “the centerpiece” of East-West relations. For Moscow, SALT must represent to the American public the only thing that is saving the West from the Soviet military arsenal: it must keep our political attention. Otherwise, the East-West relation will appear less important, [Page 317] which it is, except when Moscow rattles its sabre occasionally, something that Henry discovered can happen with or without SALT.

This year, we should slowly build public patience on the SALT front. Moscow will be faced with paying a price for our attention. As long as we are even and deliberate, the Soviets will stay with the negotiation process. They simply have no viable alternative except a rapprochement with China, something that will not solve the economic and political stagnation in either China or the USSR.

On the economic front there should be lots of anticipation and very little movement. In the interim, we must get the legislation and the Executive organization in place to implement effectively a national strategy in the economic relations in the event that Moscow chooses to try to avoid historical irrelevancy by opening its economy to the West on some principles other than “primitive socialist accumulation.”

Effective management of the East-West relation seems to require two kinds of tensions. First, in our relationship with the USSR, the seeking, not the reaching, is the most important thing about negotiations, be they economic or arms control. I am most impressed at the moderation in Soviet behavior that comes when they are anticipating some gain, some policy goal, not after they achieve it. The Soviet anticipation of the 1974 trade agreement was enormous, and their manners were much better than usual. The let down from the collapse of the trade agreement was probably not much greater than it would have been had the deal been completed.

The second kind of tension is between the U.S. and the NATO allies over European security. The alliance thrives when we are threatening to pull out and when the Soviets look menacing. We need a little of both, but not too much of either.

Our priorities in 1977 seemed most likely to create an effective mix of these tensions. The confusion seems to have come from alternative views of the past: the Kissinger aspirations of 1972 versus the realities of post-1973. Given Soviet internal conditions and objective international conditions, Brezhnev does not have the option of meeting those earlier aspirations. We must keep the cooperative door open but expect little response. That won’t make spectacular press for our policy, but it will make good history.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 26, Foreign Policy: 12/77–12/78. Secret. Sent for information. A copy was sent to Huntington. Brzezinski circled the “information” designation, drew an arrow to Odom’s name, and added the following handwritten notation in the top right-hand corner of the first page of the memorandum: “This is a lively & provocative paper. Why don’t you show it to someone to stimulate comments. ZB.” An attached NSC Correspondence Profile indicates that Brzezinski “noted” the memorandum on January 26.
  2. Odom served as a military attaché at the Embassy in Moscow from 1972 to 1974.
  3. Presumably Vorontsov made the statement at the Belgrade CSCE Review Conference. See footnote 6, Document 16.
  4. Reference is to Lenin’s Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, published in 1905.
  5. Credited to Soviet economist Yevgeni Preobrazhenski, who employed the law in his writings during the 1920s.
  6. See footnote 11, Document 55.