68. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter 1


  • NSC Weekly Report #46

1. Opinion

Strategic Deterioration

You should start giving more serious thought to, and personally engage in some discussion of, three developments which cumulatively may adversely affect the overall global position of the United States. These are:

1. Growing indications of political instability in Western Europe;2

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2. The potential consequences of major Soviet/Cuban success in Ethiopia;3

3. Our failure to exploit politically our relatively favored position in the U.S.-Soviet-Chinese triangle.4

The cumulative effect of these trends could be very serious internationally and then domestically. By the fall we could be under attack for having presided over a grave deterioration in the U.S. global position. In that setting, SALT will not have a chance, and our ability to deal with other issues will be severely reduced.

The linchpin of our policy towards the Soviet Union has been a strong Western Europe, closely tied to the United States; moreover, in recent years we have subtly and cautiously exploited Soviet fears of China to encourage Soviet restraint. Given present trends, our first asset—Western Europe—may be partially undermined from within.

At the same time, we have failed almost entirely to take advantage of the opportunity inherent in the Sino-Soviet hostility, while concentrating heavily on enlarging the scope of U.S.-Soviet negotiations.

Political trends in Western Europe are ominous. The Italians have in effect cut a deal with the Communist party that will bring them into the Parliamentary coalition. The French left coalition of the Socialist and Communist is the favorite to win the March elections.5 German politics are increasingly manifesting neutralism and anti-U.S. symptoms, while Schmidt’s economic policy is not helpful to the West’s overall political and economic strength.6 Our initiative for NATO force improvements—though desirable—increasingly looks like we are using military measures to prop up a politically weakening alliance. In sum, by the end of March we could see major Communist advances in Europe, and then an important backlash at home with the Administration being criticized for doing too little too late.

At the same time, demonstrable Soviet success in the African Horn is likely to have a very direct psychological and political impact on Egypt, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Iran.7 It will simply demonstrate to all concerned that the Soviet Union has the will and the capacity to assert itself. This will encourage Libya and Algeria to act more aggressively; it will also make more likely increased Cuban involvement in the Rhode[Page 327]sian conflict. In effect, first through a proxy (as in Angola) and now more directly (as in Ethiopia) the Soviet Union will be demonstrating that containment has now been fully breached.

Finally, in part because of Chinese rigidity,8 and in part because (in my judgment) of excessive sensitivity to the Soviets,9 we have slighted the Chinese connection. Even if normalization has to proceed slowly, and Vance’s trip to Peking bears this out, there is no reason why the consultative relationship—resting quite frankly on a shared concern over Soviet aggressiveness—should not be cultivated.10 This is why I favor your instructing me to visit China sometime in March or April to engage in quiet consultations (not bilateral negotiations—and the Chinese would have to agree to this in advance) regarding global issues, thereby also sending a signal to the Soviets which might prove helpful on such matters as the Horn or SALT.11 (Domestically, it would be viewed as a hardnosed act, and hence useful.)

The above paragraphs are primarily designed to help you focus on the larger aspect of the U.S.-Soviet relationship, and to point to some serious dangers on the horizon.

In terms of action, I think we need to spend some time reviewing the larger picture, especially in regards to Europe, and hence:

1. I hope the next NSC meeting might provide such an opportunity, even if the specific issues will relate largely to SALT and the African Horn.12 In addition, I am initiating some urgent reviews within NSC of our European position;

2. The SCC will meet this Friday13 and prepare specific recommendations for you regarding the African Horn;

3. I would suggest that you talk to the Vice President and to Harold Brown regarding the political and strategic aspects of a possible trip by me to the Far East, since I expect Cy will be skeptical. I believe that such a trip would be helpful; and a firm decision by you, with the larger strategic picture in mind, is now needed.

4. We should begin elaborating a public and Congressional strategy to protect us against domestic backlash, should these developments (some largely beyond our control) occur. I think one approach would be to have some key senators in to see you for a discussion of what might be done as a way of sharing with them the limited range of [Page 328] options before us and of encouraging them therefore to produce a more understanding reaction, if these developments take place.14

2. National Security Calendar (Attached)15

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Subject Chron File, Box 126, Weekly National Security Report: 2–4/78. Top Secret; Sensitive. The President initialed the top right-hand corner of the memorandum.
  2. The President placed a question mark in the right-hand margin next to this point.
  3. The President wrote “agree” in the right-hand margin next to this point.
  4. The President wrote “Later—(post-Panama)” in the right-hand margin next to this point.
  5. The President underlined the word “favorite” and placed a question mark in the right-hand margin next to this sentence.
  6. The President underlined the phrase “anti-U.S.” and wrote “True” in the right-hand margin next to this sentence.
  7. In the left-hand margin next to this sentence, the President wrote: “Iran, SA, Egypt should stand firm re crossing of Somali border.”
  8. The President underlined the phrase “Chinese rigidity” and wrote “yes” in the right-hand margin next to this portion of the sentence.
  9. The President underlined the phrase “sensitivity to the Soviets” and wrote “no” in the right-hand margin next to this portion of the sentence.
  10. Vance visited China August 20–26, 1977. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XIII, China, Documents 4752.
  11. See footnote 21, Document 62.
  12. Presumable reference to the February 23 NSC meeting. The meeting minutes are scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XVII, Part 1, Horn of Africa.
  13. February 10. The notes of the SCC meeting are scheduled for publication ibid.
  14. In the left-hand margin next to this sentence, the President wrote: “We need a larger 2-hour meeting with key Reps & Senators.”
  15. Not printed.