42. Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1


Initial international skepticism about the seriousness of the Carter administration’s commitment to the fostering of human rights has been dispelled by presidential statements and US initiatives in bilateral relations and international forums. Considerable confusion and suspicion over US motives persist, however, and despite recent statements by Secretary Vance and other officials there still is apprehension over the lengths to which the US may be prepared to go in pursuit of human rights objectives. This memorandum surveys reaction to the US stand. A regional listing of significant developments is provided at annex. 2


The US stand on human rights has prompted a number of governments to move toward bettering their human rights performance. This has occurred principally where the regime has been anxious to preserve cooperative relations with the US, has not felt publicly challenged or specifically prodded by Washington, and is relatively confident about its internal security situation.

Even in these cases, however, there has been a notable reluctance to accept the US stand at face value. Public expressions of understanding about US concerns have been matched by private assessments of Washington’s emphasis on human rights as a ploy designed to pressure other countries into comporting themselves in accordance with US policies generally.

Attribution of such ulterior motivation, the connection of human rights to other issues, and a marked propensity to interpret US pronouncements and actions in egocentric terms have been characteristic [Page 126] reactions of countries with the most cause for unease over the US stand. Repressive practices have intensified in some cases, and bilateral relations have suffered in a number of instances.

There is strong public endorsement of the principles that underlie the US stand in some countries, but in many cases it is coupled with considerable worry over the potential for adverse international political consequences. Applause for Washington’s espousal of human rights principles, therefore, is not always accompanied by approval of specific US initiatives. A broad range of political relationships important to the US thus has been complicated by the addition of what many foreign observers view as a new element of uncertainty in international affairs.

The Communist World

The Soviets, perplexed and concerned over Washington’s human rights initiatives, tend to view the US stand as aimed primarily at them. Even sophisticated Soviet observers reportedly suspect US actions are part of a campaign to undermine their political system. The Soviets reportedly have been concerned over the potential implications of heightened activity by intellectual dissidents if they attempt to combine with existent popular dissatisfaction over food shortages and managerial deficiencies. Worry about the economy is likely to continue to figure in Moscow’s tendency to magnify the threat posed by dissidents and to react strongly to foreign encouragement of domestic criticism.

The Soviets have protested vehemently about unacceptable interference in their internal affairs, and there have been numerous warnings that bilateral relations could suffer as a result of the US stand. Soviet propaganda on human rights has shifted from a generally defensive to a somewhat more accusatory posture since late April, but Moscow has generally limited itself to reactions deemed sufficient to make its points without jeopardizing its ties with the US.

Hints at the possible spillover of Soviet displeasure into SALT, for example, continue to be accompanied by explicit signals that SALT is a separate issue where progress can be achieved. Nevertheless, at least for tactical reasons, the Soviets are likely to continue to point to the US human rights stand as a major impediment to progress on the whole range of bilateral issues.

Moscow is anxious to disabuse the US of the notion that public urgings on human rights will help Soviet dissidents and to convince the dissidents that pleading their cause to the West will be counterproductive. Soviet authorities significantly increased pressure on the dissidents early this year, and attempts to intimidate them through arrests and threats almost certainly will continue. Some of them reportedly are encouraged by US initiatives despite the fact that they anticipate fur[Page 127]ther intensification of repressive measures in the immediate future. But there also are indications of disheartenment among the dissidents, and some of them have called for a return to “quiet diplomacy.” Approval of US human rights activism among Soviet citizens interested in bringing about changes in their society tends to be strongest among those who feel most alienated from the system.

The Soviets have been concerned that the revolution’s 60th anniversary in November could be tarnished if the West vigorously presses the issue of “Basket III” (human rights) implementation at the Belgrade CSCE meeting that begins in June.3 Efforts to stifle dissident activity before and during the CSCE sessions are coinciding with the dissidents’ own realization that it is a propitious time internationally to promote their various causes. As of now the Soviets have managed to suppress the most publicized manifestations of the human rights movement. They are likely to employ a variety of tactics—including selective emigration and expulsion—to confine the movement within the circumscribed limits that obtained before the recent upsurge of Western support.

A serious worry for Moscow is that agitation over human rights could exacerbate existing or anticipated control problems in Eastern Europe, especially in Poland, and to a lesser extent in East Germany. Like the Soviets, the East European regimes have been puzzled by the US stand and somewhat off balance as a result. Party officials reportedly met recently to discuss the long term impact of US initiatives and concluded that a continuing international focus on human rights could erode the loyalties of important segments of their populations, especially intellectuals and young people.

There is no evidence so far that the US stand on human rights has had a significant impact on the East European regimes’ tactics for dealing with dissidents. Even before recent US initiatives there was disagreement within and among the East European regimes on how to handle the serious wave of dissident activity that has developed over the last several years—activity that may become bolder as the CSCE meeting approaches. Those with the least serious dissident problem (i.e., Hungary) or which believe a hard line would be counterproductive in their particular circumstances (i.e., Poland) reportedly have been defending their moderate approach. Thus far, the Soviets appear to be tolerating some diversity in handling dissent.

The East Europeans have shown concern over the possibility that US human rights initiatives could provoke Soviet movement away from détente, and over the adverse implications such a development [Page 128] would have for them both economically and politically. The East European press has been highly critical of the US stand and has counterattacked with condemnations of alleged injustices in the US and US disregard for “economic and social” rights.

China is the only Communist country that seems to have derived some satisfaction from the US stand. Peking clearly has taken heart from recent difficulties in US–Soviet relations, and the Chinese see Washington’s attitude on human rights as possibly signaling a toughening US stance toward Moscow generally. The Chinese are ostensibly unconcerned about their own vulnerability on the human rights issue, but Peking probably has some private misgivings on this score. This may explain the failure of Chinese media to highlight the human rights controversy despite Peking’s penchant for emphasizing US–Soviet differences.

The Industrial Democracies

There is broad approval in principle of the US human rights stand in Western Europe, Canada, and Japan. But leaders of these countries tend to define international issues on which the US takes a comprehensive global approach in more parochial terms. Thus, the Europeans see the human rights issue mainly in terms of East-West relations, while the Japanese are primarily concerned with how the US stand will affect US policy and Japanese interests in Asia.

The Europeans are concerned that US human rights initiatives risk causing a deterioration in East-West relations that would have a more damaging impact on Western Europe than on the US. As a result, government leaders have displayed a decided preference for pursuing human rights objectives with quiet diplomacy and behind-the-scenes approaches.

Britain’s Prime Minister Callaghan may have indicated to the Soviets that Foreign Secretary Owen’s strong speech on human rights did not herald a major change in UK policy.4 French officials are reportedly worried about preserving what remains of the Franco-Soviet “special relationship,” and they are eager to maintain a friendly atmosphere for Brezhnev’s coming visit to Paris.5 In Germany, Chancellor Schmidt has declared that Bonn will seek to advance the cause of human rights in its

[Page 129]

own low-key way. Among the smaller West European nations, willingness to be outspoken on the human rights issue seems to vary inversely with physical proximity to the Soviet Union.

Latin America

US human rights initiatives have aroused considerable resentment in several Central and South American countries ruled by military regimes that have felt directly challenged. They have denounced US statements and actions as unwarranted and unacceptable interference in strictly internal affairs.

Argentina and Uruguay rejected all US military assistance after Washington linked aid cuts to human rights violations in those countries.6 Brazil, already angered by US pressure to modify its nuclear deal with West Germany,7 condemned the State Department’s preparation of a report on its human rights practices as an affront to its sovereignty and renounced the 1952 military assistance agreement.8 Guatemala and El Salvador have also rejected military assistance conditioned on US judgment of their human rights situations.

The Latins are angered by what they regard as US failure to understand and make allowances for their political and internal security problems. The Southern Cone military regimes, especially, are convinced that their countries’ experiences with political disintegration, insurgency, and terrorism fully warrant tough internal security measures. The Argentines, for example, insist that they will not deviate from the practices they deem indispensable in their continuing war with leftist terrorists no matter what outside criticism they incur.

The Latins are also resentful over the fact that they were not considered important enough to US interests to be treated specially (like South Korea). They have questioned US qualifications for making international moral judgments and have voiced suspicion that the US has ulterior motives for its human rights stand. The latter view is particularly strong in Brazil, where the human rights issue is viewed as an adjunct to US pressure on nuclear matters.

[Page 130]

The Southern Cone regimes have been commiserating with each other, and they reportedly are considering joint moves to convince the US that it has seriously underestimated the costs of alienating them. The Latins undoubtedly would prefer to forgo polemics and halt any deterioration in their relations with Washington. But the military regimes are determined not to take any action that could be construed as caving in to US pressure.

Latin reaction to the US stand has not, of course, been entirely negative. Venezuela and Costa Rica, two of Latin America’s few remaining democracies, have strongly endorsed US initiatives, and expressions of support for the US stand have also been received from Mexico and Bolivia. Prisoner releases in Paraguay and Peru were directly responsive to US concerns.

East Asia

The US stand has been met with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm in most of East Asia, where with the exception of Japan all states are ruled by authoritarian regimes that impose significant restrictions on human rights. The nations with the closest political, economic, and security ties to the US—those that feel most vulnerable to US pressure—seem to have the most negative attitudes.

South Korea’s sensitivity on the issue is reflected in a trend begun last November selectively to ease pressures on dissidents and reduce overt police surveillance. The press is enjoying greater latitude in its handling of foreign news, prison conditions for key political figures have improved, and the government has forgone punishment for a number of protestors. A spate of arrests in mid-April probably was meant as a warning to those inclined to increase anti-government activity during the independence day period, and most of the dissidents already have been released. A number of President Pak’s advisers reportedly have told him that he should make a major political move in response to US human rights concerns. But Pak apparently remains determined to do so only at a time and in a manner of his own choosing. He is convinced that a strict authoritarian style of rule is needed to ensure stability in the face of the North Korean threat.

The Marcos government in the Philippines is quite concerned over the potential implications of the US emphasis on human rights. Manila’s vulnerability on the issue is one reason Marcos would like to receive rent payments for US bases rather than payment in the form of military assistance subject to annual congressional scrutiny.

Indonesia initially seemed anxious not to let the human rights issue disrupt relations with the US, especially the continuance of military aid. Government officials publicly expressed understanding of US initiatives, and Jakarta announced an accelerated timetable for the re[Page 131]lease of political prisoners. Privately, however, the Indonesians interpreted US emphasis on human rights as one ploy in a series designed to force their country to support US policies generally, and they expressed resentment over interference in their internal affairs. There recently has been a perceptible stiffening in Indonesia’s attitude, accompanied by hints that Jakarta has alternative sources of military hardware.

The government of Taiwan is trying to avoid giving the US cause to focus on human rights practices there, but the mainland Chinese political establishment remains determined to suppress ethnic Taiwanese opposition. Taiwan will undoubtedly be tempted to try to turn the issue to its own advantage by calling attention to the human rights situation in the People’s Republic of China.


Almost every African government is vulnerable to criticism on the human rights issue, in part because African standards of conduct differ markedly from “internationally accepted” conceptions of human rights. The most negative African responses to the US stand have come from Uganda, South Africa, and Ethiopia.

Idi Amin’s dramatically hostile reaction stemmed partly from President Carter’s statement about human rights violations in Uganda.9 The South African reaction was discreet and cautious at first, but has become outspokenly critical as the US stand has increasingly been seen as demanding that whites change their way of life. The radical Ethiopian dictator Lt. Colonel Mengistu has cited a human rights-related cutback in US aid as one reason for his recent anti-US actions, but the anti-US trend in Ethiopian policy predates US emphasis [Page 132] on human rights.10 It is rooted in a strong commitment to domestic socialism and a desire to win favor with the Soviets.

Several black African countries have applauded the US stand largely because they believe it implies US support for majority rule in southern Africa. Some have also quietly welcomed US criticism of the situation in Uganda. US initiatives have been warmly received in Nigeria, Cameroon, and Gambia.11 Senegal, the Central African Empire, Zambia, and—in a recent shift—Ghana have also endorsed the US stand. Togo recently released some political prisoners partly out of a desire to improve relations with the US, but another group of persons was arrested for political reasons shortly thereafter.

Middle East

The Arab states tend to define human rights strictly in terms of concern over Israel’s settlement policy in occupied territories, the fate of Arab prisoners in Israeli jails, and recognition of the “legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.” They will react positively to the US stand so long as its principal effect in the Middle East is the focusing of US attention on such issues, rather than on human rights practices (especially the treatment of minorities) in Arab countries.

The Israelis, of course, are concerned over the possible implications of increased US interest in their treatment of Arabs in the occupied territories. On the other hand, the Israelis apparently believe the US will be inclined to support initiatives they may take to focus international attention on Soviet harassment of Jews who have asked to leave the USSR.

[Page 133]


The impact that US human rights initiatives will have over the next several months will depend in large part on how the US chooses to press the issue. Repeated protestations as to the universality of US concerns are in any case unlikely to dissuade most of the vulnerable governments from continuing to interpret even general US actions or pronouncements as being directed particularly at them.

The Soviets will be continuing their efforts to convince West European leaders that degeneration of the CSCE meeting into an acrimonious exchange of charges on implementation of the Helsinki final act would be a severe setback for détente. There are indications that some Europeans are already worried on this score and do not want the Soviets to be “put in the dock” at Belgrade. The Soviets may, in fact, believe that the asymmetry of US and West European perspectives on human rights can be exploited to create controversy and tension within the Atlantic Alliance.

In any case, the Soviets undoubtedly have compiled lists of countercomplaints on Helsinki non-compliance, socio-economic inequities and alleged injustices in US society, and discrepancies between US actions and the administration’s stand on human rights. Soviet propaganda organs have made it clear that Moscow is prepared to respond in kind if its human rights practices come under attack at Belgrade.

Other countries that have reacted most negatively to US human rights initiatives seem to be hoping for a “cooling off” period that would permit a resumption of less antagonistic bilateral relations and allow them to develop strategies for coping with the new situation. This is especially the case in Latin America, where recent congressional testimony by State Department officials and Secretary Vance’s Law Day Speech have been interpreted as signaling that the US is in the process of moderating its tactics for pursuing human rights objectives.12 Disappointment of such expectations would give added impetus to discussions among the Southern Cone countries about convincing the US that they are vitally important to its interest.

Criticism of alleged US disinterest in the world wide advancement of social and economic justice is likely to increase if the less developed countries conclude that the US plans to link human rights to interna[Page 134]tional economic issues by seeking to further its human rights objectives in international financial institutions whose charters call for loan decisions to be made strictly on the basis of economic considerations. The “North-South” dialogue, moreover, could become considerably more contentious generally if controversy over human rights were to severely damage US relations with nations (like Brazil) that have played significant moderating roles in the articulation of LDC demands.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Global Issues—Bloomfield Subject File, Box 17, Human Rights: Trends: 5/77–1/79. Secret. Drafted in the Office of Regional and Political Analysis (ORPA). Brzezinski wrote at the top of the memorandum: “RIJT to consolidate into one negative & positive table.” An earlier version, contained within an April 20 “International Issues” paper, is in the Department of State, Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, 1979 Human Rights Subject Files, Lot 82D102, unlabeled folder.
  2. Attached but not printed is a 15-page annex entitled “Significant Developments Related to the US Stand on Human Rights,” subdivided by geographical region and/or country. In addition, an 11-page paper prepared in INR entitled “Improvements in Human Rights Since January 1977” is in the Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Global Issues—Bloomfield Subject File, Box 17, Human Rights: Trends: 5/77–1/79.
  3. Preparatory discussions for the CSCE Review Conference were scheduled to take place in Belgrade June 15–August 5.
  4. In a March 3 address to the Diplomatic and Commonwealth Writers Association in London, Owen endorsed the Carter administration’s human rights policy. Owen noted that the British Government would “apply the same standards and judgements to Communist countries, as we do to Chile, Uganda, and South Africa.” (Bernard D. Nossiter, “Britian Supports Carter Stand on Human Rights,”The Washington Post, March 4, 1977, p. A–1)
  5. Brezhnev embarked on a 3-day state visit to France on June 20; see Jim Hogland, “Brezhnev in Paris, Focuses on Détente,” The Washington Post, June 21, 1977, p. A–14.
  6. See footnote 2, Document 23.
  7. In June 1975, the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany negotiated a technology agreement with the Government of Brazil, in order to sell Brazil a “complete nuclear fuel cycle,” including an uranium enrichment facility, a fuel fabrication unit, reactors, and a facility for reprocessing spent fuel into plutonium. The Ford administration pushed for both nations to agree to a treaty, prior to the sale, that would prevent the Brazilians from using the system to produce nuclear weapons. (David Binder, “U.S. Wins Safeguards in German Nuclear Deal With Brazil,” The New York Times, June 4, 1975, p. 16 and Craig R. Whitney, “Brazilians and West Germans Sign $4-Billion Nuclear Pact,” The New York Times, June 28, 1975, p. 2)
  8. In addition, the Government of Brazil rejected the $50 million of assistance approved by the United States. See John Maclean, “Would U.S. fight alongside rebels? Political reality still outranks human rights,” Chicago Tribune, April 26, 1977, p. C–16.
  9. At his February 23 press conference (see footnote 3, Document 19), the President noted that there had been a “substantial move” regarding global concern for human rights and discussed several problem cases: “In Uganda, the actions there have disgusted the entire civilized world and, as you know, we have no diplomatic relationships with Uganda. But here is an instance where both Ambassador Andrew Young and I have expressed great concern about what is there. The British are now considering asking the United Nations to go into Uganda to assess the horrible murders that apparently are taking place in that country, the persecution of those who have aroused the ire of Mr. Amin.” (Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, February 28, 1977, p. 244) With regard to the President’s claim that the United States did not have “diplomatic relationships” with Uganda, the White House Press Office subsequently released a statement: “While the United States has withdrawn its mission from Uganda and has no direct diplomatic representation there, U.S. affairs in the Republic of Uganda are carried out through the West German Embassy and the Republic of Uganda has an operating embassy and chargé d’affaires in Washington.” (Ibid.) See also “Carter: Uganda Actions ‘Have Disgusted’ the World,” The Washington Post, February 24, 1977, p. A–8.
  10. On April 23, the Ethiopian Government ordered the closure of five U.S. installations in Ethiopia and Eritrea—including the Consulate General in Asmara, the communications station in Kagnew, and the USIS office, Military Assistance Advisory Group, and Navy Medical Research Unit, all in Addis Ababa—and repatriation of American staff members. The United States subsequently ended weapons shipments to Ethiopia. See “Ethiopia Orders Five U.S. Facilities Shut, Staff Out,” The Los Angeles Times, April 24, 1977, p. A–1; Geoffrey Godsell, “Soviet Ethiopian gain could be short-lived,” The Christian Science Monitor, April, 25, 1977, p. 1; and Peter Osnos, “Ethiopia Forms Alliance With Soviets, Capping Visit,” The Washington Post, May 7, 1977, p. A–9. During his May 4 news conference, Vance noted: “As you all know, the Ethiopians have asked us to withdraw a number of our people and from a number of facilities, which we have done. We had previously indicated to the Ethiopians that we had already decided that we were going to close down our communications facility at Asmara and, at the same time, to reduce our military assistance mission in Ethiopia.” (Department of State Bulletin, May 23, 1977, p. 519)
  11. The NSC Global Issues Cluster’s March 22 evening report to Brzezinski reported: “Some good news: Gambia has expressed its ‘genuine pleasure’ with Carter’s stand.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Global Issues—Oplinger/Bloomfield Subject File, Box 36, Evening Reports: 2–4/77)
  12. Reference is to congressional testimony given by Todman and Derian. On April 5, Todman testified before the House Committee on International Relations Subcommittee on Inter-American Affairs and Derian before the HCIR’s Foreign Assistance Subcommittee. For Todman’s testimony, see Department of State Bulletin, May 2, 1977, pp. 444–46. A draft of Derian’s statement is in the Department of State, RG 59, Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, 1976–1977 Human Rights Subject Files and Country Files: Lot 80D177, PGOV—Congressional. Regarding Vance’s April 30 Law Day speech, see Document 39.