65. Briefing Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs (Gelb) to the Deputy Secretary of State (Christopher)1

PRM on Human Rights

In response to your request, we have reviewed the draft Human Rights PRM 2 with a view to developing comments on the main substantive points. On the whole, we found it a commendable effort to deal with a complicated subject.

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Our three principal comments revolve around one central issue, which the draft itself acknowledges is all but intractable. That issue involves how much weight to give human rights in comparison to other factors when we make our foreign policy decisions. We all acknowledge that our commitment to human rights is, as the PRM states, a fundamental tenet of our foreign policy. But the assumption that it should drive all other considerations still pervades the paper. Specifically, in three sections of concern to PM:

—the section on specific objectives (pp 21–23) assumes that certain specific objectives have already been identified and that others will emerge as the result of a detailed analysis of the “human rights situation in other countries and the possibilities for international action.” There is no reference to a process whereby these objectives would, before adoption, be weighed against other specific foreign policy objectives in the areas concerned. We feel the PRM should outline such a process, and should not assume that the USG will be committed to unnamed specific objectives without further review.

—We recognize that the relationship between security assistance and human rights is among the most difficult of all, involving as it does a potential conflict between two of our fundamental foreign policy tenets. The suggested approach—the option addressed on pp 55–56 of the draft—would have us not provide security assistance to any country unless 1) it is essential for our national security that the assistance be given, or 2) the recipient country has or is clearly developing a good human rights record. We believe this option is so fraught with possibilities for error that it should be discarded. Who would make these determinations? And on the basis of what criteria? Would the criteria involve consideration of whether the security assistance relationship with a particular country is essential or would it involve the type of materiel to be provided? Would it mean an abrupt cessation of all security assistance to all countries which could not meet the conditions specified? Does it mean that human rights and our national security are the only factors to be considered in determining whether we should have a security assistance relationship with a given country? In sum, these criteria go much farther than those already established by the President’s new arms transfer policy (which includes human rights considerations),3 are too stark and restrictive to be practical, and would deprive the President of the freedom of maneuver he requires in the foreign policy field. We therefore suggest elimination of the text begin[Page 209]ning with the words “In view” on line 13 of page 55 through the option on page 56.

—Of particular concern in this context is the statement on page 121 that “when the Arms Export Control Board (AECB) is unable to reach a consensus on particular policies, programs or transactions because of differences concerning the effect on human rights of the proposed actions, it will refer the issue to the Interagency Group on Human Rights and Foreign Assistance. This will ensure overall coordination of our human rights policy as it relates to foreign assistance.” We have many objections to what appears less a proposal than a statement of established procedure. It seems to be based on the premise that human rights considerations should have primacy over all others in security assistance matters and would give final jurisdiction to a body on which several of the agencies most directly concerned with security assistance are not represented. There exist ample assurances that human rights considerations will be factored into the proceedings of the AECB at every step and will be fully reflected in the recommendations which that Board (which is an advisory, not a decision-making body) will make to the Secretary. We therefore recommend strongly that the last two sentences of the paragraph at the top of page 121 be deleted.

I am attaching a list of other specific suggestions, keyed to pertinent sections of the text, for your consideration.4

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P770122–0733. Confidential. Drafted by Ericson.
  2. Presumable reference to the first draft version of the study prepared in response to PRM 28; see footnote 2, Document 63.
  3. Reference is to PD/NSC–13, issued on May 13, which indicates that the United States “will give continued emphasis to formulating and conducting our security assistance programs in a manner which will promote and advance respect for human rights in recipient countries.” PD/NSC–13 is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, volume XXVI, Arms Control.
  4. Gelb’s specific comments were not attached.