69. Memorandum From Jessica Tuchman of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • PRM–28—Human Rights

Attached at Tab A2 is the table of contents of the third draft of PRM–28. It runs to 32 pages single spaced. The following are the major problems I have with it.

1. What is to be taken as a given?

In previous sessions, I stated my own feeling that we should approach the PRM exercise in the spirit that nothing done or said so far should be considered dogma. The first two drafts constantly resolved tricky issues by a simple appeal to authority: referring to public statements of the President and the Secretary of State as the last word. I argued that we would not have been asked to do this review in the first place if a thorough analysis (even one that raised difficult questions) was not wanted. This draft finally does face this problem head on—but not at all in the spirit I had intended:

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“In order to be useful, this study takes as its starting point the human rights policy articulated consistently by the President since his inauguration. It does not inquire whether we should have such a policy. The fact is that decisive actions have been taken to advance this policy both by the President and in his name. The Secretary of State has spoken with authority on the subject. Reactions have occurred around the world. History, as it were, has been made.”

This means that all major statements—in particular the Secretary’s Law Day Speech—are now taken as carved in granite.

2. Objectives

The PRM states that our “overall” objective is to “increase the respect that governments accord to the human rights enumerated below”. I suspect that the choice of “overall” instead of “long range” was deliberate. It suggests a broad vagueness appropriate to what is provided. This section represents probably the most serious failure of the PRM—and also the most difficult set of questions to answer. What are we really after? Is it to change totalitarian systems to democracies? To improve the social and economic welfare of the billions of impoverished people of the world? To increase domestic support for foreign policy in general? To make ourselves feel good? etc. These are not simple questions but I suspect that a careful effort to analyze them would dictate quite different policy choices for the short term as well as the long.

The PRM also lists six “intermediate objectives”. Of the six only one is substantive—“seek a rapid end to patterns of gross governmental violations of the person”. All the rest are entirely procedural: —“heighten international awareness”; “attract international support”; “promote and strengthen international institutions”; etc. Again, we should be thinking in much more concrete terms.

3. The Definition of Human Rights

Vance’s Law Day speech set forth three categories of human rights. State now regards these as inviolate. Let me quote them since this is a key point:

“First, the right to be free from governmental violations of the integrity of the person: such violations include torture; cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment; arbitrary arrest or imprisonment; denial of fair public trial; and invasion of the home (‘the First Group’).3

“Second, economic and social rights: the right to be free from government action or inaction which either obstructs an individual’s efforts to fulfill his vital needs for food, shelter, health care and education [Page 216]or fails adequately to support the individual in meeting basic needs (‘the Second Group’).4

“Third, the right to enjoy civil and political liberties: freedom of thought, of religion, of assembly, of speech, of the press; freedom to take part in government (‘the Third Group’).”

The First Group should be those which are universally applicable. To my mind therefore it should not include the last two items. Denial of a fair public trial is not tantamount to a denial of justice, and invasion of the home is of questionable meaning and applicability to certain societies—particularly Asian. Both these two items belong in Group Three.

More fundamental, is the question of whether the Third Group of rights can be globally applied. Why do we assume that these rights which we hold so dear are equally valued in other cultures? The PRM’s rationale does not even pretend to grapple with the issue:

“We do not accept the charge that by promoting these rights we seek to impose 18th century western ideas on non-western societies where they have no roots or relevance. These rights have been espoused in principle by virtually all governments and are of world-wide significance as a matter of practice.”

To say that “we do not accept the charge” is not to meet it. And to appeal to the UN Charter which includes every right that anyone can think of, does not take us much further. There are major questions to be answered as to where and when and how Group Three rights are relevant and applicable. They should be addressed.

4. Priority Among the Different Groups of Human Rights

The PRM states only that “the three groups of rights should be considered equally important”. This is not self-evident. Among other options are that Group One should be considered primary, or that Groups One and Two should be considered as equally important with Group Three being applied only in certain cases.5

A related issue is the question of which tools—including both sanctions and incentives—are applicable and appropriate to each of the three groups. Most sanctions, for example, seem inappropriate to enforce or punish violations of Group Two rights. But if we do not react to violations of these rights, are we then relegating them to a lesser importance? There are many other related questions to be answered.

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5. Timeframe and the Scorecard Problem.

The discussion of this issue is cursory to say the least. The draft explains that we must “concentrate on encouraging the maximum possible evolutionary movement”. Also, that “realistic timeframes will differ by country and by the type of human rights violation involved”, and that Group One improvements can be expected in a shorter timeframe than Groups Two and Three. That is all.

We are under intense pressure from both Congress and the press to explain what our expectations are, and when we expect to be ready for an accounting. When I stress to reporters that meaningful change in societies occurs slowly, they respond, “yes, but when will you be ready to be judged on whether this policy has been a success or failure? At the end of one year, two years, four years, two terms?, etc.” This is obviously a fair question and one to which we must provide some kind of answer. The obvious temptation, to which we have already to some extent succumbed, is to produce a scorecard on shorter and shorter, and therefore less and less meaningful time-frames. If we are going to refuse to produce such a scorecard we need a rationale for doing so—one on which all Administration spokesmen agree.

6. Priority of Human Rights vis-à-vis Other Foreign Policy Interests

The draft states that “the task of relating human rights policy to our other foreign policy concerns has been and will continue to be a case-by-case task”. This is not good enough. In fact I am not really convinced that it is any kind of an answer to this question. The State Department is currently heavily engaged in producing detailed country-by-country human rights reports and program plans for every nation in the world. While these will help us make informed judgments, they in no way contribute to the establishment of guidelines and criteria through which a consistent policy can be shaped. Moreover, if priority is assigned to human rights (vis-à-vis security interests, economic interests, proliferation interests, etc.) on a country-by-country basis, the inevitable result is a situation in which human rights is the number one priority in our relations with certain countries (e.g., Argentina) while it is way down on the list (if there at all) for other countries (e.g., Iran). Can we live with such a policy? Won’t other nations point it out and resent it? This needs analysis.6

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7. Strategies

In an effort to preserve maximum flexibility, the draft addresses the possibility of formulating strategies for different types of country, by dividing the globe into three divisions—western democracies, third world nations and communist states. The total analysis is three pages. Obviously, though every country is unique, a great deal more could be done by way of categorizing nations into groups according to their human rights characteristics and situations, and suggesting strategies for each. The discussion of the Soviet Union and of the PRC (which gets one sentence) is totally inadequate.7

8. Major Problems in the IFIs

The PRM raises the point that the IFIs’ charters state that they shall:

“not interfere in the political affairs of any member; nor shall they be influenced in their decisions by the political character of . . . (the recipient government). Only economic considerations shall be relevant to their decisions . . .”

Clearly, then, our actions raise the serious question of whether our human rights policy violates the charters of these banks. The PRM suggests three arguments to counter that possibility. One is a nitpicking legalism and irrelevant politically. The second—that the term “economic” might be taken to include welfare and other social concerns, and therefore human rights—is weak. The third—that disregarding human rights considerations might not be compatible with the UN Charter, and is therefore unwarranted—is highly questionable both legally and politically. Having gone to the point of raising this issue, however, the PRM does absolutely nothing by way of answering it.

9. Creating Domestic and Congressional Support

Neither of these is treated, though the Congressional Liaison Offices are working on the latter. We have already seen enough, during the debates of the IFIs, to know that human rights concerns can lead to some very counter-productive legislative results.8 The Left may increasingly restrict our relations with rightist countries, while the Right does the same against Communist regimes, to the point where our foreign policy may be severely hampered. In addition, the putative “progressive center” is often so split by ethnic lobbying (Jews, Greeks, Eastern Europeans, etc.) as not to constitute a reliable base of support. [Page 219]Furthermore, we already know that the extreme Right can and will use this issue to further their goal of ending all foreign assistance. A serious and well thought through Congressional strategy and public program is therefore essential to even the short term success of a human rights policy. We should not accept any draft which fails to address it.


I would like your guidance as to how you wish to proceed. My relations with Christopher, Nimetz and their staff have been extremely friendly, and my comments on previous drafts (which were very close to the points made here) were welcomed with sympathy, and apparent approval, by Christopher. However, they were also obviously ignored. State seems prepared to do infinite rewrites, but without a formal NSC input, I’m not sure that they are willing to do a new draft rather than a rewrite of this one. On the other hand, perhaps I am wrong, perhaps these questions are simply too hard (and too soft) to answer.

I have circulated this draft to members of the NSC Staff (Thornton, Pastor, Richardson, Hormats, Hansen, Armacost, Oksenberg, and Hunter) for comment. Attached at Tab B are some of the comments I received on the first draft,9 which I believe are very similar to what I’ll get back again. They are obviously extremely negative.

My own inclination is that we will be much better off in the future if we insist on a good interagency product, than if we accept a bad one and redo it ourselves.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 44, PRM–28 [2]. No classification marking. Brzezinski’s handwritten notations on the first page read: “URGENT” and “DA [David Aaron] 1) What do you think? 2) Let me see the PRM 3) pts 6–9 more convincing than the 1–5 criticism. ZB.”
  2. Not found attached. The 32-page third draft was attached to another copy of Tuchman’s memorandum. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North–South Pastor Files, Subject File, Box 55, Human Rights: 6–7/77) In the NSC Global Issues Cluster’s July 22 evening report to Brzezinski, Tuchman noted that she had spoken with the “human rights expert from SP who reported that the last drafts of the PRM had been almost entirely written by Christopher’s staff (Oxman, Lamb, and Nimetz) excluding both SP and Derian’s shop. This is interesting and surprising, but I don’t know what it means. According to this source, virtually everyone outside Christopher’s office is very upset with the PRM as it now stands, and eager to make it better. That is encouraging but hard to believe.” Brzezinski underlined the phrase “Derian’s shop” and wrote in the margin “good?” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Global Issues—Oplinger/Bloomfield Subject File, Box 36, Evening Reports: 5–7/77)
  3. Aaron bracketed and starred this paragraph and drew an arrow pointing at it.
  4. Aaron wrote in the margin next to this paragraph: “Basic Human Needs.”
  5. Aaron wrote in the margin next to this paragraph: “Categorization by type of action or how we intend to act.”
  6. Brzezinski drew a line next to this paragraph, Aaron bracketed the last three sentences of the paragraph beginning with the word “priority” and wrote in the margin: “right.”
  7. Brzezinski drew a line next to the portion of this paragraph beginning with the word “total” and ending with “inadequate.”
  8. Brzezinski drew a line next to the portion of this paragraph beginning with the phrase “Neither of these” and ending with “can lead to.”
  9. Attached but not printed are a June 24 memorandum from Thornton to Tuchman, an undated memorandum entitled “Some Observations on Human Rights,” a June 29 memorandum from Hormats to Tuchman, a July 6 memorandum from Richardson to Tuchman, and a June 28 memorandum from Armacost to Tuchman. (Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 44, PRM–28 [2])