247. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

28119. Subject: Ramifications of the Soviet Move into Afghanistan.

1. (S-entire text)

2. Summary: The Soviet action in Afghanistan appears to mark a major watershed in Soviet policy: for the first time since World War II the Soviet Union has intervened militarily outside the Warsaw Pact area to install a regime of its own choice. The move against Amin apparently resulted from Soviet perceptions that:

Amin’s removal was necessary to broaden domestic political support for the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA), but could not be accomplished without the introduction of Soviet combat troops; and

[Page 714]

—that the disadvantages of a military move into Afghanistan at this time were minimized by the current slump in U.S.-Soviet relations, and the deterioration of U.S. relations with Iran and, to a lesser extent, Pakistan.

3. In my view this action marks a dangerous and unacceptable change in Soviet policy. I trust Washington is considering a response appropriate to the threat this Soviet action represents. End summary.

4. It is too early to undertake a definitive analysis of the Soviet action in Afghanistan. But we offer the following preliminary thoughts.

5. The Soviets apparently decided that it was essential to replace Amin with a leader who offered some possibility of winning broader popular support in Afghanistan and was more amenable to Soviet direction, and we assume that was the principal purpose of the rapid Soviet military buildup.

6. It has become apparent that the Soviets hoped to broaden the base of the Afghan regime through a political solution, which involved plotting against Amin as the focal point of popular discontent with the DRA. The Soviets presumably were involved in the move against Amin in mid-September which backfired, at least in part because Afghan troops in the capital remained loyal to Amin. Soviet coolness toward Amin since then has been evident in their media treatment of him and in official messages to his government. The Soviets also made it clear that their commitment was to the Afghan nation, the DRA and the People’s Democratic Party—not to a particular leader. Since the key Kabul military units remained loyal to Amin, however, the Soviets played along with him—until the effectiveness of these units could be neutralized by the introduction of Soviet units into Kabul.

7. Presumably one of the main constraints on Soviet introduction of their own combat troops into Afghanistan had been their concern about the detrimental effect on their relations with the U.S. and particularly on SALT II ratification. Concern about the impact on their relations with neighboring Muslim states such as Iran and Pakistan probably also played a role. The Soviets may have concluded that U.S./Soviet relations were already so bad, and the chances for ratification of SALT II so poor, that there was little to be lost on that score. Moreover, they probably calculated that the continuing crisis in U.S.-Iranian relations would minimize an adverse Iranian reaction to the Soviet move, which might otherwise have pushed Iran toward the United States. In the case of Pakistan, the Soviets may have calculated that the U.S. Congress’ cutoff of military assistance to Pakistan over the nuclear issue would leave the Pakistanis little alternative but to accommodate themselves to the Soviet move.

8. It is too soon to tell whether Soviet calculations about the potential political gains and losses from replacing Amin with Babrak Karmal [Page 715] will prove to be well-founded. There are evident risks of a reaction, especially from the Islamic countries, and especially if this move is perceived to be only to install a regime which will more effectively put down the Muslim insurgency by force of arms.

9. I assume Washington is carefully sorting out the ramifications of the Soviet move in terms of U.S. interests. My own view is that it marks a watershed in Soviet policy on the use of military force outside its borders and constitutes an unacceptable extension of the Brezhnev doctrine. I trust you will be assessing the best way to bring pressure to bear on the Soviets and to make the political cost to them so high that they will find a way to withdraw their troops. Even so, a dangerous precedent will have been established, but if the price has been sufficiently painful for them they may think again before undertaking another such adventure.2

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Special Adviser to the Secretary (S/MS) on Soviet Affairs Marshall Shulman—Jan 21, 77–Jan 19, 81, Lot 81D109, Box 17, Afghan-US Steps. Secret; Niact Immediate; Nodis.
  2. As a result of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the ratification of SALT II was further delayed. While the SALT II Treaty remained on the Senate calendar in 1980, it was not ratified. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXIII, SALT II, 1972–1980, Document 245.