248. Editorial Note

On December 30, 1979, Acting Secretary of State Warren Christopher approved a telegram to Moscow, the contents of which contained President Jimmy Carter’s December 29 hotline message to Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev regarding the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Also included in Christopher’s telegram to Moscow was Brezhnev’s response to Carter of the same date.

Christopher wrote, “Following is text of President Carter’s message of December 29 to Brezhnev (there may have been minor changes in final version, as transmitted, but this text is virtually authentic):

“Begin text:

“Dear President Brezhnev:

“I want to insure that you have fully weighed the ramifications of the Soviet actions in Afghanistan, which we regard as a clear threat to the peace. You should understand that these actions could mark a fundamental and long-lasting turning point in our relations. Taken without any previous discussions with us, they constitute in our view a [Page 716] clear violation of the Basic Principles on Relations, which you signed in 1972.

“My government can in no way accept the Soviet Government’s explanation, conveyed to Ambassador Watson on December 27, that Soviet military forces were sent into Afghanistan at the request of the leadership of that country. The facts of the matter clearly show that these same Soviet forces were employed to overthrow the established Government of Afghanistan and to impose a new government, which has brutally executed the former President and, reportedly, his family.

“Large-scale movements of military units into a sovereign country are always a legitimate matter of concern to the international community. When such military forces are those of a superpower, and are then used to depose an existing government and impose another, there are obvious implications both for the region and for the world at large. We note with the utmost seriousness that this is the first time since the invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia that the Soviet Union has taken direct military action against another country. In the present instance, the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan—a previously non-aligned country—obviously represents an unsettling, dangerous and new stage in your use of military force, which raises deep apprehension about the general trend of Soviet policy.

“We are pledged not to exacerbate conflict-fraught situations and to consult when threats to the peace arise. If these mutual obligations are to have any meaning, then they must obviously include a refusal by the superpowers to engage in armed combat except as a very last resort and then only in legitimate self-defense. Because our interests are global, we must recognize that actions taken in one area have a spill-over effect in other seemingly unrelated areas, as well as in that area itself.

“Neither superpower can arrogate to itself the right to displace or overturn a legally constituted government in another country by force of arms. Such a precedent is a dangerous one; it flouts all the accepted norms of international conduct. Unless you draw back from your present course of action, this will inevitably jeopardize the course of US-Soviet relations throughout the world. I urge you to take prompt constructive action to withdraw your forces and cease interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. Many years of promoting more stable and productive relations between our two countries could well be undermined if this situation is not resolved promptly.

“End text.

“Following is text of Brezhnev’s response to the President, received December 29:

[Page 717]

“Begin text:

“Dear Mister President,

“In answer to your message of 29 December I consider it necessary to inform you of the following.

“It is impossible to agree with your evaluation of what is occurring in the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. We have sent through your Ambassador to Moscow in a confidential manner to the American side and to you personally a clarification based on facts of what is actually occurring there, as well as the reasons which caused us to respond favorably to the request of the Government of Afghanistan for the introduction of limited Soviet military contingents.

“The attempt taken in your message to cast doubt on the very fact of the request itself of the Government of Afghanistan for sending our forces to that country seems strange. I am compelled to note that it is certainly not a question of anyone’s perception or lack of perception of this fact, or agreement or disagreement with it, which determines the actual state of affairs, which consists of the following.

“The Government of Afghanistan during the course of nearly two years has numerous times turned to us with this request. In point of fact one of these requests was sent to us on 26 December of this year. This is equally known by us and by the Afghanistanian Government which sent us these requests.

“I want to once more stress that the purpose of the limited Soviet contingent in Afghanistan has only one goal—to provide assistance in repulsing the acts of external aggression, which have been taking place for a prolonged time and have now taken on even greater scale.

“It is absolutely impermissible, and not in conformance with actuality, the claim (accusation), which appears in your message that the Soviet Union allegedly did something to overthrow the Government of Afghanistan. I must with all certainty stress that the change in the Afghanistani Government was the result of the Afghanistanis themselves and only by them. Ask the Afghanistani Government itself.

“Also not corresponding to reality is that which is said in your message in relation to the fate of the families of the former leaders of Afghanistan. We have at our disposal information contradicting the information you have received.

“I must further clearly state to you that the Soviet military contingents did not take any military action against Afghanistan and we clearly do not intend to do so.

“You have reproached us in your message that we did not consult with the USA Government in reference to the Afghanistani matter before introducing our military contingents into Afghanistan. Permit us to ask you—did you consult with us prior to beginning the massive [Page 718] concentration of naval forces near Iran and in the region of the Persian Gulf, as well as in many other cases, about which it would have been necessary as a minimum to notify us?

“In connection with the content and spirit of your message I consider it essential to again clarify the point that the request of the Afghanistani Government and the satisfaction of this request by the Soviet Union are exclusively a matter for the USSR and Afghanistan, which regulate their mutual relations themselves, by mutual agreement, and naturally cannot permit any sort of interference from without in their mutual relations. They, as any member states of the UN, enjoy the right not only to individual self-defense, but to collective defense as well, which is envisioned by Article 51 of the UN Charter, which the USSR and USA formulated themselves. And this was approved by all member states of the UN.

“There is, of course, no basis for your assertion that our actions in Afghanistan allegedly threaten the peace.

“In light of all of this, the immoderate tone of certain formulations in your message hit us squarely between the eyes. What is the purpose of it? Would it not be better to evaluate the situation more calmly, keeping in mind the supreme interests of the world rather than, ultimately, the mutual relations of our two powers.

“Concerning your ‘advice,’ we already informed you, and here I repeat again, that as soon as the reasons which prompted the Afghanistani request to the Soviet Union disappear, we fully intend to withdraw the Soviet military contingents from Afghanistani territory.

“And here is our advice to you: The American side could make its contribution toward ending the armed incursion from without into Afghanistani territory.

“I do not believe that the work to create more stable and productive relations between the USSR and USA can be in vain. Unless, of course, the American side wants this to be. We do not. I think it would not be to the benefit of the United States of America itself, either. It is our conviction that the way relations develop between the USSR and the USA is a joint matter. We believe that they must not be subject to vacillation under the influence of some kind of attendant factors or events.

“Despite disagreements on a number of issues in world and European politics, which we understand quite clearly, the Soviet Union is an advocate of conducting affairs in the spirit of those understandings and documents which were adopted by our countries in the interests of peace, equal cooperation, and international security.

[Page 719]

“End text.” (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, unlabeled folder)