255. Memorandum From Marshall Brement of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • US-Soviet Relations During the Remainder of the First Carter Administration: The Domestic Angle (U)

The turnaround in the polls demonstrates—if any demonstration was needed—that the country wants the President to exercise firm, vigorous leadership in foreign affairs. The crisis in Afghanistan will enhance this desire. US-Soviet relations are, of course, central to American foreign policy. In the popular mind no aspect of our foreign relations is more important than how the President handles the Russians. This has been true for every President since Truman. (C)

But we should face the fact that, despite its enormous achievements, this Administration does not get the credit it deserves for handling foreign policy. A central factor in this, in my view, is that there exists a commonly-held perception that this Administration speaks with two voices on Soviet affairs. Kennedy and other Administration critics have repeatedly charged that the President cannot make up his mind as to what he believes about the Soviets; that consequently the Annapolis speech2 was the greatest “paste job” in our diplomatic history; and that Moscow therefore reads us as weak, divided, and irresolute and does not hesitate to take advantage of our irresolution. (S)

The Afghanistan situation gives us a priceless opportunity to turn this perception around. To do so, it is essential that from this point onward the Administration speak with one voice about US-Soviet affairs. If we could accomplish this, then we would be in a position to make the following case on a private, background basis to key opinion molders:

—At one point there was considerable substance to the charges that the Administration was divided on Soviet affairs and as a result the President was receiving divided counsel on the subject;

—This was reflected in the Annapolis speech;

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—The President’s views on this matter, however, have been changed by three events:

(a) The Vienna Summit. This required the President to read deeply in Soviet and Marxist history, philosophy and politics and to ponder the continuing outward thrust of Soviet foreign policy.

(b) The Soviet Brigade in Cuba. This focused for the President the dilemma which we face in trying, on the one hand, to achieve strategic stability and balance with the Soviet Union and, on the other hand, to restrain its mischievious policies in vulnerable areas throughout the world.

(c) The Afghanistan Crisis. This has brought home to the President, as no previous event during his Administration, the brutal cynicism of the Soviets, the outward thrust that their system requires, and their willingness to sacrifice a detente relationship with the US to the needs of Soviet expansionism.

—The President is determined not to allow the Soviets to have their cake and eat it. He is convinced that the only way to stop Soviet expansion in Southwest Asia and into the Persian Gulf area is for the United States to adopt a firm and unequivocal policy of resistance to Soviet machinations. He believes that the Soviet rape of Afghanistan should not be viewed as an isolated event, but that it has to be seen in the context of what has been happening elsewhere in the world in such places as Angola, Ethiopia, Yemen and Cambodia. The Soviets are posing a challenge to us, he believes, and we must respond to it.

—As a result of this changed perception, the President will ensure that during the remainder of his first Administration and throughout the next Carter Administration the US Government will be speaking with one voice on Soviet affairs.

—He has come to realize that, both in terms of our relationship with Moscow as well as in terms of formulating US Government policy for dealing with the Soviet Union, it is essential that we enunciate clearly what US policy toward Moscow really is and that appearance of divided opinion on our part can not only be ineffective but dangerous as well, since it can lead to miscalculation.

—As a result, during meetings with his key advisors the President has directed that his Administration speak and act with one voice on this central aspect of American foreign policy.

—Those policymakers within the Government who are not in accord with the President’s views will shortly be leaving the Administration. (S)

In sum, the above approach would enhance the President’s political stature, the popular perception of his leadership ability, as well as the argument that we need experience and steadiness at the tiller during [Page 735] these troubled times. To speak with one voice on Soviet policy would not only be a self-evident improvement in our diplomatic strategy toward the Soviets, but it would enormously help the President domestically as well. The charge that this Administration speaks with two voices on Soviet affairs has repeatedly been leveled by critics of the President. The invasion of Afghanistan has given us the opportunity to get our act together and cut the ground out from under such critics. (S)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Presidential Advisory Board, Box 84, Sensitive XX, 1/80. Secret. Sent for information.
  2. Reference is to Carter’s June 7, 1978, commencement speech delivered at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. In this speech, Carter emphasized détente and the desired finalization of a SALT II Treaty. In his conclusion he stated, “The Soviet Union can choose either confrontation or cooperation. The United States is adequately prepared to meet either choice.” (Public Papers: Carter, 1978, Book I, pp. 1052–1057)