256. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • A Long-Term Strategy for Coping with the Consequences of the Soviet Action in Afghanistan

You have stressed—rightly so—that the Soviet action has created consequences which cannot be dealt with in only a few weeks or with a series of short-term measures. The Soviet action poses a test involving ultimately the balance of power between East and West. Our response will determine how several key states will adjust their foreign policy and particularly whether they will accommodate themselves to the projection of Soviet military power.

Before outlining for you an agenda of possible responses, let me put the foregoing in a brief historical context, which may also be useful to you when you comment on the subject. We have, in effect, entered the fifth decade in the U.S.-Soviet competition. Each of the decades has had a specific historical character:

1. The 1940’s: consolidation of Soviet gains in the context of U.S. disarmament after World War II and probes for Western weakness;

2. The 1950’s: lines drawn sharply in the West and in the East (the Iron Curtain, the Korean buffer);

3. The 1960’s premature Soviet global challenge; increasing competition in other areas: economic (we will bury you); space (Sputnik); with [Page 736] the U.S. then becoming bogged down in Vietnam after the respite won in Cuba, with massive Soviet investments in defense.

4. The 1970’s: detente and continued buildup of Soviet strength;

5. The 1980’s: the danger of conflict in the context of wider global turbulence.

It is both symbolic and significant that Soviet action in Afghanistan occurred in the first week of the new decade of the 1980’s. To respond to that initiative, we need to generate a wider domestic consensus behind legislative and budgetary matters. Anything less will cause vacillation and accommodation by our allies and by states within the Persian Gulf region.

The context for a major response is provided by the three interdependent central strategic zones of our concern: Western Europe, the Far East, and the Persian Gulf. We have an alliance system and military deployments in two of these regions. We are only beginning to create a significant military posture in the third, the Persian Gulf. Accordingly, our response to the Soviet Union action ought to deal with the following aspects:

I. Regional Security

A. Unilateral U.S. Actions

1. Covert Assistance. We have in recent months authorized a number of new programs of covert assistance. David Aaron, Frank Carlucci and David Newsom will be reviewing each and recommending necessary additional steps (e.g. YAR, PDRY or Eritrea).2

2. Military Assistance to Pakistan (the subject of a separate paper to you).

3. Bases. Survey teams will depart on January 14 to assess the adequacy of existing facilities for U.S. use.3

4. Military Exercises/Deployments. We will review the planned U.S. Marine deployment scheduled for late summer and the possibility of rapidly deploying a brigade to the region in late spring or early summer as a demonstration of our ability and will to project effective military power into the region.

5. U.S.-Saudi Security Consultations. The Saudis have agreed to the deployment of AWACS through Saudi airspace. We will determine [Page 737] if the Afghanistan situation has changed the Saudi view of security cooperation with the U.S.4

6. U.S.-Turkish Security Consultations. We will review the possibility of sending a mission to Ankara to consult with the Turks on the situation resulting from the Iran and Afghanistan situations.5

7. U.S.-Indian Security Consultations. We will review the possibility of sending a high-level mission to India to consult on the changed circumstances in the region.6

B. Multilateral Actions

1. Covert Assistance to Afghan Rebels. We will raise the question whether our European allies, in addition to the Chinese, should become involved in support for the Afghan rebels.

2. Security Assistance Consortium. We will pursue this concept with the allies. We might want to organize along the lines of the old Berlin Task Force (U.S., France, UK and FRG) to implement the lines of action agreed upon.

3. PRC. We will follow up on the Harold Brown mission.7

4. ASEAN. We will ask the ASEAN states to talk to the Indians about the appropriate Indian role in the region.8

5. Refugee Assistance. We must examine the question of how as-sistance to the Afghan refugees in Pakistan can meet the humanitarian need as well as serve other objectives. Multilateral assistance provided outside the UNHCR context (perhaps through Islamic organizations) could allow us to further the resistance effort more effectively.9

6. Approaching our Allies. We must plan for the desire of our European allies to set the Afghanistan issue aside as soon as possible so as not to do permanent damage to European detente. Our strategy should focus on seeking their assistance in the Persian Gulf region while deferring further direct European-Soviet initiatives (e.g. Schmidt mission to Turkey; French approach to the Iraqis).10

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II. U.S.-Soviet Relations in the Wider Global Context

—Soviet actions in Afghanistan, regardless of their motives, have changed the strategic situation in the region; and we must take steps which will restore a balance. The steps outlined under Regional Security began to address this balance.

—This development requires two classes of response on our part.

• First, the actions which you have already taken vis-a-vis the Soviets in the economic and other areas have clearly demonstrated to the Soviets that their behavior will not be cost-free. I think the Soviets were surprised by your actions. Thus, further bilateral steps are not necessary; however, we must follow through with full implementation of the steps which have already been taken.11

• Second, to counter growing Soviet aggressiveness, a long-term commitment is required. There are no easy solutions to an increased willingness on the part of the Soviets to use the military power which they have built over the past decade at great domestic cost. U.S. strategic modernization, increased defense spending, improvements in NATO, and the RDF are all steps which will in time work to deter the Soviets, if pursued diligently.

—Because the Soviets underestimated the U.S. response as well as that of the international community, especially the third world, to their invasion, we should expect that as soon as possible—within several months—the Soviets will embark on a peace offensive designed to separate us from our allies and to improve the Soviet image in the third world. We should anticipate this event and be prepared to counter efforts to deter us from our required course.12

These are preliminary thoughts. In effect, they add up to three key propositions:

1. Our response has to be a sustained one and a regional one. Success or failure will depend on what we do in terms of the longer run in Southwest Asia. You might want to think of a “Carter doctrine.”13

2. There is no need to freeze the U.S.-Soviet relationship any further, but by the same token we should have no illusions about an early improvement—nor should we strive for one. Any alteration, of course, would look like a zig zag, and it would make the attainment of our first objective more difficult, while undercutting your domestic support.14

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3. Whatever we do in the region, it will be costly.15 The more we can do with our allies, the better, but the major initiative will have to come from us.

These are painful and difficult issues. We will never know whether any of this could have been averted, but we do know one thing: if we do not respond in a timely fashion, the consequences of an inadequate response will be even more horrendous because our vital interest in the Middle East will soon be directly affected.

I will be chairing an SCC meeting on this in the next several days. I will also be discussing these issues with my European colleagues at the Tuesday16 meeting—though, naturally, in a very tentative fashion, without any commitments. Any guidance you could give me for either meeting would be very helpful.17

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 1, Afghanistan: 1/9–31/80. Secret. In the upper right-hand corner of the document, Carter wrote, “cc Zbig J.”
  2. Carter wrote in the left margin, “We should share more with Spain & other countries.”
  3. Carter wrote in the left margin, “I’m ready to expedite & take a chance on Somalia.”
  4. Carter wrote in the left margin, “Good.”
  5. Carter underlined the word “mission,” and wrote in the left margin, “a person—to explore Turkish attitudes first.”
  6. Carter wrote in the left margin, “Goheen assess, then Clifford.” Robert Goheen served as U.S. Ambassador to India. Clark Clifford served as the special presidential emissary to India.
  7. Carter wrote in the left margin, “PRC (Huang Hua) should go to India.” Huang Hua was the Chinese Foreign Minister.
  8. Carter wrote in the left margin, “Good.”
  9. Carter wrote in the left margin, “Paks prefer UNHCR.”
  10. Carter wrote in the left margin, “I agree.”
  11. Carter underlined the words, “must follow through” and wrote in the left margin, “I agree.”
  12. Carter wrote in the left margin, “Let’s do it to them (see a) below).”
  13. Carter underlined the phrases “sustained one and a regional one” and “Carter doctrine,” and wrote in the left margin, “No name.”
  14. Carter underlined the words “no need,” and wrote in the left margin, “I agree.”
  15. Carter underlined “it will be costly.”
  16. January 15.
  17. Beneath this paragraph, Carter wrote, “a) We should probe for more normal relations among friends of SU, i.e. Angola, V.Nam, Cuba, Ethiopia, Syria, Iraq, etc. as feasible. b) A quick move to consult with P[rime] M[inister] Gandhi is needed. We must leave the door open for her & encourage Pakistan & PRC to do the same. c) Economic consultations with LDC’s should be expedited, with rich OPEC & our trading partners involved to discuss food, energy, raw materials markets, etc. d) Assess how Mid East peace effort is affected.”