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


  • Embassy Moscow Assessment of the Impact of U.S. Economic Denial Measures (U)

Embassy Moscow has provided an assessment of the economic impact in response to the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.2

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The Embassy believes that the principal short-term effect of economic sanctions upon the Soviet economy will be a significant decline in 1980 meat supplies resulting from the withholding of the bulk of planned U.S. grain exports. This decline will undercut a major Brezhnev program. Furthermore, the absence of an American cushion against another short Soviet grain crop will be a serious concern for the Soviet leadership each year the embargo remains in place. Over the medium to longer term (through 1985), denial of access to U.S. technology to the USSR could affect Soviet economic development significantly in sectors of the economy for which technology imports are considered critical to modernization and growth.

The effect of a U.S. technology embargo on the Soviet economy will depend largely on the degree to which it covers machinery and equipment produced in third countries, some of which is under license from U.S. firms. Soviet planners, anticipating severely limited access to U.S. technology, will try to substitute West European and Japanese technology. In the absence of direct or indirect limitations on such substitutions most Soviet projects will be able to proceed (although perhaps less efficiently), even with an embargo on direct exports from the U.S.

Our information on popular reaction is severaly limited. We have looked for, but not seen, evidence of panic buying of staples. In fact, so far as we can tell, the reaction of the “man in the street” to both the Soviet invasion and the U.S. measures is one of puzzled apathy. Lectures in Leningrad have revealed considerable curiosity about Afghan events on the part of listeners, but no indication of their frame of mind. We have heard some minor grumbling over the possibility that events will make even worse the chronic shortages of meat and some consumer goods in some part of the Soviet Union. Our intellectual contacts are more sensitized to such matters and have caught on that U.S. action on grain could make the food situation even worse, but most Soviets probably are unaware of the extent of planned Soviet grain purchases.

In short, the traditional feeling of powerlessness to influence events, a vague patriotism and resistance to pressure from abroad, and a high toleration for privation and ability to sacrifice make it unlikely that we will see much popular reaction to the U.S. measures. Thus, we conclude that economic (and for that matter other) measures involving consumer goods will be effective primarily through their effect on incentives. In other words, if Brezhnev had planned to use more meat to get people to work better, he will now have to look for another incentive or settle for less work. But he does not have to worry about workers rioting in the street.

Embassy Moscow concludes that in order to have the desired effect, our economic measures must be prolonged, must have wide sup [Page 741] port from the developed and food exporting countries, and must be accompanied by equally decisive foreign policy and defense measures. Our overall policy should above all hold the prospect that a positive change in Soviet foreign policy will eventually permit a return to normal relations.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, General Odom File, Box 1, Afghanistan: 1–2/80. Secret. Sent for information. Printed from a copy that does not bear Brzezinski’s initials.
  2. Brzezinski summarized the text of telegram 529 from Moscow, January 10, in this memorandum. The initial “C” is written in the upper right-hand corner of the telegram, indicating that Carter saw it. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 82, USSR: 1/9–15/80)