277. Telegram From the Central Intelligence Agency to the Director of the National Security Agency (Inman)1


  • USSR/Afghanistan/Italy


  • Comments by Georgiy Arbatov on Soviet perceptions on Afghanistan and possible scenario for Soviet withdrawal [less than 1 line not declassified]


  • [1 paragraph (4 lines) not declassified]

1. According to Georgiy Arbatov, head of the USSR’s Institute of the U.S.A. and Canada (IUSAC)—Soviet perceptions about the dangers of the internal situation in Afghanistan in December 1979 had been distorted, and he implied that there had been a serious debate within the Soviet Politburo on the advisability of intervening militarily in Afghanistan. Arbatov said that at the time the “hardliners” in the Politburo had been successful in pointing out that there was little of benefit to the USSR that could be obtained by continuing to exercise restraint in Afghanistan, but Arbatov commented that now there was beginning to be a reflection in the Politburo of a perception that the Soviets had suffered a greater propaganda defeat over the intervention than had been anticipated prior to the Politburo decision to move troops into Afghanistan. [14 lines not declassified]

2. Arbatov described some of the atmosphere in Moscow that preceded the intervention decision. Arbatov noted the decision of the U.S. Government to exaggerate the presence of a Soviet combat brigade in Cuba and then back away from the issue as one of the initial factors contributing to a Soviet perception of American inconsistency and weakness. The second factor was the 12 December 1979 decision of the NATO governments to permit the basing of modernized theatre nuclear forces (TNF) in Europe,2 a decision that Soviet hard-liners viewed as an attempt to create a disequilibrium in the balance of strategic forces. The third factor, and the one that Arbatov cited as the predomi [Page 806] nant factor in the Soviet decision, was the Soviet assessment that SALT II was in significant trouble in the U.S. Senate and was not likely to be ratified and thus nothing was to be lost in this regard by intervention.

3. Arbatov said that the regime of Prime Minister Babrak Karmal in Afghanistan was prepared to accede to the withdrawal of Soviet forces in his country if an international guarantee could be provided that would neutralize Afghanistan and end the civil war. Arbatov made it clear that he was speaking about abandoning the Soviet public policy position of preserving a Socialist regime in Kabul and did not make it a precondition that Karmal himself would have to remain as head of state. [4 lines not declassified]

4. Arbatov said that he expected that Afghanistan would be one of the main subjects discussed between the U.S. Secretary of State and Soviet Foreign Affairs Minister Gromyko at Vienna. Arbatov noted that the earlier refusal of the Carter administration to broaden the agenda of the Vienna talks from strictly Afghanistan had prevented an earlier meeting between Gromyko and former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance at Vienna, and that the apparent decision of the U.S. Government to broaden the agenda to include SALT II apparently signaled a more open attitude by the U.S. Government about reestablishing detente.

5. ACQ: [1 line not declassified]

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Cables File, Afghanistan, Box 10, 5/9–14/80. Secret; Sensitive; Noforn; Nocontract; Orcon. Sent to the Departments of State and the Treasury, DIA, White House, NSC, and CIA’s Office of Current Operations.
  2. On December 12, 1979, a special meeting of the NATO Foreign and Defense Ministers convened in Brussels and determined that theater nuclear forces could be based in Europe.