311. Summary of Conclusions of an Ad Hoc Meeting1


  • Poland


  • White House
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
  • State
  • Secretary Edmund Muskie
  • Defense
  • Secretary Harold Brown
  • CIA
  • Admiral Stansfield Turner
  • NSC
  • Steve Larrabee (notetaker)

On December 3, 1980 a meeting was held in Dr. Brzezinski’s office to discuss contingency measures in response to increasing signs that the Soviets may be preparing to intervene militarily in Poland. Participating in the meeting were Dr. Brzezinski, Secretary Muskie, Secretary Brown and Admiral Turner. (C)

(Notetaker missed first few minutes of discussion.)

Secretary Brown raised the question of whether a hotline message should be sent to President Brezhnev.2 (C)

Dr. Brzezinski thought a message would be appropriate which emphasized that the U.S. had no interest in exploiting the situation in Poland for its own political advantage and that any invasion would have serious consequences for East-West relations, especially U.S.-Soviet relations. (C)

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Admiral Turner asked what the objective of such a message would be. (U)

Dr. Brzezinski said it could serve as a deterrent. (C)

Secretary Brown felt that such a statement could only be helpful if the Soviets were on the brink of intervention. He also stressed that it would have a greater effect if it was supported by the Allies. (C)

Secretary Muskie asked what the effect on the Soviets would be if we did not do anything. (C)

Secretary Brown said that unless we took the lead on this issue the European reaction would be too weak and disparate. (C)

Dr. Brzezinski agreed that any statement would not be decisive. However, it would be an indication of the seriousness of our concern and would put down a marker. While such a statement would not deter the Soviets, it was preferable to ambiguity and silence. (C)

Secretary Brown said that if the Soviets were not sure whether they were going to intervene, the more we made clear to them the consequences of their actions ahead of time, the better was the chance of deterring an intervention. (C)

Dr. Brzezinski also pointed out that it would be odd if Governor Reagan and Richard Allen3 appeared to make the stronger statements. (U)

Secretary Muskie agreed that the statement as it stood was fine. (U)

Dr. Brzezinski turned to the question of a hotline message to Brezhnev. It would emphasize that we had no intention of exploiting the situation in Poland but that we wanted Brezhnev to know that we were issuing a statement. He asked what the group thought Brezhnev’s reaction would be. He pointed out that we had used the hotline before in non-crisis situations. (C)

Secretary Muskie replied that he did not see how the Soviets could be upset by such a statement or regard it as threatening to their security. In his view it was a relatively moderate statement. He stated that if we held a meeting of the political directors, we had to be prepared to tell them what we would do. (S)

Dr. Brzezinski said we could press them harder on economic conditions. (C)

Admiral Turner felt that the language “exploiting the situation” would go better in a private message. (C)

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Dr. Brzezinski replied that the language was related to economic assistance which the Soviets had criticized as interference in Polish internal affairs. He felt that it was useful to keep it in. (C)

Secretary Muskie stated that the paragraph had to be read as a whole. It hung together. (U)

Dr. Brzezinski suggested that he recommend to the President that the group felt that the statement should be issued. He then inquired again whether a hotline message should be sent. (C)

Secretary Muskie felt that the hotline message should be reserved until something was imminent. (C)

Dr. Brzezinski asked whether we should precede the statement with the hotline message. (U)

Secretary Brown thought the statement should be preceded by a message; otherwise Brezhnev would not take the statement seriously. (C)

Admiral Turner was uncertain, as was Dr. Brzezinski. He stressed that it was important to understand the psychology of the Soviet leadership. When they received such a message, how would they react? (C)

Secretary Muskie pointed out that the statement went beyond previous statements and was therefore not likely to be taken as sheer posturing. It was stronger than what we had said to Dobrynin. (S)

Dr. Brzezinski then dictated the message from the President to Brezhnev to his secretary. (U)

Secretary Brown noted that the message had the advantage of allowing us to be both tougher and more reassuring at the same time. (C)

Dr. Brzezinski said he was coming around to this view as well. One had to think about history. They would have to ask themselves whether they had done all they could to prevent an invasion. (C)

Secretary Brown pointed out the last time they had used the hotline was the night of the abortive rescue of the hostages in Iran. (U)

Dr. Brzezinski said that the hotline has been used on a number of occasions in non-crisis situations. (S)

Secretary Muskie agreed that sending a message would be useful. (U)

Dr. Brzezinski pointed out the serious consequences that a Soviet invasion would have for East-West relations. In many ways it would set things back to the ’50s. He asked whether it would not be useful to have a meeting of the Political Directors. He then read aloud the message to be sent over the hotline to Brezhnev. (S)

Secretary Muskie said it sounded fine. (U)

Admiral Turner was concerned that the sentence on “exploiting” would be criticized and felt the word “politically” should be dropped. The group agreed with this suggestion. (S)

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Secretary Muskie cautioned that Political Directors should not be called together until we knew what we were going to do. (C)

Admiral Turner suggested the mini-SCC should discuss [text not declassified] particularly means aimed at building up sentiment in Europe against an invasion. (S)

Dr. Brzezinski asked the group to look at the President’s debrief of Reagan. He felt the mini-SCC should be sure to deal with the question of the (1) meeting of the Political Directors; (2) economic sanctions; and (3) military measures. (C)

[Omitted here is discussion of Korea.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Europe, USSR, and East/West, Brement Subject File, Box 57, Poland: Fall of 1980: 12/1–8/80. Secret. The meeting took place in Brzezinski’s office.
  2. No hotline message was found. Carter, however, wrote about Poland and the hotline message in his memoirs: “I sent Brezhnev a direct message warning of the serious consequences of a Soviet move into Poland, and let him know more indirectly that we would move to transfer advanced weaponry to China. I asked Prime Minister Gandhi to pressure Brezhnev (who was about to visit New Delhi), and warned the opposition leaders in Poland so that they would not be taken by surprise. I and other administration officials also made public statements about the growing threat to European stability.” Carter then quoted from his diary, December 8, “We’re continuing our worldwide effort to arouse information and interest in the Soviet moves toward Poland . . . The Soviets have not denied our public statement, and Brezhnev has not answered my hot-line message. This is the first time that has occurred.” Carter continued, “I was convinced that the Soviets would already have moved into Poland if they had not been bogged down in Afghanistan and condemned by most nations of the world for it.” (Keeping Faith, pp. 584–585) Ellipsis in the original. The text of Carter’s public statement, December 3, is in Public Papers: Carter, 1980–1981, Book III, pp. 2771–2772.
  3. Richard Allen served as President Reagan’s National Security Adviser. Ronald Reagan won the presidential election in November 1980 and was inaugurated as the 40th President of the United States on January 20, 1981.