Structure and Scope of the Foreign Relations Series

This volume is part of a Foreign Relations subseries documenting the most important foreign policy issues of the Jimmy Carter administration. As with previous Soviet Union volumes in the Foreign Relations series, this volume provides a snapshot of the global character of Cold War politics. Therefore, this volume is best read in conjunction with other volumes in the subseries, in order to understand the breadth and scope of U.S.-Soviet relations throughout the world. The most important of these volumes include: Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, volume VII, Poland; Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, volume VIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, January 1977–August 1978; Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, volume IX, Arab-Israeli Dispute, September 1978–December 1980; Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, volume XII, Afghanistan; Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, volume XIII, China; and Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXIII, SALT II, 1972–1980.

Focus of Research and Principles of Selection for Foreign Relations,1977–1980, Volume VI

This volume documents U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union, demonstrating the growing tension between U.S. and Soviet leaders and the eventual downfall of détente. Relations with the Soviet Union remained a central element of Carter’s foreign policy agenda, just as they had been for earlier administrations. However, the U.S. relationship with the Soviet Union was never simply bilateral in nature; instead, the two super powers were actively engaged politically throughout the world. Therefore, this volume includes documentation on the Middle East, China, Eastern and Western Europe, and the Horn of Africa, as well as SALT, emigration, and human rights.

Unlike the leadership of the Nixon and Ford administrations, who met regularly with the Soviet leadership, Carter conducted only one summit meeting with Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. Thus, Carter and Brezhnev communicated most frequently by letter. The majority of communication and policymaking was done at the Secretary of State/foreign minister or ambassadorial levels, and these meetings and communications are documented in cables and memoranda of conversation.

During the first years of the administration, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance met with Soviet officials both in Washington, D.C. and abroad, but as the administration progressed, Assistant to the President [Page VIII] for National Security Affairs Zbigniew Brzezinski, a Soviet expert, played a central role in the administration’s policy formulation towards the Soviet Union. Brzezinski’s voice became the dominant one during the last year of the administration with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan culminating in years of increasing concern over the extension of Soviet power into Africa and Asia.

President Carter brought into office an emphasis on human rights and a determination to include this issue as a major consideration in American foreign affairs. This emphasis was not well-received by the Soviets, who saw it as an intrusion into their internal matters, especially with respect to the issue of Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union, which became a major issue of contention. Carter’s emphasis on human rights contributed to a decline of détente by the end of his presidency. During the final year of the Carter administration, détente and the relationship with the Soviet Union withered, overshadowed by domestic economic problems and the hostage crisis in Iran, and weakened by the many areas of contention between the Soviet Union and the United States.


The editor wishes to acknowledge the assistance of officials at the Carter Library, Atlanta, Georgia. Special thanks are due to the Historical Staff of the Central Intelligence Agency, who were extremely helpful in arranging full access to the files of the Central Intelligence Agency. Melissa Jane Taylor collected, selected documentation, and edited the volume under the supervision of M. Todd Bennett, Chief of the Europe and General Division, and Edward C. Keefer, former General Editor of the Foreign Relations series. Kristin L. Ahlberg, Assistant to the General Editor, reviewed the volume. Dean Weatherhead coordinated the declassification review, under the supervision first of Susan C. Weetman and later Carl Ashley, who both served as Chief of the Declassification and Publishing Division. Stephanie Eckroth, Vicki E. Futscher, and Erin F. Cozens did the copy and technical editing. Do Mi Stauber, Inc. prepared the index.

Melissa Jane Taylor, Ph.D.