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


  • Strategy for Dealing with Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan

You should seek to accomplish four things in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan:

1. In Afghanistan. Make the costs to the Soviets very high, preventing a successful Soviet consolidation of power there if possible.

2. In the Region. Accelerate a number of measures and take additional steps to build a security system in the Persian Gulf which can repel Soviet power projection into the region.2

3. With our Allies. Assert leadership of the NATO Alliance and Japan which provides a context and a rationale for our allies’ supporting actions.

[Page 365]

4. With Broader Groups. Provide a context and rationale for broader groups, such as the NAM, Moslem states, and the United Nations, to take as much action as they are willing.

If the United States is clearly understood to be providing this leadership, you will not only get the backing of our allies and many non-aligned states, but you will also find an emerging domestic consensus behind you that will support essential legislative and budgetary measures. Anything less will cause vacillation and accommodation by our allies and by states within the Persian Gulf region.

This is not a crisis to be dealt with in a few weeks and with a series of short-term measures. It is a test of the balance of power between East and West. Many states will be forced to adjust their foreign policy to the way in which you exercise the leadership of the West. The major political problem for world affairs in the 1980s is the projection of Soviet military power. Our sensitive intelligence indicates that many political leaders in the world have come to see this clearly. If it appears that the United States cannot stem Soviet power effectively through diplomacy, alliances, and military means, then they will continue accommodating to Moscow.

Afghanistan is not only the first country outside the Soviet bloc which the Soviet armed forces have invaded since 1945. It is also the seventh state since 1975 in which communist parties have come to power with Soviet guns and tanks, with Soviet military advisors and assistance (Vietnam, Angola, Laos, South Yemen, Cambodia, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan). Four of these takeovers have occurred since January 1977. We can expect the number to rise considerably above the present seven unless the U.S. can galvanize effective resistance.

The basic decision for you is whether to jeopardize a number of your present policies (arms transfers, nuclear proliferation, and arms control) and make a comprehensive and long-term response to check Soviet power or to treat the Afghanistan affair as a minor episode in the competitive-cooperative mix of U.S. Soviet Union relations, chastise the Soviets, take several symbolic measures in retribution, and then begin adjusting to the reality of Soviet power in Afghanistan and the destabilization of the Persian Gulf region it portends. I strongly urge you to make this a turning point at which you begin a sustained and comprehensive strategy for preventing the expansion of Soviet power projection.

The context for a major strategic turn is four classes of actions involving three interrelated regions. The regions are the Persian Gulf, Europe, and East Asia. 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. Actions in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan should be [Page 366] taken in the context of first, the specific needs of the Persian Gulf region and second, the interrelation of the three regions. The classes of actions are:

—those with states in the Persian Gulf region;

—those involving our allies and the PRC;

—those purely bilateral in nature;

—those involving other groups of states (e.g. the NAM, the UN).

I. Actions for the Persian Gulf region.

They should be directed at three objectives: (a) a de facto security system for the Saudi Arabian peninsula, (b) restoration of the “northern tier” (Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan), and (c) support of the insurgents in Afghanistan. They should include at a minimum:

—a direct offer of large military assistance to Pakistan;

—speed up of our acquisition of bases and a new unified military command structure for the region;

—covert action in South Yemen and Eritrea as well as in Iran and Afghanistan;

—an aid package for Turkey (funded almost entirely by Bonn and perhaps other European allies) in exchange for Turkish help in Iran and with Pakistan.

II. Actions involving our Allies.

These must provide a structure for allied support. Our well-established NATO programs, the LTDP, LRTNF, and the commitment to three percent increases in defense spending offer a military context. Economic measures toward the Persian Gulf and Moscow offer another context. Political steps provide a third context. The PRC, of course, is a separate but important factor. These actions should include as a minimum:

a. Military

—Belgian and Dutch unequivocal commitment to LRTNF.

—A renewed commitment to increase defense spending by three percent, perhaps four percent for the next two years.

—Renewed efforts to bring Greece back into the NATO command system.3

—Military aid to Turkey.4

[Page 367]

b. Economic

—Major German financing for Turkey in exchange for Turkish cooperation in Iran.5

—An EC review of East-West trade and credit policy.

—Renewed public commitment to COCOM.

—An early economic summit this spring to discuss coordination of East-West trade and energy policy, particularly Allied support of U.S. bilateral economic measures toward the USSR.

c. Political

—Ask all NATO states to reduce their level of diplomatic and cultural relations with the USSR in a demonstrable fashion.6

NATO and other U.S. military allies withhold participation in the Moscow Olympics pending Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

—Ask the North Atlantic Council to recommend other political steps for the alliance such as approaches to the neutrals, to Yugoslavia, tactics in CSCE, and relations with China.

d. The PRC.

Harold Brown’s trip to China, of course, provides a ready basis for discussing with the Chinese our policy toward Afghanistan. In addition to the agenda he already has planned, Harold should seek PRC views on actions that might be useful in connection with Afghanistan.7 The key choice with respect to the PRC is how far to go toward a military relationship with China. I would recommend going no farther now than to let the communique show that Afghanistan was discussed as a threat to peace which may require actions by both parties. We will not be backing off the Vice President’s disclaimer about seeking a military tie, but we will make more vivid the specter of such a tie. We can add substance to the specter by degrees later this year.

III. Bilateral Actions

They fall into the following categories: (a) political/diplomatic; (b) arms control; (c) economic; (d) military. The following actions should be spread over the next several weeks, maybe months, depending on Soviet reactions:

a. Political/Diplomatic

—Reduce social participation at Soviet embassy functions worldwide for the next several months.

—Restrict Soviet diplomatic access in Washington, making it noticeably less than at present.

[Page 368]

—Expel a number of Soviet espionage agents within the next few weeks or months.

—Reduce Soviet media representation.

b. Arms Control

—Announce that you have directed a major review of arms control negotiations under the criteria of PD–50 to be completed and submitted to you by April. This would put the issue of arms control in question without actually backing away from agreements, as you may be pressed to do in the case of SALT.

—Break off the Indian Ocean Arms Talks and CAT.

c. Economic

—Suspend indefinitely all U.S.-USSR Joint Economic Commission meetings.

—Postpone all scientific exchange meetings scheduled this spring.

—Exercise the option you created in 1978 to deny oil production technology transfers. The administrative process for this is already in place and regularly followed.

—Initiate a PRM on the sale of wheat to the USSR and make it public that such a review is in progress. By summer we will be able to judge the political and economic wisdom of denying wheat sales to the Soviets. In the interim, the threat is raised.

d. Military

—Re-emphasize to the U.S. public the importance of the FY 1981 defense budget proposal to Congress as essential to prevent Soviet power projection.8

—If the political and military climate worsens in the next few months, request that Congress re-instate military registration. Alternatively, your report to the Congress in January on military manpower could ask the Congress to consider military registration.9

IV. Actions involving other groups of States.

—The Non-Aligned Movement should be called on to boycott the Moscow Olympic games pending Soviet withdrawal from a member state.

—The NAM might be moved to take other states under Yugoslav prodding.

[Page 369]

—Raise Afghanistan in the UN Security Council.10

It is probably unwise to take all of these actions at once, and as events develop, some might look less attractive. It is wise, I believe, to select several of them in each of the five categories for immediate execution and to begin study and consideration of all the others.

Brezhnev will see two great costs for the USSR as these actions are implemented. First, Moscow will lose the diplomatic attention and appeal it has enjoyed throughout the 1970s from the West and the Third World. Second, the Soviet economy, showing signs of entropy for two decades, has sustained some growth in no small part through interaction with the West. Your actions, particularly if they threaten to include the Europeans and Japan, promise sharpening economic difficulties within the USSR and the Soviet bloc. Brezhnev may not yield to economic pressures, but in the struggle for succession after his death, the issue of economic access to the West will play a large role. The least we can do is make it clear that such access has an unambiguous price. That should strengthen the hand of those in the Politburo who argue that foreign military adventures cost far more than they are worth.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, General Odom File, Box 1, Afghanistan: 1–2/80. Secret; Outside the System. Printed from an unsigned copy.
  2. Documentation on U.S. efforts to build a security framework in the Persian Gulf area in the wake of the fall of the Shah of Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XVIII, Middle East Region; Arabian Peninsula.
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XXI, Cyprus; Turkey; Greece, Documents 200, 205, 206, 208, 209, and 211.
  4. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XXI, Cyprus; Turkey; Greece, Documents 148 and 149.
  5. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XXI, Cyprus; Turkey; Greece, Document 158.
  6. See Document 146.
  7. See Documents 149 and 150.
  8. Carter announced his proposal for an increase of 3.3 percent in the defense budget in his State of the Union Address, January 23. He characterized the increase as “essential if we are to strengthen our defense capabilities.” (Public Papers: Carter, 1980–81, Book I, p. 119)
  9. In response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Carter reinstituted registration for the draft for all 18-year-old males. (Public Papers: Carter, 1980–81, Book I, pp. 289–291)
  10. See Yearbook of the United Nations, 1980, vol. 34, pp. 296–306. The Security Council convened in January 1980, but failed to adopt a resolution calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan. The United States was one of 52 states to sign the proposal sent to the Secretary General. The General Assembly convened an emergency special session that month, and adopted a resolution denouncing foreign armed intervention in Afghanistan.