268. Memorandum From Thomas Thornton of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Afghan “Neutralization” (U)

We don’t have much success these days in getting Afghan material to the world’s attention. The story is getting old and we, frankly, don’t offer much in a positive sense (i.e. we can produce atrocity stories but no clear policy line that might yield a satisfactory outcome.) (S)

We need to seize some high ground, especially after the failure of the rescue attempt in Iran. Fortunately there is some readily available [Page 718] high ground. In fact we are there already, although nobody seems to notice it very much for we are sharing it with some noisy types. (S)

Specifically, we should double track our current strategy (make the Soviets pay heavily) with a strategy that portrays us as the party urging a peaceful settlement on reasonable terms. We should be the moving spirit of a “peace offensive”—and define its terms. At present, we are in the apparent position of grudgingly accepting the idea of a peaceful settlement while harping on things that people don’t like to hear. And, given our evident lack of interest in a peaceful negotiated outcome, when we do say something positive it tends to be discounted. (S)

What is needed is a change in emphasis. We should be talking long and loud about the need for a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan. We should be pointing out at every opportunity that the Soviets are frustrating this outcome not only by their actions on the ground but also because of their unreasonable and unjust refusal to commit themselves to prompt and total withdrawal. (S)

Clearly we would keep up (and if possible intensify) our drumfire of propaganda along the present lines. And we would not yield an inch on our conditions. But we would try to become identified with the goal of peace rather than the goal of punishing the Soviets (largely, it might be noted, at the price of dead Afghans and unhappy athletes.) (S)

This theme should also be featured in our talks with the Soviets. From what I have seen of the reporting, we have been growlingly negative. We should be challengingly positive. Put Moscow more and more on the defensive. Sure, it won’t make much difference in bilateral negotiations (and none of this will likely budge the Soviets out of Afghanistan), but the fact of our emphasis on peaceful settlement will leak out, and play back into our public strategy. (S)

The public strategy should be founded on statements by the President, Muskie and you. The Philadelphia speech, for example, should have had an impassioned plea for peace and a truly non-aligned Afghanistan “if only the Soviets would see reason and meet conditions that are universally supported.” It should have stressed that we have no preferred outcome in Afghanistan as long as the Afghans are content.2 Incidentally, a strong push by us in this way could generate increased public support in such countries as India. (S)

[Page 719]

There are a few bureaucratic pitfalls. You and the President may not want this to appear as a big Muskie initiative to correct past mistakes—which it could, since Muskie sounded positive on neutralization in his SFRC hearings.3 Muskie is probably going to pick this one up and run with it anyway though, so the issue for you is how best to shape what he is doing. Obviously, this whole thing should be discussed and coordinated at the highest level. (S)


That you raise this subject with the President and Muskie.4 If you do, please ensure that there is feedback to me so that I can push this in Brement’s committee. (C)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office File, Presidential Advisory Board, Box 79, Sensitive X: 5/12–31/80. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for action. In the upper right corner of the memorandum, Brzezinski wrote: “We will keep pushing this—I talked to Commission.”
  2. Carter addressed the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia on May 9. Concerning Afghanistan, he said: “Our goal is the withdrawal of Soviet occupying troops, the neutrality or non-alignment of Afghanistan as a nation, and the encouragement of the formation there of a government acceptable to the Afghan people.” For the text of his speech, see Public Papers: Carter 1980–81, Book I, pp. 873–880. It is also printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, Document 147.
  3. Muskie’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was held on May 7.
  4. No record of a meeting covering this subject was found.