83. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Brown to President Carter1


  • Consultations with the PRC as a Response to Soviet Actions in the Horn of Africa

Along with Cy and Zbig, I have been thinking about what we could do to show the Soviets that the kind of adventurism they have been displaying in the Horn of Africa bears a high risk of retaliatory action by us. The problem has been to find actions that hurt them more than they hurt us. This criterion, in my view, excludes such courses as slowing down SALT (“linkage”), because our interest in early conclusion of an equitable SALT agreement is properly as great as the Soviets’.

I suggest that we respond by initiating talks with the PRC on matters of common interest. This would surely cause the Soviets to be concerned. It would be a response to their actions in the Horn of a kind appropriate in magnitude and in nature, being political and strategic.

What I have in mind is talks at the ambassadorial level, as have in the past been carried on by us and the PRC through our respective ambassadors in Warsaw; I suppose it could now be done in Peking. An alternative would be through a special emissary to Peking, if that can be carried out as part of a visit by Zbig to Peking, a visit which I strongly support in any event. An advantage, in my view, (others might say a risk) of using the Brzezinski visit for this purpose is its stronger impact. [Page 301] One concern would be its necessarily limited duration, though it could be followed up by further discussions by Woodcock or elsewhere.

We and the PRC would discuss at these meetings just such matters as how to work together on the Horn. We could plan coordination of US–PRC efforts aimed at frustrating such further Soviet adventurism in Africa as undermining Kenya, stirring the waters in Rhodesia and then fishing in them, or sending the Cubans to threaten southern Africa or toward the Sudan and Egypt. I would also include such topics as: the strategic balance; NATO and Eurocommunism; evolving parallel policies in other areas—South Asia, Indo China—where we share a concern about Soviet influence; even quadrilateral relations in northeast Asia among the USSR, the US, the PRC, and Japan.

I know that Cy believes this could be a dangerous move, presuming that the Chinese would agree to such talks. He considers US–USSR relations both fragile and deteriorating. Indeed the course I propose would get Soviet attention; that is just the point. Actions such as canceling or postponing the Soyuz–Shuttle cooperation are just the opposite; they appear petulant and ineffective, without any particularly troubling effect to the Soviets. I believe we must be prepared to upset the Soviets as much as they have upset us by their actions in the Horn, in order to discourage them from expanding such activities into even more dangerous places. I would not suggest that we publicize the nature of these talks; the Soviets would find out soon enough, and so would others such as the Saudis, the Iranians, and other friends to whom we wish to demonstrate that the Soviets cannot act with complete impunity.

Because the Chinese may not be willing to go all the way through such a list, we could enter such discussions in phases, beginning specifically with Africa.

We would not include the subject of normalization of relations in these talks. Normalization presumably depends on how we and the Chinese are prepared to deal with the Taiwan issue; my judgment is that at the moment our positions on that subject do not overlap sufficiently to reach an agreement. However, success in the kind of talks I propose, or even their mere existence, would advance the prospect of normalization. A Brzezinski visit, ambassadorial talks, and (later) steps toward normalization—probably with Cy making another trip to Peking—could all be separate but would in my view be mutually supportive.

I would like to suggest, moreover, that we may have a chance later this year to proceed substantively on normalization. As I see the evolution of SALT, agreement is a reasonable prospect in late spring or summer, but a delay in the ratification process to next year is likely. This will provide a window during which we may be able to take on [Page 302] one additional difficult foreign policy issue. I nominate normalization with the PRC. Moreover, particularly following a dialogue of the kind I have discussed with the PRC, normalization would be understood domestically as involving an element of countering the Soviets. That would make it go down more easily with people who would ordinarily be opposed to normalization of relations with the PRC.

Harold Brown
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–81–0202, China (Reds) 092. Secret. The memorandum is marked “Personal.”