84. Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Staff1

A Proposal for Asian Policy Adjustments

Our most urgent requirement at present is to undertake bold and dramatic measures to escape the sense of drift which afflicts the Administration’s foreign policy in general, and Asian policy in particular.

Our global strategy is deficient insofar as we are allowing our principal adversary to define the regions of the world in which we compete for influence. The Soviets have chosen Africa as their principal locus of competition for the foreseeable future, and we find it difficult to develop appropriate local responses. Our response should not be confined to Africa. Nor should we rely heavily on a linkage with arms negotiations since a SALT II agreement can serve our own interests. If we hope to have any chance of obtaining domestic support for a SALT agreement this year, however, it will be politically essential to find other ways of responding to the Soviets’ African adventure. We believe the most effective strategic rejoinder can be fashioned from adjustments in our Asian policy, with emphasis on China and Korea. Put crudely, as the Soviets seek to extend their influence to the South, we should remind them of their vulnerabilities in the East.

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It is important that we act boldly. The public increasingly assesses the President as a leader who lacks the capacity for dramatic and decisive moves. In addition, the President’s prestige in Asia is low, and we need to act to reverse this before the impression is irretrievable. In response, we believe he should select issues on which he can act boldly and which fall preeminently in the Presidential domain. These moves, moreover, must appeal to his natural constitutency in the South lest he risk further erosion of his political base.

Policy opportunities exist in Asia for profitably broadening our competition with the Soviets, and they can be exploited through essentially Executive action. It is important that we seize these opportunities and thereby address these substantive foreign policy problems:

Our Korean policy is in great jeopardy. Congress may not pass the equipment transfer legislation; Jaworski holds the key, and we cannot expect him to be helpful. If we go through with the first withdrawals without the compensation package, the JCS would withhold their support.

Our China policy is stalled; there never seems to be an opportune time to move forward, and this robs our diplomacy of much needed flexibility.

—In the region as a whole—most notably in the eyes of the Japanese—our Asian policy lacks coherence, decisiveness, and a sense of priorities.

Only bold and positive gestures are likely to be psychologically sufficient and politically effective in dealing with these dilemmas.

I. A Proposal

We recommend an appropriately dramatic adjustment of our Asian policy which would alter our situation. It should include the following elements:

(1) postpone the initial phase of the Korean troop withdrawal; (2) move rapidly to normalize relations with China; (3) accelerate delivery of defensive weapons systems to Taiwan, and (4) inform Japan of these policy adjustments in advance.

Each of these moves can be justified on their merits; but it is the inter-relationship between them that is important politically and substantively.

(1) Postponing the Korean Withdrawal. The case for this is clear. Postponement of the first withdrawals—on grounds that the Congress cannot be expected to address the security dimensions of the problem while the Tongsun Park affair hangs over them—would remove a contentious issue from the Executive-Legislative agenda. It would enable the President to avoid expending political capital on an issue he might lose. It would assuage the anxieties of our Asian allies—particularly the [Page 304] Japanese—with whom the withdrawal policy has never been popular. It would greatly relieve Congress where a majority favors strong security ties with the ROK, but does not wish to confront a vote for large-scale aid to Korea in an election year. It would cover the Administration’s flank on the Right, thereby facilitating political management of the China normalization issue. Nor would the President have to modify the broad contours of the withdrawal plan; he could reaffirm our intent to remove ground combat troops over the next four-to-five years. The effect of a postponement of the initial phase would merely be to “backload” the withdrawal still further.

(2) Normalize in 1978. The case for rapid normalization likewise stands on its own merits. There is little we can do immediately in the Horn of Africa to affect the outcome of the Ethiopia–Somalia imbroglio. But we must not allow the Soviets to alter the local balance of forces in East Africa through their aggressive policies without forcing them to pay a major price in the larger global strategic balance. A strengthened China connection—including formal diplomatic relations, expanding trade and exchanges, and fuller strategic consultations—is the most effective card we have, and the sooner we play it the better. An acceleration of the normalization timetable would respond to the Soviet’s African adventure, thus meeting conservative reservations and promoting normalization in a context most likely to elicit conservative support on strategic grounds. As with the Soviet response to our opening to China in 1971–72, such a move will likely increase Soviet incentives to cooperate with us in other areas, including SALT. It would strengthen China’s commitment to a moderate policy in Asia and thereby limit still further opportunities for the Soviets to translate their growing military power in the Pacific into any significant political influence.

Politically the time is ripe for this. Rapid normalization is more palatable when the Soviets are acting up. The recent National Party Congress in China confirmed a moderate leadership interested in developing relations with the United States while accelerating internal industrial development and registering strong concern with Soviet actions. Hua and Teng may be induced—in the context of prospective movement on the normalization front—to make major grain and technology purchases from the U.S. this year, thus demonstrating to the U.S. public the tangible benefits to be derived from normal relations. As noted above, adjustments in our Korean policy would serve to undercut Rightwing assertions that we are “selling out all our small Asian allies”. If we don’t normalize at an early date—at the outside by early 1979—the next “window” will be in 1981. By then the situation could change, and that timeframe may pose even greater complications.

(3) The Taiwan Angle. The efficacy of this combination of moves depends in part upon our willingness to put Taiwan in a better position to [Page 305] defend itself while protecting the Administration against charges that it is abandoning Taipei. The most obvious means of accomplishing these objectives would be to accelerate weapons transfers of air and naval defense equipment. We should, therefore, indicate at an early date our willingness to sell a Hawk missile battalion, a substantial number of additional F5E aircraft, and, perhaps, the Harpoon missile system to the ROC. This would provide reassurance to Taipei, ease the concerns of Taiwan’s friends in the U.S., and send the right signal to Peking. It would also confirm a point we have been making to Peking for some years: their unwillingness to provide concrete public statements of their intent to resolve the Taiwan issue peacefully leaves us no alternative but to help Taiwan preserve access to essential defense equipment.

(4) The Japan Connection. How would this play in Tokyo? Clearly a deferral of Korean withdrawals would be welcomed. The Japanese remain ambivalent about U.S. normalization with Peking but are reconciled to its inevitability. We need foresee no serious problems with the GOJ, provided Fukuda is informed of our intentions in advance. Informing Japan, moreover, would have another salutary result. It would prompt Fukuda to hasten the pace of his negotiation of a Sino-Japanese Peace and Friendship Treaty, thereby increasing the Soviet Union’s political isolation in the Far East. Japan, meanwhile, will have the satisfaction of moving ahead of us, and the completion of Japan’s negotiations should affect favorably the discussion of normalization in this country.

(5) The Soviet Connection. These initiatives are predicated on three assumptions:

—If we are going to sign a SALT agreement at a time when the Soviets are moving aggressively in Africa, it is politically imperative to protect our flanks by reacting in some other theater to Soviet policy in the Horn.

—Moves on the China front are likely to induce flexibility from the Soviets in SALT and other negotiations—probably after some initial bluster and bluff from the Kremlin.

—We can manage these moves with sufficient skill to exploit the current concerns about Soviet policy in Africa without returning to the hostile atmosphere of the Cold War.

The Soviets will have no grounds for taking exception to any of these steps. Our Korean policy is none of their business; they have “normal” relations with China already; and none of these moves need be portrayed publicly by the Administration as directed against the USSR.

II. Timing and Modalities

There are essentially two options for proceeding—a “strike while the iron is hot” alternative, and a policy evolution with a more measured pace and more complicated set of moves.

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1. Swift Normalization. The first approach rests on the premise that our China policy has been constantly bedeviled by efforts to find just the right moment to complete the normalization process. Consequently, since the moment now seems opportune, we should take it and seek to achieve a breakthrough in the next three months. It assumes that this move will be politically attractive in the U.S. and should be arranged to facilitate a trip by Hua to Washington to cap the process even before the fall elections. It would be played as a contribution to peace, leaving to Senator Jackson and others the explicit anti-Soviet themes.

In this scenario, normalization is the bold move; everything would be directed toward maximizing possibilities for its rapid attainment. We would consequently sell a postponement of Korean withdrawals as an add-on generating credibility with the Chinese while neutralizing conservative elements at home on normalization. In addition, in view of difficulties Japanese have with avoiding “leaks”, we would delay consultations as long as possible with them in order to prevent premature disclosure of our intentions. With respect to Taiwan we would begin approving arms transfers to Taiwan right away. As for method, we would foreswear widespread advance consultations on the Hill in order to avoid generating obstructionist countermoves before we have our ducks in a row with Peking. This implies a willingness to rely on secret diplomacy with Peking at present—your trip being the centerpiece of the strategy.

2. A More Measured Strategy. An alternative strategy would alter the sequence of moves, slow the pace of normalization, and broaden the range of consultations here and abroad.

This strategy would begin with postponement of Korean withdrawals.

Several Congressmen—e.g. Senator Glenn, Senator Nunn, Congressman Stratton—have indicated that they may soon propose postponement of the withdrawals or other “fallbacks” from our current Korean policy. If we are to fall back, we should get the credit for taking the initiative. And we should move swiftly in order to avoid expending political capital on this issue when we already have a full plate on the Hill. Moving immediately on Korea would not only be helpful politically here, but it would set the proper tone for a successful summit with Fukuda, would signal to the Soviets that we will slow down reductions in our military deployments in East Asia, and would be perceived in Peking as a positive indication of American prudence.

Second, your (ZB) trip to Northeast Asia should be scheduled as soon as possible (e.g. late April or early May). While your stopover in Peking should be billed as a consultation on global strategic issues, it should also be utilized to signal unmistakably to Peking our will[Page 307]ingness to move rapidly on normalization, to invite their assistance in the political management of the normalization issue by making sizable grain and technology purchases prior to the November election, and to alert them to the prospect of additional equipment deliveries to Taiwan. A stop in Tokyo will enable you to debrief the Japanese and avoid a repetition of the “Nixon shock”. In Seoul you can inform Park of our decision to delay withdrawals and, perhaps, seek to translate that into further moves by Park on the human rights front that would further defuse current bilateral problems.

Next, equipment deliveries to Taiwan should be announced during the summer, but should be timed, if possible, to coincide with commercial sales to Peking so as to achieve a maximum political payoff on the China issue during the election.

If things are proceeding in a promising fashion, Cy Vance might then make a second trip to Peking later in the summer to discuss the modalities of normalization in detail, and to firm up our judgment as to the most effective timing of normalization itself—before the elections if it seemed politically advantageous; deferred until afterwards if the advantages are not so clear-cut.

We strongly favor the second option,2 and would like to discuss this with you at your earliest convenience.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 43, Meetings: 1–3/78. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. Sent to Brzezinski under a March 13 covering memorandum from Oksenberg and Armacost that reads, “Attached is a paper calling for some rather dramatic adjustments in our Asian policy. We think they make sense in foreign policy terms and would improve the President’s political prospects. Mike and I would like to discuss the proposal in the paper with you and David [Aaron] at your earliest convenience.” On this covering memorandum, a handwritten note reads, “ZB has seen.” (Ibid.)
  2. At the bottom of the page, Inderfurth wrote a note to Brzezinski and Aaron about the proposal, “Option 1, however, is appealing. Panama will have been decided, one way or the other. SALT, most probably, will still be in progress. This is a ‘window’ worth exploring.” Inderfurth went on to discuss the Korean withdrawal and Philippine base negotiations.