11. Summary of Conclusions of a Policy Review Committee Meeting1


  • Ethiopia and Horn of Africa


  • The Vice President
  • State

    • Secretary Vance
    • William Schaufele
  • Defense

    • Secretary Brown
    • William Duncan
    • Leslie Janka
  • JCS

    • General George S. Brown
    • Lt. Gen. William Y. Smith
  • CIA

    • Admiral Turner
    • William Parmenter
  • Office of the US Rep. to the UN

    • Ambassador Young
    • Dr. Anne Holloway
  • NSC

    • Zbigniew Brzezinski
    • David Aaron
    • Paul Henze
    • Thomas Thornton

Purpose of the Meeting

The meeting was called, with Secretary Vance in the chair, to review PRM/NSC–21.2 Under discussion were U.S. arms supply policy toward Ethiopia and, in light of the deteriorating situation in that country, actions to strengthen the U.S. position in Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti and the Sudan.


Current Situation: The meeting reviewed current intelligence on the area which indicates that the military regime in Ethiopia is becoming more brutal and more beleaguered. Ethiopian forces are losing ground steadily to the Eritreans in the north and in the northwest to an exile movement called the Ethiopian Democratic Union. Both elements enjoy Sudanese support. The intelligence community continues to estimate that the military regime can maintain itself in Addis Ababa for an indefinite period of time, but an assassination or coup is always possible. There is some disagreement as to what kind of a government would follow the overthrow of the present military regime.

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Where do we go in Ethiopia? It was agreed that we should not pull out of Ethiopia entirely, because we wish to be in a position to reassert ourselves there if a friendlier and more humane government comes to power. But it was also agreed that we cannot justify further significant support to the present government in view of its moves toward the Soviets, its ineffectiveness in governing its own country and its brutalization of its people. Non-lethal military aid that is in the current pipeline—5T and 2½T trucks and jeeps—will be delivered and military training of Ethiopians in the United States will be continued. All other military aid—ammunition, APCs, F–5 aircraft—even when it has been on order and paid for by the Ethiopians—will be subject to delaying action. We will not tell the Ethiopians we are delaying; we will simply wait and see. Meanwhile, economic aid will continue. This situation will naturally need to be reassessed every few weeks in the light of new developments in Ethiopia.3

Somalia: Our Ambassador in Mogadiscio, who is returning shortly, will be instructed to have a frank talk with President Siad when he gets back and ask for his views on where he wants to go and what he expects from us if he disengages from the close Soviet relationship.4 We will also send an exploratory aid mission to Somalia to see what we might be able to do economically. For the time being we will let the Saudis take the lead in offering money for military aid. No conclusion was reached on the possibility of sending a U.S. vessel on a port call. The discussion highlighted some of the problems in rushing into too close a relationship with the Somalis too soon, including the possibility that Siad may be trying to play both us and the Soviets at the same time. More specific are the danger of frightening Kenya and of encouraging Somali territorial ambitions toward Ethiopia and Djibouti.

Kenya: We will offer economic aid for the Northeastern (i.e. Somali-inhabited) Province and talk further about military help. When Kenyatta dies, we will move quickly to show support for the government that succeeds him. It was pointed out that Kenya feels endangered these days not only by Somalia and the growing Soviet orientation of Ethiopia, but by Soviet aid to Tanzania and Uganda.

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Djibouti: Secretary Vance recounted the promises he had received from Giscard about maintaining a French presence for 1–2 years and we plan to rely on these.5 It was agreed that we would encourage the Saudis to help economically.

Sudan: We will move to make our relationship closer and warmer. If additional military equipment (beyond the recently approved C–130’s) can be supplied, we will consider it. The possibility of stepping up naval visits to Port Sudan will be examined.

The Committee agreed that a further review of the situation in the Horn will probably be needed in about six weeks in the light of further developments in Ethiopia, clearer information about what the Somali leadership is trying to do and better indications of how fast and far the Saudis are prepared to go. It was agreed that we should keep up discussions with other interested allies, such as the French and the Italians.

Zbigniew Brzezinski
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files 1977–1981, Box 184, PRC 770010–4/11/77–Horn of Africa. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. No minutes of the meeting have been found.
  2. See Document 10.
  3. In an April 11 memorandum to Carter, Brzezinski transmitted the decision minutes of the PRC meeting and requested approval to disseminate them for action. Carter checked the Approve option and wrote, “Sounds too easy on Ethiopia. Why just ‘wait & see’? Need thorough discussion with Fahd re Horn. J.” Vance discussed Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa with Crown Prince Fahd on May 24 during Fahd’s visit to Washington. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XVIII, Middle East Region; Arabian Peninsula, Document 150.
  4. Loughran finally met with Siad on May 22, a month after he returned to Mogadiscio. He reported on his meeting in telegram 826 from Mogadiscio, May 23. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770183–0097)
  5. In telegram 9751 from Paris, April 3, the Embassy reported on Vance’s meeting with Giscard and their discussion of French troops in Djibouti. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850070–1725)