21. Memorandum From Secretary of State Vance to President Carter 1

[Omitted here are items unrelated to the Horn of Africa.]

4. Yugoslav Transfer of Tanks to Ethiopia: The Yugoslavs have admitted to our Ambassador that they have transferred 70 Korean War vintage M–47 tanks to Ethiopia.2 The Yugoslav Foreign Secretary agreed that they have violated their understanding with us but asked that we reexamine our intention to report the matter to the Congress and thereby protect the chance for military cooperation in the future.

I have examined the options available to us under the Arms Export Control Act which requires a report of the violation to the Congress. I recommend we submit a letter from you to the Congressional leadership reporting the information. The letter will also have to address the question of whether we have reasonable assurances from the Yugoslavs that future violations will not occur. I find we have these from the Foreign Secretary. I believe that a Congressional leak is unlikely.3 The Senate and House committees would recognize the cost to our relations with Yugoslavia and the members of both are supportive of our efforts to protect our relations with Belgrade. There is precedent for this approach to the Congress. Recently we reported an Israeli violation in a classified written report. We will make clear to the Yugoslavs, however, that we view their action most seriously and will not tolerate any reoccurrence.

5. Soviet Mediation in the Horn: According to a recent Yugoslav report, the USSR is currently trying to promote a “federation” of Ethiopia, Somalia, the Ogaden, Eritrea, and possibly the newly independent Republic of Djibouti.4 We have no precise knowledge of such a Soviet proposal. But it is probably an extension of previous Soviet ideas that have combined an increase of local autonomy for the provinces of Eritrea and the Ogaden with retention of at least residual Ethiopian sovereignty over both areas.5

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The Soviets have almost certainly been led to suggest “federation” as a solution to these disputes because Moscow realizes that its position in both Somalia and Ethiopia could be threatened if some solution to the Ogaden problem minimally acceptable to both is not achieved.

Moscow also probably calculates that the survival of the Mengistu regime could be seriously jeopardized by its failure to hang onto Eritrea in some way.

Prospects for Soviet success in arranging such an agreement are dim. Efforts to negotiate a compromise last spring by both former President Podgorny and Castro were reportedly rejected by the Somalis and Eritreans. These Soviet attempts to mediate foundered on Somali unwillingness to accept anything less than annexation of the Ogaden and on Eritrean demands for total independence. Recent Somali and Eritrean military successes against the Mengistu regime’s hard pressed forces have probably only strengthened Eritrean and Somali determination to reject a compromise.

6. Somali Arms Request: Somali Ambassador Addou has just returned from Mogadiscio with the message that President Siad was very pleased with your forthcoming attitude towards Somalia and “has made up his mind where Somali policy should be directed.” He also brought a request for an urgent arms shipment from the US (see attachment).6 Addou made no mention of financing for these items. The Somalis say that after this initial delivery, the US could send a military attache, preferably a General, to discuss Somalia’s more sophisticated requirements. Addou is under instructions from Siad to return to Mogadiscio in a week with the US response.

Compared to what the Somalis have requested from the British and French (small arms and ammunition to equip, respectively, 80,000 and 100,000 men), the request to us is relatively modest. It is nonetheless a canard to describe the items listed, as did Addou, as the “minimum needed to fill existing gaps in Somalia’s defensive structure:” for instance, the 70,785 semi-automatic rifles requested would give each one of Somalia’s 30,000 soldiers two such rifles apiece, with 10,785 to spare.

The Somalis have recently received $8 million of small arms and ammunition from the Saudis and $13 million from the Egyptians. In addition, the French have agreed to provide 10% of the request which they have from Somalia, if financing can be arranged. The British have not yet responded. The Iranians are planning to send a military survey mission to Mogadiscio next week and have asked us if we would be willing to permit them to transfer US-supplied arms to Somalia.

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The Somali effort to accumulate new arms not subject to Soviet control, coupled with increased activity by Somali “irregulars” in the Ogaden, along the Addis-Djibouti railroad, and in the Kenya-Somalia-Ethiopia border area, and the mobilization of transport inside Somalia, might suggest that the Somalis are planning to press their advantage in the Ogaden. This is an effort with which we clearly do not want to be identified. We have informed our allies of our view that any Western arms supplies should be limited to filling gaps in Somalia’s defensive structure when such develop.7

[Omitted here are items unrelated to the Horn of Africa.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, Plains File, Subject File, Box 12, State Department Evening Reports, 7/77. Secret. Carter initialed the memorandum and wrote, “Cy.”
  2. In telegram 4603 from Belgrade, July 8, the Embassy reported on the tank transfers. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770243–0661)
  3. Carter underlined this sentence and wrote “You have more confidence than I do” in the left margin.
  4. See Document 17.
  5. Carter wrote “If they succeed, we should take some lessons from them!” in the left margin.
  6. See Document 20. A list of Somali arms requests is attached but not printed.
  7. Carter wrote “ok” in the left margin.