54. Record of a Special Coordination Meeting1

Near-verbatim record of portion of SCC Meeting on Horn of Africa, 10 February 1978

HB: A problem: does the U.S. regard this as a serious enough threat to itself or to its friends so that we are going to risk trying to stop an invasion? If the answer to this is no, we should be playing this down, not up. —We must be careful—we must not cast what we say in a way that raises the importance of the question of possible American intervention.

ZB: We want to continue to emphasize that this is an issue of Black Africans settling conflicts themselves. This does not prejudge or pre-empt the Giscard initiative.2

ZB: Now what do we do about those who are really concerned but clearly want encouragement from us in order to go through with any aid?

CV: They want visible support. They want military equipment and they want money.

HB: They would also want military equipment to replace what they might put in from their own stocks.

CV: With the Iranians we would have to go to Congress.

GB: I would hope the Iranians would ship Russian equipment.

ZB: Ambassadors are going to ask them what they are doing or planning to do.

HB: But we have to decide if we can get this through the Congress. Then we have to consider what happens if we put things into Somalia and the Cubans come across the borders.

[Page 120]

CV: I asked Dick Clark what is the feeling of Congress. “Until they cross the border, Congress will say no,” he said; “once they cross the border, then we may think differently.”

GB: We should alert the people in the Pacific that we might want a carrier so that they can put together a task force and hold it in the Subic Bay area.

HB: Will that leak? If it leaks out, it has a serious effect.

CV: I agree.

GB: I am going to Hawaii tonight—I want to talk to Wiesner about it.

ZB: My impression is that there is both a high degree of concern, some pre-disposition to do something and no organized effort and no serious planning and a great deal of waiting to see what kind of signals they will get from us. If we want to do anything, we have to get someone to organize it and come up with an estimate of what we would have to do to encourage it. —We have to make a fairly fundamental decision whether this is worth doing. If this is important enough to us we have to go ahead to plan to do the necessary things. If we do not take this effort, nothing much will happen.

GB: If we tell the Shah to send in a brigade and they get in a fight, what do we do then?

HB: A carrier task force will not be enough for taking care of that.

DA: Air power is the unique area where we can make an impact.

CV: I am not willing to use airpower.

GB: If we want to help the Somalis, we need to get into their hands surface-to-air missiles.

ZB: A marginal note by the President may be of interest to you: “Egypt and others need to move strongly—France and others need to back them.”3

HB: In specific terms that means that you encourage and help—but to do that you have to promise them that you will replace the equipment that they will use or transfer—and then you have to ask what happens if they start to get beaten by the Cubans.

DA: What about the fighting forces that these people might send in?

CV: If the Egyptians were to put any of their regular brigades in, they would be good fighters—but Sadat says that he is not willing to do this.

HB: To what extent is Sadat using all this as a Mideast lever on us?

[Page 121]

CV: Sadat told us that if they start moving toward the Sudan then he will go to war. But he is not willing to go to war for Somalia.

ST: We give the Sudanese a D rating on military capability.

CV: I see nothing wrong if Sadat wants to send down crews to man anti-aircraft weapons.

HB: That does not provide much political or military stiffening for the Somalis.

ZB: What are the international and domestic political implications of Somali defeat?

HB: Loss of Somali gains in the Ogaden does not cost anything. If Siad falls that may mean temporary Soviet hegemony in the Horn. The real problem is our unwillingness to stop a Soviet effort of this sort and our unwillingness to help other people.

CV: What is this going to do to the Saudis?

HB: It will make them conclude that the U.S. is a less reliable partner than they had hoped. They might raise the oil price. This would have a bad effect on NATO. But I think that 3–4–5 years from now, it will not have made any difference.

ZB: It will create a situation where there appears to be momentum for radical forces. In some places it will underline the feeling that the United States is not an active associate—if it is accompanied by lack of progress on the Middle East it would be a serious setback for us.

ZB: Domestically it is going to be very costly to the President. Angola was costly to Ford.

HB: But if we start down this road and the Congress will not allow us to transfer arms, then it will be much worse.

ZB: We must have consultations with Congress before we do anything dramatic.

CV: What are the consequences if what we are doing is to get ourselves involved in a war in Somalia? They are just as large if not larger than the consequences you outlined before.

ZB: But we must not be so traumatized by past experiences that the other side feels it can exploit situations of this sort to our disadvantage. I am not arguing for American ground involvement or air involvement. I think we should be willing to tell Sadat that we will be willing to replace equipment that he sends.

HB: I am willing to talk to the Iranians and Egyptians about what they would be willing to send if we were ready to replace what they use up.

ZB: We must tell them that we are not willing to enter a war. We want to complicate the Soviet planning, too.

HB: The Soviets will be unlikely to attack Iranian aid on its way to Somalia.

[Page 122]

ZB: How long are the Soviets willing to bleed? If we do nothing, we are going to have Cubans next in Rhodesia.

HB: Why do we respond to the Cubans only in East Africa? Why don’t we cause them difficulties closer to home?

ZB: How about Angola?

CV: The Tunney Amendment prevents our doing anything there.4

ZB: My strong feeling is that we are buying ourselves a real can of worms if we let the Soviets and Cubans prevail politically and internationally.

HB: I think the Egyptians and Iranians are going to ask for too much.

GB: How high is the price for the U.S.?

HB: If they ask for more than replacing equipment and a naval presence, then the price is too high.

GB: If the price is too high, we simply say no and back away from the whole situation.

ZB: We will stick to our diplomatic initiatives.

HB: Ethiopia will regain the Ogaden and the overthrow of Siad seems inevitable.

CV: I want to know more about what we are really suggesting when we say we will coordinate what is going on—if this doesn’t work we will have lost a lot more than we would have done otherwise.

HB: If we merely begin this process, we take on some obligation to continue on with it . . .

ZB: We should send in our ambassadors to talk to these heads of government5—if there is a tangible enough response, then we should send someone over to talk about coordination and joint effort—and at the same time we tell them we would be prepared to put in a naval task force.

HB: Your first step requires that we have a judgment in respect to the Congress.

CV: I am willing to have our ambassadors go in and then I want to see what the next step would be. We don’t want to get ourselves committed to anything without thinking it through.

[Page 123]

GB: I think the approach you have outlined guarantees defeat: consider our experiences with CENTO, and these are some of the same countries. CENTO can never work together on anything . . .

ZB: You would have to give them advice in order to get much coordinating action underway.

DA: I think it is very important to call what may be a bluff on the part of our friends. It is one thing for them to lay it all off on us. They will then get away with their fantasies and blame it on us.

CV: There may be other fora to do this in—we should use the UN to reinforce our diplomatic actions. We say we want the Somalis out and the Soviets and Cubans to go home. Why not use the UN for this?

CV: Perhaps the basic initiative should be limited to an Afro-Arab conference.

ZB: Do you want to consult with Andy Young?

CV: Yes.

ZB: Is it not in our national interest to make sure that there is not a Soviet-Cuban victory?

CV: What, precisely, does that mean? That’s what we used to say about Vietnam.

ZB: We must not let the memory of Vietnam dictate paralysis on every issue we face.

HB: It could be very similar to Vietnam in that you would get in a step at a time and not be able to turn back.

ZB: We should put in naval force to offset Soviet naval presence.

CV: If I were an Iranian, I would be very explicit on what I would expect from the U.S. in the form of support and backing for contingencies.

HB: If the Cubans overrun Somalis, we are not going to put in planes or troops to prevent it, are we? When do we go to the Congress on this?

CV: Until you have some better idea of what these countries say they are prepared to do and are convinced they are really going to do, it is unwise to go to Congress. I think we are trying to reach too far today—to reach conclusions for which we do not yet have enough facts.

HB: The only purpose is to examine what we have in the background.

ST: I think the problem is going to be settled in the next few weeks—Siad’s future depends on how fast he is defeated.

ZB: Can’t we find a way to give more support to UNITA?

ST: We are giving absolutely none; the Tunney Amendment prevents it.

[Page 124]

HB: Are you saying we should tell the French to do it?

ST: The French could act as catalysts for Saudi and Iranian money.

ZB: Is there anything else we can do to make it more costly for the Cubans?

HB: Send the South Africans against them in Angola? That sounds politically impossible.

ZB: What about gestures toward China?

HB: What the Russians are doing in the Horn should influence what we do with China. But we cannot expect that China will do anything in the Horn. Isn’t there something we can do economically to make life more difficult for the Cubans? What carrots and sticks do we have here?

ST: All these things depend on how rapidly the Somalis are rolled back.6

  1. Source: National Security Council, Carter Intelligence Files, Box 20, SCC Meetings, 1977–1980 Minutes. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. According to the Summary of Conclusions, which includes a list of participants, the meeting was held from 2:45 to 4:30 p.m. (Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional File, 1977–1981, Box 184, SCC 056 Horn of Africa, 2/10/78)
  2. Reference is to French President Giscard’s proposal for a conference of interested regional states, in order to lodge a formal protest of outside powers’ intervention in the region, appeal to the OAU to propose a peace settlement, provide Somalia with defensive arms to insure its protection, and elicit a promise from Somalia to evacuate the Ogaden. (Memorandum from Brzezinski to Carter, February 7; Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Box 45, Africa: Horn of Africa/Cubans in Ethiopia, 1–3/78)
  3. Not found.
  4. The 1976 Tunney Amendment to the 1975 Defense Appropriations Bill (P.L. 94–212) limited U.S. involvement in Angola to intelligence gathering.
  5. In telegram 37063 to selected diplomatic posts including Tehran, Cairo, Jidda, and Khartoum, February 11, the Department transmitted an outline of a possible basis for settlement in the Ogaden and instructed the addressees to inform the host governments of the U.S. plan. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780064–1201)
  6. According to the Summary of Conclusions (see footnote 1 above), the committee agreed to: improve intelligence-gathering capabilities; initiate outreach to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Sudan to assess their willingness to aid Somalia; keep a carrier task force near enough to the Horn in case deployment became desirable; discuss the Giscard initiative with Nigeria and Gabon; assess possible UN action; send David Aaron to Ethiopia; and ready shipments of spare parts to Ethiopia, pending events.