77. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (McGiffert) to Secretary of Defense Brown 1


  • The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and Cuban Military Involvement in the Horn of Africa; an Opportunity for U.S. Action—ACTION MEMORANDUM

Following up on your idea that the NAM could be used to exert pressure on Castro, I have done some quick preliminary analysis and have concluded that we should pursue this. While DoD has a limited role in developing this option, I recommend that you discuss it with Secretary Vance at the earliest opportunity. The schedule of NAM meetings dictate rapid consideration on our part.

U.S. Objectives

We want to make it difficult for Castro to expand his military involvement in Africa. While more precise objectives—deterrence of Cuban involvement in Eritrea or invasion of Somalia—might be desirable, we will miss opportunities if we focus too sharply on the specific situation which exists today. It is also clear that direct means, like military or covert action or economic sanctions, which are necessary for achieving a specific objective, are not viable options domestically. We have been through them on several occasions to no avail. (A summary of all the options that have been considered is attached.)2 We have neither the public support nor the political consensus to engage in such major actions. We must therefore look to the more general objective of lowering Castro’s propensity for military involvement. One possible way of doing so is to try to make Soviet support of Cuban overseas military involvement conflict with Castro’s aspirations to leadership of the third world.

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What Castro Wants

Castro clearly wants to establish himself as a third world leader. His involvement in wars of national liberation, his heavy commitment of personnel to his African programs, his rhetoric as defender of third world countries against imperialism, his virulent anti-U.S. campaign, and his diplomatic efforts to woo third world countries bear witness to his ambition. While he knows Soviet support in Africa is vital to his success he is very sensitive to the criticism that he is a Soviet stooge. These charges threaten his third world credentials. He must appear to be operating outside of the Soviet orbit.

Thus far criticism of Cuba’s role as a Soviet surrogate has been muted, in part because of the causes that Castro has supported. Little criticism has come from third world countries and these have been largely ineffective. The OAU will not condemn Cuba so long as the territorial integrity of member states is not threatened. The Arab League, while recently denouncing Cuban military involvement in Ethopia, was only able to do so after its more radical members boycotted the meeting. U.S. charges of late have been very mild and have had little impact. In the absence of strong third world criticism, Castro has concluded, and will continue to conclude, that military involvement in Africa, far from jeopardizing his drive for leadership of the third world, has actually enhanced his position.

The NAM has been silent. However, there are rumblings of dissatisfaction within the NAM; this undercurrent may form a basis for a real setback for Castro.

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)

Preparations have begun for the 1979 NAM Summit Meeting. The Non-Aligned Coordinating Committee (NACC) will meet in Kabul, Afghanistan, 6–10 May 1978, to develop a preliminary agenda. The foreign ministers will convene 25–29 July 1978 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and the Summit Meeting is scheduled for some time in 1979 (traditionally August) in Havana, Cuba. The Cubans are putting great effort into this meeting.

In recent discussions between Afghan President Daoud and Yugoslavia’s Tito an important segment dealt with Cuba’s overseas military role and the need to see that the NAM remains truly non-aligned. The two leaders are bothered by Cuban behavior. Tito, who has historically enjoyed a strong position in the NAM, is particularly concerned. He may also be concerned that his own leadership role in the NAM may be jeopardized by Cuban strength. Nevertheless he knows that a viable non-aligned movement requires more internal unity than exists today and surfacing the Cuban problem would not help in this regard. He is thus in a quandary. He must promote unity; he needs to deal with [Page 203] the potentially divisive issue of Cuban credentials. Other NAM members are aware that the issue of Cuba’s credentials will have to be either addressed or deftly swept under the rug. The Afghans seem to be leaning toward the latter. Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah departed 24 March for a three-week visit to a number of NAM member capitals. Apparently he is trying to ensure a NACC meeting free of confrontation. Cuba’s role in the NAM is one of the issues he would like to settle before the meeting.

We would like to see the NAM address the issue and Cuba’s credentials as a non-aligned state be brought under concerted attack. Indeed failure to address this issue would be a setback for us. Castro would likely take such failure as an implied endorsement of his military involvement in Africa. Since Cuba hosts the 1979 Summit and the host exercises control over both procedure and substance, Castro will probably be able to turn the meeting to his favor.

We do not know whether the current concern within the NAM over Cuba’s role is sufficiently strong to achieve what we want. We are also not sure that U.S. involvement in the issue will help our cause or be counterproductive. These points will have to be addressed by State in consultation with our embassies abroad. We do believe, however, that what happens at the 1979 NAM Summit and its preparatory meeting can have a significant impact on Castro’s future plans in Africa. This issue is also one we have a strong common interest with the PRC. Their relations with Havana are virtually non-existent and they have attacked Cuban intervention in Africa. There may be an opportunity for common action with China.

An Approach to the NAM

We could try to capitalize on NAM concern over Cuba by the following course of action:

—As soon as we can, approach friendly NAM members to express our views (Yugoslavia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Liberia are possibilities).

—Approach the PRC and see if they are willing to engage in parallel efforts with NAM members against the Cubans.

—Employ the following rubric:

—The credibility of the NAM is seriously threatened by Cuba’s actions as the Soviets’ military surrogate.

—Cuban link to Soviets is pervasive. (Offer to provide intelligence briefing on Soviet-Cuban military cooperation in Africa.)

—Silence on Cuba’s actions implies support.

—This would bring into question NAM’s role in larger issues and in the end could endanger public support in the U.S. for progress on North-South issues.

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—Request NAM members consider this as they prepare for upcoming summit.

—Suggest that Summit Conference consider putting Horn of Africa on the agenda, indicate its disapproval publicly, reconsider Cuba’s credentials to be a member of the NAM, or reevaluate having the 1979 summit in Havana.3

David E. McGiffert
  1. Source: Library of Congress, Harold Brown Papers, Box 50, 1978 Africa; Horn of Africa. Secret; Sensitive. A stamped notation indicates that Brown saw this memorandum. Beneath the notation, he wrote, “4/6, Save for meeting on Horn of Africa on 4/7. Ask D McG to transform with a memo to CV/ZB as he suggests in this written note. HB.” See footnote 3 below.
  2. Attached but not printed.
  3. McGiffert wrote below his signature, “I suggest we translate this into a memo from you to CV and ZB which could then be discussed at a subsequent lunch. Dave.”