78. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Eritrea

The SCC discussed our policy on Eritrea on March 27, focusing on three options:2

1. Keep our distance from the whole problem—essentially a continuation of what we have been doing for a long time.

2. Work actively for a negotiated solution, encouraging the Saudis, Sudanese and others to reduce their support for the insurgents.3

3. Encourage greater support for the insurgents so as to make the Ethiopian/Soviet/Cuban fight more costly and increase tension between the Ethiopians and the Soviets/Cubans.

The Secretary of Defense favors Option #1; the Secretary of State favors Option #1, too, but with more active encouragement of a negotiated solution or at least a strong declaration on our part that we favor it. The current CIA view is that a military solution in Eritrea will not [Page 205] be easy for the Ethiopians even with Soviet support. I believe that there will only be a negotiated solution if the Eritreans have some leverage by being able to defend themselves. I also believe that the Soviets (and Cubans, if they join in) should pay a high price for support of a military solution in Eritrea.4 Moreover, there may be advantages to bogging them down in Eritrea where they are politically vulnerable so as to make more difficult their intervention in Southern Africa.5

I agree with both the Secretaries of State and Defense that we should not get involved directly in providing support for the insurgents. That would have to come primarily from the Saudis but we could encourage them.6

Your decision:

1. Do nothing more than we have done to date _______

2. Support a negotiated solution more strongly

By public declarations only _______

By also suggesting reduced support for the insurgents _______

3. Encourage the Saudis and Sudanese to continue and increase their support for the Eritrean insurgents to make a negotiated solution possible, raise the cost to the Soviets and Cubans and thus make their intervention in Southern Africa more difficult7 _______

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files 1977–1981, Box 184, SCC 068 Horn of Africa, Cuba’s Role in Africa, 3/27/78. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for action. Carter wrote “C” in the upper right margin.
  2. See Document 76.
  3. Carter wrote “no” in the right margin.
  4. Excerpts of the SCC discussion are attached to an undated version of this memorandum. (Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Materials, Box 28, Meetings–SCC 68: 3/27/78)
  5. Carter wrote “Thus I prefer no. 3.” in the right margin.
  6. Carter wrote “agree” in the right margin.
  7. Carter checked none of these options but added and approved a fourth handwritten option, “Support a negotiated solution more strongly. Repeated public statements deploring violence and foreign military involvement. Let any foreign assistance to insurgents continue without our involvement.”