Structure and Scope of the Foreign Relations Series

This volume is part of a subseries of volumes of the Foreign Relations series that documents the most important issues in the foreign policy of the administration of Jimmy Carter. This section on the Horn of Africa is one of three parts of Volume XVII on Africa. It traces the administration’s handling of the war in the Ogaden Desert and subsequent Soviet and Cuban intervention. Additional documentation on Africa is in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XVI, Southern Africa, Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XVII, Part 2, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, XVII, Part 3, North Africa.

Focus of Research and Principles of Selection for Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XVII, Part 1

The focus of this volume is on the Carter administration’s approach to events in the Horn of Africa and includes relations with Ethiopia, Somalia, and Djibouti (before and after its independence). The conflict in the Horn of Africa from 1977 to 1978 was one of the first foreign policy crises for the Carter administration, and as such, served as an early part of Carter’s foreign policy education. First, the Ethiopian revolution’s leftward turn and a new arms agreement with the Soviet Union tested the administration’s stated intentions to not view all African problems as East-West problems. Nonetheless, administration officials were tempted to provide arms to Somalia for precisely those Cold War concerns. Second, the Soviet and Cuban intervention on behalf of Ethiopia in the Ogaden War tested the feasibility of U.S.-Soviet détente. Washington hoped to use the prospects of bilateral agreements, particularly on arms control, as leverage for influencing Moscow’s international behavior. The Soviet intervention in the Horn, which occurred at the same time that Washington and Moscow were engaged in Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II), indicated to the administration that détente was not suceeding. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski engaged in some contentious debates on the proper U.S. response to the Soviet and Cuban intervention and the idea of linking progress on SALT to Soviet withdrawal from the Horn of Africa. Vance argued that the importance of achieving an arms limitations agreement far out-weighed U.S. frustration with the Soviet military presence in Africa. Brzezinski argued that the United States could not simply allow the Soviet Union to get away with its intervention in Ethiopia or else Moscow would be further [Page X] emboldened to take advantage of other conflicts on the continent. Ultimately, Vance and Carter did raise the issue several times with their Soviet counterparts, exacerbating bilateral tensions.

This volume does not include documents on base negotiations with Somalia in 1979 and 1980. Since the administration treated this goal as part of its overall Middle East strategic planning, these discussions can be found in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XVIII, Middle East Region; Arabian Peninsula


The editor wishes, in particular, to acknowledge the assistance of officials at the Jimmy Carter Library. The editor collected and selected documentation and edited the volume under the supervision of Myra Burton, Chief of the Africa and the Americas division, and Adam M. Howard, General Editor of the Foreign Relations series. The volume was reviewed by Myra Burton and Stephen Randolph, Historian of the Department of State. Chris Tudda coordinated the declassification review under the supervision of the Carl Ashley, Chief of the Declassification Division. Mandy A. Chalou, Rita Baker, and Craig Daigle did the copy and technical editing. Do Mi Stauber prepared the index.

Louise Woodroofe, Ph.D.