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

[Omitted here is an item unrelated to East Africa.]

2. What is Driving Amin? You are of course aware of every operational step that we are taking following Amin’s action with regard to American citizens in Uganda.2 For me to better understand what caused Amin to make this move, and to give me insights into how best to respond, I asked my research staff to analyze Amin’s motives. Here is what they came up with:

Although it is hard to know why Amin acts as he does in any given situation, in the present case he probably is reacting to foreign criticism of the latest wave of killings in Uganda. He also professes to fear a foreign attack although, again, it is hard to untangle when Amin really fears something and when, for some tendentious purpose, he says he does. [8 lines not declassified]3

Amin’s current behavior follows patterns well established over the past six years and is motivated by the following:

—He is seeking foreign scapegoats to divert popular attention from internal troubles and to keep his military opponents off balance. (There [Page 372] are at least half a dozen active plots against Amin, some involving the military and some the Ugandan political exiles headed by former President Milton Obote.)

—His cultural background causes Amin to blame other people rather than himself for his troubles. Over the years, the Israelis, Asians, British, foreign missionaries, and CIA have been identified as mischievous outsiders who try to sow dissension among Ugandans.

—He is immensely insecure and sees foreign missionaries (most of the 240 U.S. citizens are missionaries) as a source of opposition. Although he has expelled some missionaries, including Americans, and has curtailed church power, he still worries about the influence of the clergy and religious teachers over the Christian community—roughly half of the Ugandan population. This concern, rather than anti-Christian or anti-white sentiments as such, has been the key to his approach toward missionaries.

—He has a love-hate relationship with the West. His original takeover of the government in January 1971 met with Western approbation, but within the year the regime’s excesses, especially military bloodletting, and the expulsion of the Asian community, had tarnished its image and impaired relations with the UK and US in particular. Amin acts like a spurned suitor. He apparently still has a deep affection for the British and Israeli military who trained him, yet he regards these countries as his betrayers.

The continued absence of a U.S. Embassy in Kampala—closed in 1973, primarily because of the security situation—is interpreted by Amin as a rebuff to his periodic overtures for better relations. He regards U.S. military aid to Kenya as still additional evidence that we have lined up with his enemies.

The summoning of U.S. citizens in Uganda to a meeting on Monday is undoubtedly the prelude to a period of humiliation, harassment, and perhaps the expulsion of some or all of them. We doubt that Amin intends to harm them physically, unless he is convinced the U.S. really is involved in a military operation against him. But there is a great and ever-present danger of ill-treatment or murder by Amin’s barely-disciplined soldiers, either while the Americans are en route to Kampala or once they have arrived. (Another possibility is that Americans who do not hear of Amin’s summons in time may be summarily punished by Amin’s soldiers.)

Amin has bullied and humiliated Westerners on previous occasions, and in the 1975 case of a British citizen—Denis Hills—imprisoned and threatened to execute them, but he has stopped short of killing Westerners (in marked contrast to his killing of Ugandans). There is one exception: Amin probably ordered the killing of a British citizen—Mrs. Dora Bloch—in the aftermath of the Israeli raid on Entebbe. (Two [Page 373] Americans, a journalist and a graduate student who were investigating military purges, were killed in 1972 by Ugandan soldiers, but probably without Amin’s knowledge.)

[Omitted here are items unrelated to East Africa.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject Files, Box 17, Evening Reports (State), 2/11–28/77. Secret; Eyes Only. This memorandum was forwarded to Carter under a covering memorandum from Brzezinski, dated February 26.
  2. See Document 139.
  3. Carter initialed “C” in the left margin.