146. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Tarnoff) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Relations with Uganda

The Secretary agreed to provide the President with a report on the state of our relations with Uganda.2 The attached report addresses the steps we have taken with respect to Ugandan helicopter trainees and the provision of aircraft to Uganda. In addition, the report describes [Page 385] the state of Ugandan-American relations, reviews the climate of opinion in Congress and sets out further actions which we are contemplating.

Peter Tarnoff3
Executive Secretary


Paper Prepared in the Department of State4


  • Uganda

1. The Immediate Problem: Helicopter Trainees

The following steps we have taken should help to mitigate the embarrassment caused us by the discovery that a number of Ugandan police officers are attending helicopter training courses in Forth Worth, Texas, under the auspices of the Bell Helicopter Textron company, which sold 9 civilian model helicopters to the Ugandan police before we closed our Embassy in 1973:

—Prior to the furor over the training, the Secretary recommended to the Department of Commerce that it deny applications for export licenses for three new helicopters and one used Boeing 707 destined for Uganda, since these items would be likely to be used in support of the regime’s violations of human rights. Commerce has accepted this recommendation and Bell has indicated it will not fight the decision.

—We have instructed all diplomatic and consular posts to refer to the Department for advisory opinions all visa applications by Ugandan officials and anyone else traveling on Ugandan Government business.5 This enables us to prevent future travel by Ugandans to the US which we would deem to be incompatible with our human rights policy (e.g., police helicopter pilots).

—We have denied entry into the US of two additional Ugandan helicopter trainees who were issued visas with the rest of the group [Page 386] but had not yet arrived in this country when we learned of the program. We have also revoked the visas of two other trainees who have not yet arrived.

—We are actively considering asking Bell Helicopter and/or the Ugandans to terminate the training before its scheduled end (which for most of the trainees will be December 16, although for some the training may continue until toward the end of January).

Official action to terminate the training is an option open to us: we could revoke the visas as “prejudicial to the public interest” under Section 212 (a) (27) of the Immigration and Nationality Act and request the trainees to leave the country. However, if they refused to leave, our legal grounds for expelling them would be shaky: that section of the law has never been used to revoke a visa and expel an alien after his admission to this country.

2. What Amin Can Do to Us

A factor we must keep constantly in mind, as we move in other ways against Uganda, is our desire to avoid so direct and open a confrontation between the US Government and Idi Amin that he is impelled to retaliate against us. Despite our efforts to persuade Americans living in Uganda to leave, and to secure the support of parent organizations in the US in this effort, there remain some 240 Americans in Uganda whom Amin can treat as hostages in the manner he did last February.6 The most vulnerable members of the American community in Uganda are the Christian missionaries who make up about one-third of the total: while most of the Americans apparently feel secure because they are performing essential jobs, the missionaries’ security is particularly questionable as Moslem Amin’s wrath takes on an increasingly anti-Christian tone.

3. Congressional Attitudes

Congressman Pease (D., Ohio) has taken the lead in urging Congressional action against Uganda. He has introduced three basic bills which would, respectively, ban imports of Ugandan coffee, ban all Ugandan imports and ban all US exports to Uganda. He is also considering introducing a resolution calling for the closure of the Ugandan Embassy in Washington. He has succeeded in obtaining significant liberal and conservative co-sponsorship. Observers of the Congressional scene report that anti-Uganda sentiment on the Hill is so widespread that the Pease measures would pass overwhelmingly if they were put to a vote at this moment.7

[Page 387]

In our discussions on the Hill, we have pointed out that the use of trade sanctions against Uganda could increase pressure for their use elsewhere, notably South Africa; that, indeed, our relations with black African leaders, even such an outspoken critic of Amin as Nyerere, would suffer serious damage if we were to impose trade sanctions on Uganda after having vetoed an African Security Council resolution to impose similar sanctions on South Africa.8 We have also noted that such measures are of dubious effectiveness, given the likelihood that Uganda can find other trading partners to replace us, and that in any case such actions of ours are unlikely to rectify the human rights situation in Uganda.

Congressman Pease acknowledges these arguments. He nonetheless sees value in disassociating the US completely from the Amin regime and feels that its human rights record is so unrelievedly egregious as to minimize the possibility that actions against Uganda will be precedent-setting. He also feels that if trade measures could be instituted to slow or halt the flow of goods which buys the loyalty of Amin’s soldiers, this could lead to Amin’s overthrow (though he admits that Amin’s immediate successor may be no improvement). In his opinion, the US should take the lead on this and seek cooperation from Uganda’s other trade partners. Pease accepts our view that the existence of the Uganda Embassy in Washington was extremely useful to us for direct access to Amin during the February crisis and could fill this role again. However, he is concerned that allowing the Embassy to operate confers some degree of respectability on the Amin regime and he wonders if the need for direct access could not be achieved through the Uganda Mission to the UN.

4. The Current US-Uganda Official Relationship

Aside from the specific steps we have taken in the context of the helicopter trainees, our official treatment of Uganda has been decidedly cool since we closed our Embassy there in 1973:

—Our interests in Uganda are protected by the FRG Embassy but we have no official American personnel there.

—The Uganda Embassy in Washington is kept at the Charge d’Affaires level.

—We send no congratulatory messages to Amin nor do we respond to messages from him.

[Page 388]

—We discourage all Americans from traveling to or residing in Uganda.

—We terminated our AID program and withdrew the Peace Corps contingent in 1973.

—US representatives to international development banks are under instructions to oppose and vote against loans to Uganda.

—We have for the past several years maintained an informal arms embargo against Uganda. Though unannounced, we have not approved any applications for export licenses for items on the munitions list.

—When approached by American business representatives interested in doing business with Uganda, we have described the situation in Uganda factually and have suggested that firms might wish to consider the effect on their reputation of having an association with Amin’s Uganda.

—Both you and Andy Young have openly criticized Uganda’s record of human rights violations.9

5. Further US Actions

We have, in short, maintained an officially unfriendly relationship with Uganda. In the context of criticisms of us for leaning heavily on South Africa for its human rights violations while ignoring Uganda, the fact is that we have been officially much harsher toward Uganda than toward South Africa.

Additional steps we could realistically take to underscore our abhorrence of the Amin regime and respond to Congressional concerns include the extension of our de facto arms embargo to include all items for use by the Uganda military and police (parallel to our action with respect to South Africa) and a lobbying effort to secure greater support from the Africans and others at the UN (and the UN Human Rights Commission) for international condemnation of the Amin regime. We hope that the cumulative effect of all the measures we have instituted against Uganda will by January, when hearings on the Pease bills are planned, have put further distance between us and Amin. Hopefully, this will enable us to persuade Congress that the contemplated legislative action would have so negligible an incremental effect on Amin as not to justify the risk of establishing a precedent for using trade policy as a political weapon and, in the process, forcing a confrontation with Amin which could jeopardize the Americans who perversely insist on remaining in Uganda.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 76, Uganda: 1/78–1/81. Confidential.
  2. See Document 145.
  3. Wisner signed for Tarnoff above Tarnoff’s typed signature.
  4. Confidential.
  5. In telegram 263166 to all diplomatic and consular posts, November 3, the Department transmitted instructions on visas for Ugandan officials and those traveling on behalf of the Ugandan government. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770405–0904)
  6. See Document 139.
  7. See footnote 4, Document 145.
  8. The Security Council met October 10–November 4 to consider the situation in South Africa. One of four draft resolutions called on governments to refrain from making loans to or investments in South Africa. The resolution was not adopted due to negative votes by permanent members of the Security Council, including the United States. (Yearbook of the United Nations, 1977, pp. 144–145)
  9. See footnote 2, Document 137.