147. Memorandum From Henry Richardson of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1

SUBJECT

  • Our Current Lack of Tactical Options in a Uganda Crisis

This afternoon I attended an interagency meeting at State to review contingency plans for a possible Ugandan crisis. The meeting reviewed the situation, and set up a Task Force to produce a contingency plan on an accelerated basis, but this will take at least a week.2 Such a plan is to be distinguished from the paper on general policy options which State will send over tomorrow or Friday.3

The point of this memo is that the general consensus of the meeting was that the United States at the moment has no contingency plan for dealing with the situation where Idi Amin decides to, for whatever reason, hold some or all of the 240 American citizens in Uganda hostage in response to one of several kinds of events, including US action. Such a crisis does not at the moment exist, but it could arise very fast.

The meeting reviewed various factors:

—the widely dispersed nature of the Americans throughout Uganda and the difficulty in communicating with them;

—the apparent lassitude of the West Germans in ascertaining their exact circumstances;

—a review of the February Ugandan crisis, concluding that we resolved that crisis as much through luck as skill and that the same tactics may not work the second time around;4

—decided to set up an interagency task force on a priority basis, coordinated by State, to develop a set of tactical crisis options incor[Page 390]porating diplomatic, military, and psychological strategies for the President;

—the probability that any military option would be a very messy one.

I felt very keenly as the meeting wore on, the lack of basis for intelligent choices that could at this moment be put before the President, and therefore stressed the need to move both quickly and confidentially. (It was remembered that in February Amin offered to come over and join our task force!)

There was general sentiment that a number of factors could trigger a crisis, and until the most intelligent tactical options possible were presented to the President, we should avoid situations and words which might trigger Amin’s anger. I concur strongly in this recommendation.

I, in conjunction with Dick Moose, will push State and the Task Force to produce these options for the President as soon as possible. In the meantime, State will take actions to upgrade our information, and will specifically approach the Germans at a high level with precise requests for their assistance through their embassy in Kampala towards more precisely ascertaining the whereabouts and exact circumstances of all the American citizens in Uganda.

RECOMMENDATION:

—That State’s general policy options paper be taken to the President at the same time and not before a tactical options paper.

—That you orally advise the President of the desirability of he, Andy Young, the Vice President, the Secretary of State and you not making inflammatory statements or denunciations of Amin during this particular period of a week or ten days until tactical options are developed.

—That you discuss the general situation with Christopher.

—That if necessary to support State’s efforts, you, the Vice President, or the President be willing to certify the importance to key Congressmen during this interim period of not taking overtly antagonistic public acts while our Uganda crisis policy is in an embryonic stage. This task will be made somewhat easier by the upcoming Congressional recess, at the end of which we will presumably have both a tactical and a general policy. The sentiment at today’s meeting was that somewhat higher than working level approaches to Congress might be necessary.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, General Odom File, Box 56, Uganda: 2/77–2/78. Secret. Outside the System. Sent for action. Copies were sent to Tuchman, Thornton, Odom, and Schecter. An unknown hand wrote “Col. Odom” in the upper right corner.
  2. In a December 23 memorandum to Aaron, Richardson described the Task Force’s contingency plan in case Amin took U.S. citizens as hostages. The plan included radio communication over Voice of America and the British Broadcasting System (BBC), getting help from the West German Embassy, requesting assistance from other African countries, sending a high-ranking U.S. official to Kampala, and military options. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 76, Uganda 1–12/77)
  3. See Document 148.
  4. See Documents 138 and 139.