3. Memorandum From Samuel Huntington of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Africa in the Soviet-American Balance

I. Africa in Context

1. Africa is the latest, the last, and will be, perhaps, the worst area of instability and conflict resulting from the end of the European colonial empires, a process which began immediately after World War II and which has seen the withdrawal of the British, French, Dutch, Belgians, and Portuguese from the Eastern Mediterranean (Greece and Cyprus), the Middle East, South Asia, North Africa, and Southeast Asia.

2. These withdrawals involved conflicts between the colonial power and indigenous nationalist groups, between contending indigenous groups, and between outside powers and forces attempting to fill the vacuum. Although British, French, and Belgian colonial rule in Africa substantially came to an end in the 1960s, the full consequences of that termination are only now being felt, in part, because of the comparatively low level of economic and political development of Africa at the time of independence and in part because of the continued active role of the European powers, particularly France, in many parts of the Continent.

3. The end of the European presence creates vacuums which can be filled in one or more of three ways:

(a) by indigenous nationalist forces (as in India under Nehru or Egypt under Nasser);

(b) by U.S. influence (Greece in 1947, Iran in 1954);

(c) by Soviet influence or communist forces (Indochina; Indonesia in the 1960s).

II. The Bases of Soviet Influence

1. Compared to the other ex-colonial regions, Africa presents many more opportunities for Soviet influence because:

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a. Traditional, pre-colonial political and social systems were at comparatively low levels of development and do not provide a heritage and experience which can be effectively drawn in the post-colonial era.

b. The European colonial impact on Africa was, in most cases, relatively short and consequently did not leave a residue of political institutions which could (as in India) provide an initial framework for post-colonial political stability.

c. At the time of independence, most African countries were at very low levels of economic, social, and educational development.

d. As a result of these factors, indigenous political groups have been comparatively weak in leadership organization, cohesion, and effectiveness.

e. The presence of white settler regimes in Rhodesia and South Africa creates a natural target for the Soviets and inhibitions for U.S. policy.

f. Unlike the situation in other ex-colonial regions, the intense era of post-colonial conflict and instability in Africa comes at a time of Soviet-American strategic parity and after the development by the Soviets of their capabilities to project overseas either their own or satellite (Cuban) military forces.

g. This era of conflict and instability in Africa also comes at a time, post-Watergate and post-Vietnam, when the confidence of the U.S. public in governmental leadership and institutions, although rising, is still low and when leaders of public opinion remain gun-shy about anything resembling another Vietnam.

2. As a result of these and other factors, the Soviets have been able to establish positions of influence in a number of countries scattered about Africa, most notably Guinea, Libya, Somalia, Congo-Brazzaville, Mozambique, Angola. The indications of their desire to extend their influence more broadly are clear.

3. The influence of other outside powers in Africa, including the residual influence of the colonial powers (Britain and France) and the more recent influence of the Chinese, is declining.

4. The United States has not had major interests in Africa and has, at present, few and rather questionable sources of support there: e.g., Kenya, Morocco, Liberia, Zaire, and not much else.

III. Consequences of Soviet Influence

1. All these considerations mean that Africa is probably the worst region in the world for a confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union or Soviet-backed forces.

2. In the absence of major changes in African political development or major U.S. economic, political, and military commitments to Africa, [Page 7] Soviet influence in Africa is thus likely to grow significantly during the next decade.

3. This growth of Soviet influence may well result in a draining away of Soviet resources with little permanent gain, with African governments which have been dependent on the Soviets eventually detaching themselves from the Soviet embrace in the manner of Egypt or Indonesia. On the other hand, some African governments may become (because of their economic, military, and political weakness) so dependent on Soviet support that they are (on the Cuban model) unable or unwilling to break that tie.

4. The growth of Soviet influence in Africa will be perceived in Africa and in other countries as a victory for the Soviets and as a setback for the United States. Depending upon the extent and nature of the growth of that influence, it could produce a backlash in the U.S., particularly among black groups, over the “loss” of Africa (analogous to the 1949–1954 backlash about the “loss” of China).

IV. Possibilities for U.S. Policy

Given all these factors, the U.S. should not become deeply involved in a major effort to stop head-on the expansion of Soviet influence in Africa. Instead, the U.S. should pursue a damage-limiting strategy designed:

(1) to minimize the opportunities for Soviet influence in the Continent by mediating—in so far as this is possible—peaceful solutions to problems;

(2) to attempt to increase the risks to the Soviets by warning of the seriousness with which we would view any additional direct Soviet military involvement on the Continent and by linking Soviet expansion there to other issues;

(3) to minimize the consequences of Soviet expansion by avoiding identification with probable losers in intra-African confrontations. If any situation should arise where U.S. commitments require U.S. support for one party in an intra-African military conflict, our support should be overwhelming, dramatic, decisive, and brief—leaving no doubt from the start that the U.S. has committed its full power and “face” to the side of its ally. We should not go into an African military conflict incrementally as we did in Vietnam—and we should recognize that bureaucratic and political reasons make it very difficult to cut-off the process of American involvement once it begins. That process of slow involvement usually produces too-little too-late to help our ally and yet also results, at some point, a major commitment of American prestige.

(4) to limit Soviet expansion by attempting to develop and maintain a few key positions of strength in Africa. For the next few years, South [Page 8] Africa will be one such bastion, but it clearly will not remain that unless it can make progress toward a peaceful resolution of its racial problem. The second most powerful country in sub-Saharan Africa is Nigeria. Nigeria has the people (in numbers and education), oil, a tradition of reasonably effective political authority, and a lingering British residue, which could make it the Brazil of Africa in the coming decade. The factors that favor the Soviets in Africa are generally weaker in Nigeria than elsewhere in the continent. It should become a principal target of U.S. effort to develop support in Africa.

(5) to counterbalance Soviet involvement in Africa by strengthening our position in other regions surrounding Africa and thereby, in a broad geo-political sense, contain Soviet influence there. U.S. relations with Brazil, for instance, should not be allowed to deteriorate. The U.S. position in the Middle East should be further developed, which would clearly limit what the Soviets could do in Africa. And with Soviet attention on Africa, the U.S. should attempt to improve significantly its relations with India.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Box 118, Zaire: 3/77–12/78. Secret.