74. Memorandum From Thomas Thornton of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) and the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Aaron)1


  • Zaire—Cautionary Thoughts

We have no very good idea of who is doing what to whom and why in Zaire. We may be facing a major Cuban-Soviet-inspired test of wills designed to overthrow Mobutu and discredit us. More likely, Neto is stoking the Katangan insurgency to discourage further Zairean support to Angolan insurgents and is playing by ear to see if even this small push might cause Mobutu’s downfall.

I cannot see that it is in our interest to prop Mobutu up beyond routine military re-supply if he is confronting a prolonged Katangan insurgency with limited outside support. If he cannot handle it himself, he probably is not worth saving.

If there is a large Angolan/Cuban involvement, we are in for a difficult time and will have to rethink much of our African policy. It seems unlikely, though, that Angola would get heavily involved, given their own insurgency problems. They know that we (not to mention the South Africans) could turn that pressure up considerably.

Even if there turns out to be a modest Cuban involvement, we are dealing here with an African problem that should be handled through African channels—the OAU if possible. Our principal interest is to see that the Soviets—and we—play as minor a role as possible. Most Africans share this perspective.

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We have a long-term interest in the stability of Zaire and perhaps a short-term interest in supporting Mobutu. Our credibility is not at stake, however. We bear no responsibility for whatever trouble Mobutu has gotten himself into. Short of major Cuban/Soviet involvement, there is no issue of principle involved for us.

Our policy approach should therefore be along these lines:

—Actions and statements should be very low key, playing down the idea of Soviet/Cuban involvement unless it becomes clear that they are deeply involved and present a serious threat.2

—In talking to the Soviets and Cubans we should not throw down any gauntlets. We are on spongy ground with Mobutu and may not have the capability to win an all-out shoving match.3

—We should encourage African mediation, recognizing that such an effort may not come out wholly to the liking of Mobutu. That is his problem, not ours.

—We should get these points across to Mobutu and support at the present level of threat should be limited to modest resupply.

The actions we have taken thus far seem to be moving in the right direction. They should be strengthened, however, with a more explicit rationale, and monitored closely to ensure that they do not gain an independent momentum.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 87, Zaire: 1–12/77. Secret. Sent for information. Carter initialed the upper right corner with a “C.”
  2. Carter wrote “agree” in the right margin next to this point.
  3. Carter placed a checkmark next to this and the remaining three points.