91. Summary of Conclusions of a Special Coordination Committee Meeting1


  • Follow up on Security Framework in the Persian Gulf—XVI


  • State

    • Secretary Edmund Muskie
    • Deputy Secretary Warren Christopher
    • David Newsom, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
  • Defense

    • Secretary Harold Brown
    • Deputy Secretary W. Graham Claytor
    • Under Secretary for Policy, Robert Komer
  • JCS

    • Chairman, General David Jones
    • General Paul F. Gorman, Director, Plans and Policy
  • CIA

    • Director, Admiral Stansfield Turner
    • Robert Ames, NIO for Near East and South Asia
  • OMB

    • Director, James McIntyre
    • Deputy Director, John White
  • White House

    • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
    • David Aaron
  • NSC

    • General William E. Odom
    • General Jasper Welch
    • Captain Gary Sick

Dr. Brzezinski opened the meeting by listing two major agenda items: (a) the JCS paper on defense of the Persian Gulf and Iran,2 and (b) possible Muskie/Gromyko talking points. (S)

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The JCS Strategy Paper

Brown pointed out that the three strategies, (1) defense on the Soviet/Iranian border, (2) defense of southern Iran, and (3) defense of the Persian Gulf, are not mutually exclusive. As our capabilities increase, each becomes more feasible. (S)

General Jones emphasized that “deterrence” is the substance of the JCS paper. None of our three defense options can stop a Soviet invasion of the 16–20 divisions. Our upper level of force projection would be about two divisions in the region. We cannot sustain more with our present water, POL, and other logistical capabilities. The JCS paper is unambiguous in its assertion that we cannot defend Iran on any line today against a determined Soviet attack. We simply do not have the forces. (TS)

The remainder of the discussion on the JCS paper concerned how to deter even though we lack the capabilities to defend if deterrence fails. In spreading the conflict geographically, i.e. “horizontal escalation” as opposed to “vertical escalation” with nuclear weapons, it was agreed that the Soviets have nothing abroad that we could take which equals in importance to them what Iran and the oil producing regions in the Gulf are to the U.S. and its allies. The problem of deterrence in Iran was also likened to NATO’s defense of Western Europe in the early 1950s when we did not have the military capabilities. (TS)

Dr. Brzezinski suggested that Defense should work on a list of “horizontal escalation” options even if they do not look promising at present. (TS)

Muskie interpreted the Defense paper and the deterrence actions it suggests as a formula for moving toward World War III. He said that limited options and “signaling” simply are not credible. The French see Iran only as a “regional” matter. Neither they nor the Germans are worried about a Soviet invasion of Iran. If we are to deter, we must achieve that before the Soviets invade. The signaling steps recommended, in Muskie’s view, are only likely to frighten the Saudis who are already sufficiently frightened, but uncooperative. Our actions, unlike the secret Soviet contingency exercises, can be seen publicly in the region. We may look provocative and provide a basis for precisely the Soviet intervention we want to deter. (TS)

There were differing opinions on the extent to which the Europeans appreciate the implications of Soviet military and political hegemony in the Persian Gulf and whether they would be willing or have the capabilities to do anything militarily to defend Iran. All agreed that if the Soviets succeed in the Persian Gulf region, Western Europe’s freedom from the Soviet Union would be lost. The enormity of the strategic stakes, however, may not be clear to Europeans. (TS)

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Dr. Brzezinski expressed the view that we must communicate directly to the Soviet leadership that their entry into Iran will create a direct U.S./Soviet military conflict. We can do this privately without provoking the reactions that the “signaling” moves in the region might create. Muskie indicated that two opportunities for such a communication are before us: first, the Gromyko letter, and second the Muskie/Gromyko meeting up in New York.3 (TS)

There was lengthy discussion of this proposal, including doubts about its credibility and the alternative of trying to raise Western Europe’s concern to a level appropriate with the enormity of strategy implications. In the end there was agreement to develop an approach to the Soviets for review at the next SCC. (S)

Defense’s List of Possible Actions

A brief discussion of Defense’s list of possible signaling actions led to the conclusion that none be recommended for decision today. Those will be pulled out for review at the next SCC which we could well do within our present security framework efforts in any case.4 (S)

In response to a question by Dr. Brzezinski, General Jones said that we could test Turkish feeling about TacAir deployed to Incirlik. The Turks are asking us about increased Soviet activity in the Transcaucasus. (TS)

McIntyre expressed concern about the shortages of O&M funds for any increased exercises or preparatory activities in the region. Defense, he said, will need this in particular if the list of actions includes TacAir deployments to Turkey and a RDJTF headquarters deployment to the region this fall. (TS)

Dr. Brzezinski summed up the meeting by making the following points:

1. CIA and DIA will provide a briefing at the next SCC on what we might tell our allies in Europe and the region about the Sovietthreat. (TS)

2. The Aaron/Komer/Newsom/Carlucci group will: (a) develop talking points for Muskie to communicate our concerns over Iran to Gromyko, (b) draft a short non-paper which might be given to Gromyko,5 and (c) scrub the Defense action list. (TS)

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3. A selected list of Defense actions will be recommended for the SCC on Friday, and Defense will report on horizontal escalation possibilities. (TS)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, General Odom File, Box 48, Security Framework: Minutes of Meeting: 9/80. Top Secret. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room.
  2. Not found.
  3. No letter from Gromyko was found. He and Muskie met in New York on September 25. For a memorandum of conversation of their meeting, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Document 302.
  4. The Summary of Conclusions of the September 5 SCC meeting is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XI, Iran: Hostage Crisis, November 1979–January 1981.
  5. Not found. Muskie read the “non-paper” to Gromyko during their September 25 meeting.