Structure and Scope of the Foreign Relations Series

This volume documents the Carter administration’s formation of U.S. policy toward the Middle East region, with particular attention paid to strategic interests in the Gulf, the Indian Ocean region, Arabian Peninsula states, and Iraq. The volume is best read in conjunction with other volumes in the subseries, in order to understand the breadth and scope of U.S. relations throughout the Middle East region. The most important of these volumes include: Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, January 1977–August 1978; Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. IX, Arab-Israeli Dispute, August 1978–December 1980; Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. 1977–1980, vol. X, Iran: Revolution, January 1977–November 1979; and Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XI, Part 1 and Part 2, Iran: Hostage Crisis, November 1979–January 1981. Documentation on oil and energy issues is in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXVII, Energy Crisis, 1974–1980. For U.S. bilateral relations with Iraq in the last 6 months of 1980, see Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. XX, Iran; Iraq, April 1980–January 1985.

Focus of Research and Principles of Selection for Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XVIII

This volume represents the range of diplomatic and political issues that affected the Carter administration’s policies toward the Middle East and Indian Ocean region as well as bilateral relations with the Arabian Peninsula states and Iraq. Additionally, the challenges to U.S. interests created by the shifting strategic balance in Southwest Asia provide a common thread that runs through all of the compilations in the volume.

To a significant extent, Carter and his advisers viewed their situation in the Middle East through a Cold War lens. From the outset, the administration focused its essential policy toward the region on strengthening relations with U.S. partners like Saudi Arabia, cultivating new relationships with the recently independent Gulf states, and reestablishing relations with states like the Yemen Arab Republic and Iraq. At the same time, the administration sought to manage and mitigate Soviet influence in the region both diplomatically in the case of the 1977–1978 Indian Ocean arms control talks and militarily in support of the Yemen Arab Republic and Saudi Arabia against perceived threats from Soviet-backed states like the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen.

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In 1979, however, two events prompted the administration to dramatically raise its strategic engagement in the region. The end of the Shah of Iran’s rule in February and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December pushed U.S. policymakers to seek a new security framework centered on the Gulf. Although some officials, like Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Zbigniew Brzezinski, had long pushed for the creation of a Rapid Deployment Force in the Gulf region, the events of 1979 highlighted the need for a more robust U.S. military capacity to meet the challenges of the new security environment as well as future threats across Southwest Asia and the northern arc of the Indian Ocean. Carter articulated this new imperative in his January 1980 State of the Union Address, in which he held that the United States would use military force to protect its interests in the Middle East. This position became known popularly as the “Carter Doctrine.”

The new regional challenges which emerged led the administration to abandon some earlier goals and refocus its energies on others. In the Indian Ocean, the United States abandoned its demilitarization dialogue with the Soviet Union. With the loss of its military proxy in Iran and with Soviet forces on the ground in Afghanistan, Carter and his foreign policy advisers began to view the Indian Ocean as a vital staging area for U.S. regional deterrence efforts. In the same vein, the drive to increase U.S. military presence in Southwest Asia, which after March 1980 took form as the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, prompted Washington to seek access and basing rights across the region.


The editor wishes to acknowledge the assistance of officials at the Carter Library, Atlanta, Georgia, especially Ceri McCarron and James Yancey. Special thanks are due to the Historical Staff of the Central Intelligence Agency, who were extremely helpful in arranging full access to the files of the Central Intelligence Agency. The editor would like to also thank Sandy Meagher, for her valuable assistance in expediting the use of Department of Defense files.

Kelly M. McFarland, Richard Moss, and Craig Daigle collected documentation for this volume and Kelly M. McFarland selected and edited it, under the supervision of Adam Howard, then Chief of the Middle East and Africa Division, and the direction of Susan C. Weetman, the former General Editor of the series. Adam Howard and Kristin Ahlberg reviewed the volume. Chris Tudda coordinated the declassification review, under the supervision of Carl Ashley, Chief of the Declassification Division. Stephanie Eckroth and Rita Baker did the copy and technical editing. Do Mi Stauber Indexing Service prepared the index.

Kelly M. McFarland