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


  • Iran and Pakistan

Re the attached:2

I have indeed given quite a bit of thought to this question, particularly in connection with Newsom’s recent visit.3 (You got copies of some of the things that I wrote in that connection;4 I can send additional ones to you if you want.)

[Page 15]

The Newsom trip in itself was a move to show our concern over the Southwest Asia regional problem and in his conversations in the area Newsom stressed our regional approach to problems.

We could go somewhat further and focus more on defense cooperation; at a minimum, we should reiterate at all possible opportunities our regional approach.

What we should look for is a regional arrangement that includes Iran, Pakistan and India.5 The key is to get Iran and India together first and then draw Pakistan in.6 If Iran and Pakistan should team up first, that would risk alienating India and would undercut our policy in southern Asia.

We should not of course seek to play the kind of role that we did in the formation of the Baghdad Pact. Those days are past, both in terms of the international situation and our own perceived interests and capabilities.

If there is going to be defense cooperation, it will have to emerge out of the situation in the region. I think it is very unlikely that we would ever see formal pacts, joint staffs or anything of the kind. Even joint exercises would be pretty far down the way. There should, and can, however, be a growing sense that the security of these three countries is interrelated—and this should become clear to those who might mount possible threats. This might be better termed political, rather than defense cooperation.

The problem is not a mechanical, cross-border attack kind of threat. All of the defense pacts in the world could not have forestalled what happened to Daoud—or what some day may happen to the Shah. A manifested sense of shared security concern would, however, deter the Soviets from taking advantage of developing situations.

In sum, I see virtue in having our people continue and intensify the kinds of approach that Newsom took and, particularly with the Shah, being somewhat more explicit about our hopes for regional security (and political and economic) cooperation. Until Pakistani sensitivities have cooled down over the nuclear and Bhutto matters,7 however, there is little that the Iranians or we can do to move matters ahead.8 Over the longer term, in dealing with the Pakistanis, we should make increasingly clear our belief that they must find their security within [Page 16] their own region, rather than looking outside. (That is why I am opposed to CENTO.)

I have coordinated these comments informally with Gary Sick. He, in turn, showed me his memo on Iran and NATO.9 I strongly support most of the negative considerations that he put forth, and am skeptical about the positive ones. To hit a few high points:

(1) From the South Asian perspective, an Iranian NATO link would make impossible the kind of Southwest Asian regional security understandings discussed above. Aside from that, it would be seen as a threat by India and promote closer Indo-Soviet ties.

(2) In my personal view, this is not the sort of thing that lies at the heart of NATO. NATO (or the trilateral relationship, if you prefer) is a grouping of like-minded people with similar values. Iran just does not belong and including it would weaken NATO. I am surprised that the European Cluster was not more negative.10

(3) Again, the kind of threat that the Shah faces—internal for the most part—is simply not containable by a military alliance. The Dulles pacts were anachronistic because they defended against the wrong kind of threat. NATO plus Iran would be similarly flawed.

(4) I know little about military matters, but stretching NATO capabilities that far impresses me as unwise. Do we even think that we could defend Asiatic Turkey?

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Outside the System File, Box 51, Chron: 10/8–21/78. Secret; Sensitive. Outside the System. In the top right-hand corner of the first page of the memorandum, Brzezinski wrote: “OK—persuasive—what concrete steps should be taken? ZB.”
  2. Attached but not printed is an August 7 memorandum to Thornton in which Brzezinski asked: “Have you been giving any thought in what way, if at all, we ought to be either encouraging or assisting the development of some common defense arrangements between Iran and Pakistan, and perhaps even some form of cooperation between Iran and India, in the light of developments in Afghanistan? Or is that unnecessary?” On April 28, Communist forces in Afghanistan led by Nur Muhammad Taraki overthrew the Daoud Khan government. For the coup’s effect on U.S.-Pakistani relations, see Documents 276, 278, 283, and 293.
  3. For Newsom’s visit to Pakistan, see Documents 293295. Documentation on Newsom’s visit to Tehran is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. X, Iran: Revolution, January 1977–November 1979. He also visited India (see footnote 6, Document 106, and Document 107), Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia.
  4. Not further identified.
  5. Brzezinski underlined the words “Iran,” “Pakistan,” and “India.”
  6. In this sentence, Brzezinski underlined the words “is to get Iran and India” and “then draw Pakistan in.”
  7. See Documents 282 and 272, respectively.
  8. Brzezinski drew a horizontal line in the left-hand margin next to this section of this paragraph.
  9. Not further identified.
  10. Brzezinski made a checkmark in the left-hand margin next to this paragraph. Reference is to the European Cluster of the NSC Staff.