15. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • NSC Weekly Report #69

1. Opinion


In our foreign policy we have placed primary emphasis on two different efforts:

1. Obtaining Congressional support for major but controversial (and hence politically costly) undertakings;

2. Negotiating the resolution of genuinely important issues (notably SALT, the Middle East, and Southern Africa).

We have done well on the former; we are making some progress on the latter.

I believe, however, that we need to engage also to a greater extent in consultations, the explicit purpose of which is to generate mutual understanding and the implicit consequence of which might be also some greater accommodation with the parties concerned.

For example, Andy’s2 great success in Africa is based not only on our approach to Rhodesia and Namibia but also on the series of consultative trips he has taken to the region and the rapport he has helped you establish with African leaders. Moreover, I believe it is fair to say that the Chinese would have never agreed to the kind of flexibility and movement that has now developed in our relationship if I had simply put a negotiating proposal before them on the table. [Page 53] Prior to my visit, they were insisting that everything depended on normalization; now they have in effect accepted the segmentation of the relationship into three parts (the process of normalization; the expansion of governmental bilateral relations; consultations on international issues). But that emerged as a byproduct of prolonged discussions (some 15 hours) on broad subjects, which contributed to greater mutual understanding.3

I think we need to do that also with the Soviets. Nixon himself, using Kissinger in addition to negotiating with them, would occasionally engage in discussions in depth and at length, regarding our respective world viewpoints, interests, trends, etc., thereby also creating the context for some accommodation. We have not done enough of that—and Dobrynin has hinted to me as much. Given the present frictions, an effort to clear the air—but on the basis of firmness regarding those matters which we consider important (notably their military buildup and their conduct in the third world)—is needed.

Historically, a phase of friction in U.S.-Soviet relations has contributed to the emergence of new “rules of the game,” regarding either restraint in the use of conventional forces, or on strategic matters, or even regarding espionage. We now need to develop similar understandings regarding restraint and accommodation on such matters as the use of military proxies or direct military intrusion into third world conflicts. But that will require candid and prolonged discussions.

In general, our approach has been one in which we have focused on the negotiation of specific issues, in a legal-contractual fashion, somewhat neglecting the need to develop and sustain a political dialogue.

I would think that it would be especially useful if you would dispatch periodically Cy, me, Andy, and others—to talk to the principal leaders with whom we are trying to maintain or develop closer relations: this would be flattering even to Giscard, or Schmidt, or Fukuda—and certainly to the Shah, or Fahd, or Obasanjo, or Desai; and it would also be useful with Hua, or Tito, Gierek, Ceausescu, etc. This could supplement your direct personal contact with these leaders, and in some cases could reinforce any ongoing negotiations.

From the domestic point of view, doing the above would also convey the feeling that you are deliberately orchestrating some of the diversity of viewpoints around you on behalf of your strategic goals. Incidentally, the Soviets have long used, and quite effectively, the tactic [Page 54] of occasionally sending “hard” spokesmen to convey a soft message, and “soft” spokesmen to convey a hard message, in order to enhance the credibility of that message, and to show that the “soft” and “hard” options are deliberate instruments of policy and not merely reflections of internal vacillation. FDR did some of the same, and it is in your interest to promote also such a perception of yourself.

Finally, there is the fact that such consultations—conducted on a regular basis with ten or so top leaders around the world—would reduce some of the foreign misunderstandings and anxieties regarding our policy.

Cy is departing tonight for the Middle East where he will, in effect, carry out at least in part the kind of consultations I have in mind with leaders there.4 In addition, I would suggest the following as further examples:

—A meeting on your behalf with Hua this fall when he visits Eastern Europe, or you personally might meet with Teng at Princeton if he comes to the UNGA (and that would be quite dramatic).5

—A mid-fall swing through Africa by Andy to consult on how the Rhodesian situation is evolving and the Namibian settlement being implemented. This might be accompanied by a special side visit by an emissary to South Africa.6

—A consultative visit to key European capitals (including some East European) and the Shah in the fall both on foreign policy and key economic issues.7

—If there is no U.S.-Soviet summit this year, broad consultations in Moscow (maybe even involving not only Cy’s but also my participation).8

[Omitted here is information unrelated to negotiations and consultations.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, Plains File, Box 9, NSC Weekly Reports 6–12/78. Secret. Carter wrote at the top of the memorandum, “Zbig—More on non-testing of depressed trajectory flights of SLBMs—J.”
  2. Andrew Young, U.S. Representative to the United Nations until August 1979.
  3. Brzezinski traveled to Beijing from May 20 until May 22. For the memoranda of conversation of his meetings, see Documents 108, 109, 110, and 111 in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XIII, China. The United States and China re-established diplomatic relations on January 1, 1979.
  4. Vance visited Israel and Egypt from August 5 to 9. For memoranda of conversation of his meetings, see Documents 285, 286, 287, and 288 in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, January 1977–August 1978.
  5. Vance met with Chinese Foreign Minister Huang Hua in New York on October 3. For the memorandum of conversation of the meeting, see Document 138 in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XIII, China.
  6. Records of Young and Vance’s meetings in Africa in October 1978 are scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XVI, Southern Africa.
  7. Vance traveled to Switzerland and the Soviet Union from October 19 to 24 for SALT negotiations, the United Kingdom from December 9 to 10 to address the Royal Institute for International Affairs, Switzerland from December 21 to 23 for SALT negotiations, and Belgium from December 23 to 24 to meet with the Foreign Ministers of Egypt and Israel. Vance did not hold meetings with Shah during the second half of 1978.
  8. For Vance’s reportage on his October meetings with Soviet officials in Moscow, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Documents 153, 154, 155, and 156.