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


  • NSC Weekly Report #86

This week I am giving you two items for your weekly report: a frank and personal midterm assessment; and several maps2 which speak for themselves by graphically conveying what you and I recently discussed. I hope they are useful.

1. Opinion: Midterm Assessment

You have Cy’s analysis of what we have accomplished thus far in your Administration as well as an outline of future priorities.3 As you know, I generally agree with his analysis of our longer-term priorities. This brief note seeks to lay out, at the mid point of your Administration, the major issues and questions which will dominate our foreign policy concerns as you approach the 1980 election.

I believe there are four issues. First, what will be your principal foreign policy success in 1980? Second, how should we play out the implementation of the Camp David accords? Third, what do we do to maintain the crucial and delicate balance between ourselves, the Soviet Union and China? And fourth, what can be done to our national security process to overcome a deep-seated perception that we are in disarray—an image which gravely undermines the very real and substantive successes of this Administration.

Achievements in 1980

Your intense work over the last two years on SALT, the Middle East and China is bearing fruit. We are about to sign a SALT agreement, and with effort and firmness we might have a Middle East treaty. The Deng visit will dramatize a very real diplomatic accomplishment.4

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But the question as we approach 1980 is what do we do for an encore. The achievement of the SALT summit will evolve into a long, possibly bitter and potentially inconclusive ratification debate. Legislative liaison experts now estimate we may not achieve Senate ratification before Thanksgiving and possibly not before Christmas. While ratification itself will be an achievement, it is hard to believe it will provide much political momentum for the campaign of 1980, especially if the Soviets in the meantime again do something that generates further public concerns about their motives and actions.

The problems of the Middle East are likely to drag on in one form or another. This is addressed in detail below. It is also true that we are likely to continue to have turmoil in Iran with wider international repercussions.

We have surveyed the possible achievements which we might seek that could come to fruition in 1980. Success in Southern Africa, if it is possible, will not have a great public impact. CTB is likely to produce a divisive debate in Congress. Conventional Arms Transfer Limitation will be a positive step but will not command enormous public attention. The same may be said for an Indian Ocean agreement or the establishment of some new rules regarding the proliferation of nuclear capabilities as the result of INFCE.

The only measure apart from those indicated below that might have a broad impact is the achievement of a first step MBFR agreement focusing primarily if not exclusively on U.S.-Soviet reductions in Central Europe. Such an agreement could well be signed at a Summit of the more than a dozen nations which participate in MBFR. It could be a significant political event, indicative of improving East-West relations. We could seek to time such an initial agreement for the spring of 1980, shortly before the Democratic Convention.

The Middle East

Better still would be a significant breakthrough to peace in the Middle East. It seems clear that in any case fulfillment of Camp David will be an essential yardstick to measure the success of your Presidency. This will require additional direct and deep involvement on your part. I am still convinced that genuine progress is achievable.

However, we must recognize that the American Jewish community harbors deep suspicion of this Administration. This can only be overcome by a successful conclusion to the Israeli-Egyptian negotiations. Moreover, suspicion is easily rekindled—witness the resurgence of Jewish concern after the euphoria of Camp David.

In this situation I believe our strategy should be to make a maximum effort in the near future to conclude a treaty, to be followed by negotiations regarding self-government in the West Bank and Gaza. [Page 68] Once the latter are underway, we would be able to lower the profile of our involvement in Middle East matters until after the 1980 election. This maximum effort should be made between now and late spring—to be followed by a gradual easing off on our part.

Another way perhaps of dealing with the linkage issue—in the event that it proves impossible to obtain a formal Israeli commitment to elections on the West Bank—might be an understanding between the Israelis and the Egyptians or between the Israelis and ourselves (with us conveying it to the Egyptians) that Israel will now undertake a series of unilateral steps designed to set in motion a political process on the West Bank/Gaza, pointing toward eventual self-government. This could involve release of some prisoners, fewer restrictions on political activity, the initiation of discussions on the subject of elections and the scope of authority for the self-government, self-restraint on settlements, etc. The point would be to substitute tangible Israeli actions for the formal commitment that the Israelis may be unwilling to make publicly (I will be exploring these and other ideas with Cy Vance and Bill Quandt, and the above is merely suggestive).

In any case, we have little time left for endless litigation of the issue, and within the next two weeks or so some basic strategic decisions concerning the rest of this year and next year ought to be made.


Normalization with China obviously carries with it the risk of Soviet over-reaction and miscalculations in both Peking and Moscow. We are now directly in the middle of a very delicate balancing act—one which is complicated by the fact that both Brezhnev and Deng are old and we could, even in the next few years, see significant governmental changes in both countries.

There is also a ripple effect. The Germans, for example, are already nervous that the Soviet response to our playing “the China card” will result in the Russians playing “the German card.” By this they are evidently concerned that pressure could be brought on Berlin or that some other aspect of Soviet-West German relations could be adversely affected.

Thus, it is extremely important for allied solidarity as well as global stability for this three-cornered relationship to be handled with the utmost care. From a political standpoint it is important to maintain momentum with both Peking and Moscow. I believe this means that you should plan on emerging from both the Deng visit and the Brezhnev visit with concrete plans to visit both China and the Soviet [Page 69] Union before the 1980 election.5 (You should make some tentative scheduling decisions on this even before you meet with Deng.)

Such summits in Peking and Moscow will not only enhance your own prestige but serve as a focus for structuring our relations with both China and the Soviet Union over the next 18 months. They will provide both reassurance of a continuing relationship with both countries and positive incentives for both to maintain a measure of restraint in their mutual relations.

My second recommendation is that you take more direct command of our relationship with the Soviet Union. You should insist on tight personal control of all actions affecting our relationship with the Soviet Union. You have taken this approach in regard to the Middle East and China with significant success. There is a potential for great disarray, given the different ideological views in your Administration. We cannot afford this disarray any longer, but it is likely to intensify in the absence of better discipline.

The Process

This leads me to my final concern. Substantively, we are doing extremely well. You have dispelled the popular impression that you are not skilled in foreign policy. You have made real progress on a number of key issues, and today the U.S. has better relations with the more important countries in the world than at any point since 1945.

But as an Administration, we have not dispelled the notion that we are amateurish and disorganized and that our policies are uncertain and irresolute. (The latest issue of Foreign Affairs makes a very strong case to that effect, and that is becoming the conventional wisdom.) This is the direct result not of our policies but of the way in which almost anyone in the bureaucracy feels free to talk to the press, discuss and distort the most intimate decision-making processes, and generally promote themselves or their personal policy preferences. It is extremely destructive, not only of our foreign policy but of political support for this Administration. I am afraid I see no remedy to this problem short of a significant shake-up, particularly in the State Department. There are faults here in The White House, in the NSC, and certainly in Defense. But one cannot have a discussion with any journalist in this city without gaining the very clear impression that the leaks and misinformation coming out of the State Department are of unprecedented proportions.

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I am prepared to direct my staff to have no conversations with the press whatsoever unless specifically authorized by me or David.6 I believe we can similarly discipline the rest of the White House Staff. We should save our crackdown on the Pentagon until after we have SALT ratified; but this is not a major problem anyway, and we can take action against any outrageous examples of disloyalty or indiscretion (the Singlaub case had a constructive impact in DOD).7 In the State Department, I believe the principal problem areas that require shaking up are: the Iran desk, which has consistently misrepresented your policy; the staff in the Human Rights office; some key people in the Secretariat, including those who deal with the press; and some Assistant Secretaries, who grind their own axes with the press (most recently on the question pertaining to the Kennedy8 invitation to the Deng dinner). All of them, in different ways, have contributed to the public sense of disarray.

I have hesitated to set down this view for fear it would be misinterpreted. But I simply feel I would not be honest with you or myself if I did not express my deepening concern for the destructive impact of the undisciplined and unprofessional conduct that characterizes various parts of the bureaucracy in the State Department.

This kind of thing does not have to go on. It did not happen under Dean Rusk; it did not happen under Henry Kissinger; it did not even happen under William Rogers.9 It is destructive, and I do think that you should consult some of your close political advisers (Ham, Jody,10 etc.) on how best to reassert more effective discipline. I do not wish to offer advice along these lines because it could be misconstrued as being self-serving.

In sum, if our foreign policy efforts are not only to be successful but be perceived as such so as to contribute to your political strength in 1980, it is necessary to focus on those few issues which will come to fruition at that time. And it is important that we do so with a genuine sense of cohesion and loyalty. I want you to know that I myself and my staff will do our utmost to refrain from contributing to public disarray. A similar commitment elsewhere in the government should be required as well.

[Omitted here is a section entitled “Trends.”]

  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Box 42, Weekly Reports [to the President]: 82–90: [12/78–3/79]. Secret; Eyes Only. Carter wrote at the top of the page, “Zbig Interesting J.” The full text of this memorandum is printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, Document 110.
  2. Not found attached.
  3. See Document 17.
  4. Chinese Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping visited the United States from January 28 until February 5. For documentation on Deng’s visit, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XIII, China, Documents 202, 203, 204, 205, 206, 207, 208, 209, and 210.
  5. Brezhnev did not visit the United States, nor did Carter visit the Soviet Union during the last two years of his administration. However, they did meet in Vienna June 14–18 to sign the SALT II agreement. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Documents 199, 200, 201, 202, 203, 204, 205, 206, 207, and 208.
  6. David Aaron.
  7. Carter reassigned General John Singlaub after Singlaub publicly criticized U.S. troop withdrawal from South Korea. See Bernard Weinraub, “Carter Disciplines Gen. Singlaub, Who Attacked his Policy on Korea,” New York Times, May 22, 1977, p. 1.
  8. Senator Edward Kennedy.
  9. Dean Rusk served as Secretary of State from 1961 until 1969; William Rogers served as Secretary of State from 1969 until 1973.
  10. Hamilton Jordan and Jody Powell.