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


  • Weekly National Security Report #3

1. Opinions

Foreign Policy Design. Judging from press reactions—both domestic and foreign—there is considerable appreciation of your dedication to more effective and far-reaching strategic arms control; there is awareness of the depth and sincerity of your concern over nuclear proliferation; there is remarkably widespread support for your position on human rights, which has done so much to revarnish America’s moral credentials.

Moreover, through the various missions undertaken immediately after the inaugural (to Southern Africa, to the Middle East, to Panama, and to the Aegean) you have signaled clearly that the Administration will be activist, and that you yourself will be in the tradition of those presidents who have exercised a personally active leadership in foreign affairs.

However, I do not believe that at this stage the larger design of what you wish to accomplish has emerged with sufficiently sharp relief. I discern two immediate needs, both of which might well be corrected in your forthcoming foreign policy speech:

1. You need to express a more coherent vision of what we aim to accomplish, of what our priorities are, and of how you define the present historical era within which US foreign policy has to be shaped;

2. You need to convey to the public your awareness of the complexity of the problems that we confront; disappointments and setbacks are normal in international affairs and accomplishments tend to be the exception. We are setting in motion a process, and the public must be made to understand that the President and his associates understand that the problems we face will be with us for a long time to come, that there will be no easy solutions, and that the effort to build a more cooperative world framework will be tedious, painful, and frequently disappointing.

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I think it is necessary to emphasize these themes especially because we are likely to confront two short-term dangers:

1. Given our disagreements with the French and the Germans over nuclear proliferation, and given the likelihood of some bitter disappointments with the British and the French over the Concorde, it is possible that in the short-term our relations with our principal allies may in fact deteriorate. Since this will be coinciding with the forthcoming summit, we should anticipate some rough sailing in alliance relations. This may be unavoidable but it is bound to produce some adverse comments, especially since we have put so much stress on giving priority attention to better relations with our friends. Your critics, both at home and abroad, will certainly emphasize such frictions as evidence of our inability to do what we said we would strive to accomplish. A more specific policy implication of the foregoing might be a more concerted effort on our part to try to minimize the negative fallout from both the nuclear proliferation and the Concorde problems, as well as more stress on those aspects on which we are in fundamental agreement with our allies.

2. Secondly, it is likely that in the foreseeable future our negotiations with the Soviets over SALT may prove more rocky and difficult than the public has been led to expect. The Brezhnev response to you2 might be a foretaste of some very hard bargaining, and it is quite conceivable that our first report to the American people on SALT negotiations will have to emphasize not areas of agreement but the reasons why we have been unable to agree. Indeed, one of the forthcoming paradoxes may be that Paul Warnke before too long will be engaged not in “selling” a SALT agreement to hard-nosed skeptics who will be accusing him of excessive softness, but that he will be justifying to his friends in the arms control community why it was impossible for the United States to accept disadvantageous Soviet terms. Such an ironical twist, incidentally, might make Warnke even more useful than you had expected!

All of the foregoing points to the proposition that the time is now ripe for doing precisely what you have determined to do: to deliver a formal, comprehensive, and systematic speech. In my judgment, it should be short on promises, it should be analytical, and it should seek to integrate the various strands discussed above into a broader approach.3

[Omitted here are sections on Alerts, Concerns, and Reactions.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Box 18, Weekly Reports [to the President]: 1–15: [2/77–6/77]. Top Secret; Sensitive. A handwritten “C” indicates that Carter saw the memorandum. All but the Alerts section of this memorandum is printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, Document 26.
  2. The letter from Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, to Carter concerned SALT. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Document 12.
  3. Carter wrote in the margin adjacent to this paragraph, “Plan for 3/17 at UN.” Carter addressed the UN General Assembly on March 17. The text of the speech is in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, Document 29.