136. Memorandum From William Stearman of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Clark)1


  • Afghanistan Issue in Haig-Gromyko Talks (U)

I have heard that Secretary Haig is going to focus on Afghanistan in his January 26 meeting with Gromyko. If so, I hope that he does not repeat the proposal made to Gromyko during their September 28, 1981 meeting:2

—The Afghanistan Government should take steps to broaden its base. (S)

—Second, the Soviet Union could simultaneously study a formula for a phased withdrawal. (S)

—Third, outside powers could take a number of steps, including those mentioned by Gromyko last time (September 23, 1981) regarding cross-border activities from outside the borders of Afghanistan.3 (S)

Dick Pipes and I were nonplussed by this proposal which had not been subjected to interagency discussion and which, we believe, is replete with pitfalls. The Afghanistan Government could “broaden its base” in a cosmetic fashion as Communist governments have frequently done. The Soviets could go along with supporting in principle a phased withdrawal. They have already stated they were prepared to withdraw their forces from Afghanistan. In 1968, the Soviets said they would withdraw their forces from Czechoslovakia, but they are still there. Worst of all, Haig’s last point suggests we would be agreeable to closing Afghanistan’s borders and cutting off assistance to the Afghan freedom fighters. (S)

Secretary Haig’s proposal reflects what I consider to be a common fallacy: the Soviets can be negotiated out of Afghanistan. I am personally convinced that the Soviets are prepared to stay the course until Afghanistan can be turned into another “Mongolian Peoples Republic,” in effect an integral part of the Soviet Union. I see the Soviet move into Afghanistan as a continuation of historic Russian expansion in Central Asia which was going on until the end of the last century and [Page 436] which was unsuccessfully attempted, in the case of Iran, in this century. The “Great Game” referred to by Kipling was the 19th century British effort to thwart Russian designs on Afghanistan. (S)

The Soviets are prepared to wage long, protracted war in Afghanistan at a relatively low level, and despite their current setbacks, I am afraid they will win in the end. The world’s strongest land power is not going to allow itself to be defeated or driven out by a ragtag collection of very courageous, but poorly armed and poorly organized, Afghan irregulars. (S)

The Russians are not as impatient as are we in the West, and historically they are used to long “pacification” campaigns in this area. It took the Russians thirty years (1830–1860) to pacify the rebellious people of the Caucasus. After the 1917 Russian Revolution, it took the Red Army nearly 15 years to subdue the Basmachis in Soviet Central Asia. It is significant that a Soviet diplomat in Kabul recently compared the war in Afghanistan with the campaign against the Basmachis. (S)

We should maintain constant pressure on the Soviets over Afghanistan and never cease in keeping this issue alive in the form of world opinion, but we should not harbor any illusions that we are going to succeed in getting the Soviets out of Afghanistan through pressure, negotiations or both. For this reason I consider it ill-advised for us to propose a solution which embraces the concessions offered by Secretary Haig last September 28. Such concessions can only encourage the Soviets to believe that we are losing our resolve in opposing this blatant act of aggression, and this can encourage further acts of aggression. (S)

Kemp concurs. (U)

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Pipes Papers, CHRON 05/07/1982–05/31/1982. Secret; Sent for information. Copied to Kemp and Pipes.
  2. See Document 90.
  3. See Document 88.