15. Minutes of a National Security Council Meeting1


  • Caribbean Basin; Poland (C)


  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • State

    • Secretary Alexander A. Haig, Jr.
  • Defense

    • Caspar T. Weinberger
  • Treasury

    • Secretary Donald T. Regan
  • Justice

    • Attorney General William French Smith
  • DCI

    • Mr. William J. Casey
  • JSC

    • General David Jones
  • White House

    • Mr. Edwin Meese, III, Counsellor to the President
    • Mr. James A. Baker, III, Chief of Staff to the President
    • Mr. Richard Allen, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
    • Adm. James Nance, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Vice President’s Office

    • Adm. Daniel J. Murphy, Chief of Staff
  • National Security Council

    • Janet Colson
    • Timothy E. Deal
    • Charles Tyson


The President: Interagency groups are reviewing the items on today’s agenda. Their work is not complete, but they will have issues for decision shortly. The NSC should meet frequently and help to formulate our policies. I urge cooperation at all levels. No one should stand on ceremony. During the campaign, I pledged to implement a [Page 38] new foreign policy and restore the margin of safety. I look to this group to help me. The Intelligence Community has a vital role. I intend to restore the vigor and effectiveness of our intelligence services. (C)

I will use the NSC structure to obtain your guidance, but I will make the decisions. Once made, I expect the Departments to implement them. Subcabinet appointments will play a vital role in effective implementation. The NSC is not just another cabinet agency. Although the decisions will be mine, you are the obvious source for good ideas. I want good advice. The NSC staff functions as an integral part of the White House, and Dick Allen places a premium on good management. (C)

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to the Soviet Union.]

[Secretary Haig:] I saw Amb. Dobrynin last night. Senator Percy had apparently arranged for me and Dobrynin to have a discussion on arms control. Percy and Dobrynin had obviously been concerting beforehand. I told Dobrynin that the first order of business was to establish an acceptable code of international behavior. The first order of the day was Soviet activity in Afghanistan and the use of Cuban proxies in troubled areas. The US would not stand by and permit the Cubans to draw us into another Vietnam. We would get to the source of the problem. The Soviets have other ideas: they want to provide some formula for a phased withdrawal from Afghanistan, say, over two years in return for arms control talks. (S)

Secretary Weinberger: We should make no promises on timing that we could not accept at a later date. That is why I had said that six months were needed before any resumption of arms talks. We don’t want to appear too eager since this weakens our position. (S)

Secretary Haig: Secretary Weinberger and I have work underway on Caribbean contingencies. We will have to deal with Nicaragua, El Salvador, and, most especially, with Cuba. The worst thing would be to have the US dragged into another draining experience like Vietnam. (S)

In the case of El Salvador, former Ambassador White was totally wrong. He claimed that the government’s recent success in repelling the guerrilla offensive was a victory due to our policy of not arming the Salvadorans. The guerrillas did have a setback; they did not get the popular support for which they hoped. Now they have adopted a classic guerrilla stance. But there are only about 200 professional Salvadoran military officers left. The military ranks are thin; a collapse could come suddenly. The situation was so bad in San Salvador under Ambassador White that Duarte couldn’t tell our Defense Attache what was happening. Only now is the truth beginning to trickle out. (S)

Our interagency group is active. We are sending down a qualified, interim replacement for White. DOD will also send a senior adviser. In the meantime, highly sensitive contingency planning continues. (S)

[Page 39]

The President: My own feeling—and one about which I have talked at length—is that we are way behind, perhaps decades, in establishing good relations with the two Americas. We must change the attitude of our diplomatic corps so that we don’t bring down governments in the name of human rights. None of them is as guilty of human rights violations as are Cuba and the USSR. We don’t throw out our friends just because they can’t pass the “saliva test” on human rights. I want to see that stopped. We need people who recognize that philosophy. In Angola, for example, Savimbi holds a large chunk of Angolan territory. With some aid, he could reverse the situation. We should also reestablish relations with countries like Chile who have made substantial progress—and stop worrying about Allende’s fate. (S)

Secretary Haig: One important case is Bolivia. We withdrew our Ambassador and cut off aid. When countries like this have tough things to do, we should help them. If you beat them up, it works against us. We need to send a good person there and open the lines of communication. (S)

Secretary Weinberger: There is no doubt that we face a tough situation in El Salvador and Nicaragua. The problem stems from Cuba. With some covert aid, we could disrupt Cuban activities. I am not sure that most Americans understand the situation there. The majority probably believes that these governments are repressive and that we should not do anything provocative. We need to explain to people that this is a dangerous situation for the US and that we may have to move strongly. (S)

The President: El Salvador is a good starting point. A victory there could set an example. (S)

General Jones: We welcome the change in policy. American influence has declined. In 1970, we had 500 advisers in Latin America. That number has now fallen to 65. The Soviets have more military advisers in Peru than we have in all of Latin America. We used to bring young officers to the US for training. Our training program is now down to $4 million. (S)

Only 2% of our security assistance budget goes to Latin America. The Soviets provide substantially more military aid to the region. We cannot send more than six advisers into a country without Congressional approval. The law ties our hands. (C)

We need to let the Latin Americans know that we can be helpful. In 1975, President Ford agreed we needed to put the Cubans on notice for their activities in Angola. The Clark Amendment stopped us. Even if we can’t always stop the Cubans it is important that we make them pay the price of admission. In the Caribbean Basin what happens in one country influences the others. To stop the Cubans and help others [Page 40] stop them, we need better intelligence, a psychological warfare program, and an ability to impede guerrilla activities. (S)

In El Salvador, we probably bought about two months’ time. We have provided $25 million in military equipment over the last few weeks. Another $30 million is in the pipeline. The Salvadorans need training. We also need to work with the Honduran and Guatemalan governments. Socialist International is causing us problems with political support for El Salvador. (S)

General Haig: We will wrap up our interagency work on options for El Salvador in about two weeks. We need to turn the situation around. The Socialist International is indeed a problem. A public communications effort about our policy is essential. (S)

The President: How can we intercept these weapons? How can we help? (S)

Mr. Casey: I recently met with [less than 1 line not declassified]. They gave me an informative report on sources of support for the Salvadoran guerrillas. The Cubans have a covert effort underway directed toward all of Central America. They have trained 100 Guatemalans in the last 90 days. Each of them returns to Guatemala with ten rifles. Radio Havana broadcasts one hour daily to Guatemala in five Indian languages. The Mexicans give sanctuary to Guatemalan insurgents much as the Costa Ricans did for Nicaragua. (S)

The drug business through Miami is being used to finance the purchase of weapons for insurgents. ICA and other agencies need to pull all this together. In addition, covert action to train and help local militia and police to intercept the weapons traffic from Cuba would help. The Argentines are deeply involved in Central America. [1 line not declassified] (S)

Mr. Allen: This probably could not be done within existing guidelines. New findings would be needed. (S)

Mr. Meese: What are we talking about in the way of covert activity? Only teaching and training? (S)

Mr. Casey: Yes. (U)

Mr. Allen: But that would still require new findings. (S)

Mr. Casey: The most effective way to put pressure on Cuba would be through Angola. We should seek a repeal of the Clark Amendment and consider aid to Savimbi. (S)

Secretary Haig: We are considering tactics to obtain repeal of the Clark Amendment, but we don’t want to lose. (C)

Attorney General Smith: After Afghanistan the President proposed a blockade of Cuba. Even George Kennan supported that notion. If the Soviets invade Poland, we might find a blockade desirable. (S)

[Page 41]

Mr. Casey: The developments in Central America have implications outside the continent, especially if the British pull out of Belize. The Guatemalans will face a guerrilla war on two fronts. The guerrillas will create problems for them in the upcoming elections. (S)

Mr. Allen: We need a positive policy for the region that provides justification for everything we do. (S)

Mr. Meese: We should have options for dealing with these situations. (S)

Secretary Haig: We are working on that now. (S)

The President: We can’t afford a defeat. El Salvador is the place for a victory. (S)

Secretary Haig: Regarding Poland, the Soviets view the situation there as more critical now than last November. We have a list of contingency actions ready. (S)

Mr. Meese: We must have agreement on how to deal with the press. We should not make available the agenda or content of these meetings—with no ifs, ands, or buts. (S)

The President: There can be no room for argument on that point. For too many years, we have been telling adversaries what we can’t do. It’s time we make them start wondering what we will do. (S)

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Deal Files, Chron February 1981. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room at the White House.