139. Action Memorandum From the Chairman of the Policy Planning Council (Bosworth) to Secretary of State Shultz1


  • Soviet Client Relationships

It has become very clear that Soviet ties with some key Third World clients are creating potential US policy opportunities. The dissatisfaction that frequently marks both sides of such relationships is the result not only of Soviet resource constraints, but of increased respect for our military strength, political resolve, and readiness to compete. Grenada reinforced this trend,2 but it has been evident as well in the Soviet approach to a series of other involvements—toward Syria and the PLO, toward Cuba, Nicaragua, and the Salvadoran rebels.

This combination of Soviet hesitation and US activism could set the stage for real breakthroughs, indeed for some of the most important diplomatic accomplishments of this Administration. Because clients play such a crucial role in Moscow’s global policy, loosening their connections with the Soviet bloc would help us to deal with specific regional crises. More importantly, progress in even one or two cases could reinforce the perceptions of a marked shift in what the Soviets call the global “correlation of forces.” The snowball effect on both allies and our adversaries, in many regions, could be highly beneficial to our interests.

Given these stakes, US policy should give high priority to weakening Soviet client relationships in the Third World, particularly to those supported by a Cuban military presence. Not all such ties are in equal jeopardy, and no all-out US offensive would be likely to succeed. But we believe almost all such relationships deserve close monitoring and some deserve a significantly greater effort than we have made to date. With your approval, an ad hoc interagency task force will begin immediately to explore possible next steps.

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I. Overview

Our informal review of this problem suggests a series of general conclusions, followed by analyses of specific openings:

1. While Soviet clients should be a collective focus of US strategy, we clearly need individual approaches tailored to each client. Our prospects for success will be best where we have carefully prepared the ground beforehand.

2. Our near-term opportunities are likely to call for a mix of political and economic rather than military measures. The states on which we focus should understand both the potential benefits of cooperation, as well as the likely costs of continuing to challenge us.

3. Our policy should aim to exacerbate disagreements and suspicions among the Soviets, Cubans, and other clients. Communication with all three should be managed with an eye to setting them against each other where possible, thereby increasing our own leverage. Because we now lack a channel to (not to speak of full diplomatic relations with) some of these actors, we may be able to find—or create—openings merely by resuming communication.

4. Progress in relations should usually depend on tangible movement away from Moscow or Havana, with particular emphasis on reductions in the Cuban presence. If “improved” US relations with Soviet clients don’t bring changes in their behavior, then our policies may only alarm friendly neighboring states, drain our resources and leave us vulnerable to the charge that our approach is purely atmospheric. With many real friends in trouble, we can’t afford such “successes.”

5. We and our allies will often disagree on how to exploit openings with Soviet clients. Our allies tend to see “improved relations” with these states as intrinsically good and this can help Soviet clients to avoid the stricter criteria we would apply. An allied presence in a country with which we have poor relations can sometimes help to keep a Western option alive. But in general we should try to hold our allies to a standard of concrete “results”, to keep them from playing all our trump cards (such as aid and trade concessions) too soon.

6. The harm done by unsuccessful initiatives toward Soviet clients could be just as great as the gains. An effort that misfires, for example, could squander the new momentum of our policy. If a US effort merely alerts the Soviets or Cubans to a challenge without limiting their options, we are likely to fail. An approach that targets Soviet clients also risks stimulating retaliation against our own allies. Finally, if we alarm a Soviet client state without showing it an alternative, it may simply move closer to Moscow.

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II. Cases

What follows is not an action plan but a general policy approach toward specific Soviet clients where we see accelerating movement and some rethinking about the value of Soviet bloc connections:

—Mozambique and Ethiopia appear to present the most serious opportunities for progress; of the two, Mozambique seems ready to move, while Ethiopia is the bigger strategic prize.

—Angola and Nicaragua, each embroiled in a major regional crisis, are harder nuts to crack; yet both show concern over US intentions, which we may be able to exploit.

—Initiatives in some lesser cases are considered for the extra weight they could lend to a US offensive.

—Hard-core cases like Afghanistan and Vietnam are also reviewed; here, increased leverage may be called for. (We do not examine Syria, while recognizing that it may present the most dangerous dilemmas—for both superpowers—of any Soviet client.)

—Finally, the paper discusses how to incorporate US policy toward Soviet clients into our dialogue with Moscow.

1. Southern Africa

We should consider an intensified US policy effort in Mozambique and Angola. New progress with Mozambique at this time could eventually help us gain a breakthrough on Angola and Namibia. Even without a Namibia settlement, we may be able to draw Mozambique out of the Soviet orbit at low cost.


In a very successful meeting this month with US officials, Machel3 indicated 1) interest in a mutual stand-down with South Africa, 2) readiness to push Angola to address our concerns in the Namibia process, and 3) a need for both economic and—notably—security assistance. He has also sought aid in travels to Western Europe, but so far only a little British and Portuguese help seems likely. Machel’s hopes for broader Western economic help include bids for IMF and IBRD membership.

Given this background, we would like to move relations forward, but the legal and congressional obstacles are great. Mozambique is ineligible for aid under the 1980 Foreign Assistance Act and probably can’t pay for weapons. We will offer some food aid, but legal restrictions bar the use of ESF already budgeted for the southern African region.

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Only a reduced Cuban connection would enable us to surmount these obstacles for long and we should begin addressing this more explicitly with Machel. (The feasibility of non-interference understandings with the SAG could depend on such progress in any event.) If he acts on Cuba, we can also press for significantly increased Allied involvement. The main point, even if resources are available, is that continuing US support depends on concrete steps by Maputo; reversals, particularly after we have made the effort to get aid, would undercut our broader effort. (The Portuguese attitude is promising here: Soares4 has told Machel that Portuguese advisers cannot train his army in Mozambique alongside Soviet bloc personnel.)


Our communication with Angola has been interrupted of late, and the Namibia effort is stalled. The civil war has also entered a new, more active phase: Savimbi5 remains unable to take Luanda, but there have been steady UNITA successes, an MPLA counteroffensive, and now a new UNITA front in response. Soviet military aid is increasing, and some Cuban troops may be moving from Ethiopia to Angola. Despite acute Angolan needs, Soviet economic aid has not increased.

As the situation on the ground worsens, Angolan dependence on the Cubans (and on Moscow) increases. Yet Soviet bloc help has not solved the MPLA’s problems and it probably now fears that a breakdown in the Namibia process would significantly widen the civil war with UNITA and increase SAG involvement. For the MPLA, the prospect of a second Reagan term only makes this picture more ominous. This may then be the moment to increase our pressure—indicating, if we are prepared to follow through, that our patience is thin. For maximum effect, we would want all our inducements on the table too. Recognition, as we have always understood, is one card that could move the process forward; until we see whether movement is possible, however, it should be held in reserve. (Section VI below discusses the Soviet side of this problem.)

In sum, toward both Mozambique and Angola we are working with largely the same tools as in the past, although they are made more weighty by each state’s growing security and economic problems. It may be that our instruments can now best be brought together at a higher level than we have been using (i.e., perhaps an under secretary level mission). The extensive preparation that has gone into both these [Page 478] efforts has produced real results, but more difficult decisions lie ahead on all sides and higher-level involvement may be needed.

2. Central America

No state feels more directly jeopardized after Grenada than Nicaragua, which has itself been explicitly menaced this year by the presence of nearby US forces. To be sure, Sandinista anxiety could lead to increased dependence on the Soviet bloc and even to retaliation against neighbors friendly to us. But for now the evidence suggests that the Grenada effect has made Nicaragua more, not less cautious and perhaps also more receptive to an understanding with the US. Both recent intelligence and Castro’s own statements further indicate the limits of Cuban willingness to assist them; this should deepen internal divisions within the leadership, a trend that is the most plausible route to the internal changes we desire.

To this end, we could augment our current strategy of support for the contras and regional negotiations by creating the appearance of a separate channel with Cuba. This would arouse fears in Managua of an accommodation at its expense: we want the Nicaraguans to think that if the Cubans are going to leave, they—not Castro—should gain the key concessions from us. (This channel would be largely cosmetic; we would avoid publicity, but ensure that the Sandinistas find out. It would be most effective if Castro initiated the talks but this is not essential: Grenada allows us to talk to him at little risk to our credibility with our friends in the region. And, as noted later, it can be used against Castro himself by opening discussions at the next level up, with Moscow.)

Even if Grenada strengthens our hand, this will be a tortuous process. Nicaragua will certainly increase its own efforts to deflate pressures on them before committing themselves to any of our conditions, such as withdrawal of a Cuban presence. One Cuban and Nicaraguan gambit (which may already be in use) to get us to ease up will be to disseminate claims that their activities in Central America are being phased out. To the extent this is just a tactic, our own rhetorical emphasis may have to shift, from the (hard to verify) aid flow to other insurgencies, to internal repression and the continuing Cuban presence in Nicaragua. In particular, the issue of repression should be more prominent on the regional negotiating agenda; this issue has cost the Sandinistas some European support and may do the same in Mexico.

As for carrots, the Kissinger Commission will soon make public a set of ideas for economic assistance to the region after a settlement.6 [Page 479] The Commission’s report should create a real prospect that the Sandinistas, by meeting our concerns, can tap a large pool of Western resources.

To increase the credibility of this aid, we want to show that changes of course are rewarded. Given Suriname’s new (if tentative) direction, a small effort—probably in the economic area—is advisable. If Bouterse7 holds to his course, we should expect to follow up next year with a comparable step. Coordination with the Dutch and Brazilians is essential here.

3. The Horn and South Arabia

Ethiopia’s strategic significance—based on location, cooperation with South Yemen and Libya, the Cuban troop presence—makes it an extremely large prize. Yet we have given Ethiopia and South Yemen much less priority than other states with a Cuban presence. There is now plainly some flux in each one’s relations with both Cuba and the Soviet Union, reflecting internal strains and leadership divisions; we want to exploit these if possible. Progress with either Ethiopia or PDRY can help with the other and with weakening Libya’s capacity for mischief.


In the past year Mengistu8 has followed a confusing course. First, apparent probes toward the West were suddenly aborted in favor of renewed Soviet ties. Then his cancelled trip to Moscow preceded the most interesting development of all: the recent departure of Cuban troops, reportedly at Ethiopian initiative.

Exploiting this opportunity involves major uncertainties. We are not sure how strong the ideological orientation of Mengistu and the top leaders is, and whether US efforts to improve relations have a chance while they are in place. Nor do we know how influential a residual Cuban presence would be, even if the bulk of the force departs for Angola or home.

Nevertheless the potential opening here is too large to ignore. We need to examine steps that can build on evident Ethiopian interest in reviving economic, cultural, and other contacts, while opening a channel in which to push for complete Cuban withdrawal. We would hardly come to such a dialogue without cards. Our ties with Somalia will, for example, be of extreme interest in Addis now, as Cuban forces begin to withdraw. And, although there are powerful reasons not to use it, [Page 480] we have potential leverage in the possibility of assistance to the Eritrean and Tigrean insurgencies (and perhaps more importantly, in our influence with their regional patrons, like the Sudan).

Outside the UNGA, we have had only middle-level contact with Ethiopia. At the right moment, a mission, even at Assistant Secretary level would have more than the usual impact. It would also provide us with a sense of the real possibilities that we can get in no other way.

South Yemen

Despite his treaty ties with Ethiopia and Libya, and despite a Soviet base and Cuban troops, PDRY’s President has been pursuing a Western opening for over a year. He is improving relations with pro-Western neighbors (e.g., ending PDRY’s support of insurgents in Oman, reducing it in North Yemen). Yet his position remains vulnerable, since his predecessor now lives in waiting in Moscow. As a result, he would have to weigh carefully any Western initiative for its effect on his personal safety. The Saudis have the principal immediate stake here; and, coordinating closely with them, we might explore what could be achieved by resuming diplomatic relations and offering some (small) amount of aid. Given the importance to the Soviets of the Aden naval base, they are likely to make a major effort to preserve their access. Our best hope, therefore, may be in starting smaller, with the withdrawal of Cuban technical and military support as our first target. The Saudis in particular should have great interest in removing this presence as tensions around the Gulf keep rising.

4. The Hard Core

Despite its softness at the edges, we cannot forget that the Soviet empire has a hard core of states with whom we will not be able to do business. The reasons may vary from unbreakable Soviet control to irreconcilable hostility toward us, but we should be very clear to ourselves, our friends, and our public that an intense focus on Soviet clients does not mean that we expect to improve relations with all of them. On the contrary, our policy toward the hard cases will continue to be built primarily around “sticks” and other pressures. This is what we mean, in another context, by differentiation. Globally, just as in Eastern Europe, our policy will gain clarity—and support—on the basis of whom it excludes, as well as for whom it includes.

Insisting on differentiation will be particularly important in two respects to the broad policy we are outlining here.

—First, those clients over whom the Soviets have most control (or whose conflicts with us are greatest) will be the ones from whom we are most likely to see efforts at retaliation, to knock us off our stride. Libya in Chad is one such possibility; and Cuba in Central America [Page 481] and the Caribbean is another. (East Germany and Czechoslovakia, in a very different sense, will have such a role in INF.)

—Second, working with allies is difficult enough without seeming to revise our policy toward Soviet clients across the board. Pakistan and ASEAN, for example, should have no doubt of our support for them on Afghanistan and Kampuchea. In general, as we focus on drawing Soviet clients toward us, we should also take a reading of our pressures on the hard core.

With these cautions in mind, we may find that some extremely limited steps with the hard cases can serve our interests. Upgraded diplomatic contacts, for example, can be considered in two cases where little immediate payoff is foreseeable. Apart from symbolically broadening the scope of a US offensive, they are of interest for their place on the Sino-Soviet agenda:

Mongolia. Diplomatic recognition of Mongolia was last discussed with Ulan Bator in the Carter years; though it might well be vetoed again by the Soviet Union, a renewed effort has some advantages. Even if unsuccessful, it would demonstrate (once leaked) Soviet rigidity and defensiveness. If successful, we would gain a valuable observation post in the Soviet Far East, important given Mongolia’s place in Sino-Soviet security talks.

Laos. Here, despite Vietnamese dominion, we already have a diplomatic mission in place. If the Lao are ready to cooperate with us on issues like locating MIA remains, etc., we could install a resident Ambassador—like Mongolia, a valuable observation post in a key area where our information is scanty now.

III. Communicating with Our Adversaries

The strategy described in this paper deals indirectly with problems created by the expanded Soviet and Cuban global presence of the past decade. We believe a channel to both Moscow and Havana could strengthen the approach.

The Soviet Union

Unlike the Middle East, a US offensive that focuses above all on getting new movement in southern Africa, or even in Central America, poses little danger of US-Soviet military confrontation. Communication with the Soviets—if only to clarify each side’s “red lines”—is not therefore critical to such an effort. It can even have certain drawbacks, for our diplomatic opportunities often stem from the desires of states in a region precisely to distance themselves from the Soviets and Cubans.

Nevertheless, structuring a dialogue with the Soviets around geopolitical themes would have these advantages:

—Although early progress on other issues, especially arms control, is unlikely, we could hope to remove some important obstacles that [Page 482] might bar broader progress later, when opportunities reappear. We want the Soviets, in particular, to understand the large long-term problem that Soviet-Cuban activities represent.

—Several key clients will worry that a Soviet-American dialogue is likely to be at their expense; this worry could advance our own efforts.

—Finally, the Soviet ability to undercut US efforts has to be respected, and a dialogue may have use in limiting Soviet efforts to thwart us—by creating the illusion of participation, and preventing worst-case Soviet assessments of our goals. Our southern African strategy has, for example, assumed from the start that we had to manage the Soviet angle; we have, therefore, envisioned some participation by Moscow, hopefully too late to do much damage. Actively exploiting Soviet difficulties with clients will not undo this requirement.


A channel to Cuba would have less long-term utility than discussions with the Soviets. Given Cuban anxieties at this time, however, and the obvious Nicaraguan fear of abandonment by all patrons, a limited dialogue with Castro might pay real tactical benefits.

If you agree with this general approach, I believe the next step would be to assemble a small ad hoc task force under Larry’s direction, to elaborate whether and how to proceed on specific countries. With your approval, the group would be led by S/P and modeled after the interagency group of officials that worked on the “global instability” paper. The task force would be supported, as appropriate, by expertise from State regional bureaus.


That you authorize S/P to assemble a small ad hoc interagency task force under Larry’s supervision to follow up on this paper with specific recommendations for initiatives toward the countries discussed above.9

  1. Source: Department of State, S/P, Memoranda/Correspondence from the Director of the Policy Planning Staff, Lot 89D149, S/P Chrons PW 11/16–30/83. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Sestanovich; cleared by Azrael and Kaplan. Forwarded through Eagleburger, who wrote in the margin: “G.S.: This is very much worth reading. LSE.” A stamped notation reading “GPS” appears on the memorandum, indicating Shultz saw it. McKinley’s handwritten initials are at the top of the memorandum, indicating he saw it on November 22, and Hill’s handwritten initials are in the upper-right corner, indicating he saw it on November 28.
  2. See Document 128.
  3. Samora Machel, President of Mozambique.
  4. Mario Soares, Prime Minister of Portugal.
  5. Jonas Savimbi, President of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).
  6. The Kissinger Commission, formally the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America, was a 12-member group established by President Reagan in 1983 to review the administration’s approach to Central America. See footnote 15, Document 159.
  7. Dési Bouterse, leader of the Revolutionary Front and de facto military dictator in Suriname.
  8. Mengistu Haile Mariam, Ethiopian Head of State.
  9. Shultz initialed his approval of the recommendation for this task force and wrote: “but I’d like to discuss with you and Larry at outset. G.”