Memo Review by James J. McDonnell,National Security Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School
A Memorandum for the President by Zbigniew Brzezinski: “Our Response to Soviet Intervention in Afghanistan” (December 29, 1979)
Brzezinski, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (currently called the National Security Advisor) under Jimmy Carter, wrote a memo to outline what response the U.S. should take to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
To be persuasive, and to argue that the U.S. should respond firmly, Brzezinski mentioned former President Johnson and his reaction to the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. This is meant to motivate the President. The memo notes that the U.S. should be punitive, coercive and also act as a deterrent in light of the Afghan invasion. Throughout the memo, Brzezinski maintains a formal tone given the gravity of the situation; his voice is equal measures authoritative and deliberative.
The first half of the memo is concrete, as it details specific measures taken during the decade prior. In 1968, the President denounced the Soviet incursion; the US convened a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, and the State Department ordered Embassy Moscow to restrict official and social contacts with Soviet officials. The second half is more abstract, as Brzezinski veers towards themes rather than specifics. He laments that this development will complicate future arms negotiations and the release of American hostages held in neighboring Iran.
In closing, Brzezinski noted that the most effective steps would be to strengthen opposition to the Soviets worldwide. Five days later, the President undertook several measures that focused on punishing rather than coercing or deterring the Soviets. For example, the President asked the Senate to postpone deliberations on the complicated SALT-II treaty dealing with nuclear arms, he recalled the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, and he directed a boycott of the 1980 summer Olympics to be held in Moscow.
The memo can be viewed here: