The following document is edited from the official transcript of a speech by Secretary of Defense Harold Brown to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City on March 6, 1980.

The 1970s closed with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The 1980s opened with the ensuing debate, both in this country and around the world, about how to respond to the invasion. At times confused, at times angry, at times profound, this debate is not yet resolved.

In my remarks today, I want to talk about US interests — some of them vital — in that part of the world, about the nature of the challenge presented by the Soviet threat there, about our response to that challenge, and particularly about how our military capabilities fit into an overall security policy framework for the region and contribute to that response. While recent events in Afghanistan are of critical significance, they are by no means the entire problem. Any discussion of the appropriate US response must begin by placing these specific events — the invasion and its consequences — in the broader context of historical and possible or likely future developments.

The full context of the Soviet invasion includes historical Russian ambitions in that region, a 20-year buildup of Soviet military forces, the more recent development of Soviet power projection capabilities, and the very recent upheavals in the Islamic world…. United States interests related to the Persian Gulf-Southwest Asian region, certainly in the short term, focus on the safe and speedy release of the Americans held hostage in Tehran; for the longer term, our interests can be stated quite simply: 1) to ensure access to adequate oil supplies; 2) to resist Soviet expansion; 3) to promote stability in the region; and 4) to advance the Middle East peace process, while ensuring (and indeed in order to help ensure) the continued security of the State of Israel.

Oil is the lifeblood of modern industrial societies. Sixty percent of the world’s imported petroleum comes from this region: about 13 percent of the oil consumed in the United States, and much higher percentages for our allies — 45 for Germany, and 75 for France and Japan. The loss of this oil to the economies of the West and the industrialized Far East would be a blow of catastrophic proportions. Putting Soviet power astride vast oil resources would, for the first time, give the Soviet state international economic leverage on a par with its military might….

The Middle East peace process is a fundamental component of US policy as is our commitment to the security of Israel. These aspects of striving for a stable and secure Middle East have taken on new significance in the wake of the recent events in Iran and Afghanistan.

The road to peace in the Middle East is long, steep and hazardous. But progress along that road has been — viewed overall — one of the great success stories in international affairs…. In pursuing peace we will continue to honor our national commitment to the security of Israel. We will also work with our Arab friends to provide a security framework that helps protect the region from Soviet expansionism and any consequent threats to the free flow of oil which is so important to them and the rest of the world.

As we seek to advance these four interests, our determination to respond to any threat to them is clear. As President Carter said in his State of the Union speech, “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States. lt will be repelled by use of any means necessary, including military force.”

International Complications for the Soviets

Before I elaborate on our strategy and capabilities to deter any such threat in the future, I would like to outline several other factors which compound Soviet calculations in the area and could contribute to the solution of our problems there.

First and foremost of these is the resurgence of Islam, reinforcing a historic trend toward nationalism in that part of the world. Unlike the Soviet Union, we are not seeking to insulate a large Islamic population from the influences of their religious tradition. We do not seek to suppress religious activism in the Islamic world. And this is true even with respect to Iran. As we have made clear many times during the continuing hostage crisis, if there is an external threat to Iran’s Islamic revolution, it comes from the Soviet Union, not from the United States.

Second, and related to the first, is the active resistance of the nationalistic peoples to outside domination…. And whatever problems the forces of religion and independence which are sweeping the area create for us, let us not forget that ultimately they can help inhibit Soviet expansionism….

Our allies and the other industrialized democracies (and, to take a different example, China as well) share our interests and concerns in the area — and, by and large, our evaluation of the dangers — even if they do not accept every element of our formulas for dealing with the situation. Western Europe and Japan, even more than we, depend on the oil resources of the region. Many of our allies have historic ties to countries there. While we seek allied support in the region, we must realize that direct contributions are not the only way they can help. For example, increased allied contributions to their own security provide us greater flexibility in the measures we must take to bolster our military capabilities for meeting threats to the peace and our common interests in the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia.

These diverse factors can help us meet the challenge posed by the Soviets — indeed they are an indispensable part of the total response. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the United States must take the lead in organizing a comprehensive response to Soviet aggression in Afghanistan and an effective deterrent to still more dangerous actions they might otherwise be tempted to take in the future. This comprehensive response must have many facets, military and non-military.

Non-Military Components of Deterrence

The first non-military ingredient is an effective, long-term energy policy to reduce our dependence on imported oil. This objective is crucial to our national security in the future….

The second non-military aspect is economic assistance to those countries in the region that are grappling with the problems of development. A particularly important example is the case of our ally Turkey. Economic uncertainty tends to fuel political instability. Helping a country solve its internal problems enables it to deal more effectively with common security and other regional concerns. We look to our friends in the industrialized world and to the wealthy oil producers in the area to bear their full share of this part of the task.

Military Components of Deterrence

Let me turn now to the military components. In our military planning for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia — indeed across the board — our first objective is to deter. That is, we seek to make clear that there will be major risks and penalties associated with aggression. We must be able, if need be, to defeat aggression at various levels. Without question, such an ability and the will to use it constitute the most effective deterrent.

Before I move on to discuss the kinds of forces that are necessary to carry out this objective, let me make four general observations about the military components of our response.

First, while the terms “rapid deployment forces” and “power projection” are relatively new additions to the jargon, the military missions they signify are not new at all. The United States has been in the rapid deployment and power projection business for a long time. If you doubt that, ask the Marines, who five years ago celebrated their two hundredth anniversary.

In both World Wars, in Korea, and then in Vietnam, we showed that we were able to sustain very large military forces very far from our shores. Whatever our other difficulties in those cases, the logistics capability which the United States demonstrated was impressive indeed. Moreover, it has long been a part of our military doctrine to be ready to engage in contingencies in remote areas, without unacceptably compromising our ability to maintain deterrence and defense in other theaters.

Second, I reject altogether the proposition that we should not develop the capability to use military forces effectively because we might then be tempted to use them unwisely. I believe the American people, and their political and military leaders, are wise enough — and, one might add, experienced enough — to understand and accept a few simple truths: that military forces alone cannot solve all the world’s problems, that their commitment is a very serious business, that such forces and the will to use them when necessary are essential to the defense of our vital interests, and that those interests must be carefully defined. We must be guided by the lessons of history and not haunted by its ghosts.

Third, there have been some press reports of alleged US reliance on a “tripwire” strategy, in which we would by preference or necessity quickly resort to theater nuclear weapons to defend against Soviet attack in the area. Several points need to be made. Any direct conflict between American and Soviet forces carries the risk of intensification and geographical spread of the conflict. We cannot concede to the Soviets full choice of the arena or the actions.

But that by no means implies that escalation to the use of nuclear weapons will be the consequences of a US-Soviet clash in Southwest Asia. In part to make such a result less likely, a major portion of our effort in the region is devoted to improving the conventional strength we can bring to bear there. In fact, given US capabilities and those of others whose interests would be threatened by Soviet aggression, given the difficulties inherent in any Soviet military actions beyond its borders in rugged terrain and hostile surroundings, and given our wide range of options both to exploit other Soviet vulnerabilities and to defend against attack, conventional deterrence and defense are feasible goals.

My fourth general observation is that this overall response is, and must be, a multilateral one, involving local forces, US forces, and those of other countries outside the region. For example, we are working with several countries in the region for increased US access to local facilities. We are talking with both potential contributors and potential recipients concerning programs of economic support and security assistance (which are necessary complements to our other efforts). And we are consulting with countries both in the region and outside concerning military cooperation there.

Despite the complexities inherent in multilateral action by independent nations, on the whole we have been quite successful in our endeavors, and we expect this to continue. I should note that in many instances, we seek not formal, public guarantees and agreements, but rather the establishment of a pattern of quiet consultation and parallel pursuit of common security goals.

Meeting the objective of deterrence will require a combination of local forces for self-defense, US forces present in the area, and, as appropriate, US and other forces capable of rapid deployment to reinforce threatened areas.

In most cases — indeed, to some degree in all cases — local forces in a country under attack or directly threatened would mobilize for its defense. We cannot hope, nor do we plan, to defend peoples in the region who will not help defend themselves. Because aggression against one could spread to threaten all, others in the region may well — and surely ought to — join in the collective defense. The kinds of assistance they would contribute would vary greatly from case to case, ranging from providing necessary access and support facilities to mobilizing forces that would stand alongside our own to deter and engage an enemy.

In addition to indigenous forces, deterrence involves both US military presence in a troubled region and US forces which can be quickly moved to it. What is important is the ability rapidly to move forces into the region with the numbers, mobility and firepower to preclude initial adversary forces from reaching vital points, lt is not necessary for our initial units to be able to defeat the whole force an adversary might eventually have in place, lt is also not necessary for us to await the firing of the first shot or the prior arrival of hostile forces; many of our forces can be moved upon strategic warning, and some upon receipt of even very early and ambiguous indications.

An effective US response to aggression in this or other trouble spots consists of several ingredients. The first — an enhanced continuing peacetime presence — will involve primarily naval forces. Our current naval power in the region is greatly superior to that of the Soviet Union in the area, lt provides us with an immediate tactical air capability. (I might add that the French also have a powerful naval force in the Indian Ocean.) Further, we are continuing to make improvements, begun several years ago, in the facilities on Diego Garcia. We will have a permanent presence in the region that is much greater than it was a year ago.

Pre-positioning of equipment is the vital second ingredient. We have begun a program to procure a number of maritime pre-positioning ships, which will give us greater flexibility and avoid the problems of large, permanent US bases overseas in sensitive areas.

As a near-term option, we are now actively assembling a seven-ship force of commercial-type vessels, including roll-on, roll-off ships, break-bulk cargo ships and tankers to provide us with this capability within the next several months. These ships will be loaded with unit equipment, supplies, fuel and water that would enable a Marine amphibious brigade of some 10,000 men, as well as several US Air Force fighter squadrons, to operate until further logistic support can arrive from the US.

The loaded ships will be pre-positioned within a few days’ sailing distance of the Persian Gulf-Arabian Sea area. In an emergency they could move to a designated port near the objective, and join up there with personnel and planes.

Mobility — especially air and sealift capabilities — is the third ingredient. We are not without such capabilities today. For example, the first land-based tactical aircraft could be in the region in a matter of hours, and significant units backed up by AWACS within a few days. The first battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division could arrive within 48 hours of a movement order; the entire division could close in about two weeks. A full Marine Amphibious Force (one division and air wing) could be deployed in four weeks.

Moreover, we are now programming major improvements to our rapid deployment capabilities. Several years ago, we started procurement of KC-10 aerial tankers, and we are now accelerating our purchases. We have also begun a long-term program for procurement of a new “CX” transport aircraft (either of new design or based on an existing aircraft) for long-distance deployment of out-sized cargos. We are also, as an interim measure, in the process of acquiring high-speed civilian ships which have immediate military sealift potential.

Fourth is the access and transit rights which I alluded to earlier. We are intensively (and I judge successfully) negotiating increased access to port, airfield, and other facilities to improve our ability to sustain naval and aircraft deployments. Let me again emphasize the difference between seeking access and seeking permanent bases. Essentially, we are asking various countries in the area to enable us to come more effectively to their assistance if and when they need and want us. This is far different from asking them to host permanent US garrisons.

Frequent deployment and exercises in the area comprise another key ingredient. We have increased the scale and pace of our periodic naval task force deployments in the region.

For example, to take a specific point in time, last October the USS Midway Carrier Battle Group was conducting an exercise in the Indian Ocean with naval units from the United Kingdom and Australia. Additionally, four ships of the US Mideast Force were on station in the Persian Gulf. A second aircraft carrier battle group from the Western Pacific arrived in the Arabian Sea in December. Since that time, more than 150 carrier-based tactical aircraft and 14 warships have been continuously available in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea to maintain a visible US presence.

Our ability to project air power at extended distances has been further demonstrated by three B-52 sea surveillance and three airborne warning and control missions flown in the I ndi- an Ocean area. Finally, a Marine Amphibious Unit will arrive in the Arabian Sea later this month. And even earlier, we deployed tactical aircraft there — for example, F-15s and AWACs to Saudi Arabia, as part of our response to the threat to North Yemen.


The policies and the approach I have outlined are not steps toward war. They are designed to build strength and reasonable response to real needs. The massive growth of Soviet military capabilities is a fact. Their willingness to use surrogates and indeed units of the Red Army to assert military and political power outside the borders of the Soviet Union has been demonstrated. The United States and the nationals to which we have the closest ties are now, and will be for a long time, linked by a highly vulnerable lifeline to the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.

Perhaps the Soviets will never move to threaten that lifeline. Perhaps the more “benign” interpretations of their invasion of Afghanistan — if the word “benign” can be used at all — are correct. But, as policymakers and as responsible citizens and world leaders, we cannot safely assume that it is. Indeed, the actions that we must take to guard against the consequences of the immediate threat posed by recent aggressive Soviet behavior are probably the most effective way to moderate future Soviet actions over the long term….

For the United States to assume its proper role in deterring such aggression in the future, we must have adequate military capability and the will to use it if necessary. If we intend to remain a major world power, and to preserve our own pluralistic political and economic system, then we must engage over the long haul in: 1) economic rebuilding; 2) a program to reduce our dependence on imported energy, and not least; 3) an enhancement of our military capability, including an ability to deploy forces rapidly to areas far from but vital to us, in a security framework that helps to stabilize such regions.

These tasks will not be easy. They cannot be done as a one-time crash program. They will not be inexpensive. But if we fail to carry them out, the twenty-first century will be a dangerous one indeed for our ideals, for our society and for our children.

How to cite this article:

"What the Carter Doctrine Means to Me," Middle East Report 90 (September/October 1980).

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