Address to the Nation on the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan

Image: President Jimmy Carter at the White House, Washington, D.C. 1977. Marlon S. Trikosko, Photographer.
Why is the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan a threat to the United States and the world? What must be done in response? What is the United States doing to force the Soviets to leave Afghanistan?
Compare the responses of the United States to the invasions of Korea and Afghanistan: what are the similarities and differences? How does the basic U.S. Cold War policy of containment influence both responses?

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In 1978, a Communist Party in Afghanistan seized power in a coup. This led to a period of civil war and infighting within the Communist Party. In late 1979, the Soviet Union sent troops into Afghanistan, with which it shared a border, in order to install a communist faction to its liking. Soviet forces soon numbered 100,000. An informal coalition known as the Mujahideen fought to oust the Soviets, resulting in a protracted war. The costs in lives and money of the occupation of Afghanistan eventually forced the Soviet Union to withdraw, although this process was not completed until early 1989. The failed intervention in Afghanistan was one element leading to the dissolution of the Soviet Union (1991).

—David Krugler

Source: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Jimmy Carter, 1980-81, Book I (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1981), 21–4. Available online from Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.

I come to you this evening to discuss the extremely important and rapidly changing circumstances in Southwest Asia. . . .

. . . Massive Soviet military forces have invaded the small, nonaligned, sovereign nation of Afghanistan, which had hitherto not been an occupied satellite of the Soviet Union.

Fifty thousand heavily armed Soviet troops have crossed the border and are now dispersed throughout Afghanistan, attempting to conquer the fiercely independent Muslim people of that country.

The Soviets claim, falsely, that they were invited into Afghanistan to help protect that country from some unnamed outside threat. But the President, who had been the leader of Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion, was assassinated – along with several members of his family – after the Soviets gained control of the capital city of Kabul. Only several days later was the new puppet leader even brought into Afghanistan by the Soviets.

This invasion is an extremely serious threat to peace because of the threat of further Soviet expansion into neighboring countries in Southwest Asia and also because such an aggressive military policy is unsettling to other peoples throughout the world.

This is a callous violation of international law and the United Nations Charter. It is a deliberate effort of a powerful atheistic government to subjugate an independent Islamic people.

We must recognize the strategic importance of Afghanistan to stability and peace. A Soviet-occupied Afghanistan threatens both Iran and Pakistan and is a steppingstone to possible control over much of the world’s oil supplies.

The United States wants all nations in the region to be free and to be independent. If the Soviets are encouraged in this invasion by eventual success, and if they maintain their dominance over Afghanistan and then extend their control to adjacent countries, the stable, strategic, and peaceful balance of the entire world will be changed. This would threaten the security of all nations including, of course, the United States, our allies, and our friends.

Therefore, the world simply cannot stand by and permit the Soviet Union to commit this act with impunity. Fifty nations have petitioned the United Nations Security Council to condemn the Soviet Union and to demand the immediate withdrawal of all Soviet troops from Afghanistan.

. . . [N]either the United States nor any other nation which is committed to world peace and stability can continue to do business as usual with the Soviet Union.

I have already recalled the United States Ambassador from Moscow back to Washington. He’s working with me and with my other senior advisers in an immediate and comprehensive evaluation of the whole range of our relations with the Soviet Union.

The successful negotiation of the SALT II treaty1 has been a major goal and a major achievement of this administration, and we Americans, the people of the Soviet Union, and indeed the entire world will benefit from the successful control of strategic nuclear weapons through the implementation of this carefully negotiated treaty.

However, because of the Soviet aggression, I have asked the United States Senate to defer further consideration of the SALT II treaty so that the Congress and I can assess Soviet actions and intentions and devote our primary attention to the legislative and other measures required to respond to this crisis. As circumstances change in the future, we will, of course, keep the ratification of SALT II under active review in consultation with the leaders of the Senate.

The Soviets must understand our deep concern. We will delay opening of any new American or Soviet consular facilities, and most of the cultural and economic exchanges currently under consideration will be deferred. Trade with the Soviet Union will be severely restricted. . . .

Along with other countries, we will provide military equipment, food, and other assistance to help Pakistan defend its independence and its national security against the seriously increased threat it now faces from the north. The United States also stands ready to help other nations in the region in similar ways.

Neither our allies nor our potential adversaries should have the slightest doubt about our willingness, our determination, and our capacity to take the measures I have outlined tonight. I have consulted with leaders of the Congress, and I am confident they will support legislation that may be required to carry out these measures.

History teaches, perhaps, very few clear lessons. But surely one such lesson learned by the world at great cost is that aggression, unopposed, becomes a contagious disease. . . .

  1. 1. The Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT). The United States and the Soviet Union first signed an agreement in 1972 to limit their number of nuclear weapons. A second treaty had just been signed, but the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan resulted in the U.S. Senate not ratifying the agreement.
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