21 December, 2012 — National Security Archive
…and a Paralyzed Leadership, According to Conference of Former Decision-Makers
Proceedings from 1995 Conference Reveal Soviet Motivations and U.S. Internal Reactions to Soviet Move
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 409
Edited by Malcolm Byrne and Svetlana Savranskaya
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Washington, D.C., December 12, 2012 — On December 12, 1979, the Soviet Politburo gathered to formally approve the decision made several days earlier to send a “limited contingent” of Soviet forces into Afghanistan. The secrecy was so tight that the leadership hand-wrote the authorization document in one copy and hand-carried it to each Politburo member for signature. The order does not even mention Afghanistan by name and uses cryptic language to entrust Andropov, Ustinov and Gromyko to oversee the implementation of the decision. The Yeltsin government declassified the one-page record in 1992 as part of a body of evidence for use at the upcoming trial of the Communist Party.
Ever since December 1979, the war has continued to ravage the country, and scholars and politicians continue to try to come to grips with what went wrong at each stage. Today, the National Security Archive publishes materials from the final conference of the Carter-Brezhnev Project, hosted by the Norwegian Nobel Institute at the Lysebu conference center outside Oslo, a meeting that produced major insights into Soviet decision-making on the eve of the invasion and the U.S. response to it.
According to the full transcript of the Lysebu sessions, the Soviets were concerned with Afghan leader Hafizullah Amin‘s perceived turn to the West, his ruthless purges of opponents in the Afghan communist party and government, and the possibility of a U.S. grand plan for the Middle East reaching to the Soviets’ southern borders. The Kremlin reluctantly approved a limited invasion plan only after a strong push from Yuri Andropov‘s KGB intending to bring Amin rival Babrak Karmal to power, help secure his regime for its first months in power, and then leave the country. The Politburo’s intelligence was badly flawed, however, exaggerating both the danger of U.S. interference and the ease of changing the regime. (For more Soviet documents and analysis, see the Archive’s Russian page, http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/rus/Afganistan.html)
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