U.S.-Soviet Relations in the Era of Détente, 1969-1976: Transcript
Conference Transcripts from:
"U.S.-Soviet Relations in the Era of Détente, 1969-1976"
East Auditorium, George C. Marshall Conference Center
October 22-23, 2007 (Conference Schedule)
Introduction to Roundtable Discussion of Former Government Officials
DR. SUSSER: After two decades of Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, President Richard Nixon and Communist Party General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev began to forge a new kind of relationship which introduced a new diplomatic term to much of the American public: détente. It was during this era that National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger opened a confidential channel of communication with the Soviet Union. In a relationship that was known to only a select few in Washington, Dr. Kissinger met regularly with the longtime Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin to discuss major issues of the day.
This Kissinger-Dobrynin confidential channel provided a means for each side to reach out to the other, to probe, to test the waters and to move the bilateral relationship from outright enmity to an era of lessened tension. We are indeed fortunate to have with us today Dr. Kissinger and one of his colleagues from the Nixon and Ford administrations, Dr. James Schlesinger, who also filled, as the Secretary pointed out, more than one key position during this era.
Unfortunately, General Alexander Haig was hospitalized last week and is under doctor's orders not to leave his house. We will send him a copy of the volume and we send him our good wishes for a speedy recovery.
There are brief biographies of our panelists in your program, but I believe I can accurately say that for students of the Nixon-Ford era, Dr. Kissinger and Dr. Schlesinger really need no further introduction. Each of them has, I believe, some opening remarks prepared. So, Dr. Kissinger, would you begin?[Back to top]
Opening Remarks by Dr. Henry Kissinger
DR. KISSINGER: Thank you very much. Let me—I've been asked to keep my remarks to 15 minutes, in which case you can all say you were present at a historic occasion. (Laughter.)
Let me make my remarks on three major points. One, what was the situation that President Nixon and his Security Advisor found when they entered office? Secondly, how did—what was the channel? What were we trying to accomplish? And third, what are the conclusions one can perhaps draw from this?
First, whatever various historians in this room may have written, I had never met President Nixon until he had been elected as President. And I had reached that eminence by opposing him in three presidential campaigns, primary campaigns, as the principal foreign policy advisor of Governor Rockefeller.
So President Nixon arrived into office with very clearly formed opinions about the nature of the international situation, and so did I. And those opinions were congruent, no matter what comments you may find in phone conversations at the end of the day which prove preconceived ideas. In fact, one could say that whatever was achieved in the Nixon Administration was due to the fact that there was a substantial philosophical agreement about what was attempted to be done.
The Nixon Administration took office six months after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, in the midst of the Vietnamese War in which there were 520,000 Americans in Vietnam, and their number was still increasing for the first three months of the Nixon Administration on a schedule established by our predecessors. In the previous five years, there had been two assassinations in America, the most recent, less than a year before Nixon achieved office. The country was as divided as it had ever been in its history and the issue whether the administration desired peace—any administration, our predecessors and we ourselves—was a crucial issue in the American domestic debate. The defense appropriations were under constant attack and it was possible to maintain the defense program of our predecessors and the slightly modified program of the Nixon Administration only against the most intense opposition. The missile defense program of the Nixon Administration was passed by one vote in the authorization process and then reduced every year in the appropriations process.
Now, that was the situation in which we found ourselves. Now, the Soviet Union had started a massive buildup of its strategic weapons, which in numbers exceeded our own. At the same time, we faced what we considered to be an obligation to end the oscillation in this country between extremes of commitment and extremes of withdrawal, and anchor it into some permanent perception of the American national interest.
Secondly, we felt we owed it to the American public to demonstrate a permanent commitment to a period of what President Nixon called negotiation, a commitment to the desirability of peaceful resolutions of disputes, and to make permanent efforts to bridge the gaps that existed between us and the Soviet Union, between us and China, and to solve the Vietnam War on a basis which we considered honorable, which meant that we were not prepared to turn over the people who, in reliance on American promises by our predecessors, had staked their fate on America.
Those were the principles which governed our strategy. And it was expressed in, on the one hand, resistance to any expansion of the Soviet sphere based on the use or the threat of force; a maintenance of a strategic equilibrium between us and the Soviet Union. But it was also based on a serious effort to open a negotiating channel.
Now then, how did what is called "the channel" in this book come into existence? It is fair and correct to say that President Nixon entered office with a profound distrust of this Department. That was based partly on his experiences, or as he described his experiences, when he was traveling as a defeated candidate in the 1960 elections and as an aspirant candidate from '64 to '68. He perceived that he had been treated inappropriately and with condescension. I can make no comment because I did not witness it, but it would be wrong to underestimate the depths of his feelings.
Secondly, it was equally important to understand, because I participated in that, when it came time to organize the structure of national security after his election, the person on whom he relied most was General Goodpaster. I had no fixed views on that subject at the time because I didn't have enough experience at that time.
And General Goodpaster and I called on President Eisenhower, and President Eisenhower passionately stated that whatever else was done, the chairmanship of all inter-departmental committees could not be in the Department of State; it had to be, according to President Eisenhower, in the White House. I pointed out—I'm not arguing these points. I just want to give you the history of how this all evolved. And this combined with President Nixon's already settled view that he wanted to run foreign policy out of the White House that he had stated in the election campaign. So from the very beginning, before my relationship with Nixon was firmly established, he told the Soviet Ambassador, as you will see in this book, in the very first meeting that he wanted a special channel that would—ran from Dobrynin to me. And this was three weeks after I met Nixon for the first time.
Now, again, if we are dealing here with historians, Nixon was reinforced in this view by a tendency of this building, which you will—some of you may agree, others not—which is this. When the State Department is overruled on something by the White House, its basic assumption is not that it was wrong or that the President has stated a view; its basic assumption is that it was misunderstood and that it has to take another shot at it, and another shot and the modifications of what had been originally produced. So one is engaged in an endless guerrilla war unless the State Department is run by somebody who is very close to the President. And that difference doesn't arise. What cannot happen, in my view, bureaucratically, is that the State Department wins a bureaucratic battle with the White House, no matter who is right, and that is however what happened. On many of the key issues—linkage, could one proceed on a broad basis with the Soviet Union, the timing of the initiation of negotiations, how best to proceed with China—there were not only disagreements, which can be helpful, but there were disagreements that couldn't end, that wouldn't ever end. And there are many explanations for that and I've offered to meet with the historians here separately to go into that. But there was a real problem. It was not just an invention of the President or of myself. And I can tell you, as somebody who had to manage this process, it had a nightmarish quality when the Department which had all the diplomats was going one way, the White House was going another way, and you could never be 100 percent sure who was saying what to whom.
Now, then it's important to understand how the channel actually operated. It's often presented by people who write on it as if the White House just invented its strategy and went ahead on its own. But this isn't actually how it operated. General Goodpaster, and I suppose myself in the interim between the election and the inauguration of the President, established a very systematic national security procedure which operated through various regional groups, through a senior review group, to the National Security Council. And I would urge historians who now seem to me to specialize on finding a sentence in a phone conversation that demonstrates what they thought they already knew to begin with, and do it more as a criminal investigation than as a historical investigation. I urge them to read these inter-departmental meetings, the Washington Special Action Groups, which were done in great detail. What we did in the channel was we took the material from these special—from these groups and we selected one of the options, so everybody participated in creation of the options but not everybody participated in the choice of the options. And this is how the channel—how it was possible to conduct this wide array of negotiations with the Soviet Union basically through a channel restricted to two individuals because, actually, the input of the bureaucracy was very decisive. And ironically, it worked very well as long as the bureaucracy didn't know that the channel existed, because then they put forward their best efforts to find a consensus in the inter-departmental process.
Once it became clear that the channel existed, in late '72, then each of the elements in this process would put forward their maximum position and let the White House worry about resolving it. So, actually, by the time I became Secretary of State, the channel, as the channel was breaking—was not breaking down as a channel, but the bureaucratic backup for it was breaking down, détente got on a violent controversy. And so then when I was made Secretary of State, the channel in its old sense didn't exist anymore because it moved into the State Department. I could use State Department backup, and all it was then was a very intense conversation between the Secretary of State and the Soviets, and the Soviet Ambassador, who was outstanding.
One of the attributes of this channel was that we could spend time on philosophical issues. We did not come to each meeting with a formal position and begin negotiating. We would have sessions which I described, or which we described to each other, as thinking out loud. And I would say, for example, "Let me tell you how we think about this problem. We haven't made a proposal yet, but when we make a proposal, you ought to understand the thinking that is behind it. And if there is a crisis, you ought to understand what we are trying to achieve." And I think that brought—there must be many documents to that effect in here, and this helped negotiations.
Nor should it be thought that the channel was an idyllic friendship (inaudible). On what we called the month of crisis, when simultaneously a Soviet submarine base was built in Cienfuegos, Soviet troops appeared along the Suez Canal, Syrian troops invaded Jordan, that was not what you would describe as an idyllic period. But the channel continued to work. Similarly, during the India-Pakistan crisis, which was not—which was handled as far as the White House was concerned as a Soviet-Indian cooperation, in the interval between my visit to China in 19—in July and Nixon's visit to China in February. So it had to us a geopolitical consequence which transcended the Bangladesh issue.
But I think I've given you a flavor, but what emerged out of this was a degree of confidence in understanding each other's perceptions, of the necessities of handling crises and of a larger view. As far as the American public was concerned, we felt it imperative to demonstrate a commitment to peace. As far as the Soviet Union was concerned, we felt it important to demonstrate to the Soviet Union that if they conducted the foreign policy of a normal great power, we would have differences but they would be manageable differences. What would drive differences out of control was the attempt to achieve domination in areas that were of vital interest to us or vital interest to both of us.
And it is based on these assumptions that a number of agreements were made. And for example, the Strategic Arms Limitation Agreement, which was really an attempt by us to cap the growth of the Soviet missile force, and whose numbers, even though it became very controversial, whose numbers were never altered in the 25 years that followed it or in the 20 years that followed it. The statement of certain principles of international conduct—of course, we knew countries would not consult their lawyers and see what principles, but they would create a basis from which one could either come together or come to a place of resistance.
Access to Berlin was handled in this manner and led to an agreement that lasted for the entire Cold War period.
Then, in America we had Watergate, which was unpredictable, and the collapse of executive authority, and even more the collapse of the comity between the Congress and the Executive Branch and between the media and the Executive Branch, so that issues became highly controversial that normally would have been considered as part of tactical disagreements within an agreed framework. But despite all of this, which was symbolized in part by the issue of Jewish emigration, which we had handled in the channel and in which we had managed to increase emigration from the Soviet Union from 900 to 40,000 and which once it became a public issue dropped down to 10-15,000—it never went back—we did it by doing—operating through the channel. And I'm not going to—the point here it's not the degree of publicity one should give policy.
But with all of this, we managed to conclude the European Security Conference which established certain moral principles or human rights principles, which later on proved of the greatest significance.
Now, what does it mean for the current period? I must say I agreed completely with what the Secretary of State said here. I think she expressed exactly what my views would be on this issue. Russia is in a new and complex position. It has lost 300 years of its history. Its borders are back to where they were under the Peter the Great. This is bound to be an event of tremendous emotional significance and it is bound to produce an attempt to reassert themselves.
Secondly, Russia borders three problematical borders from a geopolitical point of view: a long border with China on the one side of which is highly under-populated, on the other side it's over a billion people, in territory that has been historically contested; a border with Russia—with the Muslim world which is in the throes of a jihadist attempt to overthrow the state system as it was developed; and then a western border which sort of one would say should be a border of peace but which has been identified in the Russian mind with histories such as in Ukraine or Georgia which have been part of Russian history and which make it hard for Russia to think of them as totally foreign countries. But in each of these borders, America and Russia have some common interests and therefore should be able to cooperate to some considerable extent. And therefore the question is how do we do it. I'm not saying that the methods used in the Nixon Administration were ideal. Ideally, the relationship should be a very strong Secretary of State, very close to the President; then the system works. And that's substantially what is happening now.
But it is important to have a dialogue with—a permanent dialogue with Russia and not one that is just geared to the immediate issues, a dialogue that can look five years ahead. And I think that this visit of the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense in Russia provides a forum where this can go and take place. And of course, all of us in this room know it won't end with this administration. The new administration will have to pick up where this administration ends. And hopefully, not by eradicating everything that's gone before, but to try to establish a level of permanence that's actually, since Russia is also changing administrations to some degree, this is a requirement (inaudible) as well. I have proved that I can't talk in 15 minutes. (Laughter.) If you could hear me in German, it would go on even longer and you wouldn't get to the verb until the end of 20 minutes. (Laughter.)
DR. SUSSER: Thank you, Dr. Kissinger. Dr. Schlesinger, please.[Back to top]
Opening Remarks by Dr. James Schlesinger
DR. SCHLESINGER: Thank you, and danke schön, Herr Kissinger. (Laughter.)
As the Secretary indicated, I was kind of a utility infielder during the early years of the Nixon Administration. I had four separate jobs, the first of which was handling national security for the old Bureau of the Budget and presiding over what was a substantial administration-ordered decline in the defense budget associated with the President's intent to reduce substantially our forces in Vietnam and leading, by the way, to the first balanced budget in fiscal 1971 that we had enjoyed for some time.
Before moving into the Bureau of the Budget, I had been the Director of Strategic Studies at the Rand Corporation, at which our central concern was the growth of a Soviet counter-deterrent to America's strategic forces and what that might imply about America's credibility for extended deterrence protecting our allies in Europe. I shall return to that in a while.
The years of this volume, 1969 through 1972, I was wholly unencumbered with what passed through the channel. The existence of such a channel comes as no surprise, and should not have come as a surprise, and was quite welcome -- a subject that I will come back to later on.
But Henry has covered some of the important details of the period leading up to the administration. I remind you of some of them.
First, he has mentioned that the President had a profound contempt for the Department of State. I will add that he had a profound contempt for the Central Intelligence Agency as well. In 1968, the view in the intelligence community was that the Soviet Union was only going to try to match us with regard to strategic forces, that as we had leveled off at a thousand missiles, just over that, 1,056, all that the Soviet Union was prepared to do was to go up to that level, match us, and then stop deploying missiles.
It did not turn out that way. And incidentally, for you scholars, it was not the first time—or more recently is not the first time that intelligence assessments may have been influenced by the attitudes of the political authorities, who felt that the Soviets really felt endangered, that détente was the way to deal with that problem, and that they would indeed stop.
Now, this was in the period just after the announcement of the Brezhnev Doctrine and the Soviet Union was feeling its oats in this period. America was preoccupied, or so they felt, with Vietnam. There were some of our diplomats who believed that that the Soviets really wanted to help us out in Vietnam. That was rather an illusion.
The Soviets were talking about the correlation of forces, in which through the forces of history, inevitably the balance of force was moving in favor of the Soviet Union and against the West generally, and the United States in particular.
As Henry has mentioned, in 1968 the Soviets had moved into Czechoslovakia. This came as a surprise to the Office of the Secretary of Defense. It was astonished because it was the feeling in the administration that the Soviets would not act in a way that would endanger détente. They did.
Incidentally, for people in the Operations Directorate as opposed to the Intelligence Directorate at the CIA, Soviet action came as no surprise. They felt that the Soviets had no alternative but to move into Czechoslovakia or their empire in Eastern Europe would begin to fall apart.
Let me turn now to the central issue as far as I was concerned, which was the arms issue. The Soviets, in the eyes of all and in particular in the eyes of our European allies, had total conventional arms dominance. The allies, in particular, felt that within days of a hypothetical Soviet move against the West, that the Western position would collapse and that we would turn, or should turn, to the use of nuclear weapons. That was the standard view.
And up until that time, they had had great confidence in the threat of nuclear retaliation by the United States. But the growth of the Soviet counter-deterrent, which basically started at the time of Cuba when the Soviets discovered how naked they were compared to the United States, went on and slowly the Soviets had built up.
So our concern was that the Soviets might marry strategic nuclear dominance to their already conventional dominance. To deal with this, we strengthened our conventional deterrent—ultimately, a story that we may come back to later—but also changed our strategic doctrine.
The Europeans, as I mentioned, were squeamish in this period. Some, as the French were under Charles de Gaulle, believing that the Americans would never trade New York for Hamburg, as you may remember, and they were particularly squeamish because they had lost confidence in the United States reflecting Vietnam.
The Seventh Army, which had been stripped of its most valuable personnel to be shipped off to Vietnam, was in dreadful shape and the Europeans knew it. There was widespread use of drugs and there was their great protector—in their eyes, mistakenly—caught in Vietnam and with the declining forces and a declining capability to protect Europe. That went on for some years and I will come back to that.
In 1973, I became the Director of Central Intelligence, and in an early briefing to the National Security Council I pointed out what the immense advantages of the Soviet Union in terms of throw-weight might be if it were married to accurate MIRVed missiles or MIRVed reentry vehicles.
After the agreement on May the 14th of 1972, there was an explosion after the agreement of research and development activities in the missile area by the Soviets. We saw new missiles going—being tested, and in particular the SS-18 and the SS-19, which were substantial improvements over the earlier generation of missiles, the SS-11, the SS-13 and the like.
I publicly—by that time, I was the Secretary of Defense—I pointed out to the press at that time this explosion of R&D activity and what it might imply with regard to the arms balance. And indeed, I announced our plans to proceed with the MX missile, which was a large throw-weight missile.
At the same time, in respect to détente and the need for avoiding the ability to attack or undermine the capacity of either side to retaliate, that we were prepared to give up on the MX missile if the Soviet Union were prepared to pull down its own throw-weight. However, if the Soviet Union proceeded in the direction that it was going, that we would indeed deploy the MX missile.
At the same time, I announced a change in our nuclear strategy which stressed that indeed we would be prepared to use strategic forces against the Soviet Union but that we would avoid cities in an attempt to persuade the Soviets in response to any initiation by the United States attacking our own cities. And following up on the discussion of the channel, that we would continue to seek to have intra-ward communications with the Soviet leadership under those circumstances. I think it important that during wartime that one—during a nuclear exchange, that one sustain those communications so that there would be less a risk of misunderstanding of what we were doing and presumably what they would be doing.
In 1972, you will recall the part of the Moscow agreement was the basic principles regarding coexistence. Those basic principles were substantially blown apart with the start of the Middle Eastern war in 1973. The Soviets came in strongly in support of their client-states; indeed, more importantly from our standpoint, they had been egging on their client-states to attack Israel. That was not consistent with the basic principles in which each side would avoid taking advantage of circumstances to improve their marginal position, in this case in the Middle East.
The 1973 war brought a significant change with regard to our standing in the world, and particularly with our allies. With the start of the airlift to Israel, of which most of our allies disapproved and some disapproved vehemently, starting with the French Government, but notably the British Government as well, that even though they disapproved of the airlift they did take note of the fact that the United States was quite competent in carrying out that airlift, that within 36 hours American supplies were landing in Israel to shore up the Israeli position.
And the squeamishness that many of our allies had had to that point began to disappear in that they recognized that the United States was quite capable of effective action despite their European misgivings about Vietnam.
I think that I will simply point out that with regard to SALT II that the Soviet negotiating stance was always one of seeking advantage relative to the United States despite their full knowledge that undermining the American strategic position would have consequences in terms of the Soviet standing in Western Europe.
For example, the Soviets were always seeking to force us to withdraw our so-called forward-based forces, forward-deployed forwards, and pull them back to the United States at the same time that they would pull their own forward-deployed forces back to within the borders of the Soviet Union. That is, we would withdraw 3,500 miles, they would withdraw a couple of hundred miles. I was always a strong supporter of the concept of détente, but I wanted it to be a balanced détente.
Henry mentioned General Goodpaster. I should point out that General Goodpaster had been a principal in the so-called Solarium conference at the start of the Eisenhower Administration in 1961, and that President Nixon, when he was Vice President, was fully aware of the existence of the Solarium conference.
Thus, the Nixon Administration was lodged with something called NSSM-1, which was, in effect, a review by the larger bureaucracy under the guidance of Henry Kissinger, of the position of the United States in the world. NSSM-1 came to the conclusion that the military forces of the United States should not be prepared for two and a half wars, but for one and a half wars, that there was a recognition that our relationship with China that had been previously quite hostile was undergoing change and would undergo further change. NSSM-1 was a splendid example of how a government coming—a new administration coming into power should review what it inherits from the past. I might point out that we will have a new administration in 2009 and I commend to that administration those kinds of procedures, recognizing the difficulties that now face American foreign policy and the likelihood that a new administration will be tested early on after 2009.
Thank you. (Applause.)[Back to top]
Relations between U.S. and Soviet Diplomats
DR. SUSSER: Thank you, Dr. Schlesinger. I'd like to remind everyone that you do have index cards in your folders if you'd like to write down a question and pass it to one of our people on the aisles if you have a question for our panelists.
Let me start by asking you both, a lot of commentary in the newspapers focuses on the relationship between the President and President Putin and the Secretary and her counterparts. Could you perhaps talk a little bit about the chemistry you had with your counterparts and the chemistry President Nixon had with his Soviet counterparts?
For example, Dr. Kissinger, in your forward, you note that Ambassador Dobrynin* inscribed his memoirs to you as opponent, partner and friend. And you've already said that it was not an idyllic friendship. Perhaps you could start by explaining what the relationship was.
DR. KISSINGER: Well, the first thing you understand is that Dobrynin* was a representative of the Soviet system. He, while he was Ambassador, became a member of the Central Committee. Once he retired as Ambassador, he became head of the Foreign Department of the Central Committee, which is a position nearly equivalent of maybe—more than equivalent of that of the foreign minister.
So he clearly was there to achieve the strategic objectives of the Soviet Union, and the strategic objectives of the Soviet Union at that time were correctly described by Jim as serving the strategic advantage of the Soviet Union. They were encouraging the Vietnam War, or certainly doing nothing to ease it. We had a big disagreement with them about the invasion of Czechoslovakia, the containment in Eastern Europe, a whole host of issues.
But we also had a number of common objectives. One was to avoid a nuclear catastrophe for mankind. Secondly, gradually, as our dialogue continued, a emerging attempt to find a long-term cooperation between the two countries. Again, if you look at the record here, you will find that roughly until 1971 most of the channel consisted of dealing with various crises. After 1971, that is, after my visit to China, the relations, the Soviet foot-dragging about the possibility of a summit suddenly stopped, and then from the need to prepare a summit emerged closer cooperation.
In 1973, there's a book that had been published by a notetaker of the Politburo discussions which shows that the Soviet Union during that war was sort of divided between those who wanted to serve détente and those who felt that the Soviet Union had an obligation towards liberation, and Soviet policy found itself in the middle between those two, those two objectives.
But through that period I developed very great respect for the professionalism and dedication of Anatoly Dobrynin. And I had no illusion that I could charm him into doing something that was contrary to either his instructions or his perception of Soviet interests. But I thought that within the margin that diplomats sometimes have he would attempt to give a reasonable turn to it. And if one reads his dispatches—I sometimes, as I pointed out in my introduction, think he fell occasionally into the habit of diplomats of claiming more than the conversation permitted. But on the big issues he gave a very accurate account, and in the conduct of our negotiations on the factual material there was, as he pointed out in his memoirs and as I confirmed, there was no substantial difference in our perception. So the confidence we developed in Dobrynin helped us to assess the reports that he was communicating to us.
But I never believed, and Nixon even less than I believed, that personal relationships can overcome the fundamental strategic orientation of states, and that our task was to effect a strategic orientation, not to have a good personal relationship.
DR. SCHLESINGER: Of course, Al Haig is not here today, but I should point out that when he became Secretary of State he rather ostentatiously cut off Ambassador Dobrynin's access to the garage of the Department of State which he had previously enjoyed as a signal of a change in U.S. policy. I'm not sure that that was either effective or necessary, but that did occur.
DR. KISSINGER: Which he was one of those who arranged the access to the State Department to begin with. (Laughter.)[Back to top]
Relations between the White House and U.S. Department of Defense
QUESTION: Dr. Schlesinger, you've observed that along with the profound contempt that he had for the Department of State, President Nixon had a similar feeling towards the CIA. What about the Defense Department?
DR. SCHLESINGER: President Nixon, to some extent, met his match in the Department of Defense. (Laughter.) As did Henry Kissinger. (Laughter.) I refer not to my tenure but the existence of one Mel Laird. Mel Laird was quite capable of taking a different view on issues from those of the White House and he would reveal these things in his intimate conversation with his old buddies down there on Capitol Hill. And what do you know? As a result of that, you would find at the end that Capitol Hill seemed to insist that we not do something that the White House was inclined to do, but indeed followed the preferred route of Mel Laird.
I might add to that, Mel Laird liked to have a drink in the evening. This, I hope, is not a surprise to anyone here.
DR. KISSINGER: He liked to have what?
DR. SCHLESINGER: A drink, with his friends. And one evening, he was sitting there in his office at the Pentagon and he observed with regard to his Deputy Secretary, he said, "The trouble with David Packard is that he thinks that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line." That tells you something about David Packard, but it tells you a lot more about Mel Laird. (Laughter.)
DR. KISSINGER: Of course, I do not think that among the qualifications of a cabinet member should be necessarily his ability to sabotage the preferences of the President. (Laughter.) And while it's important to have cabinet members who are prepared to challenge the President, at the end of the day an administration has to be coherent. And I had—actually, I had high regard for Laird. The disagreements between Schlesinger and Laird had often to do with the rate of withdrawal from Vietnam, not about the total numbers but who would get credit for what increment of withdrawal. And some student of political science will study it someday.
And Nixon was no slouch in maneuvering either, so the question was who would get—the rate of withdrawal was not usually—was not—there was no disagreement about the rate so much but about who would make the announcement and in what increments. And when an increment was announced, for example, if 150,000 were announced, do you frontload it, take most of them out at the beginning, or take most of them out at the end? And on those things Mel got his share of the credit. It was not of, I think, historic significance but it was for a student of bureaucratic maneuvering it showed that Mel would have been a proud member of the Harvard faculty to participate in its maneuvering. (Laughter.)
DR. SCHLESINGER: On that particular point, Mel had strong inclinations going back to his Wisconsin roots that we nearly ought to draw in our horns, and particularly with regard to Vietnam. By the summer of '72 when General Abrams left Vietnam, we had essentially destroyed the Vietcong in South Vietnam and we had neutralized the North Vietnamese. One could argue, I have argued, that we had by that time won the war and then we subsequently threw it away.
But the constraints that were placed by the Pentagon on General Abrams were substantial and, in my view, debilitating with regard to the speed of withdrawal. And General Abrams was the good soldier; he took all of these orders and carried them out, but he was not happy to do so.
DR. KISSINGER: On the whole, Nixon was for the slower rate.
DR. SCHLESINGER: Mm-hmm.[Back to top]
Differences in Policy between Nixon and Ford Administrations
DR. SUSSER: Perhaps you could comment on the difference in the way the bureaucracy functioned and in the way the White House functioned with the cabinet agencies when the changeover came from Nixon to Ford.
DR. KISSINGER: Ford had never run for the presidency. He was as close to a normal human being as we'll ever get in that office. (Laughter.) He was not driven by public relations. And Nixon had had a very complicated life, and Nixon did not like to face disagreement face-to-face. So if one wanted to have an impact on Nixon, it was much better to do it with memoranda than in a cabinet meeting or in a—or through a—Ford had no such problems. So the interdepartmental process was calmer under Ford than it was under Nixon, and there wasn't that dual system anymore of a Security Advisor and a Secretary of State so that had a quality of calming it down.
For awhile, I was both Secretary of State and Security Advisor, which is a bad system because it gives one person too great an influence. It also creates an anomalous situation when you appear as Security Advisor and the Deputy Secretary of State represents the State Department. But he'd be mad if he disagreed with his Secretary as Security Advisor. (Laughter.) It was not a good system and it was correctly abandoned.
So as it turned out, towards the end of the Ford Administration, however, the country was so divided on the issue of détente that the governmental process didn't work so well anymore. There was always a lot of discussion about disagreements between Jim and me when he was Secretary of Defense, but in fact we lived in the same universe and we were going to come to an agreement somewhere along the line.
When Rumsfeld came in, and I've said that often publicly, who was a political figure, and we had a disagreement, there was no way of solving the political dispute that had arisen, so that the negotiations became stalemated until there was a new administration. I don't think that would have happened—I said so at the time—when Jim was in office. So one had to consider that. But I had personally huge affection for Ford and I think he contributed enormously toward the healing of the country that was in very bad shape when he took it over.
DR. SUSSER: Dr. Schlesinger, would you like to talk a little bit about taking over Defense from Mel Laird?
DR. SCHLESINGER: Well, I didn't take it over from Mel Laird, as a matter of fact. I took it over from Elliot Richardson—
DR. SUSSER: Right, right.
DR. SCHLESINGER: —Elliot Richardson having been handed the Department of Justice after the departure of the previous attorney general. Elliot, who was always a good soldier, or tried to be, tried to broker, as it were, the problems of the President with regard to the issues of Watergate. But there was only so far that he would go, and so Elliot, through the rest of his life, observed that the best job he ever had in Washington was being Secretary of Defense. And he didn't comment on his opinion about the Department of Justice, but I don't think that he liked it as much as he had Health, Education and Welfare.
Taking over—as Henry mentioned, on many strategic issues he and I saw eye to eye, at least in the large if not with regard to details. So even when I was Director of Central Intelligence he made use of me, if I may put it that way, in dealing with certain of our problems, of our international problems. So when I took over as Secretary of Defense, I was in a position, having known Henry on and off for 40 or 50 years, to share with him many of his strategic goals. As I said earlier, I was for détente. I was for a balanced détente.
DR. KISSINGER: I might tell you an instance of the channel breaking down. When I was in Moscow in 1973 at the end of the October war, my strategy was to gain as much time as possible because the Israeli situation was improving and our negotiating position would therefore improve. And so the President had invited me to dinner on a Saturday night just after I arrived and said we have to settle this as quickly as possible. I said to him, "Yes, but of course you realize that I have to check everything with President Nixon and so you have to take this into account." And he pulled out a cable he had received that day from President Nixon giving me full powers to do—(laughter)—so when I got back to the guest house, even though I knew the lines were open, I called up Haig and I said, "Have you lost your mind? Why would a cable like this be sent to me?" And kept going on in my emphatic way. (Laughter.) And Haig said, "Will you get off my back? I have problems of my own." (Laughter.) And I said, "What problems can you possibly have on a Saturday night in Washington?" It turned out it was the night of the Saturday night massacre when everything went to hell.
DR. SCHLESINGER: Incidentally, there was the Saturday night massacre that led to our special concern growing into the so-called nuclear alert that occurred a week later after Brezhnev's stiff letter about moving into the Middle East with us or without us, as he put it. And we feared that after the Saturday night massacre—you had the first calls in the Congress for Nixon's impeachment. There hadn't been such calls, basically, since the impeachment of President Johnson in 1865 or '6, so that was a new experience at that time. Subsequently, cries for impeachment of the President seemed to be quite common. (Laughter.)
And we feared that the Soviets might be concluding that the American Government was paralyzed, that it could not act, and it was for that reason, amongst others, that we responded to Brezhnev's note with the so-called nuclear alert, which incidentally was not just nuclear, it was our forces all over the world.
DR. KISSINGER: And which had been done more or less before in 1970 during—when Syria invaded Jordan and more or less the same procedure was used, except in 1970 it didn't leak until the crisis was over. In '73, it leaked within two hours.
DR. SCHLESINGER: Well, you can't put a couple of million people on alert all over the world without its passing to the press.
DR. KISSINGER: No, but that was the purpose. (Laughter.) No, the purpose was not necessarily to get it into the press. The purpose was to—
DR. SCHLESINGER: Yeah, was to convey it to the Russians.
DR. KISSINGER: We were sending a message to the Soviet Union and we wanted to make sure that they understood we meant it.
DR. SCHLESINGER: Well, there was alerting the Air Defense Forces, which were all in the reserves, so at 2 a.m. in the morning somebody would get a call and begin to dress to go down to base, and his wife would say to him, "Where are you going at 2 a.m. in the morning?" And he would respond, "I can't tell you because it's a secret." That isn't the way it works. He would say quite clearly, "I've been summoned back to the base because we've gone to alert status." So there was no way that as far as the domestic scene was concerned that we going to be able to keep this kind of thing secret.
DR. KISSINGER: But before we see horror stories here again of the imminence of nuclear war, it was not an alert status that brought us close to nuclear war. It was an alert status that showed that we were getting ready for the actions that Brezhnev had threatened.
DR. SCHLESINGER: Quite right.
DR. KISSINGER: What we thought Brezhnev had said.[Back to top]
The Opening to China
DR. SUSSER: You mentioned risk of war. And again, in your forward you comment here that when you were thinking about the opening to China you had four senior ambassadors—Kennan, Bohlen, Kohler and Thompson—who all warned that an opening to China would run the risk of a war with the Soviet Union. Obviously, you discounted that, but perhaps you could go a little bit into—
DR. KISSINGER: But one had to understand the structure of the State Department at that time. The China hands had been more or less purged in the 1950s so there was really were very few, I would say none, no senior State Department people, that could come to the attention of the President on China. I'm sure there were desk officers, but the emphasis of the State Department as a result of the Cold War had been on Russia. So there were experts like Kennan, Tommy Thompson, Chip Bohlen, Foy Kohler, who had developed very strong views.
Now, we decided in—well, we decided right away, but we decided formally in May of '69 when we became concerned of a possible Soviet attack on China that a successful Soviet attack on China would affect the global equilibrium in such a way that we needed to prevent it even though we had no relations whatsoever with China. So we began to make a series of moves. Secretary Richardson made a speech on China relations and we started doing relatively minor things, like for example lifting the prohibition against buying Chinese goods by permitting Chinese—by permitting American tourists in Hong Kong to buy $100 worth of Chinese goods. And there were a number of other things of a minor nature that which these State Department people that I mentioned—those four—were very sensitive to that. And they realized what—they understood what we were doing, and so they asked for an appointment with President Nixon.
And they warned him that the Soviet Union would not accept this and that it would lead to a breakdown of relations and probably to war. And we decided that the benefits of the course on which we had decided were too great and that we could not exclude that part of the human race by—because of Soviet blackmail. But these were superior Foreign Service officers who had made a great contribution, but that was a strong view in the Department at the time.
There were others, like say Alex Johnson, who was not a China expert but an Asia expert, who once we had made the move proved extremely helpful in helping us implement it.
DR. SCHLESINGER: I need scarcely point out to this audience that the greatest achievement in a way of the Nixon Administration was the breakthrough with China. I am hesitant to sort of suggest that somebody like George Kennan, with all of his wisdom, may have been a bit parochial on that occasion, not to mention Foy Kohler or Chip Bohlen. But there is a tendency to fall in love with one's client, and the reaction of the Russians inevitably, in my judgment, was going to be to be much more attentive to the United States as we quite clearly moved into triangular diplomacy.
DR. KISSINGER: That's exactly what happened.[Back to top]
Using "the Channel" to Facilitate Jewish Migration out of the Soviet Union
DR. SUSSER: In your opening comments, you remarked that you used the confidential channel to increase Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union from 900 up to 40,000. How did you manage to persuade the Soviets to open up the floodgates, so to speak?
DR. KISSINGER: What we did is to say—that was at a time when the Soviet Union had its own reasons to improve relations with the United States. And the only thing different from the then policy to what later became official policy was this: I told Dobrynin that we were constantly being appealed to about some hardship cases that were on the agenda. There were about 700, I think, hardship cases. And when we came in, about 900 Soviet Jews were permitted to emigrate. I told Dobrynin that among the gestures they could make that we would take as a sign of taking seriously the importance of improving relations would be an increase of Jewish emigration; that we would not take advantage of this by publicly taking credit for it. And we said something that human rights advocates will not like: We said we don't claim that we have a right to say this to you. We say that it's a criterion that we will apply to your international relations.
And as a result, every year the number of emigrants increased and reached, I think, 37,500 in 1972. Then, as a result of the summit that was unsuccessful as far as Egyptian concerns were concerned in '72, Soviet advisors were expelled from Arab countries and the Soviet leaders became nervous about their relations with the Arab world in which they, up to then, had been dominant, and started putting an exit tax on Jewish emigration.
Jackson, Senator Jackson, then came up with the Jackson Amendment, which at first we sort of welcomed, but then the Soviet Union gave in on the exit visa but Jackson continued on his course and a dispute developed between the administration and Jackson, for whom we had very high regard. At any rate, the emigration never reached the level that it had had before. But I don't claim universal applicability to this method. This is how it was done between '69 and '72. It's not the way it can be done today.
DR. SCHLESINGER: I should point out the Jackson-Vanik Amendment is still in the law and is still—what shall I say?—a bothersome element in the U.S.-Russian relationship today.
In the first paragraph of his forward, Henry observes to Dobrynin, "'When we are both out of government service, which will be a lot later for you than for me, I hope you will let me read the reports you send in on me.' This comment was made in the bantering style that Dobrynin and I used in our personal exchanges."
I think that points to the fact that none of us, none of us, expected to see the Soviet Union collapse, that we were going to deal with a more or less perennial state of quasi-hostility, quasi-agreement between the two countries. The ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union, which owed a good deal to the genius of Mr. Gorbachev, came as a surprise to many of us.[Back to top]
Discussion of the Collapse of the Soviet Union
DR. SUSSER: I should note just in passing that I was flipping the channels last night, and just before midnight I turned to C-SPAN and they were broadcasting a February 1992 interview with President Nixon in which his comment was, "Communism committed suicide in the Soviet Union." So I guess he did not foresee it either, in your view?
DR. KISSINGER: No. We thought—what Nixon and I thought was that what was described as the satellite orbit would disintegrate, but not as fast as it did. But we thought that the Soviet Union would not be able to maintain it indefinitely, but we had a question mark in our mind how the Soviet Union would react when its East German satellite would collapse or was in danger of collapsing. And that's, in our mind, if we had been asked to predict the future, would have said (inaudible) it's an element that could lead to a serious crisis. But none of us, neither Nixon nor I nor any of the Soviet advisors we consulted, ever spoke of the disintegration of the Soviet Union. And in fact, if you remember, Bush 41 when he took a trip to Ukraine in '91 after the Soviet Union was already in the process of disintegration made comments that indicated that he was dubious about detaching Ukraine from the Soviet Union.
DR. SCHLESINGER: It was from that experience, by the way, that the Chinese learned, watching Gorbachev start with perestroika and opening up the society to all of the criticisms, and then subsequently start—subsequently beginning restructuring of the Soviet economy, that that was the wrong way to proceed. The Chinese learned, may have over-learned, that you start with restructuring the economy and you are very, very slow in proceeding with perestroika.[Back to top]
Soviet Diplomats as Judges of Domestic Conditions in the United States
DR. SUSSER: How would you say Dobrynin and the Soviet leadership were as judges of what was going in the United States? Were they accurate in their estimate of our domestic politics, our policy? How good were Dobrynin's reports back home?
DR. KISSINGER: I haven't read the whole book but I've read a good slice of it. I think his reports—his reports were quite accurate. He sometimes, I had the impression, collected a lot of things together elsewhere and ascribed them to the highest level people he could find. But diplomats have done that before. But they were essentially accurate, I thought.
I have my doubts that the recipients of these reports had an equally accurate understanding. And for example, in Gorbachev's memoirs, it's clear that Gromyko had a less precise understanding of American domestic politics than Dobrynin did.
DR. SCHLESINGER: Nobody stays in office—no ambassador stays in office for over 20 years by continuously sending back reports with which his bosses disagree, particularly if those bosses are running a totalitarian system. So I suspect that Ambassador Dobrynin felt obliged, and certainly did, to pull his punches.[Back to top]
Terrorism, Human Rights, and Other Global Issues
DR. SUSSER: The period of the Nixon and Ford administrations—we talked a lot about détente, but there were other issues that were coming to the fore during this period, and in fact, the Department of State, for example, was evolving. Terrorism, human rights, environmental issues, refugees—during this period we added new functions and new bureaus. How did you view issues like that in the concept—in the grander picture of relationship with the Soviet Union?
DR. SCHLESINGER: Be careful what you say about human rights. I'm sitting right next to you. (Laughter.)
DR. KISSINGER: Terrorism was at that time not an issue. We dealt with terrorism by refusing any negotiation with terrorists. But it was a minimal issue in our time.
Now, on human rights, we took this position, or I took this position, and I still take this position: America always has to be concerned about human rights. That is part of the American tradition. America is also a great country, a great state, and it has its national interests. And therefore, I do not think we can make an absolute requirement that human rights always trumps the national interests, but we also must not set up an opposition between national interests and human rights.
So on—I mean, there's a lot being written about Chile. When I visited Chile, I made a speech defending the American commitment to human rights. We voted with the Organization of American States on the human rights issue. But when I saw Pinochet, I did not give him a lecture on human rights, but spoke about the practical consequences of his conducting his policy and put the request for releasing prisoners in those terms.
And that's the sort of thing that some 30 years later people pick out one memorandum of conversation. Did we strike the correct balance necessarily? I can't say that. When Ford became President, one of the first things I did was to give him a copy of the Gulag Archipelago and told him to read this, because I considered Solzhenitsyn one of the great figures of our period. But when Solzhenitsyn came to Washington, I was in favor of Bush—Ford seeing him, but not in an ostentatious way in which there would be a lot of pictures taken and could be interpreted as a confrontational pose. Was that the right mix? It certainly received a lot of criticism. Jim, at that time, thought the more ostentatious association was necessary. I made no effort to stop him from doing that.
But my basic view is, has been and in way is, that yes, human rights is a fundamental aspect of the American experience. But so has to be the concern for national interests, and we have to balance these from case to case. And that will always be controversial.
DR. SCHLESINGER: You know, lecturing other countries on human rights in public is not likely to change their policies. Over the weekend, I was reading George Kennan's, who was earlier mentioned, philosophical memoir written in the last stages of his life called, Around the Cragged Hill, which I commend to all of you. And what Kennan said in there about human rights I think reflects not only the attitude that Henry took or I took, but I think the correct view with regard to American policy: that this is a world of sovereign nations; our ability to adjust the policies of other nations with regard to their internal affairs is quite limited. And in some cases, as we see now with the genocide amendment up before the Congress, likely to be quite counterproductive to our national interest.[Back to top]
Missed Opportunities from the Détente Years
DR. SUSSER: Do you think that there were any opportunities that you missed during this period? Is there anything you would do differently in retrospect?
DR. KISSINGER: Why don't you answer some questions? (Laughter.)
DR. SCHLESINGER: When you're batting .1000, you can't improve on it. (Laughter.)
DR. SUSSER: Perhaps you could—we haven't really discussed in any great length—
DR. KISSINGER: In (inaudible) retrospect I would say this. And it concerns Vietnam. I agree with Jim that I thought we had won the Vietnam War in September. In October, when the North Vietnamese, when Hanoi accepted the proposals we had made in January, to universal disapproval incidentally as being much too tough, I made the decision on the spot there that I thought that it was based on a misunderstanding by the North Vietnamese of the situation; namely, that they thought our position would improve greatly after the election. But I knew that we would not—that we would probably lose congressional seats and that the Defense Department budget required us to cut down on our B-52 augmentations, and that therefore we should hurry the agreement. And we probably could have dragged it out through the election. Nixon did not think he had anything to gain from a Vietnam agreement, but he was willing to make it when he saw it, but he left that essentially up to me. I could have dragged it out until after the election.
In the light of what happened afterwards, I think it might have been better to delay, but then Watergate would have destroyed everything, of which I had no idea. But we couldn't have gotten better terms, but we could have got it in a way that was less upsetting to the South Vietnamese perhaps.
DR. SCHLESINGER: In the summer of '73 in the Appropriations Act which President Ford did approve, the Congress prohibited the use of American forces in and over and offshore the states of the former French Indo-China to announce to North Vietnam that we were unprepared in the future to use any force should have been an early signal to them, but they didn't quite believe it. And it was only as they tested us in the late—at the latter stages, starting in December of '74 and early in '75 when we were unable to make a response, that they poured in the 18 divisions which ultimately led to the collapse of South Vietnam.
DR. KISSINGER: I don't believe that the collapse of Vietnam in 1975 was inevitable. We cut aid to Vietnam by two-thirds and cut off aid to Cambodia altogether and prohibited any military intervention. Under those conditions, Korea couldn't have survived and maybe some of our European allies couldn't have survived. Could Vietnam have lasted forever? I don't know that. But I felt we owed them an opportunity to see whether they could do what happened in—what finally has happened in South Korea.
But I'm mentioning this, if you ask me what decision would I do differently now if I had known, but I didn't know Watergate. I didn't imagine that the Congress would cut off aid or these other measures, so this is hindsight.[Back to top]
Final Comments by Dr. Kissinger and Dr. Schlesinger
DR. SUSSER: We're just about at the end of our time limit. Perhaps you would each like to just sum up your impressions over the—for a couple of minutes?
DR. SCHLESINGER: Some of our impressions about what?
DR. SUSSER: On the era, your experience, final words? Any advice for future administrations?
DR. KISSINGER: I'd like to pick up a point that Jim made about Nixon (inaudible). New administrations usually bring in with them a bunch of people who were in the campaign and who have been running the campaign on the argument that they could do a lot better. The margin of real choice for a great nation is finite and one cannot keep tearing up trees to see where the roots are. So a new administration should spend a month, or whatever time it takes, to assess where it finds itself and to make a judgment about the range of its real choices. They don't have to be the same as the previous administration's, but they can't be 180 degrees different either.
And I think we are in a—the contribution of Nixon was that he recognized that he was in a new period, we were in a new period with respect to the impact of strategic weapons and the damage they could create, we were in a new period with respect to China. He understood also the importance of reducing the balances in the Middle East. And whatever criticisms one can make of Nixon, he was prepared to undertake a long-range policy and to stick with it through turmoil.
I think a new president is coming in in a situation in which two or three revolutions are going on simultaneously in the world, and these revolutions do not have the same character. And therefore, the attempt to find a magic solution that applies to all of them is going to be unfortunate. But to assess the strength and to attempt to master them, it's essential, especially since we are in a position not of dominance but of great influence, so that the conduct of the United States from here on is going to be very decisive. And I hope this can be done with at the same time removing much of the divisiveness on as much of a nonpartisan basis as we can generate. And I'm sure those of us who are on this platform will certainly cooperate.
DR. SCHLESINGER: An irony is that the United States, this great democracy with all of its impulsiveness and willingness to suddenly change course, has become the leading power in the world. It reflects what I've always called DeTocqueville's challenge, if you remember Democracy in America. He states that democracies have a very difficult time following a consistent foreign policy; they are unable to plan in secret and preserve those secrets; they lack the ability over many years consistently to follow the same policy. At the end of the Cold War, I observed that we had beaten DeTocqueville's challenge because for 40-odd years we had stood the watch on the Elbe, and that would have surprised DeTocqueville. And it's not clear to me that we are in a position to have the same consistency in dealing what is the principal challenge of this era, which is the rise of radical Islam, and to consistently follow a policy that will lead us to victory, survival, survival of the West. It's not clear.
DR. SUSSER: Thank you both. Thank you all for coming.