INT: We're talking to Barre next week, I believe, so we'll hear from him...
HK: Well, give him my high regard.
INT: We will do. Vietnam: when, after years of effort, you succeeded, in October 1972, in negotiating an agreement with North Vietnam, the President of South Vietnam, Thieu, at first rejected it.
INT: Why did he do that?
HK: It was a tragic situation in Vietnam. We had withdrawn, over a period of four years, 520 of the 550,000 troops we found there, at a rate of about 150,000 a year; and we were down to 30,000 troops, and we had to retreat without a debacle, which was not easy, and we were now down to the last 30,000 troops plus (Fluff?) air and naval forces. I have great sympathy for Thieu, and at the same time I have great sympathy for our problem. We faced 65 congressional resolutions in the year 1972 alone, that were urging unilateral withdrawal from Vietnam. We would need a congressional supplementary appropriation in January of the following year for the excessive expenditure that we had... excessive in terms of the yearly budget... we had incurred in resisting the North Vietnamese offensive. So we felt, when the North Vietnamese accepted, and exceeded actually in accepting, what Nixon had proposed publicly nine months earlier, that we had no choice except to proceed. On the other hand, Thieu was faced with a situation no American ally has ever been asked to undertake, namely the total withdrawal of American forces. We haven't done that in Korea, we haven't done that in Europe, we've never done it anywhere. So we probably did not take into sufficient consideration... but frankly, if we had, I don't know whether we could have come to a different conclusion: the shock to the South Vietnamese political system of the sudden total withdrawal of American forces. So he needed to go through a period in which he made clear that he participated in this settlement; and secondly, to get his people used to it. And thirdly, he probably would have preferred it not to happen. We believed that it was the culmination of a policy that he should have known would happen, and I told him in August: "If the North Vietnamese ever accept the proposal of January..." that was published, that was not secret... there are a lot of myths that we suddenly came up with a secret proposal: we did not change our proposal in October at all. In fact, we did better than our public proposal: when that was accepted, we felt we had to continue and complete it.
INT: Are you saying that he was kept fully informed throughout the negotiations of the bones of the deal you were striking?
HK: If you look at the speech that Nixon gave in January 1972, and compare it with the text of the final agreement that was made, you will see that he was fully informed. He wasn't fully informed of every implementing detail, but that was not really what the problem was. What he didn't believe the North Vietnamese would accept it, and so he was not emotionaprepared for the culmination of the negotiation. He had accepted the proposal we had made; and when we put it forward, we stated publicly it had been made with his approval. All of it can be checked on the Public Record. He nevertheless, you can say, was not prepared in the sense that he didn't believe it would occur. He was not kept informed of every detail, especially of that culmnegotiation, but it would have made no difference if he had been informed: he still wouldn't have accepted it.
INT: It was the hope of the United States that in spite of the withdrawal of their troops from South Vietnam, that the polity of South Vietnam would be sustained, for which so much blood had been shed, would survive.
INT: And it didn't. Why did South Vietnam succumb?
HK: There will be debate about why South Vietnam succumbed forever, and there are so many people on every side of that debate with vested interests in their position, that it seems almost impossible to achieve a reconciliation. So I can only give you my view. Our view was that the ending of the war might bring about a measure of national reconciliation in the United States, in the sense that those who wanted an end to the war had achieved their objectives, and those who wanted honor in the sense of not condemning people who had relied on us to live under communist rule, they had achieved their objective. So we thought it would be possible to achieve levels of assistance to South Vietnam which, together with the military equipment we were leaving behind, would enable them to resist all but a total military invasion; and that if an all-out assault was started in South Vietnam, we would reintroduce American air and sea power. That was our basic view. I believe it is an open question whether it could have succeeded, because we cut off aid almost immediately. In the first year of peace, we gave $2 billion, which is what we thought was the appropriate level. The second year that was cut to a billion; the third year it was cut to 700 million, while fuel prices were rising. So that the South Vietnamese army was not only required to fight alone, but it had to cut their ammunition expenditures by 70%, air power by 80%. And the final collapse occurred at a moment when the Congress was debating a total cut-off of aid and was discussing some terminal grant. How long Vietnam could have lasted, I don't know. In 1975, it was killed by American domestic politics. Whether it would have lasted much longer, is a question that will be debated forever.
INT: Let me put that question to you separately, as it were. What was the effect of Watergate on America's support for South Vietnam?
HK: The effect of Watergate was that the President lost his executive ability to defend the agreement, and that a weird situation developed, in which it was held that the United States had no right to enforce an agreement for which 50,000 Americans had died. Within three months of Watergate becoming a public issue, and in more or less the same week as the public hearing started, the Congress passed a resolution prohibiting American military action in, over or near Indochina, which removed any threat of American... and eventually passed a whole series of acts which prohibited the transfer of equipment from one of the Indochinese countries to another, and a whole series of restrictions on the use of American advisers. And above all, it cut American aid so substantially that only by the strictest rationing could the South Vietnamese continue at all. So I think Watergate made it impossible to implement the agreement. And the question then is: how long could it have been maintained? It's the debatable question. I believe for quite a bit.
(Consultation re: time left)
INT: Very quickly, one question about human rights. Why include the human rights basket in the Helsinki accords?
HK: At first, quite frankly, we looked at Helsinki primarily as an exercise to link some political conditions to the military conditions. But gradually, since the Soviets showed such an interest in the recognition of borders, we wanted to create obstacles to the repression of revolutions in Eastern Europe, by making human rights an international issue. And we thought that probably, one effect of détente would be a greater Soviet difficulty in keeping the satellite orbit under control. That was our reason for including human rights.
INT: The last question about the Cold War as a whole... or two if I've got time. Why did the Cold War end when it did and not earlier?
HK: The Soviet Union had undertaken something that was beyond its capacity: it had taken on the whole industrial world plus China, with a stagnant economic and a rigid political system, which had no capacity of rejuvenating itself. So the question really only was: at what point would the disparity between the Soviet Union and the outside world become intolerable? It ended at that particular point at least two major factors. One, an American President who made this disparity evident by SDI and a somewhat confrontational policy. And secondly, because of the series of succession problems that the Soviet Union had, so that it not develop a coherent leadership for a three- to four-year period. And then partly because Gorbachev, who deserves huge credit, misunderstood the nature of the communist system: he thought he could modernize it, and he accelerated its demise.
INT: Looking at the world of the Cold War... last question...