Sid Ahmed,



(Preliminary talk)

INTERVIEWER: Thank you very much for being willing to do an interview. I'll start by asking about arms control: what were the Administration's arms control objectives when they came into office?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: It was essentially to limit, first of all, the arms race, and then, if possible, to scale it down. I remember vividly how committed the newly elected President was to the idea of a significant cut in the nuclear weapons on both sides. That was kind of a central goal of his.

INT: How were these ambitions received by the Soviets?

ZB: Hah, with some ambiguity. They, I suspect in retros...

INT: Can you say "the Soviets" in your answer, because you'll never hear my question?

ZB: All right. And the Soviets received these proposals with some ambiguity and indeed suspicion. I suspect myself that they felt that Carter was not sincere, that he was merely trying to put them on the defensive, and that he was trying to back out of the earlier Vladivostok agreement that had been concluded between President Ford and Mr. Brezhnev. This, incidentally, was not Carter's inten(tion) - he really was very sincere; if anything, he was over-ambitious.

INT: Can you describe Brezhnev's response to the proposals, the letter that he sent in February of 1977, what your own reaction was to that?

ZB: I thought Brezhnev's letter was excessively negative, close to hostile, somewhat patronizing.

INT: The next thing I want to ask you about is SS-20s, and how much of a threat to the security of Europe was the Soviet deployment of SS-20s.

ZB: The Soviet deployment of the SS-20s worried the Europeans - frankly, initially more than us. I remember being somewhat startled when Chancellor Schmidt started making a big issue out of the SS-20s, but then I came to realize that in a sense he was right: namely that the SS-20, while perhaps not a decisive military weapon, posed the risk of de-coupling Europe's security from America's; namely, of posing before us the dilemma that maybe Europe was threatened by nuclear devastation, but that we were not, and therefore, should we risk the devastation of our own people and our own cities in order to protect Europe? That was the element of potential de-coupling involved in the Soviet deployment, and in that sense it posed a serious challenge to NATO, to which we had to respond, and to which we did respond.

INT: How?

ZB: By deploying the Pershings and the ground-launch cruise missiles, which put the Soviets very much on the defensive, and the Pershings particularly gave us the capacity to devastate the Soviet command and control centers in the very first few minutes of any conflict.

INT: What was your response to Chancellor Schmidt when he accused the Americans of not taking sufficient account of the Europeans' fears?

ZB: I think it's an exaggeration to say he accused us. I think he posed the dilemma, the possibility of a de-coupling of American and European security. And as I said earlier, after initially thinking that perhaps this was not a real issue, we came to the conclusion that indeed it was and that we should respond to it seriously. So we did. The President sent me to Europe; I talked to Chancellor Schmidt at length, and we came up with a formula: namely, that we would deploy the Pershings, which were theatre missiles, shorter range but very fast, very accurate, and the ground-launch cruise missiles - slower, but extraordinarily accurate: we could put one right through a window in the Kremlin, and if it had a nuclear tip on it, it would make a bit of a bang.

(Request in b/g re: next question)

INT: Yes. Could you reflect on the dual-track policy of NATO for us?

ZB: Well, essentially our position was that if the Russians want to discuss it, we will discuss; if not, we'll deploy.

INT: The neutron bomb - why did President Carter decide to cancel the project of the neutron bomb?

ZB: The President decided to cancel the neutron bomb, I think for two reasons, though one was emphasized. First, there wasn't sufficient support in Europe for it, and there was a great deal of reluctance in Europe to it. But secondly, I think the President personally found it morally abhorrent.

INT: SALT II - there was a lot of opposition to SALT II. Can you explain why opposition built up to SALT II?

ZB: The opposition in the United States to SALT II was the result both of serious concerns over some of the technicalities, specifics of the agreement - it was a very complicated agreement - and therefore some feeling that perhaps we weren't getting as good a bargain as we should; and maybe also of a more pervasive suspicion within some quarters that President Carter wasn't tough enough with the Russians. So these two things kind of coalesced and built up a degree of opposition to SALT II that shouldn't have been there. Now, in addition to that, before too long there was a third factor at play: namely, the Soviets started acting in a way that made movement forward on SALT II very difficult, culminating eventually in the occupation, invasion of Afghanistan.

INT: That leads on to the Soviet expansionism. How far did you believe the Soviets were becoming an expansionist threat and were undermining American influence, really from '77 onwards?

ZB: The Soviets at that time were proclaiming over and over again that the scales of history were tipping in the favor of the Soviet Union: the Soviet Union would outstrip us in economic performance, the Soviet Union was getting a strategic edge, the Soviet Union was riding the crest of the so-called national liberation struggles. The Soviet Union was moving into Africa, it had a foothold in Latin America; it was using that foothold, and particularly Castro himself, to see if something couldn't be done on the mainland of [the] Southern hemisphere. So all of that made it quite essential, in my view, to demonstrably show that these analyses were false: that the scales of history were not tipping, that Soviet assertiveness will not pay, that we can compete effectively, eventually put the Soviets on the defensive, if necessary.

INT: What was your view, particularly in Africa...? I'm thinking of the arc of crisis and your response to that.

ZB: My view of Soviet activities in the arc of crisis in Africa, so to speak, was that it was incompatible with the notion of détente to which we were subscribing, to which we thought the Soviets had subscribed in the course of their negotiations with Presidents Nixon and Ford; that you can't have your cake and eat it too. And that if that's what they were going to be doing, then clearly we are entitled to play the same game, wherever we can, to their disadvantage. But then we'll not have détente: we'll have competition across the board. So there is a real choice: either détente across the board, or competition across the board, but not détente in some areas and competition in those areas in which we were vulnerable.

INT: Moving on to Poland, what support you could give to Solidarity from 1980 onwards?

ZB: We gave them a great deal of political support. We encouraged Solidarity as much as we could. We made it very clear as to where our sympathies are. We of course had certain instruments for reaching Poland, such as Radio Free Europe; we had a very comprehensive publication program; we had other means also of encouraging and supporting dissent. And when the critical moment came in December of 1980, when the Soviets were poised to intervene in Poland, we did everything we could to mobilize international opinion, to galvanize maximum international pressure on the Soviets, to convince the Soviets that we will not be passive. And by then we had some credibility, because the Soviets knew that already for a year we were doing something that we had never before been done in the entire history of the Cold War: we were actively and directly supporting the resistance movement in Afghanistan, the purpose of which was to fight the Soviet army. So the notion that we wouldn't be passive, I think had somcredibility by then.

INT: How important was the Iran hostage crisis to Carter's prestige?

ZB: I think it was devastating. I think the Iran hostage crisis was one of the two central regions for Carter's political defeat in 1980, the other reason being domestic inflation. Iran and inflation - both were politically devastating.

INT: The downfall of the Shah and the Iranian hostage crisis - how much did they influence Americans' reaction to Soviet policy in Afghanistan?

ZB: I think the crisis in Iran heightened our sense of vulnerability in so far as that part of the world is concerned. After all, Iran was one of the two pillars on which both stability and our political preeminence in the Persian Gulf rested. Once the Iranian pillar had collapsed, we were faced with the possibility that one way or another, before too long, we may have either a hostile Iran on the northern shore of the Persian Gulf facing us, or we might even have the Soviets there; and that possibility arose very sharply when the Soviets marched into Afghanistan. If they succeed in occupying it, Iran would be even more vulnerable to the Soviet Union, and in any case, the Persian Gulf would be accessible even to Soviet tactical air force from bases in Afghanistan. Therefore, the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan was viewed by us as of serious strategic consequence, irrespective of whatever may have been the Soviet motives for it. Our view was the objective consequences would be very serious, irrespective of what may or may not have been the subjective motives for the Soviet action.

INT: Before the actual invasion, how much do you think the exit of the Shah affected Soviet plans for that area of the world?

ZB: The collapse of the American position in Iran had to have a rather strikingly reinforcing impact on Soviet expectations. This was a major setback for the United States. There's no doubt that from the standpoint of the Soviet analysis of the situation, the collapse of the regime in Iran meant that the position of the United States north of the Persian Gulf was disintegrating.