Interviews:

Gelb,
Leslie H.

King,
Mary

Kirkland,
Lane

Kirkpatrick,
Jeane

Perle,
Richard



     
   


INTERVIEW WITH LESLIE H. GELB

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INT: Tell us the story you just told about the same massive hall in the Kremlin, I think it was about a year later.

LG: A year or so later, when we were in the process of repairing the initial proposal in quite a clever way: instead of trying to take deep cuts at one bite initially, we had repackaged our arms control proposal to them, to take the cuts in several different stages over time... and after Vance had presented that proposal, he went out of the room with Gromyko to meet with the Soviet leader Brezhnev, leaving the two delegations in the room milling around and making idle chit-chat. And one member of our delegation was Reg Bartholomew, who worked on the National Security Council staff, and Reg was playing with a ceramic thing on the conference table, and he tried to pick it up and all the alarm bells went off, and Soviet Marshal Ogarkov, the chairman of their joint chiefs, looked at Reg and he said, "Oops, there goes Washington." (Laughs)

INT: Very nice story.

(B/g talk)

LG: Before we go on to arms control, Vance's fallback position, which is very important in all this - you want that in there as well?

INT: Yeah, we'd like to have that clear on the record, because the literature does not make it clear. If you could encapsulate that for us.

LG: Right. One of the parts of the story of the famous deep-cuts proposal that we brought to Moscow, was Vance's fall-back position in the event the Soviets did say "No, but" to our proposal or "Yes, but" to our proposal, had given us anything other than a flat rejection. What happened was this. President Carter really was a deep believer in real arms control, not just tinkering; and when he and Vance and Brzezinski and Defense Secretary Harold Brown met about all this before Vance's departure, President Carter gave Vance a fall-back position, and the instructions were this: "You can't say anything to the Soviets about this fall-back, you have to be completely mum. You can reveal it only if they give us anything other than a flat rejection to our deep-cuts proposal." Vance, being a man of real integrity, kept to those instructions exactly: he did not hint to the Soviets in any way that there were real goodies in store if they said, "No, but." The fall-back position in effect did this - it said: "If you the Soviets are willing to cut nuclear arsenals down from their present very high levels to very low levels, then the United States is prepared to put on the bargaining table our two new formidable nuclear weapon systems, the MX land-based missile and the D-5 trident underwater intercontinental ballistic missile as well." These were the two weapons the Soviets were most worried about, and if they had come back and said to us, "We don't like what you're doing but we're willing to talk about it," Mr. Vance was authorized to put the MX and the D-5 on the table.

INT: But they said no, so end of story.

LG: It was the end of the story.

INT: Can I just pause there and ask what effect did the rejection have on American views of the Soviets?

LG: Before we got on the plane to leave Moscow, and there was deep gloom aboard the Vance plane, the stories had already appeared about our incompetence: we didn't know how to deal with the Soviets. And... the reaction of the press, the Congress, the foreign policy community in Europe, in America, was that the Carter team was going to cause real problems in dealing with the Soviets: we were too inexperienced, too nave, and so forth. No one criticized the Soviets - we didn't hear anyone criticize the Soviets and no one said, you know, "Why didn't the Soviets come back with a counter-proposal instead of simply saying no?" And lies started to filter out about what had really happened. One in particular was that, you know, Mr. Vance didn't really know how to negotiate with them; he should have told the Soviets in advance about the deep-cuts proposal, then we wouldn't have been surprised by their rejection. But in fact, as I've said, and as is absolutely clear from the historical record, we had told the Soviets about this proposal many times.

INT: OK. Well, shall we go on to human rights, another commitment from Carter. How far do you think Carter put the human rights issue on the agenda, and how much did that contribute to the downturn in American-Soviet relations?

LG: Mr. Carter put human rights in general, and.. with respect to the Soviet Union especially human rights, on the table during the presidential campaign and right away after he became President. Mr. Carter believed that these humans [sic] rights issues were what Americans really cared about, that they should be at the heart of United States foreign policy, and he said so and he was very critical of the civil and human condition of the citizens of the Soviet Union. The Soviets didn't like this at all; they were much more used to the more gingerly treatment of the subject that they had received under Messrs. Nixon and Kissinger for the better part of eight years, and there was sort of a tacit agreement that we would not beat up on them about these issues. You'll remember that Mr. Kissinger and President Ford felt strongly about this, to the point where they would not even invite Solzhenitsyn to the White House after he had been released from the Soviet Union: he was a great symbol of the human rights movement there. So the Soviets thought there was this sort of tacit deal: President Carter may be talking about this during the campaign, but he surely wouldn't do anything about it after he became President. Well, of course they were wrong, and he made this, along with arms control, the centerpiece of US policy toward the Soviet Union.

INT: A particular example of that, and a contrast to Solzhenitsyn, was the letter supporting Sakharov. Do you think there was a degree of naivete, or is it just true faith in human rights?

LG: As I said, I think President Carter really believed in human rights, and when he publicly supported the Soviet physicist Sakharov, he was doing it because he thought that's what an American president should do: stand up for our values. And did he understand what the reaction in Moscow would be? I think so. It wasn't as if Zbig Brzezinski hadn't forewarned him; Zbig had a very good sense of Soviet reactions; and there were other experts also warning him about how seriously the Soviet leaders would disapprove of our interference in their domestic affairs. So he had been forewarned. How deeply he took this or understood it, I don't know.

INT: Again on the human rights issue: how far do you think human rights was used by other groups in America with a wider anti-Soviet agenda, who saw it as just a good offensive weapon to beat uon the Soviets?

LG: Well, human rights had become an issue, beginning in '74-'75, in the Democratic Party, among the liberals, and among Republican conservatives as well, but they had different human rights in mind. The liberals thought it would be good to beat up on the right-wing dictators Latin America or Asia, and the Republican conservatives and some Democratic conservatives thought of human rights as a club to be used against the Soviets. But these two groups converged at the beginning of the Carter Administration, and with considerable political force - at least we felt that in Washington. And... for sure, some people used human rights just as a political weapon to try to force President Carter into doing things the Soviets would go bonkers about, go crazy about, and in turn to use it then to spoil Soviet-American relations, to make arms control agreements more difficult to reach. For sure, there were people who used it just in that way, used human rights just in that way. But I would say most of the people who pushed the human rights questions deeply believed in them, and that was their first agenda.

INT: SS-20s - that's the next area I want to ask you about. How much of a threat to the European security was the deployment of the SS-20s?

LG: When the Soviets began to deploy the SS-20s, it really caused a furore in the little teacup of the arms control military world. You know, they were about 1,000 people in this world, but boy could they rattle that teacup! You're talking about people who could command the front page of newspapers around the world, so any time anything happened on the nuclear arms front, it was on the front pages, it was the major political issue in capitals. And that was certainly true with the SS-20. Now, some people believed - I think honestly - that the SS-20 adversely affected our strategic position vis--vis the Soviets, that it gave them something in between the use of conventional forces, tanks and fighter planes on the one hand, and all-out nuclear war on the other, that it was an action they could take within Europe, using nuclear weapons inside Europe to which we would have no adequate response, so they were worried about this gap in the threat of our nuclear deterrent. I myself thought that that argument was largely fantastic - I mean fantastic or hard to believe. We had all sorts of counters in Europe, we ourselves had thousands of nuclear weapons in Europe: cruise missiles, tactical aircraft. We could have responded at any level. But it was almost impossible to make that case successfully, because everyone was so nervous about being accused of not being tough enough on the Soviet Union, not responding to the SS-20 challenge. And very quickly, we shifted gears and started to develop our own counters to this: ballistic missiles to be based in Europe, new cruise missiles, and the like. And we were almost forced to do that by the German Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, who gave a speech, public speech in London, I believe in the fall of 1977, saying the SS-20s were a major new threat to NATO and that we needed a real response. And the response, as I said, was to develop our own specific military counters to the SS-20, and to tie that military development to a new arms control proposal.

INT: So Schmidt's influence really was quite strong?

LG: What?

INT: Schmidt's influence made quite a difference?

LG: Oh, his speech was absolutely critical in making it impossible for us to think of no... solely in terms of non-military responses to the SS-20. It had become a major military issue, a question of strategy, an issue of basic deterrence.

INT: You've talked about the Pershing and cruise. Can you describe for a non-military audience what the dual-track policy meant of NATO?

LG: Coming out of the speech in London by Chancellor Schmidt, I was asked to chair an alliance committee to develop a response; and the committee which I chaired developed what was called the "dual-track response". On one track, we would develop a military counterweight to the SS-20s, and we did so by pushing the development of the Pershing intermediate-range ballistic missile, and to continue development of cruise missiles. The second track was the arms control track, and here we would take away with that hand some of which we were threatening to deploy with the other. We were going to propose very strict limits on the numbers of intermediate-range missiles, their SS-20, our Pershing and cruise missiles, that could be deployed in Europe. So new nuclear deployments down one track, and new arms control proposal to limit those deployments down the second track.

INT: Now how much were there real negotiations on that second track?

LG: The main negotiations were within the NATO alliance itself, where we really couldn't quite agree on what to do once we decided we really wanted to deploy Pershings and cruise missiles and what not in order to counter the SS-20. Our European friends, at least initially, were much more interested in rhetorical responses to the Soviet SS-20 than in actually seeing us deploy new missiles in Europe, because if we did that, we'd have to deploy them in their countries, and they'd have to go to their people to justify these deployments. They didn't like that idea very much.

INT: Well, they can't have it both ways. (Overlap) But were there any real...

LG: (Overlap) Well, the Europeans couldn't have it both ways, but they largely did; and the only way we got around it was to push very hard in the end to get some of the European countries to accept some of the deployments in order to make credible our arms control proposal, because unless the Soviets really believed we could deploy some of these new intermediate missiles, why should they make any agreement with us to limit them?

INT: Were there real negotiations with the Soviets whilst you were getting on with new weapons?

LG: Sure, there were, but basically we were to stiff-arm them until we got our own position together and unified.

(Request for complete statement re: negotiations with Soviets)

LG: Right. There were negotiations with the Soviets right at the outset, about the SS-20s, the cruise missiles, other nuclear missiles besides the long-range intercontinental variety; and it was always a major issue, in fact, in the SALT, the main SALT negotiations with the Soviets, as to what should be included in those negotiations. The Soviet position was that all missiles capable of hitting the Soviet Union should be included in the strategic arms talks, and that would include, of course, our cruise missiles and the Pershings, whatever. And we said, "No, no, no, the only weapons to be included should be the long-range ones." And the Soviets said, "Well, that gives you a tremendous advantage, because you have all these weapons stationed in and around Europe, like cruise missiles and Pershing, which can also hit Soviet territory." This is one of the issues we argued about to the very last day of the SALT talks before we met with the Soviet leaders in Vienna, at the summit. And it was resolved in the end only by setting up this separate track to deal with these weapons.

INT: There's a question I've got here about the neutron bomb, why Carter abandoned that in the end.

LG: President Carter's decision to abandon the neutron bomb still is a mystery to me, and I was directly and intimately involved in this issue. Here was a case where I felt we should deploy the weapon, and the main reason I was in favor of deploying it was that the Soviets said we couldn't, and they had put us in a position really in Europe where, unless the Soviets agreed to a US-NATO military deployment, we couldn't do it. Effectively they were gaining a veto over all US military deployments in Europe, and that was an unacceptable situation. So I favored the deployment of the neutron bomb on those grounds principally. We went through about six or eight months of negotiations with our European friends, to get them to agree to.. accept the deployment of these neutron weapons, and we had worked out some clever littleminuet where we would make the announcement in NATO headquarters with the Secretary-General of NATO, but they didn't have to say anything at NATO headquarters that day, but instead, back in their own capitals, they would accept the US decision to deploy these neutron weapons. That was sort of the way they squared their political circle on this. So, this was all set, and on Friday afternoon beforthe Monday announcement, where all this was to be announced, Secretary Vance asked me to prepare a memo to President Carter, telling him again exactly what was going to happen on Monday. And I said, "Fine," and I worked the memo with Secretary of Defense Harold Brown. And when it was done, Vance said, "Well, put a decision box on the end: "Agree", "Disagree". I said, "Why should we do that? This is just an information memo." He said, "Just do it - that's the way to do it." I said, "Nothing else involved?" He said, "No, nothing else involved." So I sent it over to the NSC, thinking it's all routine. Sunday morning, I get a call from Reg Bartholomew on the NSC staff, saying, "Guess what? You won't believe this: he checked" - that is, President Carter checked - "the wrong box." (Laughs) He said, "No, don't do it." And so that Sunday afternoon I called in, one by one, the key European ambassadors to tell them "April fool - it's not going to happen on Monday." And of course, I couldn't really explain to them why, because I myself didn't understand why.

INT: But later you did. What was the reason?

LG: Well, I'm not sure I understand to this day. In part, I think - and President Carter is the one to answer: I don't know exactly what was in his mind - but in part I think he felt the Europeans had gotten off too easily, they hadn't accepted enough responsibility for the deployment of the neutron bomb, and all the political weight of this would fall on us. It may also be that he didn't want to deploy, you know, a new nuclear weapon in Europe. I'm not sure, but it certainly came as a surprise to all of us who had been working on it.

INT: Did he feel there would be a certain political flak from the bomb that will kill people but not destroy property?

LG: Well, that may have affected him - I really don't know. I never heard him say that as the reason. The reason we were working with at the time was that the Europeans had to accept more responsibility for this. But, you know, whichever way, it came as a shock both to our European allies and to us in the US Government as well. And on top of the reputation for ineptitude in dealing with the Soviets that resulted from our being in Moscow in March and giving them this deep-cuts proposal - on top of that failure, it was another failure to lead the alliance, and it again was a crushing blow to our ability to operate effectively.

INT: Negotiations did go on for SALT, so if I could take you on to what was achieved by SALT II, and maybe at the same time you could say why, by the time SALT II was actually signed, there was so much opposition to it?

LG: After almost two and a half years of negotiating, we and the Soviets actually reached agreement on strategic arms controls, a new set of controls. And essentially, that agreement was what was agreed to in Vladivostok. We had done some things to it, I think to improve it, clarify, but in terms of cuts they were more or less what had been agreed to three years before. And in terms of limits on the developments of new weapon systems, there were none. So we had labored - that is, Henry Kissinger for several years, and then the Carter Administration for several years - we had labored for almost seven years, and produced an arms control mouse. And it was nothing anyone was terribly excited about at that point. We ourselves described the agreement as "modest but useful", and when you do something with the Soviet Union on nuclear arms that you can only describe as "modest but useful", it's a rather minimalist rallying cry for the troops. You know, we ourselves didn't think all that much of it, so why should the general public? And then, once you're into an agreement like this, it's so complex that the critics, merely by raising questions, can cast doubt on the value of the agreement itself. It takes 30 second to lodge a charge or to ask a probing question, raise suspicions. It takes 30 minutes to give the answer, and by that time everyone's eyes are glazed over and they are sleeping. And that's exactly what happened to us; we were on the strategic defensive throughout. But mind you, the acid test of whether that agreement was modest but useful, was the fact that President Reagan, when he took over, held to the terms of that agreement himself, although he had criticized it throughout the campaign; and what's more, insisted on holding the Soviets to the terms of that agreement, although neither they nor we had ever signed it. So, for all the criticism, for all the incredible nastiness surrounding the seven-year-long birth of a mouse, everyone involved considered it important enough to keep, even though it was never approved.