Leslie H.








INT: In '79, Carter gave the go-ahead for the MX missile, and then the defense budis increased - I think it was mentioned at the end of '79, it was actually stated at the beginning of 1980. What were the main reasons, and what was your involvement in getting that defense budget increased?

LG: Mm. One of the first things a number of us in the Carter Administration tried to do soon after our, quote, "fiasco" in March on the SALT negotiations, was to bolster our bargaining position with the Soviets and to try to recapture some of our political credibility at home. And the way we decided to do this was by increasing military spending by 3%, to set this as a new target for the United States and for our NATO allies - that somehow, if we stepped up our military might in the face of all this talk about increased Soviet strategic capability and their increasing support for wars of national liberation, that Americans would feel we were being duly attentive to our security needs.

INT: What about the 5% increase - was that regarded as a major step forward in building up American defenses...

LG: Well...

INT: (Overlap) ... and your involvement in that?

LG: (Overlap) At first there was a three per... I wasn't involved in the 5% increase, I was involved in the 3% increase which President Carter agreed to by the end of the first year of his Administration. The increase of 5% or so occurred at the very end of his Administration, and by that time I had happily returned to private life.

INT: Can you give us a summary on how Carter's policy towards the Soviet Union changed from the inordinate fear of communism through to the Carter Doctrine?

LG: President Carter went through a true journey through the inferno in dealing with the Soviet Union. I remember talking with him when I was a correspondent for the New York Times during the Ford-Carter political campaign, presidential campaign. I talked to him about foreign policy and about the Cold War, and he said, off the record at that time, that he really felt that he could make a major improvement in Soviet-American relations by treating them in a different way... by not treating them as adversaries but as potential partners in solving nuclear weapons issues and combating disruptions and civil wars around the world, and eventually even in lowering military spending for all countries. He had very emotional feelings about these issues and what he could do by demonstrating to the Soviets that he wanted to treat them as serious equals and potential partners. And he expressed this publicly right after becoming President, by saying in effect that we should put aside all the language of the Cold War and ideological confrontations. But by the time he made the tough decisions he needed to make on Afghanistan in combating Soviet military intervention there, I think he had progressed to a rather somber view of where the Soviets were at that point in their history; that they needed a much firmer American hand to control them than he had anticipated at the outset.

INT: A big disappointment to him that they weren't potential partners?

LG: I think the Soviet decision to flex muscles during the Carter Administration was a terrible disappointment to President Carter, because he really felt he could begin to change the Cold War. It's not that I think he saw the Soviets were on the rocks and about to collapse; nobody saw that at that point. but he did see the potential for co-operation down the line. And when it all came a-cropper and he had to resume more or less the policies of his predecessors, I think he was deeply disappointed at the missed opportunity.

INT: The other crisis, which is almost the last thing I want to ask you, is the Iran hostage crisis, and how much that was a blow to his authority in the run-up to a potential second term?

LG: In America - and I think this is true of most other places - leaders are judged not by what they did or didn't do, but by what happened during their reign. And in Iran, one of those terrible events happened that shape a whole perception of an administration, of a regime, even though the event was not in any significant way caused by President Carter himself. When the Iranian mobs took over the American Embassy in Teheran, President Carter was the real prisoner, he was the real prisoner, and he was held hostage, for the rest of his administration, to the release of these Americans. And even though it wasn't his fault in any realistic or reasonable sense, the American people held him accountable, and somehow, what happened in Iran was because in their minds President Carter didn't know how to run foreign policy. But it was a totally unfair criticism; none the less, one that I think Americans acted on in the polls.

INT: I'll just stop you there and see if there's anything else we want to cover.

(Consultation in b/g)

INT: There's only one other detail, specifically related to the MX system. Now the decision to go ahead with the MX system, as I understand it from Brzezinski primarily, was actually an attempt to show that America was prepared to go ahead with new systems as an encouragement to signing SALT.

(Wait for speed)

LG: I think there were three reasons for deciding to deploy the MX missile. One was political: the Administration didn't want to be criticized by Republicans and by Democratic Senator Jackson for not deploying it. Secondly, some people wanted to use it as a bargaining tool with the Soviets to finish up SALT II - but not give it away: to limit its deployment. And third, many people, in and out of the Administration, actually wanted to deploy the MX missile as our big new, land-based intercontinental ballistic missile, because the Soviets had already deployed their SS-18s, which was considered the destructive equivalent.

INT: You said "SS-18s", not SS-20s?

LG: No, SS-18s.

INT: (A few unclear overlapping words)

LG: (Overlap) The 18s were the heavy Soviet ICBM...

INT: Right.

LG: ... what's called "silo-busting ICBM". The MX was not the response to the SS-20: it was a response to the SS-18s and 19s in fact.

INT: The final one is the overview of the forces at work during the Carter Administration which effectively meant the end of Détente.

LG: During the Carter years, I think all those forces that had been contending in American politics about how to deal with Moscow, all those forces came together, setting the stage for the Reagan Administration and for the demise of the Soviet Union. The years after World War II in America really were dominated by the Cold War. How we dealt with Russia was the major issue in Washington. We even piggy-backed on the Cold War - President Eisenhower did: congressional approval of grants to build national highways in America and federal aid to education for science and math in order to counter the Sputnik satellite. So the Cold War was at the very heart of the matter in America throughout the aftermath of the Second World War, and it brought together sort of everything that touched the American psyche. Communism was never popular in America. When you had the Soviet Revolution take-over of Russia in 1917, the Attorney General was arresting communists here. It was always more than a threat from another country - it was a religious war: American capitalism, democracy, against communism. You know, communism was the Anti-Christ, the anti-America. And a lot of that feeling always came down, was encapsulated in, and symbolized by, the nuclear competition. This was sort of the tangible expressof this great philosophical war. That's why every new deployment of a new nuclear weapon system was greeted by a major political uproar here. That's why these arms control negotiations assumed a political importance far beyond their military and strategic importance. It looked like that was the way to judge who was ahead, who was behind, who would win.

INT: But what about the (unclear), though, just particularly during the Carter Administration, that means that Détente is dead?

LG: During the Carter Administration, I think all of these issues were once again forced to the top of the mountain, by virtue of the fact that the Soviet Union was beginning its decline, even though we saw it as the possible beginning of its real rise, as a full competiof America. The Soviet economy, at that time, was in far worse shape than we imagined. We could only see that 10 years later, but it was happening then. The Communist Party was so corrupt, so isolated from the Russian people, from the Soviet people, that it had almost no legitimacy at that point. But we didn't see that clearly until 10 years later. There was growing opposition within the Soviet intelligentsia, including from the KGB to the Soviet regime, because it was incapable in their eyes of really competing with the United States. So, I think they felt that they had to make serious changes in their system, and they were afraid. And I had one clear indication of this, one of the most fascinating conversations I had with any Soviet leader, one clear indication of this after the Carter Administration. When I had gone back to the New York Times in 1981, I had a meeting in Moscow with Marshall Ogarkov, the chief of staff of the Soviet armed forces, one of the most brilliant and impressive people I had ever met in my life. He was able to combine strategy and military affairs and politics with technology and economics. He was truly a strategic thinker. And in my conversation with him, I was talking about Soviet military advantages in Europe, sort of the usual con-job we did on each other at the start of any conversation, talking about all the bad things that they were doing. And he said, "Les, cut this out, will you? You know you're ahead of us in Europe and in every other respect, and you know that America's lead on the Soviet Union is increasing, not decreasing. All modern military capability," he said, "is based on the computer, and you have weapon systems now based on computers that we're only beginning to have. I'm just beginning to install computers here in the Soviet Defense Ministry," he said. "You have little kids in America, three years old, who know how to deal with computers. It takes years here to train Soviet recruits in the military to use them, because they've never used them before. We're afraid of computers. If we start deploying computers, it's going to mean loss of political control for the Soviet leadership: it'll mean information can be spread without the okay of the central government, so we're afraid of that; it puts us at a major strategic disadvantage with the United States. And unless we change that situation, we're going to fall irretrievably behind America," he said. "So, in order to change this technological situation, we have to change the Soviet economic," Ogarkov continued, "and in order to change the Soviet economy, we have to revolutionize the political system, and that Soviet leaders are unwilling to do." So he concluded: "Don't tell me your worries about Soviet military superiority."

INT: Very frank conversation you had.

LG: It was astonishing. (Overlap) He was removed from his job a year or so later, and then, while he popped up here and there, he was never seen again by a Westerner, and I imagine it was because he made the same argument to his counterparts in the Soviet Politburo as he was telling me that day.

INT: Thank you very much.