INT: You had certain reservations about the way that Secretary of State Kissinger handled the American response to the Yom Kippur crisis. What exactly were those reservations?
RP: Well, it seemed to us when that war began suddenly that the Secretary of State was so eager to save détente, which was clearly shattered by Soviet involvement in that war, involvement that had been planned, involvement that was surreptitious, involvement that... the Russians calculated could tip the balance in favor of the Egyptians and the Syrians. right after signing in June an agreement pledging to collaborate to stop possible outbreaks of war, something that they were obliged to do under that agreement and of course they didn't do, they deceived us, it seemed to us that he was so eager to preserve the détente, that he was restraining the assistance that should be made available under urgent circumstances to Israel for fear that a wider war would destroy what remained of détente at that point. he certainly doesn't share that view and it's obviously very difficult to know what was going on in his mind. but the evidence at the time seemed pretty unambiguous, that the response to the re-supply of Syrian and Egyptian forces by the United States was not immediately to re-supply, but to wait and to wait a dangerously long time, even though it was only seventy two or maybe ninety six hours.
INT: Do you see that détente was, in that sense, a threat to the existence of Israel?
RP: It was certainly possible to imagine a crisis in which the interests of détente could be incompatible with Israel's interests, although, ironically, when the Soviets began to threaten Israel in the bluntest way, threatening Israel's survival and the words, Israel has embarked upon a path leading to its own destruction, were words in a message from Brezhnev, when it reached those proportions, then it was clear that détente required confrontation with the Soviet Union, rather than acquiescence, because there could be no conceivable détente with the Soviet Union if it had taken the action it threatened to destroy Israel.
INT: Was the ultimate collapse of Cambodia and South Vietnam seen as a sign that détente also wasn't working in South East Asia?
RP: I think that the war in Vietnam and particularly the latter phases of the war in Vietnam had very little bearing on détente in either direction. The North Vietnamese, the Soviets were prepared to negotiate for their own interests, independent of what was going on in the broader US Soviet relationship. I don't think it was terribly relevant.
INT: In July and August 1975, there was the Helsinki Conference and its three provisions or baskets for recognition of borders in Europe, increased technological and economic co-operation, and the third basket increased human contacts between East and West. What was your attitude and that of Senator Jackson to these proposals at the time?
RP: We were rather skeptical of Helsinki, partly because basket one was the only thing you could be sure about, that is to say the frontiers were going to be finally fully legitimized and whether anything would flow from baskets two and three remained to be seen, there was nothing concrete there, there was nothing concrete that was comparable to... to the political accommodation that was contained in basket one. basket two we worried about as another means by which the Soviet Union might be assisted with capital, much of which we knew would go into its military forces. And basket three, the human rights basket, seemed to us the least certain of all and in fact, those people who sought to implement basket three, the Helsinki monitors in the Soviet Union, were treated brutally, imprisoned, sent into internal exile and in some cases, killed.
INT: Was Ford seen to be vulnerable, because he had put his signature to that agreement?
RP: We though it unwise to have gone as far as we did go but quickly concluded that the best response to what had happened was to make the most of basket three. Looking back, I think we were wrong. we under-estimated the potential of basket three. We probably over-estimated the importance of basket one, it proved to be almost a non-event, it was pretty ephemeral. But basket three remained and it was a source of encouragement to the dissidents and at the end of the day, the dissidents more than anyone else, brought down the Soviet Union, so on reflection and looking back at it, I think on balance, Helsinki was a good thing.
INT: We come to the question of Cuban intervention in Angola in 1975-1976. How much did that prompt alarm bells ringing in Washington?
RP: By the time the Cubans went into Angola, there were relatively few people in Washington who were interested. Henry Kissinger argues that the failure of détente was in part the failure of people to realize that it didn't solve all problems and you had to remain tough and vigilant where problems persisted, as in the Cubans acting as proxies, certainly with huge subventions from Moscow in Angola. I think you can argue it the other way around, that the effect of détente was soporific and it caused people to get drowsy when they heard about Cubans in Angola. Angola was a long way away. the edge had been taken off the Cold War by the détente and so the alarm bells didn't go off in quite the way they should have. in the end, Kissinger didn't get the support he was looking for when the Cubans went into Angola, although 'Scoop' certainly supported the sense of alarm that he tried to sound.
INT: Do you sense that America had any particular interests that were threatened by Cuban intervention in Angola and Mozambique?
RP: we considered that the United States and more broadly speaking the Western Alliance was threatened any time the Soviet Union enlarged its influence, its control over resources, and there were important resources in Angola and to a lesser degree in Mozambique. it was also a bridge head in Africa generally, so yes, I mean, the Cold War was dominated by a sense that when the other side made gains, we sustained a loss and I think by and large, even though that's a primitive way of looking at these issues andiplomats will come up with more sophisticated formulas, I... by and large, I think that was right.
INT: Do you think the reaction would have been different had it been Soviet forces directly intervening in Angola and Mozambique, as opposed to Cubans?
RP: Yes, if the Soviets had gone in directly, I think the alarm bells would have sounded much more readily. but understanding the relationship between the Cubans and the Russians that existed then, removed it by a step and so it didn't elicit the response that a direct Russian involvement would have. That's a very long answer. I mean, the answer... Let me just say, yes, if the Russians had gone, it would certainly have sounded an alarm that didn't go off when it was only Cubans, even though the Cubans were Russian proxies.
INT: To an outsider, there's something rather inexplicable about the acute hostility between various administrations in Washington, DC, and the Cuban regime. Could you expand on why, in fact, there was this hostility?
RP: I think some of the American-Cuban hostility has to do with the presence in the United States of a large number of Cubans who were driven from their homeland, whose property was taken from them, in many cases people who were tortured or killed. this is a brutally, vicious regime and there is ample testimony to the use of torture and execution. the image of Cuba as a place that has brought medical care and education to the masses is... we will discover is as wrong as the image of the Soviet Union is a place that had managed to solve the main social problems of modern civilization. I mean, we now know what a disaster Communism was in the Soviet Union and I believe it's been a disaster in Cuba as well.
INT: Detonate, as Nixon and Kissinger practiced it, came to an end sort of quietly when Carter came in towards the end of the 1970s. Do you think it was important that détente, as it was then conceived and as it was then practiced, came to an end?
RP: I don't think one could have gone beyond détente without concluding that détente was not in fact the path to a successful Western geo-political outlook.... all the pressures... Let me start that over again. I don't think we could have gone beyond détente without first understanding that détente hadn't worked and probably couldn't work. All the pressures are defined accommodation. Nobody likes the prospect of war, nobody likes military budgets, nobody is comfortable with the fear that massive nuclear arsenals generated everywhere. And so the natural tendency was to try to find ways to ameliorate points of difference and conflict, in short the natural tendency was détente. And it was necessary to show that détente couldn't work, in order to go beyond it and to re-engage in the Cold War, to re-establish a set of objectives that was aimed at victory in the Cold War, rather than ending it by accommodation.
INT: How important do you think that your own part of this, being assistant to Senator 'Scoop' Jackson, was in this process of, let's say, making the American public and Congress understand that détente wasn't what it was dressed up to be?
RP: Well, I spent the better part of eleven years working for 'Scoop' Jackson on this, but I must say that he was the architect of the policy, he was the public figure who took the risks, who had to face the voters every six years, who had to deal with his colleagues. I think people like me who serve in a staff capacity can be helpful, I hope I was helpful, drafting speeches, drafting legislation, negotiating with other staffs, putting together legislative agendas, but the architect and real genius in turning a single seat, one of a hundred in the Senate, into a position of very significant influence over world events, that was 'Scoop' Jackson himself and nobody else.
INT: I'm going to ask you again about your reservations about Kissinger's actions during the Arab-Israeli War, because I want you to mention his name, because I think you didn't refer to him specifically by Kissinger. So if I could ask you again, what were your reservations about the way that Kissinger handled the crisis posed by the Yom Kippur War?
RP: When the Egyptians and Syrians went on the offensive and Soviet re-supply began almost immediately, large numbers of flights into both Syria and Egypt of equipment, pre-positioned equipment that we saw being loaded and looking back, we could identify even before the shooting started, we were very concerned that Henry Kissinger, in a vain effort to protect the sense of détente that had emerged from the June agreements in which the two sides pledged to co-operate in a crisis, we were afraid that he would withhold support from Israel, re-supply of Israeli forces for a dangerously long period of time. And in fact, that re-supply was held up, happily it arrived in time and the tide of battle was turned, but it was a near thing and we were concerned that Kissinger was either indecisive in ordering assistance to Israel to counterbalance the assistance the Soviets were giving the Egyptians and the Syrians, or if not indecisive, worse was deliberately unwilling to assist the Israelis and we didn't know when that would change. So for the first seventy-two or ninety six hours, we were deeply concerned about what he would do.
INT: Kissinger would argue that his policy was designed to sort of enlist Arab support to drive out Soviet influence in the Middle East, was this clear to you at the time?
RP: We thought that the way to drive the Soviets from the Middle East was to confront the Soviets, including in the Middle East and... could not imagine another policy that could be successful. Now, we were very fortunate in Anwar Sadat, who was an unusual leader and who understood that the Soviets were in Egypt for their own reasons and were eager to get them out. The Kissinger-Sadat relationship, I simply don't know much about and it may be that Kissinger was working on that all along.
INT: I'll stop you there, thank you very much...
INT: Who won the Cold War?
RP: Oh, the Cold War was won by the West, by the democratic West, with all the problems involved in organizing democracies to fight.
INT: And do you see the West having suffered damage in that process?
RP: The West paid a price for its victory in lives, in vast sums of money spent over many years. But I think we emerged from it stronger than ever.
INT: Was it inevitable, the Cold War?
RP: The Cold War or the Western victory?
INT: The Cold War.
RP: I believe the Cold War was inevitable once Stalin made the moves that he made. You had at the end of World War Two, in Washington, a great many people who wanted to believe that the United States and the Soviet Union could go forward into the future as allies, as friends, as they had fought alongside one another in World War Two. Stalin made that impossible and from that moment the Cold War was inevitable.
INT: American foreign policy's always needed an idealistic platform upon which to operate, how much did that fear of Communist expansion provide that impetus to project American power and could American power be projected under any other circumstances?
RP: most Americans are not eager to project American power. It's tough to get budgets out of Congress for that purpose. the isolationist tendency is very strong. The fear of the Soviet Union, a nuclear armed power, massively armed, overwhelmingly armed in the center of Europe, was certainly an animating factor and [clears throat] we would not have voted the budgets we did or supported the activities we did without that. in its absence, we probably would not have expanded into places that we went, in order to contend with and confront the Soviet Union, and we wouldn't have missed it for a minute. We'd have been quite happy to stay at home.
INT: Kissinger based détente on a realization that there was strategic parity between the Soviet Union and the United States. Could anybody else have done it differently atthat particular junction in history?
RP: parity is a fleeting thing and it's a temporary condition, it almost never lasts and we saw it as our task to make sure that... first of all that we didn't wind up in a sub-paposition and our real preference was not parity, but victory. You don't get a victory out of parity. At best you can hold on and we didn't want simply to hold on.
INT: Richard Perle, thank you very much indeed.
END OF INTERVIEW