INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT BOWIE
INTERVIEWER: This is an interview held at the Georgetown Dutch Inn on the thirtieth of May with Mr. Robert Bowie who was in the...
ROBERT BOWIE: Boo Boowie.
INT: Boowie, Mr. Robert Boowie, who was in the policy planning staff and also the planning board in the National Security Council from 1953 to 1957 during the first Eisenhower administration... I want to take you back, in time, we're talking about events forty-five years ago now, did you feel and did your colleagues feel at the time of the beginning of the Eisenhower administration, that the Cold War was a permanent state of affairs.
RB: Well, no we did not think it was a permanent state of affairs. We thought it was a long run relationship probably running in to decades but we had a firm conviction that it would end and as indeed Kennedith forecast with the final disintegration of the Soviet Empire. We didn't anticipate the disintegration of the Soviet Union but never the less we concluded that the various internal pressures within the Soviet Union would cause the ultimate decay of the Empire and of their ideological thrust for expansion.
INT: And what were these internal factors that would contribute to the decay of the Soviet Empire.
RB: Well it's assumed there would be a loss of the ideological fervour that there would be much more of a growth of managerial interests and that the consumer pressures for goods and services would not be able to be met and that containment itself which would prevent their carrying forward their expansion, would have a certain effect with inside. But the basic idea was that the system itself was not long term viable and that the ideology itself was somewhat self defeating because the citizens or people while they didn't have that much influence on the regime, would nevertheless the loss of their support and their dissolution would ultimately have effects.
INT: You use the word containment and there's another term rollback, which became very fashionable at the time when the Eisenhower administration first entered office, could you explain what exactly those terms mean.
RB: Yes, containment was that the idea which had been put forward, formulated at least first by Kennan, which was the idea which I've already described. They believe that over an extended period of time if the West could contain its expansion so that it was not able to follow through on the belief that the communism was ultimately gonna become the dominant system, then these internal forces and the inadequacy of the system itself would eventually cause a decay. In other words that ultimately it was essential. Oh, keep them from achieving their purposes and then their internal weaknesses will make themselves felt over a very long period. Rollback was a conception that was necessary actually to course the retraction of Soviet power, particularly in the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe and to essentially force their capitulation in some fashion, now there were very many different views about exactly how or what in the Truman administration the NSC68, which had been adopted at the time when the Soviets got nuclear weapons and also the Korean War came and based some conception of rollback as necessary because of the threat of Soviet nuclear capabilities when they got enough force.
Second the only means which was prescribed by NSC68 was achieving predominance across the board and military power in other ways exactly how this was to bring about rollback was not made clear in the documents but nevertheless it was firmly believed apparently. In the campaign (unintelligible) they talked about liberation but Eisenhower insisted that he'd do so and when he did so he'd couple it with, by peaceful means, and so it is not at all obvious how liberation in the sense of rollback could be achieved merely by peaceful means. In any way and it's pretty clear that from the beginning Eisenhower had no belief in rollback. He was enormously troubled by the threat of nuclear war particularly after the test by the Soviets in August of 1953 when they too developed the hydrogen weapon. So he thought that a war which be... however it began between the United States and the Soviet Union would ultimately escalate in to some kind of a nuclear exchange and that this would be a mutual catastrophe a absolute disaster. So, one of his very high priorities was to have a strategy which minimised the likelihood of a nuclear war either by intention of the Soviets which he thought was very low, or by mis- calculation or mis-judgement or by accident. And so from the very beginning in my opinion, Eisenhower's approach was containment not rollback. Now some people misunderstand and think that man acceptance forever of Soviet domination it did not, it meant the reliance on the internal forces plus external efforts to both prevent their expansion and also to make problems for them inside not by uprisings by the sanus allies but by maintaining the desire for freedom and the desire, and the discontent and the, and the dissolution with the Soviet system.
INT: How did the Eisenhower administration believe it could contribute to those external forces applying pressure particularly on the Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe.
RB: Well the first pre-requisite was to prevent expansion, prevent their spreading and taking over other areas both within the advance countries where it was a matter mainly of adequate arming and so on certainly by the time the Eisenhower administration with there, as a result of the martial plan and other things, Western Europe was beginning to recover and there wasn't really much prospect then of subversion from soviets or internal communists. In the LDC's there was indeed a worry that the discontent there, because of poverty, the hostility of the West because of colonialism and the claim to the Soviets of being in favour of liberation from colonialism would make them highly susceptible to subversion and so there was a real feeling that there must be a systematic effort to prevent expansion either by military means or by subversive means that was the first and most important element of containment. Then it was assumed that as I said these other forces would go, would take over in the Soviet Union over time, what the West could do, was through things like radio liberty and Radio Free Europe keep alive the belief on the part of the people in those countries that eventually that they would be able to have, run their own affairs not at all to try to generate uprisings or physical revolt, because it was the, that was considered as almost surely as suicidal, the Soviets clearly had the power to put those things down if they wished and they did seem to wish, as they had demonstrated for example in, East Berlin in nineteen July, June I guess it was, 1953. So it was one of the policies was not to encourage that kind of thing but to keep alive the spirit of freedom and hopes for change, and where possible through things like depriving them of certain types of imports which were particularly important for military purposes or for the economy, to make more difficult their economic progress and their military progress, and in some cases to do other kinds of co-work actions not of the idea that they could be pushed back but with the idea that their problems could be complicated and that they would have to pay more attention to internal problems as (unintelligible) to expansion.
INT: Eisenhower was a great believer in the covert operations from his experiences as supreme commander during the Second World War, was there something that you were aware of at the time and enthusiasm for covert operations design to perhaps destabilise or otherwise make life difficult for the Soviet Union and its allies.
RB: I don't think there was any belief that covert action could actually destabilise the Soviet system, I think it was believed that various kinds of covert action could again contribute to this war, making more difficult there making the system work, or making more difficult the holding down of the satellites, ordeprive, or convincing the satellites that there was no future other than coming to terms with the Soviet Uni. covert action often was much more used in our side of the line, it was used against, what were seen as Communist achievements of power which were thought to be not at all in the interests of the people, an area, in this, for example this sort of thing was done in Guatemala and in Iran but that was on our side of the line it was designed to prevent what was seen as subversive activities by the communists. So I didn't feel, I didn't believe, there was a good deal of talk about psychological war fare and all that, but frankly, I was not aware of any large significant number of activities, covert activities, which were really basically intended to destabilise in, with in the system with in the Soviet Empire. I've often a little bit yes Eisenhower was quite prepared to resort to this when he thought it was useful but I don't believe it was actually used half as much as people now assume, because there were so effective targets, it was not because of a, not willing us to use it when it was, likely to be effective but the fact that there weren't many options, opportunities where it really was make much difference.