E. Howard Negroponte,
INT: I wonder if I could interrupt you and ask you to start that answer again and say, "To me it was very important that we should achieve a reduction..."
JC: OK, that's good. You interrupt me whenever.
JC: Well, one of the greatest concerns that I had when I became President was the vast array of nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union and a few other countries, and also the great proliferation of conventional weapons, non-nuclear weapons, particularly as a tremendous burden on the economies of developing or very poor countries. So I did a few things: I issued a directive, which is still in effect now, prohibiting the sale of any sophisticated weaponry to any country in this hemisphere, and that involves F-16s or F-15s or advanced aircraft. It's still in effect. The other thing I did was to try to put forward to the Soviet Union a much more dramatic reduction in the total quantity and effectiveness of the nuclear weapons in our arsenals, and to bring about a comprehensive test ban to eliminate the explosion of any nuclear devices, either underground or in the air. And as is well known, in March of the first year I was in office, I sent my Secretary of State, Cy Vance, to Moscow with what I thought was a very good proposal for dramatic cuts; but as an alternative, just to continue an evolutionary step-by-step move from the Vladivostok agreement that my predecessor Gerald Ford had negotiated. The response in Moscow was not very favorable.
INT: I mean, coming so soon after Vladivostok, Brezhnev was obviously quite worried by what you were proposing.
JC: Yes, he was. And in retrospect, I can see that President Brezhnev was quite proud of the limited agreement that he had concluded in Vladivostok; and to have a new American president come in and say, "That is not good enough - let's do much more, and do it quite rapidly," took him by surprise.
INT: When the Soviet Union introduced SS-20 missiles into the European theatre, as it were, you saw that as a serious threat.
JC: Yes, this was a form... The SS-20 that the Soviets introduced into the European theatre, was a new and unexpected and very formidable weapon. It had large warheads, it had three warheads, and the weapons were mobile: they could be moved up and down on railroad tracks, so that we never knew exactly where they were; and they were designed primarily to hit nearby targets throughout Europe, including Great Britain. And so the previous negotiated nuclear arms agreement had not really referred directly to these kinds of fairly short-range missiles - they were long enough. So I did look upon them as a great threat to stability, and we had primarily addressed, earlier than that, the enormous intercontinental missiles that had been on the table for discussion primarily between President Nixon and the Soviet Union.
INT: But did you find it easy to get your European allies - I'm thinking particularly of Helmut Schmidt - to accept that Pershing missiles, for example, should be introduced into the theatre in response to the SS-20s?
JC: Well, we didn't have much of an altercation between me and European leaders, including Helmut Schmidt, concerning Pershing missiles, but we did have an altercation concerning the neutron weapon. The neutron weapon was something about which we had the technology. It was designed not to destroy buildings and tanks, but destroy human beings by the penetrating force of the nuclear waste products from the explosion. It was an anti-personnel weapon. Earlier, before I becamePresident, a commitment had been made that the United States would proceed with the development of this missile; but when we got down to the point of expending large sums of money in developing the neutron weapon, it became obvious to me that no leader in Europe was willing to agree to deploy these weapons on their territory. And despite my efforts to get Helmut Schmidt and Jim Callaghan in Great Britain to do so, they would never agree. I had serious qualms about this missile anyway, since it was inherently anti-personnel and not anti-tank or anti-building, so I cancelled the project, and there was some altercation between me and the German chancellor about the way that I did this.
INT: What was achieved at the Vienna summit in 1979?
JC: Well, the Vienna summit was in 1980. You may want to ask a question, because in '79 we went... Oh, you mean with Brezhnev?
JC: OK, I'll give you another answer. I was thinking about the G7. OK. In 1979, we had a very productive summit between me and Brezhnev to negotiate the terms of the SALT II nuclear weapons agreement. He and I got along quite well. It was a harmonious meeting. I assuaged his concerns about my recent normalizing of diplomatic relations with China. That had been the cause of great consternation in Moscow, because they could envision, in their somewhat paranoid state, that the US and China were secretly ganging up against the Soviet Union. This was not the case. I think I alleviated his concerns with my discussions with him. In addition to that, we put reasonable limits on the size of our nuclear arsenals, agreeing to dismantle or destroy certain weapons. And expecting a future negotiation to go further than that, we also put a five-year limit on the effectiveness on the SALT II treaty. As a matter of fact, history will show that it lasted indefinitely, and President Reagan only announced that it would be terminated at the end of seven years, so it lasted longer than it was supposed to do. I was prepared... So one of the things that I might add quickly is that when a president negotiates an agreement of this kind, it goes into effect because the president has the ability to control the nuclear arsenal to some degree. The Congress never did ratify this treaty, although I presented it to the Congress, to the committee, Foreign Relations Committee, because that winter, just six months later, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and at that time it would have been almost impossible to get the Congress and the American public to approve anything that related to commonality with the Soviet Union after they invaded Afghanistan.
INT: At the end of your term of office, having come into power hoping to reduce arms expenditure, you had to increase it in various important ways. Did that mean that in your view détente was over and confrontation was on again? Why were you forced to change your grand strategy in that way?
JC: Well, I didn't really change my grand strategy when I reduced the constraints on our own capability militarily, and so, over a period of my term in office, each year we had some increase in defense expenditures. The problem was that before I became President, in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, there had been fairly dramatic, and I think excessive, reductions in the capability of our military forces, and as a former military man myself - I was a professional naval officer, a submarine officer - I thought it was better, on a step-by-step, very carefully planned way, to increase the technical, or technological, capability of our weapons systems. So I chose as my Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, a distinguished physicist who had been considered for a Nobel Prize in physics, the head of California Institute of Technology, one of the finest engineering schools on earth. And it was Harold Brown's technical ability as Secretary of Defense that let us develop all the advanced weapons that were later demonstrated in the Gulf War, when President Bush was in office. So my... my thrust was to make sure that the American military was lean, was as small as possible, but had the highest capability of advanced technology. This included, for instance, the highly publicized Stealth aircraft, which at that time was our best-kept secret.
INT: So in fact, again, the policies that you inaugurated towards the end of your term had a lasting influence on America's stance in the Cold War, until the end of the war?
JC: Yes, there's no doubt about it. And the fact that we developed... and I even announced, during my last year in office, that we had developed the technology for the Stealth aircraft, which makes them totally impervious to any sort of defense - there's no way to see them in the sky with radar - and so I don't think there's any doubt about that. And then, after he came into office, as you know, President Reagan even escalated the amount of money spent for defense, I think excessively, because he went back and resurrected some of the weapons systems, the big bombers that were already outdated and were just designed primarily to create employment opportunities in California.
(Consultation re: time left)
INT: If I could stay on arms, and go back to your message to Brezhnev in '77, the letter you sent him in February, and the visit of Cy Vance to Moscow in March. What was your reaction when Brezhnev... can you remember what you felt, what you thought, what you did, when Brezhnev appeared so surprised and dismayed and critical?
JC: Well, I was taken aback, and I think the ... Let me start over again. When I sent the Secretary of State, Cy Vance, to Moscow in... early in 1977, and the Soviet Union rejected our nuclear disarmament proposal so vehemently, I was really surprised. And I have to say, I think accurately, that we gave Brezhnev two alternatives. One was the step-by-step evolutionary reductions, based on Vladivostok; and the other one was a much more dramatic and quick reduction in the total arsenals that we took to him. But he had the option of taking either one. As a matter of fact, they reacted very negatively to this proposal. And when Foreign Minister Gromyko came out of the Kremlin and made his public statement, he almost ignored the subject of nuclear weapons: he concentrated on a vituperative attack concerning our human rights policy, and alleged - incorrectly - that our human rights policy was designed to embarrass the Soviet Union and was a confrontational effort on my part. So I would say that their rejection of our more bold nuclear arms control proposal was more designed as an adverse reaction to our human rights policy than it was to the substance of the military proposal.
INT: What was Brezhnev like?
JC: Well, I only met Brezhnev in June of 1979, in Vienna. He was ill. It was his time to come to Washington, but he was constrained by his doctors not to fly at any great altitude because of his ear problem, so he could only fly short distances; so I agreed, very generously and easily to go to Vienna instead. He had to be supported as he walked around.. by someone; he was obviously unbalanced (Clears throat) in his walking - he had an inner-ear problem. But he was very alert mentally, and he was very harmonious with me. We had long talks, privately, just the two of us, with interpreters, about all kinds of issues - I mentioned our normalized relations with China; we had a good talk about human rights policy. He was proud of the number of Jews who were being permitted to leave the Soviet Union. We had reached agreement on the SALT II treaty; we had laid plans for future, more dramatic reductions, and so forth. And one of the surprising things that Brezhnev said when we were in our talks, was - when I proposed that we make these changes in nuclear weaponry, he said, "God will never forgive us if we don't succeed." And, you know, coming from the leader of an atheistic communist country, this surprised everyone. I think the most surprised person at the tawas Gromyko, who looked up at the sky like this and did his hands in a peculiar way, as though this was a shocking thing for Brezhnev to say. But I would repeat that Brezhnev and I were quite compatible. And I don't khow strong he was at home. Chernenko was with him and the military leaders were with him and Gromyko was with him. I felt that all of them were much more... I'd say cautious or conservative than was Brezhnev. And it was only... that was June, and in December, right after Christmas, was when they invaded Afghanistan, and that's when the good progress that we were making was fairly well made impossible for a while.
INT: Why did SALT II arouse such strong feeling in the United States, such critical feeling in the United States?
JC: Well, as a matter of fact it didn't. When we first negotiated SALT II, there was a general acceptance of the success that we had in Vienna; and over a period of time - it always takes a few months - we got the documents in proper shape, with the back-up legislation to present to the Congress for ratification. It takes a two-thirds vote in the US Senate. But about the time they got ready to vote on SALT II is when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and then this totally wiped out any possibility for agreement between us and the Soviet Union. But as I've said earlier, the terms of the SALT II treaty were enforceable by me and Brezhnev independent of US Senate ratification, so the SALT II treaty was completely honored throughout its life.