INTERVIEW WITH DR JEANE KIRKPATRICK
INTERVIEWER: Thank you very much for being willing to be interviewed for our program about the end of détente. Could I ask you, to start with, about the reasons for the Committee on the Present Danger being set up, the kind of feeling behind it and its purpose?
DR JEANE KIRKPATRICK: (Overlap) Well, there was a strong feeling on the part of a growing number of Americans, including American intellectuals and academics and public officials, that détente was not working and that the United States was becoming progressively weaker and the Soviet Union not only progressively stronger in relationship to the United States and the West, but also more aggressive, and that more countries were being victimized and that we needed a change of policy, that there was a public danger emerging out of the neglect of American strength and of the decline of Western military strength, but also the decline of active participation in what might be called the "contest of ideas" then.
INT: What was the basis of the main criticism of détente when Carter took office in the beginning of '77?
JK: The main criticism of détente was that it didn't work - that's... (Laughs) just that. It didn't achieve its purposes; and its purposes were to really contain... it was one more way of trying to contain the development of Soviet military power, and to contain communism by controlling... by persuading the Soviet Union to develop a different relationship with the United States and the West, by making clear to them some peaceable alternatives to the policies they were pursuing. And I thought that détente failed, and I think it manifestly failed, because it did not.. slow the expansion of Soviet power in the world and of the spread of communist regimes through Soviet power. , it... you know, between the fall of Saigon and the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, the election of Ronald Reagan, actually, in 1980, a dozen countries slid over, pushed and pulled, into the Soviet bloc, and American and Western military power declined; we lost military superiority, I think beyond reasonable doubt, and the Soviets were continuing to build large numbers of very large weapons, very rapidly, and clearly détente was simply not working, that... It was worth a try, I think, and I have always felt... as I thought, Lyndon Johnson's effort to sort of buy or bribe the Vietnamese, North Vietnamese, during the Vietnam War, promise them a lot of economic rewards if they would give up their conquest of the South - I thought that was worth a try. All right, but it didn't work. Now why didn't it work? Because the Soviet Union was not principally interested in wealth, it was principally interested in power, I believe. And I think détente had manifestly failed, and that the pursuit of it was encouraging Soviet expansion and rendering the world more dangerous, and especially rendering the Western world in greater peril. So I thought it was more... past time to do something about it. And one of the things that I welcomed, one initiative I welcomed very much was the Committee on the Present Danger, which was an effort simply to call to the attention of Americans the progressive deterioration of our position in the world.
INT: What view did you and people of like-minded views take of the early Soviet rebuff to Carter's proposals on arms control, the Vance visit to Moscow in March of '77?
JK: Well, you see, I think... I've just said... I believe that détente was having almost the opposite effect of what was intended. What was intended was to sort of end the contest for power and to stop Soviet expansion, especially by military means and the military build-up, the military contest. It wasn't working, and I believe, moreover, that the Soviet Union was becoming more expansionist and more assertive, and more violent in its pursuit of aggression, its pursuit of expansion - as, for example, in Afghanistan, finally. Now, the s.. to be sure, they hadn't invaded Afghanistan at the time the Committee on the Present Danger was established, but Afghanistan was simply the last in a series (Overlap) of expansion...
INT: (Overlap) Could you just reflect on where it had expanded and was continuing to expand when Carter took office?
JK: Right, well, right, between '75 and '80, that's... in... Laos, Cambodia, those dominos in Southeast Asia whose existence was widely doubted, fell rather quickly after the American withdrawal from Saigon, in fact, and the most direct and clear were Saigon... were Laos and Cambodia, but the Soviets were also pushing Soviet extension of power in the Middle East, for example, in Yemen, and they were developing friendship, so-called, treaties which were treaties of military alliance with Sadam in Iraq, for example and pressing their presence, their military presence and reach in the Middle East. They were developing sort of terrorist networks, working with Qadafi and Nasser and the least attractive people in the Middle East, the dictators in the region. They were expanding their support for communist parties and groups in Africa and Angola, Mozambique and Algeria, and they were expanding their efforts to establish political power and conquest, I believe, in the Caribbean and in Central America. And Afghanistan was a kind of end of that string of Soviet advances. I believe that American passivity and sort of retreat in the face of growing confidence and assertiveness on the part of the Soviet Union, was in fact encouraging further expansion and aggression, and I was not surprised when they turned down Carter's proposal, because I believed that their policy was becoming progressively demanding, assertive and expansionist, and that they frankly sought military superiority over the United States in the West, and we were co-operating in this, unfortunately. I think one of the principal effects of détente had been the weakening of Western power and the increase in Soviet military power.
INT: What view did you take over the SALT negotiations which went on throughout the Administration?
JK: You know I tend to believe that a variety of... when you've got a really serious problem, it's reasonable to try several efforts to solve it, you know, different approaches to the solution of the problem. And while I tend to be always skeptical about the reliability of arms control agreements with one-party dictatorships, which is what the Soviet Union was ... I wasn't really against trying it. I thought, "OK, we can try this. We've tried other things, we can try..." And my judgment was not likely to be very useful, but then I thought, "Well, maybe I was wrong."
INT: How much did you think it was worth making the attempt to reach an agreement that ended up being signed in Vienna?
JK: Well, I didn't think it was worth further diminution of American military power and Western political power, because the Soviets had developed by then a significant military advantage, particularly in Europe, and I thought that it would be a serious mistake to enter an agreement that would further diminish Western power.
INT: I know the Committee produced a paper about "are we becoming number two?". Could you just reflect for us on how you felt that America was losing its stance in the world a bit?
JK: Well, I don't think we lost our stance in the world...
(Interruption - unclear overlap)
JK: We lost military superiority - and it wasn't just the United States, but it was the United States and NATO really, our principal Western allies. The United States... the West lost military superiority, I believe. There's some disagreement about that today, as there was disagreement then about it. But we were close enough to losing military superiority, and some of us believed we had crossed the line, that that alone, in my judgment and in that of many other people, was grounds for a kind of mobilization of a Western effort to.. restore at least a reliable deterrence to Soviet aggression, particularly in Europe. In the years just before... during the Carter years, the Soviets regularly violated, if you will, both the spirit and theletter of arms control agreements, I think, that they had negotiated during the period of détente. And nowhere is this more clear, and nowhere was it more dangerous than in the deployment, their deployment of SS-20 missiles targeted at all of the major capitals of Western Europe. Now there was no European defense against those SS-20s which were targeted on Paris and Rome and London, and I thought that was a serious deficiency, and I think... I'm sure all of us in the Committee on the Present Danger believed that such vulnerability of Western capitals, democratic capitals, to Soviet power was unwise, imprudent and undesirable, and we desired to encourage our Government to change that.
INT: Why did the Soviet threat get to the stage where it loomed so large during the Carter Administration, when there'd been hope there might be an end to the Cold War?
JK: Well, I don't...
(A bit of unclear overlap)
JK: I mean, what happened before Jimmy Carter was elected President, was the withdrawal of the United States from Saigon, and the collapse of the American effort in South Vietnam. That was seen in the world as a very large defeat for the United States. I don't think most Americans were quite aware of how widely this was perceived, and also in the Soviet Union, the Soviet Government, as a major defeat for the United States, and a kind of symbol of the shift in the balance of power in the forces in the world between East and West. And so I think when Carter was elected, the scene was set for a continuation of the trend to greater Soviet predominance and military power. What concerned us in the Committee on the Present Danger most wasn't military power, quite frankly. It was... you know, military power, to be sure, never exists in a vacuum, it exists on the basis of views, of opinions, of convictions, of will. We were concerned about the weakening of Western will, we were concerned about also the deterioration of our military power and that of our NATO allies.
INT: So what policies did you advocate and people of like mind in dealing with the Soviets?
JK: We advocated rebuilding Western strength, and we did that with Ronald Reagan, if I may say so. The Committee on the Present Danger included an interesting mix, of course, of people. Many of us were in fact active Democrats who had been active Democrats for many years, and that includes me you know, Max Kapelman, Lane Kirkland. A large portion of the membership of the Committee on the Present Danger and the leadership of it were in fact Democrats. And.. one thing many of us did was help elect Ronald Reagan in the next election. That's... But another thing that we did was advocate the restoration of Western military strength and the restoration of American will. That's...
INT: How effective were you, apart from the fact that Ronald Reagan did get elected in 1980?
JK: Well, I think that the Committee on the Present Danger played a significant role, actually - not a crucial role, but I think it played some role in alerting Americans to the danger that existed because of the changed balance of military forces in the world, and I think we were quite successful. I don't think the Committee on the Present Danger did it, but I think it was one important factor. And Richard Allen, whom I asked you if you had interviewed - I regard him as essential, indispensable in this project, let me say, because Allen was simultaneously a very active member founder of the Committee on the Present Danger and Ronald Reagan's principal foreign policy adviser in that whole period before Reagan's election, and also of course the first national security adviser after Reagan's election.
INT: Well, we do have a program about that administration.
JK: OK. Gene Rostow was another person who was very active in the Committee on the Present Danger, and who was then active in the first Reagan Administration, and that's the... Paul Nitze was active in the Committee on the Present Danger. There were... Max Kapelman was active in the Committee on the Present Danger, and later accepted appointments to the Helsinki Commission, and served as ambassador in various important semi-Cold War posts, actually.
INT: What effect did the Committee on the Present Danger have on Carter's policy as the Administration went on?
JK: Well, it never seemed immediately that anything we did had much effect on Carter's policy, which was, you know, frustrating, among other things. I mentioned that I had been more active personally in founding the Coalition for a Democratic Majority. Now the Coalition for a Democratic Majority was a kind of faction in the Democratic Party, which also sought, before the Committee on the Present Danger was founded... the Coalition for a Democratic Majority sought in the Democratic Party to influence Democratic Party policies in the same direction that the Committee on the Present Danger later did. And generally speaking we just failed, that's all. Jimmy Carter, in his Administration included really no members of the sort of hawkish wing of the Democratic Party... that's... although many of them were Democrats who had been, you know, long active in the party and sort of influential people, but they were not influential in the Carter Administration's foreign policy or security policy. We had an interesting meeting with Jimmy Carter, which has been... President Carter, which has been described [in] various places. A dozen of us or so in the Coalition for a Democratic Majority were invited by President Carter to the White House to talk over misunderstandings, this sort of thing in the period as he began to move into the next election - this was 1980 by then. And, you know, and we found that our conceptions of the Soviet Union and Soviet strategy and intentions and actions were just very substantially different than his, and they remained that way.