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Context of 'November 23, 1974: Vladivostok SALT II Negotiations Give US, USSR Numerical Parity in Nuclear Arms; US Conservatives Oppose Deal'

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Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson.Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson. [Source: US Congress]The recently formed neoconservatives, bound together by magazine publisher Irving Kristol (see 1965), react with horror to the ascendancy of the “McGovern liberals” in the Democratic Party, and turn to conservative senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA) for leadership. Jackson calls himself a “muscular Democrat”; others call him “the Senator from Boeing” for his strong support of the US defense industry. Jackson merges a strong support of labor and civil rights groups with a harsh Cold War opposition to the Soviet Union. Jackson assembles a staff of bright, young, ideologically homogeneous staffers who will later become some of the most influential and powerful neoconservatives of their generation, including Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Elliott Abrams, Abram Shulsky, and Paul Wolfowitz. Jackson’s office—“the bunker,” to staffers—becomes a home for disaffected, ambitious young conservative ideologues with a missionary zeal for change. Jackson presides over the cadre in an almost fatherly fashion.
History of Two Dictators - Many of Jackson’s neoconservative disciples came of age either fighting two foreign dictators—Stalin and/or Hitler—or growing up with family members who fought against them. [Unger, 2007, pp. 35-41] Wolfowitz’s father’s family perished in the Holocaust; he will later say that what happened to European Jews during World War II “shaped a lot of my views.” [New York Times, 4/22/2002] Feith will tell the New Yorker in 2005, “[My] family got wiped out by Hitler, and… all this stuff about working things out—well, talking to Hitler to resolve the problem didn’t make any sense.” Most neoconservatives like Feith and Wolfowitz tend to look to military solutions as a first, not a last, resort. To them, compromise means appeasement, just as Britain’s Neville Chamberlain tried to appease Hitler. Stefan Halper, a White House and State Department official in the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan administrations, will say of the neoconservatives, “It is use force first and diplomacy down the line.”
Former Trotskyites - On the other hand, many neoconservatives come to the movement from the hardline, socialist left, often from organizations that supported Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky (see Late 1930s - 1950s). Trotskyites accused Stalin of betraying the purity of the Communist vision as declaimed by Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. “I can see psychologically why it would not be difficult for them to become [conservative] hard-liners,” says Harvard Sovietologist Richard Pipes, himself a hardliner whose son, Daniel Pipes, will become an influential neoconservative. “It was in reaction to the betrayal.” Many neoconservatives like Stephen Schwartz, a writer for the Weekly Standard, still consider themselves to be loyal disciples of Trotsky. Richard Perle is a Trotskyite socialist when he joins Jackson’s staff, and will always practice what author Craig Unger calls “an insistent, uncompromising, hard-line Bolshevik style” of policy and politics. Like Trotsky, Unger writes, the neoconservatives pride themselves on being skilled bureaucratic infighters, and on trusting no one except a small cadre of like-minded believers. Disagreement is betrayal, and political struggles are always a matter of life and death. [Unger, 2007, pp. 35-41]

Entity Tags: Stefan Halper, Stephen Schwartz, Richard Pipes, Richard Perle, Neville Chamberlain, Abram Shulsky, Douglas Feith, Daniel Pipes, Craig Unger, Paul Wolfowitz, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, Elliott Abrams, Leon Trotsky, Irving Kristol

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger begins pushing for a new nuclear weapons doctrine to supplant the idea of “mutually assured destruction” (MAD) as a final deterrent to war with the Soviet Union. Schlesinger argues that the president needs more options in the case of an armed confrontation with the USSR. Instead of the only two options being either no war, or total global annihilation, he says, the US needs to be able to pick and choose targets ranging from selected military bases to a general nuclear assault on the entire Soviet infrastructure. Because it fits with their idea of having the option of a limited nuclear war, both President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger approve the plan. But Schlesinger says at a luncheon/press conference at the Overseas Writers Association that this is a “change in targeting strategy” that gives the US options besides “initiating a suicidal strike against the cities of the other side.” The US cannot rely solely on MAD as its only nuclear doctrine, he tells the gathered reporters. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will observe, “Schlesinger was essentially parroting the conservative line, implying that MAD was a policy that could be rejected—as opposed to a condition—and that he was the one who had done it.” Schlesinger’s policy is not adopted, but his argument has the effect of chilling US-Soviet negotiations during the SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) discussions (see June 20, 1974 and After and November 23, 1974). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 79-80]

Entity Tags: J. Peter Scoblic, Henry A. Kissinger, Richard M. Nixon, James R. Schlesinger, Overseas Writers Association

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

James Schlesinger.James Schlesinger. [Source: Central Intelligence Agency]Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, an opponent of arms limitations agreements with the Soviet Union, attempts to scuttle the SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) negotiations between the two countries by telling the National Security Council that the Pentagon will not support any SALT agreement that does not guarantee US superiority in nuclear weapons. In a follow-up to his declaration, he writes a letter to neoconservative Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA—see Early 1970s) essentially advocating Jackson’s hardline approach to dealing with the USSR, a position that undermines that of President Ford. During the Vladivostok negotiations between Ford and Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev (see November 23, 1974), he encourages Ford to hold out for an agreement that mandates numerical equality between the two sides for the simple reason that he does not believe the Soviets will agree. Author J. Peter Scoblic calls this the “foreshadowing of a tactic that would be used by arms control opponents in the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 80]

Entity Tags: Leonid Brezhnev, US Department of Defense, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, J. Peter Scoblic, James R. Schlesinger

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Ford and Brezhnev in Vladivostok, 1974.Ford and Brezhnev in Vladivostok, 1974. [Source: Public domain]President Gerald Ford meets with Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev in Vladivostok. Ford, attempting to restart the moribund SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitations Talks) negotiations, finds Brezhnev willing to deal. The Soviet Union offers to sign off on one of two options: equal ceilings (allowing each side the same number of long- and short-range ballistic missiles and heavy bombers), or what he calls “offsetting asymmetries,” which would allow the US to have more MIRV—Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle—missiles while the Soviets have more launch vehicles. Most American experts believe the “offsetting asymmetries” option is better for the US—leaving the USSR with measurably fewer MIRV launchers, warheads, and payload capacity, or “throw weight.” However, Ford, knowing he will have to get the deal past neoconservative Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA—see Early 1970s) and his call for numerical equality, reaches an agreement with Brezhnev that both the US and USSR will be allowed 2,400 long-range delivery systems, of which 1,320 will be MIRVs. Author J. Peter Scoblic calls the deal “yet another instance of right-wing opposition to arms control undermining not only nuclear stability but the stated goals of conservatives—in this case, a US advantage in MIRVs.” When Ford returns to Washington with the deal, hardline right-wingers will fiercely oppose the deal on the grounds that the numerical equality in launch vehicles gives the USSR an untenable advantage. “[T]he agreement recognizes and in effect freezes Soviet superiority in nuclear firepower,” says New York Senator James Buckley, the only member of the Conservative Party ever to hold a Senate seat. Governor Ronald Reagan, a voluble opponent of any arms-control deals, says, incorrectly, that the Vladivostok agreement gives the Soviet Union the opportunity to have a “ten-to-one” advantage in throw weight. Though the Vladivostok agreement becomes part of the overall SALT II negotiations (see June 18, 1979-Winter 1979), conservatives among both parties will stiffen their opposition to the deal. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 78-79]

Entity Tags: James Buckley, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, J. Peter Scoblic, Leonid Brezhnev

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, an avowed opponent of arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union (see Early 1974, June 20, 1974 and After, and November 23, 1974), is fired as part of President Ford’s so-called “Halloween Massacre” (see November 4, 1975 and After). The outgoing Schlesinger complains that the Ford administration is “soft” on negotiating with the Soviets, and warns that the entire idea of detente—a gradual thawing of relations between the two superpowers—is inherently a bad idea. Schlesinger becomes something of a cause celebre on the right, with Governor Ronald Reagan (see Early and Mid-1976) claiming that Schlesinger’s dismissal is because Ford is afraid to admit “the truth about our military status”—in other words, afraid to admit Reagan’s contention that the USSR has significant numerical advantages in the countries’ respective nuclear arsenals. Ford replaces Schlesinger with the head of the Office of Economic Opportunity, Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld was an advocate of leaving Vietnam, but, if anything, is even a more determined advocate for US nuclear superiority and an opponent of any arms agreements with the USSR. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 78-79] Within weeks of taking over the Pentagon, Rumsfeld begins his own efforts to undermine the SALT II arms talks (see December 1975 and After and Early 1976).

Entity Tags: Ford administration, Donald Rumsfeld, Ronald Reagan, James R. Schlesinger

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Respected Cold War foreign policy expert Paul Nitze, formerly a proponent of arms negotiations with the Soviet Union, writes an article for Foreign Affairs magazine that breaks with his previous positions (see 1976). According to author J. Peter Scoblic, Nitze’s anti-Communist stance finally overwhelms his inclination towards negotiations. Nitze writes a powerful screed opposing the SALT II arms negotiation discussions with the USSR, writing, “[T]here is every prospect that under the terms of the SALT agreements the Soviet Union will continue to pursue a nuclear superiority that is not merely quantitative but designed to produce a theoretical war-winning capability.” Soviet policy is to consider the possibility of winning a nuclear war, Nitze writes, and for years the USSR has pursued a nuclear advantage over the US. The Vladivostok agreement (see November 23, 1974), he says, gives the USSR the capability of taking out the US’s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with a single first strike, leaving the US left to defend itself with only submarine-launched nuclear missiles. The US would hesitate to launch such a counterstrike, Nitze argues, because the USSR would then decimate American cities with a second strike. Therefore, Nitze writes, arms negotiations with the USSR are pointless. “Unfortunately, I believe the record shows that neither negotiations nor unilateral restraint have operated to dissuade Soviet leaders from seeking a nuclear war-winning capability—or from the view that with such a capability they could effectively use pressure tactics to get their way in crisis situations.” Similarly, he writes, the entire process of detente—the gradual easing of tensions between the two superpowers—is wrongheaded and must be abandoned. The only option the US has, Nitze argues, is to ratchet up its own warmaking capabilities, and renew its focus on a viable missile defense system. Nitze’s article galvanizes conservatives, some moderate Republicans, and the emerging bloc of neoconservatives, and stiffens their combined resolve to oppose arms negotiations with the Soviets. [Foreign Affairs, 1/1976; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 81-82] Nitze will soon join the “Team B” group of conservative and neoconservative analysts (see Early 1976 and November 1976).

Entity Tags: J. Peter Scoblic, Paul Nitze

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

President Carter attempts, and fails, to forge an agreement with the Soviet Union to drastically reduce the number of nuclear weapons the two countries possess (see Mid-January, 1977). Carter’s predecessor, Gerald Ford, left him with the framework of a potentially expansive SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) agreement signed in Vladivostok (see November 23, 1974), but that agreement still allowed for an astonishing number of nuclear weapons—2,400 apiece. (The US does not even have 2,400 delivery vehicles.) Carter proposes that both sides significantly reduce their nuclear stockpiles. But Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev, lacking the political capital among his more hawkish colleagues and rivals in the Kremlin, not only refuses, but decries the suggestion as nothing but American propaganda. The two nations will eventually sign the SALT II accords two years later (see June 18, 1979-Winter 1979), after a fitful negotiation process, but the agreement will differ little from the Vladivostok agreement of 1974. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 105]

Entity Tags: Leonid Brezhnev, Ford administration, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr.

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

US President Jimmy Carter and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev sign the SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) agreement in Vienna, after years of fitful negotiations. The basic outline of the accords is not much different from the agreement reached between Brezhnev and President Ford five years earlier (see November 23, 1974).
Conservative Opposition - The Senate must ratify the treaty before it becomes binding; Republicans and conservative Democrats alike oppose the treaty. Neoconservative Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA—see Early 1970s) compares Carter to former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (who allowed the Nazis to occupy part of Czechoslovakia in 1938) in accusing Carter of “appeasement in its purest form” towards the Soviet Union. Members of the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD—see 1976) appear before the Senate 17 times to argue against ratification. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testifies against it, calling instead for a $44 billion increase in defense spending and once again evoking the specter of Nazi Germany: “Our nation’s situation is much more dangerous today than it has been at any time since Neville Chamberlain left Munich, setting the stage for World War II.” The American Security Council launches “Peace Through Strength Week” (see November 12, 1979). And Governor Ronald Reagan (R-CA), embarking on his presidential campaign, warns the nation that the Soviets could just “take us with a phone call,” forcing us to obey an ultimatum: “Look at the difference in our relative strengths. Now, here’s what we want.… Surrender or die.”
Familiar Arguments - In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write that the arguments advanced against the SALT II treaty are the same as advanced so many times before (see August 15, 1974), including during the infamous “Team B” exercise (see November 1976). The Soviet Union believes it can win a nuclear war, opponents insist, and a treaty such as the one signed by Carter and Brezhnev merely plays into the Soviets’ hands. Once the US loses its significant advantage in nuclear payloads, the likelihood increases that the USSR incinerates American missile silos and dares the US to respond—the US might get off a volley of its remaining missiles, but the Soviets will then launch a second strike that will destroy America’s cities. And that US strike will have limited impact because of what critics call the Soviets’ extensive, sophisticated civil defense program. The US will have no other choice than to, in Scoblic’s words, “meekly submit to Soviet will.” SALT II plays into what the CPD calls the Soviet goal of not waging a nuclear war, but winning “political predominance without having to fight.” Scoblic will note, “An argument that had started on the fringes of the far Right was now being made with total seriousness by a strong cross-section of foreign policy experts, backed by significant public support.” Scoblic then calls the arguments “fatuous… grounded in zero-sum thinking.” The facts do not support the arguments. It is inconceivable, he will observe, that the US would absorb a devastating first strike without immediately launching its own overwhelming counterstrike. And for the critics to accept the tales of “extensive” Soviet civil defense programs, Scoblic argues, is for them to be “remarkably credulous of Soviet propaganda.” No matter what the Soviets did first, the US could kill upwards of 75 million Soviet citizens with its single strike, a circumstance the USSR was unlikely to risk. And, Scoblic will note, subsequent studies later prove the conservatives’ arguments completely groundless (see 1994).
Senate Fails to Ratify - By late 1979, the arguments advanced by Congressional conservatives, combined with other events (such as the “discovery” of a clutch of Soviet troops in Cuba) derails the chance of SALT II being ratified in the Senate. When the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan (see December 8, 1979), Carter withdraws the treaty from further consideration. Scoblic will note that by this point in his presidency, Carter has abandoned any pretense of attempting to reduce nuclear armaments (see Mid-January, 1977); in fact, “[h]is nuclear policies increasingly resembled those of Team B, the Committee on the Present Danger, and groups like the Emergency Coalition Against Unilateral Disarmament” (see Early 1977 and Late 1979-1980). Carter notes that such a treaty as the SALT II accord is the single most important goal of US foreign policy: “Especially now, in a time of great tension, observing the mutual constraints imposed by the terms of these treaties, [SALT I and II] will be in the best interest of both countries and will help to preserve world peace.… That effort to control nuclear weapons will not be abandoned.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 105-109, 117]

Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, Committee on the Present Danger, American Security Council, ’Team B’, Donald Rumsfeld, Emergency Coalition Against Unilateral Disarmament, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, J. Peter Scoblic, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Leonid Brezhnev

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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