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Context of 'Summer 1975: Ford Angers Conservatives by Refusing to Meet with Soviet Dissident'

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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

Alexander Solzhenitsyn.Alexander Solzhenitsyn. [Source: Catholic Education (.org)]Famed Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn speaks at an AFL-CIO meeting in Washington. Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), a hardline conservative hawk who, in the words of author J. Peter Scoblic, is “an absolutist who saw the Cold War as a struggle being waged on ‘every continent’ and who was eager to speak up ‘in favor of freedom and against Communism, wherever it was found,’” attempts to arrange a meeting between Solzhenitsyn and President Ford. Ford, with an upcoming trip to the USSR and a meeting with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, refuses, fearing that meeting with Solzhenitsyn might sour the meeting with Brezhnev. (Ford overrides the arguments made by his chief of staff, Dick Cheney, who presses Ford to meet with the dissident.) Conservatives are outraged at what they see as naked political amorality—refusing to meet with a legitimate anti-Communist hero in order to placate a Communist leader. Conservative pundit George Will writes that the Ford White House is “showing a flair for baseness that would have stood them in good stead with the previous [Nixon] administration.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 76, 78]

Entity Tags: Jesse Helms, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, George Will, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, J. Peter Scoblic

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

President Ford signs the “Helsinki Final Act,” the final measure of the Helsinki Accords. This set of agreements, negotiated by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, settles issues left standing since the end of World War II. Among other things, the Accords finalize post-war borders of a number of European nations, effectively legitimizing Soviet control over the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. The Accords are signed by 35 nations, including the US, Canada, and every European nation except for Albania and Andorra. American conservatives decry the signing, calling it equivalent to the Yalta agreement of 1945, which they say gave far too much control of Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union after the war. Famed Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn (see Summer 1975) denounces the Accords as “the betrayal of Eastern Europe” and says that “an amicable agreement of diplomatic shovels will bury and pack down corpses still breathing in a common grave.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 76-77]

Entity Tags: Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Alexander Solzhenitsyn

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

Newly appointed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld begins working to undermine the US-Soviet arms negotiation talks almost immediately. He scuttles an informal trip by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to Moscow; when Kissinger does reach an accord with his Soviet counterparts, Rumsfeld derails it by letting it be known that the Pentagon would not agree to the deal. President Ford later recalls, “The attitude in the Defense Department made it impossible to proceed in the environment of 1976.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 80-81]

Entity Tags: Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Donald Rumsfeld, US Department of Defense, Henry A. Kissinger

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Governor Ronald Reagan (R-CA) runs for the presidency on a staunchly conservative platform of absolute anti-Communism, widespread reduction of government, and strict moral virtue. Many Republicans see Reagan as a more charismatic successor to the hardline principles espoused by former presidential candidate Barry Goldwater (R-AZ); Reagan also has the virtue of not being “tainted” by any association with Watergate. Reagan condemns the Soviet Union in near-apocalpytic terms, and denounces his Republican opponent, President Ford, both for refusing to meet with Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn (see Summer 1975) and for signing the Helsinki Accords (see August 1975), which he says gives “the American seal of approval [for] the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe.” Reagan is an absolute opponent of any sort of detente with the Soviets. His campaign echoes strongly with conservative Republicans; he nearly defeats Ford in the all-important New Hampshire primary, wins 12 states in the general primary, and reveals, in the words of author J. Peter Scoblic, “the antinegotiation attitude once the exclusive province of conservatives now appealed to rank-and-file Republicans.” Reagan loses the primary battle to Ford, but the effects are long-lasting. By the time of the Republican convention, Ford abandons the use of the term “detente” altogether, and Reagan supporters succeed in having a “Morality in Foreign Policy” plank added to the Republican platform which repudiates detente, acclaims Solzhenitsyn as a hero, and calls the Helsinki Accords a secret agreement to give unprecedented power to the USSR. Scoblic calls Reagan’s plank “a shocking rebuke to a sitting US president from his own party.” Ford is furious, but is persuaded not to oppose it by his chief of staff, Dick Cheney. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 77-78]

Entity Tags: J. Peter Scoblic, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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