Profile: Strobe Talbott
Strobe Talbott was a participant or observer in the following events:
The Reagan administration ignores the recommendations of a panel of experts named, at Congress’s behest, to provide alternatives to the stalled START arms reduction talks with the Soviet Union (see January 1983-April 1983). Spurred by hardliners in the administration, President Reagan instead instructs his negotiators to offer, not one unacceptable alternative, as initially offered to the Soviets (see May 1982 and After), but two unacceptable alternatives: either accept drastic limits on “throw weights,” or payloads, of their nuclear missiles, or accept harsh reductions in the number of ICBMs they can deploy, which will also reduce Soviet throw weight. The Soviets retort that the US is again trying to force them to disarm without agreeing to any reductions in their own nuclear arsenal. One Soviet official observes, “Your idea of ‘flexibility’ is to give a condemned man the choice between the rope and the ax.”
'Firing' the Executive Branch - Congressional leaders have had enough of the administration’s obstructionism, and brings in panel leader Brent Scowcroft to craft an alternative. In his 1984 book Deadly Gambits, future State Department official Strobe Talbott will write, “The Legislative Branch had, in effect, fired the Executive Branch for gross incompetence in arms control.” Scowcroft writes a proposal that enables both the US and USSR to reduce their nuclear arsenals with a measure of equivalence, taking into account the disparities between the two.
Misrepresenting the Proposal - The administration accepts Scowcroft’s proposal with some minor amendments, but the Soviets balk at the agreement, in part because chief US negotiator Edward Rowny, a hardliner who opposes arms negotiations on ideological grounds, misrepresents the proposal to his Soviet colleagues. The “basic position of this administration has not changed,” Rowny declares. In turn, the Soviets declare, “Ambassador Rowny is not a serious man.” When the talks come to their scheduled end in December 1983, the Soviets depart without setting a date for resumption.
More 'Sophisticated' Obstructionism - In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write of the negotiations: “The conservative position had by now become far more sophisticated. By never rejecting negotiations outright, the administration could always claim that it was pursuing them with vigor, and if critics complained that its proposals were nonnegotiable, it could simply, if disingenuously, claim that it wanted to substantively reduce nuclear arsenals, not just perpetuate the status quo.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 124-125]
A. Q. Khan (left) and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. [Source: CBC]Due to US pressure over Pakistan’s links to North Korea’s nuclear program, some Pakistani officials begin to question whether nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan should continue to play such an active part in his country’s nuclear dealings. General Feroz Khan will later reflect: “It began to dawn on everyone that perhaps Khan had done enough. It was time for others to take over—who were a little less public and whose anonymity suited the secret program better.” Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will add, “A. Q. Khan, Islamabad’s greatest asset, was becoming a liability because of his ubiquity and ego.” The pressure results from a White House group formed in 1998 (see (Mid-1998)). One of the members of the group, Assistant Secretary of State for Non-proliferation Robert Einhorn, will later say: “I recall a meeting at the residence of [Pakistani President] Nawaz Sharif where we raised the North Korean centrifuge connection. It was raised at the [Deputy Secretary of State] Strobe Talbott level, at the Clinton level too. Eventually the Pakistanis said, ‘We’ll look into this.’ They knew that they had to do something as we were not going to go away.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 516]
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