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Superpowered Arms

January 19, 2023
Notes
Transcript

Eric and Eliot welcome John Maurer, Professor of Strategy and Security Studies at the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies at Air University in Alabama and author of Competitive Arms Control, Nixon, Kissinger and SALT, 1969-1972 (Yale University Press, 2022). They discuss the competitive and cooperative approaches to arms control, interagency deliberations and conflicts in the Nixon Administration, the motivations and policies of Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and especially Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird. They also talk about the action-reaction model of the arms races and the role of arms control in providing arms race stability and crisis stability to the superpower nuclear arms competition. They conclude with a discussion about how the Nixon Administration’s experience with arms control illuminates the subsequent history of Cold War arms control, as well as how that history augurs for the future of arms control in the very different circumstances of today’s great power competition.

Shield of the Republic is a Bulwark podcast co-sponsored by the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. Email us with your feedback at [email protected]

Competitive Arms Control: Nixon, Kissinger, and SALT, 1969-1972 (https://www.amazon.com/Competitive-Arms-Control-Kissinger-1969-1972/dp/0300247559)

Book Review Roundtable: Cult of the Irrelevant by John Maurer, et al (https://tnsr.org/roundtable/book-review-roundtable-cult-of-the-irrelevant/)

John Maurer in War on the Rocks (https://warontherocks.com/author/john-maurer/)

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This transcript was generated automatically and may contain errors and omissions. Ironically, the transcription service has particular problems with the word “bulwark,” so you may see it mangled as “Bullard,” “Boulart,” or even “bull word.” Enjoy!
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:04

    Welcome
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:07

    a shield of the Republic of Podcast sponsored by the Bulwark and the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia and dedicated to the proposition articulated by Walter Liptman during World War two that a strong and balanced foreign policy is the indispensable shield of our Democratic Republic. I’m Eric Edelman, counselor at the center for strategic and budgetary assessments, a Bulwark contributor, and a nonresident fellow at the Miller Center. And I’m glad to be joined by my co host in this enterprise, Elliot Cohen, who is the Robert E Osgood professor of Strategy at Johns Hopkins school of advanced international studies in the Arleigh Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Elliott? Welcome and happy New Year.
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:48

    It’s good to be with you again.
  • Speaker 3
    0:00:50

    Well, happy New Year. I am you see me recovering from having spent a day at a a water park near mezzanine mountain in Virginia with half a dozen of my grandchildren. And I went down actually both of the really long slides And so I now know what the meaning
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:08

    of fear is. Interesting because we were at the Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg And I was also going down very tall water slides. Somehow people in our party thought it would be great sport to have the cardiac patient in the group go down and def defying and defying. But nobody ended up though worse for it, so we’re all fine. Let me introduce our guest today It’s Professor John Mauer, who is the Professor of Strategy and Security Studies at Air University School of Advanced Air and Space Studies.
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:39

    He’s got a PhD from Georgetown. He’s written extensively on arms control and nuclear weapons and national security. Also been published in the Texas National Security Review, war on the rocks, national interest, real clear defense, and other journals, including referee journals like diplomatic history. But the subject of today’s conversation will be his recent book competitive arms control, Nixon Kissinger, and Salt, nineteen sixty nine and nineteen seventy two, a study of the ABM and Salt Treating Negotiations and how we got to them. Welcome, John.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:16

    Howard Bauchner:
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:16

    Eric, Elliott. Thanks so much for having me.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:19

    Well, John, why don’t you lay out for our listeners the distinction you make in your book between the sort of competitive and cooperative approaches to arms control and how those played out in the Nixon administration I am the kind of interagency fights that since that time have become all too familiar to people who follow this kind of blood sport in Washington.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:42

    So when I started this project, I had a sense of what I thought I was gonna find in a history of early American arms control policy in the in the especially in the Nixon administration. And it was this sense of arms control as a cooperative exercise between countries. Even countries that have geopolitical rivalry that are enemies in some senses can still come together and they can identify particular weapons or technologies that are bad for both of them. And they can cooperate in a very sort of narrow and tailored way to limit weapons that are mutually disadvantageous to them even as they compete in other fields. That was my mindset on arms control when I came into this process.
  • Speaker 1
    0:03:27

    And as I wrote the book, as I went to the Nixon Library, especially, and was going through the archives there. What emerged was a very different story about the motives of arms control in the Nixon Administration. Although there were — the US government had some people who promoted this cooperative idea of let’s identify the particularly destabilizing technologies and put limits on those. At the highest levels of the government. In the White House, Nixon Kissinger, and at the Department of Defense, especially Melvin Laird and his team there.
  • Speaker 1
    0:03:59

    The purpose of the arms control negotiation, the objective that they were pursuing, was not mutual gain with the Soviet Union. Rather it was seeking to use the negotiations to alter the structure of competition going forward. Competition, arms competition would continue between the superpowers going forward. But if the negotiations were structured appropriately, Nixon and Kissinger thought, the competition would continue online’s favorable to the United States rather than the Soviet Union. So they were seeking to use the negotiations for competitive advantage.
  • Speaker 1
    0:04:33

    And send the title of the book, I call this competitive arms control. And the specific things that they and especially, Melvin Laird were looking at in this period, were an attempt to shift competition with the Soviet Union from a quantitative competition in the number of weapons. To a qualitative competition in the quality of weapons, their accuracy, their reliability, the ability of sensors to locate targets rapidly and sort of queue them for attack by missile and bomber forces. Things that we later associate with what becomes known as the offset strategy in the late nineteen seventies. But even in the early seventies.
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:10

    This was I discovered a substantial portion, indeed, perhaps the main goal In the Nixon Administration, if these arms control negotiations was to enable a competitive strategy and shift military technical competition, towards a qualitative realm in which they thought the United States would have significant advantages. You
  • Speaker 3
    0:05:28

    know, I basically have always thought of arms control as a snare and a delusion, unless you’re finding some way to use it to, you know, cleverly beat down the other guy. And I and I can well believe that that’s how Nixon thought about it. And Melvin Leerd, who I very much hope will talk about, because I think he’s an underappreciated figure in that phase of the Cold War. I’m
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:49

    sitting
  • Speaker 3
    0:05:50

    on kissinger for a moment too because what you’re saying seems to me to be at odds with what I understand of the kissingerian worldview circa nineteen seventy or thereabouts. And if you’ll if you’ll bear with me, let me just give you what I think that worldview is. First, you know, in general, he is, you know, as I think you can tell from his writings when he was still an academic, but even down to the present day in his writings about Ukraine is focused on stability, on equilibrium. You know, on managing a balance of power with various opponents. And not with really being able to screw the other guy, which is what, you know, Nixon’s view of life and not just international relations was.
  • Speaker 3
    0:06:36

    And and secondly, and and I think this does come through very clearly saying this memoirs he was this was a time when he sees a country that is ripped apart by civil turmoil by Vietnam war. He goes to these very painful breaks with his former colleagues. So I, you know, I’ve always thought of him as approaching this period through a very pessimistic lens where he’s I wouldn’t I don’t think he ever used the terms, managing American decline. But, you know, I seem to be that’s what he was thinking. So, do I have Henry Kissinger all wrong, or is it as I think you in part are saying that, you know, the focus should be on Nixon and Laird, maybe a little bit less on kissinger.
  • Speaker 3
    0:07:22

    I
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:22

    think that’s correct. Yeah. A lot of stuff that gets written about the Nixon Administration’s foreign policy tends to boil down to kissinger as being the one who’s driving the foreign policy. And I do see this story as very much a Nixon story. Kissinger is an important part of it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:37

    Laird is an especially important part of it. But On arms control issues, yes, Nixon was making the key decisions and driving a lot of the of the policy process. Kissinger himself is is an interesting figure in this time period because he has a number of different layers, I think, to his approach to this. On the one hand, yes, I think he sees the world of the nineteen seventies as being one that’s unfavorable for the United States, especially with the United States trying to get out of Vietnam. And the Soviets approaching and overtaking the United States in the number of strategic nuclear launchers.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:11

    And so for him part of this is an attempt, as you say, perhaps to manage decline at least in the short term, but to sort of head off the Soviets getting too far ahead so that the United States can perhaps recover at some point down the road. On the specifics, so that’s at the sort of geostrategic level. At the specific nuclear technical level though, at least in this time period, kissinger was much more hawkish on nuclear weapons. Much more interested in pursuing advantage in nuclear weapons than I think many people have remembered. In part because he sort of looses over this in his memoirs, but even in his academic writing, you know, his his sort of Most famous book that he wrote in the late nineteen fifties on limited nuclear war was an extended treatise on how the United States could gain advantage on the nuclear battlefield in Europe.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:04

    And how would the use of nuclear weapons in specific ways could bolster deterrence and potentially defeat the Soviet Union on the battlefield. And in the Nixon administration too, at least behind closed doors, Kissinger is one of the foremost people who is pushing to revamp nuclear targeting and develop what back then was called limited strategic nuclear It’s a policy that becomes associated with James Schlesinger a few years later. But behind the scenes, it’s really kissinger initially who’s pushing this this development of nuclear targeting processes to try to get ahead of the Soviet Union to develop new powers of options. So in that regard, he’s a sort of an ambivalent figure. Right?
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:42

    On the one hand, he is managing this declining process. But on the other hand, he is intensely interested in nuclear technical competition. And that’s why I think he overlaps with Nixon and Lair to especially that the three of them sort of come together eventually on this idea of how can we use qualitative improvements in targeting in weapons technology and sensors? To promote long term American technical advantages. So
  • Speaker 3
    0:10:05

    it turns out that Henry Kissinger is a complicated guy. I suspect you’d agree with that,
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:10

    Eric. Yeah. I mean, who who would have figured So let me pull on the thread a little bit that Elliot has opened or pulled on here. Let me pull it a little further. But the biggest part of the book really is about the incredibly intense interagency negotiations that go on about these various approaches.
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:29

    And the one figure we haven’t mentioned who’s really the one of the keys to this drama is Gerard Smith, ambassador Gerard Smith, Jerry Smith, who was dual had it both as the head of the arms control and disarmament agency, an independent agency, with inside the Department of State, as well as the head negotiator for the salt process. And he really is chief exponent, I think it’s fair to say in your book of the cooperative approach, that this is all about win win. Both sides should feel good about this and that they should be trying to cooperate and and create a stable nuclear balance and get away from the sort of arms race that has been going on for the last decade or so or more. Tell us a little bit about that, how that worked out. I mean, Kessinger’s sort of in the middle of that because he has to as national security adviser, sort of adjudicate all of these disputes.
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:27

    But but am I wrong to say that, you know, the end of the day when you look at the negotiation, the thing that strikes one is how much of it is spent negotiating with ourselves as opposed to negotiating with the Soviets.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:39

    Very much. Yes. You have to remember that Nixon, when he comes into office in nineteen sixty nine, he comes into office against the backdrop of the failure of the Johnson administration. Especially in the previous year, to reconcile American foreign policy goals with American domestic political goals. And it just the combination of the Vietnam War, the Soviet approach to nuclear parity, domestic turmoil in the United States absolutely destroys Johnson’s presidency.
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:06

    And actually creates a window and opportunity for Nixon to get into the Oval Office. And so Nixon from very early on is intensely focused on this idea that we need to we’re going to have an arms control process, we need to build the broadest domestic political coalition that we can. In support of this. And that’s gonna require us to appeal to sort of more traditional mainline Liberals who will have a more cooperative approach to arms control try to improve relations with the Soviet Union and limit particularly dangerous technologies, as well as more hawkish competitively oriented duencies who see the Soviet Union still as a threat and who want to head off that threat. And so in that regard, yes, Nixon and and Kissinger is who sort of deputy in this much of the negotiations, the sort of two level game of the negotiation, takes place in Washington, and it’s the attempt to reconcile cooperative proponents of arms control, like Smith, like Bill Rogers, who’s the Secretary of State, with more sort of hawkish competitively oriented constituencies like Melvin Laird, like Nixon’s two Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Earl Wheeler and Admiral Thomas Moore in this period, competitively oriented.
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:19

    People. And Nixon’s great fear is that if he produces an arms control agreement, that only pleases one of these constituencies, then that agreement will not pass congressional scrutiny and will not actually end up being a treaty. And so he is very cany, I think, even as he’s sort of improvising and moving his way through this process. He’s very cany about trying to frame the process in ways that can appeal both to that cooperative constituency and to that competitive constituency. And in that regard, Smith is one of his biggest obstacles.
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:57

    Gerard Smith, as you said, the director of arms control disarmament, is one of his biggest obstacles because Smith is very cooperatively focused and very much trying to move this process forward on, let’s get along with the Soviets. Let’s limit technologies that are sort of mutually disadvantageous. To the extent that Smith alienates competitive arms controllers like Laird Specialty, in the administration. On the other hand, Nixon feels that he needs Smith at the end of the day to present this agreement to Congress, to say no, this is a good arms control agreement, and you should support and ratify this. And so the attempt to to work around and through the various parts of the government to produce the sort of compromise that Nixon wants at the end in support of his agreement is very acute for him.
  • Speaker 1
    0:14:42

    And of
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:42

    course, he needs I mean, part of the reason is it he needs congressional support both for funding the safeguard ABM system, which was an evolution from the system he inherited from Robert McNamara and Lynn Johnson, but also he needs funding for both the multiple independently retired targetable warheads, the MERS that allow you to put more than one warhead missile on the minuteman systems rather than singular warhead and then and have greater accuracy. But also the follow on to the Polaris and Poseidon submarine launched ballistic missiles in the form of what will become Trident. So he has to have congressional support and the democrats control both houses of congress.
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:27

    Yeah. And this this is a process that is oftentimes described as a form of log rolling, which is that on the one hand, you have the arms control negotiation process, which is what sort of more liberal dovish constituents want. On the other hand, you have the defense budgetary and the forced modernization process, which is what more competitively oriented hawkish constituents want. And the trade off is that the Liberals, the sort of dovish people get arms control, and sort of hawkish conservatives get forced modernization. And part of the story that I think is important is to see that these were not two disconnected policy processes, at least from Nixon and Kissinger and Laird’s point of view.
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:06

    That the purpose of the arms control negotiation was in fact to enable and enhance the force modernization process. It was to create the conditions under which that qualitative modernization of US forces would be most effective. And to deny the Soviets certain counter moves in the arms race to continue building up quantitatively in response to that qualitative process. Could
  • Speaker 3
    0:16:27

    I ask you a question about that. Because I I mean, I’m this is now bringing back painful memories of what it was like to be an undergraduate and a graduate student in the nineteen seventies. You know, the thing that struck me then is that the orthodoxy was arms control. The Orthodox see was, what you call, cooperative, the cooperative approach, not necessarily completely daft although some of it was, you know, there was, you know, you gotta be careful and it’s very complicated and and all that. But but there was an overwhelming presumption that arms control was about cooperation so that you avoid cataclysm.
  • Speaker 3
    0:17:06

    And, you know, I don’t remember anybody advocating the competitive approach to arms control saying, yeah, this is a great way to screw the Russians. I mean, that would have been really any even put a little bit more politely than I just put it, that would have been ruled completely out of court. And so
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:25

    it seems to
  • Speaker 3
    0:17:25

    me that, you know, isn’t part of that the part of the story here has to be that they’re operating, you know, the the people of the competitive types, particularly, Larry and the president, are operating in a intellectually hostile environment and they have to kind of navigate their way through that. Am I pushing the argument too far? No,
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:47

    I don’t think so. And there’s a couple levels to this. The first is that on the policy side, Nixon and Kissinger have to be very careful in how they present this policy publicly, in part because of their domestic constituencies, but especially because of the Soviet Union. Right? The Soviets are unlikely to sign on to an arms control agreement that Nixon frames publicly as this is an agreement designed to screw over the Soviets.
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:13

    So there has to be some some public rhetoric, some patina on this process of this is good for both sides. And in that regard, the arms control process is built on this partial fiction. Of this is somehow a cooperative process. This is what the United States is attempting to do. While behind closed doors, we now have fairly substantial evidence that at fairly high levels of the government, they were thinking very competitively about this and thinking about how arms control could be an adjunct to a competitive strategy.
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:45

    I’ll add and it goes a little bit beyond the book. On the intellectual history side, Development of arms control theory is very interesting and intersects, I think, with some of the breakup of the American Academy, Security Studies Academy in response to the Vietnam War. So if you dig back into the the earlier mid nineteen sixties before Vietnam sort of kicks off, You can actually find some interesting people working on arms control topics in a more competitive theoretical vein. Don Brennan, at the Hudson Institute, wrote a little bit about this once a lot of time. Bill Kittner and Bob Faltzgraf, who at this point, were at UPenn, foreign policy research institute, had some conference papers.
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:29

    Again, these were never turned into books peer reviewed articles, sort of conference paper level publications. Where they lay out some interesting thoughts about power transition theory, arms control, where it might fit into the rise and fall of powers, how countries might use it to try to restrain the adversaries advantages. So it existed at a sort of working level working group level theory. And then I my my take on this is that because of the Vietnam War, because of the breakup of the American defense intellectual establishment in response to that. Many of those people leave formal academia and go into the rapidly expanding sort of think tank policy sector.
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:09

    Right? So FPRI breaks off from UPenn Brennan ends up losing his affiliations with Cambridge crowd and and sort of ends up full time at Hudson. And so there’s work on the policy side of let’s think about competitive strategies and offsets and how we would structure maybe arms control as an adjunct to that. But in the sort of ivory tower of the academy, those more competitively oriented thoughts on arms control disappear very much. And the sort of shelling s framework of arms control as it was in the early nineteen sixties becomes the bedrock of arms control theory that’s been built upon by people like Bob Jarvis and just to clench the point, you know, the ivory tower is a lot more important arguably than
  • Speaker 3
    0:20:53

    it is now. I
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:53

    mean, I think
  • Speaker 3
    0:20:54

    — Mhmm. — it seems to me that it’s during that period, the 70s, 60s, 70s, maybe a little bit the 80s. What the academic consensus was for better or for worse really did set the tone for public debate. And the thing tank stuff I agree was out there, but these were considered somewhat marginal voices. That’s not the case now.
  • Speaker 3
    0:21:13

    I mean, I I don’t think that first, I don’t think there’s any academic consensus on just about anything anymore. But I don’t think if all the professors at the in every ivy league institution said, you know, American foreign policy should be exit, make one way of difference. You mentioned Donald Brennan who
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:34

    is as you rightfully point out one of the early architects or intellectual architects of arms control. He’s part of that special issue of Daedalus, the Annals of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which is then publishes a book about arm’s control. He writes a lot about missile defense. And as you point out in the book, I think
  • Speaker 1
    0:21:55

    he
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:55

    writes the the most excoriating critique of the ABM treaty and the salt agreement to limit offensive nuclear arms during the post negotiation debate about ratification, which I think appeared in national review if if memory serves. So there is a kind of fragmentation even among the, you know, sort of arms control theorists early early on in this period. It then, I do think hardens into the sort of orthodoxy that Elliott talks about in which and and John, you know, I’ve been party to some conversations about this. Where arms control is regarded as a good in and of itself, which I do think is a danger. You know, when you see this way, you know, you see this in the Reagan years, articulated as a critique of Reagan’s first term.
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:46

    As first term, no arms control agreement was signed, which implies, of course, that any arms control agreement that he signed would have been better than no arms control agreement, even though arms controllers frequently say no agreements better than a bad agreement. But But the reality is there is this, as Elliott was saying earlier, I think, a kind of built in presumption. That in any given situation, arms control is probably the right approach to to deal with the problem. Just one
  • Speaker 3
    0:23:14

    thought on that, Eric. You know, I I think some of our younger listeners may
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:19

    not be
  • Speaker 3
    0:23:20

    aware that there was a separate arms control and disarmament
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:24

    agency. Created, I
  • Speaker 3
    0:23:25

    believe, in nineteen sixty one, so
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:28

    that it’s kind
  • Speaker 3
    0:23:28

    of apart from the state department, it’s apart from the defense department’s only job is to basically to advocate for arms control, which in retrospect is crazy. And in retrospect, I think also
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:42

    does represent
  • Speaker 3
    0:23:43

    the institutionalization of the cooperative view of arms control, which is why it was a good thing when it was finally blown up.
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:52

    I was part of that,
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:53

    so I’ll take credit for that at least partially. Look, me, to, you know, not to put to find a point on it. This is actually a theme in your book, John. Right? Which is that Jerry Smith’s role, both as the director of act the arms control disarmament agency and as the chief negotiator put him fundamentally into a position of conflict of interest.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:17

    Because on the one hand, he was the institutional spokesperson, you know, for arms control as, you know, a good and of itself. But then he was also responsible for the specific negotiation of the ABM treaty and the offensive arms limitation agreement. And this becomes a a huge problem, which you describe in in great detail
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:43

    for Nixon
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:43

    and Kissinger to manage because you’ve got, you know, the sort of arms controller, cooperative arms controllers on one side, but got layered who also is trying to, you know, manage as we were just saying a minute ago, the congressional dimension of this. By the way, we ought to tell listeners who may not be aware. That Mel Laird was in some sense one of the probably best prepared people to ever become secretary of defense because he had been the ranking Republican member in the House Armed Services Committee for almost twenty years when he becomes secretary of defense. So he knows where a lot of the bodies are buried and he’s acutely sensitive to the changing congressional politics to this and what it requires to get his defense budget. And he’s not shy in terms of, you know, bureaucratic warfare of going around Nixon and kissinger to get what he wants from the Congress.
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:39

    But the upshot of this is, and this is point I wanted to to get to is Nixon
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:44

    and
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:44

    Kistler end up and you do a terrific job of kind of disentangling this. Negotiating as it were against their own negotiator. I mean, they, at some point, lose confidence in Smith’s ability to get the agreement that they want in which they think they need to keep Leerd on side. But Nixon is also desperate to get the damn thing done in time for the nineteen seventy two election because he wants to have an agreement to run on, you know, as a peacemaker. And so he puts kissinger in charge of a so called back channel.
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:16

    Not really a back channel because it’s a formal government channel, but it’s a parallel channel to the negotiations that are going in Helsinki and Vienna that are being led by Smith, and it’s kept totally secret from Smith and at least most of the rest of the US sought delegation. So tell us a little bit about that. And what and what’s your judgment about this? The good and bad and the ugly? I mean, in your account, you pretty much seemed to think, well, this is not a great way to do business, but it was probably the only way they could have gotten the deal.
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:46

    Is that a fair reading of your judgment? I
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:49

    think so. It’s interesting to read back through the memoirs and through the documents. And and try to reassemble some of the elements of the structural positions as you say in the bureaucracy, the struggles for someone like Jerry Smith. To try to be both the director of Acta and the chief negotiator. It’s very difficult.
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:12

    Right? Because on the one hand, as the chief negotiator, he’s supposed to impart represent the interests of the entire US government. As the director of Acta, he’s supposed to represent his own agency’s views on the subject, and he really, really struggled to fit those those two roles together. The personalities also end up mattering a lot too, I think. Jerry Smith, very, very smart guy.
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:34

    Very knowledgeable on these issues. Again, going all the way back to working on the Atomic Energy Commission, the Eisenhower Administration, deeply engaged in nuclear technology arms control issues. Very privileged background, long time in DC working in the government. In many ways than the antithesis of Nixon at a personal level, someone who saw himself as an outsider, as someone who sort of built himself up from from his own modest beginnings. Someone who had a bigger picture view rather than a sort of narrowly technical one.
  • Speaker 1
    0:28:07

    Again, channeling Nixon’s view of himself here. Right? So in that regard to a significant personality clash between those two. And yes, Nixon does end up losing faith in Smith’s ability to manage this process. They end up going to this back channel.
  • Speaker 1
    0:28:22

    Kissinger negotiates directly with Soviet ambassador of the United States Anatolia to bring in for many months. And some of the key concessions that the United States and the Soviets for that matter make during this negotiating process occur in that private kissinger dobrendon channel, which is largely kept secret from the rest of the government, including Smith and Leonard. And on the one hand, that is a totally crazy way to run a negotiation. Right? To have a front channel where you’re putting something out there and then a sort of a secret channel in the back where you’re putting different things out It created tremendous animosity inside the government.
  • Speaker 1
    0:29:04

    And that comes across, when you read these memoir accounts by Smith, by Kissinger, especially, by Raymond Garthoff, who was at the State Department at that time working on Smith’s staff wrote one of the big accounts of this tremendous scar tissue in those accounts over how personal these disputes got, over how difficult it was to work with these multiple channels where Nixon was keeping everything tightly in his own hands and digging out information a little bit here, a little bit there to try to manage the process. Howard Bauchner: I
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:35

    mean, Smith or Nadel, his memoir double talk. And
  • Speaker 3
    0:29:38

    the — He
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:38

    does. — and the whole theme of it is essentially kissinger’s duplicity in, you know, doing all this stuff behind his back. He does. And
  • Speaker 1
    0:29:46

    and the footnotes in the chapter in Raymond Gartoff’s daytime confrontation. His chapter on Salt One when you get into some of the footnotes that he writes about these minutely detailed differences over what kissinger and his memoir said that that I said that Smith said this, but he didn’t say that. He said this, you know, just the amount of, like, I gotta set the record straight. Really, really intense personal clashes. And the back channel process that Nixon pursues aggravates that significantly.
  • Speaker 1
    0:30:13

    Right? The big advantage of the back channel process is that Nixon is able to formulate compromised positions with the Soviet Union in the back in the secret channel, in the back channel that Kissinger is running. He is then able to present those positions to his own government as a Fated Compli, to say, here is the agreement such as it is. And for that Fated Compli, there is no negotiating record. That people can then point to.
  • Speaker 1
    0:30:44

    And what that allows Nixon to do is that and you can see this in the in the minutes of the briefings. That Nixon Kissinger give separately to Smith and to Laird when they come back in May nineteen seventy one, for example, with one of these big backchannel concessions. When they talk to Smith, they justify that concession on the basis of a cooperative logic. And when they talk to Lear, they just to find that concession on the basis of a competitive logic. And because the agreement is sort of lands de novo with no negotiating record as a Fated Compli, Nixon then has maximum leeway to explain it and justify it however he wants.
  • Speaker 1
    0:31:24

    Because you can’t go back to the negotiating record and say, Well, Smith said to Seminole, who’s the Soviet head of the Soviet delegation, Glidebner, sent off, Seminole. Smith said to Seminole on this date that the compromise was for this purpose. Because that record doesn’t exist for the back channel. So that’s why at the end of the day, I sort of come down even though it’s in some ways a totally crazy way to run a negotiation. I come down, I think, on balance, on the side of this as a useful tool for Nixon, in the tremendously fractured political environment he was in, trying to manage this team of rivals with radically different views in his own government, trying to push through an arms control agreement, both in time for the election but also to head off as soon as he could, the build up of Soviet strategic forces.
  • Speaker 1
    0:32:08

    Then on balance, the backchannel ends up being a useful tool. Because it allows him to sort of massage his messaging of what this is about and create enough ambiguity that the agreement can actually appeal in some ways to both sides of this device. Wasn’t
  • Speaker 3
    0:32:21

    it also a question of personal style? I mean, I think my impression has always been Nixon and kissinger always mistrusted to bureaucracy, any bureaucracy. They always liked having maximum freedom of maneuver, which back channels allow you. They always preferred secrecy. I think they always got a little kind of thrill, you know, from Black Limousines carrying it to Andrew’s Air Force Base in the middle of the night so nobody can see it and that that kind of thing.
  • Speaker 3
    0:32:48

    You know, I and there’s some rather cool remarks that made a kissinger’s expanse expanse by people who worked for him to effect that he just preferred this way of acting. But I think more importantly, I think Nixon did as well. The part of the story that really strikes me about this, which you know, what you really do put together wonderfully well is that, you know, when when kissinger tries his sneakiest tricks, he always runs into Mal Air. And actually, in his memoirs, he he pays him, you know, sort of, backhanded compliment saying, you know, that every time I thought I had layered, trapped, he’d find some other way of getting at him. And and the thing is And if I could just kind of riff on that for a moment, the book is bad arms control.
  • Speaker 3
    0:33:33

    But, you know, the larger context of trying to rebuild the American military after Vietnam when, you know, it’s the services are just torn apart by racial conflict, drug use, the transition to eventual transition to an all volunteer force, Lear manages that really exceptionally well. And it’s an argument, I think, for why you want somebody who is both a kind of a master of the the substantive issues because this is Eric, as you pointed out, he’d been chairman of the House of he had been the ranking Republican member of the House of Services Committee for almost two decades, but also somebody with, you know, acute political skills if I’m not mistaken, one of those began and then I’ll I’ll shut up. When Nixon tried to get him to become secretary of defense, he got him to promise that he could make a point all of his own immediate subord debts. Which, as we know, doesn’t usually happen. I mean, there’s some sort of haggling that goes on.
  • Speaker 3
    0:34:30

    And I believe that he got next he wrote this down on a napkin I think he got Nixon to sign it, and he held onto that napkin, you know, so that he had the evidence. Am I screwing up that story somehow? I can’t remember if
  • Speaker 2
    0:34:44

    it was on a napkin, but there’s no question that Laird was, as you say, determined to, you know, be master in his own house which by the way is in stark contrast to at least
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:56

    one of
  • Speaker 2
    0:34:56

    his successors, Jim Schlessinger, who had, you know, former governor Bill Klemens as his deputy at defense. And the two in literally they couldn’t get along. This was, like, within a couple of years of layered and they were, you know, at each other’s throats constantly And people in the department, of course, realized that you could venue shop. You know, if you didn’t like the answer you thought you were gonna get from Jim’s legendary, you could wait till he was out of town. You know, and and go to Bill Clements and vice versa.
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:29

    And so Lear does really stand out, I I think. I mean, the other thing is that he he is an incredible proponent of not just, you
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:38

    know, moving to
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:39

    an all volunteer force, but getting the US out of Vietnam. And, you know, Nixon and Kistra wanna hold up the withdrawals at several points, and then Lear won’t have any of it. He’s constant force of pressure, you know, making them, you know, withdraw to get US troops the hell out of Vietnam.
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:00

    And so very
  • Speaker 2
    0:36:01

    interesting figure. I mean, in my book, one of the greatest sect f’s ever and he deserves, I think, a lot of credit. And I think he comes off very well in
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:11

    the book.
  • Speaker 2
    0:36:11

    You know, you depict him as a, you know, very, very hawkish, which certainly true. But someone who was really motivated by trying to put the nation’s defenses, you know, on the best path possible, realistic deterrence as as he called it, as you know, in a book, and on which others then would build, including Harold Brown, as you point out, in the Carter Administration as secretary of defense who was part of the salt delegation a technical adviser to to the salt delegation and
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:39

    understands the
  • Speaker 2
    0:36:40

    importance of a lot of these. Technologies that as you point out, Lear is banking on. I mean, that does become the so called second offset strategy under Brown and Bill Perry, his director of defense research and engineering in the Carter administration. It’s the emphasis on both precision munitions. And stealth, you know, both for nuclear purposes and for conventional
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:04

    purposes. Baird was one of the big surprises on this project. Because again, what I had what I had read in my sort of read up to this project in he does get a name drop in in kissinger’s memoirs that is an especially formidable opponent. But in John Newhouse’s sort of journalistic account of this and Ray Garthoff’s account of this and Jerry Smith’s account of this layered is not a sort of central figure in the arms control deliberations in those sort of traditional accounts. And so when I really started digging into this, It was a it was a surprise to me that he showed up as much as he did in Nixon and Kissinger’s considerations of this, and that he was so sort of forward in the development of not just the defense strategy, as you as you say, the realistic deterrence, which is a sort of predecessor to the offset strategy.
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:52

    But also was so forward in the development of the arms control policy specifically. The idea that an adjunct of realistic deterrence of qualitative superiority can be an arms control negotiation that is designed to shift and push competition in directions favorable to American military technical advantages. And that that’s a major theme I wanted to bring out of this book, Nixon and Kissinger, you know, they’re on the title, but but Lear was in some ways biggest surprise in this book and really just try to highlight his contribution to that, I think, is is critical. Maybe
  • Speaker 3
    0:38:27

    it’s a measure of his coming and effectiveness that actually the role he plays is not entirely visible. I think I
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:34

    sometimes think that some of
  • Speaker 3
    0:38:36

    the most effective players in Washington are those who have been quite happy to be more behind the scenes and doing what they do without calling undue attention to themselves. You’re smiling, Eric. You know, I think it
  • Speaker 2
    0:38:55

    was Judge Rosenman, who’s said that the, you know, the essential quality of a staffer is a passion for anonymity. You know, if you really want to be effective getting a lot of ink in the Washington Post New York Times is not always the best way to go about it in my experience.
  • Speaker 3
    0:39:12

    I wanna
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:14

    we’ve got about ten, twelve minutes left. I wanna talk a little bit about how the salt and ABM treaty agreements were sold to the Congress. Because it’s got, you know, I think lots of relevance for contemporary discussions, whether it’s about potential for the United States to get back into the joint comprehensive plan of action with Iran, which I think is, as you noted in the book, probably chances of that are negligible and maybe not a bad thing in my view, but also new start, which was extended by the Biden administration in its first week in office until twenty twenty six. It’ll I mean, the time it’s running up already in terms of the time of expiration, and so we’ll have to make decisions. This administration and the subsequent one or second Biden term will have to make kind of decisions about that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:40:07

    The way this agreement is sold, as you point out, it’s it’s sort of there’s a kind of by bifurcated approach to the congress. So on the one hand, there’s this, you know, this is a great arms control agreement. Look how wonderful it is that, you know, the US and the Soviet Union are cooperating together to limit arms as secretary Roger says, when he testifies, this is going to put a a break firebreak in the arms race. So a lot of emphasis on these agreements are good because they’ll promote arms race stability. You know, if you’re worried about an arms race and the sort of flip side of the coin is, well, then arms control must be the solution.
  • Speaker 2
    0:40:48

    If you’re worried about an arms race. I think one can make the argument that the agreement that you describe about accidental nuclear war, which is reached as part of these agreements, is actually more important because it’s part of the communications channels that help you have what people call crisis stability, the ability to manage a crisis,
  • Speaker 1
    0:41:11

    And I would,
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:12

    you know, my over predictor on, you know, the fifty year record of arms control is, arms control got a lot more to say,
  • Speaker 3
    0:41:20

    for itself
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:20

    on the area of crisis stability than it does in arms race stability. And in the case in hand, the one you described,
  • Speaker 1
    0:41:27

    it doesn’t
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:28

    really cap the arms race. And if anything, it just channels it into new technologies as we’ve discussed. So, you know, what does that tell us, you know, arms race stability, crisis stability about this whole notion? Of an action reaction model for strategic competition. And in nuclear weapons, is that an accurate description of it?
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:51

    And then one final point I’d love to get you to comment on, and then Elliot can chime in as well. But You do make an argument which I don’t think I agree with John at the end of the book, which is that
  • Speaker 1
    0:42:02

    these agreements, you
  • Speaker 2
    0:42:04

    know, ought to be conducted in a way you say competitively to put us in the best possible competitive situation with which I agree. But you also say, we should try and you know, the experience with the Soviet shows that even when we have political differences on a whole range of other issues, whether it’s human rights or regional behavior, we can continue to have these, you know, arms control negotiations because they put us in a better competitive political advantage. My question to you is, is that really possible? I mean, because one of the things arguably that happens here is that in selling this as a cooperative agreement, Nixon and Kessinger lean on that sort of the base principles of agreement that are supposed to govern US Soviet behavior more broadly in the world, and then the Soviets go on a terror after that. Through South Africa, in Southeast Asia, in Afghanistan, in other parts of the world, that create an impossible political environment really, one in which Jimmy Carter, for instance, can’t get the follow on agreement negotiated.
  • Speaker 2
    0:43:06

    I make the same argument about Iran. Right?
  • Speaker 3
    0:43:09

    I mean,
  • Speaker 2
    0:43:10

    possible to negotiate on, you know, nuclear weapons with Iran while they’re busy supplying Russia with with UAVs and while they’re, you know, repressing their own population, hanging, you know, young man who dared to, you know, speak out for women’s right, not to wear the hijab. I mean, I don’t think that’s politically possible. If I could just follow
  • Speaker 3
    0:43:32

    follow on since I know we’re running out of time. So I’ll just pile on with this and then we’ll really let you give you a chance to respond. I completely agree with you, Eric, but I would go as is as is often the case, I completely agree with you, but I would go even further. And the way I would go even further would be to say that it is always a mistake or almost always a mistake. To propose a policy on the basis of a phony justification.
  • Speaker 3
    0:43:58

    Say, well, my real reason for doing this is that I’ve got something very sneaky in mind I can’t say that publicly. So I’m gonna have a phony justification in public. Because the phony justification ends up boxing you in. It just leads stuff you run into what Albert the late great Albert Wall Street, you said the the danger of fooling ourselves and that there’s that. Now, I also believe by the way that, you know, arms control will this sort of arms control agreement will look like an artifact of a particular period in time.
  • Speaker 3
    0:44:30

    When you had a limited number of things that you could count. And, you know, sort of within the technical range of what you want to do. I am not at all convinced that anything
  • Speaker 1
    0:44:41

    comparable with
  • Speaker 3
    0:44:41

    the Chinese, for example, would be possible. Okay. End of my rant, Now, John That’s
  • Speaker 2
    0:44:48

    alright. John, I love doing this show with Elliot because he makes me
  • Speaker 1
    0:44:52

    look so moderate. So a couple a couple of things in there. First, I’ll go back to the idea of the action reaction cycle and sort of arms control as a prop for crisis versus arms race stability. And I’ll say, I agree a hundred percent, Eric. Action reaction model of arms racing, I think, gives very little traction to try to actually understand what was going on in the dynamic between repowers in the Cold War.
  • Speaker 1
    0:45:22

    And I think that that my my work on arms control in the Nixon administration is a small part, could be a small part of the case against that. Which is just to say that, yes, in the main, these agreements were not intended by Nixon to curtail arms racing. They weren’t. They were intended to shape future iterations of arms racing. And perhaps that future shape of arms racing would be stabilizing or destabilizing Nixon and Kissinger and Laird tended to be of the thought that the most stable configuration of strategic forces was the one in which the United States enjoyed significant advantages over the Soviet Union.
  • Speaker 1
    0:46:00

    Because they saw the United States as primarily a status quo power, the Soviet Union is one trying to revise the international system. So that’s obviously a very different definition of strategic stability than what emerged from the works of shelling and and Jarvis and and many of the many of the theorists on this. But on a practical issue for them, yes, arms race stability, crisis stability is predicated on American advantage. And therefore that is what arms control agreements should seek in this competitive framework. To your point too, that doesn’t necessarily deny that there might be certain issues like the prevention of accidental launch of missiles where we could genuinely cooperate with the Soviets.
  • Speaker 1
    0:46:39

    So you you can do both actually at the end of the day. And that I think then plays into the broader question of would this be possible in the future? Because in the book and in the very title of the book, competitive arms control. I lean very heavily on this competitive idea. In part, because I think it’s relatively novel compared to what has been written about this period in the past.
  • Speaker 1
    0:47:03

    And in part because I think it’s rather clever and maybe something that we should be thinking about as a guide for future policy. That said, I don’t think the idea that the arms control process in this period advanced both cooperative and competitive goals was entirely an artifact. Nixon’s interest in it was primarily competitive but when Nixon and Kissinger sold the agreements as potentially advancing both of those logics at the same time. I don’t know that they were entirely incorrect. Now, they didn’t manage to entirely reconcile those two logics.
  • Speaker 1
    0:47:38

    And as you guys have noted, as the seventies go on, and Soviet sort of revisionist behavior intensifies, you get to the Carter administration. It’s much harder to sort of reconcile the cooperative and competitive elements of this arms control approach, and the result is the breakdown of the of the negotiations and salt too. The other element, and again, it goes beyond the scope of the book, the other element that’s important in the breakdown of the arms control process and the lead up to the failure of Salt two is the failure of the United States to follow through on Nixon and Laird’s plan for a strategy of realistic deterrence. Because as you mentioned earlier, Eric, Part of that strategy was the idea that in this five year window where we’ll have the interim agreement. We’ll continue to negotiate an arms control agreement with the Soviets.
  • Speaker 1
    0:48:24

    For the next five, four, five years. If at the end of that four or five year period, we don’t have a satisfactory agreement. We will be in a position to deploy Trident to deploy MX, which becomes Peacekeeper, to deploy Alcon on bombers will have all of the qualitative tools ready for that leap ahead. And not only will that put us in the best security position, but the pursuit, the aggressive pursuit of those qualitative improvements will give us the most bargaining leverage with the Soviets. So it’s in fact theoretically a virtuous cycle of improved forces negotiate from a position of strength shape the adversary in ways that are beneficial to you that feeds back into your force improving.
  • Speaker 1
    0:49:04

    And in the nineteen seventies, both of those processes broke down. The arms control talks run into trouble because of Watergate bureaucratic issues in the United States, increasing Soviet revisionism. But the force modernization falls behind two. Trident one isn’t ready until the late nineteen seventies. Peacekeeper isn’t put in the ground until the late nineteen eighties.
  • Speaker 1
    0:49:24

    So to the extent that such a policy would be feasible today, it’s very difficult to actively determine yes, our adversaries will somehow cooperate with us to their disadvantage. But to the extent that we should be thinking about the future direction of arms control, the things that we should probably be doing today are the things that we should probably be doing even if we weren’t going to have arms control agreements, which is modernize our forces ensure that we’re competing aggressively in the military technical realm, making sure that we have the capabilities that we need to defend ourselves, our allies to deter adversary aggression. That process will set us up both for the opportunity to negotiate in the future from a position of strength or if negotiations don’t happen. To defend ourselves, defend our allies, deter our adversaries. So I think that’s where to begin at this point.
  • Speaker 1
    0:50:13

    If we’re looking at a world in which the previous fifty years of arms control has mostly passed away. And the future is a question of how would we rebuild things from the ground up. I think there’s value in going back to these early days when they were building things from the ground up. Both to see maybe draw some inspiration on what might work, but also as you say, maybe to look for some warnings about what we should avoid. Howard Bauchner: Well, that’s a great note.
  • Speaker 1
    0:50:34

    I
  • Speaker 2
    0:50:34

    think to end on John, I want to thank you for joining us today. Our guest has been John Maire, whose book competitive arms control was published last year by Yale University Press. It’s definitely worth a read if you’re interested in arms control. And even if you’re not, it’s actually a great study in bureaucratic politics, and I’m glad we got a chance to talk about Mel Laird. So that’s it for this edition of Shield of the Republic.
  • Speaker 2
    0:50:59

    We’ll be back next week, but I want to thank my partner, Elliot Cohen, and John for a great discussion today. Thank you, John. Thank you, Eric. Thank you, Eric. Thank you,
  • Speaker 1
    0:51:09

    Elliot. Appreciate the opportunity to share my work.