The diplomat's integrity

Print edition : February 11, 2005

U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev outside the U.S. Embassy in Vienna after the first round of talks prior to the signing of the SALT II treaty in 1979. - THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

RAYMOND L. GARTHOFF has been variously described as "a one-man truth squad" and "the greatest storekeeper for the Cold War struggles". His two massive books Detente and Confrontation: American-Soviet Relations: From Nixon to Reagan (1985, revised 1994) and The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War (1994), both published by Brookings Institution Press (1,206 and 834 pages respectively) are works sans pareil, definitive guides to the Cold War in its later phases from confrontation, detente and its collapse, to co-existence as a prelude to the partnership and rivalry that we witness today.

This memoir charts his career in government service during that phase. One wonders how many diplomats are intellectually as well equipped as the "moderate liberal" was. "For my senior thesis I explored the dual nature of Soviet policy, in the clandestine Soviet-German military collaboration of the 1920s and early 1930s, blending influences of communist ideology and Russian national interest. My formal courses on recent diplomatic history, international organisation, international law, foundations of national power, and the like were mostly still focussed mainly on the inter-War period, but, of course, also drew on contemporary events such as the establishment of the United Nations, the Foreign Ministers' meetings addressing peace treaties in Europe, and the like. My courses were mainly oriented on the `realist' school of politics, emphasising the role of power in international relations, based on such classic texts as E.H. Carr's The Twenty Years' Crisis (1919-39) and a then new text by Hans J. Morgenthau, still in use today in frequently updated editions, Politics Among the Nations."

His memoir deserves to be prescribed as a text for aspiring diplomats as a study in the standards of integrity, which a professional should uphold while serving the government of the day loyally. A good English saying has it that a lawyer gives his services to all, himself to none. A diplomat, though bound to represent official policy, must be as honest and frank in the opinions and assessments he offers. A scholar, in contrast, is bound to none. But, sadly, in all three professions values are under siege by "external forces" - external to the professional - and under threat by the individual's own weaknesses and failings - the desire to please the establishment for the crumbs it has to offer. As a distinguished lawyer put it: get on; get honour; and get honest. The last is not secured, thus.

The one outstanding trait in the author, as it emerges from the book, is his commitment to the truth whether in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) at the State Department or as a scholar at the Brookings Institution. "You will go far, Ray, you will go far," Henry Kissinger told him. It came true, literally. Resentful of the professional's independence, this Secretary of State had him banished to the office of the Inspector-General. A report he submitted so infuriated Kissinger that he wanted to abolish the office itself. It was only after Jimmy Carter became President that Garthoff was appointed Ambassador, to Bulgaria. Well before that he had established a solid reputation as one of the country's foremost authorities on Soviet Military Doctrine, also the title of his book published in 1953. His services were in great demand as an analyst of Soviet tactics and strategy. But his prescriptions for American strategy and tactics did not endear him to card-carrying patriots.

Garthoff served as Soviet affairs expert at RAND, at the office of the National Estimates at the CIA, which valued him as an analyst. The CIA was "heavily weighted" with Ivy League graduates. "Most people, when they think of intelligence, immediately think of spying. In fact, espionage is but one means to acquire information, and the acquisition of information requires analysis to produce intelligence. Moreover, many experienced senior intelligence officers have observed that up to 95 per cent of intelligence is obtained by various means other than espionage. Nonetheless, that five per cent may be vital and unobtainable any other way.

"Espionage is a very serious matter; for some, a deadly serious business. It violates international law and normal codes of civilised conduct, and yet it is virtually universal because it is considered a matter of vital national importance to states." But, the author warns: "There is, however, a serious question as to the point of diminishing or negative returns on waging an intelligence struggle to the utmost or playing the espionage game too enthusiastically to the point where it becomes the object of the activity rather than a means to serve policy."

Successive Directors of Intelligence during British rule wrote able studies that were published after Independence - Bamford's on the Khilafat and non-cooperation movements, Sir Cecil Kaye, Sir David Petrie and Sir Horace Williamson on the Communist movement. When, during the war, Winston Churchill enquired whether there was any evidence linking Gandhi with Japan, the Deputy Director boldly replied that there was none. He was Ghulam Ahmed, later Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States; a bluff genial character much more pleasant than his brother, Aziz Ahmed, who had preceded him in that post.

The CIA's head Allen Dalles paid Garthoff a bizarre compliment, once. "Ray, you've gotten rid of more Soviet divisions than anyone since Hitler." It was provided by the 1960 estimate of Soviet Armed Forces, which concluded that Khruschev's figure (3,623,000) was "substantially correct".

Bigotry is not only morally corrosive, but destroys professional values, which alone makes this memoir highly relevant to students of India's policy towards those of its neighbours with whom it is locked in disputes of varying intensity - Pakistan, China and Bangladesh.

The qualities that make for good scholarship are also the ones that mark a good diplomat, thinker on strategic affairs, or, for that matter, a columnist on political or military affairs. Even the hard-worked harried correspondent must be fully equipped intellectually to see through the stories being told to him. Such is the complexity of the issues that force us.

When, in 1961, Garthoff joined the State Department, some of his friends there and at the CIA thought he was changing the "cover" he had while at the CIA. But he wanted to be in the Foreign Service and remained there until 1980, when he joined Brookings Institution.

Assessment of the adversary's moves and signals is of vital importance. Interpreting a speech correctly is part of the exercise. On January 6, 1961, Khruschev delivered his famous speech on "wars of national liberation". The hardliners went into a fit. "What Kennedy and his advisers (except Ambassador Thompson) did not understand was that the more important message in Khruschev's speech, and indeed I later learned the reason he timed it for the incoming administration, was that war must be prevented, not only general nuclear war, but even local, limited conventional wars involving the great powers."

Do you remember how Pervez Musharraf's Iftar speech on October 25, 2004, on the seven zones of Kashmir, sent our hawks into a tizzy? So frozen is the mindset. The man is desperate to settle; he receives no encouragement from us. Time and again, as Garthoff demonstrates, U.S. assessments of Soviet military capabilities and intentions were proved wrong. He was among those who warned of the error and was punished for it. Once at a reception, where he was engaged in a conversation with Yulu Vorontsov, Deputy Chief of Mission of the Soviet Embassy, and another, Kissinger joined them, made some complimentary remarks on his contribution to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). But when Vorontsov joined in the praise, Kissinger mischievously remarked he was not always sure which side Garthoff was on. Vorontsov rejoined that they always knew which side he was working for. Such is the fate of the moderate.

Between two nuclear states how much do numbers matter? "The United States at the end of October 1962 had a first strike salvo of over three thousand strategic nuclear weapons (with many nuclear bombs remaining). The Soviet Union, if it had marshalled all of its forces with even a marginal intercontinental capability, could not have placed more than three hundred weapons on the United States in a first strike. But even if the United States had attacked first - an option President Kennedy never considered - under the optimum estimate of the Air Force planner the Soviet Union might have been able to place some three to thirty thermonuclear weapons on American targets. In terms of war-gaming theory and deterrence-based strategic calculus, the United States would have won handily - three thousand weapons delivered versus thirty. But no President, no responsible political leader of the United States or the Soviet Union, would have ever chosen such a victory if there were a choice and war could be avoided. The common nuclear danger was a far more potent force in constraining the crisis than all the calculated criteria of the military balance and deterrence. Kennedy preferred to make some concessions in a negotiated settlement rather than take military action far less risky then initiating a nuclear war even from a position of overwhelming strength."

That is precisely why Operation Parakram of A.B. Vajpayee and L.K. Advani was an expensive sham from the word go. There was no real casus belli in December 2001 and the repercussions of even a limited strike on Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir were invaluable. "I was concerned about a growing tendency to exaggerate the Soviet strategic threat. It was true that in the late 1960s the size of the Soviet strategic arsenal was growing and the Soviet Union was moving toward numerical parity in strategic delivery systems. I did not, however, believe that this development would weaken the strategic balance, as it did not threaten the continuing American strategic deterrent."

Assessing a given military balance, represented by the numbers in hardware, requires skill and objectivity (vide Ravi Rikhye's essay "Live Examples from Recent Indian example" in Estimating Foreign Military Power edited by Philip Towle (1982). Garthoff writes: "In 1967 I wrote a top secret memorandum using the most complete intelligence to illustrate that depending on the terms used the strategic balance (or imbalance) could be described in radically different ways. The strategic relationship could be depicted as either very reassuring or very dangerous even with the same intelligence information and estimates, depending on how one selected the forces to be compared. My memo was considered very dangerous by some in the Pentagon, in particular Lieutenant-General Berton Spivey, Director of the Joint Staff of the JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] and even by a few of my colleagues in State, in particular Sey Weiss, not only because it could be used to construct comparisons that would support complacency, but also because it tended to undermine the rather alarmist comparisons that were used to support defence budget programmes... . I argued in my memorandum that rather than claim superiority in terms that might not be sustainable in the future, `we should emphasise not our strategic superiority but our very high level of confidence in the reliability of our deterrent under any circumstances'."

THE book has some interesting disclosures. As early as in 1963, Romania's Foreign Minister Corneliu Manescu met U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk to inform him that "Romania had not been consulted over the Soviet decision to place nuclear missiles in Cuba and was not therefore a party to the dispute. The Romanian government wanted the U.S. to understand that Romania would remain neutral in any conflict generated by such actions as the Soviet deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba, and sought assurances that in the event of hostilities arising from such a situation, the United States would not strike Romania on the mistaken assumption that it would be allied with the Soviet Union in such a war." Rusk asked if Romania had any nuclear weapons on its soil. He was informed there were none and offered opportunity to verify that fact.

In 1963, President Kennedy asked Ambassador Harriman "to convey to the Soviet leadership our growing concern over Chinese communist development of nuclear weapons. Moreover, he was to sound out the degree of Soviet concern and possible readiness to join us in countering Chinese efforts, possibly even by military action to disable their construction of nuclear facilities." Moscow was not concerned.

Later during the SALT dialogue in July 1970, Moscow began probing "on measures to prevent a provocative attack" by a third party (China). The suggestion was rejected. The move was preceded by an article published, of all papers, in Evening News (London) on September 16, 1969, entitled "Will Russian Rockets Czech-mate China"? by Victor Louis, a shadowy journalist close to the KGB. He wrote that the Brezhnev doctrine applied as much to China as it did to Czechoslovakia. Soviet diplomats began sounding European and Asian diplomats. On August 18, 1969, a mid-level State Department official was asked by a Soviet diplomat, who was actually a KGB officer, as to the U.S. reaction to a Soviet attack on Chinese nuclear facilities. The U.S. publicly expressed its disapproval of such a course.

In a careful reconstruction of the episode, Garthroff wrote: "It should also be noted that later reports that the Soviet Union had approached the United States in 1969 about a possible joint attack on Chinese nuclear facilities were unfounded." (Detente and Confrontation; 2nd Revised Edition,1994; page 238).

Of direct interest to us are two other disclosures. The U.S. had advance intelligence on the first Chinese nuclear test on October 16, 1964. A special committee had been discussing the options for nearly two years. "Among options it had considered (but rejected) was a U.S. pre-emptive strike on Chinese nuclear facilities. An even earlier (September 1961) policy planning council proposal to consider helping India acquire a nuclear testing capability prior to Communist China had been rejected by Rusk as contrary to our general non-proliferation interests (although, curiously, he did consider this idea in 1964)."

A task force on nuclear proliferation set up after the test "considered a wide range of possible anti-proliferation measures, including support of nuclear-free zones, military guarantees to India, a broadened commitment to Japan, pressures on Israel, and even rollback actions intended to deprive China of its nuclear capability and to place pressure on France to give up its nuclear weapons programme." Not long thereafter, "pressure on Israel" became the Great Unthinkable. The Israeli lobby disfavoured detente lest it should lead to joint U.S.-USSR moves to impose a settlement of the Palestine question.

Interestingly, "The Indo-Pakistani war of 1965 did, however, give added momentum to internal studies of counter proliferation measures to restrain India from acquiring nuclear weapons. Both the Thompson and Johnson Committees devoted considerable attention to this problem in 1965-66. One scheme that was considered envisaged providing an aircraft carrier to India; another was to assist India in demonstrating prowess in some non-nuclear scientific technological area, such as in outer space."

In retrospect, it is clear that each side in the Cold War had misunderstood the other's intentions and exaggerated its military capabilities. The memoir ends with "Reflections on the Cold War" much of which are relevant to any Cold War between two states. "Virtually no consideration was given to the fact that we were also influencing Soviet perception of our aims. No matter how justified our actions seemed and indeed may have been, we failed to realise that we were, for example, in fact going beyond what the adversary was doing in paramilitary and covert operations violating sovereignty and challenging the legitimacy of the Soviet Union. More important, when we were resorting to the same means, did we want the Soviet leaders to see our objectives as a mirror reflection of what we believed were theirs? When the Nixon and Brezhnev administrations turned to detente, they were both unable to do so without a one-sided depiction of the process and raising of excessive public expectations that led to later disappointment and disillusionment in the late 1970s and early 1980s."

There is another aspect to it. A Cold War is exploited by leaders to mobilise domestic support and silence the opposition. Critics are dubbed unpatriotic. When the time comes to settle, the rhetoric of old comes to haunt the leaders. It impedes moves for a rapprochement. It warps the nation's image of the world.

Was a military build-up at all necessary? "A lesson regrettably not learned from the Cuban missile crisis or any other episode in the geopolitical rivalry was that the continuation of an arms race was not necessary for deterrence of war. Instead of recognising that leaders on neither side had an incentive to launch a war strong enough to lead to consideration of deliberate initiation of war in the nuclear era, deterrence theory elaborated justification for infinite expansion and perfection of strategic scenarios `prevailing' in second or third `exchanges' of tens of thousands of thermonuclear weapons. Any weapons programme could be justified by the argument that it would `enhance deterrence'. To be sure, sanity in political judgment was not lost, and we survived the Cold War. But risks, as well as costs, were raised unnecessarily by excessive militarisation of the rivalry, excessive reliance on fallible technologies of warning and communication, and substitution of mechanistic `requirements' of deterrence (in such coin as missile `throw-weight') for strategic and political thinking."

A Cold War exacts its toll morally, intellectually and culturally. It entails "even certain curbs on normal freedoms at home in the interests of security. It also meant subordinating other considerations in relationships with other countries, overlooking some rather large anomalies in depicting the anti-communist coalition as the `Free World'. Many of its members lacked human and political rights no less or even more than did citizens of some communist countries."

And all because of exaggerated fears. For, "neither side was set on `world domination' with the clarity, intensity, consistency, or malevolence imputed by the adversary. Yet leaders on both sides did foresee and seek to counter efforts of their adversaries in the belief that the enemy was foreordained (or believed he was foreordained) to carry the struggle to the end. Moreover, leaders on both sides did hold ideologies that foresaw and sought to further global hegemony of their own system. Although the Marxist-Leninist ideology was most explicit, the American-led counter-communism ideology was not guided only by containment of communism. There was a strong belief in the Wilsonian and Rooseveltian themes of `making the world safe for democracy' and assumptions about the nature of democracy that excluded any place for an ideology opposed to pluralism, human rights, and other attributes of `world community'. [Moreover, as Time magazine had dubbed it, the world was now living in `the American century']."

Indians who reproach Reagan for his belief in an "empire of evil" and Bush for his "axis of evil" would do well to reflect on our propensity to demonise our adversaries. There is a total indifference to the adversary's legitimate interests and, in consequence, no effort to reach out to him. The prime task in diplomacy is reconciliation of conflicting interests. But if the legitimacy of the other side's interest is questioned where is the need to attempt a reconciliation? To some a good diplomat is one who takes the hardline. He is hailed as one who "stands for India's interests", is not swayed by "morality" and is a practitioner of "realpolitik", a concept on which he has of course read little. Diplomatic history smacks of sheer propaganda.

In a brilliant passage Garthoff writes: "In reflecting on the broader process of American policymaking and interaction with the Soviet Union, one major conclusion that finds repeated confirmation is the difficulty in visualising the impact of American actions on the perceptions and hence the decisions and actions of the Soviet adversary. (The reverse, of course, was also true.) The significance of empathy has been greatly underappreciated and even when recognised has been difficult to gear into the process of policymaking. It has too easily been misconstrued or misrepresented as softness, a lack of stalwart pursuit of American interests, even though a really objective and successful advance of one's interest often hinges on correctly understanding the interests and perspective of others - especially an adversary, where there is a divergence or conflict of interests." It is these qualities that mark a truly good diplomat.

A Journey Through the Cold War: A Memoir of Containment and Coexistence

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