Terrorism, Human Rights, and Other Global Issues
DR. SUSSER: The period of the Nixon and Ford administrations--we talked a lot about Détente, but there were other issues that were coming to the fore during this period, and in fact, the Department of State, for example, was evolving. Terrorism, human rights, environmental issues, refugees--during this period we added new functions and new bureaus. How did you view issues like that in the concept--in the grander picture of relationship with the Soviet Union?
DR. SCHLESINGER: Be careful what you say about human rights. I'm sitting right next to you. (Laughter.)
DR. KISSINGER: Terrorism was at that time not an issue. We dealt with terrorism by refusing any negotiation with terrorists. But it was a minimal issue in our time.
Now, on human rights, we took this position, or I took this position, and I still take this position: America always has to be concerned about human rights. That is part of the American tradition. America is also a great country, a great state, and it has its national interests. And therefore, I do not think we can make an absolute requirement that human rights always trumps the national interests, but we also must not set up an opposition between national interests and human rights.
So on--I mean, there's a lot being written about Chile. When I visited Chile, I made a speech defending the American commitment to human rights. We voted with the Organization of American States on the human rights issue. But when I saw Pinochet, I did not give him a lecture on human rights, but spoke about the practical consequences of his conducting his policy and put the request for releasing prisoners in those terms.
And that's the sort of thing that some 30 years later people pick out one memorandum of conversation. Did we strike the correct balance necessarily? I can't say that. When Ford became President, one of the first things I did was to give him a copy of the Gulag Archipelago and told him to read this, because I considered Solzhenitsyn one of the great figures of our period. But when Solzhenitsyn came to Washington, I was in favor of Bush--Ford seeing him, but not in an ostentatious way in which there would be a lot of pictures taken and could be interpreted as a confrontational pose. Was that the right mix? It certainly received a lot of criticism. Jim, at that time, thought the more ostentatious association was necessary. I made no effort to stop him from doing that.
But my basic view is, has been and in way is, that yes, human rights is a fundamental aspect of the American experience. But so has to be the concern for national interests, and we have to balance these from case to case. And that will always be controversial.
DR. SCHLESINGER: You know, lecturing other countries on human rights in public is not likely to change their policies. Over the weekend, I was reading George Kennan's, who was earlier mentioned, philosophical memoir written in the last stages of his life called, Around the Cragged Hill, which I commend to all of you. And what Kennan said in there about human rights I think reflects not only the attitude that Henry took or I took, but I think the correct view with regard to American policy: that this is a world of sovereign nations; our ability to adjust the policies of other nations with regard to their internal affairs is quite limited. And in some cases, as we see now with the genocide amendment up before the Congress, likely to be quite counterproductive to our national interest.