47. White House Background Press Briefing by the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here are White House Press Secretary Ronald Ziegler’s introduction of Kissinger and his explanation of the rules governing the briefing.]

Dr. Kissinger: I am ready for your questions.

Q. I thought you might have a frame, if I asked this question: Would you list briefly the accomplishments of the Administration this year and its major disappointments?

Dr. Kissinger: Let me first list the disappointments: Of course we haven’t made more progress in ending the war, although we are on course. But we have always said there are two ways of ending the war. One is through essentially unilateral moves, on which we are now embarked, and the other one is through negotiations, which would be the rapid way of ending the war.

We are disappointed that there hasn’t been more progress in the negotiations and we were perhaps more hopeful that there would be greater progress in the negotiations than there has in fact been, earlier this year.

In the accomplishments, let me take a few minutes on that. First, we have devised a new way of making decisions in the field of foreign policy, which I have explained to you on many occasions, and which takes a period of time to become effective; that is, we now have a reasonable opportunity to be sure that when a decision is made, we have looked at every respectable option, not only those generated within the bureaucracy, [Page 154] but those that exist outside, through the NSC system, and we have engaged in a systematic review of American foreign policy with this in mind.

We have done so, moreover, because we are convinced that, while Vietnam is, of course, the most anguishing problem we face, and the one that in the short term is going to determine the success or failure of this Administration, in the long term we are in a period in which American foreign policy has to be put on a new foundation.

For about 20 years after the end of the war, American foreign policy was conducted with the maxims and the inspiration that guided the Marshall Plan, that is, the notion of a predominant United States, as the only stable country, the richest country, the country without whose leadership and physical contribution nothing was possible, and which had to make all the difference for defense and progress everywhere in the world.

Now whichever Administration had come into office would have had to face the fact, I believe, that we have run out of that particular vision. Conditions have changed enormously. We are now in a world in which other parties are playing a greater role. They have regained some of their self-confidence. New nations have come into being. Communism is no longer monolithic and we, therefore, face the problem of helping to build international relations on a basis which may be less unilaterally American.

With this in mind, we have engaged in a rather systematic review of a whole range of things. What we have done in various fields, really, ought to be seen as part of this general pattern.

You take the Nixon Doctrine for Asia, the basic philosophy of which has really guided our actions elsewhere. This is based on the proposition, not that the United States withdraws from Asia, but that the defense and progress in Asia, as elsewhere, cannot be a primarily American policy, that the United States can participate where it can make a difference, but it cannot, over an historic period, be the American role to make all the plans, to design all the programs, to execute or implement all the decisions and undertake all the defense and be in the posture where both progress and defense of other areas seem more important to the United States than it is for the countries concerned.

Therefore, what President Nixon announced in Guam is the basic policy we have followed elsewhere. We have generally approached these problems in the NSC in two bites: That is, we would make a general—the word isn’t a bit philosophical—decision first, of where is it we want to go, and then we would make a number of practical decisions on how to implement it.

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For example, on Latin American policy, we made the general decision of where we wanted to go in July, and then in October, after Governor Rockefeller came back from his trip, and the Department of State and other agencies had made specific recommendations, we developed the implementing decisions.

What we have done in Latin America reflects essentially the same philosophy that has guided the policy towards Asia. That is to say, we have tried to develop a pattern that to the greatest degree possible elicits Latin American initiatives and the Latin American contribution, so that the programs that emerge there are joint programs, or programs in which the Latin American countries have played an important and perhaps even predominant role in formulating.

We have seen our role in eliciting their initiative and their contribution, and within the framework of what is a fact of life—that huge sums are not available—we have tried to go as far as it is possible to go, through executive and legislative action, to elicit this set of initiatives.

The policy towards Okinawa or towards Japan was set in effect in March. We decided in March that we were going to return Okinawa to Japan and we did so because we had to weigh the benefit in terms of physical security in maintaining our base in Okinawa against the intangible benefit of being able to establish a partnership with Japan on major areas of concern in the Pacific.

We decided that the temporary continuation of a certain amount of physical security was not our primary problem, that our primary problem was to enlist Japan’s cooperation in the development of Asia and in the security interests of its immediate concern; and therefore, it seemed to us important for the sake of this long-term relationship to make the decisions which we did in March.

Another major area where we have started is the relationship with the Communist world. We have taken the view that the tensions that have persisted for 25 years have not been caused by an accident and cannot be removed by primarily psychological means.

We have made it very clear that we are prepared to negotiate intensively, seriously and concretely, and unemotionally, on a whole range of issues, including SALT, which I will come back to in a minute.

We have always made it clear that we have no permanent enemies and that we will judge other countries, including Communist countries, and specifically countries like Communist China, on the basis of their actions and not on the basis of their domestic ideology.

And we hope we have started a process towards Communist China, that over a period of years, will permit a more calibrated relationship to develop, and one in which such a large part of humanity will not be excluded from the international community.

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Now, let me go back to SALT because I think this is a good example of both our approach and our philosophy. There has been a lot of discussion, some discussion in the press, that the White House in contrast to previous periods is not as interested in negotiations as before, that we have not given the push to arms control that previous White Houses have given. I think it might perhaps be of some use, if I explained our general approach, because I think it is symptomatic of the Administration.

  • First, in the SALT talks, we are concerned not with one weapons system, but a complex inter-relationship of weapons systems, in which on both sides, the most basic elements of security are involved, and which on our side, the most fundamental issues of alliances and the conception by our allies of their security is involved.
  • Secondly, there are many people who like to see this as a morality play in which the good guys defeat the bad guys and in which you drive desperately or, if not desperately, in which you drive brutally, if necessary, towards one position which you impose on the bad guys with White House leverage, if necessary.

But if you look at the negotiations in this field that have taken place over the years, you will find that negotiations as relatively simple as the test ban, and as the Non-Proliferation Treaty, took five and three years respectively; that, if you look at what the classical pattern has been, that we would enter with a position.

It never happened that the other side would come in with a similar position and therefore, we were confronted with having to spend half of our time negotiating with ourselves, another quarter of our time negotiating with our allies and the rest of our time in an entirely tactical exercise with the Soviets. Therefore, what we attempted to do is to be prepared for the contingency that the other side might really be serious, and that if it was serious, it would have to address a number of fundamental questions, which would concern us as much as them, and, therefore, we did something, which has not been done, I think—I know—in the history of these arms control negotiations; that is, we made a systematic survey of every weapons system that could conceivably be the subject of negotiations, of our intelligence capabilities with respect to that weapons system, of the possibility of evasion with respect to that system, what counter measures we would have to take, if there were evasion, what risks we were running and how we could avoid these risks.

And the purpose was to avoid the sterile, theological debate where one group of the bureaucracy would say, “You are jeopardizing American security” without ever being able to define how, and the other group of the bureaucracy would be saying, “You must be able to [Page 157] run the risk for peace”, without ever being able to tell you what the risk was.

As a result, first of all, many of the disagreements, most of the disagreements disappeared because when you define just what the evasion was that was possible, and what the risk was, it was possible to express it in a way in which most people agreed.

Secondly, we are in a position to put together almost any position, and we have in fact put together a whole variety of positions, depending on the scope of the agreement, that the other side might be prepared to undertake.

Thirdly, we were able to engage with the Soviets in the preliminary talks in Helsinki, in what I consider the most constructive talks on arms control of which I am familiar, either in or outside the government, and I had participated in almost all of the scientific exchanges outside the government that have taken place.

We were told before we went to Helsinki by many people that if we didn’t go there with a position, the Soviets would lose confidence in us, or we were told if we didn’t go there with a detailed position the Soviets would pre-empt the field with a spectacular of their own.

In fact, the curious thing seems to have happened that the Soviet preparations have taken about the same form as ours; that is, they have made a detailed analysis of the problems and I consider that one of the more hopeful signs, regardless of what may come out in the next phase of the talks.

We are now in a position to enter the next phase of the talks with some understanding of how the Soviets conceive the problem. And we are not flying blind and we are not just negotiating with ourselves when we put forward a position. Again, I repeat, I think we have done, in terms of preparation, more thorough, detailed, and thoughtful work than I remember having been done in the last ten years.

Another example of how this works is in the field of biological and chemical warfare, where rather than turn it into an obtuse exercise of whether one was for or against biological warfare, we went through an analysis of what could be accomplished in either of these forms.

And in short, what we have attempted to do is to be thoughtful and to look ahead and to look at matters in a comprehensive manner.

The Defense budget now is no longer looked at from a purely security point of view. We have this Defense Policy Review Committee, which has been written about, which takes into consideration political and arms controls considerations and in the consideration of our basic defense posture, we for the first time consider the relationship between the Defense spending and domestic needs.

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And when it was presented to the President, he was in a position to compare what domestic priorities had to be given up, or where possible, at various levels of Defense spending.

I don’t want to be misleading. No procedure and no attempt to be thoughtful guarantees that one is in fact right, or indeed that one is in fact thoughtful. And three years from now, we won’t be judged by the process by which we have made the decisions, or even where we attempted to be thoughtful, but whether we were in fact thoughtful. [Omitted here is the question-and-answer session on a variety of foreign policy issues.]

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 425, Subject File, Background Briefings, June-Dec 1969. No classification marking.