8. Editorial Note

Secretary of State-designate William Rogers testified on January 15, 1969, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which was meeting in executive session to consider Rogers’ qualifications to be Secretary of State. The confirmation hearing was chaired by Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas. Fulbright began by questioning Rogers about his views on a variety of issues he might deal with as Secretary, and in the process asked him to assess the prospects for achieving détente with the Soviet Union:

“The Chairman. What I really think I am driving at is, there is this different view, one is that any kind of co-existence with Russia over a long period is impossible. This is what you seem to gather from previous views of the Secretary of Defense, at least according to some of the press. I don’t take any responsibility of knowing what it is, but this has been in the press and in quotes in his book.

“We know that gentleman in the past, and I am sure in the future, is extremely important in foreign policy. And here you are and there they are. I mean the reconciliation of these views and they are different, if you feel there is a possibility of co-existence and gradual mellowness, mellowing of the relations between the Russians and ourselves or do you feel it is hopeless and there is no way of having a compromise with the devil?

“Mr. Rogers. Well, I wouldn’t want to agree with what may be your premise about what Mr. Laird thinks.

“The Chairman. I don’t state that as an affirmative matter.

“Mr. Rogers. I am not sure.

“The Chairman. I state that as having been said in the press.

“Mr. Rogers. But I would be glad to comment on my own attitude on it. I think that we have to have hope in that regard. If we don’t, conflict is inevitable, and I think that the Soviet Union is going to some day come to the conclusion that they have to get along with the rest of the world and with us in particular, and I think that there are many hopeful signs now, aside from what they say, which may make that possible.

  • “First I think the Sino-Soviet split is probably one of the most important things that has happened in international relations since the takeover of mainland China, and they are obviously tremendously concerned about that.
  • “Secondly, I think they are having difficulty, obviously they are having difficulty, in the socialist countries, and I think that the justification that they advance for the invasion of Czechoslovakia is going to be [Page 52] one of the most difficult things for them to live with in the future that I can imagine. I mean if you listen to what they say in the United Nations about self-determination, the right of sovereignty and the right of people to solve their own problems and all these things, and then look at what they said as a justification of Czechoslovakia you know they are in an impossible position when it gets down to thoughtful people, and some of these nations in the world are watching very carefully.

“So I think that it is a good time probably, as soon as the impact of Czechoslovakia wears off a little bit, it is a good thing to try to probe for initiatives toward peace. So I have hope in that regard.”

Later in the hearing, the discussion turned to a similar concern when Senator Jacob Javits of New York asked for Rogers’ views on the possibility of reconciliation with China:

“The other thing I wanted to ask you, Mr. Rogers, is also a matter of basic philosophy because it epitomizes whether this must result in war or is there a way out, is what do you think about the possibilities with Communist China? Do you see the possibility of any way that we have of bringing about some reconciliation with this enormous body of people or must it just be fought out with one or the other really [finally?] yielding?

“Mr. Rogers. Well, Senator, I don’t suppose anybody can answer that question with any degree of certainty. I would not want anything that I say to reflect on past decisions. I think it is important to develop channels of communications with Red China, if it is possible and as soon as it is possible, and I think to a large extent that depends on their attitude. Certainly we should be willing to, and I think the President-elect has indicated a very strong desire in that direction. And as you know there has—the Red Chinese have proposed a meeting in Warsaw in February sometime, and we obviously will pursue that initiative. But in answer to your question what they intend to do I don’t believe I can do that.

“You know, I think in the long run you can’t have a billion people outside the world community. It just doesn’t make any sense. What we can do to further their becoming peaceful and constructive factors in world affairs is I think beyond anybody’s ability to predict. But I certainly think we should try, in every way we can but we should be sensible about it and recognize the practicalities as they exist.”

Senator Javits concluded his questioning by asking how Rogers perceived his prospective role as Secretary of State:

“Senator Javits. That brings me to my last question. I think you misunderstood. You thought I was asking you what you thought they felt. My last question is do you [Page 53] conceive of your role as Secretary of State to be an activist role or a protected role? In other words, do you conceive of your role as being solely to safeguard the interests of the United States throughout the world or do you conceive of your role also as being an active force for peace in the world on the theory that if there is peace in the world this is to the great satisfaction of our country and that we must have initiatives and be leaders and really try to move the world toward peace even though it involves risk on our part.

“Mr. Rogers. Well, as you know the Constitution is silent on the Secretary of State. The duties of the Secretary of State are spelled out in an Act of 1789 which would say that he will perform such activities that are enjoined and entrusted to him by the President.

“Now, I would hesitate to characterize my attitude except to say, whether I am an activist or protector or whatever, but I think that the role has to be assumed, and I have assumed it with this in mind, to do everything possible to make the world more secure, safer for people, and to hopefully bring about peace and I think the Secretary of State should advise the President actively to achieve this end. If I didn’t think so I wouldn’t have taken the job.” (Nomination of William P. Rogers to be Secretary of State; Hearing held before the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, January 15, 1969; Records of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee)

The reference by Fulbright to a book written by Secretary of Defense-designate Laird is apparently a reference to Melvin R. Laird (ed.), Republican Papers (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1968).