31. Editorial Note

The Nixon administration’s trade bill, sent to Congress in April 1973 (see footnote 1, Document 5 and footnote 3, Document 19), continued to generate congressional debate during early 1974. The opponents of the administration’s proposal, led by Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D–Washington) and Representative Charles Vanik (D–Ohio), asserted that the United States should not extend most-favored-nation status (MFN) to the Soviet Union, due to restrictive emigration policies applied to Soviet Jews. As Jackson commented in late December 1973: “We are asked to believe that the prospects for peace are enhanced by the flow of Pepsi-Cola to the Soviet Union and the flow of vodka to the United States.” He continued: “We will move much further along the road to a stable peace when we see the free flow of people and ideas across the barriers that divide East and West—a flow unchecked by arbitrary and capricious power.” (“Debate Looms in Congress on Soviet Trade,” Washington Post, January 1, 1974, page A4) President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger placed the trade bill within the larger context of détente, asserting that a relaxation in trade policy stood to benefit the United States, the Soviet Union, major trading nations, and the developing world. During his testimony to the Senate Committee on Finance on March 7, 1974, Kissinger responded to criticisms that the pursuit of détente with the Soviet Union condoned Soviet internal policies:

“The most painful aspect of this debate—for me personally and for many others in the administration—centers around the question of respect for human rights in the Soviet Union.

“This is not a dispute between the morally sensitive and the morally obtuse. It is, rather, a problem of choosing between alternatives.

“I do not oppose the objective of those who wish to use trade policy to affect the evolution of Soviet society; it does seem to me, however, that they have chosen the wrong vehicle and the wrong context. We cannot accept the principle that our entire foreign policy—or even an essential component of that policy such as a normalization of our trade relations—should be made dependent on the transformation of the Soviet domestic structure.

“I say this with some anguish, since both as a historian and as one whose own origins make him particularly conscious of the plight of minority groups, I would prefer that we could do otherwise.

“Let us remember that we seek détente with the Soviet Union for one overwhelming reason: Both countries have the capability to destroy each other—and most of the rest of the world in the process. Thus, both of us have an overriding obligation to do all in our power to prevent such a catastrophe.

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“Détente is not rooted in agreement on values; it becomes above all necessary because each side recognizes that the other is a potential adversary in a nuclear war. To us, détente is a process of managing relations with a potentially hostile country in order to preserve peace while maintaining our vital interests. In a nuclear age, this is in itself an objective not without moral validity—it may indeed be the most profound imperative of all.

“Détente is founded on a frank recognition of basic differences and dangers. Precisely because we are conscious that these differences exist, we have sought to channel our relations with the U.S.S.R. into a more stable framework—a structure of interrelated and interdependent agreements. Forward movement in our relations must be on a broad front, encompassing a wide range of mutually reinforcing activities, so that groups and individuals in both countries will have a vested interest in the maintenance of peace and the growth of a stable international order.

“Since détente is rooted in a recognition of differences and based on the prevention of disaster, there are sharp limits to what we can insist upon as part of this relationship. We have a right to demand responsible international behavior from the U.S.S.R.; we did not hesitate to make this clear during the Middle East crisis. We also have a right to demand that agreements we sign are observed in good faith.

“But with respect to basic changes in the Soviet system, the issue is not whether we condone what the U.S.S.R. does internally; it is whether and to what extent we can risk other objectives—and especially the building of a structure for peace—for these domestic changes. I believe that we cannot and that to do so would obscure, and in the long run defeat, what must remain our overriding objective: the prevention of nuclear war.” (Department of State Bulletin, April 1, 1974, page 323)

A week after Kissinger testified to the Senate Committee on Finance, Nixon attended a meeting of the Executives’ Club of Chicago on March 15. The President, commenting that the club’s members had previously indicated their preference for a question-and-answer session over a lengthy speech, eschewed prepared remarks. In response to concerns that the administration’s pursuit of détente jeopardized American domestic and foreign positions, Nixon responded:

“With regard to the policy of détente, let us first understand that whether it is with the Soviet Union or the People’s Republic of China, neither side—and I have met the top leaders of both—has any illusions about our vast differences as far as philosophy is concerned.

“Second, the fact that we have negotiation rather than confrontation does not in any way imply that we approve of their internal policies or for that matter that they approve of ours.

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“Third, when we say that the policy of détente has been two for them, in effect, and one for us—I think that is shorthanding what you said, but I think properly so—I think that what we must understand, first, is what the policy of détente has accomplished.”

Nixon proceeded to mention the administration’s success in ending the Vietnam war, avoiding a military confrontation with the Soviet Union during the October 1973 Middle East war, and pursuing agreements to limit strategic arms. The President then returned to the issue of détente’s critics:

“And finally, the alternative to détente. There are those who say because of the way the Russians treat their minorities, we should break off our relations with them, we should not trade with them, we should deny them credits, and then maybe they will change. Well, first, they aren’t going to change if we do that. It will have exactly the opposite effect.

“But the second point is, if we go back to the old policy of confrontation, not negotiating to limit nuclear arms and other arms possibly in the future, not negotiate with the hope of resolving differences at the conference table rather than on the battlefield, then what you have to do is to face the necessity for the United States to enter an arms race, and instead of an $8 billion increase in the arms budget, you would have $100 billion increase in the arms budget. And eventually you would confront what would be a massive crisis between the Soviet Union and the United States in the Mideast, in Europe, possibly even in the Mediterranean, as well as in the Caribbean area, where our interests are in conflict.

“I would simply conclude my answer with this: Nobody, I know, will question my credentials with regard to the Soviet system and my disagreements with it. I would also say, however, that I have learned that it is much better to have your voice heard within the Kremlin than outside.

“One of the problems that has concerned me, sir, has been the fact that many complaints very properly have been made with regard to the treatment of minorities in the Soviet Union and particularly those of the Jewish faith.

“Let me tell you the figures. Before we started talking to the Soviets in our period of negotiation, 400 Soviet Jews a year got out. In the first year of our talks, 17,000 got out. Last year 35,000 got out.

“Now, they still aren’t doing what we would do or what we would want them to do, but it is far better to have the voice of the President of the United States heard from within the Kremlin than the outside, because those walls are mighty thick, I can tell you.

“So, therefore, let us continue to talk to them, so we won’t have to fight them.” (Public Papers: Nixon, 1974, pages 271–272)

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On October 18 the administration and members of Congress reached a compromise position on the trade bill. Jackson offered an amendment to the bill that allowed the President to waive the ban on MFN and Export-Import Bank credits for 18 months if the President could report to Congress that the Soviet Union had made progress in relaxing emigration curbs. Both Houses of Congress approved the Trade Act of 1974 (P.L. 93–618) on December 20, 1974. President Gerald Ford signed the bill into law on January 3, 1975. Less than 2 weeks later, on January 14, Kissinger announced that the Soviet Union rejected the terms of the legislation and canceled the 1972 U.S.-Soviet trade agreement. Documentation on the impact of the Jackson-Vanik amendment on U.S.-Soviet relations is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXI, Foreign Economic Policy, 1973–1976, and ibid., volume XVI, Soviet Union, August 1974–December 1976. See also Congress and the Nation, volume IV, 1973–1976, pages 131, 133.