45. Statement by Secretary of State Kissinger 1

Détente With the Soviet Union: The Reality of Competition and the Imperative of Cooperation

I. The Challenge

Since the dawn of the nuclear age the world’s fears of holocaust and its hopes for peace have turned on the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Throughout history men have sought peace but suffered war; all too often, deliberate decisions or miscalculations have brought violence and destruction to a world yearning for tranquility. Tragic as the consequences of violence may have been in the past, the issue of peace and war takes on unprecedented urgency when, for the first time in history, two nations have the capacity to destroy mankind. In the nuclear age, as President Eisenhower pointed out two decades ago, “there is no longer any alternative to peace.”

The destructiveness of modern weapons defines the necessity of the task; deep differences in philosophy and interests between the United States and the Soviet Union point up its difficulty. These differences do not spring from misunderstanding or personalities or transitory factors:

—They are rooted in history and in the way the two countries have developed.

—They are nourished by conflicting values and opposing ideologies.

—They are expressed in diverging national interests that produce political and military competition.

—They are influenced by allies and friends whose association we value and whose interests we will not sacrifice.

Paradox confuses our perception of the problem of peaceful coexistence: if peace is pursued to the exclusion of any other goal, other values will be compromised and perhaps lost; but if unconstrained rivalry leads to nuclear conflict, these values, along with everything else, will be destroyed in the resulting holocaust. However competitive they [Page 231] may be at some levels of their relationship, both major nuclear powers must base their policies on the premise that neither can expect to impose its will on the other without running an intolerable risk. The challenge of our time is to reconcile the reality of competition with the imperative of coexistence.

There can be no peaceful international order without a constructive relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. There will be no international stability unless both the Soviet Union and the United States conduct themselves with restraint and unless they use their enormous power for the benefit of mankind.

Thus we must be clear at the outset on what the term “détente” entails. It is the search for a more constructive relationship with the Soviet Union reflecting the realities I have outlined. It is a continuing process, not a final condition that has been or can be realized at any one specific point in time. And it has been pursued by successive American leaders, though the means have varied as have world conditions.

Some fundamental principles guide this policy:

The United States cannot base its policy solely on Moscow’s good intentions. But neither can we insist that all forward movement must await a convergence of American and Soviet purposes. We seek, regardless of Soviet intentions, to serve peace through a systematic resistance to pressure and conciliatory responses to moderate behavior.

We must oppose aggressive actions and irresponsible behavior. But we must not seek confrontations lightly.

We must maintain a strong national defense while recognizing that in the nuclear age the relationship between military strength and politically usable power is the most complex in all history.

Where the age-old antagonism between freedom and tyranny is concerned, we are not neutral. But other imperatives impose limits on our ability to produce internal changes in foreign countries. Consciousness of our limits is recognition of the necessity of peace—not moral callousness. The preservation of human life and human society are moral values, too.

We must be mature enough to recognize that to be stable a relationship must provide advantages to both sides and that the most constructive international relationships are those in which both parties perceive an element of gain. Moscow will benefit from certain measures, just as we will from others. The balance cannot be struck on each issue every day, but only over the whole range of relations and over a period of time.

[Omitted here are a historical overview of détente and information concerning specific agreements negotiated between the United States and the Soviet Union.]

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V. Agenda for the Future

Détente is a process, not a permanent achievement. The agenda is full and continuing. Obviously the main concern must be to reduce the sources of potential conflict. This requires efforts in several interrelated areas:

—The military competition in all its aspects must be subject to increasingly firm restraints by both sides.

—Political competition, especially in moments of crisis, must be guided by the principles of restraint set forth in the documents described earlier. Crises there will be, but the United States and the Soviet Union have a special obligation deriving from the unimaginable military power that they wield and represent. Exploitation of crisis situations for unilateral gain is not acceptable.

—Restraint in crises must be augmented by cooperation in removing the causes of crises. There have been too many instances, notably in the Middle East, which demonstrate that policies of unilateral advantage sooner or later run out of control and lead to the brink of war, if not beyond.

—The process of negotiations and consultation must be continuous and intense. But no agreement between the nuclear superpowers can be durable if made over the heads of other nations which have a stake in the outcome. We should not seek to impose peace; we can, however, see that our own actions and conduct are conducive to peace.

In the coming months we shall strive:

—To complete the negotiations for comprehensive and equitable limitations on strategic arms until at least 1985;

—To complete the multilateral negotiations on mutual force reductions in Central Europe, so that security will be enhanced for all the countries of Europe;

—To conclude the conference on European security and cooperation in a manner that promotes both security and human aspirations;

—To continue the efforts to limit the spread of nuclear weapons to additional countries without depriving those countries of the peaceful benefits of atomic energy;

—To complete ratification of the recently negotiated treaty banning underground nuclear testing by the United States and U.S.S.R. above a certain threshold;

—To begin negotiations on the recently agreed effort to overcome the possible dangers of environmental modification techniques for military purposes; and

—To resolve the longstanding attempts to cope with the dangers of chemical weaponry.

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We must never forget that the process of détente depends ultimately on habits and modes of conduct that extend beyond the letter of agreements to the spirit of relations as a whole. This is why the whole process must be carefully nurtured.

In cataloging the desirable, we must take care not to jeopardize what is attainable. We must consider what alternative policies are available and what their consequences would be. And the implications of alternatives must be examined not just in terms of a single issue but for how they might affect the entire range of Soviet-American relations and the prospects for world peace.

We must assess not only individual challenges to détente but also their cumulative impact:

If we justify each agreement with Moscow only when we can show unilateral gain,

If we strive for an elusive strategic “superiority,”

If we systematically block benefits to the Soviet Union,

If we try to transform the Soviet system by pressure,

If in short, we look for final results before we agree to any results, then we would be reviving the doctrines of liberation and massive retaliation of the 1950’s. And we would do so at a time when Soviet physical power and influence on the world are greater than a quarter century ago when those policies were devised and failed. The futility of such a course is as certain as its danger.

Let there be no question, however, that Soviet actions could destroy détente as well:

If the Soviet Union uses détente to strengthen its military capacity in all fields,

If in crises it acts to sharpen tension,

If it does not contribute to progress toward stability,

If it seeks to undermine our alliances,

If it is deaf to the urgent needs of the least developed and the emerging issues of interdependence, then it in turn tempts a return to the tensions and conflicts we have made such efforts to overcome. The policy of confrontation has worked for neither of the superpowers.

We have insisted toward the Soviet Union that we cannot have the atmosphere of détente without the substance. It is equally clear that the substance of détente will disappear in an atmosphere of hostility.

We have profound differences with the Soviet Union—in our values, our methods, our vision of the future. But it is these very differences which compel any responsible administration to make a major effort to create a more constructive relationship.

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We face an opportunity that was not possible 25 years, or even a decade, ago. If that opportunity is lost, its moment will not quickly come again. Indeed, it may not come at all.

As President Kennedy pointed out: “For in the final analysis our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”2

  1. Source: Department of State Bulletin, October 14, 1974, pp. 505–519. Kissinger made his statement before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations during the Committee’s hearings on U.S. relations with Communist countries. A copy is in the National Archives, RG 59, Policy Planning Council (S/PC), Policy Planning Staff (S/P), Director’s Files (Winston Lord) 1969–77, Lot 77D112, Box 349, SEPT 1974.
  2. For President Kennedy’s commencement address at American University, Washington, D.C., on June 10, 1963, see Bulletin of July 2, 1963, p. 2. [Footnote is in the original.]