56. Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Schlesinger’s Speech to the Overseas Press Club

Schlesinger will deliver the speech at Tab A before the Overseas Press Club in New York at 6:00 tonight.2 His purpose in the speech—“to discuss the historic ebb and flow of American sentiment regarding the proper role and responsibility of the United States in international affairs”—takes some interesting twists. At the outset Schlesinger refers to the current slump through which the American society is passing and expresses the hope for a rapid transition through it in order to recover “. . . internal health and cohesion” as well as to continue “the American impact on the stability, security and well-being of other free states around the world.” Schlesinger states further that “there is no acceptable alternative to deep and steady American support of and participation in the security of other free states.” In the latter context Schlesinger then focuses on Vietnam and states that while the outcome of the current struggle remains in doubt, “the Vietnamese deserve not only our hope for their success but our continued support.” Schlesinger then addresses Vietnam as a notable example of “the historic misunderstanding regarding the necessary role that force plays in the settlement of international disputes, on the one hand, and the role of noble intentions supported by moralizing but unsupported by physical force on the other.” He refers to the history of North Vietnamese violations of the Paris Accords as “an object lesson regarding how much constraint on the actions of at least one Communist state such pledged treaty obligations have when the force balance becomes unfavorable.” Schlesinger does not, however, carry the point forward to define whether the responsibility for not using the necessary force was rooted in the faulty [Page 304] premise of détente, which he implies, or elsewhere, i.e. legislative restriction.

Schlesinger then turns to a rather sophomoric treatment of the cycle of American sentiment toward foreign policy as between moralistic enthusiasm and disenchanted isolationism. In the process, he includes the hypocritical but soul salving statement that “American society . . . is for a democracy, remarkably tenacious of purpose, as I think the overall history of the war in Southeast Asia would indicate.” Schlesinger then warms to his subject, however, by asking rhetorically where this historical cycle leaves us today. Keeping his remarks in the abstract, he states that “that admixture of idealism and disenchantment has historically resulted in a quest for novelty in foreign policy. But in foreign policy novelty is not available. Given the underlying realities of the single strategic stage on which world politics is now played, the United States will be obliged either to support its more or less permanent interests (by essentially military means) or withdraw into the North American continent. There are matters of degree, of course, but . . . there are no novelties suddenly to be discovered.” (Parenthetical comment added by Scowcroft.) Schlesinger then cites George Kennan’s statement of the fundamental necessity that no single continental land power come to dominate the Eurasian landmass3 as a pragmatic guide to overall policy and as explaining “why no novel discoveries will suddenly eliminate the continuing responsibility of the United States as the mainstay and cohesive force among free nations,” and further with regard to U.S. forces in Europe that “there is no novel way in which those forces can be withdrawn and the military balance in Europe be preserved.” He then goes on to focus upon the essentiality of maintaining the U.S. commitment to NATO, Japan, and Korea with whom we have treaty commitments (no reference to the Philippines, the OAS or CENTO).

My remarks may be too severe. The speech may be read as a call for a strong national defense and nothing more. I believe, however, that there are enough rationalizations on Vietnam and exclusive references to wherein the United States’ interests really lie to present a disquieting statement to many of our allies by an official who ought to know better. Moreover, Schlesinger’s repeated references to the search for “novelties” in foreign policy is a scarcely veiled reference to détente. His fundamental distortion of the concept is bad enough. When viewed in the context of his own actions, e.g. to unilaterally withdraw warheads from Europe and general purpose forces from many other locations, it becomes downright disgusting.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Agency Files, Box 6, Defense, Department of, 3/11/75–4/30/75. Administratively Confidential. A notation on the memorandum by Scowcroft indicates Kissinger saw it.
  2. Tab A, attached but not printed, is a copy of Schlesinger’s speech. According to a published description: “Much of Mr. Schlesinger’s speech was devoted to what seemed to be a history lesson for listeners overseas. He traced the oscillations of American feeling about overseas involvement from the Spanish-American War until the present, pointing out that public opinion had swung from enthusiastic physical participation in world affairs to such ‘high-flown moral’ commitments as the Kellogg-Briand pact of the twenties.” (“U.S. to Honor Pacts, Schlesinger Says,” New York Times, April 16, 1975, p. 19)
  3. Presumably a reference to Kennan’s “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” published in the July 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs under the pseudonym “X.”