No one who watched newly retired NATO commander General Alexander Haig bounding around Brussels recently, glad-handing American acquaintances, could have much doubt that, though undeclared, he is running hard already in the 1980 presidential race. That impression was reinforced in Toronto last week when he talked to Maclean’s Foreign Editor David North about the top two items on his agenda: preaching the current (politically hot) gospel of the Soviet threat and, in the process, finding out how receptive U.S. voters are to the idea of having a soldier—the first since Dwight D. Eisenhower—as a candidate for the White House.
Maclean’s: What is the message you are trying to put across in your current round of speechmaking?
Haig: First, I’m doing my best to shed my own sense of concern about the realities of a worsening strategic balance between the United States and the Soviet Union—with or without SALT lí—and the implications of that. Secondly, to touch upon changes occurring within the Soviet Union, which will simultaneously add to great dangers in the 1980s and offer the basis for great hope if we wend our way through this difficult period together.
Maclean’s: What are these changes in the Soviet Union?
Haig: Changes in leadership that are pending; growing paranoia about the prospect of a super-power China by the turn of the century and the mischief that might incite in the Kremlin ... the fundamental failures of Marxist-Leninism. We are watching a historic unravelling and we’ve got to be cautioned by the experience of history: that nations in a similar situation flirt with external diversions to ensure their incumbency. What we’re seeing in Africa, in
the Middle East, perhaps this past week even in Cuba, is a manifestation of this dangerous trend
Maclean’s: It seems that whenever there's an election in the United States, we hear talk of missile gaps. It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that such statements are made as much for internal political reasons as anything.
Haig: Well, that commentary is certainly replete with examples of history that would justify such concerns. I remember a so-called missile gap in 1960, after the Sputnik, that propelled Jack Kennedy into the White House. The charge was led on the floor of the Senate by Lyndon Johnson, who was then leader, supported by Cy Vance [now secretary of state], who was his counsel. Then, when these men got into office with the mythological missile gap, they pursued policies to create a real one.
Maclean’s: No one would argue that the West should keep up its defences, but are you not concerned that with the conclusion of the SALT II treaty there is very little sign of further dialogue with the Soviet Union?
Haig: I participated in the birth of détente, and this is not a terminated dialogue at all. We are still in the business of trade, technology transfer, provision of credits. We are engaged in an honest, controlled dialogue in a host of areas, from MBFR [conventional force reduction] to SALT. Maclean’s: But the MBFR talks are stalled and SAL T in is not on the drawing board yet. Haig: That’s one of the questions that is very relevant to the SALT II ratification debate. whether or not we have been, by
imbalanced arms-control agreements with the Soviet Union, increasingly depriving ourselves of both the leverage and incentive for progress in further arms control. . . . That’s why the so-called MX missile program is so vitally important. If we go into SALT in without any system to put on the negotiating table, there isn’t an incentive for the other side.
Maclean’s: Isn’t it contradictory to say, on
the one hand, that the Soviet Union is insecure and therefore poses a three to the West and, on other, that we’re going increase their sense of security by adding MX and other weapons to our arsenal?
Haig: No. The fundamental contradiction is suggesting that this kind of Soviet activity we’re observing today is a manifestation of hi§toric Soviet paranoia about encirclement.
Maclean’s: Do you feel that you can make a personal contribution in this situation? Haig: Well, I feel an obligation at least to express my concerns to the American public at large. I intend to continue for a period of three to four months while I make an assessment as to whether or not it is making a contribution. If it is not, I’m going to shut my mouth and disappear.
Maclean’s: Do you think that the Republican party at the moment is on the right way to winning the 1980 election? Haig: It would be dangerous to be complacent as a Republican today. History has confirmed that two terms is the normal for an incumbent president.
Maclean’s: But if you were fighting Carter, you'd fancy your chances?
Haig: Well, any Republican would have a basis for some confidence but, as you know, that picture’s very mixed as well. Maclean’s: Yes. What about Kennedy? Haig: Well, there are many reasons to suggest that Mr. Kennedy would be an easier candidate to defeat because he brings certain warts to the environment. On the other hand, there’s no discounting the mystique of the Kennedy name.
Maclean’s: But given the chance you wouldn't mind trying?
Haig: Well, without trying to sound cute, I’m not thirsty for political office. I am not a politician. But I am concerned and my final judgments will be predicated on my assessment of whether I can make a contribution to these concerns.
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