Although Eugene V. Rostow resigned as head of the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) in January, he continues to advocate his hard-line approach toward the U.S.-Soviet arms reduction talks in Geneva. “Being the ex-director of the ACDA is almost as much work as being the director, ” said the 69-year-old Rostow, whose perspective on U.S. foreign policy dates to his service as a state department adviser from 191+2 to 191+1+, and includes a three-year stint as undersecretary of state for political affairs in the Lyndon Johnson administration from 1966 to 1969. Maclean’s Contributing Editor Rita Christopher spoke with Rostow at his office at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., where he was a professor of law until his appointment earlier this month as dean of New York Law School in New York City.
Maclean’s: Should the United States adopt a more flexible attitude in the arms control negotiations with the Soviets? There seems to be very little progress in the Geneva talks.
Rostow: The fundamental problem is flexible about what? The basic differences between the United States and the Soviet Union in the arms talks are differences of policy not of tactics, and they cannot be bridged by ingenuity—however skilful—in finding a verbal formula. The Soviet Union wants to preserve its advantage, built up over 10 years, in ground-based ballistic missiles. What the United States is saying is, “Look, this is all insanity. We must restore the nuclear balance to a level that assures deterrence but denies the possibility of coercion and blackmail. That means equal levels, not only in the number of weapons but in their destructive power. We much prefer to do it through arms control agreements, but if you do not want such agreements, we will have to modernize our forces.”
Maclean’s: Should the United States continue its arms buildup?
Rostow: We must have an effective foreign policy, which means restoring the foreign policy followed since the time of Truman and Eisenhower. That means going back to the rules of the Charter of the United Nations on the international use of force. You cannot have a system based on a double standard in which the
Soviets are free to commit aggression at will and we are not. What the Soviets are saying is, “Sure we will go ahead with equal reductions.” Equal reductions would not only preserve their advantage but actually enhance it. We say we must reduce to equal levels, even if that involves unequal reductions in some categories.
Maclean’s: There is the notion that the Reagan administration does not want to reach an arms agreement, that the U.S. representatives in Geneva are talking for the sake of talk.
Rostow: That is an absolute fraud, but it is being exploited by propaganda. Of course the president wants to reach an agreement, but he wants to reach a good one. The great danger is that, as the U.S. election approaches, you are going to see pressure from the political people in the White House, who have nothing to do with foreign policy, to make an agreement for the sake of having an agreement—just what Jimmy Carter did. And he made a very bad agreement. I think, I hope, the president is going to resist that. That is what the Soviets are looking for. They have gained more power in the past 10 years than they had before these agreements.
Maclean’s: So you think SALT II was a failure?
Rostow: Yes, a disaster. And all these
problems come out of SALT II and the pressure to abide by its limits. The MX basing problem is simply a function of the fact that we have agreed not to undercut the limits of SALT II. That is why you cannot deploy them in a way that makes sense. If we did not have SALT II, then having more Minutemen or more MX missiles would not have been any problem and the disparity between the Soviet and U.S. ground-based ballistic missile force would disappear. Without it, the whole panic about a first-strike capacity would disappear. You cannot solve any of that under the limits of SALT II, so you get these basing plans that are contrary to common sense. The great mistake we made—and we made it all by ourselves—was in not reacting during the 1970s while the Soviets were developing. Now we have to suffer the consequences.
Maclean’s: Has President Reagan been staunch enough in facing the Soviets? Rostow: He has been staunch in trying to increase our armaments to try to restore the balance, but there has been as yet no articulation of a coherent foreign policy approach. The main problem, really, has been the failure to articulate the basis of our foreign policy and that comes out of a certain prudence in approaching the Vietnam War issue politically. It seems better to do it all at the level of instinct, a notion with which I disagree.
Maclean’s: What kind of articulation would you like to see?
Rostow: For now, in terms of orchestration, I would like to see the primary emphasis on backing the appeal that UN Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar made in his annual report. He said the world is slipping into anarchy and he calls upon nations to recommit themselves to the principles of the United Nations Charter. That is the issue on which to confront the Soviets: to call on them, to call on everybody, to give up aggression.
Maclean’s: But the secretary general, in that same annual report, said it was clear that people were paying less and less attention to the United Nations and its charter. He sounded as though, in some ways, he had given up.
Rostow: Well, he has not given up, he cannot give up. But it is the nations who must decide to give up aggression. The charter has been going the way of the League of Nations ever since Vietnam, and if its influence continues to diminish it will cease to have any impact on the behavior of a lot of countries. Maclean’s: I assume that you were not a supporter of détente with the Soviets? Rostow: I strongly favor true détente, but we have never had it. It was an absolute fraud. The 1960s was the worst decade of the Cold War. You had the finale in Vietnam in which the Soviets
made agreements in 1973 and then tore them up and threw them out the window. The agreements were perfectly all right. They provided for self-determination for the people of South Vietnam, but the Communists just marched troops in and took over. The Soviets promised co-operation in resolving the Arab-Israeli dispute and carrying out UN Resolution 242 and then, the month before Nixon got to the Middle East in 1972, they made an agreement with Anwar Sadat to support the 1973 EgyptIsraeli war. And they started planning and supplying that war. Then, when the Soviets sensed the weakness of the United States after the collapse in Vietnam, they started rushing around in Africa and began active campaigns in the Caribbean. There was not any détente at all. It was pure stage. Henry Kissinger says, ‘Yes, we oversold détente.’ The reason—the 1972 election. Maclean’s: Will Reagan run in 198k? Rostow: Yes.
Maclean’s: Will the Democrats try to capitalize on the nuclear freeze issue? Rostow: They will try, but it will be disastrous. They will be playing into Reagan’s greatest strength. It will be a replay of the British Labour Party debacle because at least half the Democratic party will not follow them.
Maclean’s: Americans once felt a sense of mission in protecting the ‘free world. ” Today, one senses that Americans are simply interested in protecting themselves.
Rostow: The great danger now is the revival of isolationism under the whip of nuclear anxiety. A lot of people are saying, “Those treaties that Truman and Eisenhower got us into can get us into a lot of trouble, even nuclear trouble. So let’s get out of the treaties. Let’s pull the troops out.” Of course, then the next step is to say, “Well, we cannot treat the allies so abruptly, so for compensation, let’s give the Germans the nuclear option.” It is very dangerous, because I think that, in the most simple terms, the security of the United States absolutely requires our relationship with West Germany. That is the calculation of the balance of power, which is the oldest idea in foreign affairs. If we allowed the Soviet Union to take charge of Western Europe and Japan, the correlation of forces, as the Soviets would like to say, would be overwhelmingly in their favor. We could not have any freedom in that kind of world. We look back nostalgically to the century of neutrality and isolation between 1815 and 1914 and have not yet reconciled that dream with reality. Throughout the 19th century we thought that we were protected by our superior virtue. In fact, we were protected by the British fleet. Virtue had nothing to do with it. That is an important lesson to remember.^
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