tv The Presidency JFK Khrushchev CSPAN February 3, 2018 11:40am-12:51pm EST
every week and on c-span3. >> next -- a look at the relationship between president john f. kennedy and soviet khruer nikit nikita shchev. the complicated history between u.s. and russian leaders over the last century. the discussions included assessments of friendly the jfk, -- franklin d. roosevelt, jfk -- as well as their russian counterparts. this session is one hour and 10 minutes. >> ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to our second panel, assessing u.s. soviet relations in the 1960's and 1970's. i am not going to chair the panel, but i will turn the duties over to my colleague at
the miller center, professor barbara perry, who is going to anchor the panel. barbara is a noted scholar of the kennedy era and is the director of presidential studies here at the miller center. she is a very seasoned oral and written historian for many years she led the oral history program here at the miller center. in interviewing the leading members of the presidential commission's -- presidential administrations from ford up until the recent past. we have completed the oral histories under her leadership of every administration through the george w. bush administration and we are planning to lay siege to the obama administration.
we will find out what the trump administration's attitude is toward being interviewed. i will turn things over to her. barbara: thank you for organizing and executing a timely yet history-based battle conference this year. this is the very essence of miller center scholarship and programming. i am delighted to moderate this panel. the first half will feature mark silverstone. mark is an associate professor of residential studies at the miller center. he chairs the center's presidential recordings program which analyzes, transcribes, and annotates the secret white house
tapes. if you watch the ken burns vietnam series you will have seen mark's name prominently displayed in the credits in each episode. they were crucial to providing clips from the nixon and johnson years and the kennedy years as well. mark is a foreign policy historian focusing on the cold war and also vietnam, and the kennedy and johnson policies towards it. my favorite of his publications is his book, a companion to john f. kennedy, which sounds like it might be about some of the girlfriends of the president, . [laughter] barbara: but very seriously, it is a major work that mark edited.
it has essays on every topic of jfk's life and career and presidency and i rely on it almost exclusively as i prepared -- as i am preparing to speak about president kennedy. i think of him as my colleague even though he preceded me at the miller center. he served as the director of the miller center's kremlin decision center making project. tim, after serving director of the nixon library has become a associate professor of history and public history at nyu. he is the co-author of many books but one called khrushchev's cold war. if you are a fan of cnn documentaries, you will recognize him as the star of many of them.
i highly recommend to all of you, if you have not read them, the four essays for the panel. they are informative and compelling. i want to begin with mark and begin with the end of his essay, which is a set of conclusions that he draws on jfk's role and behavior in the cuban missile crisis, and most importantly for our conference, to draw out the lessons of jfk's role and behavior in the cuban missile crisis for current issues. after mark, we will turn to tim and he will offer some lessons from the khrushchev russian side. let me turn to mark. mark: good morning to everybody and thank you again for the
opportunity to participate in this. looking out in the audience, are many number who have written copious amounts on the cuban missile crisis and i think all thank i think -- and i all of you. i would like to offer some lessons on how this may bear on contemporary matters. jfk had already learned some important lessons by time he had to confront moscow's deployment of nuclear missiles to cuba. several lessons involved matters related to personnel process and they would be useful during the missile crisis in october of 1962. many out of his earlier crisis, the failed operation of the bay of picks, which meant these lessons were hard-earned. they are not without qualification. by and large, they ended up
serving him and the world pretty well. before highlighting these lessons, which might be applicable to current relations with russia, i want to touch on the candidacy -- the kennedy history that the president did not translate into useful site and which contributed to the missile crisis. the first of these lessons related to policy and policy pronouncement. while planning for the overthrow of fidel castro had gathered steam, kennedy's rhetoric at the tail end of the election campaign came close to operationalizing. his provocative language in 1960 , which called for more aggressive action to undermine the cuban regime, might have helped him in votes but it
raised the political cost of canceling what would become the bay of pigs operation. here is the first case in the trajectory where words mattered. while this public pronouncement narrowed kennedy's maneuver once he became president, his failure of his administration to consider more creative policy measures and discussions about the relative dangers that cuba post. with castro with a dagger to a harper was he a thorn in the flesh -- a dagger to the heart or was he a form to the flesh? the conversation never took place. while kennedy did a series of meetings with those planning the bay of pigs operation, they revolved largely around matters of tactics and operational
details as opposed to the broader strategic implications of the operation or the underlying assumptions. both pronouncement and policy, statements about the necessity of moving against castro as well as policy trained to affect it made it more likely that kennedy would mount some aggressive operations to undermine the castro regime once he became president. the intensification of it after the bay of pigs would later contribute to the onset of the missile crisis itself. as i mentioned in the paper, it was hardly the only reason for the missile deployment and the crisis it sparked. by the fall of 1961, castro was commanding more and more attention from the kennedy demonstration, which was undermining the cuban regime. as the efforts of sabotage
looked more menacing, they pushed khrushchev towards action that may protect the cuban revolution with one of the actions the deployment of nuclear missiles to the island. in the course of that diplomat, kennedy's former rhetoric would again complicate his presidency and raise the stakes of not following through on stated intentions. in an effort to once more derive political benefit from a policy statement on cuba kennedy , declared in september 1962, two months before the midterm elections, that the introduction of offensive weapon systems to the island would result in the greatest of circumstances. effectively establishing a , public red line for all to see. so both his policy and announcement continue to heighten drama around cuba,
which shaped khrushchev's and then kennedy's responses to the islands. as kennedy failed to recognize or consider how these statements and activities might box him in situations creating real risk for his presidency, he took positive steps to ensure the way he managed national security policy gave him at least a better shot at getting good advice and making wise r judgments. it involved changes in personnel and process. the aides he trusted most, particularly his brother, would play chief roles and conflict with his private conversations with moscow. as tim highlighted, it was not all good.
-- back channel conversations were not all to the good that they helped convey key bits of information at key moments of the crisis. kennedy helps to improve the -- kennedy helped to improve the flow of information into the white house. in an effort to address the missile deployment, kennedy encouraged extended conversations among his civilian and military aides shielded from public view. this gave them time to reflect on the magnitude of what lay before them and to figure out how they might untie the knot of war. perhaps the paramount importance the share judgment of the , president himself. after lurching towards a military response, considered the less than ideal chances for success, it's impact on adversaries, and the zealotry of those around him who thought it -- who supported it as the only option.
-- kennedy should take at least one turn in the starring role, which he continued to earn through his efforts at arms control and modulate the cold war, at least rhetorically, through his american university address. can elements of this heroic spawn another what? here are a few thoughts. on the matter of rhetoric, as i mentioned, red lines can be trouble. they were for kennedy. , kennedy -- kennedy, who felt constrained. perhaps president trump's less likely to make them with regard to ukraine or the baltics. he has not thrown down any
marker when it comes to u.s. domestic policy. it is is your to see him doing so with north korea or iran. given his lack of rhetorical discipline, his disdain for convention, and his freewheeling use of new media, it is more likely than not that he will deliver this type of ultimatum before long. arguably, he may calculate the political cost of doing so differently than kennedy. these lessons from the missile crisis are particularly relevant for crisis situations. they underline the importance of cultivating relationships more broadly. while u.s.-russian relationship -- i would hope the
purchase of diplomacy of enhancing one's capacity for empathy is one we associate with kennedy in the missile crisis. on the matter of combining diplomacy with force, it competently narrative the heroic , narrative that we have heard for a while. to acknowledge khrushchev agreed to pack up the missiles and send -- and ship them home before hearing about jfk's decision. it should not negate the swap for khrushchev's own purposes. it suggests the prospect of a military engagement prompted khrushchev's initial offer to remove -- and forgo his public
call for a missile swap when it seemed more was imminent. that said, this could have easily resulted in armed conflict, and particularly in nuclear armed conflict as many , here have written. so well kennedy's mobilization hisorce seemed to make diplomacy more effective, we -- similarly mobilize? if it is to play a role in a market area -- a more contemporary scenario -- where they find themselves i die. [applause] -- themselves i to i -- themselves eye to eye. [applause]
tim's s8 especially evocative title, grab dodd by k grab by the beard -- hrushchev in the kennedys. what we have for the 1960's is a granular understanding, both because of the american side, the tapes that i spent -- the tapes -- which i spent time with -- and the soviet side. we have the capacity of politics ofg the that period in a way that is not
true of all period. i am going to try to do that on the soviet side. to lay a basis for this period i , want to remind you of a few things. because of the structure of this conference, we jumped over korea. i believe that the korean war is fundamental to understanding the militarization of the cold war. absent korea, if you want to talk about possibilities, you do not have the korean war, and i think there is a change in the nature of the competition between the soviets and the united states. in the q&a we can talk about , korea. there are two other things that are extraordinarily important that are happening in the world that are going to shape the environment that kennedy and khrushchev are seeking to manage. one is the decolonization of the
developing world. that is a very important event and it is an independent variable from the u.s.-soviet relationship. but it opens up the possibility , -- the responsibility for the soviets and khrushchev, he sees it as a source of opportunity. the other is a soviet achievement, sputnik. the changes the nature of these -- of the strategic relationship between u.s. and the soviet and thee united states soviet union. as frank mentioned, once the american homeland gets threatened, it raises questions about the extent to which extended deterrence is real. will americans actually put new
york at risk for the sake of paris? that happens because of sputnik. you have these two destabilizing events that are happening in the 1950's. it is that world that khrushchev and kennedy are seeking to now, khrushchev's approach that world is not what america ns anticipated. there is so much nuclear danger about that statesmanship involves reducing the threat of nuclear war, that as we see with khrushchev, he is all about disruption. he is a disruptor. he is interested in crisis. and it is why he is interested in crisis that i think is the
essence of understanding his behavior, not simply in 1961, but in 1962. talk to you about a summit conference in 1961 that people don't talk about. the one that everyone talks about is vienna. i am working on a book about kennedy. for me, the more interesting the de gnference is aulle kennedy conference. they share a lot. de gaulle's argument, it is an argument that has relevance, his argument is when you deal with a disruptor, you should ignore them.
he says let khrushchev hyperventilate about berlin. he is going to do nothing. he does not have the power to do anything. and the only thing you can do is actually increase his desire to disrupt by engaging him. engagement is a mistake with a disruptor. and kennedy's argument is, well, i can't take that chance. threatened us in 1958, and if he does it again it , means he is seeking something, or it means there is something internal in the soviet system that is forcing him, or the soviet empire to do that, and i , have to take that seriously because he could risk nuclear war out of the urgency to change the status quo in central europe. and de gaulle said, know, i disagree with you completely.
let the soviets sign a piece treaty with east germany. it does not matter. it is just a piece of paper. kennedy said, i do not agree with that at all. because that would shift a sense of opportunity and burden of power to east berlin, which might lead to even more risk-taking in europe. that is the basic debate, which you will see over and over again about different countries and different leaders. do you leave them alone or do you engage? and is the engagement, the decision to engage, somehow threatening to your own standing , whether at home or abroad? now, it turns out that de gaulle was wrong. and we really only knew how wrong de gaulle was when we saw about 15t materials years ago, when oddly enough, a
putin government declassified the resolutions and transcripts 1950's toeau from the 1964. it turns out that khrushchev was committed to revising the cold war, the world war ii settlement in europe. he was a revisionist. all right? he was not seeking more security through reducing nuclear danger. he was prepared to take advantage of the existence of nuclear danger to achieve a revision of the world war ii settlement, particularly in berlin. as we learned from presidential records, khrushchev told his colleagues that he was willing to use force to achieve what was required in berlin. de gaulle now de gaulle had not
now de gaulle had not assumed , that. de gaulle was convinced that when push came to shove, khrushchev would not use force. khrushchev, before vienna, tells his colleagues, once we sign a peace treaty with east germany, we are not going to make the mistake that stalin made in 1948 and 1949. we are not going to allow the west to use the air corridors to continue to supply west berlin. we are going to shoot down a british or american plane to send a signal that the air corridors are closed. did notnow, de gaulle predict that. kennedy did. and kennedy's thinking was, we must engage to give the russians theyse that if they choos choose diplomacy over militarized conflict, something good will come out of it. so in 1961, without having access to the internal
discussions of the bureau, because the cia never penetrated the presidium, kennedys deep penetrated the presidium, kennedy's deep sense of politicians led him to make a different call then de gaulle. now i will give you an aside on , kennedy in relation to khrushchev. if you want to understand how kennedy thought about foreign leaders, or domestic leaders, read "profiles in charge," even though kennedy did not write the final draft, it represents kennedyesque thinking about power. kennedy was all about understanding the interests and incentives that shaped politicians' decision-making. and what he did was he projected
that on the soviet leadership, and on france, and on every single leader he ever dealt with. he assumed they had interests and if you could change the incentive structure, you might alter the way in which they acted on their interest. now when he tries this initially in 1961, it does not work. and it does not work because cruise ship is not interested -- and it does not work because khrushchev is not interested in engaging the united states. what he wants is the revised settlement in berlin. and he is willing to take risks to achieve it, and he is willing to have a bad summit conference in vienna. one of the old arguments about vienna, the conference between kennedy and khrushchev in june of 1961, was that kennedy screwed up. it was a mistake. kennedy was immature and did not understand what he was doing. soviet records later rest that argument. khrushchev went to vienna spoiling for a fight. there was nothing john f.
kennedy could have done save , conceding a nato presence in berlin, there was nothing kennedy could have done to have a good conference. vienna was a setup. it was an ambush. and khrushchev set it up. khrushchev wanted to put pressure on kennedy in the hope that kennedy would give him something that eisenhower had not been willing to give him, which was the removal of the nato presence in west berlin. kennedy stood up to him and did in, and went home, and some reserves. khrushchev backed down. the essential thing to understand about khrushchev is that he believed that the soviet union was strategically inferior.
american viewers, american observers, assumed that countries believed themselves to be strategically inferior are not risktakers. it is a basic misunderstanding that you can see throughout the u.s. foreign-policy elite that goes back to japan before world war ii. of then observers international system, because the project the united states on the world, tend to think that foreign leaders who know that they are strategically inferior will not take risks. but in fact, many american adversities do the opposite. they are strategically inferior and that makes them decide to take a risk. that is why the imperial japanese attacked pearl harbor. in that is why the soviets 1961 and 1962 will undertake a series of crises that were not knew thate, if you they knew that they were behind. khrushchev do this?
and the materials that we have, i think argue or make a strong argument on the way he thought about the world. i use a metaphor of a puffer fish. khrushchev was a puffer fish. a puffer fish does not want to be eaten by a bigger fish, so they puff themselves up. khrushchev understood that the soviet union was strategically inferior. he saw the u.s. as an existential threat to the world he hoped for. khrushchev was a romantic. he was ideological. he felt over time history would serve the soviet experiment very well. but in the short term, the soviets were vulnerable, so you off up the fish -- so you puff
up the fish to avoid a war you know you would lose. it is the puffing up of the fish that had an unintended consequence in the u.s. because american public opinion does not handle puffer fish is very well. get scared. that is exactly what the soviets hoped for, except that then the americans spend money on nuclear weapons when they get scared. in the soviets could not compete. believes,, khrushchev because he is very well aware of the missile gap crisis, he believes this will have a restraining effect on the use of american power and will perhaps lead to an agreement in central europe. kennedy, because he believes that he is always dealing with a to changector, wants the incentive structure for
khrushchev. he says that once the satellite can provide the u.s. government with absolute certainty that the soviets are way behind in the missile competition, he decides to share that with the soviets. him arectly by giving corona document, but by having a philc statement by patrick, the undersecretary of defense. the u.s. government does that thinking that if the soviets know that they are behind, they will stop the risk-taking. they will just realize they should not be doing this. it has the opposite effect because this takes from khrushchev his strategic approach to the international system. he can't be a puffer fish anymore, everyone knows he is small. believe, tods, i the missile crisis. the more research i do on the cuban missile crisis, the less important i think cuba is. in 1962, khrushchev attempts
two different strategies for dealing with american power. the first is the meniscus strategy, where he decides to increase, he says the international system is a goblet. what you do is to fill water right to the brim. and you bring it to the point where you have a meniscus. water willt drop of spell. the only way to restrain ill. the only way to restrain american power is to create crises. no american advisor at the time would have assumed that was the soviet approach. he made that approach and it lasted for a month until he saw that the americans were still powerful and could deal with these crises along the border. and so khrushchev needed another approach. so, he puts missiles in cuba in
order to scare the americans so he can contain american power. one of the lessons of studying khrushchev is relevant to today, a couple of them, and i will finish with that, is americans tend not to understand that their country is an existential threat to other people. , what am ielieve doing by generalizing? let me say it this way, more often than not, american policymakers will believe that specific american actions will define how other countries view this country. when it is the very fact of american power, the hugeness of the economy, the size of the military, which is a daily many countries, which either will bandwagon with you, or are going to try to oppose you. our very existence is what poses
a threat. khrushchev never lost track of the fact that the united states was more powerful and richer. he believed in a future if the competition were kept ideology and economic interaction, that the soviets would ultimately bury us. die and they continue to live. they will be at our funeral is what he meant. if you understand that we are an existential threat, that makes you understand why people would act against you. the second is if you accept the proposition that strategically inferior countries will try to us, and thatcaring would also, i think, allow you to understand certain on countries. i think this is much less useful in understanding putin then in understanding north korea. or if we could go back in time,
inerstanding saddam hussein 2001 and 2002. we have a hard time in this country understanding dictators because we assume that they play the game the way we do. and one of the outcomes of studying the khrushchev/kennedy relationship is you see that khrushchev was rational. ands just his inputs incentives were different. the united states cannot them, but when kennedy understood was that when push came to shove, khrushchev was not suicidal. was noteckless, but he a madman. and it is that basic understanding that laid the basis for kennedy's masterful handling of the second week of the cuban missile crisis. i would argue the first week of the cuban missile crisis was much messier than people think. it is this understanding of khrushchev as basically being someone who is not a madman that
made possible the peaceful resolution. so, the lessons, i believe to sum up, are that your adversary irrational in your eyes, and the irrationality is a function of your assumption. if you assume them to do one thing and they do something else , that makes them irrational to you. but in fact, their thinking is perfectly logical. the other thing to keep in mind is that other countries are afraid of us. them to fear can lead take risk. and that we should be more introspective about the nature of their fear. and this is not a judgment about moral, this is not moral equivalency. i am just simply arguing that the americanre of success of the united states and developing its power also leads
to challenges. in the early 1960's, it was a time where the united states tried to engage the soviets, and they were dealing with a leader who did not want engagements. he wanted revision. and it is when he changes his mind that the system becomes much more stable. this is an argument for the importance of individuals. there are structural issues involved, but in the end, it is khrushchev who decides in 1963, enough with this approach, i'm going to let kennedy have this. thank you. [applause] barbara: i will just throw out one question that relates to both of your essays and comments, and then we will open up the four momentarily. and that is, could you delve a little bit more into the back
channeling from, mark what you , know from the kennedy side, particularly robert kennedy, and tim, what you know having delved into all of the archives on the other side of the ocean? and lessons for today, particularly in light of issues with backpedaling with the russians. >> right. tim has done great work on the its lack of, and use in several key moments, and misuse. came to use it to try to figure out what was going on in the caribbean in the summer of 1962, as it became clear that there were more and more soviet shipments being sent to the island, it appeared as though there were weapons
systems and deliver to the island. what is going on? that was used to khrushchev to provide disinformation. while it had been helpful in various places, particularly with the resolution of the crisis, i do think at key points, it helped to keep the conversation going. and with regard to the cuban missile crisis, some of that conversation from bobby kennedy was actually a front channel. that is a case where kennedy was delivering a specific message to bobby to speak to the persons you want to convey a message to the ambassadors to the soviet , union.
but i think it is a creative use and a recognition that the standard channels that you might use through the state department are not always going to be effective. kennedy was not particularly thrilled with the performance of the state department. so, i think it provided him some other options to try to hear from people whose voices are not hurt us frequently, and as we heard from people whose voices are not heard as frequently and as we have heard, it seems as though those channels are being used today with regards to north korea, which sounds like an encouraging sign. it is another way to keep the conversation going privately when publicly would create risks. kennedynk the robert bolshevik back channel is more interesting as a reflection of john f. kennedy's understanding of domestic politics, then as a
reflection on how the soviets were thinking. khrushchev was baffled by the back channel. if you look at the way in which they managed it, the soviets really did not want the back channel. they thought the front door was good enough. kennedy felt he had to use the back channel because he wanted to offer things to the soviets that he could not talk about publicly, anyone it it to be deniable. and he did not trust the state department. he thought they would be a leak. so he uses his brother. i see the back channel as what john kennedy actually thought about the cold war. and so, the american university speech of 1963 reflected ideas that kennedy had in 1961. there is a basic narrative for the kennedy administration, that kennedy is learning.
kennedy thoughtfully about the about the cold war in 1961, but cannot say it publicly in so he shared this with the 1963. soviets in 1961 but they are not listening because khrushchev wants to revise the world war ii settlement in the heart of europe, and he keeps saying, berlin, berlin, berlin. and when kennedy is not same berlin via bobby, he goes and talk to them directly, and says berlin. he doesn't want to hear about the test banner for the joint projects to the moon. john kennedy proposed a joint project to the moon first before he told the world he would go to the moon. he told the soviets, let's do this together. the soviets were not interested. then he goes publicly and offers
this to the world. it toactually offering the soviets first. on the back channel, to me, is more of a reflection that would kennedy is thinking than what it says anything about the soviets. khrushchev does use it to pollute the relationship in the summer of 1962. wasof kennedy's mistakes that this pet channel was very dangerous in this regard. he did not share, bobby kennedy up notesote to about the meetings. he just told his brother orally. his brother did not share this with john mccone, the head of the cia. so, the cia analysts did not know anything about the soviets -- about what the soviets were saying to the kennedys and the back channel. if the soviet analysts had heard
in august of 1962 that the soviets, that khrushchev was asking the president not to undertake surveillance of their shipping, some pieces that had not been coming together, would have come together. i will be very precise about this. there was a debate between the pentagon and the cia over the importance of these shipments. and max taylor and the pentagon said, it does not matter. even though these shipments were accelerating in the summer, the u.s. military was not worried about them. the cia said there is something weird here. they are breaking precedent. if the pentagon had heard that khrushchev had actually asked for the united states to stop surveillance, i think that would
have solved this debate in favor of saying, oh, this is a big deal, but kennedy did not share this with anybody, just his brother. there are real dangers of back channels if you do not share the material with your foreign-policy team. it is fascinating about khamenei, any changes one view of kennedy, but it also shows the dangers of those kinds of operations. in the end, i think it inured khrushchev to believing what bobby kennedy said, so it had a good outcome. theink it may be end of cuban missile crisis, in many ways, possible because when went to speak and offers to remove the missiles from turkey, the soviets are accustomed to the brother of the president, saying things that they are not hearing anywhere else in believing them. there is bob in the
background. thank you. >> and observation and two questions. the more i listen, the more i find my mind relating the experience to relations with north korea. for the conference organizers and for those wrapping up, i urge you to expand the universe in which we apply this. two questions. first, i have always been curious why the soviets did not make more of the fact of the removal of the jupiter missiles from turkey after they were removed? it struck me in a public diplomacy or a khrushchev self of ego, this would give him an opportunity to say, look, i got a better deal than everybody expected and the united states capitulated. the second question goes to tim's point about disruptors.
how would you apply your insights to a situation with korea today? where we have two disruptors. trump andsident president trump is not only disrupting on the korean peninsula, but i would argue he is disrupting the traditional, /economicsecurity order, and so you have a third player, which is the revisers in china. me, what insights do you have from that? >> that is great. . am going to share an argument i have a good fortune of getting a lecture on the cuban missile gotis at a university, and a chance to try out my approach to north korea. student of ernest
mayes, and i know to be really careful of analogies because most are fraudulent and incomplete, but from my stance, i see the north koreans as puffer fish. now, of course, if i had clearances, and maybe we know they are suicidal, but if you accept the proposition that they are not suicidal, you have to except the proposition that khrushchev was not suicidal, but if you accept the proposition that they know longer believe it is possible to invade south korea,, and i positing those two am things. i don't know them for sure. is theat we have here north koreans reacting to the existential threat of the united states. i am not engaging in moral equivalence, that the united states has viewed them publicly that they are a threat to the international systems.
also an unstable dictatorship, and it is useful for them to have an enemy. and if you except that, then you manage them differently, and you see they are not really a military threat to us. in fact, i think it is unlikely that they would ever attack guam. i don't think they could target. i don't think they know for sure it would not hit japan and they do not want to hit japan. you have to accept these propositions and then, it is an issue of deterrence. you accept they have nuclear weapons. we all know this. historically, nonproliferation has not worked with regard to countries that want nuclear weapons. the united states did not want israel to have nuclear weapons. it failed. the israelis did what they felt they needed to.
they achieved what they wanted. the united states did not want india to have nuclear weapons. the indians got what they wanted. it goes on and on. the achievement is when you can delay their acquisition of nuclear weapons and you delay it long enough until the world is ready to deal. delaying iran is a great achievement. if you accept the proposition that north korea has nuclear weapons and treat them like a nuclear state and deter them. the issue is how you deter them. i would like south korea to deter them. i think extended deterrence is a mistake. north korea does not matter to us. let's let the south koreans deter them. we can pull away and deal with sea, which isa our problem. that is my lesson. >> if you talk about the north
korea discussion, there are two disruptors. >> this is a different kind of containment. in the cold war, we dealt with containing another power and here, we're talking about containing the president. one hopes that the president and others -- his rhetoric is only inflaming if you except my view of why the north koreans act the way they do. there could not be anything worse than the approach our current president is taking. >> i like to say that i love when sessions are provocative and you provoked me. i agree with what i think was your basic conclusion that adversaries are more rational than we think.
other nations are afraid of us. i don't think you frame this entire issue appropriately. i think it is illuminated by the fact you keep saying khrushchev said berlin. actually, when khrushchev wrote kennedy and talked to kennedy at vienna, he did not say berlin. he said germany. let me talk to you about germany. let me tell you why we believe germany is such a threat. let me explain to you what it was like during world war ii. let me tell you what it was like to be in the ukraine and to experience german occupation.
let me tell you about the way we perceived the evolution of west german power. i will not tell you but i am afraid of the fact that west germany is a magnet to use germany. i'm afraid of the prospect that west germany may acquire nuclear weapons. these were all fundamental issues that undergirded khrushchev's motives. when you say khrushchev is a disruptor and you use that as the way to characterize him, you simplify and you trivialize and what is even more important is it raises the question about -- did kennedy understand adversaries' interests? maybe he did. he was not willing to accommodate them.
i'm not saying he should have but there is a confrontation here of vital interests and the notion that you say americans did not think adversaries would be risktakers, i think it leads -- elides the major issue you said at the beginning, we need to talk about korea. the overriding lesson of korea was that we americans must build military capabilities so no competitor in the future will take risks. we will have a preponderance of power to deter future risk-taking.
so much of american policy all through the 1950's was about how much power do we need to have to deter risk-taking and how much power do we need to have and what sorts of military capabilities do we need to have to dominate a crisis? i would like you to respond to those issues and to reflect on whether that should help us re-understand this context. >> well, it is fun to provoke. i think i see we have a different approach to this. i give khrushchev more agency in
this story. maybe because of my generation or the fact that all this detail came out and i got lost in it. i see the soviets as making choices and khrushchev as making choices. i found the analyses that made the united states more significant in these outcomes were skewed by the fact that u.s. documents had existed when people were writing these books. that may be unfair. i do not see this as the russians dealing with an american world. i see the russians making their own choices. to go to the details, the penpal letters.
these were these letters sent between the soviets and americans, starting in september of 1961. they are boring but they are interesting for us because it is about trying to seek, on the american side, some kind of agreement that would make the soviets feel secure. it is all about berlin. it is the details of what it is the soviets are seeking in berlin. the americans draw a line. one thing kennedy cannot agree with is the removal of nato. for khrushchev, that is not acceptable. kennedy did not need to be lectured about world war ii. kennedy is all about trying to seek an understanding with the
soviets. they go into great detail. this drives the french mad. the french do not want to participate in these discussions. there is all this back and forth between paris and washington whether to get into detail about berlin. if the united states was blind to khrushchev's needs and interests, i do not think you would see these detailed negotiations. they failed in the end because the americans could not go to where the soviets wanted. i respect you and there is an element you raised that is important to the soviets. that is west german acquisition of nuclear weapons. there, i believe the americans did screw up because the americans came up with the
multinational force in an effort to try to calm, to find a way to make the french happy, because the french wanted nuclear weapons and to tamp down, it is more bavaria than germany. this was a european centered approach which had unintended consequences with moscow because what moscow saw was this was a proliferation of nuclear weapons within nato. there, i agree. and unintended consequence. -- a unintended consequence. in the penpal letters, which set the stage for khrushchev's decision-making and risk-taking, they're talking about the details of berlin. i think berlin is important but historians disagree. if is part of the fun.
>> a more narrow point. it sounds as if you are saying de gaulle's advice would apply to north korea. connected to that, i am wondering in retrospect, to what respect eisenhower came close in his dealings with khrushchev to taking de gaulle's advice compared to kennedy. to be sure, eisenhower did let himself be pressured into having the visit to the united states by khrushchev and the summit in paris in 1960. he was worried. i don't think eisenhower produce -- produced the same impression on khrushchev as the bay of pigs and kennedy's behavior at the summit of vienna, which you did not take seriously. i think kennedy did strike khrushchev as a immature man who might be pushed around in ways that eisenhower, with all of his
seniority, might not. >> i don't think you should debate with a pulitzer prize-winning biographer. all i will say is that in the transcripts of the politburo sessions, khrushchev describes kennedy as being the same as eisenhower. we could have this discussion off-line about why people are convinced khrushchev had this view but in the materials released in 2002, i did not see evidence of him saying kennedy was this amateur guy we cannot take seriously. khrushchev had this bizarre view of the american system where he saw structures as more important
than individuals. he was interested in wall street and the pentagon. the issue was who was strong enough. it is a fool's game to debate with such a brilliant biographer. with regard to north korea, i think given that north korea is not the soviet union and that the soviet union was a threat to us militarily and that was the argument for engagement. north korea is not that important. letting the south koreans engage and finding a way to make the south koreans the source of deterrence is a better idea. as mr. zellick pointed out, we have two disruptors simultaneously. our first objective should be to persuade the american disruptors so he does not keep ratcheting up the volume.
>> if you could come forward. this will be our last question. we want to leave equal time for the second half of our panel. while we're getting ready, on the eisenhower point, i did make eye contact with my colleague, who waved me off. i am recommending his forthcoming book this march on eisenhower, which will be his definitive work on the president. prepare for that. the microphone is right here. >> i just want to follow-up with regards to khrushchev being a disruptor for berlin. we all know east germany was the crown jewel for the soviet empire and they were losing the jewel. there were talented people leaving east germany through berlin to the west. we know that. the berlin wall solved that problem.
the crisis dissipated shortly after that. in terms of being a disruptor, it seems to me that khrushchev was trying to defend his disrupt, rather than it. >> will is the one who will tell us what eisenhower was really thinking and whether he liked de gaulle enough to take his advice. i do not agree with you about berlin. end in 1961.d not the soviet material has made clear that for khrushchev, it did not end. keep in mind that he wants a change in the nature of the settlement in central europe and he wants it in 1962. he makes it clear to the presidio. the question is the tactics. in the beginning of 62, he says
we can leave this aside. in the meantime, we have to deter american power. in the summer of 1962, after the the cubans -- after the cubans accept the missiles, the soviet decision making system was first among equals. khrushchev was more powerful than anybody else. the soviet leadership was surprised by khrushchev's suggestion at putting missiles in cuba. they wanted to slow him down. the presidium, which normally did not take two days to make a decision, took two days. they said we will do this if the cubans want it. the cubans were surprised. cubans say yes,
khrushchev gets excited. he sees the opportunity to put pressure on the united states and achieve those changes in central europe he was seeking. you see in the materials of the soviet foreign ministry the preparation for what i feel -- if you remember the old mousetrap game, the soviets were setting up for a phenomenal moment at the united nations where khrushchev would make a speech and where he would threaten war with the united states if there was not a new settlement in berlin. he was doing that on the basis of his knowledge that he would have nuclear weapons in cuba at that time to impose a real threat to the american homeland. if berlin had been solved in 61, i do not see how these events would have occurred as they did in 62. this is not to say the united states was not involved in provoking the soviets.
i think we do not give enough agency to khrushchev. he is making decisions not always in response to a american action. he makes decisions in response to the existence of the united states. >> one of my big takeaways is that regarding berlin versus cuba, khrushchev is saying different things to different levels within the hierarchy. to first tier officials, he is talking about berlin. other officials, it is the secondary reason, gravitating in that direction. those are the people hearing more about the cuba rationale. comes out the spin later because he is trying to explain why he did this. the question about why he does not take credit is a great
question. i know he does not take credit initially because the american said if you say anything about the turkish deal, it will not happen. he is out. why he does not take credit in his memoirs, i do not understand. length, the chinese and the cubans were vicious in attacking him. repetitive in his memoirs. you would think you would have gone to town against them. not do that and i cannot explain why. spend the next half by going back over this material but please join me in thanking
tim and bark. -- mark. >> does that relate to what we're seeing in the football players with the national anthem? >> we have a long history of racism. >> you could be featured during our next live program. join the conversation on facebook and on twitter. author melvyn leffler talks about his book "safeguarding democratic capitalism: us foreign policy and national security, 1920-2015." he discusses how and why u.s. foreign-policy has evolved over the past 100 years and why democratic capitalism has been the core value of american life. the wilson center and the american history center cohosted