Chapter 6 – Carter’s “Détente” Confusion, Soviet Violations, and Catalysts for Change - 1977 to 1981

But through failure, we have now found our way back to our own principles and values, and we have regained our lost confidence. . . . The unifying threat of conflict with the Soviet Union has become less intensive, even though the competition has become more extensive. . .

[Words as Action] We live in a world that is imperfect . . . a world that is complex and confused, and which will always be complex and confused. . . . I understand fully the limits of moral suasion. We have no illusion that changes will come easily or soon. . . . In the life of the human spirit, words are action, much more so than many of us may realize who live in countries where freedom of expressions is taken for granted. The leaders of totalitarian nations understand this very well. . . . We can already see dramatic worldwide advances in the protection of the individual from the arbitrary power of the state. . . .

[Arms Control: Freeze, Bans, CTB, Nuclear Zero, etc.] . . . We have moved to engage the Soviet Union in a joint effort to halt the strategic arms race, . . . we must put an end to it. . . . Our goal is to be fair to both sides, to produce reciprocal stability, parity, and security. We desire a freeze on further modernization and production of weapons and a continuing substantial reduction of strategic nuclear weapons as well. We want a comprehensive ban on all nuclear testing [CTB], a prohibition against all chemical warfare, no attack capabilities against space satellites, and arms limitations in the Indian Ocean.

We hope that we can take joint steps with all nations toward a final agreement eliminating nuclear weapons completely from our arsenals of death. . . .

[“I Believe in Détente” and “Progress”] Now, I believe in détente with the Soviet Union. To me, it means progress toward peace. But the effects of détente should not be limited to our own two countries alone. We hope to persuade the Soviet Union that one country cannot impose its system of society upon another, either through direct military intervention or through the use of a client state’s military force, as was the case with Cuban intervention in Angola. . . . We hope that the Soviet Union will join with us and other nations in playing a larger role in aiding the developing world, for common aid efforts will help us build a bridge of mutual confidence in one another . . . Our policy is designed to serve mankind. And it is a policy that I hope will make you proud to be Americans. (headings added)1

Leadership Implications of Carter’s Lack of Realism. Carter’s Notre Dame address seriously diminished his leadership credibility early in his presidency. His words were widely interpreted as reflecting “politically correct” left-wing Democratic Party views about the Cold War, while ignoring the brutal realities of Communist ideology, Soviet history, and increasingly aggressive Soviet arms buildups and confrontations throughout the globe. Carter’s views were widely seen as illusory in not recognizing the reality of America’s recent setbacks and adverse global trends that pointed to increasingly clear and present dangers, and that required informed leadership to rebuild U.S. strength, sense of purpose, strategy, and strength. As commander-in-chief, Carter often appeared detached about the high moral cause and strategic stakes at the heart of the Cold War conflict. He seemed not to understand the urgent need for presidential leadership in both developing and articulating effective U.S. policies to take on the Soviet challenge and “to provide for the common defense” and “secure the blessings of liberty.”

2. Carter Ignores Key U.S. Intelligence and Defense Threat Assessments—1977

The Carter and Warnke statements cited above, and others by Carter nominees, including his U.S. Navy friend Admiral Stansfield Turner as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), also raised concerns about neglecting credible professional intelligence assessments of clear and present dangers from Soviet arms buildups, treaty violations, and international aggression. Concerns about U.S. intelligence were further raised about the damaging impact of cuts imposed in 1975–1976 on U.S. intelligence capabilities, notably on “human intelligence” assets, by Congressional committees headed by leading Democrats Senator Frank Church and Representative Otis G. Pike.

Ignoring Public and Classified Intelligence and Department of Defense Evidence on the Soviet Military Buildup. The previous chapter on Nixon‘s and Ford’s presidencies references examples of official U.S. reports on the Soviet military buildup published during Carter’s 1975–1976 presidential campaign. These include detailed reports by Ford Administration Secretaries of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the U.S. intelligence community, and the Congress. Such official reports, and numerous private sector assessments from U.S. and European policy institutes and organizations including the Committee on the Present Danger, provided overwhelming evidence of dangerous Cold War military and related security trends. Such reports were readily

[Book pg. 124]