Paul Warnke Text of Interview: April 3, 2001Dawn Bellinger2022-05-23T11:44:36-04:00
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106 ORAL HISTORY OF PAUL C. WARNKE – FIFTH INTERVIEW APRIL 3, 2001 This is the fifth interview of Paul C. Warnke in the taking of his oral history as part of the oral history project of the Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interview is being taken by William Ross on April 3, 2001. The persons present are Paul Warnke and William Ross. Mr. Ross: Carter had, of course, been a naval officer, and he’d been involved in the nuclear submarine program. He had a sense that, if I understand you, it was necessary or desirable to engage the Russians. Mr. Warnke: Oh yes, very much so. Mr. Ross: So that one could sense when he came into office, he was at least potentially a supporter of an — Mr. Warnke: Of an agreement, that’s right. Mr. Ross: All right. Go ahead and describe, if you will, you had this conversation with Carter in Georgia, and then if you could pick it up there. What happened in this area? How did the events move so that you ended up being the Arms Control Director and the negotiator? Mr. Warnke: I was very interested, of course, in being Secretary of Defense. It became clear at a fairly early junction that that was not in the cards, that that was going to be Harold Brown. 107 Mr. Ross: Did Carter have an association with him earlier on? Mr. Warnke: I don’t know. To some extent, but see, my first contact with Carter was through the Trilateral Commission. I think I mentioned this before. Mr. Ross: Yes, you mentioned it. Could you describe that a little bit? Mr. Warnke: Well, the Trilateral Commission was, to a large extent, the idea of Zbig Brzezinski. Mr. Ross: Well, just describe whoever you’re referring to because we can get these names. Mr. Warnke: David Rockefeller was deeply involved too, and J.D. Smith. When we were putting the Trilateral Commission together, Zbig, who is one of the founding fathers, and a southern governor — I’ve forgotten who was then the Governor of Florida, but he was a democrat, and Zbig made a try at getting him interested, and he was not interested, and so I remember being at the Trilateral Commission and all of the sudden this guy came up and said, hello, my name is Jimmy Carter. That’s my first contact with Jimmy Carter who was then the Governor of Georgia, and he and Zbig, as a consequence, became good friends, and then Carter went to a Trilateral Commission meeting in Japan, and that’s where he made basically his first speech as a candidate. This again was under Brzezinski. Then I got a call from Carter after he got the nomination, and he wanted to know whether I’d be interested in going with the Administration, and I said very much so. Then Cy was named the Secretary of State, and I got a call from Cy Vance who said he would like me to work with him, and would I be interested in either being the Deputy Secretary of State or in charge of the Arms Control Agency. I said I’d love to be Deputy Secretary of Defense. He said it’s between you and Warren Christopher, and 108 to my regret, he picked Chris as the Deputy and asked me to be head of the Arms Control Agency, and I turned it down. I thought, it’s not what I wanted. Then at some point I think Jean was at a party with Cy Vance, and Cy said how much he regretted that I would not become head of the Arms Control Agency, and Jean said you haven’t tried hard enough. So the next thing I remember is that I was at lunch and somebody said the President is on the phone. I got on the phone and it was Jimmy Carter and he said would you come on by and see me? And I went by and saw him. He said, I am now personally asking you to be head of the Arms Control. I said you can’t turn down a President who puts it in those terms. Mr. Ross: Very hard. Mr. Warnke: So I took it. Mr. Ross: This would have been then 1977? Mr. Warnke: Yeah. Early ’77. Mr. Ross: And do you recall who your predecessor was in that Agency? Mr. Warnke: Yeah, Fred Ikle. Mr. Ross: I don’t know him. Mr. Warnke: Well, he was later involved with other Republican administrations in the Department of Defense. I think he was the Deputy Secretary of Defense. A bright guy — I had met him because Ralph Earle, of course, who had been in the Democratic Administration with me, stayed in. He went back to practicing law in Philadelphia and couldn’t stand it. Mr. Ross: He was in the firm that I was in for a while. Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. Go ahead. Mr. Warnke: So he went back into the government. 109 Mr. Ross: So you took this position over and you were confronted with what had been an ongoing interrelationship, diplomatic relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. Mr. Warnke: Right. Mr. Ross: And you were stepping into a moving stream. Mr. Warnke: Very much so. And then, of course, the fact that my appointment was so controversial and so deeply opposed. Mr. Ross: Why do you think that happened? Mr. Warnke: I gathered from what people had said later that the prime mover was Richard Perle. Richard and I had known one another and had quite distinct differences of opinion. He was then working for Scoop Jackson and he managed to get Scoop Jackson deeply, deeply involved in opposing my confirmation. Mr. Ross: Why do you think Dick Perle zeroed in on you? I think I have an idea myself, but I’d like to hear yours. Mr. Warnke: I think that we had very different views. He knew that I had very different views, and we had been on the same organization, but had different approaches to it. I think that — it may sound egotistical, but — he thought I would be a formidable adversary. Mr. Ross: That was going to be my explanation. Mr. Warnke: And he would have preferred somebody else. Mr. Ross: Somebody else with your views but not nearly as articulate or effective politically. I recall being in a small meeting with Perle as a result of my involvement with LAWS, and Perle was letting his hair down, and I was trying to figure the guy out. Finally 110 at one point he said, you know I don’t think the United States should ever enter into any kind of arms control agreement with the Soviet Union. That’s my basic position. Politically that’s not a tenable or useful position, so I’m not going to come out with that. Mr. Warnke: That was basically his point of view. Mr. Ross: And you must have heard something like that from him. He could be quite — Mr. Warnke: He never put it that way to me. Mr. Ross: He may have regretted saying this to us. Of course, it was all off the record. So, I gather you collected a lot of ideological baggage which perhaps didn’t fit very well to you. Mr. Warnke: Like what? Mr. Ross: This baggage may have been not entirely of your choosing, and you became identified as a spokesman for extreme points of view which, in fact, were not your own views. They had some fundamentals about which you felt very strongly, but yours were much more flexible. Is that a good account? Mr. Warnke: Yeah. I could never really quite understand why I was characterized as being so far out, which I really was not. I believe in a strong defense. I believe that the Soviets did represent a problem for us, as did China, but I thought that we could afford to negotiate with them, and I thought we were better at it than they were. Dick Perle had the feeling that if we dealt with them, they were so much cannier than we were. As a consequence, he was afraid of doing anything with the Soviets. Mr. Ross: Even getting in the same room with them. 111 Mr. Warnke: And I had the opposite feeling, and it became conflicting the more I dealt with him. The more I dealt with them, the more I realized that they were much, much more afraid of us than we were of them and that they thought we were out to do them in. It wasn’t entirely incorrect. Mr. Ross: Or at least some of us were out to do them. Did you ever get from Carter officially or informally a statement of his views and his policies in this area, say toward the beginning of your service? Mr. Warnke: No. Mr. Ross: Never did? Mr. Warnke: No. Mr. Ross: I assume that there were one or more people close to Carter in the Executive Office who you talked to and related to during your time of service. The assistants who might have been charged with this arms control area. Mr. Warnke: Well, of course, it was primarily Zbig. And then David Aaron worked for Zbig, and I think began to think of me as the Antichrist, just as Zbig did. Mr. Ross: Why do you think he did that? Was it just because he was a hardliner, his temperament was –? Mr. Warnke: I think David was very ambitious and he could see Zbig moving on and he saw it as a way of moving up himself. Mr. Ross: How about Brzezinski himself? Why did he adopt this stance rather than, let’s say, the stance of a cautious arms controller? Mr. Warnke: I think in part was that he was a Pole, and the Poles hate the 112 Russians. They’ve been kicked around by the Russians. Mr. Ross: With reason. Mr. Warnke: That’s perfectly correct. And as a consequence, I think he found it very difficult to deal with them on kind of a urbane dialogue. I know that that’s the way Gromyko felt. Mr. Ross: I always got the sense that Brzezinski was a strange foreign policy advisor for a president like Carter. Interesting that he would have picked and retained someone not of his temperament as opposed to Paul Warnke. Mr. Warnke: I think that Carter had a sense of gratitude toward Zbig. I think he figured he never would have been President of the United States had it not been the fact that Zbig picked a southern governor, put him on the Trilateral Commission. As a consequence, it was a sense of gratitude and also if you have that sense of gratitude, I think you tend to exaggerate the good qualities of the person to whom you’re grateful. As a consequence, I think that in debates between Brzezinski and Cy Vance, that Jimmy Carter’s impetus was to side with Brzezinski. Mr. Ross: Is Brzezinski a Roman Catholic? Mr. Warnke: I don’t really know. Mr. Ross: It didn’t come up? Mr. Warnke: No. I think probably he probably was. I have difficulty identifying the faiths of the principal people I’ve worked with. Mr. Ross: Very often it’s not much of an issue with Milquetoast Protestants, but sometimes with people who have very strong religious affiliation it can be quite an issue. 113 Mr. Warnke: Certainly Carter was a devout Protestant. I know the first time I had lunch alone with him, I was back from Geneva and he invited me to the White House for lunch, and we sat down and I was reaching for my fork and all of the sudden I realized that he was saying grace. So I joined him in saying grace. Mr. Ross: I’m glad. Let’s go to the Congress. Your nomination to this position, did it require Senate — what’s the term — approval? Mr. Warnke: Yeah. But not two-thirds. Mr. Ross: Oh, just a simple majority. You were lucky. Mr. Warnke: Yep. I remember saying one time that I’m glad I’m not a treaty. I’d never make it. Mr. Ross: Did you lobby actively with the Senate? Mr. Warnke: I did. Mr. Ross: You felt you had to. Mr. Warnke: Yeah. Mr. Ross: And of course there was Jackson who was opposing you. Mr. Warnke: Yeah, strongly. Mr. Ross: And he was very powerful. Mr. Warnke: He was. Mr. Ross: Who were the key people in the Senate who you think supported you effectively? Mr. Warnke: Certainly Ed Muskie. Hubert Humphrey, who I don’t think was in the Senate at that time but was still a prominent figure. Alan Cranston. Gary Hart. John Culver. 114 John Culver was a strong supporter. I think those were the principal ones. Mr. Ross: How was the question framed for consideration in the Senate? Usually a couple of issues pop out when something controversial is going to come to a vote. Did it come to a vote on the floor? Mr. Warnke: Yes. Mr. Ross: Did it have to do with the fact that you were considered not sufficiently hawkish or hard-core? Mr. Warnke: I was said to be soft on the Soviets. Mr. Ross: Do you think that, or can you comment on the impact of this nomination fight on your performance? Mr. Warnke: It was a big help. Mr. Ross: Because certain things had — Mr. Warnke: No, it made me and my job look to the Russians as much more important than it was. Mr. Ross: Maybe the President would have paid more attention, too. Mr. Warnke: That’s right because I remember the first time I met him. Semenov was my counterpart in the SALT talks. He said, I’m glad to meet you. I’ve read so much about you. Mr. Ross: So you just weren’t an obscure bureaucrat, but one who’d been in the limelight? Mr. Warnke: Yeah. And Gromyko and I get along quite well. Mr. Ross: He was an interesting — 115 Mr. Warnke: He was a very interesting guy. He was very important back then too because, of course, at that point Brezhnev had had his strokes. Mr. Ross: Gromyko had been around forever, wasn’t he, and because of the Brezhnev illness, he came forward. Mr. Warnke: Very much so. If you were in a meeting with Brezhnev and Gromyko, Gromyko would take charge. I gather that was not the case until Brezhnev had been ill for quite some time, and I know that reading some of the transcripts of top level conferences even at the beginning of the — if not the beginning of the Carter Administration, certainly in previous Administrations — that he was very much in charge. He was very quick witted. He had a good sense of humor. Mr. Ross: Would you call him a career Russian foreign service man? Mr. Warnke: Yeah. Mr. Ross: His background had been coming up in the ministry. Mr. Warnke: That’s right. Mr. Ross: He’d been very successful. Was he ever a member of Politburo? Mr. Warnke: I don’t think so. Mr. Ross: So when you were dealing with him, did you have a sense you were talking with someone who’s important in the Russian concept? Mr. Warnke: As I say at that point, he really was in charge of foreign policy. Very much so. Mr. Ross: Did you ever have any one on one conversations with him? Mr. Warnke: With an interpreter. Which was not necessary because he spoke 116 perfectly good English. I remember one time that I was in Moscow without Cy, I think when Cy knew I was leaving, and I think he wanted to give me a shot at being the top guy in the meetings with the Soviets. At a lunch with — I think it was just the four of us, two interpreters and he and I — and it was very interesting. We got along very well. Mr. Ross: When you were talking with him, did the conversation stay strictly within the framework of your formal negotiations, or did you get off on other things? Mr. Warnke: We sort of got off on things like U.S./Russian relations. Sort of a consistent concern as far as Gromyko was concerned is why aren’t we friends? We don’t have anything that you want, and you don’t have anything that we can take from you. Mr. Ross: All very true. What was your answer? Mr. Warnke: I said there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be. We ought to be friends. And we two did become friends. So did he and Cy. In fact when he was very sick, Cy went over there basically to say goodbye. Mr. Ross: Did you get a sense of the mix of Russian political opinion on arms control? There must have been people who didn’t share Gromyko’s views. Mr. Warnke: Oh, very much so.