“They were at sword’s point from day one” Cyrus Vance, Zbigniew Brzezinski and the Bureaucratic Wars of the Carter administration.
When Jimmy Carter became president, he declared his intention to forge ahead with a new Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II) with the Soviet Union, stating: “we will move this year a step toward our ultimate goal–the elimination of all nuclear weapons from this Earth. We urge all other people to join us, for success can mean life instead of death.” With the terms of the original 1972 SALT agreement nearing its conclusion, the new administration pressed ahead with fresh negotiations regarding a new treaty. It was hoped that an agreement would be signed and sealed within Carter’s first few months in office however negotiations fell victim to the growing tensions within the administration between Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. Ideologically, the pair had differing interpretations on U.S.-Soviet relations and what an arms control agreement may include but adding to their disagreements was the implementation of the new internal decision making structure that served to exacerbate tensions and fuel the sense of competition between the two men and their respective departments. The roots of the conflict can be attributed to those early negotiations over SALT II where the ideological and bureaucratic fault lines were exposed contributing to the administration’s inconsistent and at times incoherent position on the negotiations. SALT II would ultimately become a by-product of the struggles between Vance and Brzezinski and the differences between them became manifested within the administration very early on, as Harold Brown reflected: ‘they were at sword’s point from day one.’
At the end of 2015, I successfully applied to present a paper at the 2016 Roosevelt Study Center PhD Seminar. Along with eight other PhD students from across Europe, we were required to submit fifteen page paper outling an aspect of our research prior to attending the event as well as providing a ten minute presentation on the work submitted and the topic of research more generally. The paper I submitted was entitled ‘”They were at Sword’s Point from Day One”: Cyrus Vance, Zbigniew Brzezinski and the Bureaucratic Wars of the Carter Administration’ which focussed specifically on the events surrounding the early negotiations over SALT II which culminated in an early embarrassment for the administration. This was the first of many episodes where the ideological and bureaucratic struggles between Vance and Brzezinski for influence over the administration’s foreign policy were laid bare. SALT negotiations thus became a victim of the internal wrangling between the two. The paper will form part of a chapter I am writing about the first year of the Carter presidency during which SALT negotiations were a particularly hot topic for the administration.
I was honoured to meet with the academics present and all the other PhD students and I found all of their presentations and papers fascinating and enjoyable. After an evening of meeting and greeting over wine and food, the presentations began.
In respect of the paper, I was quite happy with the content although I feel a few more primary sources (some that I did discover at the RSC via the DDRS, see below) would have contributed to the paper immensely and maybe altered some of the conclusions that I had drawn. I did note only one spelling error, which is one two many but by my standards is pretty decent. The paper I delivered placed the paper in the wider context of my research. I opted to focus on key aspects of the Vance-Brzezinski relationship, namely the ideological and bureaucratic sources of their conflict and intersperse these points with examples from the SALT negotiations.
Although I’m not an experienced speaker and, I must confess, tend to keep a script close by, I felt as though my public presentation is developing nicely. After my talk I took questions from the other PhD candidates and the academics attending. I felt as though my work generated a fair amount sincere of interest in my research while a number of comments gave me food for thought about how I should proceed with my chosen topic.Some of the positive comments from those attending also provided me with somewhat of an ego boost but also reinforced my belief in my project and its value on an academic level.As with all events of this nature it has been an enormous confidence boost and has certainly energised me to attack my next chapter with extra vigour! Being able to attend events like this are an incredible opportunity for researchers. Prior to making the trip, it suddenly dawned on me that apart from myself, only my supervisors had actually seen my work! So being able to have feedback from more then two people is incredibly beneficial but particularly from other experts in the field and from those who have done similar projects. Hopefully the feedback I received as well as the documents picked up at the RSC via the DDRS will aid the next chapter no end thus adding to the value of what was a very enjoyable experience and fantastic few days in Middelburg.