“It was a recipe for struggles” Cyrus Vance, Zbigniew Brzezinski and the Decision Making Structure of the Carter Administration
When the Carter administration entered office on January 20, 1977 there was growing speculation in the newspaper press that President Carter’s two key foreign policy advisors, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and National Security Advsior Zbigniew Brzezinski, were on course to clash with one another over the course and nature of the administration’s foreign policy agenda. The Boston Globe noted that ‘a sense of competition could develop simply by their presence in the administration’ while Bernard Gwertzman in The New York Times wrote ‘The common belief amongst those who follow foreign affairs closely in Washington is that…Mr Brzezinski will eventually begin to encroach on Cyrus R. Vance’s preserve as Mr Carter’s no.1 foreign policy advisor.’ Marilyn Berger meanwhile quoted a State Department official as saying ‘It is inevitable that Zbig will become an originator of policy and not just a co-ordinator. And once he starts making foreign-policy recommendations to the President, his ideas will cut across the bow of the Secretary of State.’
Presented at the 2016 Transatlantic Studies Association Conference, Plymouth University, this paper analyses how the decision making structure that Carter eventually settled on only served to exacerbate the sense of competition between the State Department and the NSC as well as Vance and Brzezinski with the conflict manifesting itself for the duration of the Carter’s time in office, contributing to a tapestry of inconsistencies that resulted in the administration’s inability to create a settled foreign policy strategy and agenda.
I have just recently returned from my first major academic conference hosted by the Transatlantic Studies Association at the University of Plymouth. It was a real honour to have my paper proposal accepted and been allowed to present my research to an esteemed audience. My paper, which was entitled ‘”It was a recipe for struggles” Vance, Brzezinski and the Decision Making Structure of the Carter Administration’ focused on the bureaucratic tensions between the two men and their respective departments exploring how the sense of competition between the two developed in the opening days and weeks of the administration entering office. I was fortunate enough to be presenting my work on a panel devoted to the Carter administration! Sotiris Rizas from the Academy of Athens presented his paper on the Carter administration and the Cyprus, Greece and Turkey dispute while Todd Carter from Oxford University presented his work on Anglo-American relations and the end of the Rhodesian crisis. Both were fascinating papers and I enjoyed them immensely and it was privilege to be on a panel with them.
Attending the TSA was certainly a learning curve and a nerve-racking experience. Although this was the first time presenting at an academic conference, it was not my first time presenting a paper. I’ve started to find it curious how much planning and meticulous detail I’ve put into what is a twenty minute’s of my life. Nevertheless, it offered me to present my work to some of the most respected academics in the field of transatlantic studies and U.S. foreign policy. Over the course of the three days there were some very interesting papers presented. I particularly liked Barbara Keys keynote ‘Friendship in Diplomacy: Henry Kissinger’s Personal Relationships’ as well as Stephan Kieninger’s ‘Dynamic Détente – The United States and Europe, 1964–1975’, Werner Lippert’s ‘Confronting Russia through Money, Oil or Power: Transatlantic Discrepancies in Dealing with a Resurgent Russia’and the the whole panel on Anglo-American relations through the 20th Century and the Fulton Speech. All in all it was a very rewarding and stimulating few days with some great talks and lots to chew over! The full programme is available at the TSA website. The conference was held at the University of Plymouth, perhaps the farthest university from Newcastle I could have gone too but after a few hours of Trains, Planes and Automobiles I arrived in Plymouth via Exeter. The city of Plymouth is a very relaxed city with a beautiful seafront that one can just simply absorb for the whole day. The University itself is more modern, akin to Northumbria, and is just a stones throw away from the city centre. Despite being so far away, it was an ideal location for the conference and is a beautiful city to visit!
A full copy available on request at academia.edu