President Nixon and Dr. Kissinger. (Richard Nixon Presidential Library)
Winston Lord is author of “Kissinger on Kissinger: Reflections on Diplomacy, Grand Strategy, and Leadership.”
On this edition of the Nixon Now Podcast, we discuss diplomacy, grand strategy, and and leadership, from the perspective of President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry Kissinger. Our guest today is Winston Lord, who worked by Dr. Kissinger’s side on every major foreign policy issue: Vietnam, China, the Soviet Union, and the Middle East.
Lord went on to become President of the Council on Foreign Relations, U.S. Ambassador to China, and Assistant Secretary of State. He’s the author of a book to be released this week, “Kissinger on Kissinger: Reflections on Diplomacy, Grand Strategy, and Leadership,” and was interviewer of Kissinger’s first Oral History — produced by the Nixon Foundation — from which the book is based.
Click here to buy the book.
Jonathan Movroydis: Welcome to the Nixon Now Podcast. I’m Jonathan Movroydis. This is brought to you by the Nixon Foundation. We’re broadcasting from the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California. You can follow us on Twitter, @nixonfoundation, or at nixonfoundation.org. Today we’re talking about the diplomacy grand strategy in leadership from the perspective of President Nixon and his assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry Kissinger. Our guest today is Winston Lord, who worked by Dr. Kissinger’s side on every major foreign policy issue, Vietnam, China, the Soviet Union, and the Middle East. Ambassador Lord went on to become president of the Council on Foreign Relations, U.S. ambassador to China and Assistant Secretary of state. He led the interviews on the first-ever Dr. Kissinger’s first ever Oral Histories, produced by the Richard Nixon Foundation. He is the author of a new book based on these oral histories to be released this week, “Kissinger on Kissinger: Reflections on Diplomacy, Grand Strategy, and Leadership.” Ambassador Lord, welcome.
Winston Lord: Jonathan, good to be with you.
Jonathan Movroydis: Could you take us…first, could you take us through how this book was ultimately created?
Winston Lord: This is particularly relevant for your audience because the Nixon Foundation was the foundation for this entire book. And I might add that Geoff Shepard of the foundation and my interlocutor on this program, Jonathan, you were crucial in this process. About four or five years ago, we set out under the foundation’s auspices to do a series of video panels on key foreign policy issues in the Nixon administration. We chose China, Russia, Vietnam, and another panel were doing the Middle East as well as the structure of the foreign policy machinery under Nixon. These ran a couple of hours and we’re actually sort of timelines and sort of major events and milestones for each of these events. But we thought at the end of this, so it might make sense to have Kissinger do an interview to reflect back on these events 40, 50 years earlier and give his strategic and historical perspective. He had never done an oral history.
So, it was a little much of a task to persuade him to do one for an hour. And it was so good that he himself was enthusiastic about continuing. He ended up doing six of these. And we took the transcripts and cleaned it up just a little bit. And I must say we had help from you, Jonathan, and others so that it read very well. And amazingly for someone in their nineties recollecting decades-old history, Henry was able to relate not only strategy and major milestones but portraits of major leaders and revealing anecdotes. We also drew him out on some generic foreign policy issues that are relevant as we speak, namely the need for strategy, his relationship with President Nixon, the qualities of leadership, how you should conduct, how you organize the machinery of the bureaucracy for foreign policy, etc. So, I hope your listeners will first go to the video tapes which you can get on websites you can provide because they’re really terrific. And then, of course, I hope they’ll read this book.
Jonathan Movroydis: You had said that this is the first oral history that Dr. Kissinger has ever done. Why did you decide to ultimately to do an oral history? Why was this the first one?
Winston Lord: That’s a good question. I’ve never had a full answer from Henry on this. I think perhaps he was worried that if he did one, people might lift out excerpts and distort issues or comments out of context. He, of course, has given all kinds of interviews throughout his life, but never sat down and given a long one from his own perspective. So, I think that’s the major reason he didn’t get to it. But now he’s very happy he did it and I think he’s happy the way the book came out.
Jonathan Movroydis: Kissinger had written a three-volume memoir and several other books. And also several other books have been written about Henry Kissinger. What perspective do you think “Kissinger on Kissinger” offers that’s unique from previous books?
Winston Lord: Yes. We explained not only the origins but the rationale for this book in my foreword to it. Like any oral history, it’s from one person’s point of view, it’s subjective. And Henry acknowledges that himself in his own introduction in this book. There have been plenty of books written by him and by others and by President Nixon as well, both for and against the Nixon-Kissinger era. And Henry, himself, of course, has done this thousand-page memoirs. This was a way to have much more accessible. This book is less than 200 pages. It’s conversational by definition and therefore, I think it’s very valuable. And the main reason that Henry was happy to do it, first of all, the successive generations, the younger generations who for whom many of these events are ancient history, but also those who are familiar with some of the events. So, this will be a tremendous refresher course and a much easier way to get the highlights in going through a thousand-page book. Finally, I think it will be extremely useful for future historians and scholars. And it’s also relevant today because some of the issues like dealing with China and Russia, which we engaged in the 1970s, of course, extremely relevant today. Not to mention his advice on leadership and negotiating strategies, etc.
Jonathan Movroydis: Just as a background, how did you…? I mentioned in the intro that you had been at Kissinger’s side and Nixon’s side for all of the major foreign policy initiatives and for many of the foreign trips, the major foreign trips. How did you come to join the NSC staff under President Nixon? And what was your role?
Winston Lord: At the time I was at the Pentagon on the policy planning staff and my boss at the time was recruited by Kissinger as one of its first staff members in January 1969. In February ’69, my former boss asked me to join him with Kissinger at the White House. I had an interview with Henry, as usual, chaotic scene. He was about to see the secretary of the treasury. He was juggling phone calls and his inbox, but he zeroed in for 15 minutes. So, I guess I did well enough. So he hired me although it was probably at the recommendation of my boss.
One interesting nugget from that brief but very memorable encounter, he said that he encourage debate and dissent among his staff when we disagreed on policies. He didn’t like “yes men” or “yes women.” But once a decision has been made, he expected the staff to carry it out loyally. That’s my own philosophy of government, and I was very comfortable with that. In any event, though, that’s how we got together.
When I was first hired, I was sitting in what is now the Eisenhower Building, the executive office building apart from the west wing. And I had two jobs, one, helping to run the NSC machinery. The other was sort of a mini-policy planning staff where we would send Kissinger memos looking forward to issues coming up or perhaps commenting on current policies and to show that he didn’t want “yes men” or “yes women.” Some of my papers were critical of Nixon and Kissinger approaches, at least in tactical terms. And he thought they were well reasoned up enough that he went on and hired me a year later in February 1970 to be his special assistant.
Jonathan Movroydis: Can you tell us a little bit about what the world looked like from the White House perspective in January 1969 when Nixon came into office?
Winston Lord: Yeah. Well, President Nixon and Kissinger inherited a very difficult landscape. I mean, every incoming president has his or, in the future, her problems when they take over the White House. But I don’t think there’s recently been any seen quite as foreboding and forbidding as the one that Nixon inherited. We have to remember the late ‘60s, and as we came into office is, first of all, of course, the Vietnam War had gone on for many years. There were rising protests and demonstrations in addition on other issues. There were race riots. We had three terrible assassinations, the country was divided and polarized and angry. And then overseas, you had the threat of the nuclear Soviet Union. And of course, no contact with China and foreign policy, somewhat hamstrung by the Vietnam War.
So, this was an incredibly difficult environment domestically and on the world scene for Nixon and Kissinger. Now, the good news is tough as that environment was, the fit between Nixon and Kissinger was terrific, and Kissinger had the advantage which he makes clear in his book, of having a president whose worldview he shared and who was courageous to make the tough decisions. But we can get into more detail in that relationship later if you’d like.
Jonathan Movroydis: Chapter 1 of “Kissinger on Kissinger” is about statesmanship. In your years working in the White House and also from these interviews what did you learn about the concept of leadership and statesmanship of President Nixon and Dr. Kissinger?
Winston Lord: You know, it’s not accidental that we lead the book with this chapter. Now, I know I’ve got a friendly office for President Nixon, but I will say this too, unfriendly audiences as well. I’ve worked for several presidents of both parties. I happened to be a flaming centrist and bipartisan in my approach, but no president, in my experience, that comes close to Nixon in terms of his quest a foreign policy and its strategic approach. And no other diplomat besides Kissinger who matches this as well. So, the fit was terrific, and I learned a great deal about strategy in working for the two of them. And some of these elements are reflected in this very first chapter.
Basically, what Kissinger relates and happens to be my view now as well, is that a leader will have to make some tactical decisions, the ones that the lower levels of the bureaucracy you can’t resolve. And the chances are they’re tough. Fifty-one, 49 kind of judgments otherwise they wouldn’t reach the president or the strategic leader. But the real challenge for statesmanship is to be able to move into uncharted territory and make tough decisions as Nixon did on China, on Vietnam, on the Soviet Union, the Middle East, and so on. Because when you have a lot of information, it’s late in the process and your choices are narrowed down. But early on the process when you can have more choices, you have much less information. So, there’s a great deal of conjecture, and this takes a lot of courage for the leader or the statesman having to sort of lead his or her society, not to mention allies and friends, into new territory. So those are some of the qualities you need, a strategic approach and the courage to make tough decisions.
Jonathan Movroydis: Could you give us some case study on how they’re able to do that, those long-range decisions but also adapt to those immediate concerns. Could you give us some perspective on how they were able to do that?
Winston Lord: Well, first they had to come in in office well-equipped intellectually and in terms of knowledge to do that. Nixon, of course, was well steeped in foreign policy. As vice president for eight years, he did a great deal of traveling and negotiating. And then when he was out of office, he also continued to travel and read. He wrote a very important article in foreign affairs, for example, magazine in 1967 on China. But at any rate , he was well-acquainted with world leaders and with world events and had a strategic view so that as he came into office, he had this framework. You can’t suddenly learn on a job. You’ve got to have that structure intellectually before you grapple with your inbox. The same of course with Kissinger who all his life had studied, and taught, and written about foreign policy, and history, and strategy.
And so, the two complemented each other very well. Nixon knowing leaders well, having concrete hands-on experiences, Kissinger with the historical and strategic concept and both believing you had to go forward with strategy. So, they both came in intellectually equipped and then since they were so much in tune with each other about how to approach foreign policy, they were able to work together really quite seamlessly with major agreements on most approaches. Of course, there were some tactical differences which were healthy.
So, they kept the big picture, the long-term implications in mind. You don’t just deal with a country, but you keep in mind what the impact of your dealings with that country will be and other countries, that kind of thing. And they were able to always have this perspective even as they dealt with tactical decisions in their inbox. So, in a way, it would inform their decisions, but it also make it easier because they had the backdrop in which to act decisively.
Jonathan Movroydis: You had mentioned their shared perspective and their ability to work together. There are probably would have been, you know, many people who would have wanted Kissinger’s job early during the transition period. But why do you think Nixon chose this Harvard professor to be his chief foreign policy advisor?
Winston Lord: Yeah. You talk about odd couples. This was one on a surface. And it really was a very courageous decision by Nixon to make this choice. He knew that foreign policy was gonna be one of his top priorities. He also knew he wanted to run it out of the White House so he could control it. And, therefore, his national security advisor in the White House is gonna be crucial. So, here you have a conservative person from the west coast, somewhat distrustful of the intellectual lead in the Ivy League. And on the other hand, he chose the Jewish immigrant from Harvard who he’d never met. It was an extraordinary stretch for him. And of course, it turned out beautifully.
Now, he, of course, had read a lot of Kissinger’s work and he had heard about Kissinger from others. And so, I think, if only he could see that Kissinger’s world view was very much attuned to his and that he was very articulate. So, and I think he saw that Kissinger with his strategic and historical context would fit nicely with his concept of how much he, Nixon, should do and how much you should delegate. The final irony was, of course, that Kissinger had been working for years for Nelson Rockefeller, who was Nixon’s primary opponent during his period and yet he came to the top political advisor, foreign policy advisor of his opponent and chose him. So, it was an extraordinary decision, and of course, it really paid off.
Jonathan Movroydis: You had mentioned that they share similar world views. What ultimately was that world view that both shared?
Winston Lord: Well, in addition to the view that you have to have a strategic approach and relate issues and countries to one another, they both believed in American leadership that a peaceful and prosperous world required America to continue its postwar leadership even though all Americans are getting somewhat fatigued, particularly because of the Vietnam War. And yet they knew they had to adjust to the changing environment. We no longer totally dominated the world like we did in the 1950s. And the world is a much more complex place. So, I think what they felt had to be done was to make some key moves on key issues. I think the first three most urgent ones all had to do with communist regimes.
One was the opening to China to try to get in touch with a country which we’d had had mutual antagonism, hostility, had fought a war in Korea, no contact and try to open up with China so as to make sure that the communist bloc didn’t just have one voice in Moscow. And also we can get into some of this later on China to improve relations with Moscow. Because another urgent task was to stabilize this dangerous and challenging relationship with the Soviet Union. And thirdly, of course, hovering overall this, was how do we bring the war in Vietnam to an honorable conclusion. So, I think they saw both the need for leadership and the need to adapt some of the bold policies in order to be able to exhibit this leadership at a time, as we discussed earlier, that there was so much division at home and so many threats overseas.
Jonathan Movroydis: On the technical side, how did they divide their roles in terms of carrying out American foreign policy and negotiations on that side of things?
Winston Lord: Again, I don’t want to sound like everything’s perfect and I’m using fantastics of superlative as I go along, but I have to be honest. There’s a lot of lessons here of how to conduct foreign policy. And if I sound like a cheerleader, it’s because I am. It doesn’t mean we didn’t make mistakes or that they weren’t flaws in both the president and Kissinger. But my high opinion of what they did is it had to add a virtue of being insincere and not just PR. So, now I’ve managed to forget your question. What was your question?
Jonathan Movroydis: How did Nixon and Kissinger divide up their roles in terms of carrying the U.S. foreign policy?
Winston Lord: Well, yeah. It was a perfect division of labor. Kissinger was always made clear in his memoirs as he makes clear in this book, “Kissinger on Kissinger,” which we’re talking about, that Nixon deserves full credit for the major foreign policy achievements. There are tendency in some quarters, particularly those who don’t like Nixon, to try to give most of the credit to Kissinger. He makes it very clear. He doesn’t lack the ego himself, but he makes it clear that he couldn’t have done any of these things without the leadership of Nixon. So, Nixon’s role, which he devised, was, of course, to make the tough decisions. Open to China, they talked with the Soviet Union, shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East, ending the Vietnam war, etc. Also, to make sure the overall strategy was followed, that he wished. And he and Kissinger rather seamlessly cooperated intellectually, keep track of the major negotiations and events going on but not get into tactical details, which in turn raises Kissinger as well, which he delegated to Henry knowing his skill but also knowing he fully agreed with the major components of his policy to let him carry out the decisions, and scenarios, and negotiations that were required to meet our strategic goals.
So, Henry would perform major trips or negotiations, say, with Vietnam, or China, or Russia. But we’d send it to the president, and I had a hand in drafting a lot of these memos, the strategic approach he proposed and some of the major ways he would go about doing what they hope to achieve. Nixon would comment and approve of this, and then Henry would go off and negotiate or take the trips to implement. He’d keep the White House fully informed, but he never at any major issue got second-guessed by Nixon. And there were times because communications and those days when it is easy as they are today, for example, when we were in China, that Kissinger would have to make some decisions on the spot without being able to check with the president. But he had enough confidence in Nixon’s worldview, and Nixon had enough confidence in his negotiating ability that he did this and never really was second-guessed. So, they divided out their roles between strategy and tactics with Nixon certainly emphasizing the first, but keeping track of what was going on and Kissinger executing the tactics but also sharing and helping to shape the strategic approach.
Jonathan Movroydis: Starting with China, the major milestone, the major diplomatic achievement. Was Kissinger in these interviews with you particularly insightful? Did he offer any new insights about the historic trip to China? Especially the calculus behind it.
Winston Lord: Especially the what?
Jonathan Movroydis: The calculus behind the opening to China?
Winston Lord: No. I’m not going to pretend that there’s a dramatic new perspective from Henry in his book on these events like the China one. But it’s much more crystallized and accessible than you can get from reading a thousand-page memoir and it would be brand new to almost everybody under the age of 50 or 60. So, the calculus, he has explained before and is expounded in this book. And of course, Nixon and Kissinger shared this view. We had several major goals to open up to China.
One, just the plain fact of getting in touch with one-fifth of the world’s people after 22 years of mutual isolation and hostility. Secondly, to make sure that Moscow was not the only spokesmen for the Communist bloc. And we were working in eastern Europe as well to try to loosen up that bloc. Thirdly, to improve relations with the Russians. We thought that if we opened up with China, given the border clashes and other tensions, there were emerging between the two communist giants, will we get the Soviet Union’s attention. And they would want to keep up with China. And so, we felt this was not just the move against the Soviets as the move to induce them to be more cooperative. Next, we hoped to get some help from the Chinese and also later from the Soviets on ending the Vietnam war, hoping they would see it in their self-interest to get this behind us and to lean on Hanoi and negotiate reasonably.
But I think one of the major goals if unstated and only realized when it was finished was to reestablish American credibility as a world leader. Making clear that we were not so bogged down in Vietnam that we couldn’t act forcefully on the world’s stage and make this dramatic breakthrough. And also to lift the morale of the American people. The Vietnam War was anguishing, painful, costly. And along with the other troubles I mentioned earlier, the morale of Americans was sagging. Let’s face it. And so, by this dramatic breakthrough with China and the subsequently good results we had with the Soviets right away and on other issues, the American people could say that, “Yes. It’s gonna be an ambiguous and unhappy outcome perhaps in Vietnam, at least not a perfect one like of World War II victory celebration.” But that had to be seen in the perspective at the same time reaching out to this communist giant and showing American leadership. So, these were our basic goals, and they were all pretty much achieved. I’m not saying that Hanoi finally got reasonable because of pressure from Moscow and Beijing, but they did lean on Hanoi to try to make a settlement in their own self-interest and it helped.
At the same time, the Chinese had their goals, which I think they also realized. I’d say the two major ones were the following. First, they were concerned about the security because of the menace of the polar bear, the Soviet Union to their north. They’d just had border clashes in the summer of 1969 which caught Nixon and Kissinger’s and attention. And so, as an opening to move toward China. In 1968, the Soviets had invaded Czechoslovakia. And Brezhnev put forward the doctrine that Moscow was the center of the communist world and the Chinese were not happy about that. So, they wanted the far barbarian, America, to have good relations so that they could balance the threat of the near barbarian, the Soviet Union.
Secondly, China wanted to break out of its isolation diplomatically. They had only one ambassador overseas. Everyone else had been called home because of the cultural revolution which was still going on. And so, China calculated, if they opened up with us, this would get the attention of other countries who would then move to establish relations like Japan and Europe and other countries, and that they would get into the United Nations, we’d say had been kept out of. And so, for all of these reasons, they wanted to open up with us, and their goals were basically achieved. So, in any major diplomatic settlement, each side has to be able to declare success. And that was certainly true in this case.
Jonathan Movroydis: You were there with Dr. Kissinger on the secret trips, and you were on the historic presidential trip in 1972. How did Kissinger prepare himself for these trips? And Nixon, too. How did Kissinger prepare Nixon? How did Nixon prepare for this diplomatic initiative himself?
Winston Lord: Yeah. Let’s take this seriatim. Kissinger never pretended to be a China expert. He was mostly aEuropean expert. But he, of course, did his homework in sense of reading. He asked the bureaucracy even though they didn’t know about the secret trip, to submit all kinds of memoranda, everything from Chinese policies to the Chinese leaders’ profiles, etc., so we could read up on it. He invited outside experts, both American think-tankers and other people like André Malraux, the novelist in France who had written a book on China. And of course, he had a couple of China experts on his staff, that did not include me. I was more of a generalist. But they could inform him. So, he got prepared in all these ways and was adept at getting on top of these issues and having a feel for how to deal with the Chinese and what their goals and objectives were.
It was a secret trip, but we marshaled all kinds of information, which I was in charge of putting together to get him ready for the trip. And it was very good contributions from the State Department of Defense, CIA, and so on, even though they didn’t realize it was gonna culminate in an actual trip. So, that’s how Kissinger got ready. And then in the July ’71 trip, of course, was out on any agreement, the dramatic announcement by Nixon in San Clemente in mid-July that not only had Kissinger been there, but he, the president, would be going the next year.
In terms of president’s preparation, and again, I know I’m sounding euphoric, Nixon had his flaws as a person and on some of his foreign policy, but overall he would remains incredibly impressive in my view. And one example of that is the way he got ready for this trip. I was in charge of assembling the briefing books, experts far greater than I from around the government were provided the basic material, although I did some drafting of some key strategy memos. We put together six books, thick, black books of information for him. Everything from transcripts of our previous meetings to anticipated Chinese positions, what we should do, how we should respond to their views, Chinese history, and culture, profiles of the leaders, Chinese pawns and literature, etc.
I know that Nixon read every single page of the six books because in the course of the weeks leading up to the trip and even on Air Force One, as we headed toward China, he was marking up just about every single page and still asking is as we flew to China for more information. I have never seen a president, I’ve been involved with many presidents and many summits, work so hard on getting ready. He would do this generally. He did his homework on foreign policy, but he knew that this is a momentous and I must say tricky situation. So, he wanted to be well-prepared, and he knew that with Zhou Enlai and Mao, he would have formidable interlocutors. So, we took this very seriously, and it paid off in the terrific performance in Beijing.
The only time he had trouble, and I think any of us would have trouble, was when he visited the Great Wall. He was asked what his impressions were and the poor guy only could come up with, “Well, it certainly is a great wall,” you know. So, I think that’s the only time he second-guessed what he should say. So, the two of them really took the time to get fairly prepared for this visit, the two visits and it really paid off.
Jonathan Movroydis: At the end of the trip, the U.S. and the Chinese issue the Shanghai Communiqué, or the Joint Communiqué issued in Shanghai. What do you think Nixon and Kissinger thought about the future of the U.S.-China relationship following the trip and following the issue of the communiqué?
Winston Lord: Well. First, let’s dwell on the Shanghai Communiqué for a moment. There’s never been a diplomatic communiqué before since then quite like it. And even today it’s invoked and U.S.-Chinese relations, you know, 40, 50 years later. It’s amazing. And that’s because of its unorthodox structure. We went to China after the secret trip in July. We went back in October to prepare publicly for the next visit in terms of logistics and itinerary and [inaudible 00:32:47] but we also began negotiating on the Shanghai Communiqué because you don’t leave this to the last minute, you try to get everything pinned down before the leaders actually meet.
We presented the Chinese in October with a draft communiqué summarizing the visit, and it was pretty much along typical diplomatic communiqué lines. It was emphasizing cooperation and friendliness. We gave it to Zhou Enlai. And then the next day, he came back and almost literally threw it on the floor with contempt saying, “The chairman thinks this is the wrong approach. We fought each other on a war. We’ve hated each other for 22 years, and now we’re trying to put out a friendly communiqué. This is not credible. It will make our allies nervous, our domestic audiences will be confused. Let’s try a different approach. Let’s have each side state its own ideologies and its own positions on issues and its own way unilaterally. Then where we can agree, let’s do that and set that forward and that will have more credibility because we’ve admitted our differences so that the agreements will stand out, but we will not make our allies nervous or confuse our domestic public.”
That was to us, good news and bad news. The good news was we saw the brilliance of this approach and Kissinger was loving to adopt it without being able to check with Nixon because he thought he would like it as well, which he did. The bad news is we had about 48 hours before we would leaving Beijing and we had to start all over in drafting. So, Henry asked me to redraft the communiqué till about 4:00 AM that night, then to wake him up and then he would take my draft and put the finishing touches on that. So, that’s what we did, and we hammered this together and the remaining day. And basically, we had the… Eventually sharing how our communiqué worked out except for the Taiwan issue, the most difficult. That’s about a little bit like asking Mrs. Lincoln whether she liked the play, I’m afraid, but we got a lot of stuff done, and we left the tough issue we couldn’t quite resolve.
Now, finally, I know I’m doing a long lead up to your question, but when we did negotiate the Taiwan and the remaining details of the communiqué during the president’s trip, I won’t go into all the weeds on the details, but the basic plus was the Chinese agreed that on this sensitive issue for them, they’re willing to postpone resolution so we could get on with other issues, not only cooperation but also balancing the Soviets. We had something in the communiqué about opposing hegemony which was directed in Moscow, and people have to understand that both sides made an effort on this issue. But I would argue that on Taiwan, the Chinese made the major move. We had to agree to one China formula, but we left vague, who was that won China, and we still recognized Taiwan. But the Chinese who for 22 years had insisted that no progress could be made in our relations unless we solve this issue, went from that stance to agreeing to the summit and issuing this communiqué which left in place a diplomatic relations with Taiwan, our troops on Taiwan, our defense treaty on Taiwan. So, I think the Chinese, to their credit and with great courage, made even greater concessions that we had to, we, of course, had to make Taiwan very nervous about the direction we were headed. And we’re sorry about that. But we preserved their security and even diplomatic relations for many years. And so, we felt that we had done the best we could on that front.
So, this just underlines that both leaders have to show courage and at the genius of the Shanghai Communiqué was that it postponed the irresolvable issues while coming together on areas where we could agree. Now that meant to answer your question finally, although hopefully, I’ve answered part of it, that we knew this was not gonna be dramatic movement forward. There was still… This is before diplomatic relations, a basic glue holding us together at that point, was balancing the Soviet Union. There was some limited economic and cultural exchanges scheduled to begin to move forward in our relationship. But we did manage to move within a few months to setting up liaison offices, which were embassies in everything but name, again, a major concession by Beijing because they said they would never have an embassy in Washington while Taiwan had an embassy. Well, liaison office was the same thing. So, this improved communications.
So, the president and Kissinger didn’t feel we could in any way normalize relations and upset Taiwan quickly in his first term. He thought we might move in that direction in the second term, but of course, he had to leave office, and Ford wasn’t able to move forward either. So, the early relationship in the ’70s was mostly strategic and conceptual. There was not much of anything in terms of trade and investment and exchanges. That all had to come later.
Jonathan Movroydis: Moving on to Russia, a contentious relationship today, both how it manifests itself internationally as well as domestically. Back then, there are some similarities today. Did Dr. Kissinger talk about how he and Nixon manage this relationship with Russia?
Winston Lord: Of course. That was a central theme in their conversations along with these other issues we’re talking about. The first couple years of the Nixon administration there was both deterrence and an effort to move forward. There were some rough spots. The Soviets tried to intervene in the Middle East crisis in Jordan, they tried to set up a submarine base in Cuba and Nixon responded quite firmly to that as well as firmly against the Vietnamese, which were being harmed by the Soviets. But we were seeking to stabilize this dangerous relationship despite our differences. And indeed United States, Nixon proposed having a summit with the Soviets well before we thought of this with the Chinese. The Soviets kept resisting having a summit. And although relations were not overly tense, except some of these examples I mentioned, we weren’t making any progress. And indeed we tried to do arms control, we tried to talk about Berlin, but we weren’t really getting anywhere.
Well, the China opening changed everything. And while it didn’t surprise Nixon and Kissinger, it’s surprised the Russian experts in the State Department, terrific people. But they were nervous about the China opening, said this will wreck relations with Moscow. Well, of course, it turned out to be just the different. Nixon and Kissinger thought that if we move with China without being overly hostile to Moscow by any means, this would not just box in or balance with Moscow, it would give them incentive to be more cooperative. We’d get their attention contrary to the advice of these Soviet experts in the State Department. And indeed that’s what happened.
As we were heading toward China on a secret trip, we gave the Russians one last chance for a summit. Al Haig, Kissinger’s deputy was back in Washington, talked to the Soviet ambassador or his deputy. And once again, they turned down the summit. They still could have had it first before the Chinese. So, we went ahead with the announcement of the secret trip and the China-U.S. summit. And within a few days, Moscow agreed to a summit with us. Within a few weeks, we made major progress on the Berlin agreement and on a strategic arms treaty, which was the first major arms control that was achieved. So, there was an immediate positive impact. So, this, getting back to our early discussion, shows you the advantage of a strategic approach which Nixon and Kissinger followed.
Jonathan Movroydis: Moving on to Vietnam, the Vietnam War. Earlier on, what was Kissinger’s view on the administration’s goal to end that war?
Winston Lord: Well, Nixon and Kissinger were very closely aligned on this. They both wanted an early end to the war for the obvious reasons of ending the anguish, the bloodshed, the treasure that was being spent, the division in our society, the way it would box us into a certain extent on the world scene. But they also felt strongly that we should do it in a way that did not destroy American credibility or honor. And these are two objectives that were tough to meet. There’s no question about it. So, from the very beginning, Nixon and Kissinger asked to get all the information they could on what was happening in Vietnam and to form options on how we could proceed. They rejected immediate withdrawal because it would take just two years practically. But also the only thing we might get back would be prisoners. But even that was doubtful because Hanoi was insisting not only that we withdraw unilaterally, but that we overthrow the Saigon government on our way out. We thought this a make a travesty of the sacrifices that have been made, not to mention our world credibility and position. So, that option was rejected immediately.
Kissinger says in this book, “Kissinger on Kissinger,” that his preferred option at the time was to make a sweeping peace proposal. But that if Hanoi did not accept it, to go full out with military pressure having demonstrated our goal of an honorable peace. The option that was chosen, however, was a combination of what we called Vietnamization and negotiation. Vietnamization meant turning the war more and more over to the South Vietnam. It was their responsibility. Do it by slowly withdrawing our troops but at a pace where the South Vietnamese with our assistance and training could take over the burdens. And this would not only be correct, it’s their country, but also maintain support in America because the people could see light at the end of the tunnel, if you will, and they would be happy to try to continue to support the war as long they saw that an ending was coming.
The other part of the strategy was launch secret negotiations immediately. Secretly because you really only make progress out of the public limelight. The public negotiations in Paris were sort of propaganda exchanges. So, we needed some secrecy. So, this is the strategy that was followed. There was an inherent dilemma though. Because we were negotiating secretly, the critics didn’t realize how forthcoming we were. The eventual agreement we got was better than anybody envisioned. Those people were calling for not only a military settlement but some accommodation of a coalition government which would probably lead to a communist takeover. We eventually got an agreement that was military only on left the political future to the South Vietnamese to negotiate and stay in power as they dealt with Hanoi. So, we paid a price in terms of domestic opposition thinking we weren’t serious in our negotiations and of course, the North Vietnamese played on this with the American public opinion.
The other problem we had was that as we withdrew unilaterally for the reasons I mentioned, Hanoi could say to itself, “Let’s sit back and let this unilateral withdrawal continue. We’ll be intransigent in the negotiations and built up frustrations and the American public and undercut support for the war even though the withdrawals were taking place.” So, there was some tension in this calculus, but my own view, it was the only way really to proceed. I wanted the war over as much as anyone else including Nixon and Kissinger. And we went out of our way to bring it as quickly as possible. But it seemed to me that you can only do that through secret negotiations and that we have to meantime gradually turn this over to the South Vietnamese. So, I thought it was the best strategy, but we ran into trouble for the reasons I mentioned.
Jonathan Movroydis: You posed the question to Kissinger in this interview about a certain controversy that took place on the audio of the Nixon tapes. Kissinger comes out saying that he wanted, I quote, “Decent interval.” What did Dr. Kissinger mean by this?
Winston Lord: I’m glad you asked that question because the critiques of the outcome of the Vietnam War and the peace settlement often centered around this issue, the allegation that Nixon and Kissinger were cynical, that they just want an agreement that they know would fall apart and they just wanted enough of an interval so they wouldn’t get blamed for it. This is total nonsense, and let me explain why. First of all, when you get phrases in conversations, you gotta remember the context, who’s talking to whom, etc. Much more fundamentally, here’s what Kissinger meant, and I know this because I was by his side throughout this. We discussed ad nauseum. And so, I’m outraged by this attack as this being a cynical outcome. He meant that we should give South Vietnam, if you will, a decent opportunity to determine its own future. America had supported South Vietnam and done the burden of the fighting in many ways along with South Vietnam for years, and it spent great amounts of treasure and lives. We couldn’t do this forever when it’s their country. And we had spent a great deal of effort and time helping them out. We would continue to do that in a pleasingly supportive role. And it was up to the South Vietnamese with our help to survive in the future, and we wanted to… We felt, however, in terms of honor and fairness it to them, they should have a decent chance to succeed. And we felt how [inaudible 00:48:46] why we thought their agreement would work and do that. So, it wasn’t a decent “interval” though it might’ve been the bad phrase that Kissinger used in some of these conversations. He meant a sufficient amount of time that we were sure the agreement would hold up so that South Vietnam would have every chance to determine its own destiny.
Furthermore, it was not cynical because we honestly thought and we made some false assumptions in retrospect that the agreement would hold up. There were four main reasons we thought this. Number one, South Vietnamese had been built up, and with our help, sufficiently militarily so that they were able to handle minor violations of the ceasefire by the North. And in fact, the first few months after the agreement in January ’73, some minor violations occurred, and the South Vietnamese did handle them. We hoped with the arrangements of the peace settlement and international supervision and so on that there would only be minor transgressions. But we were not naive, and we thought that if Hanoi launched a major violation, offensive, pouring troops across the border, which we hoped would not happen, but we didn’t rule out that the American people and Congress, despite their weariness and fatigue with the war, would support a determined American response. Certainly not putting back in troops but bombing and increased aid to the South Vietnam because after all our sacrifices to let Hanoi rip up the agreement and just stand idly by while they swallowed up her ally, we felt it would be unacceptable even as a critic for the war. Thirdly, and therefore we could push back to Hanoi as we had done in an earlier offensive in April and March 1972.
Thirdly, China and Russia, Soviet Union, had every incentive to see the agreement hold up. And again, we didn’t expect them to undercut their ally, but we thought in their own self-interest, they would use their leverage to persuade Hanoi to try to live by the agreement and its own self-interest, at least for a considerable period of time. And that’s related to the fourth element, namely economic assistance. We gave this to our allies in South Vietnam, and Laos, and Cambodia, but also to Hanoi. They wanted to call it reparations. We refused to do that, we called it economic assistance. But the idea was that this would give the [inaudible 00:51:28] in Hanoi the incentive to live by the agreement and get these economic benefits.
Now, these assumptions didn’t all work out obviously. The main one being because of Watergate and the erosion of presidential authority and congressional limitations on our assistance and certainly, no bombing. When Hanoi broke the agreement, we were not able to respond. Not only we couldn’t bomb, but some of our aid was cut off to South Vietnam, which is really unconscionable. So, the agreement did not hold up, but it was because, I would argue, congressional domestic lack of support for a response to Hanoi’s transgression. And it certainly wasn’t because we didn’t think it couldn’t hold up and we were being cynical about a decent interval.
Jonathan Movroydis: Another powder keg and the world at the time was the Middle East. We have Israel, we have Egypt, Syria, and the other Arab states there. What did Nixon and Kissinger believe was the basis of diplomacy between Israel and her neighbors?
Winston Lord: Well, at that time, with the exception of maybe Jordan and, to a certain extent, Egypt, which began to get restless with Soviet presence. All the Arab world was sort of depended on Soviet arms, and they figured that this would give them leverage against Israel. And we didn’t have much influence in the Middle East. And so, Nixon and Kissinger felt at the outset the situation really wasn’t…we would strongly support Israel, but the situation wasn’t really ripe for major peace initiative, that it would take some time. And indeed, they had their hands full of course with Vietnam, China and Russia. And so, the Middle East was sort of kept on the back burner by the secretary of state. But when the Yom Kippur war broke out, and Egypt and Syria attacked Israel in October ’73, Nixon and Kissinger saw an opportunity to make some moves. Nixon always used to like to quote, the Chinese language in the sense that the character for crisis is also the character for opportunity. So, they saw a chance to use this outbreak to begin to get Israel and Egypt at least to talk to each other for the following reasons. In October ’73, Egypt had first made major advances against Israel and occupied quite a bit of territory. First time any Arab country really had done this. Then Israel responded, began to roll back the advance and surrounded the Egyptian army.
At this point, Nixon and Kissinger saw that psychologically, the two sides might be wanting to start talking because, for the first time, the Arabs were not humiliated by the Israeli military might. So, they had some sense of dignity and the feeling, and they could negotiate without being supplicants. At the same time, Israel had been saw it up for the first time by its initial reversals. And so, before Israel could finally wipe out the Egyptian army, and we go back to the status quo ante of psychology, Nixon had Kissinger go to Moscow and arrange an immediate ceasefire to freeze the situation, which we managed to do. And this led to shuttle diplomacy between Kissinger, between Egypt and Israel, and the very first agreement. Now a lot of this with not only the skill of Nixon and Kissinger but the courage of a president Sadat in willing to make this deal for which he later paid with his life.
Jonathan Movroydis: How did the diplomacy in the Middle East… We talked about linkage a little earlier with Russia, China, and the Middle East, and also the Vietnam War. This concept that Nixon and Kissinger talked about, that if there was progress in one area that they would reciprocate, the United States reciprocate and give the Soviets or the Chinese progress in another area. How did diplomacy in the Middle East square with diplomacy elsewhere?
Winston Lord: There wasn’t as much direct interaction like you had between Vietnam, China and Russia. But it did involve, of course, the Russians, not so much the Chinese at that point. Well, we were sought to demonstrate, and we did successfully, not only with Egypt, but Kissinger later went on shuttles with Syria and Egypt. Again with that, the Soviets couldn’t bring progress or the return of lands or other Arab objectives just with their arms because they were an advocate for one side. America, on the other hand, was a strong supporter of Israel and would never jeopardize its security, but was willing to also be friendly to the Arab nations and to try to work out agreements between the two sides and each side’s self-interest. And by this first movement in October ’73 and the first shuttle, we demonstrated to the Arab world that Russia might give you arms but arms aren’t going to get you peace. Only America with some credibility on both sides can do that.
So that was sort of the strategic approach. I wouldn’t say beyond the Russian factor that it was in any way directly linked to Vietnam except in this case. American credibility was important in Vietnam. That’s why we wanted an earliest possible agreement, but we wanted to preserve our honor, honor our sacrifices and preserve world credibility. And if we had bugged out in Vietnam, we would have been much less effective in our diplomacy in the Middle East. Now, the same with China. By showing this dramatic move and courage and rearranging the tableware of diplomacy at the time, our credibility as a peacemaker was enhanced. So, there is interaction that turns the overall reputation. In some cases like China, and Russia, and Vietnam specific ricochets between the initiatives. In the Middle East, I think it was more the former than the latter although there was the Russian factor.
Jonathan Movroydis: Let’s talk a little bit about negotiating styles and personalities. You have a chapter on this. What views did Nixon and Kissinger have on the art and science of negotiating with their counterparts?
Winston Lord: Right. Every country is negotiating south to a certain extent, reflects its history, and psychology, and so on. But in the case of a United States, the tradition had been sort of negotiations negotiate… I don’t want to oversimplify, but for negotiation sake sort of tactical decisions, staking out a position a little bit more than you needed. And then instead of haggling a little bit like the Russian approach and so on, Nixon and Kissinger had a different view. They felt, and it was very close to the Chinese approach. Namely, you sort of determined first where you want to end up, what your strategic goals are, your basic needs. And also get this perspective from the other side to see what their strategic goals were and see how the two could fit rather than sort of filling out maximum positions and then chipping away at them and going down a slippery slope.
So, I think the genius of Kissinger was that he adapted his style which he maintained this basic format but to each of his interlocutors, and each of the major ones had different styles. The Chinese were close to the one I’ve just described. Doesn’t mean they weren’t tough. It just about that it was a different approach. And one I think suited Nixon and Kissinger. The Russian was more insecure than the Chinese. The Chinese were self-confident because of their long history and culture and could take the long view. The Soviets had been invaded over the centuries, you know, whether it’s Germany or Napoleon and so on. And so, they were somewhat paranoiac. And so, they haggled like luck merchants and would put forward maximum positions and then gradually water them down.
The Israelis are understandably insecure with their hostile neighbors where were very intent on details. So, they look over every specific texts with great care. We used to joke that it was almost literally true that the Israelis would give Henry on shuttles about 10 requests to get out of the Egyptians. Henry would go and get 9 out of 10 from Sadat and come back, and the Israelis would focus and complain about the one missing one. So, each… And, of course, the Vietnamese didn’t really negotiate. They saw it as a weapon in their warfare. And so, they tried to wear us down by stalling. They were revolutionaries, and they weren’t interested in negotiated solution until the fall of 1972 when they saw that Nixon was gonna get re-elected and they’d have to deal with them for another four years. And they had also been repulsed in their offensive a few months earlier. But until then, they dug it and did really negotiate at all. So, Kissinger tried his approach as best he could, we’d have to adjust it to each of his interlocutors. But his genius was understanding the needs and the domestic structures and the foreign policy goals of his, and not to mention the culture, of his interlocutors and adapting his style to their style.
Jonathan Movroydis: Regarding the interlocutors, you had mentioned the Vietnamese, the Chinese, the Russians, and the Israelis. What about those of the Arab countries?
Winston Lord: Well, the most outstanding one, of course, the one focus and this book is we only talk about the Nixon administration. This is rolling out, as I said, the Nixon Foundation videos. And we didn’t get into the Ford administration and this book or in these interviews. So that we only covered the Egypt and this and not Syria and some of the others. So that was unique. I’m not sure he represented the overall Arab view, and I’m not sure you can generalize about the Arab situations. I think many of the Arab leaders would be torn between their national interest and a feeling they had to represent the whole Arab nation. And that has somewhat Nomadic expansive views. But I’d say on the whole they were very, aside from Sadat, from what I know in my experience is they want more tactical and more, say, like the Russian or Soviet approach.
Sadat, however, was unique. First of all, he launched this attack on Israel frankly with the aim of negotiating with Israel. He felt that he needed some leverage. He needed to get people’s attention. And none of us liked the fact that he took this offensive, but it was designed not as an end in itself or to hang on the territory. It was designed to try to open up negotiations. And of course, he succeeded. And then he had the courage to deal directly with Israel, which Arab nations hadn’t been doing in order to make this deal. And as I said earlier, sadly, he paid with his life.
Jonathan Movroydis: Final question. Fifty years removed from the Nixon administration, what perspective did this project give you on the legacy of the Nixon and Kissinger foreign policy? And also what would you like current and future leaders to learn from reading this book?
Winston Lord: Well, if I leave out part of the answers, come back to me with the question again because it’s a big question. Obviously, it’s gonna be self-serving when I talk about this book, “Kissinger on Kissinger” is the title. I think the thing that strikes me, and I think we’ll strike the veto the most is whatever one’s political persuasion and whatever one’s doubts about Nixon and Kissinger overall and a sense of their flaws, you cannot help but be impressed by the incredibly strategic and thoughtful approach to these issues. Their conceptual skill and then the deft execution. It is in stark contrast not just to the present administration but I would argue to almost every administration. Many administrations have had some successes, but none have been approaching their issues is strategically as this. So, I think that’s one lesson, some lessons to be learned about this approach and the appreciation of what was achieved. And many of those achievements are lasting today, including opening the China despite our current problems with China.
So, I think the need for strategy, the need to adjust your negotiating styles, what you need from leaders, I think all of these issues that transcend the 1970s is still relevant today. And the book is not just about the four major issues you and I have talked about, but it’s also about these generic issues of leadership and negotiations and organization of foreign policy and so on. I think it will be very instructive for younger generations. As I said earlier, I think that for them, a lot of these events are ancient history and so it’ll introduce them not only to this error but how it’s relevant to today’s problems and how one should conduct diplomacy on the whole in my opinion. But even those older people who are somewhat familiar with this, it’s a great refresher course. It’s a lot more accessible and less than 200 pages than thousand-paged memoirs. It gives the highlights of the Nixon-Kissinger approach with specific examples that I think are very instructive. I think it will be very useful for not only scholars and historians, but in universities teaching diplomacy. So, for all these reasons, I think it’ll be a very helpful book for young and old and the future across the board.
Jonathan Movroydis: Our guest today is Ambassador Winston Lord, former U.S. ambassador to the People’s Republic of China. Our topic was his new book, “Kissinger on Kissinger,” and the diplomacy, grand strategy, and leadership of President Nixon and Dr. Kissinger. Ambassador Lord, thank you so much for joining us.
Winston Lord: My pleasure and very good questions.
Jonathan Movroydis: Thank you. Please check back for future podcasts at nixonfoundation.org or on your favorite podcast app. This is Jonathan Movroydis in Yorba Linda.