Tag Archives: Diplomacy

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#ReadUPK in the Washington Post

The following editorial has been re-published from the Washington Post Monkey Cage blog (12/16/2016).

Trump may be borrowing Nixon’s ‘back channel’ strategy in his contacts with Russia

by Richard A. Moss

News that the president-elect’s son, Donald Trump Jr., met with pro-Russian Syrian opposition in Paris, or that two Russian officials acknowledged longer term contacts with the Trump campaign, has prompted concern about undue foreign influence — especially given recent news that the CIA has concluded that Russian hacking during the election was designed to help Donald Trump. Those worries have escalated with the president-elect’s apparent selection of Rex Tillerson, chief executive of ExxonMobil who has made multibillion-dollar deals with Russia President Vladimir Putin, for secretary of state — especially since Russian Duma members applaud his nomination.

But we can look at the incoming Trump administration’s contacts with Russian officials in a different way. The Trump team may be taking a page from Richard M. Nixon’s 1968 playbook by using “back channels” to improve U.S.-Russian relations. Perhaps the incoming administration can achieve detente — a relaxation of tensions — through this more informal approach to diplomacy. If that’s what’s going on, the Trump team might wish to be mindful of this approach’s longer-term pitfalls.

 

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Richard A. Moss is the author of Nixon’s Back Channel to Moscow

Nixon used two ‘back channels’ before taking office

 

Before his narrow victory in November 1968, Nixon used two back channels to get messages to the Soviet leadership. First, Nixon dispatched his longtime aide and personal friend, Robert Ellsworth, to contact Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin and Soviet Charge d’Affaires Yuri Cherniakov. Once he did so during the campaign, Ellsworth conveyed the incoming Nixon administration’s views on a variety of issues, such as the ratification of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Middle East.

The second channel — one that would probably raise eyebrows today — involved Henry Kissinger and a KGB intelligence officer, Boris Sedov. This connection functioned informally during the presidential campaign when Kissinger was a foreign policy adviser to Nixon and petered out shortly after Kissinger became national security adviser. The Kissinger-Sedov contact added the dimension of Soviet intelligence seeking additional information about the main players in the incoming Nixon administration and corroborating the Ellsworth-Dobrynin-Cherniakov exchanges.

Both Ellsworth and Kissinger were assessing whether the Soviet leadership might be open to working through back channels. These contacts quickly led to the Kissinger-Dobrynin Channel, which came to define U.S.-Soviet relations during the Nixon administration and led to detente.

Many analysts consider “the Channel” to have been an effective tool. At a 2007 conference hosted by the State Department, Russian-born scholar Vladislav Zubok stressed that there was “a 90 percent chance . . . that there would not have been a summit in Moscow in ’72, and such a productive summit that it was, without the back channel.”

Back channels can convey messages more subtly than formal contact  

The early back-channel forays also helped communication during the transition between Nixon’s election and inauguration. Nixon used both channels to kill the idea of an early U.S.-Soviet summit championed by his predecessor, Lyndon B. Johnson. As Nixon explained later, he did not “want to be boxed in by any decisions that were made before [he] took office.” The Soviet leadership received Nixon’s intended messages via Ellsworth and Kissinger. The private exchanges kept the issue out of the spotlight and set a precedent of back channels as preferred communication mediums for both Washington and Moscow.

Because of an exchange between Kissinger and Sedov, Nixon added a line to his inaugural address. At the posh Pierre hotel in New York City on Jan. 2, 1969, Sedov told Kissinger that the Soviet leadership “was very interested that the inaugural speech contain some reference to open channels of communication to Moscow.” Kissinger recommended that a phrase be included, and Nixon initialed his agreement on a memo two days later.

“I was never clear whether this request reflected an attempt by Sedov to demonstrate his influence to Moscow,” Kissinger wondered years later, “or whether it was a serious policy approach by the Politburo. In any event I saw no harm in it.”

And so in his inaugural address, Nixon proclaimed, “our lines of communication will be open.” The gesture cost nothing but almost certainly established goodwill between the new administration and the Soviet leadership.

Why use U.S.-Russian back channels?  

 

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Nixon, Dobrynin, and Kissinger at Camp David in 1973. Source: NPMP

When used to supplement rather than supplant traditional diplomacy, back channels may offer a protected forum free from leaks to explore points of agreement, disagreement and potential conflict. For instance, on relations with Vietnam, Nixon and Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev disagreed. The United States wanted the Soviets to cut aid and push Hanoi to negotiate, while Moscow wanted the United States to stop bombing North Vietnam and withdraw its troops from Indochina. Nevertheless, via back-channel exchanges, Nixon and Brezhnev eventually reached tacit agreement on broader issues, like the status and tone of U.S.-Soviet relations, and had a successful summit meeting in Moscow in May 1972.

If they choose, Russian and U.S. leaders may use back channels to clearly convey what they see as their core interests, to explore potential areas of cooperation, and to try to mitigate conflict or escalation.

Back channels are like regular diplomacy, but with more intimacy and without the bureaucracy. Like intimacy, it requires willing partners. Kissinger found one in Dobrynin, and Nixon in Brezhnev; both the United States and the Soviet Union benefited during the short-lived period of detente that enabled the two superpowers to start cooperating on arms control and in other areas, like agreements signed at the Moscow Summit on avoiding naval incidents at seabilateral trade, science and technology, public health, environmental protection, and collaboration on space exploration(the Apollo-Soyuz docking in 1975).

Of course, U.S.-Russian relations are now strained. The two nations have been backing different sides in the Syrian civil war; Russia has invaded and annexed a portion of Ukraine, resulting in U.S. sanctions; NATO installed a missile defense site in Romania and began another in Poland; and the Russians have sent nuclear-capable short-range ballistic missiles to Kaliningrad, to note a few issues. While there is no Cold War now, both countries remain nuclear powers. In the Internet era, when provocations and communications travel instantly around the globe, keeping back channels open could conceivably help prevent or minimize confrontation.

If the Trump team is indeed in informal contact with the Russians, which it denies, some observers may find comfort in the idea that diplomacy — even the back-channel variety — is underway.

But of course, Nixon — for all his accomplishments — isn’t usually held up as a president to admire, given his illegal actions in the Watergate scandal, leading to the only U.S. presidential resignation in history. Relying on back channel communications too exclusively means operating in secrecy while avoiding — or even disdaining — the news media. Circumventing the usual systems, his example tells us, has its risks.

Richard A. Moss is an associate research professor, co-director of the Halsey Bravo research effort, and a faculty affiliate in the Russian Maritime Studies Institute at the United States Naval War College’s Center for Naval Warfare Studies. His book, “Nixon’s Back Channel to Moscow: Confidential Diplomacy and Détente,” is available now.

Author’s note: The thoughts and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the U.S. government, the U.S. Department of the Navy or the Naval War College.

Covert Cambodia Header

The Failure of Covert Actions in Cambodia and the Origins of the Second Indochina War

The following editorial has been adapted from William J. Rust‘s presentation, Plausible Denial: Eisenhower and the Dap Chhuon Coup, during a panel on Cambodia and the United States during the Cold War at the 2016 SHAFR (Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations) Annual Meeting.

Rust is the author of three books via the University Press of Kentucky:

Covert Action in Cambodia

Rust Author PhotoMy most recent book, Eisenhower and Cambodia, discusses the failed attempt to overthrow neutralist prime minister Prince Norodom Sihanouk in 1959. More specifically, it presents new information and analysis about the origins of US involvement in plotting against Sihanouk and about the role of the US government in the botched attempt to topple him.

The unsuccessful coup is significant for at least two reasons: One, US relations with Sihanouk were severely—if not fatally—damaged not only by the exposure of CIA involvement in the plot, but also by the failure of the US government to provide any explanation for agency operative Victor M. Matsui’s contacts with the rebels. Two, the unsuccessful coup was part of a larger pattern of counterproductive efforts by the Eisenhower administration to overthrow two other Southeast Asian neutralists: Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma of Laos and President Sukarno of Indonesia.

Although a large majority of Cambodians favored Sihanouk’s policy of neutrality, an anticommunist minority was disturbed by the prince’s visit to the People’s Republic of China in February 1956. One member of that minority was Colonel Chhuon Mochulpich, better known as Dap Chhuon. A former dissident who rallied to the government in 1949, he was a regional commander who had thus far ruthlessly suppressed all opposition to Sihanouk. In March 1956, however, Dap Chhuon wrote a confidential letter to Robert M. McClintock, the US ambassador in Phnom Penh, informing the diplomat that he was “awaiting a favorable opportunity to frustrate” Sihanouk’s neutrality policy. The letter to McClintock was the impetus for US deliberations about the possibility of “Sihanouk’s removal.”

As a matter of policy, the Eisenhower administration covertly supported Sihanouk’s anticommunist opposition. Dap Chhuon, with assistance from the South Vietnamese and Thai governments, moved against Sihanouk in February 1959, demanding the installation of a pro-western government and threatening Sihanouk with guerrilla warfare. Apparently hoping that his fierce reputation would encourage negotiations, if not capitulation, Dap Chhuon was surprised when a convoy of armored cars and trucks arrived at his headquarters in Siem Reap to arrest him for treason. His rebellion collapsed without a shot being fired. He fled into the jungle and was killed by Sihanouk’s security forces.

The Cambodian armed forces captured two Vietnamese in Dap Chhuon’s villa, as well as gold bars, documents, and communications equipment. The royal army also seized his brother, Slat Peau. At his treason trial later in the year, Slat Peau testified that he had received the gold bars from a South Vietnamese agent and a radio from Victor Matsui, a Japanese-American who worked for the CIA. The radio, Slat Peau said, allowed Dap Chhuon to communicate with the “American Embassy [in] Phnom Penh” and with the other conspirators. Slat Peau’s testimony, likely coerced and arguably unreliable, nonetheless raises questions about the precise role of the US government in the plot.

Some US officials have claimed that the CIA merely reported on Dap Chhuon’s activities and that the US government tried to stop his coup. Other officials have stated that the United States played an active role in supporting the conspiracy. The conflicting claims about the degree of US involvement in the coup could be resolved by more enlightened declassification of fifty-five-year-old government documents. There is, however, a theory that accommodates the differing accounts: Sometime in early 1959, senior officials in Washington agreed to provide deniable covert assistance—gold bars, radio equipment, and other support—to South Vietnam and Dap Chhuon. Although there is no “smoking gun” document currently available that proves this conclusion, there is evidence that US officials believed Dap Chhuon’s plot could succeed. Moreover, there is a declassified document with the text of a State Department cable to Elbridge Durbrow, the US ambassador to South Vietnam.

Dated February 2, 1959, the cable was transmitted to Saigon via CIA channels, a more secure means for State Department discussions of covert activities. Aware of the disastrous implications of a failed coup, department officials instructed Durbrow to “be prepared [to] approach President [Ngo Dinh] Diem on short notice” if, in the ambassador’s “opinion,” South Vietnam’s “activities [were] endangering [the] situation [in] Cambodia.” Durbrow should then emphasize to Diem, “[The] US cannot see [the] chance for [a] successful coup [in] Cambodia under present conditions.” In other words, in early February Durbrow was given discretionary authority to intervene with Diem and attempt to pull the plug on the coup if it appeared unpromising. Durbrow did not, however, exercise this authority until after “Diem was irremediably committed” to the conspiracy, according to William Trimble, the US ambassador to Cambodia and the official most responsible for damage control after the debacle.

Sihanouk emerged from the failed coup with enhanced prestige, forcing the Eisenhower administration to conclude that covert intervention in Cambodia’s internal affairs had been “an obstacle to the pursuit of our objectives.” Many years later, Trimble summarized this conclusion more bluntly: “The Dap Chhuon operation was stupid, very stupid.” In 1960, the National Security Council policy directive for Cambodia was formally amended “to eliminate language which might provide a basis for further abortive coup plots.” Although acknowledging the prince’s popularity and political power, the new policy did not mean that senior Eisenhower administration officials viewed him with any more sympathy. In a background briefing for the NSC, Director of Central Intelligence Allen W. Dulles said, “We continue to have to deal with Sihanouk who is a difficult character.”


Browse more SHAFR favorites:

SHAFR 2016

SHAFR 2016

New Releases: Studies in Conflicts, Diplomacy, and Peace series

For those lucky enough to be in balmy San Diego this week for the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR) annual meeting, swing by our booth, say hello to Mack, and browse a few of these great, new titles!

Click here to view all titles in the Studies in Conflict, Diplomacy, and Peace series.

Aid Under Fire ElkindAid Under Fire
Nation Building and the Vietnam War
Jessica Elkind

“How US nation building morphed into American military intervention is a cautionary example for US policy makers today, and Elkind’s superbly documented conclusions underscore the contribution that professional historical scholarship, if heeded, can make to the creation of sound foreign policy.”—David L. Anderson, editor of The Columbia History of the Vietnam War

In Aid Under Fire, Jessica Elkind examines US nation-building efforts in the fledgling South Vietnamese state during the decade preceding the full-scale ground war. Based on American and Vietnamese archival sources as well as on interviews with numerous aid workers, this study vividly demonstrates how civilians from the official US aid agency as well as several nongovernmental organizations implemented nearly every component of nonmilitary assistance given to South Vietnam during this period, including public and police administration, agricultural development, education, and public health. However, despite the sincerity of American efforts, most Vietnamese citizens understood US-sponsored programs to be little more than a continuation of previous attempts by foreign powers to dominate their homeland.

Elkind convincingly argues that, instead of reexamining their core assumptions or altering their approach as the violence in the region escalated, US policymakers and aid workers only strengthened their commitment to nation building, increasingly modifying their development goals to support counterinsurgency efforts. Aid Under Fire highlights the important role played by nonstate actors in advancing US policies and reveals in stark terms the limits of American power and influence during the period widely considered to be the apex of US supremacy in the world.


Eisenhower and Cambodia Rust Eisenhower and Cambodia
Diplomacy, Covert Action, and the Origins of the Second Indochina War
William J. Rust

“Rust’s brilliant account of the Eisenhower and Kennedy administration’s attempt to leverage a recalcitrant Cambodian leader into a Cold War alliance reveals much about American diplomacy then and now. Extensively researched and exceptionally readable, this groundbreaking book discloses the often shadowy realities of what occurs when government officials from dissimilar cultures endeavor to bend each other to their will.”—Walter E. Kretchik, author of U.S. Army Doctrine: From the American Revolution to the War on Terror

Although most Americans paid little attention to Cambodia during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency, the nation’s proximity to China and the global ideological struggle with the Soviet Union guaranteed US vigilance throughout Southeast Asia. Cambodia’s leader, Norodom Sihanouk, refused to take sides in the Cold War, a policy that disturbed US officials. From 1953 to 1961, his government avoided the political and military crises of neighboring Laos and South Vietnam. However, relations between Cambodia and the United States suffered a blow in 1959 when Sihanouk discovered CIA involvement in a plot to overthrow him. The coup, supported by South Vietnam and Thailand, was a failure that succeeded only in increasing Sihanouk’s power and prestige, presenting new foreign policy challenges in the region.

In Eisenhower and Cambodia, William J. Rust examines the United States’ efforts to lure Cambodia from neutrality to alliance. He conclusively demonstrates that, as with Laos in 1958 and 1960, covert intervention in the internal political affairs of neutral Cambodia proved to be a counterproductive tactic for advancing the United States’ anticommunist goals. Drawing on recently declassified sources, Rust skillfully traces the impact of “plausible deniability” on the formulation and execution of foreign policy. His meticulous study not only reveals a neglected chapter in Cold War history but also illuminates the intellectual and political origins of US strategy in Vietnam and the often-hidden influence of intelligence operations in foreign affairs.

Also by William J. Rust:


9780813166407 Enemies to Allies
Cold War Germany and American Memory
Brian C. Etheridge

“This book addresses a compelling and fascinating feature of the Cold War Era, namely the rapid reversal of America’s alliance relationships after World War II. It is an excellent account of this change, highly readable and clear in its exploration of a complex subject.”—Thomas A. Schwartz, coeditor of The Strained Alliance: US-European Relations from Nixon to Carter

At the close of World War II, the United States went from being allied with the Soviet Union against Germany to alignment with the Germans against the Soviet Union—almost overnight. While many Americans came to perceive the German people as democrats standing firm with their Western allies on the front lines of the Cold War, others were wary of a renewed Third Reich and viewed all Germans as nascent Nazis bent on world domination. These adversarial perspectives added measurably to the atmosphere of fear and distrust that defined the Cold War.

From the Holocaust to the Berlin Wall, Enemies to Allies explores the contingent nature of some of the most potent moral symbols and images of the second half of the twentieth century. This groundbreaking study draws from theories of public memory and public diplomacy to demonstrate how conflicting US accounts of German history serve as a window for understanding not only American identity, but international relations and state power.


Other great books in the series:

President Barack Obama speaks during a prime time news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 29, 2009.

Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

Robert G. Kaufman responds to President Obama’s Foreign Policy Declarations in The Atlantic

In a recent cover story for The Atlantic, President Obama sought to define and clarify the foreign policy of his two terms in office. ‘The Obama Doctrine,’ as the article referred to it, is, in Robert G. Kaufman’s opinion, has damaged the US’s reputation abroad by  imprudently abandoning the muscular internationalism that has marked US foreign policy since the end of World War II. In a recent op-ed for The Daily Caller, Kaufman illuminates both the failings of the president’s “grand strategy,” and responds to the president’s own opinions in The Atlantic.

Click here to read the full editorial in The Daily Caller.

Judging from his recent lengthy interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, President Obama has learned nothing in the past seven years from the serious, serial failures of his foreign policy. Instead, Obama radiated a preternatural, delusional, and typical self-confidence expounding on the efficacy of his Obama Doctrine, which he has followed faithfully since 2009.

The Obama Doctrine combines the worst features of the  morally obtuse anti-war left, unrealistic realism, and naïve multilateralism. The president views the so-called arrogance of American power as a greater danger than the threats emanating from devils and dictatorships abroad. Likewise, Obama rejects American exceptionalism while routinely apologizing for American sins abroad, which he has exaggerated and often imagined. Like unrealistic realists, Obama  ignores the importance of ideology and regime type in identifying friends, foes, threats and opportunities. This fallacious premise explains why he eagerly engages virulently anti-American adversaries such as Putin in Russia, the militant mullahs of Tehran, the repressive, aggressive leadership in China bent on achieving hegemony rather than stability in the world’s most important geopolitical region, and Castro’s totalitarian tyranny in Cuba.

This accounts for the President’s unwillingness to admit that the danger of Islamism, choosing to conciliate rather than confront it. Obama’s persistent unwillingness to distinguish democratic friends from rogue regimes that are foes accounts for his default inclination initially to deem the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt a legitimate partner for peace rather than a mortal enemy of Israel implacably hostile to America’s legitimate interests.

The fallacy of moral equivalence between freedom and tyranny accounts for the president striving assiduously to put distance between the United States and decent democratic allies such as Israel, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. Also, his ill-advised decision to return the bust of Winston Churchill to Great Britain while denying the existence of an Anglo-American special relationship. Finally, Obama’s congenital obtuseness to democracy’s virtues and dictatorship’s vices accounts for his derelict  disinterest in nurturing the strategic partnership that President George W. Bush initiated presciently with a decent, democratic India sharing U.S. interests in defeating radical Islam and ensuring China faces a robust deterrent to its imperial ambitions.

. . .

Read more:  http://dailycaller.com/2016/03/14/obamas-dangerous-doctrine/#ixzz497Nht5PV

About the Book:

Dangerous Doctrine Robert G. Kaufman

“Robert Kaufman brilliantly establishes what a devastating failure his amateurish grab-bag of progressive policies have been in the three key regions of Russia-Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia.”—Daniel Pipes, President, Middle East Forum

Much like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, President Barack Obama came to office as a politician who emphasized conviction rather than consensus. During his 2008 presidential campaign, he pledged to transform the role of the United States abroad. His ambitious foreign policy goals included a global climate treaty, the peaceful withdrawal of American military forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, and a new relationship with Iran. Throughout Obama’s tenure, pundits and scholars have offered competing interpretations of his “grand strategy,” while others have maintained that his policies were incoherent or, at best, ad hoc.

In Dangerous Doctrine, political scientist Robert G. Kaufman argues that the forty-fourth president has indeed articulated a clear, consistent national security policy and has pursued it with remarkable fidelity. Yet Kaufman contends that President Obama has imprudently abandoned the muscular internationalism that has marked US foreign policy since the end of World War II. Drawing on international relations theory and American diplomatic history, Kaufman presents a robust critique of the Obama doctrine as he situates the president’s use of power within the traditions of American strategic practice.

Focusing on the pivotal regions of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, this provocative study demonstrates how current executive branch leadership threatens America’s role as a superpower, weakening its ability to spread democracy and counter threats to geopolitical order in increasingly unstable times. Kaufman proposes a return to the grand strategy of moral democratic realism, as practiced by presidents such as Harry S. Truman, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush, with the hope of reestablishing the United States as the world’s dominant power.

Robert G. Kaufman is professor of public policy at Pepperdine University. He is the author of Henry M. Jackson: A Life in Politics and In Defense of the Bush Doctrine.