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If you like Paul Nitze's story, you might also like:
Gary Becker,
George H.W. Bush,
Mikhail Gorbachev,
David McCullough,
Colin Powell,
Glenn Seaborg,
Edward Teller and Andrew Young

Paul Nitze's recommended reading: The Cloister and the Hearth

Paul Nitze also appears in the video:
Science and Public Policy: Dawn of the Atomic Age and Nuclear Proliferation

Related Links:
Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies
Truman Presidential Museum

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Paul Nitze
Paul Nitze
Profile of Paul Nitze Biography of Paul Nitze Interview with Paul Nitze Paul Nitze Photo Gallery

Paul Nitze Interview

Presidential Medal of Freedom

October 20, 1990
Washington, D.C.

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  Paul Nitze

At the time of your famous "walk in the woods," the negotiations on Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) in Europe had stalled. At the time, many people around the world, especially in Europe, believed that the U.S. wasn't really interested in negotiating an arms control agreement with the Soviets. There were people on the U.S. side who had talked about winning a limited nuclear exchange. Was that why the Europeans were so skeptical?

Paul Nitze: There were certain people on the U.S. side who made it difficult to persuade the Europeans that we were really trying to negotiate on their behalf. I was persuaded that this negotiation on INF -- in that negotiation we were really representing the interests of our European partners more than the interest of the United States. Our European partners were all on the front line. They were right next to the Soviet forces. They were the only ones who were threatened by the Soviet intermediate range forces. They were subject to destruction by those forces overnight. We weren't. They couldn't reach the United States. Our interest in the INF business was because of our interest in our European partners, what the world would look like in the event they were defeated. So that we were really negotiating, or should be negotiating on behalf of their interest. Therefore, it was important to consult with them regularly, take into account their interest. You can't lead somebody unless the people you are leading feel that you are representing their interests. That was the important thing, and I think the walk in the woods contributed to giving them the feeling that we were negotiating, trying to take care of their interests.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

How did the walk in the woods come about?

Paul Nitze: It was in the summer, June of '82, when the negotiations with respect to the INF treaty had reached a crisis. It was just before we were to begin the deployment of our Pershing IIs and our ground launch cruise missiles in Germany, England and various other countries of Europe. The Russians were threatening that in the event we did that, they would walk out of the talks.

Paul Nitze Interview Photo
But my opposite member, Ambassador Yuli Kvitsinsky on the Soviet side, had described to me a big review conference that they had called where they were going to definitize their policy with respect to the INF negotiations. And he said unless we got something done quickly, that would be definitized in a way which would not be favorable to further progress.

I thought he was right, so I came back with a proposal that he and I see whether we couldn't, by ourselves, work out concessions on both sides which would make possible a summit meeting between Brezhnev and the President later in the year. So we tried to figure out how to have offsetting concessions on the two sides which -- if simultaneously agreed to by our two governments -- would in fact cure this problem and make a true peace possible between us.

We came up with a piece of paper which both of us agreed to support with our governments. He wasn't very hopeful that he would be able to get support in his government. I was hopeful that I could get support in my government, but it was quite different than anything that had been cleared by our administration in advance. When I took it back and took it up with the President and his immediate advisors, they were really quite impressed with it. They thought this really might be the breakthrough everybody had been looking for.

If Kvitsinsky found support for this in Moscow, he would let me know through a man in their embassy in Washington. But the weeks went by, and I never did hear from this man in their embassy in Washington. So I became persuaded that he hadn't found any support amongst the Russians. Then later, people on the U.S. side began to object, so the whole thing met an early death.

Was it similar to what eventually resolved the talks?

Paul Nitze: Not quite. But it did have one great impact. When it leaked that Kvitsinsky and I had arrived at a deal between us, which might have been acceptable to the two sides, people in Europe were fairly convinced. When they found out that I had tried this, they became persuaded that the U.S. wasn't really trying to block negotiations. We were truly trying to find a way to make progress in this field. Many people had the illusion that the Americans weren't really prepared to work something out with the Soviets, and that got thoroughly eliminated. They knew we were really trying.

After that, the first real progress came during the summit with Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland. Initially, there were no great expectations for that meeting. Can you tell us about that? What were your expectations?

Paul Nitze: We knew more about what the Soviet position was going to be than the public had been led to believe.

Ambassador Dobrynin, who was the Soviet Ambassador in Washington, had gone off to India to meet with the new Indian prime minister. And in the course of his discussions there, he had said, "This meeting in Reykjavik is going to be a much more important meeting than the world has realized today. When Mr. Gorbachev arrives there, he is going to make really very substantial concessions to the American side, and the Americans will overestimate those concessions and they will demand more, and then we will turn the tables on them. We will then hold them up to public scorn around the world for having blocked the chances for real progress." When we heard this report of what Dobrynin had told the Indians, then the question was, well what should we do? Should we call the meeting off? Because earlier, the Soviets had told us this was going to be a very pro forma meeting, not going to discuss anything much, it was only going to talk about INF (Intermediate Nuclear Forces) and about nothing else. So this meeting should be called off, or should we go forward with it? My recommendation, we should go forward with it. We should await Mr. Gorbachev's marvelous concessions. We should then say we take all those concessions, but we shouldn't give anything more. Therefore we should come out winning without cost out of these negotiations.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

Mr. Shultz agreed, the others agreed. So we went in having some idea what was going to happen. We were prepared to meet the propaganda attack that we had barred real progress. So that's what happened that afternoon. Gorbachev had made really quite substantial concessions, so that the real test came during that night session where Akhromeyev and I were negotiating between us.

We rather suspected that we were being set up for propaganda offensive by the composition of the Soviet delegation. Generally the Soviet delegations had been one-third KGB, one-third military, and one-third Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But in this delegation, there were no visible KGB people, half were propaganda types -- people who were the editors of newspapers or propaganda organizations, people who make public statements. All these people were really masters of the propaganda art. They were also professionals in the substantive end, but it was clear that the whole trend of the Soviet team was for the purposes of propaganda exploitation.

Was there a moment in these negotiations when you realized that a real breakthrough was possible, that something had changed?

Paul Nitze Interview Photo
Paul Nitze: There was indeed. It occurred in the middle of the night, on the first night of the negotiations at Reykjavik. During the morning, President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev had met at some length, and they had made some serious progress. After they adjourned, at five in the afternoon, the President came back and talked to the rest of us. He said that two teams would meet during the night to carry on the negotiations. One team would deal with the national security issues, the defense issues. They would be headed on the Soviet side by Marshal Akhromeyev, who was Chief of Staff of the Soviet military forces, and on the American side would be a team headed by me. We were to meet with the Soviet team at the Hoffdie house where the President and Mr. Gorbachev had met during the afternoon. We were to meet at eight o'clock p.m., and we were to do our best. We were given no further instruction than just to conduct these negotiations as best we could.

So we arrived at eight o'clock and Marshal Akhromeyev was there waiting for us, and we sat down and we negotiated for one hour, for another hour, for another hour. We agreed to go through all the various issues one by one, and if we got to a deadlock on one issue we would move on to another. So we had covered all the issues two or three times, but the same problem was blocking further progress. On the Soviet side, they insisted on having equal reductions, item by item, from where the two sides were at that time. This would result in a 50 percent reduction on both sides, item by item. I was insisting that the outcome should be even between the two sides. Perhaps that outcome could be 50 percent lower than the net of all the present divergences between the two sides, but we should get there by unequal reductions between the two sides, to an equal end point. That affected everything we were negotiating on.

At two o'clock in the morning, Marshal Akhromeyev suddenly rose from his chair and said that he was leaving, and I thought that was the end of the negotiations, at least for that night. But, then he turned at the door as he was leaving the room, and he said, "I will be back at three [o'clock in the morning]." So, Bob Leonard, who was the White House member of my team, he and I talked about it and we decided to go to the hotel at which Secretary George Shultz was staying and wake him up, and tell him exactly where we were in the negotiations and get guidance from him as to what we should do next. So we went to the hotel, woke George Shultz up, and he met us in the sitting room attached to his bedroom, and we sat there while Bob and I described, blow by blow, how the negotiations had gone to that point. Part of the difficulty had been on our side. Some of my team wouldn't let me do some of the things that I wanted to do. They finally were unanimous against my making the concessions to the Soviet side that I thought might be necessary in order to get the negotiations really moving, but finally at the end of all of this, Mr. Shultz said, "Paul, you go back there and do the best job you can and don't let yourself be diverted by divergences on your own side." Bob Leonard and I went back and rejoined the others there and Marshal Akhromeyev walked in and he sat down and he said, "I'm authorized to change the position which I have been insisting upon up to now." We on our side agree to look for an equal end point through unequal reductions. So that on the main thing that had been blocking us, apparently Mr. Gorbachev had authorized him to move over to our position, and it was at that point that I thought with that basic change in the Soviet position, we probably could move on from there to really, finally working out an agreement that we could live with, and which they would accept.

In spite of that, once the Soviets had accepted your position to go to an equal outcome, you started talking about some dramatic reductions in nuclear weapons.

Paul Nitze: We did. We made some very real progress in how to go about designing a START (strategic arms reduction) agreement. We developed counting rules as to how you would count bombers carrying anti-gravity bombs, which would have hung us up for months and months. We discussed how you would count cruise missiles of various ranges and various types. So we made an immense amount of progress during those few hours, from three o'clock a.m. to 6:30 a.m. when the meeting broke up.

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