The Foreign Service Journal - January/February 2018
100 JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2018 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL may find his conclusions easier to disagree with than to dispute. On the U.S. side, at least, the motives behind the channel are easy to discern. Above all was the desire for secrecy, to avoid leaks and to shelter the talks from domestic politics—what Kissinger called “propaganda for Congress.” The channel allowed public and private messages to diverge, so that new ideas could be tested and linkages established between unrelated issues. The channel suited the personalities and penchants of Nixon and Kissinger, who shared a desire for control and a distrust of bureaucracies. The channel also suited Nixon’s faith in his grasp of the big picture, and Kissinger’s confidence that he could master any necessary level of detail. Finally, as Moss points out, use of the channel eased Nixon’s fear that State or other agencies would take credit for breakthroughs and thereby deny him the political capital he needed for other purposes. Kissinger and Dobrynin commu- nicated in phone calls—some 450 of them between 1969 and the May 1972 Moscow summit—and frequent meet- ings, usually in the White House. The channel spun off secondary channels, the most important being one between Kenneth Rush, the U.S. ambassador to West Germany, and the West German leadership—Chancellor Willy Brandt and State Secretary Egon Bahr. Channel Markers Nixon’s Back Channel to Moscow: Confidential Diplomacy and Détente Richard A. Moss, University Press of Kentucky, 2017, $45, hardcover, 418 pages. Reviewed By Harry Kopp Almost from the start of his presidency, and until Watergate eroded his freedomof action, Richard Nixon conducted diplo- macy with the Soviet Union through com- munications between Henry Kissinger, his national security adviser, and Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet ambassador to the United States. This back channel and its contents were hidden from Secretary of State Wil- liam P. Rogers and the rest of the execu- tive branch, as well as from Congress, the media and the people. Richard A. Moss, an assistant pro- fessor at the Naval War College and a former State Department historian, reveals the workings of the channel in a meticulous account that covers the strategic arms limitation talks (SALT), Berlin, India-Pakistan, the Mideast, the 1972 Moscow summit, the opening to China, and Vietnam. Using Henry Kissinger’s contempora- neous notes on his talks with Dobrynin, records of his telephone calls with Dobrynin and others, the White House tapes of his conversations with Nixon, and his memoirs and other writings, as well as Dobrynin’s reports to Moscow, Dobrynin’s memoirs and an exhaustive list of secondary-source materials, Moss lets us see the channel in action in real time, not in hindsight. Moss deals with issues and personali- ties that still stir passions. But given the weight of his research and the care with which he has marshaled his facts, readers BOOKS Through the Rush- Brandt-Bahr channel, which remained hidden from the State Department, Kissinger could speed up or slow down negotiations on a four-power Berlin agree- ment, a Soviet objective that Kissinger had linked to other issues in U.S.-Soviet relations. Keeping the channels secret took constant effort. Communications between the White House and Rush went through the White House situation room and a U.S. Navy officer stationed in Frankfurt. White House instructions to Joseph Farland, the U.S. ambassador to West Pakistan, regarding Pakistan President Yahya Khan’s role in setting up Kissinger’s secret 1971 visit to China, were similarly kept from State. During the Moscow summit, White House communicators planned to hand-carry messages across the city to the president’s plane at a military airport; only when logistics proved too difficult was Ambassador Jacob Beam taken into confidence and the embassy’s secure facilities reluctantly employed. Leaks, said Nixon, “may just be endemic in government. It’s people who just feel that everybody else should find out what the hell’s going on.” The only leak from the back channel turned out to be the work of a Navy yeoman, who for more than a year spied on the National Security Council on behalf of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Kissinger wanted to go after Admiral Thomas Moorer, the JCS chairman behind the scheme, but Nixon—as he would a year later, over Watergate—decided on a cover-up. “You see, Henry,” he said, “if you were to throwMoorer out now… the shit’s going to hit the fan. That’s going to hurt us.” Kissinger seemed so disturbed by The channel was reserved for moving forward, not for reiteration of familiar positions or rhetoric.