Washington, DC, – High hopes for a "reset" of U.S.-Soviet relations in the late 1970s were shattered by ingrained suspicions and negative international trends to which both sides contributed under President Jimmy Carter and General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, according to declassified documents and unique "critical oral history" transcripts posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University. During this period the superpowers veered from cautious optimism about their relationship and the state of global security in the wake of Nixon-era détente, to bitter disillusionment and ramped-up hostility as the Cold War entered a new, more dangerous phase.
Today's posting is the first in a new series based on the multi-year multi-national "Carter-Brezhnev Project." It includes documents and previously unpublished transcripts from two unusual gatherings of former policy-makers from the U.S. and USSR that took place in the early 1990s, organized by James Blight and janet Lang, then of the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, in cooperation with the National Security Archive, the Norwegian Nobel Institute, and others.
Among the participants at these extraordinary sessions were most of Carter's top foreign policy advisers – ex-Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, former Defense Secretary Harold Brown, ex-CIA Director Stansfield Turner, and former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski – as well as several senior Soviet officials, including ex-Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh, former Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Kornienko, and long-time Ambassador to Washington Anatoly Dobrynin.
Future postings in the Carter-Brezhnev series will cover the remaining Project conferences – on U.S.-USSR competition in the Third World generally, and the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. They will also feature collections of more recently declassified records on the period of extraordinary research value, notably materials on President Carter's policies toward Soviet dissidents, and private communications to the president from his two most influential foreign policy advisers – Vance and Brzezinski.
Just as the Carter-Brezhnev Project participants sought to learn lessons from that history for policymaking in the post-Cold War era, one also finds echoes of that time in today's relations between the U.S. and Russia. Optimism for a "reset" of relations, agreement on major nuclear arms reductions, and cooperation against nuclear proliferation – face severe disagreements over regional issues (U.S.-led intervention in Libya, the crisis in Syria), human rights (the Magnitsky bill in the U.S., the Russian law requiring "foreign agent" registration for NGOs receiving international funding), and missile defense – and Cold War phrases keep finding their way into the discourse on both sides.