Admiral Eugene Carroll, interviewed by phone from Center for Defense Information, Washington, D.C. April 28, 1992
Interviewer — Metta Spencer
Do you think that you or other people who were active in the 1980s did have an influence on Soviet policy?
Eugene Carroll: Let me give you the one and only example that I think I can document. It may very well have been a cause and effect relationship. In 1984 the Center for Defence Information (CDI) began a campaign to bring about an end to nuclear testing on Aug 6, 1985. We said, forty years is enough of the nuclear madness. Let’s commemorate the opening of the opening of the nuclear era at Hiroshima by ending nuclear explosions on August 6, 1985. And we circularized and publicized, and we ended up with about 145 organizations of various stature, all the way from small church groups to large, nationally recognized organizations, pledging their support to a nuclear moratorium on August 6, 1985. We corresponded with Gorbachev, with Reagan, we did everything we could to dramatize this event. We got Glen Seaborg, the nuclear Nobel prize winner and former director of the Atomic Energy Commission, to kick off the drive. Kennedy spoke. We really worked hard at it, got a lot of ink, got a lot of mileage, we thought, and we hit the jackpot when on the 29th of july, 1985 the Soviet government announced that they would suspend all nuclear testing on August 6, 1985. In one of the announcements it said, “in accordance with the findings and recommendations of the Center for Defense Information.” They begged the United States to join in and commence negotiations on a nuclear test ban. So there at least we can claim some cause and effect consequence of what you would call a peace movement. (We always have resisted the label ‘peace group’ here at CDI. We don’t satisfy many peace groups when we say you still need an armed force and you still need airplanes, tanks, and ships and so on, but we do push for what we think are sensible defence measures and one of them is to stop testing nuclear weapons. That’s why we are pushing this program, and the Soviets say they are stopping because CDI say it’s a good idea.
Spencer: When did they say that?
EC: In a publication in 1985, when they were announcing it. We have a document here, put out by one of the Soviet agencies saying this is accordance with the recommendations of the CDI. I can get the quote for you.
The next area in which I would like to claim some success for dialogue leading someplace was in a series of conferences that CDI originated between retired American admirals and generals and retired Soviet admirals and generals. We have three conferences: two in Washington and one in Moscow. Alternately, 1986, 87, 88, something like that. I have to go look up the dates. I have handouts of the conferences and the recommendations we made. The Soviet admirals and generals, by the way, were obviously screened through their apparatus. This was very early in the Gorbachev era, and glasnost had not reached anything like the proportions it made in 1990 and 1991.
MS: By the way, I have talked to some people like Michael Harbottle and Len Johnson, who have been in the Generals for Peace organization. I understand that you and La Rocque didn’t join that.
EC: La Rocque held off — of course, he is the director. He felt to lose the independence and credibility here in America of the CDI — because Generals for Peace and Disarmament for the first couple of years were pretty much forced to accept the Soviet-flavored line. I am not for a moment saying that Leonard Johnson or (he was not initially a member of it) Michael Harbottle was sort of the Western anchor of it. But even there they picked up some far-out characters in the West, and in the East they got pretty hard-line positions. Gene wouldn’t go that far at that time.
MS: Harbottle or somebody told me that Nino Pasti was the one who couldn’t be accepted.
EC: Yeah, Gene gagged at that, and there were a couple of others. I was on a TV program in 1985 with one of these generals for disarmament. He really was pretty far out.
MS: What I was told was that the Eastern generals by and large said they had no influence at home.
EC: That isn’t what they told us. Let’s talk about two separate things. You’ve got Generals for Peace and Disarmament in Europe, which was essentially a NATO_Warsaw Pact alliance. There were people from many nations on both sides, whereas the CDI series of three conferences was strictly U.S.-Soviet, and the Soviets even included on their delegations active duty officers — at least one. When we were in Moscow, the Soviet Ministry of Defence provided some excellent briefings and so on. There was at least penetration of the official apparatus there by the existence of this conference process and the consequences of it — in other words, what the group decided, what were its views and recommendations. And we can show you on the list of things that we recommended that almost all of them have happened. Stopping nuclear testing has happened every place except in the United States. A number of other things — getting rid of missiles, getting rid of tactical nuclear weapons — all these things that we were recommending have actually happened. Now there I can’t demonstrate any cause and effect. All I can say is that we had a group of professional military people meeting and, in my personal observations, growing increasingly independent of any official guidance on either side. In the last session we had with them, the arguments among the Soviet members were more intense and critical than they were between members of the U.S. side. We found their spirit of glasnost to be visibly intensified and evident in arguments and alternatives that were discussed and agreed to ultimately.
MS: They never had such meetings with serving officers of the U.S. military?
EC: No, the U.S. military just ran for the door, they wouldn’t even think of joining such a thing. As a matter of fact, we were probably investigated by the FBI and CIA and everybody else for possible leanings or something. This was such a step forward, to invite the Soviet admirals and generals here for public meetings, to which people come come and listen!
MS: Oh, you did that too! So what was on the table?
EC: I’d like to send you the documents. They will give you a good picture of what we talked about and what conclusions we reached and so on.
EC: I’ll get you that material as soon as we are off the phone.
… By the way, I went to a lecture last night by John Kenneth Galbraith. He’s getting on, but he’s still got the dry wit and insight. He and Linus Pauling still do the best job with audiences of anybody I have ever seen.
MS: His niece is a friend of mine, she chauffeurs him around. He comes here about every year. He has a new book out.
EC: Another way in which the peace movement probably influenced the process, including critics, that we can include ourselves in (not so much as a peace organization, but as critics of waste and excess in military programs) was that it suggested to the Soviets the existence of a popular resistance to the arms race and that they might gain more by cutting their programs and showing sensitivity to the dangers of nuclear war and conflict than otherwise. The reason I make that sort of broad observation is that I think it even worked that way on this side. Reagan, as president, was an actor who was playing the role of president. I don’t believe he ever grasped in the eight years he was in office, the fact he was the president of the most powerful nation on earth. He was playing the ROLE of the president of the most powerful nation on earth. And of course he wanted the audience to respond, to love him, and to applaud. Gradually he changed, over the time that he was in office, in seeking this approval and applause. At the end he was clearly out of control of the conservatives and hard-liners, going much farther in arms control initiatives and public affirmation of rapport with Gorbachev than anybody in the conservative establishment wanted. You could see that when Bush came in. They immediately slapped a six-month moratorium on all discussions and initiatives concerning arms control on the grounds that they needed to assess the situation. Well, they knew damn well what the situation was. It was picking up momentum and moving far faster than anyone wanted it to. They put the brakes on. The Soviets, responding to this momentum and public pressure on Reagan to make progress, I think were much more forthcoming themselves for that reason. It was a dynamic that picked up a great deal of momentum in the last two years of Reagan’s tenure and I think could be genuinely said to have been an influence of the peace movement and the public forum that seemed so rewarding to both Reagan and Gorbachev.
MS: Yeah. I’m reading a book called The Turn. Oberdorfer puts a lot of that on Shultz and says he was ahead of the pack.
EC: He was ahead of the pack on everything except the middle east, and there he was a disaster. But as far as U.S.-Soviet relations are concerned, he was far ahead of the Pentagon, the hard-liners, the Perles, the Congress people who were bloodthirsty. He definitely pushed and led the way in a good direction as far as U.S. Soviet relations and arms control are concerned.
MS: One of the things that I experienced and some other people also experienced, early on, before there was any reason to believe that there was any change in the works — a discrepancy between what a few people would say officially and what they would either hint at privately, or actually say at a cocktail party. Later on I realized that these were the people who probably were pushing in the other direction all along. Did you ever have any sense of that? You mentioned that at the end people were openly disputing and disagreeing. Did you early on have the feeling when you talked to military people that there was any impetus there that wasn’t reflected in the official positions.
EC: No. The early contacts were very stiff and formal. Absolutely no give whatever.
MS: What is your guess about how they came to change their views.
EC: This is a self-serving observation, but there is nobody in the world more afraid of a nuclear war than the military people, who know what the weapons are and what they can do. We know we can’t fight with nuclear weapons. Yet we know that if a war starts between two nuclear-weapon-armed antagonists, the nuclear weapons will be used. Neither side will accept defeat without resort to their weapons. For that reason, the military (on their side as well as the enlightened people at CDI and friends we have) were willing to talk as soon as they were permitted to talk about these dangers, in a constructive way. And then they began to give, but there was no give until it was permitted. It had to be clear to them that they could get away with expressing their critical views openly. Then you began to hear it.
MS: Yeah, it does seem to have been a change from the top and it’s really hard to — In fact, it is one of the things that surprises me when people say, the woods were full of people like Gorbachev, he doesn’t deserve any special credit.
EC: Oh, hockey!
MS: Yeah, that’s the way I feel. If they were so full of it, why didn’t we see that before.
EC: In addition, it remains to be demonstrated that Gorbachev did or did not understand that what he was doing was uncontrollable. He’s a very smart man and I think he wanted to reform the system because it was failing and absolutely could not survive in the Brezhnev form. But to the extent that he understood that what he turned loose was going to run over him, I don’t think that’s clear yet.
MS: I don’t think anybody would have expected it.
EC: I did. I never had the slightest doubt that Gorbachev couldn’t survive what he was doing. It was based on meeting with economists as well as military people, social contacts and one thing and another. And such little things as, CDI started providing fax machines to our contacts in the Soviet Union so we could exchange information with them. Well, once you get fax machines and photocopiers and tape recorders and VCRs — man there isn’t any way to control the flow of information.
MS: It seems to me that nobody expected this nationalism thing. I think he was run over by two trucks. The first was nationalism. …
EC: He was different. He did open up and start the changes. My point is, I don’t know to what extent he understood that the changes were irreversible and that he could not change them, once they gathered momentum, or whether he was willing to sacrifice himself for future good. I don’t think he thought he would lose control this soon or this dramatically, but he should have been smart enough to realize that once liberal thought is permitted to be expressed and duplicated, to appear in print and travel over private wires, the whole thing …
I must say, the nationalism part of it hasn’t surprised me. Georgia, for example, there was never any doubt in my mind, was looking for the first window they could get out. They have been looking for it for decades. Once he left the reins go, they were going to be gone. It was no surprise to me that there was nationalist pressure that would have to be dealt with.
MS: I guess I would have expected people to be more interested in their economic situation than in their national identity. But even there, that was sort of the second truck that ran over him, and I think that if he had started the way the Chinese did, it might have been a different story. I think he didn’t do it the way the Chinese did because they borrowed it from NEP and these people had this long antipathy to people like Bukharin and couldn’t rehabilitate him. They were hoist by their own petard.
EC: It was a failed system and Gorbachev knew it had failed and knew that radical reforms were needed. He certainly will go down in history as the man with the courage to start them. His awareness of how far they would go and how fast is not clear.
MS It still seems to me that people should have given him a lot more leeway.
EC: I thought, when Yeltsin rescued him from the coup, that Yeltsin would remain the independent critic and allow Gorbachev to go on for another few years, failing and suffering all the slings and arrows of this terrible readjustment process they have got to go through, and then when things were untenable, he would step in and take over as de facto leader of the Russian people and oust Gorbachev. As it is, Yeltsin has brought down a lot of criticism on his own head. He is going to be subject to a lot of the pressures that finally brought Gorbachev down. He could have let Gorbachev take most of the wounds and be even more unpopular and ineffective, then come in as the saviour and been forgiven a lot of the situation that exists today.
MS: That might have been the case if Gorbachev had actually done anything, but he kept wobbling.
EC: Yeah. Well, you and I will never fully understand the factors that shaped action from last August on. What pushed which faction in which direction, we’ll never know. That coup has got to go down in history as one of the least thought-out or structured efforts to change a government that has ever been undertaken.
MS: Back to the military end. How do you think they came to their policy of reasonable sufficiency?
EC: That goes back quite a ways. I am not an expert on Soviet doctrine, but even in the days before the reforms, they were espousing that as a public relations gimmick or philosophy that seemed to justify all the weapons that they wanted. They said, Oh, this is just reasonable sufficiency. In the first meeting with the admirals and generals, they kept wanting to use those terms in our final report. We refused emphatically. We said these are undefined, rhetorical statements that serve a political purpose but they don’t serve to define a military program or military actions. I just justify everything. I can justify 50 aircraft carriers under the doctrine of reasonable sufficiency if you let me define sufficiency. And so we fought them on that from the very beginning.
MS: How did they react when you made such arguments? Did you ever see anybody back up?
EC: Yeah, they did back up.
MS: You mean, right there in front of your eyes, they ate their words?
EC: Oh, no, no. The position was, No, we know what we mean. Sufficient means just what we say it means. We won’t have the ability to attack you and so on. But the final resolution, as always in the drafting, General Yevgeny Nozhin and I did the drafting and he, bless his heart, is a very thoughtful and reasonable man. We got the words on paper and they had little choice but to accept them. (He is coming to the United States next month. I trust I will be seeing him. He is going to be lecturing primarily in universities in the south. He will appear at a dinner on May 17 in Woodmont, Connecticut.)
MS: Last night I was watching a very interesting program on nuclear weapons in Soviet Union. They put on a guy named Michaelov and I don’t think he was the same guy, but one speaker at an event I attended in the Soviet Union is a Gen. Michaelov and Len Johnson says that he was very good. He was one of the negotiators in some talks within the last few years.
EC: I don’t know his name.
MS: Whom should I talk to in the military there?
EC: Our best contact is the USA Canada Institute. We have worked closely with them.
MS: I heard a rumor that Andrei Kokoshin is going to become the defense minister.
EC: No, I had heard that the Deputy Defence Minister for Russia will be Sergei Rogoff, formerly Deputy Director of USA Canada Institute. Kokoshin stood up with Yeltsin on the barricades during the coup. The whole USA Canada Institute was clearly on the side of the Yeltsin government, and so they gained a lot of stature with Yeltsin and Company. Arbatov has been here a couple of times since then, has come by and I have talked to him. They are still in good repute.
MS: Do you know Lev Semeiko?
EC: I recognize the name.
MS: He is a retired colonel at the USA Canada Institute and writes on reasonable sufficiency.
EC: In the pack that I send you, I will send you their names and how to contact them.
MS: Excellent. This is extremely interesting and enlightening. Thank you.