George Sherry (Dartmouth Group), 1992

George Sherry April 27, 1992 iv by phone in New York
Interviewer — Metta Spencer

Sherry: I’m going to Russia at the beginning of June.

Spencer: I am interested in how the East/West dialogue played into the changes brought by the Gorbachev team. I heard that the Dartmouth group is especially important in that.

GS: Yes, it has had a tremendous effect because the Gorbachev team had been participants in the conference. The material on the Conference is available in Dayton, Ohio, at the Kettering Foundation. The American side of the Dartmouth Conferences is sponsored by the KF. If you want to do so serious research on the subject, that is where it is available.

MS: Is is mostly lists of participants or what?

GS: No, it is more than that. Especially over the past few years it is fairly full or summarized records of what was said at the meetings — at the meetings of the task forces. Quite a bit is available in print. That is not far from you.

And another thing you might wish to do is to get in touch with Phil Stewart, who was sort of the executive director for the Dartmouth Conference for quite a few years and I have an address for him. He was a professor at Ohio State U and then he was offered a munificent job by Kellogg, because they wanted to expand into Russia, and so he accepted it and has been living in Germany, going back and forth into Russia and out, and I can… Let me see. Well, you can call the Kettering Foundation and talk to Patricia Coggins at 434-7300 in Dayton Ohio. She would probably know where he can be found. He may be back in Ohio or elsewhere.

MS: I have been told that you are a key person in this and that you have been an interpreter for a long time.

GS: I was an interpreter at the U.N. until 1959 and then I stopped being an interpreter and became a political officer. I was the Assistant Secretary General for Special Political Affairs — that is the office that runs peacekeeping operations. I was deputy to Sir Brian Urquhart. I am retired now. I continued interpreting just for the Dartmouth Conference, once or twice a year for about a week because I was interested in the subject, it was very closely related to my main fields of interest and I enjoyed meeting the people, and the trips to Russia.

MS: How are people chosen to participate in this?

GS: it is sort of self-chosen. It is chosen by the top officials of the Kettering Foundation and some of the top participants. For example, the American Chairman of the Regional Conflicts Task Force …

MS: Perhaps you can explain to me.

GS: There is a plenary that meets once every year and a half or two years. The first meeting of the plenary took place at Dartmouth College in 1960. It has nothing to do with Dartmouth except that they had the facilities. President Eisenhower got in touch with Dickey, who was the President of Dartmouth at the time and asked him. The idea was Norman Cousins’s and Eisenhower gave his blessing. It was right after the U2 affair and Eisenhower was worried because there was virtually no communication with the Russians.

MS: I think that Cousins was asked to do some sort of intermediation himself.

GS: Yes, that’s right. He went to Russia and discussed this and the Russians were interested. The first took place at Dartmouth College and the second meeting was in the Crimea and there have been meetings ever since. There are the plenary meetings and then as from 1980 approximately a couple of task forces were established to deal with specific subjects. For example, there is the task force on regional conflicts, there is the task force on security and disarmament matters, and there is a task force on political relations. The one that has been meeting most steadily is the task force on regional conflicts.

MS: Things like Afghanistan. I had heard someplace that some of the work in preparation for withdrawal from Afghanistan may have taken place in the Dartmouth Conference.

GS: Yeah, well, there very often the content of the conversations at the conference (which were, of course, made available to the State Department) was a little bit ahead of what official policies were, on both sides, which was very helpful in pushing forward the process of negotiations and making things possible which one might have expected not to be possible.

MS: What proportion of the participants are officials?

GS: None on the American side. Well, some are half officials, but not really. For instance, in the regional task force, Saunders, former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, who was involved in the Iran hostage crisis and in the Camp David agreement, he is the American co-chairman of the regional conflicts task force. And then there is Bob Neumann, who was former American ambassador to Kabul and former American ambassador to Morocco and to Saudi Arabia. He is very active in that too. People like Thomas Gouttiere, who is at the University of Omaha in Nebraska. There happens to be there a special institute on Afghanistan. And that sort of thing. And the equivalent level on the Russian side.

MS: These are mostly people then affiliated with institutes in Russia?

GS: Right. Or who are engaged in scholarly work. That is the main thing. But of course there are former officials. Brent Scowcroft came regularly when he was out of office. He no longer comes now that he is in office as national security adviser. Paul Doty is the American co-chairman of the security and arms control group. And there top people in the arms control community: Seweryn Bialer of Columbia University is the co-chair of the political relations group. There was an economic task force which was chaired on the American side by David Rockefeller, and I have been sort of talking and the people at Kettering have been talking about resuscitating that particular task force because the economic relationship is now so important. And in each of the meetings of the task force on regional conflict, a number of conflicts are analyzed in an effort to do so in an objective way, in a manner that would take into account the interests of both sides, but not in a controversy-seeking manner. This sometimes is very useful. A lot of that documentation is available in Dayton.

MS: Do you if anybody has written much about this?

GS: No, although I suspect that Phil Stewart has been writing about that, and I don’t know whether, once he got into business and making a lot of money, whether he has put that on a back burner. Patricia Coggins, who is a wonderful organizer, would know where he is.

MS: I will certainly pursue him. Now, in terms of your own role …

GS: Well, I would, for example, I would of course simultaneously interpret. I used to be the chief interpreter, and I stopped doing that as soon as I passed my Ph.D. orals and got into political work — except for the Dartmouth Conference, because I enjoyed it. Besides, the pay extremely well! But I also participate in the meetings. I would very frequently give a survey of developments about the United Nations, as this relates to the Soviet – American relationship and the interplay between the bilateral Soviet-American relationship and the role of the United Nations, which especially lately has been on a roll. I was running peacekeeping operations as Assistant Secretary General, and I doing a study on the subject. That is very much my thing. And of course there is constant talk. There are discussions outside the meetings — at meals, and sitting around, etc. Trying to push forward this Dartmouth process, which is designed to facilitate understanding — but in a very very realistic and serious way, none of the silly peacenik stuff. And I would say that it has had an enormous impact on the Russians.

MS: Well, that is what I want to pin down. Just anecdotally, can you tell me …

GS: I am not good at anecdotes, really. But seriously you can study the whole record, especially over the past few years, which are the key years. Eight or nine years. Virtually complete records are available, and for previous years. You know, I think they are also available, though they have not been printed because the stuff was taken down on paper and was eventually transcribed.

MS: Can you recall times when you think you saw changes taking place in the way that people were perceiving and discussing things?

GS: Yes, well of course! Especially on Afghanistan. There has been a lot of very close understanding now on the Middle East, leading of course to the Soviet resumption of diplomatic recognition of Israel. Very important. And on Central America. Susan Kaufman Purcell, of the Council on Foreign Relations, is an active participant in the regional conflict task force. And as I said, talk to Seweryn Bialer of Columbia University.

MS: Yes. I actually have a call in to him.

GS: Oh, good.

MS: I think he has a mouth infection so I don’t know whether I will actually be able to talk to him.

GS: What!? He smokes like a locomotive. He is killing himself.

MS: When I tried to make an appointment to interview him, he’s been ill. He didn’t teach this term and someone just explained to me that it’s a mouth infection and that he’s not really comfortable talking, so I sent him a fax.

GS: Jesus! I just hope it’s just an infection. I knew vaguely that his health had been frail and I have noticed that the political task force had not been meeting, and I really should have given him a call. I didn’t know that he was so ill.

MS: It may just be that he is uncomfortable and not seriously ill. As a matter of fact, it is just today that I was told that.

GS: Anyway, after the first few meetings, it was decided to abandon any attempt to issue joint communiqu©s, and to use this for propaganda purposes. To leave it just as what it was.

MS: Who are some of the Soviets who have been participating?

GS: Arbatov, of course. Yury Zhukov, who used to be

MS: Yes, I knew him

GS: And Arbatov, the head of the USA/Canada institute.

MS: I have met him too.

GS: Plekhanov.

MS: Sergei Plekhanov?

GS: Yes. And Tufrin of the Oriental Institute. Primakov — very active, as long as he was head of the Oriental Institute and then even when he was a member of Gorbachev’s council. Remember that council they had?

MS: Presidential Council.

GS: Yeah, right. Even then. Primakov was a member but he still would come to the Dartmouth Conferences. And Moskolenkov. He is the big specialist on Afghanistan. And Irina Zviagelskaya — she’s very good! She’s a Middle East specialist. She is at the USA/Canada Institute. And let’s see, the head of IMEMO, whose name escapes me right now. How silly. I was in his office just about a year ago.

MS: Kislov.

GS: Kislov! That’s the one. And Petrovsky.

MS: Vladimir Petrovsky? He’s at the U.N. now?

GS: Yes, he’s Under -Secretary General for Political Affairs — one of the top jobs at the U.N.

MS: I wonder if he’d talk to me?

GS: I’m sure he would! (Well, of course, I’m not sure!) But he’s very easily accessible and a nice guy.

MS: These are the people who have attended the plenary sessions.

GS: Plenaries and the task forces.

MS: Okay, I’m working with a network model, where conversations between two people or a small group of people then move to a different setting and different people. Do you remember any particular breakthroughs that came out of conversations that you were party to?

GS: There was no attempt to score breakthroughs. That’s one of the things about the nature of the process — except lately in the regional conflicts thing, where very successful attempts were made to draw up lists of analytic points. But usually it is just discussion and trying to push things forward in search of a common understanding. This was then reported informally to the respective foreign ministries.

MS: Well, I have some people I need to talk to.

GS: Talk to Mrs. Coggins, and mention my name. You will find her to be very very efficient and helpful. You will enjoy working on those records.

MS: I will try to get to it this summer. Thank you very much.

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books