Leonard Johnson (Canadian general), 1990

Leonard V. Johnson, October 5, 1990
Best point to use with Len is his recognition that when either top leader decided to, there could be dramatic changes. He never called for incremental, step by step efforts to disarm with verification on every step of the way, etc. See Dagomys below.

First contact with Soviets was at National Defence College, 1981, when Arbatov and the Yakovlev came down for the evening. Lectured there. Genuine, sincere, concerned. Grew convinced that these were peaceful men. No malevolent intentions. They have been the first of several soviets who have been concerned. Almost obsessed with preventing war. Arbatov could be forceful in defensive positions. Exasperation in it too. Only encountered him that once. Socially over dinner and drinks. It was St. Patricks day, 1981. Ken Keyes, who had been mayor of Kingston, took them out afterwards. I remember it because the Commandant of the Land Forces Staff College had the place swept for bugs. Passed rules about entertaining Soviet guests in classified military property. I was senior to him.

People give Yakovlev recognition of his influence on Gorbachev. Acquainted with N. Americans. No discussion of disputes. I didn’t have trouble discerning their sincerity. Easy to talk to them. The question period was nothing outrageous. A little warm response from Arbatov when someone describes Communism as bankrupt ideology. That was my first contact, didn’t know what to expect.

Any other meetings. We didn’t visit SU in my time at National Defence College, but 1981 Romania, 1982 was Yugoslavia, 1983 was Hungary, 1984, Czechoslovakia. Met East bloc officers on those occasions. Again I found this concern about the possibility of war, disavowal of any intention on their part to start it. Mirror image.

Military people? Not just those. We met government people and academics of all kinds, but hosted by the military. Friendliest were in Romania and Yugoslavia. Hungary. The only suspicious ones were the Czechs, not as open. Fear of Soviets. They seemed less approachable than the others. Japanese were that way too. We’re only talking about nuances.

No hints about wanting the Soviets out. There were no SU troops in Romania or Yugoslavia. But the Russians were low profile with local people. Well behaved.

Innovative positions expressed re military on either side? No. Not a whole lot of discussion of military policy, looked more at economic and social policy. Deliberately avoided military policy? Not open for discussion. They were bound by the same kind of security rules as we were. Can’t discuss substantive issues in that kind of forum.

When you retired, did you notice the difference about freedom to speak? I guess yes and no. I couldn’t publish anything because I was bound by the code of service. Surprised at the response I got, I didn’t think what I was saying was so unusual or represented any change of heart.

May 86 to Vienna -= Generals for Peace. First time. UP to 20 from both sides. No Americans were there. At any time? Yeah, in Poland in 1989: Not La Rocque and Carroll. Two reserve admirals. There had been an American in the group in the early years but didn’t feel comfortable because of the Greeks and Nino Pasti.

Do you think that Soviet Generals feel they have influence. No. They denied that they had. No special entry. Took some time to set the first meeting up. Didn’t attend without the approval of their government. They may have reported back. Hope that they did, because it’s a channel that we lack. IF they had official status they may have been more effective than we were but they denied that they did.

Were they taking positions that differed from their government stands. No, I don’t think so. There has always been a strong peace offensive on the part of the Soviets. WW II was a searing event. In fact I would say that over the years, the fear of a repetition of WWII is an obsession with them. They don’t get much beyond it. You avoid war, period. That makes it hard to deal with them now because the issues are more subtle.

What was going on in 1986 was the unilateral test ban that Gorbachev had initiated. The Centre for Defense Information was promoting a test moratorium in 1985 on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima (40th anniversary) and Soviets responded, but U.S. did not. CDI was the force of that idea? May have been coincidence. Have to ask Gorby because these are such good ideas that they often appear in several places simultaneously. He observed for for about a year and half.

The other gen observation of the meetings I attended with them is that by the time you get through the translation there is not a lot of good dialogue, just reiteration of emotional positions. Time after time. How long can you go on preventing WWII? I am not convinced that any of these meetings have had a lot of dialogue, but have built confidence among the people attending.

Absent Americans. No stand-ins? LJ did a little. He read congressional record. He was provoking discussions by telling how the American thought. Hobie Morris in NY State has sent him useful clippings.

April 88 in Vienna. Len advocated unilateral Soviet withdrawal. Letter to Meyenfeldt expressed the idea. How did they react? With great interest. But Russians at least did not think that Gorby would do it. Not much response from them. Most came from Johan Christie, the Norwegian and Rangle de Lima the Portuguese. I have reams of transcripts taken by Harbottle. Did any transcripts get sent up anywhere? My statement was informal, not reflected in the statement at the end. This kind of meeting is slow paced, tends to be limited substantive value. No evidence that they sent it upward.

Simonian, I have seen a few times. And Astafiev.

Moscow in 1988 visit.

You mention Michaelov. He was deputy arms control negotiator. That was a good meeting. The best one. More substance than in some of the others. Michaelov had the most authority. He was second to Karpov. His deputy mainly at the Start talks. Problems of verification. Especially to hear Soviet views on disarmament. Some determination to get on with it.

Pugwash differs from these meetings? Frankly in Pugwash we do a lot of reinventing things that you can read elsewhere. Not cutting edge. Useful, people from all over. A lot filters in that isn’t on the formal agenda, but not necessarily out in front. Where out in front? The public debate on this is good now, especially in Britain and the U.S. Read British papers, get good stuff. Our own papers have come a long way in about three years or so. I think there is sort of a level of awareness has come up a lot.

I gave advice to Gorbachev at Dagomys. In that “naive” paper that appeared in the proceedings of that conference. Who would think that he would withdraw his forces from Eastern Europe? I was almost embarrassed to do it lest they think it was tongue in cheek. Can’t accomplish things that way, you have to have slow and painstaking, with verification at every step of the way and so on. I never thought that was how things happened. The gnomes would be left behind. They are getting pressure now from the Soviet and American government to come up with an agreement that the great men can sign at the next summit.

CFE agreement, what will it be? They have kept the details close to the vest until the consult with their allies. What has to happen is that consultation has to occur to determine whether they accept the agreement. I am only going by what was said recently by Shevardnadze and Baker.

At the MBFR the hidden agenda was to prevent any erosion of NATO forces through unilateral measures. The Greeks would keep the American bases and so on.

NATO as political force. What is there to do politically? Nothing that they can’t do through the CSCE. Both alliances should wither away. In the CSCE the US is one in 35, and in NATO they are one in 16. NATO has been keystone of American influence since 1949..

Generals for Peace. It is more publicity. We are a little like Pugwash, in that after a meeting you issue a declaration and await results until the next meeting. Some of us publish and speak and do other things mostly on our own. The meetings are background to that.

Where did Gorby get his bold ideas? DK. Some of these concepts were enunciated in Vienna by Generals For Peace early in the game. In 1984 each discovered that they were old men, Europeans, with a common home. It grew from there. The next step was nonoffensive defence.

At what point did nonoffensive defence take hold? 1985 They called it nonprovocative defence. Others were working on it. Robert Neild from Cambridge had spoken on it in the Pugwash meeting in Brazil that year, also Boserup. Defensive defense is a Western invention, came out of them, and maybe some of our people in Gens for Peace. I first started to ponder this about 1981 myself when I realized that for all the money that had been in the defence of W. Europe we could have built a wall.

No the NATO people did not listen. I brought this up in the Consultative Group. “Mutual defensive superiority” is how Neild describes it now. Both sides have sufficient defensive capacity to defeat the other. I was squelched by distinguished Canadian diplomat who had been at NATO who said can’t use the term “superiority.” Whenever you confront Canadian diplomat or soldier you are just wasting your time. It was not invented here so it is not worthy of consideration. They may be responsive to what is put out by CIIPS.

There are always some people around who are glad to hear those views expressed, but who can’t say so openly. Any former colleagues of yours feel that way? No, mostly they have retired into oblivion. Many don’t follow it. Never have been intellectuals in this area. Some of the younger people are interested. I get a little feedback from them.

I have learned that often, my evidence on this is two books I reviewed for the G & M, Seaborg’s memoires and Zuckerman’s. Both were scientific advisors to government at the time when a lot of nuclear decisions were made in 50s and 60, they said that in the US and British governments at the time there was no lack of knowledge about nuclear issues and no lack of determination to do something about them but they couldn’t prevail. In the case of Britain, the nuclear establishment at Aldermaston, and Lawrence Livermore and the nuclear establishment of the US air force.

In Kennedy’s time, the USAF persuaded JFK that they had to have another round of improvements to these weapons.

Often governments know what should be done but don’t do it. For instance, on the NW issue at the moment, even at Pugwash this year there was a working group devoted to whether the abolition of NWs is feasible or desirable. Russell must be spinning in his grave. Len argued at the Pugwash Ex Mtg against Carl Jacobson, that we must uphold the abolition of NW as desirable goals. If you concede that deterrence is essential and you have to have these things, why can’t everyone have them? Jacobson doesn’t think a test ban can be realistic. That sort of debate goes on a little.

The last time I was in external affairs was to lobby on behalf of a flight test ban about 18 months ago. Peggy Mason was not yet the ambassador, she and 2 other women diplomats met us. She said that this govt believes in nuclear deterrence. That ended the meeting, so far as the govt holds that view. You have to wean them off nuclear deterrence and if you do that, all things are possible. No point in arguing it on technical grounds. They usually know the technical arguments very well. Glad to hear this year at end of Pugwash meeting that Joe Rotblat has initiated a study in Pugwash on the question of how you persuade governments to renounce nuclear weapons.

The way you do it is by public demand. There is no substitute for working on public opinion. You have to mobilize people to demand change.

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