I worked on several issues at the State Department that at least came close to being reviewed byPresident George H.W. Bush.
As deputy director of a non-proliferation office in the Politico-Military Bureau (PM) I was the most senior person dealing exclusively with missile proliferation, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Everybody above me dealt with missile proliferation and other issues. The initial members of the MTCR were the G-7: the US, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Canada, and Italy. As an international plenary meeting of all the original members was coming up in July 1990, there was a debate about whether to invite theSoviet Union to join. The US government was split on this issue and could not come to a consensus on whether to invite them. The assistant secretary for PM was Richard Clarke, later famous as the anti-terrorism chief for the White House on9/11. Clarke held several interagency meetings of his counterparts, but there was no agreement. The State Department position was that we should invite the Soviets.
No one ever wouldtell me what the problem was with inviting the Soviets, but the resistanceseemed to be coming from the intelligence community. The best explanation I heard was that it might have complicated the CIA’s program of providing Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to the Afghan resistance, a program well described in the book and the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War,” although the Afghan war was winding down by then. The US was supplying its Afghan proxies withsmall Stingers, while the Soviets had supplied their proxies with SCUDmissiles, a large ground-to-cround missile capable of destroying multiplebuildings over 100 miles away. The MTCRonly covered large missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead. The MTCR covered SCUDs, but not Stingers. Thus the MTCR might have imposed limits onthe Soviets in Afghanistan, but not on the US. Although it was a diminishing problem it might have been imprudent toadd it to the existing stress in the relationship.
Another problem was
that the Soviet Union was disintegrating.
The Soviets appeared willing to join., but the mysterious American
ambivalence could have been due to President Bush’s overall goal of ending the
Cold War with minimal turmoil Was it
better to get the Soviet Union (and presumably any successor state) on board
with the MTCR’s arms control guidelines
while we had he chance, or was it better to wait and try to get agreement from
a more stable successor government?
Unfortunately no one ever discussed these issues in any meetings that I
attended. I did not detect any such
concern on the part of the State Department Soviet desk, which was willing to
approve an invitation.
In any case, we
could not get agreement, and so I prepared a memo to the White House to get
President Bush to make a decision. The
memo gave the background and then asked the President to check a box on whether
to invite the Soviets: yes or no.
Attached to the memo were two draft instruction telegrams, giving the US
delegation talking points: one telegram told our MTCR partners that we wanted
to invite the Soviets, and one told them that we did not want to invite
them. The White House would send the
appropriate telegram depending on which box the President checked. I think around this time, I also drafted a memo from Secretary of State
Jim Baker to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell asking the JCS
to join State in recommending that the President approve inviting the Soviets,
but the JCS declined.
We sent the decision
memo to the White House weeks before the MTCR meeting, but heard nothing
back. One of the main NSC staffers
working on the issue was Condi Rice, because she was responsible for Soviet
affairs. I tried repeatedly to call her,
but could never talk to her. I could
only talk to her assistant, who kept saying that they were working on it. Finally it was time to go to the meeting in
Ottawa, and we still had no instructions.
In Ottawa just hours
before the meeting, around midnight, we got a call at our hotel that the
embassy had a niact (night action) immediate telegram that we had to come down
and read at the embassy. When we got to
there, we found that the White House had sent an instruction telegram, but it
was neither of the ones I had drafted.
It looked as if they had picked alternate paragraphs from the two cables
and combined them into one that did not make sense. It did not clearly say whether to invite them
or not. We called Assistant Secretary
Clarke the first thing in the morning, and he made a command decision to go
ahead and invite the Soviets. So, just
minutes before the meeting started, we met with our fellow members and told
them that we supported inviting the Soviets.
In the meeting, it was formally decided to invite them.
When we got home, we
found that the President had decided that he did not want to invite the
Soviets. So, we had to quickly tell our
partners before the invitation was issued that we had changed our minds and
that we did not want to invite the Soviets.
The invitation was not sent, but the US looked pretty bad for the way it
had handled the issue. Russia later
joined the MTCR in 1995.