Commentary Magazine

Kennedy's Foreign Policy: What the Record Shows

Senator Edward M. Kennedy has begun his long and eagerly awaited campaign for the Presidency. He is offering himself to the nation as someone who can provide the leadership which many Americans will agree is needed. Yet if President Carter is as unpopular as Kennedy hopes he is, then the electorate may be wary in 1980 of candidates who stress their personal characteristics more than their views on issues—for that is largely how Jimmy Carter won the Presidency in 1976. Senator Kennedy’s views on several domestic issues, especially national health insurance, are rather well known. Now that he is a candidate for national office, the electorate will want to know more about his views on foreign policy.

Senator Kennedy does not serve on either the Foreign Relations Committee or the Armed Services Committee, and as a result, he is less readily identified with particular questions of foreign policy than such Senators as Church, McGovern, Jackson, or Nunn. Nonetheless, Kennedy has taken an active interest in foreign and defense policy and has established a long record and some well-formulated positions in these areas. For about twelve of his seventeen years in the Senate, he has chaired the Subcommittee on Refugees and Escapees, which has given him a senatorial “handle” on foreign policy. He has written one book devoted largely to foreign policy and has inspired, and written an introduction to, another book on defense policy.1 He has contributed numerous articles to journals like Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, the American Journal of International Law, the Nation, Saturday Review, Policy Review, and others. Each year, he introduces numerous bills and amendments and sends out dozens of press releases on foreign policy. Few, if any, Senators who do not serve on either of the two principal committees concerned with international affairs have exercised anywhere near as much leadership on foreign policy as has Kennedy—a fact that lends credence to his major campaign theme.

Kennedy, for example, was so conspicuous in the fight against the ABM in 1969 that his senatorial collaborators urged him (according to a report in Newsweek) to take a lower profile lest the appearance of a Kennedy versus Nixon confrontation cost them votes. Kennedy also led the fight against continued production of the Minuteman III missile, our most modern deployed ICBM. He was one of the leaders in the effort to block development of the neutron bomb. And he has for years been the Senate’s leading advocate of a “comprehensive [nuclear] test ban.”

After the Vladivostok agreement limiting strategic arms was signed in 1974, Kennedy quickly introduced a bill, together with Senators Mathias and Mondale, which endorsed the agreement but sought to steer the United States away from building as large a nuclear force as the two sides were permitted under its terms. A key purpose of the Kennedy bill was to block Senator Jackson from once again dominating the SALT debate as he had in connection with the Senate’s ratification of SALT I in 1972.

In 1975, Kennedy was one of a group of four Senators (the others were Clark, Tunney, and Cranston) whose efforts succeeded in cutting off all U.S. aid to the FNLA and UNITA forces in Angola; then Kennedy took the lead in urging U.S. diplomatic recognition of the Cuban-backed Marxist government of Agostinho Neto even while the Angolan civil war was still raging. He has been in the forefront of the drives for normalization of relations with China, Cuba, and Vietnam as well. Kennedy also teamed up with Senator Culver in exposing the “secret” agreement between the United States and Great Britain which led to the establishment of a U.S. base at Diego Garcia in response to the increased Soviet naval presence in the Indian Ocean.

Perhaps most important, Kennedy has become the Senate’s leader in the campaign to enforce an uncompromising human-rights standard on governments friendly to the U.S. Indeed, it is a former Kennedy foreign-policy aide who now, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, has largely shaped the Carter administration’s policy.

All this inspired the Nation magazine, in an unusual editorial shortly after the 1976 election, to urge President-elect Carter to appoint Kennedy as his Secretary of State. The Nation’s enthusiastic summary provides a good sketch of Kennedy’s activity.

Senator Kennedy, even though he has never been a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, has managed to take stands and support policies that are generally on the good side of issues connected with America’s activities abroad. His work on the Subcommittee on Refugees has made him the leader of the congressional forces that resist dictatorial oppression in “friendly” regimes like that of Chile. His record on matters of arms control and nuclear proliferation is outstanding. He has consistently opposed the unhealthy growth of our arms industry and the unchecked sale of its products abroad. . . . On human rights . . . no record in the Senate is better than his.




In an opening shot in the battle for the 1980 Democratic presidential nomination, President Carter noted that one area of disagreement between himself and Kennedy is that “I would be in favor of much stronger defense commitments.” A Kennedy spokesman was reported to have replied that “he did not understand what the President was talking about” in light of the fact that Kennedy had recently voted for the 3 per-cent increase in defense spending requested by the administration. Carter’s description of the difference between himself and Kennedy may have sounded somewhat ironic to those, like Senators Nunn and Hollings, whose efforts to secure a 5 per-cent increase in U.S. defense spending have been resisted by the administration, but the President’s words were still essentially accurate. If Jimmy Carter stands a bit to the liberal or dovish side of what some recent congressional actions and polling data suggest is a toughening national mood on foreign and defense policy, Edward Kennedy’s record goes decidedly further in the same direction.

Although Kennedy finally did join Carter this September in supporting the 3 per-cent increase, he had taken a different stand on the 1980 budget earlier in the year. In January, Kennedy attacked Carter’s 1980 budget proposal for excessive defense spending, although that proposal provided $4 billion less for defense than the 3 per-cent increase ultimately allowed. And when, in April, Senator Muskie’s Budget Committee proposed a defense level slightly below Carter’s initial proposal, Kennedy voted for the “transfer amendment” offered by Senator McGovern which would have taken yet another $1.7 billion from the lower defense level proposed by the Budget Committee and shifted it to domestic social spending. Similarly, in May, when the Senate approved the administration’s request for a $2.1 billion “supplemental” defense authorization for the tail end of Fiscal 1979, Kennedy was one of twelve Senators who voted against it.

An important disagreement on defense is Kennedy’s opposition to the MX, a planned new ICBM which the Carter administration proposes as a partial remedy for the growing vulnerability of our land-based missiles to a Soviet strike. In a statement distributed by his office in May of this year, Kennedy said: “The MX will not buy the United States more security. It will buy less: it will only accelerate the nuclear arms race.” Kennedy has also publicized his “serious misgivings” about the U.S. cruise missile, a weapon on which the Carter administration placed great importance in connection with its decision to cancel deployment of the B-l bomber. Kennedy supported the B-l cancellation, a step which he had long advocated, although his position differed slightly from Carter’s. Carter, while cancelling B-l deployment, still supported the funding of further experimental work on the aircraft, whereas Kennedy voted in favor of an unsuccessful Senate motion to terminate the system entirely.

Two other issues on which Kennedy has differed to some degree from Carter are relations with China and the Panama Canal. On the latter, Carter accepted, and Kennedy opposed, the highly publicized “DeConcini reservation,” which allows the U.S. to use force to open the Canal if it should be closed. With respect to China, while applauding Carter for establishing diplomatic relations with the mainland, Kennedy chided him for having given Taiwan the courtesy of a formal termination of our defense treaty, which requires one year’s advance notification. One result of the President’s scrupulousness has been a lawsuit brought by Senator Goldwater challenging the President’s authority to withdraw the nation from a treaty without the advice and consent of the Senate. “The President might have avoided the constitutional question,” said Kennedy, “by simply exercising his unchallenged prerogative to recognize the People’s Republic as the government of China and to establish diplomatic relations with it.” This would have made it possible, Kennedy went on to explain, for Peking to have declared null our treaty with Taiwan.

Another issue on which Carter and Kennedy have differed is aid to Turkey. Earlier this year, Carter won Senate support for converting $50 million in U.S. military credit into an outright grant to Turkey as a step toward healing strained American-Turkish relations. Kennedy “strongly opposed” the move. Kennedy has also criticized Carter for not having normalized relations with Vietnam and for not cracking down hard enough on Chile, Argentina, and other right-wing allies of the U.S. Columnist Henry Brandon, in a recent enthusiastic outline of Kennedy’s foreign policy, explained the difference on human-rights policy in these terms; Kennedy “was as outspoken about human-rights violations in South Korea, Brazil, and Chile as President Carter, but in relations with the Soviet Union, he handled the problem of dissenters and Jewish emigration with more circumspection—and more in human than in ideological terms.”

On all these issues, Kennedy’s positions may be said to have been to the “liberal,” “Left,” or “dovish” side of Carter’s. The one other foreign-policy issue which has divided the two men does not readily lend itself to any such scale: Carter’s 1978 decision to sell advanced military aircraft to Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, which Kennedy voted to block.




While the comparison of Kennedy’s and Carter’s recent stands has a certain obvious political interest, it provides only a very limited picture of Kennedy’s perspective on foreign policy. Kennedy was elected to the Senate in 1962 (the year Carter first entered the Georgia legislature) and has established a substantial record. For a “quick read” on a legislator’s record it is often useful to examine the “ratings” or “score cards” issued by various lobbying and issue-oriented groups. With respect to foreign policy, the best-known and most widely accepted are the “National Security Index” compiled by the American Security Council, a conservative group, and the annual “Voting Record” published by Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal group.2 The NSI is based on a cumulative total of 50 roll-call votes during the past ten years. On these 50 votes, Senator George McGovern has, according to NSI, the worst record of any current Senator, having voted wrong all 50 times. Senator Kennedy ties (with Wisconsin’s Gaylord Nelson) for next worst, having cast one right vote and 49 wrong ones. Conversely, the ADA ratings give Kennedy the best foreign-policy record in the Senate, having cast 78 right votes and 3 wrong ones, a shade better than that of McGovern, who cast 69 right votes and 8 wrong, and Nelson, who cast 75 right and 4 wrong. (Kennedy’s ADA rating since 1972 is perfect.)

An inherent limitation of these group ratings is that they sample only a small number of the votes taken each year. For a more careful look at the record, I have undertaken a study of all the Senate roll calls on issues of foreign or defense policy in which Senator Kennedy voted from 1963 to October 1979. From this study, it is possible to formulate ten categories covering most of the controversial and continuing areas of policy.

These include four categories of foreign aid, two categories of defense policy, two categories concerning relations with friendly and unfriendly powers, and one each concerning the U.S. presence abroad and U.S. policy toward Israel and the Middle East. This is what the study shows:3

1. Foreign Economic Aid

On 52 roll calls on funding, expanding, or restricting foreign economic aid, Kennedy voted on the pro-foreign aid side 51 times. By comparison, the Senate as a whole voted pro-foreign aid 36 times. Democratic Senators, as a group, also voted on the pro side 33 times, while Northern Democrats as a group voted pro 44 times.

2. Foreign Aid to and Through International Organizations

This category includes such things as U.S. contributions to the UN and to international lending institutions. Of 40 such roll calls, Kennedy voted in favor 38 times. By comparison, the Senate as a whole voted in favor 29 times; Democrats as a group 27 times, and Northern Democrats 32 times.

3. Foreign Military Aid

Of 51 roll calls on foreign military aid, Kennedy voted in favor 18 times. The Senate as a whole voted in favor 32 times, Democrats as a group 19 times, and Northern Democrats 15 times. It is interesting to note that Kennedy, although opposing foreign military aid more than 60 per cent of the time, still is marginally more favorable to it than the average Northern Democrat. This suggests that Kennedy’s strong support for foreign aid as a concept tends to mitigate his opposition to military aid.

4. Foreign Aid—General

This category includes votes on the overall administration of foreign-aid programs or on funding bills which combine the three previous categories. Of 59 such roll calls, Kennedy voted on the pro side 58 times. The Senate as a whole voted pro 48 times, the Democrats 42 times, and the Northern Democrats 48 times.

Thus, in sum, Kennedy’s record on foreign aid, other than military, is 147 favorable votes and only 4 unfavorable. Bearing in mind that these figures exclude all unanimous or near unanimous votes, this is a remarkable record, and almost certainly ranks Kennedy as the single most consistent supporter of (non-military) foreign aid in the Senate.

5. Defense—Strategic Nuclear

This category includes funding of U.S. strategic nuclear forces and some votes concerning U.S. strategic policy. Of 55 roll calls, Kennedy voted for supporting or strengthening U.S. strategic programs 4 times. By comparison, the Senate voted pro 42 times, Democrats as a group 17 times, and Northern Democrats 9 times. Nuclear strategic policy is an important interest of Kennedy’s. It is noteworthy that his commitment to limiting U.S. nuclear forces is more than twice as great as that of the Northern Democrats as a group.

6. Defense—General

This category includes funding for non-strategic forces as well as the overall level of U.S. defense effort. Of 68 roll calls, Kennedy voted pro-defense 13 times, while the Senate as a whole voted pro 51 times, the Democrats 28 times, the Northern Democrats 17 times. Thus Kennedy’s record is pro-defense only half as often as the Democrats as a group and marginally less often than the Northern Democrats.

7. Relations with Hostile Powers

This category includes votes on U.S. relations with the USSR, other Communist and radical regimes, as well as a few votes concerning relations with OPEC. Of 36 roll calls, Kennedy voted for taking a tougher stance 4 times. The Senate as a whole voted for toughness 16 times, the Democrats 11 times, and the Northern Democrats 10 times. Kennedy, then, favors a tough line in dealing with these countries much less frequently even than other Northern Democrats.

8. Relations with Flawed Friendly Powers

This category comprises U.S. relations with countries which are friendly to the U.S., but which, because of some aspect of their domestic or foreign policies, are viewed by us with ambivalence. Examples of such countries are Chile, Turkey, Taiwan, and Zimbabwe Rhodesia. Of 43 roll calls, Kennedy favored taking a tougher stance toward these countries 42 times. The Senate as a whole favored toughness 19 times, the Senate Democrats 38 times, and the Northern Democrats 40 times. The comparison of this category with the previous one is interesting. Kennedy voted to get tough with hostile powers 11 per cent of the time; he voted to get tough with friendly powers 97 per cent of the time.

9. U.S. Presence Abroad

This category includes votes on the level of U.S. forces stationed abroad, the development of U.S. foreign bases, the Panama Canal Treaties, and support for such non-military instruments of U.S. international presence as Radio Free Europe and the U.S. Information Agency.

Of 24 roll calls, Kennedy voted for a stronger U.S. presence abroad 8 times while the Senate voted for a stronger presence 17 times, the Democrats 8 times, and the Northern Democrats 6 times. It is noteworthy that this and foreign military aid are the only two categories on which Kennedy’s record tends more toward the Center than does that of his fellow Northern Democrats. On foreign aid, military policy, and relations with hostile and flawed friendly powers, he is further from the Center. This suggests that while Kennedy’s record is very “liberal” or “dovish” indeed, it does not seem to be motivated primarily by a spirit of isolationism.

10. Middle East/Israel

This category comprises votes concerning U.S. military or policy support for Israel.

Of 17 roll calls Kennedy voted on the pro-Israel side 15 times, as did the Democrats and the Northern Democrats. The Senate as a whole voted pro-Israel 16 times.




Roll-Call votes provide a record of how a Senator behaves as a legislator, but to see how a Senator acts as a political and intellectual leader, it is necessary to examine his speeches, writings, and the causes to which he lends himself. Kennedy has taken an especially active interest in three areas of foreign policy. These are human rights in countries whose governments are allied with or friendly to the U.S.; relations with governments which are hostile to the U.S.; and arms control.



Human Rights

Kennedy keeps a vigilant eye on human-rights violations in a number of countries. He frequently sends out press releases and enters statements in the Congressional Record spotlighting and demanding stern diplomatic action by the U.S. to punish the offending governments. Often he has introduced legislation designed to cut off aid to the violators. Despite his generally avid support for foreign aid, he believes that “the United States should refuse to provide other than humanitarian aid to countries whose governments are gross violators of human rights and fail to make substantial reforms.” Moreover, he appears to hold very exacting standards for judging what constitutes “substantial reforms.” Earlier this year, he “strongly opposed” the Hayakawa-McGovern Resolution, which the Senate overwhelmingly adopted, to send a team of U.S. observers to monitor the elections held in Zimbabwe Rhodesia. He objected to dignifying these elections even with observers because “the Patriotic Front and other opposition organizations can neither engage in full political campaigning and activities nor publish their views” and because “free elections cannot be held in conditions of insecurity and intimidation.”

Not only would he terminate aid, Kennedy also favors barring private bank loans to countries violating human rights and has introduced a bill requiring public disclosure of such loans to any government to which U.S. assistance has been denied or reduced for violations of human rights.

Kennedy has denounced South Korea as “a veritable police state” and has served as a spokesman for a group of Senators and Congressmen who issued a warning last April that “continued military support for South Korea may make the United States an accomplice to political repression.” But Kennedy’s most intense interest has focused on the governments of Latin America. He has condemned the “appalling human-rights situation in El Salvador,” and called on the U.S. “to end all but humanitarian aid to El Salvador and to reconsider the entire range of our relationships with its government.” Kennedy spearheaded the drive to cut off military aid to Argentina and he strongly protested the approval granted last year by the Carter administration of a $270-million loan to Argentina by the Export-Import Bank. He has spoken out against human-rights violations in Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic.

Although the U.S. has cut off all military and economic aid to Chile, Kennedy believes that “these signals have not been strong enough.” He has advocated that, in addition, we consider seeking to block multilateral aid to Chile, and that we “withdraw all but essential U.S. personnel from Chile and consider permanent recall of our Ambassador. We should consider trade sanctions against Chile. And we should suspend any further Export-Import Bank credits or OPIC [Overseas Private Investment Corporation] guarantees . . . [and] scrutinize more closely the continuing loans and investments made by U.S. private banks in Chile.”

Perhaps the single country to which Kennedy has devoted the most attention concerning human rights has been Nicaragua. In 1977, Kennedy, together with Frank Church, introduced legislation to cut off military aid to Nicaragua. In presenting the bill on the floor, Kennedy observed that repression was on the rise in Nicaragua “primarily in response to a terrorist raid by Cuban-backed Sandinist National Liberation Front insurgents” but that “the threat of Cuban intervention is minimal, according to all reasonably objective observers. Insurgent strength is estimated at only 50 men in Nicaragua—this is hardly a serious threat.” In October 1978, Kennedy accused the Nicaraguan National Guard of having “killed thousands of innocent civilians,” and he called for cutting off all aid to that country. In May 1979, he demanded the recall of the U.S. Ambassador, a cut-off not only of aid but of all credits, and a U.S. effort to block international loans to Nicaragua; he further called on the U.S. to “impose sanctions on the meat and sugar exports by Nicaragua to this country [and to] encourage corresponding measures by the European importers of Nicaraguan coffee and cotton.” Immediately upon the resignation of Somoza, Kennedy issued a statement calling on the U.S. to “promptly recognize this new government which is supported by all of the democratic political forces in Nicaragua.”



An interesting aspect of Kennedy’s views is that his evaluations of certain countries’ human-rights practices seem to vary from the evaluations made by Freedom House, regarded by many as the authority on such questions. In a major address last year on U.S. relations with Latin America, Kennedy observed: “In our dedication to human rights and democracy, we are joined by such nations as Venezuela, Colombia, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Mexico, and most recently the Dominican Republic.” According to Freedom House, Mexico has the identical ranking for civil liberties and political rights as has El Salvador, the nation which Kennedy proposes to punish for its “appalling” practices. Jamaica is the only non-Latin nation on his list of approval and it is singled out later in the same speech as a “political democrac[y] struggling for social democracy,” yet no mention is made of Barbados, the Bahamas, or Trinidad and Tobago, three Caribbean nations which received better ratings from Freedom House than Jamaica does. The Dominican Republic is deemed to have joined the ranks of those dedicated to human rights and democracy “most recently,” by which is meant upon the election as President of Antonio Guzman, political heir to Juan Bosch. Yet even before the election of Guzman, the Dominican Republic, according to Freedom House, rated better than Mexico and only a hair below Jamaica.

What these discrepancies suggest is that Kennedy’s evaluation of a nation’s human-rights practices is not solidly based on the traditionally recognized civil liberties and political rights. A Left-of-Center stance in political philosophy appears to enhance a nation’s human-rights record in Kennedy’s eyes, while a Right-of-Center stance has the opposite effect.



Relations with Hostile Powers

Kennedy is a strong supporter of détente with the USSR, and he has frequently warned against the adoption of too belligerent a tone in our dealings with the Soviets. “Pursuit of détente and human rights is too serious an imperative for us to be sidetracked into righteous posturing and rhetoric which set back either or both of these objectives,” he says. And he believes that American policy must take into account “the likelihood that the Soviet leadership feels beset by an unprecedented number of internal and external challenges.” As Kennedy describes it, there are two factions within the Soviet government, one favoring détente and domestic liberalization and the other opposing these. Exhibitions of toughness by the U.S. in dealing with the Russians will serve to strengthen the repressive hawks in the Kremlin, while U.S. gestures of good will strengthen the permissive doves. After the Soviet government sentenced Yuri Orlov, the founder of the Soviet Helsinki Monitoring Group, to jail in 1978, various kinds of retaliation by the U.S. were widely discussed. Kennedy spoke against retaliation, because “Soviet advocates of confrontation with the U.S. would have one more argument to use against the advocates of cooperation and détente.” On other occasions he has warned that deployment of additional strategic weapons by the United States “will be used by Soviet opponents of better relations with the United States as evidence that we are not committed to halting the arms race.”

Kennedy has written that:

It may be that a continuing reduction of international tensions, coupled with a rising Soviet standard of living, will in time help to liberalize Soviet society—despite today’s concessions made to repressive elements in the Politburo by Soviet supporters of improved U.S.-Soviet relations (emphasis added).

This last phrase is particularly interesting. Kennedy surely counts Brezhnev among the Soviet supporters of improved relations. He has often quoted approvingly from things Brezhnev has said to him, during their private conversations, about the importance of peace. Thus Kennedy’s description seems almost to exculpate Brezhnev from recent Soviet human-rights violations. It suggests a picture of a peace-loving leader, beset by domestic political problems, forced by the opposition to take repressive measures which he does not in his heart support. It is not clear whether Kennedy’s interpretation is a matter of elaborate speculation or whether he has an unrevealed source of intelligence on Politburo deliberations.

Kennedy has warned aganst underestimating how much genuine progress has taken place under détente. “Neither we nor the Russians (apparently) now automatically view every action by the other as intrinsically hostile.” But the question has never been whether “every action” was intrinsically hostile; it has been rather whether the overall objective of the Soviet Union was intrinsically hostile, and there is a strong suggestion that Kennedy’s answer is no. To be sure, Kennedy thinks that “the Soviet Union will no doubt continue to challenge the United States as a world power.” Yet rarely does he convey the sense that this challenge differs from the situation of two boys competing for athletic letters, scholastic honors, or girlfriends, or that it is something more profound and more deadly than a symbolic competition. “We should respect the Soviet desire to feel equal,” he says, “yet there is no point in countenancing foolishness on Moscow’s part nor in matching it with our own.” In the context, “foolishness” means the attempt to expand international political and military influence. What, then, does it mean that we should neither countenance it nor match it? That we will win a moral victory by refusing to compete with the Soviets on such a low level? What will we do with such moral victories? In a similar vein, Kennedy has identified “paranoia” as one of the major causes of U.S. opposition to the SALT II treaty. In light of the fact that in 1972 the Senate approved SALT I by a vote of 88-2, Kennedy’s analysis leaves open the question of what has caused such an alarming rise in American “paranoia” during these past seven years.

Kennedy’s reaction to the Yom Kippur War is illustrative. It is worth recalling that the high-point of détente began with the May 1972 Moscow summit at which Nixon and Brezhnev signed SALT I and many other agreements including the Declaration of Basic Principles of Relations between the two countries. DéTente euphoria lasted, perhaps not entirely coincidentally, through the 1972 elections and well into 1973—until the Yom Kippur War. It was apparent almost at once that the Soviets had been deeply involved in the planning and even in aspects of the execution of the surprise attack on Israel. And they were brazen in their exhortations to the other Arab states to join the war and the oil boycott of the West. This behavior was difficult to reconcile with the agreement, undertaken in the second point of the Declaration of Basic Principles, that “the U.S. and the USSR attach major importance to preventing the development of situations capable of causing a dangerous exacerbation of their relations.” This was a turning point at which many Americans began to reconsider the existing détente. A search of the Congressional Record of this period reveals no substantial comment by Kennedy on these events until about three or four months after the war when he said in a speech:

I believe that this is an historic moment in the history of American foreign policy. The President and Secretary Kissinger have been laboring to create a new structure of peace. Agreements have been reached with both Russia and China. The Middle East may at long last have a chance to move from a situation of repeated conflicts to a genuine peace. And a series of negotiations is in progress to built upon efforts made so far in détente.

Whether we will sustain these efforts, or lose today’s chance to pass decisively beyond the cold war, will depend in part on what happens during the coming critical phase of the SALT talks.

Apparently the events of the recent past had not led Kennedy to any revaluation of Soviet intentions.



Kennedy’s role in pushing the Carter administration toward recognition of China was the culmination of a twelve-year-long effort. “As long ago as 1966, a small number of us in Washington called for new directions in our China policy,” Kennedy recalls. In 1969, Kennedy set forth a position which, Newsweek reported, “went farther than any other Kennedy or any other major U.S. politician—in urging that the U.S. go all out toward cultivating relations with Peking.”

In these early efforts, Kennedy took the view that improvement of relations with Peking should not come at the expense of Taiwan. By 1971, a considerable body of U.S. opinion had developed in favor of supporting a “two-China” policy at the UN. Kennedy’s views, however, had progressed by then. He had come to the conviction that “the People’s Republic of China should be granted its legitimate seat in the United Nations as the sole government of China.” So strongly did Kennedy feel about this that he introduced a bill designed to prevent the U.S. from adopting a two-China aproach. “However reasonable such a dual representation compromise might seem to non-Chinese,” he argued, “it is unacceptable to the Chinese. . . . We must recognize that it is vital to the peace and progress of the world that Peking be brought into the international community.” Kennedy even said that he would rather the U.S. continue its traditional policy of complete opposition to Peking than to shift to a two-China approach. He explained that he felt sure that Peking was likely to be admitted soon even over U.S. objections and that he would rather see the U.S. suffer the humiliation of such a defeat than have entry offered to Peking on terms which it would not accept. He said that by continuing our old position “the U.S. would simply go down with the ship. Even that seems better to me than advocating a dual representation policy—a policy that would prevent Peking’s participation in the UN for the foreseeable future.” The same attitude, that it is important to meet China on its own terms, was again present in Kennedy’s efforts in 1978 to prod the Carter administration. “We can resolve the Taiwan issue as long as American policy respects China’s principles,” he said, adding that “it is neither necessary nor useful” to seek a pledge from Peking not to use force in its pursuit of reunification with Taiwan.

However, one key question on which Kennedy has drawn the line against accepting the Chinese position is on the Chinese desire to cooperate with the U.S. at the expense of the Russians. In response to those who would “play the China card,” Kennedy wrote in 1974:

It is tempting for the United States to engage in a serious effort to play the Soviet Union and China off against one another, in a “triangular politics” of great powers that bears a vague but disquieting resemblance to Orwell’s prophecy in 1984. Yet giving in to this temptation would be misguided or worse.

As in the case of China, Kennedy has long advocated normalization of relations with Cuba, a position he set forth in an article in the New York Times Magazine in January 1973, and in legislation which he introduced in 1975. At the time of the ground-breaking visit to Cuba by Senators Javits and Pell, the Washington Post reported on an earlier visit to Cuba by some of Kennedy’s aides and quoted a Cuban source as saying that “Senator Kennedy has been making efforts to come to Cuba ‘for close to two years and friends of his have come here to put out feelers on several previous occasions.’”

Kennedy has made clear that he is concerned about human rights in Cuba, but feels that this should not impede progress toward normalization, noting that “we have relations with nations—and in fact provide assistance to some of them—which have equal or worse records of violations of human rights than Cuba—Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, the USSR, the People’s Republic of China, India, etc.” Rather than make improvement of Cuba’s human-rights practices a precondition of normalization, Kennedy hopes that normalization will help to solve Cuba’s human-rights problems. He says:

Although Cuba has a program of rehabilitation that has seen numerous prisoners released, some political detainees still remain. Hopefully, in the process of normalizing relations, the issue of political prisoners will be one of those discussed. Clearly our past policy of isolation and hostility has not achieved any direct impact on their situation—the changes and improvements have occurred despite, rather than because of, our policy. With an end to hostile relations between our two countries, the atmosphere may lead to an opportunity for the remaining prisoners to be released or to emigrate.

This seems rather a delicate formulation in light of the fact that Castro has allowed the outside world no accurate knowledge about the status or number of political prisoners, and that some respected observers guess that Cuba may have one of the highest proportions of political prisoners per capita in the world.

On another occasion Kennedy said: “The continued refusal of the government of Cuba to permit objective international organizations to visit maximum-security areas and interview prisoners privately continues to disturb many Americans.” What is especially noteworthy about this statement is that the expression of concern is limited to maximum-security areas because Kennedy reported that members of his staff recently visited some other-than-maximum-security areas and found that “conditions appear adequate.” But no international organization had been allowed to inspect these areas. Did Kennedy view his staff’s visit as having fulfilled the same purpose? If so, why did they produce no public report? Where did they go and what did they see? Were they allowed to interview prisoners privately? What specifically was “adequate” about the conditions? It is hard to understand how a champion of human rights could treat this question in so offhand a manner.



Since shortly after the fall of South Vietnam Kennedy has been urging normalization of relations with the government of Vietnam. Kennedy’s view is that the violation of the Paris peace accords and the conquest of South Vietnam were as much the fault of the United States as of North Vietnam:

Even after the Paris peace accords were signed in 1973, there was no evidence that any serious effort was made by either side to enforce the terms of the agreement—terms that could have led to a genuine political settlement. Instead, both sides moved toward the final military confrontation. We gambled—and South Vietnam lost all.

In the absence of formal diplomatic ties, the government of Vietnam has often chosen to deal with the United States through Senator Kennedy, as well as through Senator McGovern. In December 1975, North Vietnam’s announcement of its willingness to return the remains of the last two U.S. servicemen to die in Vietnam came in a letter from Foreign Minister Nguyen Duy Trinh to Kennedy which expressed appreciation for Kennedy’s support of normalization and reconstruction assistance to Vietnam. Then in July 1976, Kennedy announced that he had received “a cable and a telephone call from the Vietnam embassy in Paris indicating that American citizens still in South Vietnam will be authorized to leave Vietnam.” In September 1978, the Vietnamese used Kennedy as their vehicle to hint at a shift in their negotiating position away from the demand that U.S. reparations payments must precede the establishment of diplomatic relations. “The only written communication to surface on the subject from the Vietnamese,” reported the Wall Street Journal, was “a letter from Premier Pham Van Dong to Senator Edward Kennedy.”

Kennedy has been unusually kind in his remarks about Vietnam. After the announced repatriation of Americans held in South Vietnam, Kennedy said that he wanted to “commend the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam for another gesture of good will to the American people, and for continuing to respond to the many humanitarian issues that remain in the aftermath of the long war.” Kennedy’s Subcommittee on Refugees and Escapees issued a staff report in 1976 which praised the Vietnamese “new economic zones.” Many Vietnamese refugees have described these as a form of involuntary internal exile to conditions of great hardship where large numbers have died. The Subcommittee report observed that the new government in Indochina faced a problem created by “falsely urbanized centers, overpopulated with refugees, often unemployed, from the rural countryside.” The report went on to say that in response to this problem “in South Vietnam . . . a series of ‘new economic zones’ have been created to reintegrate refugees from the countryside into rural life.” The report did not explain why reintegrating refugees from the countryside into rural life should be so difficult or should require coercive measures. It noted that these efforts “are necessarily ambitious,” but that they are “founded on clearly understood needs and problems and a realistic assessment of available and potential resources.” In a similar vein, Kennedy in 1976 said about Cambodia, where the government had depopulated the cities, that “the authorities have necessarily focused all attention on rural areas and increasing food production.”

The dramatic and heartrending problems of the “boat people” and other Indochinese refugees have drawn worldwide attention and have also opened a major debate on the American Left over criticism of the government of Vietnam. Kennedy has taken an active interest in the refugees and has pushed for increased funding and liberalized immigration procedures to help ease their plight. At the same time he has shied away from criticism of the government of Vietnam. Kennedy apparently shares the view, vehemently disputed by “boat people” who have reached the U.S., that the flight from Vietnam is a result of economic conditions. In a recent major address on the problem he called on the U.S. to “deal directly with Vietnam to help ameliorate conditions that contribute to the outflow of refugees. . . . By responding to the humanitarian needs of the Vietnamese . . . [for] relief and reconstruction programs . . . we will also help stabilize conditions and perhaps stem the flow of refugees.” Kennedy has condemned “those within Vietnam and those sources outside Vietnam, as well, who are trafficking in human lives for profit,” but these guilty parties seem not to include the government of Vietnam. On the other hand, Kennedy has called on the non-Communist governments of Southeast Asia “to abide by international law and human rights standards, by granting temporary asylum to bona fide refugees” (his emphasis).



Kennedy’s tone toward friendly governments seems to contrast sharply with his tone toward unfriendly ones. Here are some examples.

On Chile:

A military junta has violated not only the norms of Chilean law but the most fundamental standards of law of Western civilization. It has tortured. It has killed. It has stifled every democratic freedom.

It has condoned and perpetrated the most brutal forms of violence in its own defense. In doing so it has said that violence, from assassination to torture, are acceptable forms of conduct.

On the USSR:

[T]he pace of change [i.e., liberalization] will inevitably be slow, with very real limits on the extent to which the Soviet Union will adapt in ways that are to our liking—just as our evolution will rarely (if ever) meet Soviet desires for American society.

On Zimbabwe Rhodesia:

This [i.e., the “internal settlement”] is a constitution which does not protect basic human rights and which does not provide a foundation for true self-determination.

On the USSR:

[P]rogress . . . can and must be made in order to make the world safe for diversity.

On Argentina:

Argentina has the dubious distinction of having more political prisoners than the rest of the hemisphere combined.

On Cuba:

[S]ome political detainees still remain.

On Various Friendly Governments:

Whether in Chile, in Southern Africa, or in Korea, we must heed the voices of the victims and instill in them the renewed hope that America will once more respond to its own heritage and its own ideals.

We must stand with the oppressed, not the oppressors.

We must stand with the defenders of human rights, not with those who defile them.

On Cuba:

[T]he U.S. . . . should respect the experiment that has taken place in Cuba and normalize relations with it.

Kennedy is perhaps aware of the contradiction here and he has defended his position by arguing that “the most fundamental human right remains freedom from war.” This is an idea not widely shared by non-pacifists. Yet even if this idea is germane to relations with the Soviet Union, it is unclear why it would have bearing on relations with Cuba, Vietnam, and other Communist countries. And even with regard to the USSR, it is by no means self-evident that muting American objection to Soviet human-rights practices helps to preserve peace.

Kennedy’s contradictory approach to human rights has led him into another kind of potentially embarrassing situation. Since President Carter brought the human-rights issue to the fore in the early days of his administration, those active in the international human-rights struggle have observed that a number of 1960’s-style New Leftists and other radical elements have thrown themselves into a certain kind of one-sided human-rights activity. Their vehicles are such groups as the Institute for Policy Studies, the Coalition for New Foreign and Military Policies (the group which honored Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda at the start of their recent national tour), the North American Coalition for Human Rights in Korea (a group much more concerned about repression in South Korea than in North Korea), and others. Kennedy has maintained active contact with these groups in his human-rights work, sometimes issuing joint statements with them, entering their material in the Congressional Record, and relying on them for information.

In 1976 Kennedy eulogized Orlando Letelier as “a good man as well as a man of great intellectual capacity and courage” who was killed because he “believed in justice and freedom.” Letelier was the victim of a heinous crime, but subsequent revelations of his connections with the Cuban secret police make Kennedy’s encomium sound odd. In 1978 Kennedy issued a statement supporting the refusal of Harry Bridges’s International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union to load certain weapons for shipment to Chile. Nothing in the statement indicated an awareness of what everyone with even a passing knowledge of U.S. labor history knows: that the ILWU is just as likely to refuse to ship weapons to NATO should it be engaged in war against the Warsaw Pact.

In all these dealings, Kennedy seems not to observe the dictum which has guided many American liberals in various battles over the past several decades—to avoid making common cause with the anti-democratic Left.



Arms Control

Kennedy is a sharp critic of U.S. defense spending. He sought out the opportunity to testify at the Senate Budget Committee’s hearings on the 1977 budget in order to raise his voice against “constantly adding more money for defense—a practice which has been the trend in Congress since I have been here these past fourteen years.” Measured in constant dollars defense spending had risen only in three of the previous thirteen years, the three main years of the escalation of U.S. participation in the Vietnam war. During each one of the other ten years, constant-dollar spending actually declined, so that at the time Kennedy was speaking it was about 17 per-cent lower than it had been when he entered the Senate.

Kennedy has taken a special interest in the area of strategic nuclear policy and arms control, and has carved out for himself an important role on these issues, most recently as the Senate’s leading proponent of a comprehensive nuclear test ban. In connection with his fight against the ABM in the late 60’s, Kennedy asked some scholars to put together a book compiling the arguments against the ABM. The men he approached were Jerome Wiesner, former science adviser to President Kennedy, and Abram Chayes, who later became the chief foreign-policy adviser to the 1972 McGovern campaign. Among the contributors to the book, in addition to Wiesner and Chayes, were George Rathjens, Jeremy Stone, Mason Willrich, Marshall Shulman, and Adam Yarmolinsky. These men are well-known members of what is sometimes called the “arms-control community,” a group of scholars and public officials who have developed and propagated what John Newhouse, a sympathizer, has called the “theology” of arms control.

This theology—to which Kennedy adheres—consists of three main parts. The first is a notion of fundamental truth. The second is an explanation of why some people don’t behave in accord with that truth. The third is a formula for correcting the problem.

The fundamental truth of the arms-control theology begins with the idea that nuclear weapons are so destructive that they can have no use other than deterrence of other nuclear weapons. “There is no point in trying to define relative national power in terms of weapons that cannot be used without risks to the future of the world,” says Kennedy. Further, each side should have the ability to deter the other; it was in the U.S. national interest to allow the Soviets in the 1960’s to catch up with us in nuclear weaponry. As Kennedy puts it, “deterrence of nuclear attack must be mutual . . . we can only be safe from the threat of a nuclear holocaust if the Soviet Union feels that its nuclear deterrent is secure, as well.” Because of this mutual stalemate, it does not matter who has a stronger nuclear force.

Kennedy said last year:

. . . nuclear superiority lost most of its meaning over 15 years ago, when both sides possessed enough nuclear weapons to inflict unacceptable damage to the other after any first strike. President Brezhnev told me last month that he was convinced that even one nuclear bomb dropped by one side over the other would result in a general nuclear exchange—a nuclear holocaust not only for our two nations but for the entire world.

In light of this fact, it is clear, so the theology holds, that the U.S. has no need, virtually ever, to augment its forces. “If . . . we continue to stress the irreducible elements of mutual assured destruction,” says Kennedy, “. . . then our massive nuclear arsenal will speak for itself: It needs no bolstering.” This viewpoint helps to explain why Kennedy voted against strategic defense programs on 51 out of 55 occasions.

The second part of the theology attempts to explain why certain people, in particular those governing the two superpowers, have not yet come to see the foregoing fundamental truths. The first reason is that there are powerful elements in both societies who have a vested interest in nuclear arms production. These include the military, some nuclear scientists, and the defense contractors, who are seen as combining to make up a formidable lobby. Kennedy laments that “it is easy to become discouraged by the energy and resourcefulness of the people and institutions working on weapons technology and by the enormous incentives which motivate some of them.” Moreover the pro-nuclear forces on each side feed off their counterparts on the other. “Both their generals and ours use evidence of new developments on the other side to justify new developments of their own,” explains Kennedy. This constitutes “. . . a strange but unspoken alliance of interests and reactions,” called the “action/ reaction cycle” through which the arms race will, so the theology holds, spiral onward and upward to Armageddon.

Two key factors help to drive the spiral. One is the tendency to overstate the capability of the adversary. In 1976, for example, Kennedy protested that “it is deeply disturbing to hear once again a Pentagon rhetoric to justify the defense budget that grossly inflates Soviet strength and deflates our own.” Of course it is not known for certain whether Kremlin planners make similar overestimates of U.S. programs, but the danger that they may do so requires that we bend over backward to avoid providing grist “for their fears.” The other factor driving the arms spiral is technology. The scientists produce new weapons faster than the diplomats can control them. A corollary of this is that the United States bears a disproportionate share of responsibility for the arms race. Kennedy has put it this way: “The United States has taken the lead in most new types of nuclear technology; therefore, the decision whether to expand the competition in arms into new areas is largely in our hands.” It is not clear why Kennedy believes that the Russians would not anyway proceed into areas where the U.S. abstains, especially in light of Soviet leadership in anti-satellite warfare and the “race” which the Soviet Union continues to run with itself in such areas as chemical warfare, strategic air defense, and civil defense.

The third part of the theology sets forth the remedy. “We can break that nuclear spiral only if we have the political will to stand up to the weapons makers in both countries and cry ‘Halt,’” declares Kennedy. The logical place to begin is, of course, at home. “We must practice restraint and demand that the Soviet Union do the same.” But what should we do if the Soviets fail to respond in kind? From the beginning of SALT in 1969 the U.S. was concerned about the giant Soviet SS-9 ICBM. (The U.S. had refrained from building such giants.) By the mid-70’s the Soviets had begun to replace these with an even larger and better version, the SS-18, and had developed a MIRV capability which made these especially menacing to American ICBM’s. Kennedy in 1975 argued strongly against any U.S. countermove:

What we should be doing is going to the SALT talks and insisting that the Soviet Union join us in giving up a counterforce option against land-based missiles and we must do this without first building—or even developing—so-called bargaining chips.

This is precisely what U.S. negotiators had been trying to do for six years already, and what they continued to do for four more years. But the Soviets refused to budge, which is why the Carter administration reluctantly decided to move ahead with plans to deploy the MX. Carter’s decision has drawn heavy fire from Kennedy:

For a decade we have been trying to teach the Soviets a fundamental strategic lesson—that an invulnerable deterrent, a secure retaliatory force, adds to stability. It is time that we re-learned that lesson ourselves.

The point seems to be that no matter for how long or how dramatically the Soviets demonstrate their refusal to accept our concept of mutual deterrence, we must perservere in our adherence to it and in our policy of unilateral restraint.

Perhaps the best-known disciple of the arms-control theology in which Kennedy believes has been Paul Warnke. Warnke’s resignation last year from his position as chief U.S. SALT negotiator was widely interpreted as having been encouraged by the Carter administration in order to put some distance between the SALT treaty and his controversial views. At the time, Kennedy took a verbal swipe at the administration for letting Warnke go and said of him:

His clear and reasoned speeches around this country have made a compelling case for SALT. When Paul resigns at the end of this month our nation will lose one of its toughest and ablest negotiators, one of the most effective arms-control directors, and one of the most dedicated public servants it has ever had. Paul Warnke is surpassed by no one in his commitment to the security of our nation and to arms control and disarmament.

Kennedy’s many pronouncements serve to illustrate an important contradiction that lies at the core of arms-control theology. If both sides have such a superfluity of weapons that we needn’t worry when the Russians build more, then why is an arms race held to be so dangerous? If it is no threat to us when the Soviets alone are building weapons, why are we in dire jeopardy if we build them as well?

Like other theologies, moreover, the arms-control theology tends to be impervious to experience. Kennedy’s repetitious litany has led Stephen Rosenfeld, the Washington Post’s liberal foreign-policy analyst, to comment:

The notion that the United States hurts its chances for agreement by tending to its defenses is a holdover from a period in the 1960’s and earlier when American strategic superiority and momentum were plain. But that period is past. Where has Kennedy been?

Rosenfeld wrote this four years ago. Wherever it was that Kennedy “had been,” he appears to be there still.




The Kennedys have been regarded by many as interested more in the exercise of power than in ideology. One sometimes hears it asked how much of Senator Kennedy’s record reflects “true beliefs” which may be expected to remain constant, and how much may have been transient responses to passing political currents. The question, of course, cannot be answered. But two observations are pertinent. One is that Kennedy’s main foreign-policy interests, despite certain inconsistencies already noted, tend to fit into a broader world view which Kennedy has on occasion tried to articulate. The second is that his ideas seems to have remained constant for a substantial period of time.

After the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, Kennedy, together with Senator Cranston, did the nation a service by organizing an extraordinary Senate session. Two days were given not to specific bills and amendments, but to consideration of “the underlying foreign and military policy issues facing the nation in the aftermath of the Indochina tragedy.” Kennedy took this opportunity to lay out his conception of the “five vital interests” which should shape U.S. policy. These are:

  1. Nuclear arms control.
  2. Defining carefully our overseas security commitments, which Kennedy believes should be United to Western Europe, Japan, and Israel. Korea seems to be a borderline case where Kennedy evidently favors slow disengagement (slow, so as not to alarm Japan). Kennedy has said about Africa that he is against “bringing that continent within the compass of an outmoded concept of containment.” Since this is the only concept of containment that we have, Kennedy is in effect opposed to resisting Communist expansion anywhere in Africa.
  3. To avoid “trying to manipulate physically the process of change in a complex and difficult world.” In another speech at about the same time Kennedy said that “Vietnam is the most painful lesson we have ever learned about the aspirations of other peoples” and that “we are being challenged to accept new concepts of nationalism and independence”—two observations which now seem to apply to Cambodia and Laos as well as they apply to the U.S.
  4. “A global economic compact designed to promote a more equitable distribution of the world’s wealth.”
  5. International human rights.

An underlying theme of this program is that the United States is less menaced by Communism than we have in the past believed.

Kennedy has held to this general perspective for at least twelve years. In Decisions for a Decade, a book published in 1968, but clearly written not later than 1967, Kennedy observed that “the portrait of a Stalinist Russia committed to our destruction has faded” and that “every European nation, democratic or Communist, . . . is more concerned with developing economically than with exporting revolution.”

In the same book Kennedy advocated a reduction in U.S. commitments abroad, especially a “reduction of American involvement in the military and economic affairs of Europe,” and a reassessment of the role of NATO, an institution which Kennedy felt was “better suited to yesterday’s dangers than to tomorrow’s opportunities.” As to other parts of the world, Kennedy warned America to avoid opposing what he saw as the tide of inevitable change:

. . . guerrilla movements, despite their use of terror and violence, will frequently offer discontented people a faith, an organization, a way of life. To these people, the terror which we abhor is not that much worse from the life of poverty and pestilence which they seek to escape. . . . It is, to put it bluntly, not our business to suppress these movements.

In addition Kennedy called on developed nations to give “1 per cent of their gross national product to world development programs” and to channel this through multilateral institutions because “bilateral aid is in many respects stifling.” And he recommended that we “make clear our disapproval of repressive measures” by right-wing governments in Latin America. In 1968, Kennedy wrote in his introduction to the book he inspired against the ABM that “arms-limitation talks with the Soviets” offer “the only real hope for world stability and security.”

It can be seen, then, that all the main themes of 1975 were also the themes of 1967-68, and they have remained constant into 1979. This, together with Kennedy’s voting record, which shows no significant changes over seventeen years, suggest a long-term consistency of view.




Kennedy’s views on foreign policy seem to convey an aura of idealism, but it is an idealism fueled by naiveté and by an unrealistic sense of the balance of power in the world. In his championing of foreign aid, and his insistence that our aid programs not be used as a tool of political interest; in the unimpeachable faith he places in the efficacy of arms control; in the high standards of human rights he applies to some countries; and in his tireless pursuit of reconciliation with those hostile to us, Kennedy might appear an idealist. Yet his is an idealism that has been purchased at the cost of analytic clarity, that disregards the world’s dangers and difficulties, and that underestimates what might be done by this country to counter them. Consider Kennedy’s concept of America’s five “vital interests”:

1. Almost all Americans agree on the desirability of nuclear arms control. The really difficult questions concern Soviet intentions and their implications. A year after the signing of SALT I, Kennedy expressed the view that “the Soviet Union has a vested interest in a web of arms-control agreements which have been erected over the past decade. They know that this carefully balanced creation would fall to pieces at the first sign of a treaty violation.” Yet even the State Department and others who have defended Soviet behavior under SALT acknowledge that it has been replete with ambiguities and has frequently probed the outer perimeter of the accord’s restrictions.

In 1976, Kennedy commented on the U.S.-Soviet military balance that “the biggest canard of all is the charge that the Soviet Union is outspending us on defense.” Here, too, reality instructs otherwise. The astronomical level of Soviet defense spending is taken by most observers to hold important implications for arms control. If the Soviets are deploying weapons much faster than the U.S. is doing (and are also trying to cheat), the possibility arises that they would hope to use arms-control agreements to lull the U.S. into complacency, while they pursue military advantage. Most supporters of SALT would acknowledge this as a danger against which the U.S. should remain vigilant. But Kennedy has taken the view that Soviet intentions don’t matter! He said in 1974: “This need (and opportunity) to control the arms race has been important for us regardless of Moscow’s motives and capabilities.”

2. It is hard to see how Kennedy’s proposal to limit U.S. security commitments abroad to Western Europe, Japan, and Israel would work, even assuming, that it is desirable. What would the Israelis and the Europeans think of a security commitment which came attached to a declaration that the Indian Ocean, Africa, and the rest of the Middle East are outside the U.S. defense perimeter? What would they think of Kennedy’s 1975 proposal to withdraw the small symbolic U.S. naval presence from the Persian Gulf so as not to provoke the Russians into a competition for influence in that area? How would Japan feel if the closest country to which the United States recognized a security commitment was Israel? The Japanese, the Europeans, the Israelis tend to believe-as do most other peoples—that their security is profoundly affected by events in neighboring areas. A U.S. policy which seeks to isolate three such narrow spheres of U.S. commitment is bound to alarm those who live within the spheres almost as much as those who are left outside of them.

3. Kennedy’s prescription that the U.S. avoid “trying to manipulate physically the process of change in a complex and difficult world” seems to take no account of the fact that there are others busily trying to do just that—and to our disadvantage. If we have learned the wisdom of not seeing Communist machinations behind every manifestation of discontent in the world, are we now to accept as mere local discontent every effort of the Soviets to extend their empire? Perhaps the Sandinistas are true democrats and the armies of North Vietnam are nothing but the instruments of a quest for national independence. But if there are those quick to see a Soviet presence where there is insufficient evidence, Kennedy seems to have difficulty perceiving such a presence even where the evidence is more than ample, as when he wrote in Decisions for a Decade that “today, with the exception of East Germany, Russia has no more satellites.”

4. Kennedy’s call for a new “global economic compact” and his idea about foreign aid suggest an approach to poor countries which would increase the transfer of American wealth to these countries while decreasing efforts to exert American influence on them. Yet the failure of American foreign aid lies largely in our present inability to influence its recipients. The United States cannot provide enough charity to lift the world out of poverty. The answer to poverty lies in social and cultural changes which will enable poor countries to produce more wealth. The U.S. may not be able to create such changes in other countries, but it can certainly foster and encourage them: in any case, it is hard to understand who will be helped by an effort to guard against the exertion of American influence.

5. In his approach to human rights, Kennedy seems innocently hopeful about the benefits which will accrue from a U.S. reconciliation with Communist countries, as in his idea that with U.S.diplomatic recognition, Castro may release all political prisoners. He seems equally unrealistic about what may be gained from cracking down on allies, as with his suggestion that the cause of human rights would be helped by a termination of U.S. military aid to South Korea.



The Kennedy presidential candidacy is based on a promise of strong, dynamic leadership, which the country surely wants. But leadership for what, and to what end? Kennedy’s world view appears to foresee an America with more modest military strength, fewer commitments, a diminished interest in exerting influence abroad, and a reduced attachment to the defense of our own values. On the record, Kennedy stands for a partial withdrawal from the role of world leadership which the United States has played since World War II. It is very much an open question whether this is the direction in which Americans yearn to be boldly led.


1 Decisions for a Decade, preface by George F. Kennan (Doubleday, 1968), and ABM: An Evaluation, edited by Abram Chayes and Jerome B. Wiesner (Harper & Row, 1969).

2 The NSI includes only foreign and defense issues, whereas ADA includes domestic issues as well, but it is easy to separate out the foreign and defense issues, as has been done in the figures provided here.

3 These categories do not include votes concerning the war in Indochina, the draft, or the division of war powers between the legislative and executive branches. Nor do they include other occasional areas of Senate action such as tariffs and minor treaties. In each category a criterion of significance was applied excluding roll calls which were unanimous or near unanimous, i.e., where fewer than 10 per cent of the votes were on the losing side or where fewer than 67 Senators were present. In addition, purely trivial votes were excluded, e.g., regional competition over which shipyard shall receive a given naval contract. Otherwise, all votes were counted in their respective category with the exception of the Panama Canal Treaties. It was necessary to select the three most important, out of the 80 roll calls which were held on these treaties, for inclusion in the category concerning U.S. presence abroad. To have included all 80 would have been to overwhelm the category and rob it of meaning. All data are from the Congressional Quarterly Almanac.

About the Author

Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is working on a book about Arab and Muslim democrats.

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