Campaign'80 interview with Walter Mondale; Mondale: Russians can't doubt US intentions
Mr. Vice-President, how do you respond to critics who say the Carter administration was very late in discovering the aggressive intentions of the Soviets?Skip to next paragraph
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From the beginning of our administration...we have been very realistic about Russian intentions and efforts. One of the biggest problems about the 1972 summit with the Soviet Union was that the world was persuaded or led to believe that there was a rosy new era of detente, that somehow the Soviet Union was a much more restrained and responsible power than later or previous events justified. We have never done that. We have never argued anything other than the Soviet Union was a tough competitor. We showed it in our budgets, we showed it in our strategy from the beginning. We negotiated a very tough and, I think, excellent SALT agreement. We immediately moved to strengthen NATO with a long-term improvement program. We started right out moving toward the decision for the long-range theater nuclear force structure to meet the [Soviet] challenge.
We moved swiftly into the Middle East to try to get something going there where we could bring about a reduction in tensions, and certainly the Camp David accords were a part of that. We opened up our relations with the People's Republic of China. We vastly improved relations throughout Asia and the Pacific -- among other things a permanent base in the Philippines
From the very start we were realistic and showed our willingness to try detente, and we're still interested in detente, but at the same time fully appreciative of its difficulties and the need for deterrents.
What do you say to the charge that the President has sent out a signal of toughness to the Soviets, but because of his previous soft actions -- on Soviet troops in Cuba, for one -- there is little credibility in his words or actions now?
I don't think there's any evidence that we've been weak at all on the Cubans. We have been far more direct in public on Cuban involvement around the world. We've had considerable success in defeating the Cubans [in their bid for] a seat on the UN Security Council, where we helped lead the fight to block them....It comes in poor grace, it seems to me, for previous administrations that didn't even discover the presence of Soviet troops in Cuba to be critical of this administration, which did discover it and then move to insist on restraints and limitations there. Of course, just as with the Soviet Union, we've tried to get a basis for a reduced tensions with the Cubans, but it had to be based on different performance on their part....At no time have we done anything but keep the pressure on the Cubans to stop their international interventionism.
Some people are expressing anxiety that the President's drawing of a line in the Persian Gulf has to involve the nuclear threat.
I think the test of leadership was recently when the President took the tough step on the grain embargo, some of the other steps....All these people [who] have used hard adjectives have been remarkably reluctant to do anything that involves sacrifice and toughness. That was a good test and the President stood up well under it and the American people responded to that strength, as well as his leadership on the Olympic issue and the rest.
The best way to invite an absolutely fundamental challenge to the US as well as the security of the rest of the civilized world would be to leave doubts in the mind of the Soviet Union about the danger of any efforts on their part in Iran or Pakistan or the Middle East, the Persian Gulf. This could be catastrophic if they were to get in that position. The President drew a hard line there, and in so doing enhanced the possibility that conflict would not ensue. If doubt were left then they might be encouraged to do something like they've done in Afghanistan. . . . The Russians can be under no doubt whatsoever about our intentions there. We're moving rapidly to develop an expanded presence in a conventional sense in southwest Asia, in the Indian Ocean , in the Persian Gulf, in northern Africa, through the rapid-deployment forces and the rest. All of this is designed to make our challenge credible and to deter the Russians and to make less likely any threat or use of that kind.