Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Robert E. Barbour
BARBOUR: NATO strategy assumed that any Soviet movement on land would involve massed armor formations and this is what it was designed against. Anyhow, we finally prevailed, even got the Germans—I guess it was Helmut Schmidt at that time—to agree, and we were going for the final endorsement in NATO. Then suddenly one Saturday morning George Vest got a telephone call from the White House saying the President had changed his mind, and therefore we would not pursue it. I remember sitting around in his office at that very moment talking about, not only our frustrations, but what kind of message were we sending to the Soviets. And that is, I guess, the most easily remembered example. It was certainly one of the most dramatic. It was not the only one because in general it was hard to get clear cut focused decisions in the way that we had been accustomed to getting them under the preceding administration. So, yes, there were elements in the transition that we had to wrestle with.
Q: Can we talk a little more about the neutron bomb. What were the reactions you were getting. Your bailiwick were which countries now?
BARBOUR: Western Europe. France, Italy, Spain, Portugal were the main ones, East Turkey and Cyprus, etc.
Q: The most publicized one is the fact that Helmut Schmidt had sort of laid himself way out on a limb, being from the socialist side, and going for this thing and Carter had cut him off, and he despised Carter thereafter. But in your countries, were you getting any reflection of this. I mean we had obviously been using pressure to get people to accept this, and then to have this.
BARBOUR: The French had never been enthusiastic. The biggest problems were the British and the Germans, both of whom felt betrayed, as you said. And it did have an effect on our future position in dealing with those governments in that administration because whatever the personal relations might have been, there was always an element of doubt, which is understandable as to just how persevering we would be once we made a decision, once we took a difficult position. How far will the Americans go with it if things really get tough. Then there was always that element of doubt in their minds. But that was apart from dealing with the transition administration to administration.
Q: What was the attitude of the Italians on this? Because they'd usually been kind of with us on some of the more difficult positions, even though they might not agree.
BARBOUR: The effect was devastating, even if the governments individually might have been relieved that suddenly the pressure was off in their own streets and things, they're in the same quandary. The position of the United States in NATO was enormously diminished by this single decision. It was not something that went away quickly and easily.