Ted Sorensen on Force and Diplomacy
Theodore C. Sorensen, former special counsel and adviser to President John F. Kennedy and a widely published author on the presidency and foreign affairs, practiced international law for more than 36 years as a senior partner, and now of counsel, at the prominent U.S. law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. The former chairman of the firm’s International Practice Committee, he has represented U.S. and multinational corporations in negotiations with governments all over the world and advised and assisted a large number of foreign governments and government leaders, ranging from the late President Sadat of Egypt to former President Mandela of South Africa.
Mr. Sorensen and his team at Paul, Weiss have advised U.S. corporations on factories in Russia and Africa, pipelines in the Caribbean and Latin America, and disputes in the Middle East and North America, and negotiated on their behalf with government officials at the highest level in dozens of countries. He has advised foreign corporations from five continents on investments in the United States and elsewhere, foreign governments on problems with the World Bank, the United Nations, the U.S. government and foreign investors, and on changes in their respective mining, petroleum, investment and election codes, and constitutions.
In 2002, Mr. Sorensen was a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Mr. Sorensen is on the advisory board of the Foreign Policy Leadership Council, a director of the Council on Foreign Relations (until 2004) and the Century Foundation, a member of the advisory board of the Partnership for a Secure America and an honorary co-chair of the ABA Commission on the Renaissance of Idealism in the Legal Profession. Mr. Sorensen is the author of the 1965 international best seller Kennedy, seven other books on the presidency, politics or foreign policy and numerous articles on those subjects in Foreign Affairs, The New York Times and other publications. As an active figure in the Democratic Party, he has participated in 10 of the last 12 Democratic Party National Conventions and served in a number of governmental, political and civic posts. Appointed by President Bill Clinton, he served on the boards of the Central Asian-American Enterprise Fund (covering Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan) and the Commission on White House Fellows. He is experienced in the ways of Washington, the United Nations and the multilateral (World Bank, IFC, etc.) and U.S. (AID, OPIC, etc.) financing institutions.
Mr. Sorensen was born in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1928. He is father of three sons, one daughter and is married to Gillian Martin Sorensen, a former New York City commissioner, a former United Nations under-secretary general and current senior advisor and national advocate at the United Nations Foundation. Mr. Sorensen's memoirs, Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, were published by HarperCollins in May of 2008.
Question: Where does diplomacy fail, and when can a president use force?
Ted Sorensen: Force should always be used as a last resort. Diplomacy which is backed by the possibility of superior force, frankly, is sometimes more effective diplomacy. But diplomacy should always be tried first, particularly in the age of weapons of mass destruction. We had some military folks around – not Maxwell Taylor, our Chief of Staff I hasten to add, but we had some – who thought the United States could win a nuclear war. There’s no such thing as winning a nuclear war. And war, as President Kennedy said more than once, is total folly in the nuclear age. So diplomacy is necessary. In the Cuban Missile Crisis, the recommendation that we begin as a first step by bombing the Soviet’s nuclear missile sites in Cuba – had we accepted that advice, you and I wouldn’t be sitting here talking about this today. We now know that the Soviets, in addition to those nuclear strategic weapons, had tactical weapons on the island of Cuba, and the authority . . . the local commanders and authority to use those tactical weapons on their own. And they used nuclear weapons against the United States under the rules of engagement, if you can call them that, in those days . . . those mad days of MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction. United States would have responded probably with tactical nuclear weapons. But once you get on that nuclear ladder, pretty soon the other side is trying strategic weapons. We respond with strategic weapons. You keep going until neither country is left and nuclear fallout . . . radiation is spread by wind and water to the far corners of the earth, and the planet earth has extinguished itself.
Question: Nuclear weapons are not the weapon of choice anymore, are they?
Ted Sorensen: That’s correct, because even back in those days there was a war game in which United States would use . . . study the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. It turned out that because of the prevailing winds and otherwise, the radiation blew back and we destroyed far more of our allies and ourselves than we did of the enemy. Nuclear weapons are simply not that useful. Held in reserve, as I say, they can at least get some people to talk to you. But when used, they are no assurance of anything except tragedy.
Recorded on: 1/30/08
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