Gathering of Secretaries of State

You wouldn’t think of Maine as a place that offered much opportunity to write about national issues, but that wasn’t always the case. Take this story, for example, about a gathering of six former U.S. Secretaries of State at Bates College for a discussion about 1980s-era foreign policy. This event was sponsored by the Muskie Archives, a collection of Edmund Muskie-related papers and artifacts that is housed on the Bates campus in Lewiston, Maine. One thing I remember about this day is that the event did not provide a separate  area for reporters; we had to sit up front in the audience, right in front of the row reserved for the wives of the secretaries. I had to balance my old Radio Shack laptop on my lap and type furiously, and that old machine made quite a lot of noise. I recall that when the event was over, Jane Muskie gave me a pretty good chewing-out for making such a racket. Another thing; I didn’t cover national foreign policy issues every day, so I had to do some intense homework to prepare for it. This took place in October 1989.

 Several former secretaries of state agreed Friday that recent thaws in U.S.-Soviet relations reflect a softening ideology in the Soviet Union rather than abrupt changes in Soviet leaders’ strategic policies or perception of their national interest.

Six former top diplomats — Dean Rusk, Edmund Muskie, Henry Kissinger, William Rogers, Cyrus Vance and Alexander Haig — gathered for a conference sponsored in part by the Muskie Archives at Bates College, Muskie’s alma mater.

muskie pic

Edmund Muskie

‘Ideologically, communism is in deep trouble,’ Kissinger said. ‘But the Russians have never been able to define their security except through physical domination.

‘We would make a mistake if we thought we could live in a state of conciliation without an understanding on the national interest issue, and not just on the ideological one,’ said Kissinger, who served under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

cyrus vance

Cyrus Vance

Vance, President Jimmy Carter’s first secretary of state, said most recent changes in the Soviet Union have been philosophical rather than territorial.

‘None of the Russian leaders have abandoned the loot collected by their predecessors,’ he said. ‘Little of the Soviet Union’s policies have been abandoned by the present leadership in places like Afghanistan, Cuba and Central America.

dead rusk

Dean Rusk

‘But, as one who was present at the beginning of the Cold War, I waited a long time to see when the Soviet Union would join the rest of the human race,’ Vance said. ‘With a little luck, this is beginning to happen.’

William P. Rogers, who also served as secretary of state under Nixon, said there has been a recent American reassessment of the Soviets.


Alexander Haig

‘The Cold War was epitomized by the Reagan statement that Russia was an ‘evil empire,’ and that has been the general attitude of the American government and its people for a long time,’ he said. ‘I think recent events have shown that that part of the controversy is just about ended.’

Vance predicted that new arms control agreements could be reached in the near future.

‘I think we are in the process now of beginning to put the pieces in

rogers pic

William Rogers

place of what may be a substantial reduction in the next so-called START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks) agreement, which I think will come perhaps at the next summit,’ he said. ‘It is even possible that in 1990 or thereafter there could be an agreement with respect to conventional weapons.’

The former secretaries discussed foreign policy issues inside the Merrill Gymnasium. The event was moderated by former NBC News announcer Edwin Newman and former New York Times newsman Hedrick Smith.


Henry Kissinger

A group of about 40 people protested outside, waving signs saying ‘Welcome Secretaries of War’ and ‘Dollars Can’t Buy Lives.’ The protest was sponsored by a campus group, the New World Coalition.



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