Historian Richard Moss presented his new book Nixon’s Back Channel To Moscow: Confidential Diplomacy and Detente on October 18, 2018 at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Richard Moss reveals through Nixon’s Back Channel to Moscow the behind-the-scenes deliberations of Nixon, his advisors, and their Soviet counterparts. His book draws on newly declassified documents as well as the Nixon Tapes. Moss explores the central role that confidential diplomacy played in shaping America’s foreign policy during this critical era.
Dr. Richard Moss is an associate research professor at the United States Naval War College’s Center for Naval Warfare Studies specializing in U.S. – Russian relations during the Cold War. Moss is an expert on the Nixon Presidential recordings, and previously served as a historian at the U.S. Department of State.
Moss formed the foundation of his lecture by providing definitions for diplomacy and back channel: diplomacy was ‘the profession, activity, or skill of managing international relations, typically by a country’s representatives abroad‘; and back channel was ‘a means of communication which circumvents official channels, especially in order to facilitate informal or clandestine negotiations‘.
It was through the lens of those definitions that Moss illustrated how President Richard Nixon communicated with the Soviets, without the participation of the U.S. State Department. A main back channel was Foreign Policy Advisor Henry Kissinger, with the Soviet Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Dobrynin. Other back channels were: U.S. Ambassador to NATO Richard Elsworth, with the Soviet Charge de Affairs Yuri Cherniakov; and Henry Kissinger with Soviet KBG officer Boris Sedov.
Utilizing the example of Nixon’s successful normalization of diplomatic relations with China that had ceased for over two decades, Moss showcases how back-channels can be successful. Original attempts by Nixon to connect with China, and even President Lyndon Johnson’s attempts, had failed. Nixon was successful though by ways of back channeling to China through a mutual alley, the leader of Pakistan, a dictator named Yahya Khan.
Moss detailed the relationship between Kissinger and Dobrynin. They spoke so often, and built such a close relationship, that they had a secure phone installed to speak from their individual offices in the White House and the Russian Embassy. While the two men worked for countries that held vastly different ideals and goals, they worked together to accomplish much for the mutual benefit of both countries.
The sources for Moss were extremely important for building his research and writing his book. While there were several avenues of source material, the key source was in the Nixon Tapes. Other sources also included official records from Kissinger and Dobrynin and the books they authored on their work, and official government telephone transcripts from phone meetings.
Moss concludes that Nixon’s back-channeling was necessary and effective, when it supplemented rather than supplanted traditional diplomacy. This type of diplomacy for Nixon’s White House and the Soviets provided numerous advantages including: added secrecy to avoid leaks; safety value for tensions; and a linkage directly between the leaders for both countries.