The Unknown Richard Pipes


Dr. Jiri ValentaMay 29, 2018


BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 849, May 29, 2018

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Most of the obituaries for the late Professor Richard Pipes, the doyen of America’s Russologists and President Ronald Reagan’s adviser, present an incomplete picture of this complex and unique scholar. Pipes, who died on May 17 at the age of 94, was not just an unrepentant, Polish-born, anti-Soviet hardliner like Zbigniew Brzezinski. He was also, like Henry Kissinger, a refugee from the Holocaust and a unique visionary. His work is relevant for students of both Russia and the Middle East.

Formation and Disintegration of the USSR

Pipes’s scholarship provides a key to understanding Russia’s expansion not only in Christian Europe but also in the Muslim border areas in the direction of the Middle East. As Pipes recalled in his superb Vixi [I Lived], he studied the Muslim nationalities in Central Asia and even their Turkic languages on site and in depth.

Pipes’s updated volume The Formation of the Soviet Union is still relevant in the post-Soviet era, when ethnic groups, including those in the Muslim borderlands, have reclaimed their independence. He provides insight into what became the Achilles’ Heel of the Soviet empire: Muslim groups and their brethren, Uzbeks and Tajiks, in northern Afghanistan.

In the late 1950s, while visiting Alma Ata, the capital of Kazakhstan, Pipes watched a May 1 parade of expressionless Kazakhs marching with portraits of Stalin and asked a probing question of his young Russian escort. “What would happen if the Kazakhs were to say to you, as the Algerians did to the French – Thank you very much, and now please leave?” The reply he received, “Pust‘ pobrobuiut [just let them try]”, was arrogant and wrong. After the 1991 fall of the Soviet empire, the Central Asians separated themselves into independent countries.

Pipes vs Kennan: Afghanistan and Cuba

From Alma Ata, Pipes traveled to Kabul in a Soviet plane over the Hindu Kush Mountains. He observed something many others overlooked: a highway constructed by the Russians from Termez in Uzbekistan to Kabul. In his view, that highway “could serve only one purpose, namely to transport Soviet troops into the heart of Afghanistan.” It did just that two decades later, enabling the Kremlin’s 1979 surprise invasion of Afghanistan.

With his background, Pipes was well prepared to debate the venerable George Kennan as to the aims and consequences of the Soviet Union in general and Afghanistan in particular. He considered Kennan to hold “some bizarre political ideas” alongside “very realistic ones”. In 1960, Kennan told Pipes that Russia “had a ‘right’ to Iran, something Moscow did not even demand”. Moreover, Kennan held that the US “ought to invade Cuba and get rid of a Soviet base so near our shores.”

Had John Kennedy heeded Kennan’s advice during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, we could have had nuclear Armageddon. Nikita Khrushchev had deployed both missiles and nuclear warheads in Cuba, and prowling the Caribbean not far from Miami were four Russian nuclear subs with orders to launch at America without contacting the Kremlin if Cuba was invaded.

“Hardliner” Pipes did not propose US military intervention in Cuba. Nor did he do so in Afghanistan as a response to the 1979 Kremlin aggression. He favored less dangerous, more Reaganesque, and more effective indirect intervention in the form of major covert military aid for the Afghan anti-Soviet resistance. Thus he was not the foreign policy hawk he was reputed to be but a strategic dove, while Kennan, who proposed the military invasion of Cuba instead of naval blockade, was a strategic and irresponsible hawk.

The Making of the Reagan Doctrine

At his White House desk, Pipes advanced major propositions that became the core of the Reagan Doctrine. Ever the visionary, he argued for transcending Soviet communism not just through Kennan’s policy of containing Soviet aggression but by seeking, in a variety of ways, to change the Soviet Union from within. In his words, “This ran into the teeth of conventional US Cold war policy … which applied behaviorist psychology by punishing Soviet aggression and rewarding good conduct but carefully avoided interfering with the regime itself.”

National Security Decision-making

Pipes also made memorable observations regarding bureaucratic decision-making in both Washington and Moscow. “[D]ecisions are usually made ad hoc, on the basis of intellectual predisposition and the mood of the moment,” he said. “This held true not only of the Reagan administration but all that I have studied, including the governments of Russia under the tsars and communists.”

Pipes’s observations are relevant when reviewing the Kremlin decision to invade Czechoslovakia in 1968. It was not the result of the Brezhnev Doctrine, as Harvard Research Fellow Mark Kramer repeatedly and eloquently argued, but of ad hoc Kremlin bureaucratic and coalition politics. Alexander Yakovlev explained in his memoirs (available only in Russian) that he helped to save Alexander Dubcek, who had been arrested by Russian commandos and jailed for a few days in Ukraine, by convincing the General Secretary that Dubcek was not a Soviet enemy. The freeing of Dubcek was hardly consistent with the Brezhnev Doctrine.

Reagan’s Double-Pronged Strategy

In the early 1980s, the visionary Pipes foresaw the future polarization of the Soviet elite into two camps. He wrote a memorandum to Reagan in which he discussed the profound crisis in the Soviet Union caused by over-expansion. He predicted that “the successors of Brezhnev … are likely in time to split into “conservative” and “reformist factions”.

As he saw it, Reagan’s mammoth military program (similar to Trump’s) and use of economic instruments like lowering the price of oil, as proposed by CIA Director William Casey – and above all America’s support for anti-Soviet fighters in several conflicted regions (not only Afghanistan) – would encourage Soviet reformers to “…press for modest economic and political democratization.” Pipes thus believed it was in the US interest to pursue “a double-pronged strategy of encouraging pro-reform forces in the USSR and raising for the Soviet Union the costs of its imperialism.”

Noted soft-liners did not agree with his unique Kremlinology. “Pipes is wrong on assuming there is a clear-cut division between two camps [in the Soviet Union],” declared the much respected Professor Robert Legvold of Columbia University in 1982. “Any US policy designed to assure that some nonexistent group of moderates will come to power is a chimera.” How wrong he was.

Alexander Yakovlev, Who Saved Russia from Communism

Alexander Yakovlev, Mikhail Gorbachev’s principal adviser, was a Russian Henry Kissinger of sorts, yet he is largely unknown to the American public. Why? Because Yakovlev was kept in the shadows by a jealous Gorbachev. The bitter truth is that some Russologists, admirers of reform communist Gorbachev and eager to work with his foundation, abandoned Yakovlev despite his having evolved into a genuine democrat. They clung to the vacillating Gorbachev when the putschists sought to reclaim the empire.     

As usual, Pipes neither joined the academic herd nor became Gorbachev’s apologist. He was not a power-hungry academic turned politician but the quintessential scholar. An independent loner(like his son, Daniel Pipes, in the Middle East arena), he applauded Yakovlev’s transcendence in the belief that his evolution into genuine democrat could be followed by new, courageous leaders who would emerge after President Vladimir Putin’s repressive years. Indeed, the message in Pipes’s last book is not to give up on Russia despite the ongoing Cold War. As it did during the Reagan era, American statecraft must encourage the rise of Yakovlev’s type of radical reformism by raising the cost of Kremlin interventionism.


Dr. Jiri Valenta is a non-resident Senior Research Associate with the BESA Center for Strategic Studies. He is a member of the US Council on Foreign Relations and the author of Soviet Intervention in Czechoslovakia 1968, Anatomy of a Decision (with a forward by Alexander Dubcek). An advance excerpt of his book (co-written with Leni Friedman Valenta), “How Would Yakovlev Advise Putin Today on Ukraine and ISIS?”, was published in January 2016 by the Aspen Review.

BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Familyype your paragraph here.

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         The Kim-Trump Summit: “Do We Do                                 Pearl Harbors?”


                                       By Dr. Jiri and Leni Valenta


                                                    May 4, 2018



                BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 823, May 4, 2018

​                https://besacenter.org/perspectives-papers/kim-trump-summit-verify/

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: It is too soon to declare that peace is at hand in Korea. Donald Trump must exercise caution. He must study relevant history, his adversary’s negotiation pattern of deception, and the past follies of American leaders. It is essential that he maintain a viable military option and economic sanctions until strictly verifiable denuclearization has been accomplished.

UPDATE, 6 May 2018: It appears Kim has just released three American citizens being held hostage in North Korea, showing his eagerness to negotiate with Trump.

On April 18, 2007, Israel’s Mossad briefed the Bush White House about North Korea’s secret building of a nuclear reactor in Syria. The Israelis wanted to take it out, but the NSC was divided. Should the US join the Israelis? Stop them? Do it alone? Use diplomacy? Defense Secretary Robert Gates recalled President Reagan’s condemnation of Israel’s June 7, 1981 bombing of the French-built Osirak reactor in Iraq. “I am aware of no precedent for American surprise attacks against a sovereign state…We don’t do Pearl Harbors,” he argued.

Gates missed the mark a bit. Reagan condemned Israel’s 1981 surprise attack in public, but when his NSA, Richard Allen, gave him the news, he quipped, “Boys will be boys.”

1983: Reagan’s “Urgent Fury”

North Korea’s Kim Il-sung had no doubt that Washington had plotted the Osirak bombing with Israel. To him, Reagan was the most dangerous president since Harry Truman, whose 1950 military intervention had prevented Kim’s war from unifying the Korean peninsula under communist rule. Kim’s brinksmanship brought Chinese infantry and Russian pilots into the conflict and almost pushed the world to the abyss of nuclear war. Fortunately, Truman refused to use nuclear weapons.

When in October 1983 the US invaded the tiny communist Caribbean island of Grenada, a trove of unearthed documents revealed Pyongyang’s top-secret agreement to provide free and robust economic and military aid ($35 million) to Grenada – larger than Cuba’s and second only to Russia’s. Yasser Arafat also planned to send his PLO operatives there, as he had to Nicaragua.

If Reagan had bothered with tiny Grenada, who might be next? Scholar Benjamin Young shows that a paranoid Kim, well aware that 27,000 American troops were still deployed in South Korea, feared the US might turn its attentions to North Korea. To Kim, only nuclear weapons could keep the Americans at bay. Young demonstrates that Reagan’s “Operation Urgent Fury” in Grenada was a factor in Kim’s 1985 decision to establish a Ministry of Atomic Energy [MAE].While playing Russia against China, Kim was able to convince the Kremlin to provide his regime with a small nuclear reactor.

1994: Bill Clinton’s and America‘s missed chance

In 1994, President Bill Clinton learned that Pyongyang had withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT] barring non-nuclear states from acquiring nuclear weapons and was reprocessing the North Korean reactor’s fuel rods into plutonium for nuclear weapons. “I was determined to prevent North Korea from developing a nuclear arsenal, even at the risk of war,” Clinton recalled.

Much as Trump was to do 23 years later, Clinton first used economic sanctions, the deployment of two naval carrier groups, joint US-South Korean military exercises, and the deployment of Patriot missiles in South Korea to encourage Kim’s nuclear divestment. US Defense Secretary William Perry urged military force, but Clinton held back on the basis of “a sobering estimate” of the staggering losses on both sides if war broke out. Thus, America missed an opportunity to deal with the North Korean menace when it was still relatively small.

Instead, Clinton sent a special envoy to Pyongyang – Jimmy Carter. Champagne corks likely popped in Pyongyang at that appointment, as Carter had proposed during his 1976 presidential campaign that the US withdraw its combat forces from South Korea. Smiling and grandfatherly, Kim labored hard to dispel the image of a Stalinist maniac whose war had cost 54,260 American lives and who sadistically quelled dissent in his Orwellian realm.

Kim died of a heart attack on July 8, 1994. It was left to his son, Kim Jong-il, to follow his father’s path to a negotiated “Agreed Framework” with Clinton. Plutonium production was to cease in return for an easing of US sanctions and provision to North Korea of 500,000 tons per year of fuel oil. Only years later did US intelligence discover that Pyongyang had secretly begun enriching uranium.

In Clinton’s second term, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s department dominated the decision-making process vis-à-vis North Korea. Before the presidential elections, Clinton sent Albright to Pyongyang to meet with Kim. When she admonished the dictator for proliferating missile technology to Syria and Iran, Kim was frank, admitting his country’s desperate need for foreign currency. “Since we export to get money, if you guarantee compensation, it will be suspended,” he said.

Kim turned Albright’s visit into a means of legitimizing his regime. At a stadium packed with nomenklatura, Kim and Albright attended a spectacular cultural performance, the highlight of which was a display of a 1998 Taepo Dong Missile launch over Japan. As the crowd thundered, Kim assured the Secretary of State, “That was our first missile launch – and our last.”

Albright returned home without a written agreement, but she had Kim’s word. If Clinton went to Pyongyang, she believed, “We could make the missile agreement.” Clinton’s excuse for not going? “[We] simply couldn’t risk being half way around the world when we were so close to peace in the Middle East … Arafat had implored me not to go.”

Peace did not break out in the Middle East. Clinton gave up a military option against North Korea and abandoned tough sanctions, thereby allowing Pyongyang to build two nuclear bombs.

2003: Bush’s invasion of Iraq and the “Qaddafi moment”

In 2003, President George W. Bush invaded Iraq based on half-baked evidence that Saddam Hussein had WMD, which, as it turns out, he didn’t. Meanwhile, the US ignored Kim Jong-il, who did. Bush’s quick Iraq victory had an impact, however. As then US VP Dick Cheney recalls, “Intelligence had indicated the regimes in Syria, Iran and North Korea were nervous since Saddam’s regime had been toppled in just three weeks.”

Six days after Saddam’s capture, Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi underwent what Bush called “a Qaddafi moment.” The Libyan dictator realized he might be next and decided to turn over all his WMD to the US. At the same time, worried North Korean officials rushed Kim to an impregnable bunker inside a mountain.

North Korea becomes State Department’s exclusive turf

This was the time to do what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had earlier proposed: transfer authority to the Iraqis, quickly withdraw US forces, and focus on the real threats to American national security, specifically North Korea and Iran. Bush’s diplomacy would have had a far greater chance of success if the North Koreans and Iranians had understood that they faced military action if diplomacy failed. But the president, advised by NSA Condoleezza Rice, opted instead for democratic nation-building. Rice, advancing to the position of Secretary of State, insisted North Korea should be Foggy Bottom’s exclusive bailiwick.

Bush’s innovation was sporadic Six Party Talks – North Korea, the US, China, Japan, South Korea, and Russia – that ultimately proved useless. America, still fighting in Afghanistan, also became bogged down in Iraq’s Sunni-Shiite civil war, just as Rumsfeld had feared. Pyongyang soon realized that Bush had given up on the military option for North Korea. Thus, in October 2006, Kim fearlessly exploded one of six previously hidden nuclear bombs.

Once again, the State Department’s action plan led to accepting phased steps toward denuclearization. Rightly objecting to this approach were Vice President Cheney and then third Undersecretary of State John Bolton, Trump’s present NSA.

2007: Israel’s Operation Orchard

In April 2007 came the NSC debate mentioned earlier – what to do about Israel’s proposed bombing of the North Korean nuclear reactor being built in Syria. As noted, Gates objected to an attack on the reactor. Cheney, however, supported by Bolton, argued that a US “military strike on the reactor would send an important message not only to the Syrians and North Koreans, but also to the Iranians.”

Israel “hadn’t asked for a green light,” wrote Bush, “and I hadn’t given one.” But neither had he given a red one. On September 6, 2007, the Israelis destroyed the Syrian reactor. Damascus kept quiet about it and so did Washington, which went public only seven months later. There were no repercussions.

On October 4, 2007, Kim agreed to a “specific timetable” to disclose and disable all his nuclear facilities, for which concession Pyongyang received 950,000 metric tons of oil. But he also wanted North Korea to be removed from the heavily sanctioned list of terrorist states. With the 2008 presidential election looming, Bush acceded to Rice’s meeting with Kim’s foreign minister. Thereafter, Cheney complained about Rice’s “concession after concession to North Korea.”

Defending herself and State Department official Christopher Hill to Bush, Rice argued that an oral agreement was a first step. “Mr. President, this is just the way diplomacy works sometimes,” she said. “You don’t always get a written agreement.” Cheney later wrote, “We were supposed to be reassured because the other side had whispered an admission of the declaration’s falsehood in Chris Hill’s ear.” Then, to top it off, Rice convinced Bush to take North Korea off the terrorist list.

2011: Forestalling a “Qaddafi moment” in North Korea

President Barack Obama was elected on November 8, 2008. On December 9, 2009, he, as President Clinton did earlier, sent an envoy, Stephen Bosworth, to Kim. The result was a written agreement, riddled with holes, which Pyongyang proceeded to break after receiving US economic aid.

In 2011, the US participated in the “humanitarian” NATO intervention in Libya, which culminated in the murder of the country’s long-reigning dictator by NATO-backed Libyan rebels. The murder quashed any possibility of a “Qaddafi moment” for Kim in North Korea. If anything, it stiffened his resolve never to give up his WMD – the guarantee of the regime’s survival. Two months later, on December 17, 2011, Kim Jong-il died of a heart attack and the baton passed to his son, Kim Jong-un.

Obama adviser: “Shoot down Israeli planes”

As revealed by Charles Gati in a collection of essays, Obama adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski viewed Israel as holding “apartheid” policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians. Gati does not mention, however, that Brzezinski chaired a US committee (on the board of which Gati served) supporting Islamists in Chechnya. Nor does he report Brzezinski’s alleged advice to Obama to shoot down IAF planes if Israel proceeded with planned bombings of nuclear sites in Iran. “They [Israeli planes] have to fly over our airspace in Iraq,” Brzezinski reportedly said. “Are we just going to sit there and watch?”

On July 14, 2015, Hillary Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, concluded a multilateral Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA] with North Korea’s ally, Iran. The deal involved, among other American concessions, Obama’s releasing of billions of sanctioned dollars to Tehran up front. Trump may expect Kim to propose a similar deal.

Trump must be fully prepared for the summit

Kim’s back is against the wall. Reversing Obama’s doctrine of “strategic patience,” Trump has, in concert with Tokyo and Seoul, given the Korean dictator a taste of his own medicine – bellicose rhetoric coupled with an unprecedented military buildup and economic coercion. Using trade incentives, he has even managed to involve Beijing in his coercive diplomacy. Most importantly, Trump’s two surgical strikes on Syria demonstrate that he is willing to enforce red lines on WMD use by rogue regimes.  

On April 27, 2018, Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in pledged “no more war” and “complete denuclearization”, the ceasing of “all hostile acts” and the transforming of “the demilitarized zone into a peace zone”.

But before heralding “a new era of peace,” Trump must understand that the Korean War has not yet ended. Given the historical record, Trump must first test Kim’s intentions by analyzing his dynasty’s well-established pattern of deception. As described by Cheney,

They would make an agreement about their nuclear sites, pocket the benefits and then continue on with their weapons programs. They are masters of brinksmanship [and deception] – creating problems, threatening their neighbors, and expecting to be bribed back into cooperation.

Pyongyang played China off against Russia for decades. It will now use the same technique to play South Korea against America and Japan by insisting on three-party negotiations including Seoul, which would in turn require the inclusion of Tokyo. Trump should insist on one-to-one negotiations.

To some, Kim’s pre-summit dealings with Trump have already involved deception.  Kim made much, for example, of his own good will in closing the Punggye-ri site, where six nuclear tests took place – but that site had become unusable in any case due to a collapse after the last nuclear blast.

The North Korean-US negotiation must not lead to any phased, tit-for-tat arrangement. Trump must make Kim aware that the military option may yet be used if negotiations fail or if he does not live up to a concluded agreement. There should be no economic relief other than food and medicine delivered directly to the people – no money to the communist elite.

“During every administration, Republican and Democrat,” wrote Cheney, there is often a State Department inclination “to make preemptive concessions to bad actors in the hope their behavior will change.” It won’t. Nor can national security decision-making be effective if monopolized by one government department.

Trump must bring up the issue of Pyongyang’s nuclear cooperation with Tehran and insist that the shipping of conventional weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists and WMD (nerve gas) through Iran must cease.

War with Iran is not inevitable. With a strong reining in of North Korea, Tehran might eventually have a “Qaddafi moment”. On May 12, Trump should not tear up the JCPOA but try to negotiate substantial revisions to it. In dealing with North Korea, Trump should – if possible – avoid the Bush and Obama follies of getting embroiled in another war in the Middle East in Iran or Syria.

Trump should also launch a robust public diplomacy campaign explaining the need for nonproliferation in both the Far East and the Middle East. The American people know that war with North Korea would be horrendous. They must also understand that if the West does not succeed in getting Pyongyang, and thereafter Tehran, to give up nuclear weapons, the world will live under a perpetual nuclear sword of Damocles by rogue regimes. An anarchic world order will arise, with the metastasis of nuclear power not just in the Middle East and northeast Asia, but eventually also the Southern Cone of South America.

America cannot hide behind Israel. It must enforce non-proliferation in cooperation with it. Nor can the president exclude Pearl Harbors when agreements are violated, if that phrase is meant to connote a surgical strike to prevent far greater and more tragic consequences.

Jiri Valenta, Phd., Ing., is a Non-Resident Senior Research Associate with BESA. A graduate of the Industrial School of Nuclear Techniques in Prague, he worked as a technician at the first Czech nuclear reactor in 1963-64 and is author and editor of several books, including Grenada and Soviet Cuban Policy, Internal Crisis and US/OECS Intervention. Leni Friedman Valenta is CEO of Institute of Post-Communist Studies and Terrorism (jvlv.net) in Miami.

BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family
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In memorium to historian Richard Pipes, who died May 17, 2918 at the age of 94.