COLD WAR SAGA
By Kempton Jenkins
Nimble Books, $20.94, 425 pages
We have memoirs of Allied leaders in Cold War crises and, from the Russian side, the opening of Soviet archives. With this book - spanning most of the Cold War years - we now have the vivid recollections of a career foreign-service officer who participated directly in many of that era’s events and gives us a behind-the-scenes look at how those events developed.
Like many foreign-service officers (FSOs), Kempton Jenkins is not a horn-tooter. He kept his observations to himself until the time came to spread before us the rich - and sometimes tense - experiences that marked his career.
It began in 1950, with his first assignment, processing displaced persons in Munich right after World War II. Then it was north to the German lowlands, where, among other things, he learned to use tennis (at which he was quite good) as a diplomatic tool and also learned the value of cultivating members of U.S. congressional delegations to get support for foreign-policy initiatives.
He was in Berlin during the tense times leading to the construction of the Berlin Wall. The Soviet Union had been trying to force the Western allies out through a series of harassing tactics dubbed “salami-slicing.” East Berliners were moving into West Berlin in increasing numbers to flee the oppression and poor living standards of the puppet German Democratic Republic. Time after time, U.S. and Allied diplomats stood firm against Soviet threats.
From 1960-62 the author was posted to our embassy in Moscow. As he points out, all senior FSOs in our embassies are fluent in the host country’s language. He was fluent in Russian, German and Spanish and studied Arabic. He accompanied then-Ambassador Llewellyn E. Thompson Jr. in a round of negotiations with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko over a plan to reduce Soviet-Allied tensions in Germany.
These were overtaken by a major event, the Cuban Missile Crisis in the fall of 1962, in which Nikita Khrushchev, in effect, tested the Kennedy administration’s resolve, and President Kennedy trumped him. (By then, the author was back in Washington at the State Department’s Soviet desk.)
In 1968, he moved to the United States Information Agency and for five years was in charge of its programs in the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries of Central and Eastern Europe. There he saw to the establishment of U.S. cultural centers and programs in the satellite countries and negotiated exchange programs with the Soviet Union - all of it intended to put America’s “best foot forward” - and all of it successful. (This reviewer can testify to the professionalism of USIA personnel and facilities in those countries from a visit to all of them as a member of the USIA’s Public Relations Advisory Committee in 1985.)
From 1973, Mr. Jenkins was in the congressional affairs office of the State Department and for most of that time was acting assistant secretary. He lets us know that Henry Kissinger, as secretary of state, belied the image of a gruff, intimidating boss. In fact, the author says, in his early-morning meetings, Mr. Kissinger listened carefully to what the assistant secretaries had to say candidly and often was often persuaded to change his views.
During his years of representing the State Department in Capitol Hill testimony and meetings, the author also placed foreign-service officers in the various positions at his command. This enhanced the department’s effectiveness in briefings of members of Congress because these men and women were so deeply versed in their areas of expertise.
When the Carter administration came in, the new team reversed this approach and put mostly former congressional staffers in the Jenkins unit. He left in early 1980 to join the Commerce Department in charge of its bureau of East-West trade. He was deeply involved in trade agreements with several Warsaw Pact countries and China.
Along the way, we get his forthright impressions of longtime Soviet Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Dobrynin, Gromyko, Mr. Kissinger, Deng Xiaoping and many other major players in world events. This, though, is a personal account and reflects the dedication not only of himself and his family, but also of the many foreign-service officers with whom he worked.
The work is well-paced and opens with an appreciative foreword by veteran journalist Marvin Kalb. One flaw (which can be skipped): The book contains the full text, in small type, of the U.S. position on air access to Berlin of March 6, 1982, which occupies nearly eight pages. It should have been consigned to the book’s appendices.
“Cold War Saga” has been nominated for the Douglas Dillon Award for best foreign-policy book of the year.
Today, Kempton Jenkins, in his 80s, plays tennis several times a week, continues to maintain a penetrating interest in world events and is a consultant in international public affairs. This writer is happy to say that “Jenks” is a friend of long standing.
Peter Hannaford was closely associated with the late President Reagan for a number of years.