Democracy and human rights advocates are paying tribute to Max M. Kampelman, the veteran lawyer, political adviser and eminent Cold War diplomat, who died Jan. 25 at his home in Washington, D.C.
Kampelman made a major contribution to the eventual demise of Soviet communism by negotiating the Helsinki Accords, which a leading Soviet official conceded “became a manifesto of the dissident and liberal movement, a development totally beyond the imagination of the Soviet leadership.”
“During the 1980s, Mr. Kampelman led two prolonged series of international negotiations,” writes The Washington Post’s Matt Schudel:
The first, from 1981 to 1983, was officially known as the Madrid Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and helped bring about the release of political and religious dissidents from the Soviet Union. The second set of negotiations, which began in Geneva in 1985, sought to limit the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. After years of talks, the two nations finally signed the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, in 1991, a few months before the Soviet Union collapsed.
Kampelman was “a champion of human rights and democracy,” said U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission).
“Whether he was working for the release of Soviet refuseniks (above) or imprisoned Solidarity trade unionists in Poland, his calm and understated demeanor covered a resolve of steel and set of principles that never wavered from true north,” he said. “Moreover, at a moment when Europe stood at a crossroads, Max Kampelman negotiated standards on democracy and the rule of law that remain unmatched.”
In negotiating the Helsinki accords, Kampelman made a significant contribution to the emergence of the Soviet dissident movement and the eventual collapse of the communist regimes.
The human rights provisions of the accords became “a legal and moral trap” for the Soviet leadership, according to the eminent Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis. He cites leading Soviet official Anatoly Dobrynin’s admission that Leonid Brezhnev believed the human rights clauses “would not bring much trouble in side our country. But he was wrong.”
The condition of Soviet dissidents certainly did not change overnight, but they were definitely encouraged by this historic document. Its very publication in Pravda gave it the weight of an official document. It gradually became a manifesto of the dissident and liberal movement, a development totally beyond the imagination of the Soviet leadership.
Kampelman received the National Endowment for Democracy’s 2008 Democracy Service Medal, but he did so reluctantly, said NED President Carl Gershman, but consented in order “to convey the message – especially to younger people – that our country needs to get beyond sharp partisan divisions on issues of national security and to find a common ground based upon the shared values that are embodied in the American creed.”
“The model of democracy as a way of life that Max continues to represent for all of us, serves to remind us that we can and, for the sake of America and the world, have to transcend our current divisions and rise to a higher level of democratic commitment and performance,” said Gershman in making the award.
Kampelman was a leading member of a generation of Cold War liberals prepared to work on a bipartisan basis on issues of foreign policy and national security.
He recently told the Brookings Institution’s Daniel Benjamin how a self-described liberal Democrat became Ronald Reagan’s arms negotiator:
When Reagan was elected, I was in Madrid as President Carter’s negotiator for the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the continuation of the 1975 Helsinki Conference. I got a call from Al Haig, who was going to be the secretary of state. “The president wants to reappoint you.” I knew Haig quite well and said, “Al, I’m a Democrat.” He says, “He knows you’re a Democrat and he’s reappointing two Democrats: you and Ambassador Mike Mansfield in Japan.”
Madrid lasted till 1983, then I was back in private life. President Reagan, out of the blue, calls me up and says, “Max, we’re gonna restart our negotiations on arms.” I knew he had just seen Gorbachev in Geneva. “And I want you to head up the American delegation.” I said, “I’m not equipped—I don’t know the first thing about the nuclear arms issue.” He said, “I know, but you and I worked very closely in Madrid.” And he then said with a laugh, “Actually you’re the only fellow [George] Shultz and [Caspar] Weinberger could agree on.”