The Cold War was very hot and on several fronts, most notably Vietnam. Henry Kissinger was designing the sinuous diplomatic path that came to be known as detente, which involved bit by bit the withdrawal from Vietnam, accelerated relations with China, a hard line on Russia but with cultural exchange and diplomatic patience. Within the United Nations, the line to the U.S. staff was: Be cautious of any direct attacks on human rights within the Soviet Union, but feel free (with some moderation) to attack human rights in Soviet satellite countries, in particular Cuba.
On the human-rights agenda of caring nations in the U.N. that year was the appointment of a high commissioner, who by the high rank of his station might bring special worldwide attention to the deprivation of human rights. Ah, but where? My task was to focus on those nations that engaged in delaying tactics. In my book ("United Nations Journal," 1974) is recorded the little speech I gave on the floor targeting East Germany:
"Among those who spoke yesterday in opposition to a high commissioner for human rights were states who would have you believe that such is the congestion of human rights within their frontiers that it is necessary to surround themselves with great walls and oceans to prevent these human rights from emigrating."
To no avail. The U.N. is a showcase for the "sticks and stones may break my bones" rule.
Now in successive years, we (my wife and I) had as weekend guests in Gstaad, Switzerland, U.S. human-rights warriors in the U.N. ongoing commission from which the United States has just now been excluded. Allard Lowenstein, the most idealistic political creature in modern times, was there in Geneva, and gave breathless accounts of efforts to impale the Soviet Union on its continuing persecution of such Russians who sought freedom as Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
But in Washington, the Carter administration counseled verbal caution. Leonard Garment, former counsel to President Nixon, was our ambassador one year, and the august political scientist Walter Berns, another. All three, in the course of the sessions of the Human Rights Commission, were aflame with the prospect of advancing human rights but were always knocked pretty well senseless by the bureaucratic walls of realpolitik.