Today, The Heritage Foundation commemorates and honors Dr. William Van Cleave, who passed away on Friday.
Dr. Van Cleave, former Marine, was an astute champion of U.S. national interests and an experienced negotiator on strategic issues. As a participant in the U.S.–Russia Strategic Arms Limitation Talks negotiations in the 1970s, he was also an authoritative skeptic of arms control and its enthusiasts.
His testimony on this issue before the Subcommittee on National Security and International Operations on July 25, 1972, remains a stark reminder of principles and assumptions that drive U.S. arms control negotiations and why Americans always gave up more than would be advisable vis-à-vis the Soviet Union:
Our driving assumption has been that arms control negotiations are a uniquely cooperative process, wherein compromise is a mutual objective and negotiations a non-zero-sum game where both sides stand to gain mutually and equally.… Arms negotiation, like diplomacy and politics, is to the Soviets a means to maximize political or strategic advantage and gain where possible at the expense of the other side. It is, in this sense, a zero-sum game.
Few have as clear of a sense of what America needs as did Dr. Van Cleave.
He served as senior adviser and defense policy coordinator to President Ronald Reagan and had profound influence on Reagan’s defense thinking. He was a director of the Department of Defense transition team and participated in the influential “Team B” study that competitively analyzed the Soviet strategic threat.
He was also a member of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency’s General Advisory Committee, the Committee on the Present Danger, and the Independent Working Group on Missile Defense. He was a true Cold Warrior, the sort with the grit and determination to stick it out and not give in to the Soviet Union.
In addition to his distinguished career and numerous professional awards and recognitions, Dr. Van Cleave had many academic accomplishments at the Defense and Strategic Studies Department at the University of Southern California, which he founded and which later moved to Missouri State University. Over the years, the program produced some of the best and the brightest thinkers on national security policy.
Hundreds of Dr. Van Cleave’s former students will remember him as a professor who always challenged one’s assumptions. He taught real defense issues and encouraged students to speak their minds, uphold principles, and say what is right even if it isn’t politically correct. He fought relentlessly against mirror imaging and assuming that the Soviets bought into Mutually Assured Destruction, a concept that predominantly ruled U.S. strategic thinking for decades.
Dr. Van Cleave loved his students, and they loved him back because he fundamentally changed their lives for the better. He will be sorely missed.
Semper Fi, Bill!