Correcting the Record on the So-Called 'Sonnenfeldt Doctrine'

In the National Interest sees itself as a place to foster debate over American foreign policy, and we encourage our contributors to speak plainly.

In the National Interest sees itself as a place to foster debate over American foreign policy, and we encourage our contributors to speak plainly.  We also, however, wish to ensure, as far as possible, that things which are published in the weekly are accurate.

A reference to the Sonnenfeldt Doctrine in Nicolai N. Petro's piece, "Bush's Misguide Crusade", drew a critical reaction from people who had hoped that "this canard had been laid to rest once and for all" after it had been exposed to be a fabrication that was leaked to the columnists Evans and Novak.

It has been brought to our attention that there is no textual or verbatim record of the seminar at which Helmut Sonnenfeldt, then the Counselor at the State Department, supposedly created this foreign policy "doctrine" (it was alleged that he advocated that the United States not only recognize Soviet domination over Eastern Europe but that Eastern Europe should have a more "organic" relationship with the USSR).  The so-called "Sonnenfeldt Doctrine" was derived from a summary where, significantly, a few key words were changed when the text was leaked.

Mr. Sonnenfeldt has maintained in Congressional testimony (and as reported in subsequent New York Times coverage) that what he had said at the meeting was that the Soviet Union needed to find a more natural relationship with its Eastern European neighbors, and that perhaps someday the leadership in Moscow would realize that its satellite empire was like a boulder hanging around its neck that might explode in its face.  Indeed, his position was vindicated during the Gorbachev era.