Peace in the Balance
Power and Equilibrium in the 1970s
The New Left and the Origins of the Cold War
The United States and the Origins of the Cold War
The pursuit of the national interest is supposed to be the goal of foreign policy, but, like happiness, it is subject to a variety of definitions. For nearly a quarter of a century Americans have tended to agree about the ambitions and methods of our foreign policy. This has extended at least from the Truman Doctrine of 1947, which codified the breakdown of the wartime alliance with Russia, until Lyndon Johnson was driven from office for waging a war that could no longer be justified under the outworn tenets of the containment doctrine.
For the moment we are in the watershed between the two eras. The cold war—that period when the fate of the world was defined by our contest with Soviet Russia and the amorphous entity we labeled “international communism”—is over. But it is not yet clear what is going to replace it. Nixon and Kissinger extol a balance of power theory which, on closer inspection, looks suspiciously like a formula to maintain American hegemony by shifting some of the cost to prosperous allies and to client regimes rich in cannon-fodder. It remains to be seen whether this can be any more than a holding operation until the whole postwar structure collapses.
At a time of such upheaval it is not surprising to find a certain nostalgia for the good old days of the cold war when a client was a friend and an adversary an enemy, the kind of nostalgia that marks Charles Bohlen’s memoirs, which I have discussed earlier [NYR, May 31], and Eugene Rostow’s Peace in the Balance. A curious combination of lament for Lyndon Johnson, resurrection of cold war litanies, diatribe against “New Left” revisionism, and appeal for an international “rule of law” adjudicated in Washington, Rostow’s book is the eloquent statement of an unreconstructed cold warrior.
Rostow assures us that although the United States has made some mistakes over the past thirty years, “it has been on the right track” and “has had no real alternative to the general course it has pursued.” Rostow was in the State Department during the Johnson administration and is now teaching law at Yale. He is one of those members of the bureaucratic-academic complex who seems equally at home in the faculty club and in the Pentagon. His government and legal experience have taught him that, in spite of some impressions to the contrary, the United States has used force against other nations only “to achieve and preserve a balance of power in the world, and the reciprocal acceptance of rules of restraint in the conduct of international affairs.”
In this celebration of cold war diplomacy, Rostow also enthusiastically resurrects some of the cold war bogeys that might have slipped our minds. We are reminded of the late Lin Piao’s vision of peasant armies surrounding the “cities” of the Western world, that Khrushchev favored wars of national liberation, and that communists can be expected to “draw on the full armory of modern …