Six months after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, seven months after the seizure of American hostages in Iran, American foreign policy is faced with a protracted, often acrimonious crisis with its European allies, and stuck in a deadlock with its chief rival. And the choices that confront the US seem to be either more of the same, or far worse.
The Atlantic alliance has never been smooth. Its structure alone generates trouble. It is an alliance between one preponderant state and a number of middle and small powers, several of which are engaged—on the side, so to speak—in an experiment in economic integration and political cooperation of their own. Consultation has always been a headache; it works best when all are in agreement, i.e., when it is least necessary. Let us only remember the interminable inter-allied battle over West German rearmament, which derailed European integration, and the Suez crisis.
There are substantive reasons for trouble as well. Dependence on the American nuclear guarantee and on the presence of American forces in Europe breeds as many doubts and fears as it gives assurances. Separated from the United States by an ocean, from the Soviet Union merely by an iron curtain, the Western Europeans have always been anxious about American intentions and actions. They have oscillated between the fear of being drawn into a world war by American imprudence and the fear of being abandoned, or—worse still—of being “defended” in a conventional war that would destroy Europe while sparing the two superpowers.
The economic recovery of the Western European half-continent has pointed up the sharp contrast between European success in industry and trade and European military dependence on the US; the intense economic interdependence between Europe and the United States has created mutual dissatisfaction over monetary practices (remember America’s indignation toward de Gaulle’s conversion of dollars into gold, and more recently Bonn’s anger against Carter’s failure to stop the decline of the dollar in 1977-1978) and over economic policies (each side counting on the other for the preservation of a high level of growth).
Finally, Western Europe’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil has contributed to the alliance’s troubles, both because it has introduced an element of economic dependence on the United States’ behavior—America’s rising oil imports and the slide of the dollar having strengthened the hand of OPEC and led to new price increases—and because it has made the Europeans more sensitive than Washington to the political desiderata of the Arab countries.
To these permanent sources of tension, new ones have been added by three sets of recent changes. The first is the evolution of the foreign policies of Paris, Bonn, and London in the 1970s. The “big three” of Western Europe have sought a foreign policy that would give them the best of all possible worlds. West Germany has moved from total reliance on Washington for defense and diplomacy, and dependence on its Western European partners for moral rehabilitation, to the successful liquidation of its own special Eastern problems (Berlin, the Oder-Neisse line, the issue of partition) and to a preponderant financial position in the European Community. France has moved from de Gaulle’s fierce pursuit of independence from Washington (under the American nuclear umbrella) to a complex policy of military autonomy with collaboration with NATO, détente with activism in Africa, Middle Eastern oil deals with a coherent national energy policy. Britain has moved from its “special relations” with Washington and the Commonwealth to contentious membership in the EEC.
These shifts have had two results. In Bonn and Paris, the link with Moscow has become a major factor both in foreign (and foreign economic) policy and in domestic politics—not because of “Eurocommunism,” which never existed in Germany or in France where the communist range of policies extends only from pro-Soviet to chauvinistic, but within the governing coalitions themselves. In Bonn, Paris, and London, there has been a certain detachment from the United States. In the case of Bonn (remember when a distinguished American economist talked of German-American “bi-gemony”?) this is because of dismay at Washington’s economic policies and the absence of a consistent détente strategy. In France’s case, it is because of traditional suspicions as well as new irritations (Carter being deemed too passive and soft in Africa, too passive and slow in the Middle East); in the case of Britain, because of the need to prove oneself a “good European.”
But there are also reasons for estrangement which exist on both sides of the Atlantic. One is a change in generations. The trans-Atlantic elite which governed in the days of John McCloy, Robert Bowie, Jean Monnet, and Walter Hallstein is gone, replaced by men who, on the European side, are much busier dealing with one another than with Washington, and on the American side have lost their early enthusiasm for or faith in European integration.
The second common reason is mutual exasperation with one another’s political system. The Americans find it hard to deal with allies who are, simultaneously, crotchety separate states and partners in a formidably complex community-building enterprise—one in which foreign policy coordination and economic (including foreign economic) policy integration are handled separately. As for the Europeans, they have been watching the American political scene with increasing bewilderment. The cascade of interrupted or failed presidencies, the rivalries within the foreign policy making process in the executive branch, the revolt and frequently destructive interventions of Congress, the dismal spectacle of the presidential campaigns, the apparent mediocrity of the political personnel, the broad swings of public opinion, have been deplored, but neither perceptively analyzed nor understood.
A second set of changes consists in the increasing importance, for the alliance, of crises that arise outside the geographical zone covered by the North Atlantic treaty. Such crises—with the exception of the Cuban missile crisis—have always spelled trouble: Korea, Suez, Vietnam, the October war, etc. But these were discrete events, or—again with the exception of the Cuban missile crisis—at least they did not threaten to turn into major superpower conflagrations (by 1973, for instance, Washington and Moscow had learned how to defuse the Arab-Israeli war). In the Persian Gulf, where the two current conflicts have broken out, the Europeans fear that their two biggest nightmares might merge: the nightmare of a cutoff of oil supplies and the nightmare of a Soviet-American armed struggle into which they would be dragged. Thus, the peril is much greater than before. Here is a region of vital interest to the West and to Japan, yet equally important to the USSR—just like Europe; but unlike Europe, it is also a region in which the USSR enjoys enormous military advantages, and where what might be called the NATO formula—compensating for a conventional imbalance by a clear link between the West’s conventional and its nuclear forces—would not be a sufficient deterrent, since the Soviets also enjoy opportunities that do not depend on military aggression, but consist in the exploitation of social unrest, ethnic conflicts, and political instability—opportunities entirely absent in Western Europe.
And yet the alliance’s machinery simply does not work well for such extra-European predicaments. In 1958, Eisenhower rejected de Gaulle’s idea of a French-British-American directory to define policies and strategy outside the NATO sphere, and Washington has never since been any more eager to share decisions, while frequently calling for a sharing of burdens (as in Kissinger’s famous “Year of Europe” speech in April 1973).
A third set of changes lies in what could be called the alliance’s crisis of pluralism. In the 1960s, de Gaulle could snipe at American power and try to deflate it a bit; there was no doubt about Washington’s preponderance both in the alliance and—after the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962—over Moscow. Before the missile crisis, de Gaulle, always watchful of the world balance of power, had been more “hard-line” toward Khrushchev than the Americans had been. But there has been a change both in the respective power positions and in the respective interests of the Americans and the Europeans.
Concerning power, America’s predominance has declined (with respect to the Soviets, to OPEC, and, economically, to Western Europe and Japan); and America’s still considerable power cannot be said to have been brilliantly managed by the Carter administration. Western Europe, on the other hand, has broadened its concerns, and begun to behave more like an entity; there is now a common foreign economic policy, an important series of agreements with many developing countries in Africa, the Pacific, and the Caribbean, and an incipient common foreign policy. In the Sixties, except for the French, the other Europeans always consulted Washington before taking diplomatic stands (and they abstained from taking any when Washington disapproved). This is no longer the case. Western Europe also has some impressive leaders. Yet it cannot replace the United States as the dominant power in the alliance because of a lack of military resources, dependency on oil imports, and the persistent imperfections of cooperation among the Nine (shockingly illustrated by Britain’s recent aboutface on sanctions against Iran, a result of Parliament’s revolt, and by Giscard’s futile journey to Warsaw, in flagrant contradiction to his own goal of fostering greater foreign policy unity among the Europeans).
The deepest reason for Europe’s inability to lead is, however, a certain habituation to dependence, a cozy belief that the risks and responsibilities of world politics belong to Washington alone, a failure of will and a shrinking of ambition which create a gap, not, as Kissinger once said, between America’s “global” interests and Europe’s “regional” ones, but between Europe’s world-wide concern and its timidity of ambition. Thus there is a formidable crisis of leadership: Washington’s is handicapped, Western Europe’s is reluctant or absent. The European habit of criticizing America still flourishes; but recriminations are now more destructive, given the change in power and the divergence of interests.
This divergence is manifest precisely in the two nightmare realms I have mentioned. One is East-West relations. The United States and its allies have all practiced détente, but the Europeans have traveled on a different road. On the one hand, the Europeans have gone much farther in the direction of economic and humanitarian exchanges, as in the reuniting of Eastern Europeans with their families in West Germany. Détente has thus created a network of interests, tying the Western Europeans not only to Moscow but also to the Eastern Europeans (and in Bonn’s case, particularly to the East Germans). It has also given both the Western Europeans and several of the Eastern European countries some greater leeway, either in world affairs or in domestic politics, alleviating the burden of their respective Big Brothers’ preponderance, and allowing the EEC countries to pay more attention to North-South relations. Hence there is on the part of most of the Western Europeans a strong desire to protect their newly won turf and to limit whatever damage the eagle and the bear could inflict on it.
As the Allies’ decision to increase their military budgets and to deploy new theater nuclear forces, and the determined French effort to increase France’s military power show, this desire has much less to do with a craven wish to accommodate the strongest, with a resurgence of the Munich atavism, than with a yearning to preserve material but also spiritual and political gains. This may appear short-sighted or naïve to Americans, yet it is perfectly honorable in its inspiration, Walter Laqueur not-withstanding. On the other hand, the Western Europeans, who have not taken serious steps toward arms control yet see in arms control the best insurance against a disastrously escalating arms race, are utterly dependent on the superpowers’ willingness to keep this road open.
As for the Middle East, there too a divergence of interests has appeared. Largely for domestic reasons, none of the Western European countries has the peculiar relationship with Israel that exists between Tel Aviv and Washington. Committed to the survival and security of Israel, they are much more likely to see in Israel’s own policies toward the Palestinians, or toward Lebanon, the main threat to its ultimate security than has been the case in the United States. Moreover, within the Arab world, Washington and its allies have developed different clienteles: Washington has been relying increasingly on Egypt, and now on Oman. The French have relied above all on Iraq, and more recently on Algeria—regimes that are altogether more radical in ideology, more anti-American, and hostile to the Camp David approach. As for Iran, while all the allies had supported the Shah, the Western Europeans never had with him the intense military and advisory relationship which led to the sweeping Americanophobia of the Khomeini revolution; and they tend to look at the Iranian drama as America’s problem.
This is the background of the present crisis in the alliance. What follows is, inevitably, an oversimplification. There are in Western Europe differences among countries, along familiar lines. For example, the German-American defense ties are far tighter than those between Paris and Washington, British diplomacy is more anti-Soviet, at least in rhetoric; the French insistence on independence and excommunication of “blocs” is as noisy as ever, etc. And there are differences within each country: between government branches (Lord Carrington is less strident than Mrs. Thatcher, the Quai d’Orsay is not of a single opinion), between parties, within parties, etc. However, one can describe a kind of average Western European view, and compare it with American opinions.
Interestingly enough, the Western European view of the Soviet Union is not too different from the average American one (vintage 1980). Europeans and Americans recognize a change in the world situation. There is now nuclear parity; the Soviets have carried out a military buildup that has aggravated the regional imbalance in Europe, especially in tanks and long-range theater nuclear forces; and turbulence in the Third World provides Moscow with tempting opportunities. The Soviet Union is seen as a source of great dangers. It now has the ability to project its power far from its borders, and it has shown its readiness to destroy what had seemed to be one of the accepted rules of the game by sending a large invasion force outside the “zone of Yalta.” It may be eager to tilt the “correlation of forces” in the world in its direction again by the use of armed might, or by setting up regimes that will call for Soviet forces—and, unlike Sadat, will neither want nor be able to throw these out later.
Moreover, the 1980s may be a period of difficulties for a Soviet Union that will face a succession crisis (or two), a slowdown of its economic growth, and perhaps a shortage of oil. This might tempt Soviet leaders even more to play their one and only strong card, the military one—and to seek in foreign successes a diversion from domestic tensions.1 Especially in view of current claims to the contrary, it is important to point out that there is little evidence, in Western Europe, of a benevolent view of the Soviet Union, outside the French Communist party.
However, the average Western European view is different from the average American one, on a number of central issues. First, with respect to the diagnosis. Americans and Europeans agree on the implications of the Soviet presence in Afghanistan for the Persian Gulf region—for Pakistan and Iran in particular. But Americans seem more willing to attribute to the Soviets the intention of pushing beyond their present prey; and many American officials believe that the Soviets did not miscalculate in Afghanistan—that they expected the immediate American reaction to be strong, the Western alliance to be strained, and Third World countries (and some of America’s allies, as well) sooner or later to reconcile themselves to the fait accompli. The Western Europeans are less willing to accept the worst-case hypothesis, more likely to see in the invasion a local (if “unacceptable”) affair, and to believe that Moscow misjudged the resilience of Afghan resistance and the effect that the spectacle of Soviet brutality and lack of swift success would have on Soviet influence abroad.
Secondly, there is a difference in prescriptions for the short run. American politicians and diplomats tend to believe that sanctions were necessary even if they weren’t going to get the Soviets out of Afghanistan, because they would show the Russians that we care enough about their aggression to inflict pain and costs on ourselves. The Europeans believe that sanctions that do not much hurt the Soviet Union but hurt us (especially in the case of SALT II) are likely only to exacerbate the Soviets’ national pride, to make them less, not more, accessible to reason or moderation, to limit the margin of maneuver of the Eastern Europeans, and to worsen the position or change the disposition of that segment of the Soviet elite that has an interest in closer relations with the West.
Moreover, for the reasons given earlier, our allies are eager to declare détente divisible and to protect the net of European-Soviet agreements, which, they say, should be endangered or sacrificed only if the Soviets move in Europe or mount a major assault on détente elsewhere. Like George Kennan in this country, they argue against overkill—what sanctions will remain available in a major case if the US exhausts its supply in this instance? This stems from prudence, not cowardice. However, the Americans reply, not without justification, that the European case is tantamount to ruling out sanctions over Afghanistan altogether, that an unwillingness to take risks can only incite Russia to more salami tactics, and that the Western Europeans—but not the Soviets—have become hostages to their network of deals.
On the other hand, the Europeans are eager for a negotiated solution leading to a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Lord Carrington’s proposal for such a solution, endorsed by his European partners, was launched without consulting Washington, just as Washington had initiated the Olympic boycott without consulting its allies. The Americans are skeptical of negotiating in a region where the balance of power favors Moscow, and fearful that any bargain struck in such circumstances would legalize and legitimize the puppet regime of Babrak Karmal.
Thirdly, and most importantly, there is disagreement over long-term prognosis and prescription. With respect to the Persian Gulf, while the Europeans recognize the seriousness of the military situation and the need to inject more military power, they remain skeptical of the Carter doctrine approach, which they deem militaristic and simplistic in two ways. It seems to demand of all countries in the area that they align themselves with Washington once again, i.e., to impose a strict choice between East and West, instead of recognizing that it is nonalignment that should be bolstered because it constitutes the best obstacle to Soviet advances. And the American approach neglects all the factors and forces, other than the military balance, that explain the predicament of the United States in the Persian Gulf and can be neither suppressed nor superseded by force alone, such as the Arab-Israeli conflict, or the internal weaknesses of the Saudi regime, or the Iranian internal turmoil.
With respect to East-West relations, the Western Europeans, on the whole, remain convinced of the mutual benefits of trade, and reject the current American view that transfers of credit, trade, and technology only build up the Soviet war machine. And they remain far more convinced than the Americans of the possibility of influencing Soviet behavior, and perhaps even the conflict of factions within the Soviet leadership, by contacts, exchanges, and negotiations—whereas Americans seem to have reverted to George Kennan’s view of thirty-four years ago that Moscow is “inaccessible to considerations of reality in its basic reactions” and can be stopped only by barriers of containment.
The gap can best be described by referring to the game of historical analogies. Each side mentions 1914, but not in the same way. Americans compare Soviet Russia and Imperial Germany—each one a power with world-wide ambitions, a determination to be accepted as co-equal of Number One (the US and Britain respectively), and a brutal policy clumsy enough to antagonize those whose friendship it claimed it wanted, and to provoke the encirclement it feared. Europeans compare the two camps of today and the two alliances of 1914—each one fearful that things would get worse unless it acted now, and each one complacently convinced that the other side should find it easier to back down.
To the Europeans, Washington’s view of 1914 suggests that war is the only way to curb Moscow, just as it was the only way to cut down German expansionism. To the Americans, the Europeans’ view of 1914 means that—as in the Thirties—they are in effect willing to appease Moscow’s expansionism; they forget that appeasement only leads to conflagration in ever more disadvantageous circumstances. To the Americans, if the Europeans failed to react strongly to as clearcut an aggression as the recent Soviet one, what are the chances of their standing up in cases that may well be more ambiguous (say, a Soviet intervention at the request of an Iranian government)? To the Europeans, if Americans overreact in this instance, aren’t they going to push the Soviets onto a collision course that could still be averted by a wider policy?
In Washington, it is common for experts to see signs of Finlandization and marks of “Euro-neutralism.” The Europeans deny the charges, but blame Washington for wild zigzags and short-sightedness. Indeed, at the heart of the present crisis we find not merely different conceptions of how to deal with the Soviet problem but profound European exasperation with the Carter administration, its inconsistencies, its lack of a sense of priorities, its insensitivity both to allies (as in its economic policies, or in its nonproliferation drive, or in some aspects of its human rights campaign) and to its chief rival (as in the handling of SALT and of the “China card”), its inability to step out of the triangular cage it had built at Camp David with Begin and Sadat, and its wide swings of policy over the American hostages in Iran.
What are the prospects for better American-European cooperation? They depend, essentially, on the choices the US will make concerning the Soviet Union.
In the short run, there is no cause for optimism. On the one hand, the Carter administration has, here also, locked itself in its own cage. By linking the ratification of SALT II to Soviet behavior in Afghanistan, Carter has made it very difficult for himself to follow Cyrus Vance’s pressing advice in his admirable Harvard commencement speech. In order to bring the treaty back before the Senate, he would have to reverse himself and to look as if he retreated before Moscow’s will (as in the foolish case of the Soviet brigade in Cuba last summer); moreover, even if he did, or if Muskie persuaded him to do so, it is unlikely that the Senate would comply. The economic sanctions having also been tied to Afghanistan, a redefinition of our economic relations with Moscow cannot be undertaken now either. As for the enforcement of the Carter doctrine, it remains impaired, not so much by the absence of the famous Quick Deployment Force as by the failure of the Camp David process, the interminable crisis with Iran, and the rejection by Pakistan of America’s offers of assistance.
On the other hand, a resolution of the Afghanistan crisis, which is the necessary prerequisite to an improvement in Soviet-American relations, is exceedingly hard to envisage. The Soviets, in some respects, are as stuck as the Americans were in Vietnam. They seem to have three bad choices available. They can stay there, fighting a long guerrilla war and destroying the country, along with the chance for better relations with Washington or with Moslem countries. They can try (like the French at Suez during the Algerian War) to crush the Afghanistan rebellion by attacking its bases outside Afghanistan, for instance in Pakistan, thus widening the war in the mistaken belief that the resistance has no indigenous bases. Or they can negotiate a way out. But they have made it clear that they want to leave behind a safe and “friendly” regime, and yet the longer the war lasts the smaller is the possibility of finding a “Finnish” solution: all those who are not pro-Soviet will be anti-Soviet, and no pro-Soviet regime will be able to stay in power without the presence of the Red Army.
If the Soviet formula for a political solution is a “broadening” of the Babrak Karmal government comparable to the notorious “broadening” of the Lublin regime in Poland after Yalta, few Afghan patriots will be attracted; yet there are no signs so far of Soviet willingness to accept a regime that is not dominated by communists (as before April 1978). And Washington can neither accept the Karmal formula of last month—which essentially demands the end of all foreign aid to the resistance and the recognition of its own legitimacy by its neighbors—nor try to defeat Soviet policy by escalating aid to the rebels.
For here the resemblance to Vietnam ceases; Pakistan is not a “sanctuary” comparable to North Vietnam, and any attempt by us to treat it as if it were would run into huge obstacles. Pakistan is a weak country with a shaky regime, and it could disintegrate if we tried to turn it into a kind of bastion. Its leader is reluctant—for his own good reasons—to let us do so, and has raised conditions that would jeopardize both our relations with India and our anti-proliferation policy. Afghanistan, while not vital enough for the US to run such risks, will be considered important enough to the Soviet Union for any such American attempt to provoke a violent Soviet reaction, which we are not in any position to fight without a major escalation; and this would be, once more, the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.
After the American elections, the new administration will therefore find all the deadlocks unbroken. And the choice is between two presidential candidates whose policies are unlikely to please the Europeans. (I am assuming that John Anderson will not make it.) To put it bluntly, it is a choice between two politics of nostalgia: an apparent return to the Sixties vs. an apparent return to the Fifties. The Carter foreign policy outlined last month in Philadelphia promises containment plus arms control. Carter’s case for arms control rests partly on the fact that mutual interests in control do indeed exist (divergence in strategic doctrines makes it only more, not less, essential), partly on the need to accommodate the Europeans (whose endorsement of the deployment of Pershing II and of cruise missiles in Europe is tied to the pursuit of arms control beyond SALT II), and partly on the belief that in the Eighties the Soviets may at last have to choose between guns and butter and will have a bigger stake in reducing their arms burden.
However, the Philadelphia formula remains simplistic. What are the longterm views of the administration on Soviet-American relations? Can arms control by itself restrain Soviet competition sufficiently to prevent it from turning increasingly more bitter in various parts of the world? Unless there are other restraints as well, and kinds of cooperation, will the Congress and the public support arms control in the first place, and won’t the competition turn into repeated confrontation? Lyndon Johnson was inching toward SALT when the invasion of Czechoslovakia blocked the path; it is only when it became part of a broader détente policy that arms control proceeded. Nor is there any guarantee that a second Carter administration would avoid the internal battles between its two foreign affairs agencies in the White House and the State Department which have marred the past four years. Diversity of advice is fine when the president can produce his own synthesis, or stick to his own choice. It is disastrous when he vacillates from one course to the other, or tries to straddle two paths that go in opposite directions.
What a Reagan foreign policy would be remains difficult to imagine. The candidate’s statements are a mixture of the fuzzy and the foolish. Sometimes, he and his advisers sound as if they wanted to go back to the good old days of Eisenhower and Dulles—America the wise leader of the world-wide alliance against communism (not just Russia). Sometimes, there are echoes of a far more aggressive and chauvinistic nationalism, à la John Connally. Between global commitments against the spread of evil, in cooperation with allies, and a fortress America mentality, there is a huge margin. However, some points emerge clearly from Reagan’s statements. One is a much more militant and alarmist interpretation of Soviet behavior than that which could be called the average view of the Carter team. First, “the Soviet Union underlies all the unrest that is going on”2 (back to dominoes, and to what the former British ambassador to Washington calls “bad regionalism”),3 and second, Moscow is likely to take advantage of the “window of opportunity” provided in the early Eighties both by the “arc of crisis” and by the vulnerability of our land-based missiles.
A second point is the need for an intensely militant response: a huge increase in the military budget (while cutting taxes!), a crash program to close that hideous window—an attempted return to superiority. A third point is a neglect of, even contempt for, diplomacy, as shown by Reagan’s remarks about the Arab-Israeli conflict, his sympathy for Taiwan, his attitude toward Third World problems and crises (surely some of the new money for arms would come from the dwindling sums for economic assistance), his lack of interest in any dialogue with the Soviets (except for the kind of substitute for SALT II which they already rejected in 1977, and which an American drive at regaining superiority is unlikely to make more acceptable).
A fourth point is a dangerous fallacy about America’s alliances. Reagan and his advisers seem to believe that the behavior of the allies is caused only by the absence of American leadership, and that as soon as America gets strong and bellows orders again, the allies will fall into line, with gratitude. It is true that they are used to American leadership, and annoyed when it lapses, but they don’t want just any kind of American direction. The world-wide alliance against Moscow that Reagan offers does not tempt them at all; and in any case, instant obedience is out of the question. How a Reagan administration would react to the discovery that the alliances are not unconditional—by going it alone, which would be self-defeating, or by wise retreat, but into what?—remains unclear. Nor is it clear at all that, despite the new anti-Soviet consensus in this country, the public would support a policy that would shift resources from domestic needs to foreign priorities, that might either allow for disastrous reversals as long as we have not “regained our strength” or, more plausibly, invite confrontations everywhere and appear dangerously provocative to Moscow, where it would feed (and be taken as vindicating) the most paranoid and hard-line views.
At this stage, whether in its simplistic homely form, as recited by Reagan, or in sophisticated pseudo-realistic form as rationalized by Robert W. Tucker,4 the Reagan view of the world is a rhetorical attitude, not a strategy, an act of faith, not a political design. It is what I have elsewhere called the Popeye fantasy, with military force substituting for the old sailor’s spinach. Power as an alternative to skill, military power as synonymous with power, an obstinate unwillingness to acknowledge, in Vance’s words, that “increased military power is a basis, not a substitute, for diplomacy,” and “a pervasive fallacy that America could have the power to order the world just the way we want it to be”—these are the hallmarks of global calamity.
What can be done to avoid it? On the American side, while nothing is less conducive to long-range thinking than an election campaign, there are some vital imperatives. First, all those who have doubts about the implications of the present course, misgivings about the present choices, and, especially, disagreements with the more systematic, oversimplifying, and hysterical interpretations of Soviet behavior—those interpretations which simultaneously describe the Soviets as ten-feet tall, as manipulating countless forces in countless countries, as devilishly clever, scheming, and successful, and also assert that a simple overpowering display of military might would drive all our troubles away—must speak up and engage their adversaries. Our Vietnam experience should have taught us not only (Vance’s words again) “that the use of military force is not and should not be a desirable response to the internal politics of other nations,” but also that an unexamined national consensus can drive us into our graves.
A second imperative is for us to think through what will remain one of the two dominant issues of world politics (the other one being the issue of revolutionary change in the Third World): what kind of Soviet-American relation do we want? It is a vexing problem, for two main reasons. One is that thirty-five years after the end of World War II each of the superpowers remains indifferent to the effect of its moves on the other, and eager to blame the other for all that goes wrong.
The Carter administration has not paid sufficient attention to the effect on Moscow of its divagations, and above all of its proclaimed, and unenforceable, determination to relegate Soviet-American relations to secondary importance in its diplomacy. The Soviets have given no signs of understanding that their post-1975 thrusts in Africa and around the Middle East, plus their military buildup, were seen by Americans not as a discrete series of tactical moves but as a pattern of deliberate expansion and increasing provocation, and therefore hardly compatible with the improved relations the Soviets said they wanted. It is in the nature of competitions, moreover, that even situations in which one side’s gain is not simply the other side’s loss—Angola, for example, has been a costly client for Moscow, and a reasonable economic and diplomatic interlocutor for Washington—are perceived as if they were a zero sum game.
The other, and even more fundamental, difficulty goes, beyond perceptions, to the heart of the matter: conflicting interests and goals. Any serious analysis of Soviet policies and statements reveals three things. One is a profound insecurity—a continuing sense of qualitative inferiority, a fear of being put in a position of diplomatic and military subordination by the US and its allies. Secondly, there is the constant, driving ambition to be recognized as an equal superpower and accepted by the US as a co-manager of world affairs, with equal rights and equal say. Third, there is a willingness to create enough difficulties and setbacks for the US to oblige it to treat Moscow as an equal, if Washington does not do so voluntarily.
These factors explain, for instance, why the Soviets seem to have taken so seriously the declaration of principles adopted at the Moscow summit of 1972, with its vague statements about cooperation and its fatuous renunciation of unilateral advantages (only Kissinger seems to have taken this equally seriously). They explain why, while accusing the Americans of having, since 1973, destroyed one by one the links of détente, thus affecting the balance of considerations Moscow had to weigh before moving into Afghanistan, the Soviets also accuse the Americans of having destroyed détente after Afghanistan by imposing sanctions on the USSR.
They explain above all why Moscow is so obdurate on the subject of the theater nuclear forces in Europe. For the Soviets divide the world into two slices: there is the Soviet-American relation, and there is the rest. Since their SS-20 missile doesn’t threaten the US, the NATO decision to deploy in Europe 572 missiles capable of hitting the USSR, under American control, is felt by Moscow to be a violation of the spirit of SALT II, indeed of its key principle (an equal number of launchers capable of hitting each superpower). Thus the Soviets compare NATO’s decision to their deployment of missiles in Cuba in 1962. But Moscow is quite unwilling to recognize the validity of the Western Europeans’ fears, caused by the substitution of the mobile and precise SS-20 for the older Soviet missiles aimed at Europe, by the development of the Soviet backfire bomber, and by the absence of comparable theater forces on the NATO side.
These three aspects of Soviet policy clash directly with American perceptions and conceptions. We have our own insecurity, fed by Soviet quantitative buildups and qualitative advances. Defining military parity or “equal security” seems beyond human achievement. Moreover, Soviet nibblings at and attacks on previously Western or pro-Western positions feed the American inclination to contain and repel, not the inclination to negotiate and share, If, as I believe is probable, Soviet moves in Africa and around the Persian Gulf since 1975 are in considerable part a response to our “exclusion” of the Soviets from the Middle Eastern peace process, first in 1973 and again after Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem, the least one can say is that these moves have not made Americans more eager to reintroduce the Russians into the process.
Finally, we remain deeply reluctant to grant them equal rights: our values and interests are too different to encourage us to take part in a condominium. Their regime violates our deepest beliefs, and its ambitions threaten our strategic, economic, and political positions. We may concede (unhappily) military parity, but we do not derive from it political parity, for we find the Soviets too lacking, and threatening, in the other dimensions of power to grant them such equality. Indeed, we see in their demand for it a way for them to gain a foothold in various regions, to inject themselves into issues (southern Africa, or the security of Persian Gulf sea channels, or international economic issues) where their claims are dubious and their credentials are shaky; in other words, we see in this demand a clever way of increasing their power and control at our expense.
And so we seem doomed to competition. Their attempts to reach parity (whether they are diplomatic or unilateral) are seen as a challenge by us; our attempts to deny them political parity and to restore military parity where we deem it threatened are seen by them as efforts at intimidation. When we act to preserve the “correlation of forces” they interpret our moves as hostile; but their definition of friendship seems to require of us a good-natured willingness to let that correlation shift in their favor without reacting.
All of this means that the Soviet-American relationship is bound to remain a troubled one. We should have no illusions about the grimness of the Soviet regime or its policies. But an unrestrained competition would condemn us to unbearable insecurity, and we should deny neither the possibility of a slow evolution of the Soviet Union, nor our ability to affect it (for better or worse). No rational policy can fail to acknowledge their enormous military and economic resources—while they face internal tensions and failures, we can hardly pretend that all is well in our land. Our strategy will have to be complex, and to mix competition and restraints, containment and cooperation, deterrence and preventive diplomacy. The difficult search both for restraints and for areas of mutual benefit is essential, and will require constant communication and diplomacy. We cannot, as the Soviets sometimes seem to invite us to do, settle the world’s problems jointly and override the interests of allies and third parties. But we can, as they also suggest, see to it jointly that third parties do not drag us into confrontations, and we must try to dampen their disputes when these threaten to get out of hand.
This in turn requires that each superpower be more willing to exert pressure on its clients than to score gains by supporting them. And this, in turn, requires a far broader range of cooperative links than exists at present. Indeed, without such links a pattern of restraint is hard to imagine, even though the moderation of Soviet behavior might sometimes result less from understanding than from Moscow’s need to acknowledge the wishes of other nations (another reason for sound preventive diplomacy on our part). But only if we keep trying, despite all setbacks, to turn an adversary relationship into a mixed one and if we understand that what is at stake is not an untenable status quo but the management of inevitable change will the Soviet drive for status become less maniacal, more differentiated, and our resistance to it less fierce and more discriminating.5
A third American imperative is to provide our allies with no excuse for “Finlandization” or further estrangement. This entails far better consultations than in the recent past, and above all a willingness to consider a common strategy, one that recognizes that we cannot separate the Soviet-American issues from the various economic ones that confront us, or from the Middle Eastern ones. It also means that we ought to get out of the ruts into which we have fallen.
Concerning relations with Moscow, we face a contradiction between our interest in imposing costs on Moscow in order to deter a repetition of Afghanistan and our interest in the kind of policy I have sketched. Similarly, the Soviets face a contradiction between their stake in Afghanistan and their frequently stated interest in avoiding a return to the cold war. If we remain locked in our attempt at punishment or expand our military cooperation with China, or if the Soviets keep seeking total victory in Afghanistan, chances for a better future will be destroyed. Therefore, we should explore the possibility of an explicit or (more likely) implicit bargain in which the Soviet Union would commit itself to a withdrawal from Afghanistan, begin to carry it out, and accept an enlargement of the Afghan regime (and not mere window dressing for Karmal).
For the reasons I have mentioned, time will be crucial. We would in exchange guarantee Afghanistan’s neutrality, resume arms control negotiations on issues such as a comprehensive test ban, or chemical warfare, or anti-satellite weapons, resubmit SALT II to the Senate, and move toward a speedy SALT III negotiation that would include theater nuclear weapons in Europe. Concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict, we should be ready to support initiatives aimed at linking the Camp David process, which has gone about as far as it can, to a renewed search for a comprehensive settlement, acknowledging the Palestinian right to self-determination (and thus going beyond the Camp David ambiguities).
For the Western Europeans there are imperatives as well. Some are negative. There should be no more indulging in the cheap pleasures of mere bitching, no attempt to pose—singly or collectively—as mediators between East and West, no displays of national or collective independence from Washington when the only effect would be to encourage Moscow’s hope or belief that a wedge can be driven between the US and its allies, or to demonstrate Western Europe’s impotence. Another negative imperative is that there should be no Western European offers to Washington of the kind of division of labor that is likely to justify American suspicions about the allies—a division in which the US would provide the armed defense of the oil supplies, while the Europeans do business as usual with Moscow and the Arab countries (and contribute some financial assistance only to Turkey or Pakistan).
But there are positive imperatives as well. Given the deadlock of current American policy, and the bleak choices offered in the presidential campaign, this could be the historical moment in which the Western Europeans overcome the habit of dependence and propose to their handicapped ally their own strategic conception. Precisely because they are not on the front lines, and because their domestic situations—even in the cases of West Germany and France, which are in a pre-electoral period, but with much better prospects for the incumbents—allow them to think of the long range, their leaders could perform a major service for the alliance as a whole, as well as seize this crisis as the opportunity to lift European cooperation out of its own rut of petty concerns with lamb and pennies. They perform no service at all when they merely go along with measures they deem futile (such as sanctions against Iran), just in order, as one of them put it, to buy the right to say no the next time. This is doubly irresponsible.
In East-West relations, a European strategy for the alliance could have as its motto: neither cold war nostalgia (at a time when the dangers of superpower confrontation are much higher than in the 1950s or 1960s, and when both the absolute and relative levels of superpower might are so different from what they were then) nor incoherence à la Carter nor détente illusions à la Kissinger (i.e., hoping to get the Soviets to self-contain themselves and to accept our notion of international stability). Such a European strategy would, in particular, continue to combine the modernization of NATO defenses and the pursuit of arms control; it would also reexamine the current discordant trade and credit policies toward Moscow and suggest a common allied policy that would preserve and enlarge existing links, yet avoid excessive dependence on Moscow over key resources, and state as clearly as possible in advance what kinds of Soviet moves would lead to a reduction or severance of these ties.
With respect to the Middle East, a European common strategy ought to aim at reducing more rapidly dependence on oil imported from the area, and at providing a successor to (but not a repudiation of) the Camp David process. It would not be wise to begin such a European initiative with an attempt at getting the UN Security Council to revise Resolution 242—for this would provoke an American veto; nor should one begin with an attempt to draft a new General Assembly resolution, since any prolonged debate there risks becoming a competition in extreme language and a further cause of superpower opposition. But a declaration of the Nine which recognizes both Israel’s right to exist in secure borders and the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, acknowledges the necessity of including the PLO in the negotiations leading to it, and proposes a mutual renunciation of force on such a basis could do a great deal to prevent a new radicalization of those Arab states and forces which, after Camp David, had moved away from pure rejectionism, and which see in the present deadlock, and in Begin’s policies, reasons to give up any hope for a negotiated settlement. Without ruling out a role for Jordan, such a declaration could also, if endorsed by the US, help convince the Israeli Labor party not to lose any more time in the fruitless quest for the kind of “Jordanian solution” that tries to leave out the PLO and the West Bank leaders altogether.
There are other problems (such as the world economic ones) about which the Europeans could propose a strategy, and there is another imperative for their own long-range future: a return to the subject—taboo since 1954—of a European defense organization, allied to the US, in which France would be a key member, and the British and French would engage in nuclear cooperation. This would redress, in part, the imbalance between, on the one hand, Europe’s military subordination to the US (a subordination which, given the structure of NATO and France’s separate role, far exceeds the actual unavoidable military dependence on Washington), and, on the other, encourage the economic and political progress of the Nine.
In the meantime, Europeans have an overriding interest in overcoming their own rivalries and their tendency merely to react to Washington’s policies. For only if they present their own plans do they have a chance either of helping a new Carter administration regain a sense of direction and of steadiness or of saving a Reagan administration from its delusions about European desires and expectations and from leading the alliance straight into what might be its biggest crisis ever.
Inversely, if they wait until Washington has defined its course, and it is one that is either too short-sighted or too dangerous for them to approve, they will be faced with highly unpleasant choices. One would be grudging consent; but it would strain the domestic politics of several European nations. Or else they could make an attempt at collective independence, but it would only lead to a disastrous showdown with the military protector in Washington, and to a demonstration of impotence and a real danger of Finlandization in relations with Moscow. Or else there could be a new division among the Europeans—with, as usual, London siding with Washington and Paris choosing autonomy, but with the major risk of having Bonn associated with Paris, unlike in the Sixties.
A European effort to redress the Atlantic diplomatic balance is not assured of success. Washington may well choose not to listen. But one more European abdication would be especially lamentable at a time when America’s vision is either cloudy or absurd. Collective myopia and cumulative nonsense on the part of all the allies might, despite the caution induced by nuclear weapons, bring about a repetition of 1914, especially at a time when military “experts” begin to seek ways of waging and winning nuclear wars.6 And yet, anyone who in June 1980 would predict that the European leaders will indeed behave as responsible world statesmen and not as good local managers with a shopkeeper’s cautiousness and a taste for rebelliousness, anyone who would announce a new European vision or the appearance of a sane and steady American one would have to be an optimist—or a dreamer.
July 17, 1980
See the sober and powerful analysis of Seweryn Bialer in his forthcoming book, Stalin’s Successors (Cambridge University Press). ↩
Quoted by Karen Elliott House, Wall Street Journal, June 3, 1980, p. 1. ↩
Peter Jay, “Regionalism as Geopolitics,” Foreign Affairs, issue on America and the World 1979, pp. 485-514. ↩
See his essays, “America in Decline,” Foreign Affairs, America and the World 1979, pp. 449-484, and “Reagan Without Tears,” The New Republic, May 17, 1980, pp. 22-25. ↩
I recognize the sketchy nature of these suggestions. But I have made them more explicit in “Muscle and Brains,” Foreign Policy, No. 37, Winter 1979-1980, pp. 3-27, and will soon develop them further. ↩
See for instance Colin S. Gray and Keith Payne, “Victory is Possible,” Foreign Policy, No. 39, Summer 1980, pp. 14-27. ↩