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Once again we have reached a major turning point in American foreign policy. On this, at least, there is widespread agreement. The conviction that the nation has come to a critical juncture in its foreign relations is broadly shared by those who may disagree on virtually everything else. Everywhere the signs point to the conclusion that for the third time in the post-World War II period we are in the throes of far-reaching change in the nation's foreign policy. What these signs do not divulge are the eventual scope and magnitude of the change.
On U.S. Army maps the area of Iraq and Iran on either side of the Shatt al Arab River is shown in white, indicating uninhabited marsh and swamp. A warning indicates that "border demarcations are subject to international dispute." It was here, at the tip of the Gulf, variously called Persian or Arabian, that a British expeditionary force first landed in 1914 to drive the Turks from Mesopotamia, and to establish ultimately the independent state of Iraq as it is known today. The expedition's political adviser, Sir Percy Cox, warned his superiors that "the position of our ships in the [river], from an international point of view, is undoubtedly a weak one."
For nearly a decade, perhaps the single most successful foreign policy the United States has pursued has been our new relationship with the People's Republic of China. As former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's memoirs make clear, President Richard M. Nixon and China's leaders took bold advantage of their common adversarial relationship with the Soviet Union and terminated the Sino-American enmity which had so damaged our countries in the previous two decades. The Nixon Administration fashioned a bipartisan China policy which, despite occasional lapses, has been carefully pursued ever since.
Something strange is occurring in the U.S.-South African relationship. At a time when our two societies need each other more than before, it is becoming unclear which one is more effective in exploiting divisions in the other. After nearly 20 years in which successive Republican and Democratic administrations have established some modest guidelines for U.S. policy, it has become fashionable to question whether the United States even has a policy toward South Africa. The fragile centrist consensus that so urgently needs to be strengthened among Americans instead founders in a fog of stereotypes and polarized perceptions about the country. On their side, South Africans are so enmeshed in their own internal ferment and so disenchanted with the recent American performance (globally as well as in southern Africa) that they view the United States increasingly as an object for manipulation, an ineffectual and reactive power.
That arms control as a concept for international order and as a tool for restricting military competition is in deep trouble today, is so obvious that it has become almost a truism. The lessons that both skeptics and supporters of arms control have learned from this experience are very different. The skeptics, though often paying lip service to "true arms control," feel certain that effective arms control, in the sense of serving the security interests of the West, is simply illusory so long as the Soviet Union and the United States are locked in continuing rivalry. The supporters see the reasons for the disappointing record of arms control not in the concept but in its political presentation; the failure of arms control, to them, is due to hopes having been too high and expectations too great. Arms control can be revitalized, they argue, if we begin to be more modest in our objectives and expectations.
"The only really nonaligned countries in the world," the president of Sri Lanka once quipped, "are the United States and the Soviet Union." A quarter-century after the great historic meeting in Bandung in 1955, what remains of nonalignment? How has the Third World fared since then? How have the heirs of the great historic figures, who most recently met in Havana in September 1979, acquitted themselves and handled the legacy? What kind of baggage will the nonaligned take to their next meeting in Baghdad in 1982? The last surviving member of the leading Bandung figures, U Nu of Burma, now tells us that the movement has been betrayed: "I cannot honestly call it a nonaligned movement. . . . As far as I am concerned I do not see any bright future for it."
If one thing more than any other was made abundantly clear by the whole series of international negotiations in the 1970s, it is that the industrialized democracies--which, with Australia and New Zealand as appendages, and with the Soviet bloc, make up "the North"--have no strategy and no vision when it comes to their dealings with the three-quarters of the human race that lives in the developing "South." For over a decade, the North has been discussing with the South the problem of their long-term economic relations--the so-called New International Economic Order. But wherever the focus has been--the five meetings of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the various special sessions of the U.N. General Assembly, the fumbling and finally negative two-year talks of the Commission for International Economic Cooperation (the ironic name given to a series of North-South consultations in Paris), the fiasco of the latest conference called by UNIDO (the U.N. Industrial Development Organization), or the virtually nonexistent outcome of the so-called Economic Summit of Western leaders in Venice--wherever the place, whatever the context, whoever the parties, the outcome has been virtually the same. In short, it has been nothing.
The deadlock in the U.N. Special Session in September 1980 over efforts to organize global negotiations on a New International Economic Order is not a cause for pessimism but an invitation to sober reflection. The breakdown was not just over procedures, though that was the way it appeared. The breakdown came because there are still substantive and fundamental differences between the approaches of the North and the South to these negotiations. Unless we honestly face up to these differences, a mere patch-up of procedural wrangles to revive the global negotiations will not achieve any significant results.