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Asked what kind of generals he preferred to have leading his armies, Napoleon is said to have replied "lucky ones." Ronald Reagan has been a lucky president, especially in relations with the rest of the world. During the five years of his stewardship American foreign policy has been largely successful. One test of success for any sovereign state is the level of its power and prestige, its general standing in the international community. America's standing has improved since 1981. Another important measure of success is the avoidance of war; this, too, Mr. Reagan has managed. The interest of a great power committed to the international status quo, like the United States, is served by averting geopolitical setbacks. On this score as well, Mr. Reagan's record is a good one. There has been no Vietnam or Iran during the past five years. By these standards, the President has conducted what is perhaps the most successful American foreign policy of the last 25 years.
When the Reagan Administration first came into office, it seemed for a considerable period determined to repudiate totally policies that had dominated postwar U.S. foreign policy. Senior officials publicly compared the Soviet Union to Napoleonic France--or worse; they suggested that arms control negotiations should not be convened until Soviet behavior in the world's trouble spots improved--an unlikely prospect if the Administration's assessment of the nature of the Soviet regime was even partially correct. The Reagan Administration not only refused to ratify the SALT II treaty, with its limitations on future deployments, but also appeared ready to refuse to honor these restraints even informally. When arms talks did begin, the Administration waited months to develop its proposals, and then tabled suggestions so unbalanced that the only possible purpose could be to ensure that they would be non-negotiable, as then Secretary of State Alexander Haig, Jr., subsequently pronounced some of them. The Administration veered so dangerously far from the policy toward the People's Republic of China laid down by three previous administrations that Mr. Haig warned of a new estrangement of Beijing.
The program known as the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) includes research on a variety of technologies--many aimed at distinct phases of the ballistic missile flight path. For each phase--boost, post-boost, mid-course and terminal --a defense would require successful surveillance, target acquisition, tracking, guidance of the weapons, and kill mechanisms. Are the objectives of SDI technically feasible? The answer will depend primarily on what specific objectives strategic defenses ultimately seek to achieve--protection of population, of missile silos, of other military targets. Within that context, the answer will further depend on the capabilities of the technologies and on the potential countermeasures and counter-countermeasures of each side.
The year 1985 saw progress on several important fronts. The American recovery entered its fourth year; inflation continued its impressive decline and interest rates fell significantly. Washington took a more constructive approach toward the resolution of international economic problems. In much of Europe, wage and price increases were further slowed, business profitability was improved, budget deficits were cut and cumbersome regulations were loosened. Japan took new steps to liberalize trade and finance. The United States joined with Britain, France, Japan and West Germany to reduce exchange rate misalignments and bring greater order to the international monetary system. Growth picked up in some Latin American countries, and the world's two most populous nations, China and India, substantially increased market incentives.
We met, as we had to meet," President Reagan told Congress in November on his return from Geneva. A week later General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev said to the Supreme Soviet, "A dialogue of top leaders is always a moment of truth in relations between states." 1985 became the year of the summit, of a faster tempo and a softer tone in U.S.-Soviet relations. The President's invitation to meet, issued in March, had been his very first message to the new Soviet leader and reflected a widespread hope that the passing of the Kremlin's "old men" might permit East-West conciliation. Yet the leaders' more direct involvement and even their apparently amiable personal relationship could hardly resolve the contentious issues between the two sides. For this purpose, the relative strength of their bargaining positions remained decisive. In the course of the year, each side therefore sought to overcome those problems that in the past had weakened it in the superpower competition.
From one year to the next, it is difficult to find original words to describe the state of transatlantic relations. Indeed, they are bound to continue to constitute a "troubled partnership," and 1985 was no exception. To a large extent, it was the year of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). On the surface, even though most European strategists are more than skeptical about the concept, SDI has not created major tensions among the Western allies. The British and the German governments supported President Reagan's initiative. Italy showed some interest; France, Norway, Greece and Denmark rejected any governmental role, but avoided any confrontation. Overall, Washington may be pleased.
Over two decades, Americans have come to expect dynamic economic growth and relative political stability in East Asia. Until recently, China was the perennial exception, and the Soviets had no regional role to speak of. Today, these judgments are being reexamined. The region is not necessarily in trouble, but it is in ferment, and the future is less sure--for itself and for American interests--than it seemed even a short while ago. Furthermore, the economic and political stirrings are not of a short-term nature; they involve generational and systemic transitions within the region and shifting roles for external actors, including the United States and, now, the Soviet Union.
Political leaders in Washington and in Latin America began 1985 with sharply different perspectives. The Reagan Administration was ostentatiously pleased with the state of the western hemisphere. It was gratified by Latin America's steady turn toward democracy, which it thought would foster more cordial inter-American relations. The U.S. government was confident that Latin America's debt crisis was easing, at least for the major countries, and that the debt management strategy employed since 1982 had proved largely successful. Washington was heartened that most Latin American countries were beginning to implement economic policies that were endorsed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), policies designed to cut public sector deficits and generate trade surpluses so the countries could service their debts.
President Reagan's sweep of 49 of the 50 states in the November 1984 elections set in motion mutations within both the Republican and Democratic Parties that have substantially affected U.S. relations with Africa. The mushrooming of groups and individuals in the coalition known as the Free South Africa Movement is ascribed by its founder, TransAfrica's Randall Robinson, to a post-election assessment that a very daring gamble was the only hope of keeping anti-apartheid activism alive in the face of another four years of "constructive engagement." On another front, the congressional leaders of the shattered Democratic Party seized upon apartheid as the most promising issue for drawing Jesse Jackson's constituency and other blacks sidelined during the campaign back into the party's mainstream. The 35 Republican congressmen who dispatched a sharply worded letter of protest against Pretoria's racial policies to South African Ambassador B. G. Fourie in December 1984 were at least partially motivated by a new belief that it was historically and practically shortsighted for the Republicans to concede the black vote and the civil rights constituency as a given to the Democratic Party.
The Reagan Administration reached some important conclusions about Middle East policy during its first term. In 1985, it tried to apply them. The framework for its diplomatic activism had been laid down in the September 1982 Reagan Plan, but to this were now added calculations on the difficulty of mediating an Arab-Israeli peace settlement, the need to await decisive action by the involved regional states, a skepticism about Arab eagerness for negotiations, and the belief that the United States must stand its ground until the proper opportunity for peace arrived.
Mikhail Gorbachev addressed a closed party audience: "What is at stake today is the ability of the Soviet Union to enter the new millennium in a manner worthy of a great and prosperous power. . . . Without the hard work and complete dedication of each and every one it is not even possible to preserve what has been achieved." This speech, only a part of which has been published, continued: "There has been a failure to perceive properly the need for change in some aspects of production relations," to perceive the need to overcome "the stagnant conservatism of Soviet production relations."