Corbis

Beyond Détente: Toward International Economic Security

Economic issues are now front and center for the world's political leaders, topping the agenda of both domestic and foreign policy concerns. While the major international security issues of the last quarter-century are still with us—the competition in strategic nuclear arms, the struggle of differing political systems, the confrontation of massively armed alliances in Europe, the menace of great-power involvement in local conflict—these are now being overshadowed by the risk that the operation of the international economy may spin out of control. For if this happens there will be no graver threat to international stability, to the survival of Western democratic forms of government, and to national security itself.

Last June West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt spoke plainly at the NATO summit meeting. As he saw it, the most serious risks facing NATO were not military. The growing economic difficulties of its members, he said, "include dangers that cannot be exaggerated. Inflation and the necessarily following recession pose the greatest threat to the foundations of Western society."

Throughout the crisis of the Presidency, it was difficult for the American public to focus on international issues. What serious discussion there was dealt almost exclusively with the problems of détente with the Soviet Union. It is on this issue that Secretary Kissinger has called for a great debate, and Senator Fulbright is responding by holding extensive hearings to air the views of both critics and supporters of the Nixon Administration's dealings with the Soviet Union.

Certainly détente is important. The gains in East-West relations must be consolidated on a realistic basis; negotiations on strategic arms, the European Security Conference and the question of force levels in Europe must be pursued, and the attempt to progress toward a peace settlement in the Middle East (itself in part a test of the scope of détente) must command special and unremitting attention.

But just as inflation has now emerged as by far the most pressing domestic concern, so international economic policy

Read the full article on ForeignAffairs.com