So far, the twentieth century has been an age of nationalism. Nibbled at on the one hand by subgroups within it, and on the other by aspirations, concerns, and organizations transcending it, the nation-state goes on as the main engine of organized human action. For more of the world's population than ever before, the nation-state in which they live is one they regard as their own, however much they may dissent from its policies or even suffer its repressions.

So the affairs of the world - "foreign" affairs in the title of this American journal - revolve overwhelmingly around the relations among nations, their interplay, their capacity to exert influence or control one over another, or one group over another. In the area of security interests, this is self-evident. And even the new agenda of world problems - an economic order, food, population, the environment, the Law of the Sea - is still debated among the representatives of nations. The United Nations, as Mr. Waldheim keeps reminding us, is in the end only a mirror of its members; and behind their discussions of principle lurk, inescapably, perceptions of what might happen in the absence of agreement, perceptions of what nations might then do that would affect other nations for good or ill - perceptions, in short, of power. The day when this may be less true is still far off.

In the last decade, the structure of power relationships among the nations of the world has become far more complicated. Call this a "devolution of power," "political multipolarity," what you will, its essence is generally accepted. In contrast to the relatively simple world structure of 15 years ago - the West and its friends, the communist world, and the nonaligned - individual nations today are far less under the sway of others, more able to throw their own weight around, and groups of nations, regional or economic, stand together as new centers of power.

And the change is more than simply in the distribution of power, more than the normal tendency in history for some societies to advance and for others to stand still or to retreat. It relates to the very nature of power, to what elements or combinations of elements enable a nation or group of nations to exert power. In terms of any statistical measurement of the orthodox instruments of power, it would seem that military strength has become if anything more concentrated in the United States and the Soviet Union, and industrial capacity in these superpowers and in Western Europe, Japan, and a small number of other advanced countries. Yet real power - the ability to affect others - seems in fact more widely dispersed than perhaps at any time in the world's history.

Clearly, elements of power that seemed less important have moved to the fore. And clearly, too, the elements of power have become more separable: a nation or group may have great strength in one respect but be extremely vulnerable in others. Although there have always been such discontinuities, now they seem to have reached new extremes.

How, then, is power distributed today? What elements of power seem to have new importance in the "mix"? The two questions go together.


Let us start with the most evident and dramatic new holders of power that have emerged in these last five years, the oil-producing countries grouped in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). This is a case of economic power at its purest, based on the capacity to embargo oil shipments to selected consuming countries and more broadly on the ability and willingness to set prices for oil moving in world trade.

Foreshadowed in 1970-71 by the Libyan initiative and the Tehran agreement, this power was fully deployed only in the fall of 1973, with great political and military effect. As the front-line Arab countries took the military offensive against Israel, the threat of embargo caused NATO countries not only to adopt statements in a pro-Arab vein but to deny facilities for the transit of U.S. military aid to Israel (save only for Portugal's Azores). Western Europe and Japan simply could not face the prospect of a cutoff of oil supplies even for a short period, whereas the Arab oil-producers both controlled enough of the supply to make such a cutoff effective and were in a position to accept, collectively, the loss of income that would have gone with it. Like a stroke of lightning, the event laid bare the vulnerability of the major industrialized countries (which comprise both the West and the North) that had evolved in the previous 20 years alongside their tremendous economic progress.

And in the following months the oil-producers - this time with Iran, which had not joined in the embargo, in the lead - raised the price of oil fourfold, drastically readjusting the whole world economic structure, adding significantly to a pattern of inflation and recession already under way in the West, putting both advanced and developing oil-consumers into deep external deficit, and straining both private and public financing mechanisms, all in ways far from ended. So serious was the impact that there were a few who argued that the West should have taken military steps aimed at the Persian Gulf, and there were indeed brief official threats in this direction by both Henry Kissinger and James Schlesinger. These found little echo in the United States and none in Europe or Japan. And the conclusion might have been drawn that the denial even of economic necessities was not, in the contemporary world, a possible occasion for the use of military force. In the old American game involving scissors, rock and paper, had commodity power become a rock that blunted the scissors even of far greater military power and gave its possessors both political leverage and the means greatly to increase their wealth and strength?

Only for OPEC, at least so far. As events have unfolded, commodity (or resource) power has come to seem much more limited than appeared likely in 1973-74. Third World countries that are the holders of resources moving in world trade have been on the whole disappointed. Except for Jamaica in bauxite and Morocco in phosphates, it has proved impossible to set prices in OPEC fashion, and these two cases are on their face too small for political leverage. In no major commodity other than oil has it turned out that a coherent group of nations control enough of the supply or are sufficiently able to accept the decline in income to replicate OPEC's actions.1 The breach that OPEC opened has not been widened to admit to significant new power any other group of producing nations.

Yet from the Western standpoint the oil vulnerability remains. OPEC still sets the price of exported oil, and retains the latent capacity to cut off supplies. And the resulting power, along with the undertow of existing prices, is sufficient not only to make Western countries eager competitors for business and suppliers of arms and civilian technology to OPEC countries, but also to keep Western Europe and Japan publicly sympathetic to Arab peace terms.

The impact on American policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict is harder to assess. All that this country has done since 1973 to resolve that conflict can be supported on rational grounds, consistent with a continuing moral commitment to Israel, without regard to the oil factor. Indeed, the U.S. failure to mount an effective energy policy - at least up to this point - reflects, more than anything, popular refusal to accept (or inability to grasp) the implications of growing dependence on OPEC, and especially Arab, oil. The resulting possibility of an oil crisis in the early 1980s and beyond - either in connection with some Arab-Israeli development or in terms of price and supply in themselves - is a nightmare shared by Messrs. Carter and Vance with their predecessors, but not yet adequately by the American public or its mirror, the Congress.2

Meanwhile, the economic impact of OPEC's oil power continues. Doubtless its members feel they have been restrained in the amount of their price increases. The bellwether governments of Iran and Saudi Arabia need the economic strength of the West and specifically the military support of the United States; short of an Arab-Israeli crisis, these serve, if you will, as paper wrapping rock. But the OPEC members have also pitched their spending habits so that they depend on enormous new revenues. They do not mean to keep the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the poor oil-consumers from returning to reasonable growth levels, but their policies could have the effect of keeping the nostrils of both just out of the water. The transfer of wealth is certainly cutting into the real strength of both other groups, and deepening an emerging tripartite division of the trading world (with the Soviet bloc and China largely outside).

It does not follow of course that this loss of strength means an equal gain for the OPEC countries. Income need not mean wealth, let alone power - the decline of gold-rich Spain in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is the textbook example. Five years ago Nigeria and Indonesia were rising to the status of respected regional powers; oil wealth now seems to have compounded their problems of corruption and governance almost as much as it has profited them. Iran and Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, have had not only waste and corruption but what seems to the detached observer a grossly misplaced emphasis on military spending; yet they are undoubtedly much more powerful not only in their immediate regions but in the economic councils of the world. And Qaddafi of Libya - unrestrained by any sense of common interest with the West - has shown that "money for mischief" can have a sharp nuisance impact not only in his neighborhood but in trouble spots as far-flung as Mindanao and Northern Ireland.

But if commodity power is real and vivid in this one commodity, oil, and one area, the Middle East, what of the wider pressures mounted by the Third World against the industrialized Western countries? If OPEC power has been the most dramatic single development of these five years, a broader and perhaps more lasting innovation in international affairs has been the holding of a series of serious conferences on environment, population, food, the Law of the Sea, and a "new international economic order." Each of these has indeed found some measure of common interest and need for cooperation, but each too - in roughly ascending order up the list - has been permeated by sharply opposed positions and an adversary atmosphere, overwhelmingly on North-South, or developed-developing lines.

What has emerged to this point is a standoff both in terms of competing ideas and competing power - reflected in the economic negotiations that came to a close in Paris this past June.3 Whatever political ends Arab-OPEC oil power might at some point be used for, its holders are not prepared to threaten its use on behalf of the economic interests of their colleagues in the Third World; nor are those poor countries which clamored for debt relief prepared to simply stop paying their debts, lest this freeze the flow of loans to them and to others. Similarly, whatever the theoretical capacity of the industrialized countries to refrain from doing business in the Third World without, for example, adequate understandings on fair compensation in the event of nationalization, the private and public interests involved are far too complex to permit such action.

In short, so long as each side calculates rationally the benefits of continued economic intercourse and the effective absence of alternatives, there is a rough North-South balance of economic power, slightly more favorable to the Third World than before (if only because of OPEC's continuing leverage) but still a balance. Five years ago it was argued that the West's multinational corporations might be becoming so powerful that they could dictate terms to smaller countries and even to larger ones; today there is no doubt that the pendulum has swung back near the middle - nations can deny and regulate, companies can refuse to trade or invest, and bargains are struck.4 And so it seems likely to remain in the predominant areas of economic activity, where the assertion of economic self-interest, on one side, can be met by economic action that hurts, from the other.

To this there is an important exception - the assertion of economic self-interest can prevail if it is territorial and can only be countered by physical force. What has happened in the oceans in this decade, especially the de facto establishment of 200-mile offshore resource zones, shows this vividly; when Britain ultimately declined to use its navy to protect its fishing boats off Iceland, it was a landmark simply more striking than the fines the United States quietly paid to Chile for the "encroachment" of its tuna fleet.

But although this shift, or assertion, of power was to some extent a case of small versus large, the spread of 200-mile resource zones has in practice benefited the strong rather more than the weak, at least up to this point. What has happened is that the power of coastal control has scored great gains over the power associated with the wide use of the seas. It is a major change in the ingredients and distribution of power, with implications that are for the time being predominantly economic.5

Returning to the economically related conferences, their outcome to date has not been simply a reflection of a balance of economic power as between the OECD nations, on the one hand, and the middle- and low-income nations on the other. Political factors of all sorts enter in, and we shall return to these in a later section. And one can never exclude the underlying element of what might happen in terms of force if the lines were ever to harden to the point where developing countries (or a group of them) simply lashed out, however irrationally, at any representatives or symbols of the industrialized countries that lay to hand.

What stands out, nonetheless, is the strength of the economic bonds that link both (or all three) of the different groups of nations. For all the turmoil of the last 30 years, it has been a time of extraordinary material gain, and the main source of material progress and technology has been in the First World, the West. This fundamental element of power has been trimmed at the edges by the advance of an economic middle group and more substantially by the advent of oil power in OPEC. But it remains central. Soft, dependent on others, often misgoverned, nonetheless the First World of industrialized countries - with the United States in the lead - continues to exert an immense magnetic pull on others. The center-of-gravity countries of the Third World want the system of world trade and exchange to work, much as they want to change its terms to their advantage. The rhetoric of utter frustration two or three years ago (and much longer in UNCTAD) still has echoes today. But in the last two years of serious negotiation, small as the results have been to date, it has been clear that there is much economic self-interest that holds the First and Third Worlds together - though not yet enough to move them more than very slowly to new levels of cooperation.

Within the context of relations between the First and Third Worlds, one other point stands out. A decade ago it seemed entirely possible that the major industrialized nations and subgroups of the North - the United States, Western Europe and Japan - would achieve or expand economic spheres of influence in Third World areas: the United States in Latin America, Western Europe in Africa, and Japan in Southeast Asia. In all three cases there remains a degree of special relationship, and it has had a strong constructive side, for example in the adoption by the European Economic Community (EEC) of the Lomé Convention to assist a group of countries, especially ex-colonies in Africa. Japan too - the preeminent example of a nation whose power is overwhelmingly economic - has passed through the trauma of the Tanaka riots of 1974 and today sends its Prime Minister to discuss major additional assistance projects in Southeast Asia. And the United States remains the largest external factor in the economies of Latin America.

But the threat of spheres of influence, in any sinister or preemptive sense, has receded. All three are active in all these areas. And growing diversification has proved healthy for all concerned, not only in economic terms but in mitigating the psychological and political consequences of excessive dependence. In a free trading system, economic power tends to spread out and thus to be diluted in its political impact.


So far we have been looking at the problem of economic power in the North-South context. What about the relevance of economic power to the East-West struggle, which persists as an "old" but still inescapable part of the world power situation?

When Mr. Khrushchev said 20 years ago, "We shall bury you," he presumably meant that in a finite number of years - probably by now - the Soviet Union and its associates would be outproducing the West and generally doing so much better that it would be clear to all which system was superior. To say the least, it has not turned out that way. Relatively efficient in the development and production of military hardware, the Soviet system simply does not produce either the industrial goods or the civilian technology that the rest of the world wants; its role in world trade is marginal and episodic, and its capacity to invest economic resources for the projection of power is limited - even the support of tiny Cuba has apparently been a considerable strain. The Soviet Union's economic programs overseas are dwarfed by the combined private and public efforts of the Western countries. It has great (though uneven) wealth and internal economic strength, but its outreach is much less than that of the United States, or Western Europe, or Japan.

But, it may be argued, this is all to the good for the political purposes of the Soviet Union. The Third World expects little from it - and indeed happily accepts the support of the Soviet bloc in votes concerning the terms of a new economic order. So the Soviet Union is free to go about its business, unencumbered by arguments about multinational corporations, and to put down its chips where they have most promise of political results.

It turns out, however, that the economic chips are not even enough for this kind of selective use on a wide scale, and that they have seldom produced lasting political results. Where the Soviet Union has made a major effort - notably in India - it has gained temporary credit. But the Soviet Union cannot meet India's most crucial need - food - and in the long run the pull of the West is almost certain to reassert itself.

Where the West has competed directly, the results have been one-sided. In 1973-74, Syria and Egypt turned to the United States, and away from the Soviet Union, for reasons that included a generous measure of politics; but economics were also vitally important - the United States, and the economic system of the West, had much more to offer not only in terms of immediate help but in terms of lasting ties.

And the economic factor played a part too little noted in two major cases where the issue was one of communist control of government - Chile in 1973 and Portugal in 1975. Although the Chile story has often been told, it has seldom been stripped down to its essentials.

It is, of course, true - and deplorable - that President Nixon used the CIA to support briefly a possible military coup after Allende's election in 1970 (the so-called Track II); true also that the CIA gave support to center and right-wing elements during Allende's tenure, at a time when those elements were threatened by uses of government power that violated any democratic norm. And, true, third, that the Nixon Administration deliberately used its weight in multilateral lending organizations to help block new loans to Chile under Allende, and urged private American banks to cut back their activity.

But suppose none of these governmental actions had been taken. Would private American banks and other private Western interests, acting on their own, have provided Allende with the very large amounts of help he needed, in view of the reckless economic policies he adopted to keep and expand his original minority political support? Surely not; even with no political factors, private business would have pulled back in the face of economic irresponsibility compounded by nationalization. The economic situation, unaided, would surely have deteriorated in any event, and the middle class and army just as surely have been alienated by this and by Allende's growing assumption of dictatorial powers. In the end some sort of coup would have been inevitable.

Second, it is important to note what the Soviet Union did and did not do. Presumably Allende could have been sustained in the economic course he had chosen if he had been able to receive massive help from the Soviet Union and its East European satellites (with some also from China). And in fact, according to the Chilean Finance Minister's report in November 1972, all three did contribute substantial loans.6 But these were far short of the need. The Soviet Union gave all kinds of political, propaganda and covert support to Allende's Chile; one can only conclude that it simply was not prepared, or able, to underwrite the Chilean economy as it has done for nearly 20 years in Cuba.

One cannot prove either of these conclusions. But one competent and deeply concerned witness accepted both, and they made a profound impression on him. In the late fall of 1973, just after the coup in Chile, Enrico Berlinguer changed the policy of the Italian Communist Party to advocate a "compromesso storico" under which the PCI would seek to take power only in a coalition with the Christian Democratic Party. While the new line had roots in earlier PCI thinking, the decisive factor at that particular time was the Chilean experience. From it Berlinguer concluded that a minority (or even a slight-majority) Communist government in Italy, cut off almost surely from constructive economic ties with the West, at any rate not given outright help, would be in grave difficulties almost at once - and that the Soviet Union could not or would not then come forward in any way that would offer the people of Italy anything like the benefits they were receiving from being part of the Western economic system. As they explain this privately, leaders of the PCI do not mention the CIA, either in Chile or Italy, either as it was in 1970-73 or in its reduced state today. The point is economics, at bottom the relative economic attractions of East and West.

Finally, let us look briefly at Portugal. There were many reasons for the overthrow of the communist-leaning Gonzales government in the late summer of 1975, including the harsh tactics of Alvaro Cunhal, the personal qualities of Mario Soares, and the help the latter received from some European social democratic parties. But there can be little question that the narrowly balanced scales were also tipped by the EEC's public offer of help to a "democratic" Portugal, and by the strong underlying sense, in wide Portuguese circles, that to stick to the West meant far greater economic prospects than were conceivable under communist leadership.

In these cases economic power has surely been relevant to political choices that might have greatly altered the balance between communist and non-communist forces in Latin America and in Europe. The competition in economic power today is less a matter of specific competing offers - as in the Aswan Dam situation in 1956 - than of the basic appeal of two trading systems, the broad and diverse one led by the Western countries and the small and cramped one dominated by the Soviet Union. Offers of economic aid still play a part in that competition - Congress willing, the Carter Administration is using them today for purposes that include an East-West element hardly distinguishable from the old cold war. But the main appeal comes from the Western system as a whole, public and private, and from the sense of what it has to offer or withhold (and not necessarily by government decision).

To say this is not for one moment to argue that the East-West competition has suddenly settled exclusively in the economic arena; nothing could be further from the case, as we shall see in the next section. Nor is it to contend that in that competition the worldwide economic involvement of the West is invariably an element of strength. Patently this is not so; the occasional overbearing and corrupt behavior of American corporations (as in the ITT and Lockheed cases) has been no help to American standing in the Third World. Some forms of American activity that seem economically helpful - for example, tourism in the Caribbean, as once in Cuba - may be contributing to political whirlwinds. And, most seriously, the involvement of Western private corporations in southern Africa - as President Nyerere has reminded us - makes it difficult for the West to set its own political course there. Western corporations may also be major engines of change in South Africa, and I am not trying to strike a balance on what should now be done about them. But wherever Western economic interests are deeply involved in a country, they tend inevitably to make it appear that the West supports political arrangements that, on a wider basis of national interest, the United States in particular might wish to disown or oppose. Finally, Western corporations can become sources of controversy, especially over nationalization, and in extreme cases virtual hostages, raising problems of protection that may be almost insoluble.

These are heavy drawbacks. They do not, however, change the conclusion. Western economic strength and worldwide reach are vitally important not only to the West itself and to the working out of North-South problems; they also play a crucial part in the continuing East-West competition.

Finally, there is the impact of the Western economic system on the economies of the Soviet Union and its satellites. The hold of Soviet leaders over their peoples, and that of the U.S.S.R. over Eastern Europe, rest on varying combinations of legitimacy and force. Economic intercourse with the West has not yet affected either hold, nor is the Soviet Union truly dependent on the West for anything economically critical to it (dearly as the Soviets would like to enlist Japanese and American capital for the development of oil resources in Siberia). Even American food is not indispensable, given the capacity to impose a return to old dietary habits.

But indirectly the impact of the West is considerable, constantly reminding the people of Eastern Europe that their system has not produced similar civilian amenities, putting steady pressure on the rulers to do more in this direction. Obviously, the dictatorships of Eastern Europe can control these desires far more than other types of societies; the continued level of military expenditure is evidence enough of that.

But Khrushchev surely thought that by now the Russians and their cohorts would have both military might and an impressive economic machine - that the pull would be toward the East. In economics the opposite is the case, and the trend continues to favor the West.


What then of military strength, broadly defined as the control of means of destruction and coercion and the ability to bring these to bear? In the East-West arena, this concerns primarily the rivalry of the two great superpowers.

Obviously the military balance has changed in the direction of the Soviets, the trends going back now roughly 15 years. And it seems scant consolation that this may be, as George Kennan argues, because the Soviet Union has simply kept on improving its forces, while the West, and above all the United States, has only stayed roughly in the same place (down in some areas, up in others). Why, one must ask, did the Soviet Union feel impelled to keep pressing - and why did the West let down? The plausible answers are not reassuring on either point. The least disturbing is that the Soviets are simply conditioned by Russian history (far more than communist doctrine) to set inordinate store by military power in general, and by mass specifically. The question then is whether their views are sound.

Here it is important to separate out the elements of the change. The strategic nuclear situation calls for vigilance - and careful negotiation; it is not (yet) a cause for deep anxiety. Any political leader, Soviet or American, would prefer to play a crisis with the hole card of strategic superiority.7 But for almost a decade neither has been in such a position, either actually or in clear prospect. Broad strategic parity, registered really by 1970 and formally by the 1972 SALT agreement, was indeed a boost for the worldwide prestige of the U.S.S.R. But the U.S. lead in technology remains, here and in other military areas, and I doubt that any recent quantitative changes have had much impact on worldwide perceptions of the trend lines of American and Soviet power.

The question of Soviet conventional power is more serious. The steady improvement of Soviet offensive weapons in the NATO area is a cause for concern, although any sense of the Soviets having the upper hand has, I believe, played little part in Europe's economic and political troubles. It is overwhelmingly internal factors that have stimulated the growth of communist and leftist strength in Italy and France, and the situation bears little analogy to the crisis of confidence in the late 1940s, in which fear of a military move by Stalin was widespread and psychologically important. European confidence in America is indeed a critical part of the overall strength of the West, and it can be momentarily shaken even by the "loss" of Angola; but basically that confidence is much restored compared to the dark days of the early 1970s.8

It is not in the major areas of direct military confrontation such as NATO or Korea - or Iran if one wishes to include it - that the growth of Soviet conventional military power may be injecting new elements. Rather it is the growth of Soviet outreach - leapfrogging capacity - reflected in a much larger navy and much greater air transport capabilities. As has been widely noted, the Soviets had no capacity to intervene in the Congo crisis of the early 1960s, whereas in the Angola crisis of 1975 they had naval forces on the scene, the airlift and ships to deliver large quantities of weapons very rapidly, and of course the special long-range airlift to bring in the Cuban forces. As I shall argue later, Soviet success in Angola was more than anything due to political factors, but the result would not have been possible without the new forms of Soviet military strength developed in the last decade.

Now, in Ethiopia, we are seeing a test of how these same capabilities (including the Cubans) work out in a politically much more ambiguous situation, with the black Africans uncertain and key Arab nations opposed, and with a weak Ethiopian government to support. On its face the situation has many of the earmarks of a Soviet Vietnam on a much smaller scale - complete with the notion that the existence of capabilities tends to beget their use. It is too early to draw conclusions, but it should not pass unnoticed that Soviet backing of Ethiopia threatens to estrange Somalia and nullify the base privileges there that seemed so alarming only a short time ago. And elsewhere - in the Indian Ocean, Angola, or Vietnam - Soviet aid has not been translated into anything resembling a solid base structure.

This brings us to a main feature in Third World attitudes toward both the superpowers. It was a masterstroke for the Soviets to enlist the Cubans (who surely needed little urging) in the Angolan struggle, thus sheltering themselves behind a military force with Third World credentials (and familiarity with an Iberian language, a unique asset for that area in Africa). The use of Soviet or East European forces would have been quite a different matter. One may even hazard the guess that the Vietnam War was the end of an era in a much broader sense than its impact on American thinking - that, except in a very few special cases (Korea for one), the principle has been nailed down that the nations of the Third World will go to extraordinary lengths to fight their own wars, with outside support limited to training, equipment and economic aid. For the Soviets to be able to airlift military aid is no small gain even in this limited area; it is still a different thing from the specter of Russian paratroops. No one would say the latter will always stay home; but, if they are used in the Third World, it will be at substantial and lasting political cost. The same would be true, needless to say, of American forces.

In this, one must say at once, there is little consolation in terms of the prospects for world peace. The Arab-Israeli confrontation is simply the most obvious and dangerous case where both superpowers have been involved to the hilt without either deploying its forces directly against the other. And the chance of local wars unrelated to any East-West rivalry may, if anything, be greater now that both small and medium-sized nations are less inhibited by the cold war - Cyprus in 1974 was mishandled by both the American and British governments, but even if both had acted quickly and firmly it is doubtful that American leverage would have been effective, as it had been in 1964 and 1967, in stopping the Greeks and Turks from the steps that successively led to war.

Here one comes to another feature so taken for granted today that it is hard to realize that 20 years ago it was otherwise. Since roughly the mid-1960s, there has existed a worldwide market in conventional arms - often of World War II vintage, but still effective - such that any nation (and any non-national group from political movement to terrorist band) can arm itself up to a very considerable point. Military power for local purposes is as dispersed as long-range military power is concentrated. If you want it badly enough, someone can get it for you wholesale.

The spread of contemporary vintage weapons could still, in theory, be controlled, and is in fact very limited today outside the major oil-rich countries, especially Iran and Saudi Arabia. Their experiment in forced-draft military expansion - at technical levels requiring the continued presence of foreign technicians for perhaps a generation if the equipment is to do its military job - is an extraordinary phenomenon, surely unique for years to come. Its very complexity gives one a ray of hope that other sellers and buyers both may be persuaded to avoid similar situations of dependency, diversion of resources, and domestic transformation in ways that can only lead to political difficulty.

And, finally there is the tremendous issue of nuclear proliferation, which has become much more difficult since 1974 in the face of the worldwide energy crisis and resulting demand for expanded peaceful nuclear energy uses (and because of the Indian explosion that year). On this issue (as in the Law of the Sea Conference) one sees most vividly the kinds of new alignments, cutting across others, that contemporary problems may create.9 The Soviet Union and the United States, the nuclear "have" nations par excellence, are joined together by deep concern to avoid the spread of nuclear weapons either to additional nations or to subnational groups such as terrorists. At the other extreme, the "have-not" nations urgently seek nuclear facilities for energy purposes and resent efforts to limit such imports or to control them in new and special ways. And in between is a group of nations that have extensive nuclear capacity and domestic facilities, although many (such as West Germany, Japan and Sweden) have accepted the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and foresworn weapons for themselves; these have a major stake in nuclear exports, in good relationships with important "have-not" nations, and in the freedom to maximize their own domestic nuclear programs.

From the standpoint of power, each of the three groups has substantial leverage over the others. The United States cannot get the intermediate group of nations to cooperate on the weapons problem in "have-not" nations without entering into much fuller cooperation with them across the board, especially in the supply of nuclear fuel. And the Treaty itself both gives the "have-not" nations a strong legal claim to nuclear assistance and obligates the "have" nations to do better than they have done in reducing their own nuclear arsenals. In the last analysis technological developments have been such that, no matter what is done or agreed, many nations are going to be in a position to have a weapons production capacity within months of a decision to go ahead - and the theoretical power to deny nuclear facilities is neither technically invulnerable nor capable of being exercised without drastic repercussions in relationships both specific and general, which neither the intermediate group nor the United States itself can accept.

So the lines are drawn, and at this writing the resolution is far from being worked out. If there is a saving interest common to all three groups, it should lie in the desire to minimize the chances of nuclear weapons falling into non-national hands, but this has not yet become strongly enough felt.

Already the capacity to achieve a nuclear weapons capability is an element in power balances, even if it is not exercised. One can quite plausibly argue that the steady pressure to be rewarded for not moving to a weapons capability could be far more valuable to most "have-not" countries than going ahead to have weapons. Actual possession - disastrous as it would be for the world and specific regions - might well be a mixed gain even for new weapons nations. Would it cause others to gang up in fear? What would it mean to the whole character of internal politics? And what, to repeat, of the danger of hostile political movements or terrorists? Once again, as throughout this discussion, one sees the depths of the discontinuities and "negative feedbacks" that affect the relationship between the possession of instruments of destruction and effective power among nations.


So far we have been discussing economic and military strength in terms of nations or groups of nations that have a great deal of one or the other, or both. What of those nations whose power is based largely on mass - containing substantial economic and military components but in the end depending heavily on sheer geographical size and numbers of population? One thinks of such nations as the sleeping giants of the world, or at least of a major region. On present trends, what is happening to them? How much does mass count?

China is the nation whose power seems to derive most from this factor - and at the same time the nation hardest to evaluate. After the Chinese Civil War and the Korean War, the belief that China was rapidly becoming immensely powerful was widespread, not only in the neighboring countries of Asia but in the West. Combined with the perception that China was thrusting outward to control other nations, it was this belief more than anything that led America into the Vietnam War, and led nations around the Chinese periphery to support American policy. China, remote and outside the United Nations, took on almost a mystical character.

Then China plunged abruptly in 1966 into the Cultural Revolution, and when she resumed having any foreign policy at all was absorbed in the confrontation with the Soviet Union on her northern borders. As she semi-normalized her relations with the United States and was admitted to the United Nations, a more familiar China ceased to seem so all-powerful. Lacking any strong tie to either superpower, her military strength dropped comparatively, although her nuclear capacity may be at a minimum deterrent level vis-à-vis the U.S.S.R., and her conventional strength is still great in Asian terms and would probably confound in the end even a Soviet invasion. Meanwhile the Chinese economy has moved forward, but only slowly and haltingly, so that she remains a poor country - immensely better-off than the old China, but outstripped in this generation not only by Japan but by other Asian neighbors. And, of course, both the Cultural Revolution and the later succession to Chou En-lai and finally to Mao himself have meant a period of intense domestic preoccupation, not yet ended.

China cannot help but be important in the world. The Sino-Soviet hostility is the most totally adversary big-power relationship in the world power structure from the standpoint of security. China ties down Soviet strength, preoccupies Soviet leaders, and dictates Soviet policies to a degree we never fully take into account.10 China the competing center of communist power, China the center of a vast social experiment that other nations admire even though they have neither the cohesion nor will to emulate it, China with her history and immense reservoir of human talent - all these elements still add up to a weight that is as hard to quantify as ever.

However, in key international events of the last five years - the Middle East, southern Africa, the North-South dialogue, the oil crisis - what is striking is how little China has figured, although she has been at one time or another involved in all four. This is in part because her outreach is extremely limited - although China gave initial small-scale help to the FNLA in Angola, she would surely have been hard pressed in any event to match the Soviet aid to the opposing side as the stakes went up. (The same thing may now be happening in Mozambique, where both are on the same side.) Similarly, China could make gestures to the PLO, but had little to give. And in the wider economic confrontations of recent years, China's economic limitations would tend in any event to limit her role; she is simply not a world economic power or in control of crucial resources not needed at home.

But China's limited weight in world councils derives also from her isolated stance. She is with the Third World in rhetoric (but with her own variations, in which it is the superpowers who are grouped as the First World, with Europe in the Second - obviously because China regards Europe as a counterweight to the U.S.S.R.) but too big to be accepted as a member of the Group of 77 (in contrast to a brief period in 1964-65 when China was both accepted and powerful in Third World councils). So China remains outside any broad grouping, whether global, regional, or economic.

This leads to a general point: that power today is in much greater part - or at least much more widely - "group power." Those that do not belong to a "club" are missing something important.

The point is underscored if one looks at the weight in the world of the nations sometimes identified as a largely new category of "middle powers." India, for example, is impregnable in South Asia and by sheer mass qualifies for top-rank importance; once these factors were magnified by a leading role in the nonaligned group of nations, but today India seems somehow to stand apart, to say less and count less. On the other hand, the growing overall strength of others in this category is multiplied and reinforced, in terms of real power, by their leading role in important regional and economic groups - for example, Iran in OPEC, Saudi Arabia in OPEC and in the Arab world, Brazil in Latin America and in the Group of 77, Mexico the same (with the possibility of joining OPEC), and Algeria in OPEC and in the Group of 77.

In part, of course, these groups have evolved in response to the mass of the superpowers. In part they reflect the practical needs of negotiation and action. But whatever its roots, "group power" of this much more widespread sort seems here to stay. Its role in the East-West arena is obvious - although the Warsaw Pact and the Western alliance structure are both smaller than their predecessor structures 20 years ago. And in the economic arena, the OECD, OPEC and Group of 77 are central, along with the European Economic Community. And these are supplemented by such smaller subregional economic groups as the Andean Common Market, the Central American Common Market, and ASEAN in Southeast Asia.

But it is the power of regional political groups - formal and informal - that seems to have increased most clearly in the past few years. It is only since 1972 that the Arab and black African countries have been allied in the United Nations to put pressure on Israel and South Africa in a classic reciprocal-advantage pattern only barely rationalized by its participants.11 When one adds the frequent agreement of the bulk of the Latin American countries, especially on the "economic order" family of issues, the large votes run up in the United Nations would be taking place even without the opportunistic help of the Soviets and their allies.

And it is the regional political power of these groupings, far more than the arithmetic, that determines whether these U.N. votes are important or mere window dressing. A condemnation of the U.S. position on the Panama Canal has weight because it represents the united view of all the Latin American countries, which have in the end the capacity to make that position exceedingly uncomfortable (by guerrilla warfare at the extreme, or at least by general hostility). Resolutions attacking Israel, on the other hand, have only a broad and not especially significant impact; they merely record an isolation of Israel already accomplished by individual country decisions. Now, it would appear, resolutions concerning southern Africa may be more significant with the growth of black front-line power there.

What these regional groupings can do, above all, is to set ground rules for the actions of outside nations within their regions. The Organization of African Unity tried this by backing Nigeria solidly in the Biafran war, with only mixed results in that the Biafrans did get some outside help right to the end; in Angola eight years later, the support of the MPLA regime by key African nations made a decisive difference, legitimizing the actions of the U.S.S.R. and putting great pressure on South Africa and the United States to withdraw from the scene, as both in fact did. That the Democratic majority in the U.S. Congress is especially sensitive to the weight of domestic black opinion was a factor, as it would be again. But the same regional power to approve or condemn would apply in a Latin American case where the domestic political element is less: that is, the kind of grudging OAS endorsement the Johnson Administration got for its Dominican intervention in 1965 would not today be given for any U.S. intervention in the Caribbean area. Not that one can imagine an Administration wishing today to take the same sort of action. The point is that the patent adverse consequences in the rest of the hemisphere have a real sense reduced U.S. power to act.


We have moved gradually but inevitably into the sphere of politics. In what might be called "the politics of groups," what is it that holds groups together and enables nations to take the lead in them or to attract others to them? And how are these factors of cohesion changing?

To begin with, skill and experience play a role we sometimes ignore. Some nations are better at working in groups than others. In the field of multilateral diplomacy one thinks of the Canadians 20 years ago, or of the Dutch today - nations big enough to weigh but not big enough to frighten, and above all having leaders and diplomats with a certain knack for seeing situations as a whole and bringing other nations together. (Today the top executive officers in the IMF, the OECD and NATO are all Dutchmen.) And one must give the British high marks for holding together that extraordinary organization that almost alone bridges the First and Third Worlds, the Commonwealth.

Alliance diplomacy is an overlapping but often different sort of problem. And here I think it is possible to say that Americans have become reasonably good at this, with the occasional aberration such as John Connally. To occupy an acknowledged position of leadership is both a handicap and a help, and our record since the war stands out not only in itself but on any historical comparison. Certainly it contrasts with the Russians. Although they may excel at the third category, adversary diplomacy, their dealings with their ideological bedfellows, from the Chinese down, have been crude and insensitive, and those with their "friends of opportunity" (like the Egyptians) at least as much so. Style matters, and the formal competence of Soviet officials is far outweighed by their general inability to relate to the concerns of others.

And so (turning to the more "objective" factors) it is clearly Soviet force and Soviet self-interest more than common social systems that hold together the Second World groups - the Warsaw Pact and COMECON. These have cohesion and tight discipline, but little attraction for others. Even peripheral communist nations keep them at arm's length, and not just for tactical reasons.

The First World is joined by multiple strands. Although some of its members do not belong to any security group within it, shared concern over the Soviet threat is a common bond for all, though less powerful - taken as a whole - than common fundamental political beliefs and practices and the perceived central importance of the market economic system in which they continue to lead.

Today, these bonds on the Western side are still firm among existing governments. When the oil crisis hit in 1973, the United States and Western Europe were at loggerheads on economic issues; under external and internal pressures they, with Japan, have worked much more closely together since then, both through their governments and through their manifold private ties. The handling of the recycling of petrodollars has confounded prophets of doom, and the coordination of economic policy, while still far short of ideal, is a vast improvement over 1971-72. True, in the face of recession and reduced resources the European Economic Community has had to put aside the new objectives it then set for itself, and the specter of protectionism and beggar-thy-neighbor policies still hovers. But the institution of economic summits among Western leaders does reflect both closer technical cooperation and a stronger sense of shared basic interests. If the OECD countries are still feeling their way on North-South issues, it is partly because these have become acute at a time of economic pinch.

But core Western nations are always vulnerable to domestic troubles, and whatever the ultimate significance of Eurocommunism may turn out to be, the immediate impact on NATO alone of communist participation in the French or Italian governments could be a serious blow to Western cohesion. Whether the resulting situation might then weaken the Soviet hold in the Warsaw Pact area can only be a matter of speculation.12 Much will also hinge on Yugoslavia's handling of the succession to Tito.

If ideology - the simple fact of totally different social systems - thus divides the first two worlds, what of its role in the Third? Plainly it plays little or no part in the continued cohesion of OPEC itself, which is a straight matter of economic self-interest and increasingly strong Saudi leadership. But there is less economic self-interest in the choice by the OPEC countries to remain closely aligned with the poorer countries in the Group of 77 (at least up to the present point, with the issues still stated in terms of principle) and in the fact that their expanded role in the central international institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF has not yet moved them to think or act like the Western nations. Is there here, if not an ideology, at least some binding force in terms of strongly held feelings and attitudes?

It has been said that the economic demands of the Group of 77 derive from many of the member countries having been imbued with British Fabianism.13 Others would use a more specifically Marxist label. I am myself persuaded that it is more general and much less specifically ideological than either of these.14 The strongest tie that binds these nations together is a common heritage of colonialism (remote in Latin America, which, however, finds its own substitute in Yankee hegemony). Equally clearly, they largely reject the (often caricatured) capitalism they associate with the West. Given these two basic attitudes, more than a dash of Marx was sure to appear in their rhetoric. His influence on their practices is much more modest.

The nations of the Third World - immensely diverse as they are - are not likely ever to accept in any full sense the ideology or the prevailing social systems of the present First and Second Worlds. Ours is too different in its material assumptions, and the Soviet system is seen for its dispiriting and less effective reality. But this does not exclude the possibility of some homegrown composite ideologies sweeping the Third World in the event of trouble. Today its members are restrained, in part by economic self-interest, from any ideological binge. One could hardly expect this condition to persist, however, if they were to be thwarted by what seemed unreasonable positions on the part of the advanced countries. Indeed, if the present economic difficulties of the industrialized countries were to deepen to the point where the system they lead ceased to function effectively, we might have a broader and more diffuse, but in the end no less menacing, reenactment of the 1930s - a structure coming apart into disorder or even chaos, complete with extremist doctrines of some malign variety. A broad sense of participation is in the end essential to what Henry Kissinger has called "international legitimacy," or to the "world order" that Stanley Hoffmann would make the central guideline of American foreign policy.

Political ideology apart, there are two other potential forces that could unite large areas of the world. A prolonged black-white conflict in southern Africa would not only have incalculable consequences within the United States but would raise the level of race consciousness worldwide. The other possibility is religion, which has already been at the core of some of the most intractable conflicts in the world - between India and Pakistan, between Greece and Turkey, in Northern Ireland, and of course between the Arabs and Israel. Already the spread and growing solidarity of the Muslim faith seem to be changing subtly some key national policies and drawing together disparate nations across regional boundaries. And there is an ugly hint of jihad in a few Arab moves and utterances concerning Israel.15

Like the adoption of a purely destructive anti-West "ideology," a new dominance of race or religion as factors in world politics would seem a terrible step backward to most at least in the West. But the kind of world that could emerge in the next 25 years - dissatisfied, fed up, unable to find either a social or economic balance within countries or between them - is the kind of world in which, in the past, vast new movements have arisen.

To an objective eye, the barriers do seem substantial. The very structure of worldwide communications - the sheer volume of talk - makes it harder for any truly new ideology to incubate; it also means that areas of deep trouble arouse at least a measure of sympathy in other countries that makes it harder to stamp all with the same label. We are intermingled as never before, and that may ease the tensions and stereotypes that feed on ignorance. But equally, or more, intermingling nourishes envy, and even thinly rationalized envy can have all the emotional impact of a powerful ideology, if not its organizing power.

So there are clear-cut selfish reasons for Western countries like the United States to wish to keep the "politics of groups" from boiling over into new and sinister forms. But there are also affirmative moral reasons for acting constructively, just as there have been in our domestic handling of the problems of a plural society. To seek only to avoid a situation where nations or major groups feel the structure should be kicked over is never going to be satisfactory to consciences schooled in any religious or ethical framework, or in the values we consider characteristic of America.


In the end, of course, the most crucial of all elements of power is its internal political dimension. Whatever the other theoretical assets of a nation, they will count for little unless they can be focused and directed to further national objectives.

"There are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money," said Dr. Johnson. Something like this is what I have been saying about the affairs of groups of nations - that if economic self-interest (as enlightened as possible) is a dominant guideline, and if nations feel at least broadly satisfied with their place in an overall economic system, then the possibilities of bargaining and constructive accommodation are at least far greater than if groups are driven by other motives.

The same is true within individual nations. After a generation devoted to the attainment of self-government and national independence, most of the nations of the world are concentrating on economic progress and believe it attainable; the combination of the two may be unique to this historic period. It is an age of worldwide materialism - not necessarily at all in any invidious sense. What after all is more fundamental than advancing the welfare of peoples? Excesses and neglect must be corrected, but worldwide economic growth in a humane framework is a necessity.

But the primacy of economic concerns does make this an extraordinarily difficult period for leaders of government. The towering figures who came out of World War II are gone (save only Tito), and we are left with what a personality-minded observer like Cyrus Sulzberger calls "An Age of Mediocrity," of men preoccupied with economics - what Churchill called "those damn dots" - or in a few cases with the kind of intractable quarrels in which reputations for greatness are not made.

And it may be this that accounts more than anything for a worldwide crisis in the "legitimacy" of governments, using that word to mean a government not merely accepted as ruling with some measure of right but able to mobilize its people for the systematic pursuit of some big national objective, whether it be total internal transformation (Mao in China) or some external goal.16 In the industrialized nations of Western Europe or Japan, government goes on, and often acts sensibly in response to the parallelogram of pressures by which it is surrounded; but that very parallelogram inhibits new or striking action, and in the end governments of whatever complexion - Right, Left, or Center - rapidly use up their credit. Schmidt and Giscard, since the spring of 1974, are examples.

And in the Third World, the crisis runs deeper into the very system of government. Within these past five years, institutions tending in a democratic direction seemed for a time in sharp decline; now there is a modest swing back, notably in India. Yet the common pattern remains a high measure of authoritarianism coupled with denial of human rights, by governments that simply are not satisfying their people's desires.

Nor are the superpowers immune. Obviously the United States today is much more preoccupied than a decade ago with its internal problems, much less prepared to make sacrifices, whether for maintaining a military posture, undertaking commitments abroad, or accepting the full consequences of a basic free trading system; to say there is no foreign policy consensus only covers part of the problem. And the Soviet Union, as depicted by Hedrick Smith and Robert Kaiser, is a state whose people may support limited-risk ventures abroad, far away, but whose internal economic concerns are slowly but steadily putting greater pressure on the rulers for their satisfaction.

True, in the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed may rule. The fact that the Soviet Union is far more mobilized for external purposes than any other nation remains an inescapable central fact of the world picture. But there are no large nations today that are "hard" states - totalitarian or mobilized for external purposes - to anything resembling the degree that Nazi Germany and militarist Japan were "hard" in the late 1930s, and that the Western allies became (in a quite different way) hard during the war. The only such states today, one might say, are both small and acting in self-defense - Israel and the whites of South Africa.

More of that kind of hardness is not what we need today. But Western nations do need to strengthen what is sometimes called their political will - not only to hold a balance with the U.S.S.R. but to permit them to treat with the Third World in a realistic and yet forthcoming way. There is no glowing simple idea that will galvanize that will. In this country, it does require more attention to ideals and principles - the greatest impact of President Carter's human rights policy is surely on our sense of ourselves - but that must be in focus with other objectives.17 In the end, people unite to support policies that make sense and are explained properly to them.

Finally, there is again the factor of competence. Skill in marshalling all of a nation's or a group's assets, within the constraints of internal politics - what Dean Acheson christened "total diplomacy" a generation ago - still matters enormously. "Pure" diplomacy is both important and a great spectator sport by which national reputations are affected significantly. Style can be a bonus, though in its extreme forms-a de Gaulle, a Kennedy, a Kissinger - it can also be distorting to main lines of policy.

Institutions count too - the balance between professionalism and outside talent in the executive, between executive and legislative, between secrecy and openness, is struck in different ways by different nations, and has changed sharply within the United States in these past five years. I have a hunch that in some respects the pendulum will swing back and the hairshirt be less noticeable, but there can be no doubt that more open processes are both truer to American ideals and a practical imperative to sustain the very legitimacy of government, as well as to enlist popular and congressional support for specific policies. And while the theoretical efficiency of American diplomacy and intelligence may for a time be less than it seemed 10 to 20 years ago, the trade-off is worth it. In the long historical run - from Athens to Britain to postwar America - democratic systems have been at least as effective in foreign policy as other forms of government.


Throughout this essay I have dealt primarily in terms of the power of nation-states. They do remain, as I said at the outset, the main engines of organized human action. But, of course, the most important of human actions are not organized, certainly not by governments. It was Dr. Johnson again who wrote: "How small, of all that human hearts endure, / That part which laws or kings may cause or cure!" Although the grasp of the state is greater today than it was then, it still rarely reaches the sparks of invention, creativity and moral imagination that in the end move men most deeply. And history may join with a long tradition of humane thought - especially strong in America - that judges nations by the degree to which they foster the unleashing of the free energies of individuals.

Finally, something beyond nationalism is slowly taking root in the world. With all the discouraging developments of the last five years, the signs of a developing sense of common human destiny are present. Such a sense cannot substitute for a careful focus on the present and pressing problems that can only be met through nations. But world affairs will have a very dim future if this universal sentiment fails to show a steady increase from now on.


1 See Bension Varon and Kenji Takeuchi, "Developing Countries and Non-Fuel Minerals," Foreign Affairs, April 1974, p. 497-510. I am indebted also to more recent analyses (in process of publication) by Jacob J. Kaplan and Timothy W. Stanley of the International Economic Studies Institute, Washington, D.C. The recently disclosed uranium cartel may be cited as another exception, but involved only a small group of advanced nations led by Canada and reacting to American policy.

5 The assertion of 12-mile limits for territorial waters (under total control), which had grown up before the spread of 200-mile resource zones, had of course major security implications. And at some future point the struggle between coastal and maritime nations could have greater military impact and could take on more the aspect of a crusade by the small against the powerful. In the continuing Law of the Sea Conference, the right to send ships or aircraft through the much wider 200-mile zones - a right obviously exercised far more extensively by the more powerful nations, and especially the two superpowers - has been preserved only in indirect language with a strong flavor of "O.K. - for now."

6 The amounts reported from communist countries were $446 million in long-term loans, roughly equal to what Chile was getting at the same time from West European and Latin American nations. See Paul E. Sigmund, "The 'Invisible Blockade' and the Overthrow of Allende," Foreign Affairs, January 1974, p. 336.

7 Many American participants in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis attached much less weight to the strategic balance than to the conventional naval situation off Cuba. See Maxwell D. Taylor, "The Legitimate Claims of National Security," Foreign Affairs, April 1974, p. 582. It seems clear, however, that the Russians read the lesson both ways.

8 See, for example, Flora Lewis, "Europe's (Almost) Upbeat View of America," The New York Times Magazine, August 7, 1977, p. 9.

9 On this subject and others I owe a special debt to Seyom Brown, whose article, "The Changing Essence of Power," Foreign Affairs, January 1973, accurately foresaw this development as well as many others that are highlighted in this essay. On the specific subject of nonproliferation, I am also much indebted to Mason Willrich, who has provided many insights but is not, of course, responsible for the use I have made of them.

16 This is surely the sense in which Henry Kissinger meant the word in his too-frank statement that present governments in Europe lacked legitimacy. The two meanings, of course, shade into each other; a usurper who mobilizes the people of a nation can become accepted as a ruler by right. But a government with every credential may simply be unable to lead.

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