Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
Three signal events marked the year 1981 (at least, from the point of view of a Frenchman): the arrival of Ronald Reagan at the White House in January; the election of François Mitterrand to the presidency of the French Republic followed by the election of an absolute majority of the Socialists to the National Assembly in the spring; and, of course, the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in October. At the same time, no crises were settled during the past year (not even the Polish one), no wars begun, and none ended. The official calendar did not coincide with a historic period in any part of the world.
In the Middle East, Iran and Iraq continue their military operations without any decisive breakthrough on either side. In Iran, the Islamic Republic has held on in spite of attempts against the lives of the highest officials of the regime. In the Middle East the Camp David accords continue to be implemented; both the new Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin solemnly swear that the evacuation of the Sinai will take place, as scheduled, in the spring of 1982. On the other hand, the negotiations on the autonomy of the West Bank are leading nowhere. While a precarious cease-fire has been concluded in Lebanon between the forces of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) by the American intermediary, Philip Habib, the most serious question, involving the Syrian missiles in Lebanon, has yet to be settled.
In Eastern Europe, the Polish crisis continues: General Wojciech Jaruzelski, chief of the armed forces and of the Communist Party, proclaimed martial law, eliminated all civilian authority, and installed a military regime. The workers' organization, Solidarity, was crushed, but the people's will to resist endured. In Western Europe, the modernization of Euromissiles through the proposed deployment of intermediate-range U.S. Pershing II and cruise missiles on European soil resulted in protests both from sincere pacifists and from movements manipulated by Moscow. Arms negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union had only just begun by the end of the year.
In Africa, the destiny of Namibia remains unsettled, and the contact group (the United States, Great Britain, Canada, France and West Germany) has not reached an agreement with the South African government on the conditions for the elections in Namibia.
In Asia, the Soviet troops have not left Afghanistan. The same man, Babrak Karmal, is officially in power. Popular resistance has not been crushed, but neither has it made any great progress.
Within such a context, it seems advisable to take the new American Administration as a starting point. Not that it has achieved any successes or suffered any defeats in its first year, nor even that it has surmounted any obstacles; on the contrary, neither success nor failure nor ordeals seem particularly striking to me. Ronald Reagan concentrated his attention on economic problems and reduced negotiations with the Soviet Union to a minimum. It is therefore better to discuss those ideas which the Administration in Washington openly espouses rather than its policies, which are still far from concrete definition. Ideology in search of a policy-such seems to me to characterize the state of Ronald Reagan's Administration at the end of 1981.
Perhaps the most noticeable feature of the Reagan approach to foreign policy is its use of rhetoric from the cold war; the President and his advisers denounce Soviet expansionism and perceive a Soviet presence underlying all the turmoil which disturbs mankind around the world. But anti-Soviet rhetoric does not help in sorting out the different schools of thought in the United States. In fact, in the political realm, commentators on international relations remain profoundly divided over the nature of the politics and plans of the Kremlin.
To begin with the facts and debates that they give rise to: Is the Soviet Union assured of military superiority over the United States? No simple and categorical response can be given to a question of this sort since in advance we possess only quantitative and not qualitative knowledge; the true value of weapons and armies can only be tested in combat. That said, quantitative knowledge, which can be measured, and qualitative estimates, which can be gained over time, provide us with at least some means of judging the nature of the Soviet military buildup.
On such a basis, it seems undeniable that the Soviet Union possesses a stock of weapons far superior to that of the United States and an industrial weapons production capacity equally superior. For example, according to The Military Balance published by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, the Americans have 11,400 tanks as compared to 45,000 for the Soviets, and a comparable divergence is evident in most of the other ground-based weapons. It is a simple truth that the size of the Soviet military industry surpasses that of the American military industry as it now stands. (It goes without saying that the United States could compete industrially if it chose to, but this decision would probably demand a war economy.) In the year 1980, for example, the Soviet Union produced 3,000 tanks, 5,500 armored vehicles, 1,300 towed field artillery, 150 self-propelled field artillery, 1,300 fighter bombers, 200 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), 100 intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), 300 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), 700 submarine-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs), 175 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), 11 submarines, et cetera.
Should one attach that much importance to 50,000 tanks, 20,000 artillery pieces, or 5,000 helicopters? Some will object that these global figures demonstrate nothing very significant, that logistics will not permit the deployment of all these weapons on a battlefield, that the Soviet armed forces are spread out along several fronts, and that large battles comparable to those of the Second World War are inconceivable from now on, at least between great powers armed with nuclear weapons.
Let us put these global figures aside, then, and look at the central strategic balance. The SALT II strategic arms accord, although not ratified by the U.S. Senate, is in fact being respected by the two parties (assuming that verification by satellites is essentially viable). According to the treaty, the United States possesses 1,054 ICBMs, of which 550 are mounted with multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles (MIRVs), 656 SLBMs, of which 496 have MIRVs, and 573 heavy bombers, some equipped with cruise missiles. On its side, the Soviet Union possesses 1,398 ICBMs, of which 608 have MIRVs, 950 SLBMs, of which 144 are equipped with MIRVs, and 156 heavy bombers.
Does an equilibrium then exist? The American triad of strategic weapons comprises a relatively reduced portion of ICBMs, probably because American leaders assume that they will never strike first and because they rely more on submarine-launched missiles, which are less vulnerable to a first strike. If it is clear that each of the two superpowers has the capacity to inflict on the other "unacceptable destruction" in response to a first strike, equilibrium is established. But, the pessimists reply, to respond to a preemptive counterforce first strike against U.S. land-based missiles by bombing Soviet cities is to risk a similar response against American cities.
The Soviet Union produces large missiles whose payload capacity is considerably greater than that of American missiles; in particular, the SS-18, which SALT II limited to 308, can carry eight nuclear warheads, each with an explosive force of two megatons. Thus, at least on paper, the more than 2,000 nuclear warheads of the SS-18s could put 1,000 American Minuteman ICBMs out of action. In recent years, Americans have been debating the degree of rearmament necessary to counter the 308 SS-18s in order to reduce the vulnerability of their ground-based missiles. The Reagan program of October 1981 calls for the construction of 100 B-1 bombers, and 100 land-based MX missiles in better protected silos. In comparison with the Carter program, this means, on the one hand, an addition and, on the other, a reduction. The B-1 had been scrapped by the Democratic President and the Republican President has reestablished it. The MX program, however, has been scaled back; instead of Carter's plan for 200 MX missiles, moving among 1,000 shelters, 100 MX missiles are to be placed in reinforced silos.
At any rate, the fundamental U.S. nuclear triad of land-, air- and sea-based forces will continue to exist, and each of its components will be reinforced: the ground component will receive the MX; the air leg will be strengthened by the B-1, and it, along with the old B-52 bombers, will be equipped with cruise missiles; and for the naval component, one Trident submarine per year is expected to be produced between 1983 and 1987. A larger and more precise ballistic missile (Trident 2 or D-5) will be placed on the Trident submarine sometime after 1989. At the same time, the means of control and communication will be improved in order to assure the maintenance of a reliable and secure command structure.
So far the Congress has only accepted the first year's increases in the Reagan long-term program. Nonetheless, some evaluation can be made at this stage of the American program of rearmament. Strictly speaking, it does not constitute a response to the alleged vulnerability of the most precise American land-based missiles, the only ones suitable for a counterforce strike. At a time when the Americans are deploying the Trident, tests of a Soviet 25,000-ton submarine are taking place; the Soviet submarine will be armed by the SS-N-8 with a range of 6,500 to 8,000 kilometers, probably with an improved missile. Even now, the Delta III submarine missiles fired from Soviet waters would be able to reach nearly any target in the United States.
These brief remarks do not pretend to measure the American effort or anticipate its results. If anything, they tend to refute simultaneously the claims of both the new Administration and its critics. The rearmament program, insofar as it concerns the central strategic balance, does not restore the superiority of the United States; it updates the U.S. arsenal at a time when the Minutemen as well as the submarines, which are armed with Polaris or Poseidon missiles, date back about twenty years; the B-52 also dates back about twenty years. On the Soviet side, the missiles, the submarines and the bombers were put in service during the 1970s. The President is thus trying to catch up from behind, while the opposition reproaches him for setting an arms race in motion. Yet between 1965 and 1980, the Soviet Union alone was in the running.
Ronald Reagan declares from time to time that in the event of an arms race, the United States will surely win it. This is a gratuitous and ambiguous declaration. The gross domestic product of the United States amounts to perhaps double that of the Soviet Union, but in this case such a comparison is of very little significance. The Soviet Union maintains a war industry which is always in production; the United States could also provide itself with a powerful war industry, but arms orders go to private enterprises which produce for the private market as well. If naval orders increase, shipyards will enlarge their means of production. But it takes time. As long as the United States is not run on a war economy, it hasn't much of a chance to equal the potential and the capacity of Soviet military production.
Has the vulnerability of U.S. ground missiles then created a "window of opportunity" during which time the Soviets could be tempted by a counterforce first strike? I have never taken such a scenario seriously. The Soviets have always been prudent, or more precisely, they have never been "adventurist"; missiles do not always follow a fixed course; their accuracy as observed in tests will not necessarily be the same in a real shooting match. The leaders in the Kremlin-whoever they may be, the old men of today or another generation tomorrow-will surely hesitate before engaging in a poker game in which they would risk millions and millions of lives including their own.
The balance of strategic nuclear forces thus exerts a broad influence, which is very difficult to measure, on statesmen in Washington, in Moscow, and, indeed, in all world capitals. At a time of crisis those in positions of responsibility will surely examine the risks of escalation and each other's resources in the event that, despite everything, escalation should take place. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger exclaimed one evening: "For God's sake, what is the meaning of superiority when it comes to strategic nuclear forces?" Yet ever since then he has taken the opposite view. Personally, I would take an intermediate position: the possible scenarios for an exchange of missiles haunt men's minds rather than determine their decisions.
What results from the current state of the nuclear forces of the two superpowers seems to be the following: the threat of escalation no longer belongs to the United States alone, the counterthreat of Soviet escalation is at least as plausible as the American threat. Whether it is a question of short-range missiles, the SS-21 and SS-22, intermediate-range missiles, the SS-20, or the intercontinental missiles, the Soviets are, at every level, at least equal and perhaps superior.
If they are reasonable, Europeans ought to draw a lesson from this analysis: in an age of nuclear parity, the balance of conventional forces acquires greater weight. Instead of wondering if and to what extent the nuclear umbrella of the United States continues to protect them, why should Europeans not ask themselves if and how they could contribute to deterring the aggressor and to defending their own territory? In an article such as this there is no room to analyze the relationship between conventional and nuclear forces on the central front and to specify the possible contribution of the Europeans themselves. But, at the root of the present German-American malaise, I perceive moral repercussions due to the relative military decline of the United States. Moreover, these are repercussions which are often emotional, since the Europeans wish, above all, to preserve détente and, in turn, dread both weakness and a provocative rearmament on the part of the United States.
By its very nature, Western Europe's dependence on the United States for its own defense is unhealthy. It is the Americans who elaborate the defense doctrine and who command the forces of the Atlantic Alliance. At the same time, they control the international monetary system and profit from the status of the dollar. Transnational or international in nature, American currency throughout the entire world allows the United States to accept deficits in its current accounts. Americans settle their foreign commercial transactions in their own currency-a privilege reserved for the only country whose currency functions as a standard of value and a means of exchange for the entire world market.
Europe's military helplessness thus results from circumstances, some permanent, others accidental, that do not wholly curb Europe's aspirations. West Germany includes only two-thirds of the German people; adjoining the Soviet zone, it refuses to lose hope for reunification and is wary of doing anything the Kremlin would judge as provocative. Germany, moreover, does not possess nuclear arms. France, on the other hand, withdrew from NATO's integrated command without leaving the Atlantic Alliance or even NATO itself, and built her own strategic nuclear forces. The French government assures the people that the national territory is sheltered from aggression and has been transformed into a sanctuary, since, if France is attacked, she would make the aggressor pay a price far out of proportion to the value of France herself. This is a doctrine more easily accepted by the French because it relies exclusively on the notion of deterrence and seems to exclude the possibility of war. Under these circumstances, a European defense, which should take as its nucleus Franco-German cooperation, becomes impossible. Great Britain, out of a firm belief in the Atlantic Alliance, and the other European countries, out of resignation, continue to rely on American protection.
For two decades now, Western Europe has found itself vulnerable to Soviet medium-range (340 SS-4) and intermediate-range (40 SS-5) missiles. Since 1977, however, the Soviets have been deploying intermediate-range SS-20s, each of which is armed with three nuclear warheads. The SS-20 is mobile, therefore practically invulnerable, and very accurate (with an estimated average targeting error of less than 500 feet). Indeed, it was West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt who first alerted the Americans to the danger that was threatening Europe with the arrival of the SS-20 in the Soviet arsenal. The political battle over Euromissiles is now in his hands.
Militarily, what is at stake? The Americans proposed, and the European governments agreed, to place 108 Pershing II and 464 cruise missiles (both of which are capable of attacking the western provinces of the Soviet Union) on European territory. According to current strategic thinking, the function of these Euromissiles is to avoid "decoupling" the European theater from the U.S.-Soviet central strategic balance. If the Soviets were to take a military initiative, whatever it might be, they ought to strike at these missiles and simultaneously strike at U.S. missiles on American soil. Alternatively, according to another line of thinking, the Euromissiles, in the event of a flexible response, create the risk of nuclear escalation. Any missiles reaching Soviet territory, wherever their starting point, would be considered by the Soviets as aggression by the United States itself. In other words, the Pershing II and cruise missiles were supposed to reassure the Europeans by reducing the risk of a war limited to Europe. Now the Europeans, or at least those who have protested against the modernization of Euromissiles, have reversed the argument: they now see a threat of nuclear war actually limited to Europe itself, with the latter serving as a nuclear battlefield while the territories of the two superpowers are spared.
The decision which was taken by NATO-deployment of the Pershing II and cruise missiles in 1983 and negotiations with Moscow with the possibility of renouncing this gradual deployment in exchange for Soviet concessions-has been maintained, although neither the Netherlands nor Belgium is considered entirely firm on this matter. Chancellor Schmidt, moreover, insists that other countries in the Alliance as well as his own must agree to accept the Euromissiles on their territory; his acceptance is therefore conditional, subject to the acceptance of at least one other member of the Alliance.
What has happened in this regard in 1981? In April, the Socialist International, following its conference in Amsterdam, urged the two superpowers to start negotiations as rapidly as possible on the limitation of theater nuclear weapons in Europe. Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev invited West German Socialist leader Willy Brandt to the Kremlin on June 29-30 in order to apprise him of his moratorium plan.1 On July 15 and 16, the Presidium of the Socialist International made an appeal to the superpowers to reopen the SALT negotiations and start up negotiations on Euromissiles. On the other hand, François Mitterrand, after his election to the presidency of the Republic, supported the American argument, which urges the necessity of reestablishing the equilibrium broken by the SS-20.
The popular demonstrations, which have brought together up to hundreds of thousands of people, are multiplying in West Germany. According to the polls, the majority of the Germans remain favorable to the Atlantic Alliance and the military presence of the United States in Europe but are worried about nuclear weapons. Thus, by an irony of history, a plan conceived in order to strengthen ties between the Old Continent and the United States in order to demonstrate unity between the two parts of the Alliance risks creating a kind of moral divorce between the European governments and their public opinion, and between the European governments and Washington.2
The Reagan team may well have inadvertently contributed to the progress of the pacifist movement through its language, its refusal to resume SALT negotiations, and the martial tone of its speeches. It led the Europeans to believe that the United States was claiming a military superiority that had already vanished and was, at the same time, triggering an acceleration in the arms race. The figures demonstrate that this is not so. The Reagan program, even if executed, would not give America superiority either on the ground or in the air. Yet the edginess of European public opinion manifests itself in every encounter. In a conversation with a journalist in November, President Reagan, responding to a specific question, said that the utilization of nuclear weapons in Europe did not necessarily imply total nuclear war unleashed by strategic nuclear weapons, although it was unlikely such a war could be limited. From this, European newspapers and commentators concluded that the American President was suggesting limited nuclear war as a plausible scenario, if not the expression of a doctrine.
In order to back up Chancellor Schmidt on the eve of Leonid Brezhnev's visit to Bonn, Reagan proposed the "zero option" formula. Since President Brezhnev was speaking constantly of peace and disarmament, the American President determined to beat him at his own game. Reagan was not content to propose reducing the number of missiles to a provisional limit or to defer the decision on the deployment of the Pershing IIs; he was eliminating in one stroke all the intermediate-range missiles on both sides. A poker game? By no means. A propaganda coup?
A majority of Germans continue to doubt Brezhnev's peace initiatives, but this majority varies according to circumstances. However, a majority of the Germans believe in the military superiority of the U.S.S.R. over the United States. A majority of Germans is also hostile to the neutron bomb. It seems to me, then, that the mass demonstrations and the press reports do not accurately reflect German opinion.
Certainly. But what is to follow?
Let us distinguish between two interconnected problems: the defense of Europe and the unity of the Atlantic Alliance, both of which are threatened by popular reactions to military initiatives.
The zero option is obviously unacceptable to the Soviets. Ronald Reagan is asking the Soviets to renounce the SS-20, already deployed, as against weapons which will perhaps be available in 1983. The exchange would not be an equal one. The SALT accords, like many interstate agreements, recorded in large measure the state of the military balance of the two powers. No one around a green table obtained any advantages which had not already been acquired on the ground. The 1973 Paris accords did not oblige the North Vietnamese troops to retreat from the South; SALT II has not appreciably reduced the dangers posed to the American Minuteman force by the Soviet heavy missiles and, in particular, by the SS-18. The Soviets will only renounce this trump card on the day when the United States has the ability to imperil Soviet ground missiles.
The negotiations which began at the end of 1981 have no chance of reaching an accord in a few weeks or even months. From the outset, the Soviets and Americans do not even agree on the actual balance of forces. If the SS-20 replaces the SS-4 and the SS-5, is or is not the equilibrium tipped in favor of the Soviet Union?
How can we evaluate the forward-based systems, the advanced bases, the F-111, and the F-4? Is it necessary to include in any count the nuclear forces of Great Britain and France? The question of the SS-20 cannot be separated from the whole panoply of strategic forces which should be the subject of SALT III. In the meantime, the new Administration, without denouncing SALT II, does not conceal its hostility to a treaty which was not ratified by the Senate. In fact, Eugene Rostow, now director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, played an important role in the hard-line Committee on the Present Danger.
At the time of this writing, the new Administration has not made known its doctrine, and has perhaps not even established one, for future negotiations. What we do know is that "reduction" will replace "limitation" in the title of the treaty and in the minds of American negotiators. We also know that verification obtained exclusively by satellites seems inadequate to the Reagan team. In addition, the Administration, though it may not require any direct linkage between negotiations on arms and other aspects of Soviet-American relations, persists, it seems to me, in thinking that the negotiations make no sense unless the two superpowers operate within a positive climate of mutual restraint.
The troubles in the Soviet zone go beyond those of Western Europe. I am thinking, above all, about the events in Poland. And I use the word event purposely (this was also the word applied to France in the weeks of May 1968) because it wavers between the words revolt, revolution and liberation. The Polish people in the wake of the shipyard workers' strike liberated themselves from the yoke of the single party system, won at least partial freedom of speech, and organized a non-Party union to which peasants, workers and intellectuals adhered. In the course of 1981 the Soviets continued to denounce Solidarity as counterrevolutionary, but they refused to risk the same type of military operation that they did not hesitate to unleash against Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
In Hungary, the revolution was violent. The army joined with the insurgents against the secret police. The pluralism of the parties rose up of its own accord even though the premier of the revolutionary government was an old and loyal communist. The Kremlin risked loosening the cohesion of the Soviet imperium in Europe if it tolerated the victory of the revolutionaries. Only ten years had passed since the end of the war, and three years since the death of Stalin: the loss of one piece risked the whole.
In Czechoslovakia, a change in the majority in the Politburo of the Party's Central Committee brought some reformists into power. Then Secretary-General Alexander Dubcek and his companions were not considering breaking with either the Soviet Union or even with democratic centralism: the explosion of liberty was not willed but only tolerated by the new leaders of the Party. What exasperated the Soviets the most in Czechoslovakia, it seems to me, was to see the end of the empty language of Marxism and the return of the ordinary, true sense of words. The men in the Kremlin calculated that an invasion would not run into any resistance. Their allies-including the East Germans-participated in the action. In a few days the Dubcek team was liquidated, and in a few weeks order was reestablished in Czechoslovakia.
In Poland, the Soviet army or armies of the Warsaw Pact would not have run into a combat army fighting against the police, as in Hungary. The Polish revolt was general but nonviolent. The Kremlin could also not count on the nonresistance of the army. Moreover, it would not be easy to reconstruct a Communist Party, as the Soviets had successfully done in 1956 in Hungary as well as in 1968 in Czechoslovakia. The Polish phenomenon is sui generis, without precedent. The workers, in alliance with the intellectuals, demanded their rights to a free union and, simultaneously, the official union fell apart; the Party itself had been losing authority all along.
The situation was totally new in Eastern Europe; the decision taken by General Wojciech Jaruzelski, chief of the armed forces and First Secretary of the Party, was equally new. He declared martial law, created a Military Council of National Salvation, "suspended" all civilian authority, all personal liberties, closed the country to foreign observers, and cut all contact by phone or air with the outside world. On Sunday, December 13, the security forces and the army rounded up thousands of people (5,000, according to the official statistics, 15,000 to 20,000 more probably), among them all the leaders and advisers of Solidarity. Poland was occupied by its own army.
The General and his spokesmen suggest that, by doing the dirty work, they seized the last chance to avoid an invasion by the armies of the Warsaw Pact, which the extremists of the Party were demanding from Moscow. There is no way, at the present time, to choose between the different interpretations. What remains beyond any doubt, however, is the role of the Kremlin in the Polish drama. Leonid Brezhnev knew and approved of the military coup, which was perhaps made inevitable by his threats. The Russian troops, permanently stationed in Poland, provided, at the very least, logistical aid to the Polish forces.
Shocked by the brutal repression, deprived of its leaders, the Polish people, after two weeks, were reduced to only passive resistance. The last pockets of resistance, in the Silesian coal mines, finally had to give in. Order and silence now reign in a country subjected to a military regime similar to the worst forms of foreign occupation. Even to travel from one town to another requires authorization. Is the crisis therefore solved? Certainly not. General Jaruzelski accused Solidarity of paralyzing production efforts. But why should the workers produce more under the army, which does not offer them anything and strips from them even the freedoms which they had won for themselves?
The military coup of December 13 was as much a surprise for the Western governments as for the Polish people. They had agreed on the measures they would take together if Soviet troops or members of the Warsaw Pact should intervene in Poland. But they had not envisaged a military regime by the Polish army. To what extent was the Kremlin responsible for the event? Did Leonid Brezhnev suggest or impose this "normalization?" Should sanctions be directed at the Soviet or the Polish government or at both? The Europeans did not agree among themselves on the answers to those questions; neither did they agree with President Reagan.
After a few days of hesitation, the American President chose the hard line and announced economic and diplomatic sanctions. The Bonn government took the opposite view. After all, it was a Polish affair, even if the Soviet Union had exercised a major influence on the Polish actors. In France, the government and the Socialist Party were outspoken in their moral condemnation of this violation of human rights. But it is difficult to know how far President Mitterrand is ready to go in deeds rather than just words. In any case, the first crunch for the Reagan Administration (Israel annexed the Golan Heights while the whole world was fixed on Poland) did make clear the profound disagreement between Bonn and Washington: the West German Chancellor first and foremost wanted to safeguard détente and good relations with Eastern Europe; President Reagan's first priority was to demonstrate visible opposition to Moscow.
The military coup is not by itself the solution of the Polish crisis. Tanks and guns can crush a rebellion, they do not suppress a movement like Solidarity. Without the Church, General Jaruzelski will not be able to govern Poland. And without Lech Walesa, the Church will not cooperate with the army. Nothing has been settled. The army has replaced the Party, revealing the essence of the Russian empire, a military empire whose ideology is dying. The absence of the Party on December 13 was a clear symbol of this.
In the Middle East, the Reagan team is pursuing a policy determined by the Camp David accords. It is, in fact, trying to do better by associating the moderate Arab countries with Egypt and Israel, with a view toward a military coalition that would form a barrier to any eventual thrust from the Soviet Union. The assassination of Egypt's President Sadat did not move American leaders to revise their plan. In November, a short time after the death of the Egyptian President who had chosen peace and the American camp, Egyptian-American joint maneuvers took place.
Superficially, nothing appears to have changed. The new President, Hosni Mubarak, can hardly say otherwise for two reasons: he worked in close cooperation with Sadat and he has to respect the Camp David accords in order to obtain the planned evacuation of the last part of the Sinai in April 1982. But the new President does not belong to the generation of free officers who overturned the monarchy and have governed the country ever since. He doesn't enjoy the same prestige as his predecessor and probably will strive to pull his country out of the isolation to which the peace treaty with Israel had condemned it.
None of the events of the last year encourage hope for a comprehensive settlement. On June 7, the Israeli air force destroyed the nuclear installations constructed by the French in Iraq. Prime Minister Begin declared that the reactor would soon have become operational, that Iraq had not signed the nonproliferation treaty, and that it did not conceal its intention to destroy the state of Israel. Under these circumstances, he could not accept the risk that the Iraqis would construct an atomic bomb. The Israeli raid, a technical feat, was condemned by all the countries of the world, even the United States; after going along with everyone else in a symbolic censure of Israel, the French government immediately suggested that it would be disposed to rebuilding the Iraqi reactor.
The Europeans continue to support their plan for a general settlement, namely the formation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank following conversations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on mutual recognition. The American leaders also seem to discreetly favor this solution, but it still remains little more than a long-range goal. In the meantime, the Israelis remain single-minded. They continue to establish settlements on the West Bank-which the Americans deplore but are incapable of preventing. Finally, Reagan won his battle with Congress and was authorized to sell five Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) surveillance planes to the Saudis despite Israeli protestations. What took place in 1981 did not alter the deadlock. It made it worse.
No Israeli government will accept a Palestinian government in the West Bank which would inevitably be taken over by the PLO. Menachem Begin, reelected in 1981 to a four-year term, will not make any concessions regarding the Jewish settlements on the West Bank. His rival, Shimon Peres, could have been and might still be less rigid on this point, but he also believes that the Palestinian state exists in Jordan. On the other hand, the Fahd Plan, put forth by the Saudis-which seems to imply the recognition of Israel and which was refused by Israel-has not been approved by the Arab countries as a whole. The simple truth is that at the moment there is no chance that a general settlement will be reached.
Whether conscious or not of this impossibility, U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig visited the region and then sent roving Ambassador Philip Habib there in order to dismantle bombs (for example, the Syrian missiles in Lebanon that Prime Minister Begin threatened to destroy if they were not removed). It stands to reason that American diplomacy suffers from the contradiction between its alliance with Israel and its friendship with the Saudis. The United States is unable to sacrifice either the alliance or the friendship, and it is also unable to reconcile the inherent contradiction between them. The immediate goal remains the same: to avoid a new round of fighting between Syria and Israel.
Some people in the United States argue for a return to Geneva, that is to say, invite the Soviet Union to take part in the negotiations. But it is hard to see how Soviet participation would contribute to a general settlement, unless it compels Israel to evacuate the territories that it has occupied since 1967 and to tolerate the creation of a Palestinian state.
Finally, in December, during the Polish crisis, Prime Minister Begin proclaimed the annexation of the Golan Heights through a vote by the Knesset. He then replied to an American sanction by denouncing the U.S. suspension of the strategic agreement between Israel and the United States. At the end of 1981, the conflict between the Arabs and Israel seemed more intractable than ever.
Meanwhile, the war between Iraq and Iran prevents one of the rejectionist states from intervening actively against Israel. Moreover, Khomeini's Iran, unlike the Shah's, has demonstrated greater hostility toward Israel. Iraq was hoping to bring off a quick victory and perhaps overthrow the regime of the Imam. Yet, despite the purging of its military, Iran's army, aided by the guardians of the Revolution, demonstrated that it was still relatively efficient; the Iraqis dared not attack the cities. Thus, the troops of the two countries maintained a small war of position; in 1981, in fact, it was the Iranians who pulled off a few successes.
But more than this war, it is the domestic evolution of Iran (largely forgotten by the press) that will influence the world situation. The Iranian revolution has already reached its extreme violent phase of state terrorism. Now it is the object of counterterrorism, that of the Mujahedeen, and simultaneously it must combat the Kurdish rebellion. The question that observers and statesmen ask themselves bears on the future of Iran: What will happen after the death of the Imam and the probable crisis of the Iranian Republic? For the moment the Tudeh Party, obeying the dictates of the Soviet Union, supports the Islamic Republic and the party of the Imam, while awaiting its hour. Who will win the contest for power, the Tudeh Party, the army, or the Mujahedeen, when the people no longer support the regime of the mullahs and when the voice of the Imam is silent and no longer mesmerizes the masses?
One final word: the United States can almost certainly do nothing to influence in one way or another the evolution of the Iranian revolution.
In Africa and Central America several crises constituted a challenge to the new Administration: Chad and Namibia on the one hand, Nicaragua and El Salvador on the other.
Libya's intervention in Chad was just one more irritant to upset Americans over the impetuous Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi who rules in Tripoli. Then, in the month of November, Qaddafi suddenly decided to withdraw his troops from Chad following the demand formulated by the head of the government, Goukouni Oueddei. The French government in the meantime had become reconciled with Goukouni and had promised him some light arms. Moreover, the French were acting in accord with African governments in order to make up a military force designed to symbolize and guarantee the national unity of the country. The withdrawal of the Libyan troops constitutes a success for a French policy that was supported by the Americans. On the other hand, the future of Chad remains uncertain: the Muslim north and the animist south do not have much in common. The forces of former Defense Minister Hissen Habré are making progress. Neither the reestablishment of peace nor the reconstruction of the regime is as yet guaranteed.
The case of Namibia, formerly a German colony (South West Africa), then under the mandate of the League of Nations entrusted to South Africa, indirectly affects the major interests of the great powers. The authority which is installed in Angola with the aid of Cuban troops claims itself to be Marxist-Leninist but has resumed relations with the West. The national liberation movement in Namibia (the South West African People's Organization or SWAPO) has its outside bases in southern Angola. American policy can waver between two tactics: either it can support Angolan insurgents of UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) in order to destabilize the regime in Luanda; or else it can abandon UNITA to its fate and exert pressure on South Africa so that it consents to elections in Namibia in the hope that once the buffer state is free and at peace, the Angolan government will request the withdrawal of Cuban troops. It does not appear that as yet Reagan has definitively chosen between these two tactics.
Namibia in itself is of little importance but it touches on a stake of incalculable importance in the international system, namely the destiny of South Africa. As it happens, the territory of South Africa contains raw materials indispensable to war industries-magnesium, chrome, titanium, lithium, gold, diamonds, etc. For certain raw materials, such as chrome, which is of primary importance, the West does not now have substitute sources at its disposal. If South Africa were to fall under the control of a foreign power, the American arms industry would be, at least for a time, paralyzed. Understanding this, we can also understand the ambiguity that the Americans and the Europeans (the latter, more hypocritically) display toward South Africa. On the one hand, they have to condemn apartheid and the yawning gulf between the privileged whites and the black masses. On the other hand, they don't want to see the disintegration of a modern and effective economy which by itself constitutes some 50 percent of the gross national product of all sub-Saharan Africa.
Finally, above all else, they know that they cannot do without chrome, magnesium and titanium from this country. Yet neither the Europeans nor the American leaders have a plan for a solution in the near future. They invite the leaders of Pretoria to proceed with reforms but they don't know themselves which reforms will contribute to an orderly evolution and not to civil war.
The only reform which conforms to the current ideology of the West is one man-one vote, in other words, universal suffrage. But this reform would precipitate the breakdown of the entire system. Westerners thus recommend the reform without believing in it. In the Security Council of the United Nations, the United States opposes through its veto sanctions against Pretoria. As for Namibia, however, the contact group tirelessly conducts a mediation process between South Africa and the United Nations.
The Carter team seemed careful not to alienate itself from the African countries, while avoiding a confrontation with the leaders of South Africa. The Reagan team, in its first phase, has leaned in the other direction. On March 20, 1981, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane J. Kirkpatrick declared that the United States would take its national interests into consideration in its relations with South Africa. In addition, she had conversations with five ranking officers of the South African Intelligence Service. On the other hand, the Secretary of State reaffirmed several times his desire to see Namibian independence come to pass.
Yet a settlement has still not been found. South Africa's Prime Minister P.W. Botha has repeated several times that he will not deliver Namibia over to SWAPO, which he considers tied to the Soviet Union. On the other hand, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Chester Crocker, has affirmed that SWAPO, which has received weapons from the Soviet Union, is not totally subject to Moscow's wishes. Once again, the Reagan team is being pulled in different directions. It still strives to arrange elections which will lead to the independence of Namibia and the departure of the Cuban troops from Angola. Alone among the Western nations it does not recognize the authority of the Luanda regime and maintains relations with Jonas Savimbi and UNITA.
South Africa pursues its military actions against SWAPO in Angola just as Israel does against the PLO in Lebanon. Different as the two states are-in many respects both are pariahs banned from the international community-they have tightened their bonds. Taiwan appears in the same category: like South Africa it is undergoing exceptional expansion and prosperity.
In Central America the Sandinistas, victors in a ruthless civil war in Nicaragua, are turning themselves into a Castroite regime. During the fighting they maintained a broad coalition in which the liberal bourgeoisie and several economic leaders participated. Since then, they have organized an army greater in numbers and better equipped than Somoza's ever was; members of the Sandinista party are already being sent out to control the quartiers of the cities and villages. Although the Sandinista spokesmen continue to declare that they will respect pluralism and freedom of the press, it has become more and more difficult to take their word for it. The arrest of four leaders of private enterprises, the repeated suspension of the major liberal journal, La Prensa, the positions taken in foreign policy leave little doubt about the nature of the regime and its ideological affinities. Furthermore, the economic situation, despite considerable foreign aid, has forced the government to take some extreme measures (for example, declaring a state of economic emergency and prohibiting strikes for a year, etc.)
In the weeks that followed the inauguration, the Reagan Administration highlighted the case of El Salvador, where a civil war rages that has been marked by particularly gruesome episodes (for example, in 1980, the assassination of three American nuns). Early on, the State Department transmitted to the Europeans dossiers which demonstrated the part taken by Nicaragua and Cuba, even more than by other communist countries, in arming the Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR), the group which has organized the guerrillas after having failed to seize power in 1980. Initially, the new Administration seemed to want to make El Salvador a test of Alliance solidarity and of the resolution of the new President. But the seemingly limited value of the stakes at hand prompted the President's spokesman to return to a more moderate tone.
The new Administration continues the essential policies of its predecessor. It supports President José Napoleón Duarte who is striving to resist the armed struggle of the FDR which is led by Castroites or communists. At the same time, Duarte has had to fend off the conservatives who are hostile to the reforms that he had announced and which he is having great difficulty trying to impose. The commandos of the extreme Right and the extreme Left are multiplying their assaults, each more cruel than the last. Meanwhile, the United States has dispatched a few dozen military advisers and a few million dollars in economic aid and arms. In this respect, Ronald Reagan has not done much more than the previous Administration would have done, except in his words and threats. A conflagration threatens to overtake all of the countries of Central America, including Costa Rica which is the most democratic country in the region and whose army is the smallest and plays no real role. But as yet the Reagan team has not conceived a more general plan for the Caribbean/Central American region as a whole.
Yet El Salvador has produced the first direct collision between the French Socialist government and the Reagan Administration: in agreement with Mexico, the French government proposed negotiations between President Duarte and the Democratic Revolutionary Front in order to put an end to the civil war. This took place while the United States was supporting the current government, which had announced that elections would be held in 1982. Seeing that a number of Latin American states protested against the Franco-Mexican declaration, which was, however, applauded by Nicaragua, the incident had scarcely any repercussions.
In order not to take up too much space, I have omitted the problems of Asia. A few remarks will have to suffice. Japan resisted Reagan, as it did Carter, in his request for a greater defense effort. Japan keeps its defense spending fixed at about one percent of its gross national product. Perhaps it will some day decide to build up its own arms industry which it will then seek to develop for exports like its other leading industries.
Reagan's interest in Taiwan and his plan to sell Taipei advanced aircraft clearly upset the Chinese leaders in Beijing. The visits to Beijing of the Vice President and the Secretary of State diminished but did not eliminate the uneasiness in that quarter, even though the Secretary of State let it be known that the United States would welcome armaments orders from mainland China. By now the Chinese press is denouncing once again the two superpowers, just as it did during the time of Mao.
In Southeast Asia, Vietnamese troops control most of the Cambodian territory. The Pol Pot government, according to the United States, remains the legal government. Moreover, the Chinese are aiding the opponents of the regime, which was created and supported by the Vietnamese; however, the opposition has not yet succeeded in forming a common front.
The chief omission of this review of the year concerns the economy, which is not perhaps directly relevant to this study. However, it is important to note that the exchange rate of the dollar and the very high interest rates in the United States-two interconnected phenomena-have upset the Europeans far more than U.S. declarations about El Salvador. The world economy has not recovered its stability after the second oil shock. The recession in the United States during the second half of 1981 affected the industrialized world far more than the controversies over Euromissiles.
All that said, the conclusion of this article must deal with the diplomacy of the Reagan Administration. The debates in the United States, it seems to me, center on the intentions of the Soviet Union. Those who claim to be reasonable do not attribute to the Kremlin a plan to dominate the world: the old men in the Politburo want the Soviet Union recognized as a superpower without which no conflict can be settled. The moderates also recognize that the Kremlin seizes every opportunity to expand its zone of domination. A communist party exists in nearly all the countries of the world; some communists participate in national liberation movements and try to direct them as far as possible toward the Soviet model and the Soviet camp. From this it follows that the Soviet Union behaves not as a satiated state but as an expansionist state. This interpretation excludes any master plan, that is, a plan fixed in advance to dominate the entire world. It also excludes any plan to trigger a great war. But it does not exclude the dangers of what the Chinese call hegemonism.
The other school of thought, which Richard Pipes, a member of the Reagan team, represents, agrees that the Soviet leaders do not act according to a master plan; but it stresses that expansion is the major and permanent objective of those who govern the Soviet Union. The Soviet rulers continue to believe in a universal mission of communism, their communism. That the Soviets reduce as much as possible the risks inherent in the advancement of their aims no one will deny. But the risks, in their view, diminish progressively as they acquire more and more arms. The occupation of Afghanistan constituted a challenge to the international community and to the United States but was not a dangerous one. The United States was not disposed to employ any military means of resistance or, indeed, any effective retaliatory measures. The embargo on grain sales to the Soviet Union, maintained over several years, would perhaps have affected the care and feeding of the Soviet population-but the American farmers protested. The refusal of the Europeans to provide financial credits and to sell their technology to the U.S.S.R. would at least have embarrassed the Soviets, but the Europeans cling to détente and to East-West trade.
Clearly, most of the conflicts and the problems which face the United States will not be solved through the use of military force. But, among other things, what differentiates the 1980s from the 1970s-and still more from the 1960s-is the shifting balance of nuclear and conventional forces between the Soviet Union and the United States at the expense of the latter. Public opinion is almost unanimous in Europe as in America on the need for a certain degree of rearmament. What is still in question are the means, the manner and the style of rearmament.
The first MX missiles installed in reinforced silos will themselves also be vulnerable, although studies continue on techniques which would assure a quasi-invulnerability. In the absence of a draft, the U.S. Army finds it difficult to recruit manpower capable of making the best use of sophisticated weapons. The organization of a Rapid Deployment Force able to intervene in the Persian Gulf zone is being pursued, although this force will not be able to face Soviet divisions on the battlefield for several years. Logistics and geography work in favor of the Soviet Union.
What the Reagan Administration can be reproached for is having given the impression that it relies too much on military force and that it is proceeding with a massive rearmament while, in fact, its actions do not correspond to its professed aims. Outside the Near East, the United States, after the Iranian Revolution, finds itself in a position of inferiority. Moreover, difficulties there more often than not derive from domestic problems rather than from overt aggression. Today, Saudi Arabia fears an internal revolt far more than it does an invasion. Resistance to a revolt would require perhaps the military assistance of the United States. But to prevent a revolt, which would surely be preferable, requires on the part of the United States both discretion and savoir faire.
At the end of the year, then, the Reagan Administration still retains credit with its allies as well as with its adversaries. European governments are pleased with the American rearmament decision but are not about to take it as a model for themselves. A portion of European opinion reproaches Reagan for having put off conversations with Moscow, conveniently forgetting that the SALT accords have never led to anything other than a ratification of the existing military balance. Observers of Eastern Europe assure us that the economic crisis there affects the communist bloc and even, directly, the Soviet Union. But, despite all this, a totalitarian state with a deprived population remains the leading military power in the world: the West cannot avoid asking itself why.
1 The Soviet Union halts the deployment of the SS-20, but the Europeans rescind their decision to deploy any theater nuclear missiles.
2 Judging from the polls, German opinion remains favorable to the American alliance, i.e., to security by deterrence. Fifty-three percent of the people interviewed last July approved the policy of the government, with 22 percent against. At the same time, 56 percent have good feelings toward Americans, compared to 18 percent against. (The question asked was: Mögen Sie eigentlich die Amerikaner oder mögen Sie besonders nicht?)