Courtesy Reuters

The Soviet Quandary in Asia

There is an anecdote going the rounds in Moscow these days. It seems that Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev were all riding together on a train. Suddenly the train lurched to a stop and remained immobile for an hour. What to do? Stalin ordered some soldiers on the train to shoot the conductor. They obeyed. But still the train did not move. Khrushchev ordered the rehabilitation of the conductor. This being done, the train still did not move. Everyone turned to Brezhnev for a solution. Brezhnev ordered all the passengers on the train to hold up their hands to their mouths and to whistle. Then, at least, they would think that the train was moving!

The point of the story, of course, is that the aging Soviet oligarchy is not quite up to the massive problems it faces. One perceptive Western scholar of Soviet politics says the Brezhnev regime is "muddling down" rather than "muddling through." And although this tendency toward inertia in the face of serious challenges is most notable in Soviet domestic policies, it is equally apparent in Soviet foreign policy, particularly in Soviet policy in Asia.

For ten years the Soviet Union has pursued a Dulles-like strategy of containing China in Asia by building up its ground forces on the Chinese border and its naval power in the Pacific, while seeking through a variety of political and economic means to check the expansion of Chinese influence. Yet the result of that strategy has been to leave the Soviet Union in virtual political isolation in Asia. China, Japan and the United States remain Moscow's adversaries and the Kremlin's heavy-handed policies are running the risk of driving those three adversaries closer together. None of the Asian powers has shown even the slightest interest in Moscow's plan for Asian collective security, an ill-conceived idea whose major goal was to facilitate Soviet efforts to contain China.

This essay examines some of the reasons why Moscow has failed in its efforts to expand its

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