The year 1978 was one of solid accomplishments, multiple frustrations and varied crises for American diplomacy. It saw neither great debacles nor spectacular "breakthroughs." The only event that came close to deserving this qualification - the Chinese-American announcement of the normalization of diplomatic relations - was the logical consequence of the rapprochement begun by President Nixon and Henry Kissinger. The other major event, Camp David, was the necessary - though far from inevitable - product of President Sadat's 1977 visit to Israel.

To an American observer trying to evaluate American foreign policy with some detachment, the single most striking feature of America's conduct in the world in 1978 was fragmentation. Washington's diplomacy went off in a bewildering variety of directions, and policymaking was marked by a number of conflicting actors and centrifugal forces. It is true that policymakers have always been impatient with demands for coherence or absolute consistency - for the world, at any moment, is riddled with contradictions, ambiguous trends, divergent currents and actions. But there is an attainable degree of coherence which requires, not the elimination of contradictions, but at least their management, indeed their good use. In the absence of a strategy which tries to channel conflicting forces and to prevent the contradictions between policies that aim at equally valid goals from breeding chaos, the conduct of foreign policy risks becoming a succession of ad hoc moves, with frequent changes of course or warring implications.

If these comments seem particularly true of 1978, the roots of American diplomatic inconsistency and contradiction go deeper than the peculiar flaws or troubles of the Carter Administration. Some may be traced to constraints and concerns that have always characterized American foreign policy; others are the result of changes in the constellation of world power that America could only marginally have influenced. Last, there are the special traits of the current policymaking group and state of mind of the American public. Continuities, world realities, American realities - these are the areas we will explore.


Indeed, from the viewpoint of a historian looking at 1978 as the 34th postwar year (or the 37th year of the United States as a continuously active great power), it would not be fragmentation but continuity that would stand out as the most remarkable feature. It is as if the United States had become the captive of the role it partly chose to play, and partly was forced into, after the Second World War.

The story itself is familiar. After 20-odd years, both the containment strategy that had been worked out around 1946, and the consensus that supported it at home, broke down over the Vietnam stalemate. Nixon and Kissinger tried to change the course of American policy: they switched from vertical diplomacy, which emphasizes relations within one's camp, to horizontal diplomacy, which stresses relations with adversaries; with respect to the two leading communist powers, they shifted relations from confrontation to détente; they changed the style of American diplomacy from ideology to Realpolitik; and, in the making of foreign policy, they let openness and coalition-building give way to secrecy and spectacle.

Yet by the time of Mr. Kissinger's departure from office, he was again stressing above all the strength of America's alliances. There was Soviet-American confrontation in Africa, an American policy in the Middle East that reduced Russia's role to very little, and no SALT II agreement. At home, the public and the political elites were asking for a return to principles, and it was clear that no foreign policy could be conducted successfully abroad unless a major new effort was made to gain the support of Congress and public opinion.1

When Jimmy Carter was elected, a bold new departure was promised once more. While the United States would of course remain strong, it would shed its obsession with communism and turn from the politics of competition to the politics of building a moderate world order. The Soviet-American relationship would no longer be treated as the dominant issue of world politics, either for confrontation or for détente. Attention would be focused on the new global agenda, filled with issues that have little to do with East-West relations, involving primarily the capitalist-industrialist powers and the countries of the Third World, or else, as in the case of human rights, transcending ordinary distinctions between friends and foes, rich and poor. This shift, and especially the stress on human rights, marked both the return to an idealistic stance, and the desire to break away from the earlier one of the cold war crusade.

Two years after the new Administration's arrival, what do we observe? First, the central issue remains the Soviet-American relationship; we have witnessed the return of the repressed, or the revenge of the demoted, and the debate which is raging over the nature of this relationship covers not only American policy toward the Soviet Union, but affects also American policy in Western Europe (because of Eurocommunism), in the Middle East, in the Far East (because of the "China card"), in Africa, even in Latin America (because of Cuban and Marxist opposition forces).

Second, after the debauch of realism, we are again experiencing the frustrations of idealism. Some of the major innovations that the Carter team had promised to promote have been blunted or bloodied by events, and particularly by the need not to turn allies or friends into foes at a time when the contest with Moscow is so intense: arms sales cuts have been cosmetic, the campaign against nuclear proliferation has been muted, and a credibility as well as a policy gap has been widening between the President's ardent sermons for human rights and the place they occupy in American diplomacy.

Third, the professed return to principle abroad has not restored harmony at home nor brought domestic moods and policies in line with the requirements of foreign policy. This, to be true, shows continuity between the Carter years and the last years of the Kissinger era, rather than with the long years of the cold war consensus. But it may well be that the consensus was the exception - a kind of wartime phenomenon, the cold war having been experienced by the public and the elites as a global war with limited bloodshed.

What do these strands of continuity signify? They show that there is, for the United States, no escape from a double drama: the drama of power, and the moral drama. The United States is caught in its role as a superpower, and in the grip of its old faith in American exceptionalism.

After Vietnam, many hoped and many feared - here and abroad - that Washington would give up America's burden of being a superpower. The Carter campaign sounded a typically contradictory note: it called on America to strive for a new world order, yet also promised priority to domestic concerns. Now, after two years, the complaint is heard - once again - that the President is responding to the frustrations of domestic policy by focusing increasingly on foreign affairs.

Certainly there has been no significant disinvolvement abroad. Militarily the retreat from South Korea has been slowed down and reduced in scope, and even the removal of America's last forces from Taiwan can hardly be seen as a proof of disengagement from the complex political balance of East Asia! Only the instruments of American involvement may have changed. Less emphasis is put on military presence, but arms sales are still used as tools of influence, as in the case of the sales to Egypt and Saudi Arabia last spring, and to the neighbors of Ethiopia other than Somalia; U.S. transport planes also brought French and Belgian troops to the rescue of Kolwezi in May.

And on the diplomatic front there has rarely been a time when the United States was more deeply involved in negotiations and initiatives of its own, as well as in mediating the efforts of others. Finally, even in the field of domestic economic policy, the impact of events and opinion abroad has come to play a crucial if not a decisive role. The new priority given to the fight against inflation in the fall of 1978 stemmed directly from the need to prevent further depreciation of the dollar and further deterioration of the balance of trade. Or, to put it another way, the United States had to meet its world responsibilities as the nation whose currency is the world's reserve, and whose international economic policy opposes protectionism as a solution to imbalances.

The reasons why there is no exit from the superpower role are clear. One is the lasting importance of the Soviet-American conflict. There is disagreement as to how to deal with it, but no longer any doubt that it remains the relationship of major tension, and that it dooms the United States to some form of containment policy. The other reason is the worldwide reach of the American "empire" which earlier phases of containment had created. This "empire" rests on four diverse pillars. There is the military, paramilitary and diplomatic presence established in many nations by American governmental agencies - public or secret - in pursuit of containment. There is the vast expansion of American trade and technology, which are agents not only of change but also of influence. There are the expectations of one's friends and clients; we have, more or less deliberately, provided patronage, played favorites, and we find that even when we would prefer to stay neutral, our dependents count on our support, scrutinize our intentions before making their own moves, and compete for our attention. Finally, the United States shows special concern for a moderate world order, and wants the international milieu in which it acts to reflect its preferences and principles.

The role of superpower has given the United States a number of strengths on which it is still drawing. Its basic alliances remain solid despite recurrent misgivings and fears on the part of allies as well as Washington. The "contracts" drafted in the late 1940s and early 1950s with Western Europe and Japan are still in force, because our allies' security with regard to the Soviet Union has not changed, nor has their own military might grown enough to make our protection any less essential to them. Moreover, their economic rise has occurred within the framework of the international economic order we created.

In the past two years, the West Europeans and the Japanese have been faced with American demands which they deemed unacceptable or extremely difficult - over the German-Brazilian nuclear deal and methods of developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, the "locomotive" strategy for economic growth, the neutron bomb, tariff reductions - and with American policies they deemed dangerous - with respect to cruise missile limitations, the fall of the dollar, the human rights policy as applied to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the State Department statement of last January on Eurocommunism, and various American measures that restrict or threaten to restrict imports. The United States in turn has resented the vast surpluses accumulated by West Germany and Japan, Tokyo's reluctance to dismantle its barriers against exports, Bonn's preference for export growth instead of domestic stimulation. Nevertheless, there have been no real alliance crises. Whatever its long-term effects, the Bonn summit meeting of last July produced an agreement on economic strategy, and consultations among NATO members with respect to the provisions of a SALT II agreement have been intense. In the Far East, Americans and Japanese have coordinated their China policies. The United States has encouraged Japan to conclude a peace treaty with China and has itself adopted something close to the "Japanese formula" for Taiwan.

Another American strength remains the continuing importance of the economy and of the dollar. No state wants to challenge the dollar's position as the world reserve unit, nor has the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) switched from it to a basket of currencies as some of its members had suggested. Easier access to American technology and credits was one of the reasons for China's change of policy over Taiwan - its willingness not to "contradict" our statement of preference for a peaceful outcome, and to accept in fact our continuing shipments of arms to the island. When the United States refuses to move, there can be no successful negotiations between "North" and "South."

A third asset of America's superpower role is the possibility, enhanced by America's resources and role in the world economy, of exploiting rifts and tensions within the Soviet Union's own alliance system - for instance, to foster (albeit tardily) and to vindicate Sadat's decision to achieve Egypt's goals through reliance on Washington, to encourage reconciliation between Iran and Iraq as the latter strikes out for a more autonomous role, to establish contacts with Neto's Angola, or to support Romania in its defiance of a Warsaw Pact decision to increase its members' military budgets. The rapprochement with China since 1971 is our most significant exploitation of Moscow's own most important case of alliance mismanagement.

But playing the role of a superpower also means permanent insecurity. Insecurity has always been the lot of great powers, especially in bipolar contests, for bipolarity breeds a constant fear of dominoes falling - of setbacks even in remote parts of the world undermining either one's positions or one's reputation. And empire makes one into a worldwide target, both as a force of social change that upsets traditionalists as well as progressives, and as a force of political conservatism that tries to preserve its clients against domestic upheavals. Insecurity seems particularly strong in America today, no doubt because of a new complexity in international politics and in the arms race. But insecurity is endemic in a nation that has traditionally sought simple grids and fast results.

Besides the power drama, we are witnessing the continuation of America's moral drama. Widespread support still seems to exist in this country for the United States to stand as a model, to be a force for some ideal. Much of the incoherence of American policy stems from the effects of this faith in American "exceptionalism," for our principles are subject to several contradictions.

First (and this is the open wound of liberalism), there is a conflict between a desire to play standard-bearer and a policy of nonintervention, a clash between a desire to promote institutions that reflect our principles and a detachment bred from a fear that intervention will lead to abuse.

Second, there is a domestic contradiction between the principles we preach and our practices as a nation. We have, in the 1960s and again in the recent past, run our economy in such a way as to seem deliberately to abuse the privileges of the dollar. Occasionally, we have given in to protectionist pressures.

Next, there is a frequent clash between our principles and those of others. We can dismiss - or celebrate - this as a classic case of good versus evil when our ideals of free government are opposed, say, by the communists - but we cannot feel quite so self-righteous about the refusal of many to endorse our enthusiasm for free enterprise, nor about their rejection of injustices caused by untrammeled economic liberalism in societies marked by deep class differences or among unevenly endowed nations.

Finally, and most important, there is a conflict that particularly affects the decision-makers, between the principles they proclaim and the need for "pragmatism," i.e., the need to take into account the competitive essence of world politics, which militates against any enforcement of one's principles likely to give comfort to enemies, alienate friends, irritate neutrals, or entail excessive risks for one's power position.

These contradictions explain a phenomenon that baffles many Americans: the unwillingness of others to take our principles, so to speak, at face value. Our power inevitably creates resentments - but so do our principles, because of the inconsistencies which at times make our ideals seem nothing but a hypocritical disguise of that power.


American foreign policy-making has other constraints that are external, the result of new world realities coming to bear. On the one hand, signaling a break with the past, we see the end of smooth designs; ten years have seen the demise of two such designs - a containment strategy that relied largely on military alliances, and Kissinger's détente policy, which lived out its hopes. On the other hand, and pointing into the future, we see a new relativity of power.

Today, American diplomacy has to perform in a kind of three-ring circus of Soviet confrontation, regional conflicts and global issues that include new economic forces and problems. The ring of direct Soviet-American confrontation is formed by the arms race, the "eyeball-to-eyeball" situation in the heart of Europe, and the four-power balance in East Asia. Those who thought that the arms race had created strategic stability between the United States and the Soviet Union now see serious threats arising both from the vulnerability of our land-based missiles, and from the growth of Soviet conventional forces and transport facilities in a world in which strategic nuclear parity throws doubt on our capacity to deter conventional thrusts by the threat of nuclear war.

Next, there is the circle of regional conflicts, which raises tricky problems because of the interplay of local circumstances with the Soviet-American contest or the Soviet-American-Chinese competition. These conflicts would exist even if America and Russia did not, but their presence, and the new ability of Moscow to project Soviet power abroad far from Russia's borders, change the nature and effects of the local disputes. If we stress only what is special to the region, we may allow developments that work to the benefit of our Soviet rival; but if we stress only the Soviet-American conflict and apply a "globalist" interpretation to complex regional events, we may - as in Angola in 1975 - misread the local scene and promote the wrong policies. Sometimes neither the confrontational grid nor the "localist" approach can, in fact, provide a successful policy; in the Horn of Africa, it would have been virtually impossible for the United States, at the time of Soviet involvement in Somalia, to support a new radical Ethiopian regime that was overtly anti-American, and it would have been dangerous for the United States, after the Soviets had begun their shift, to encourage Somalia, a nation with ambitions that challenged the African principle of border stability.

Finally, there is the circle of global issues. The Carter Administration had wanted to give high priority to them, for two reasons: because of the preponderance of economic issues among them in which the Soviet Union is only minimally involved and the United States and its allies could exploit their technological and economic power; and, conversely, because some of these areas offered prospects of Soviet-American cooperation (such as nonproliferation, an issue which India's nuclear explosion in 1974 placed in the forefront of world politics once more). But even here there are many contradictions, for instance, between a human rights policy (a moral concern) and a nonproliferation policy (a power concern); or between a human rights policy and a policy of cooperation with the Third World. Also, the United States, Western Europe and Japan have had to give priority to their serious internal economic problems and to painful attempts at coordinating their responses to the double crisis of inflation and stagnation. Moreover, the emergence of new centers of economic power among the oil-producing countries (grouped in OPEC) has made it difficult for Washington to exert leadership in energy and other North-South matters.

Finally, some economic issues can hardly be addressed any more without the intrusion of the superpowers' contest. We cannot deal with the world's oil problem without deciding whether we want to help or hinder the development of Russia's oil resources. The Chinese decision to modernize with the aid of the West and of Japan inevitably raises highly political issues. And while nonproliferation has allowed for Soviet-American cooperation, the regulation of arms sales and above all the stress on human rights have shown that there is no way of separating the Soviet-American conflict from the "global agenda."

In this somewhat bewildering situation, the United States faces three serious problems. They are not new, but they have become particularly acute in the Carter Administration: our inability to devise an appropriate strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union; our tendency to become caught between mutually hostile states; and the internal weaknesses of some of our allies. There is objective difficulty in devising an integrated strategy vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, although we know now what we cannot expect: an ever-widening spillover of détente that would dampen our competition and help us resolve conflicts all over the world. The reasons are many: Congress, in passing the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment, reduced the possibility of trade expansion by a clumsy attempt at "linkage"; we are anyhow too fearful of aiding our rival should the web of trade and credit relations grow; both sides are looking for opportunities to drive out the rival's influence; the hopes put in arms control both as a way of slowing down the arms race and of fostering common interests beyond the strategic realm have faded. But when it comes to finding an appropriate strategy, we are at a loss. Whereas the international system of 1947 seemed to dictate an American policy that happened to match our interests and resources, the system of 1978 does not suggest an easy answer to a problem that is simultaneously all-pervasive yet far from all-determining.

The public debate shows sharp disagreements about Soviet intentions and strategy: Are they putting into effect a grand design of their own and planning to be able to win a nuclear war, or are they merely seizing opportunities wherever they can, and accumulating weaponry to deter us from taking advantage of those that come our way? Nor is there agreement about the future of the Soviet Union, which some see as a rigid empire crippled by economic infirmities, ethnic tensions and an aging leadership, and as a threat only because of its concentration on the single asset of military force, but which others see as an expanding empire with a worldwide network of ideological and conspiratorial clienteles and a need to seek external successes in compensation for domestic failings.

Consequently, not only the Administration but the American public as a whole is caught between two views. One, adopted by the Committee on the Present Danger, is coherent, dangerous and (in my opinion) wrong. The other one is incoherent. The Committee has an undeniable appeal because it offers an integrated view, pulls events together (however arbitrarily), giving them a single meaning, and builds both on the foundations of America's world role and on our past image of the Soviets. The incoherent view attacks the oversimplification, perverse effects and costs of the coherent approach - but without providing an alternative prescription, whatever the sharpness or logic of its critique.

The second problem that results from America's world position is that of being frequently caught in the middle, between mutually hostile friends. When containment succeeds, or when (as in the Middle East) the Soviet Union has been partly "expelled" from an area, the United States must play middleman in frequently trying circumstances. Throughout 1978, America was caught between Egypt and Israel, and we played our role (partly because both these countries had chosen such a course) in such a way as to irritate other friends (Jordan and Saudi Arabia) without, in the process, fully pleasing either Egypt or Israel. By the end of 1978, we were again trying to bring the Greeks and the Turks together over Cyprus, with no more success than before. Indeed, in order to contain Soviet influence we must sometimes try to bring peace to those who might otherwise turn to our rival in the hope of securing their goals through force: hence our endless missions to southern Africa, and our efforts to preserve the chances for a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East after an Egyptian-Israeli peace.

A third problem is the danger represented by weak links in our chain of friends and clients. Several on whom we count either as allies against Soviet influence, elements of stability in regional conflicts, or supporters of some of our positions on global issues, are plagued by domestic insecurity, political strife, economic inefficiency, corruption or oppression. Our concern for order, plus our fear of losing our allies' confidence should we fail to support a friend in trouble, have repeatedly led us to tie ourselves far too tightly to dubious regimes whose strength was only apparent. On the other hand, our desire to prevent them from providing openings to our foes - from going the way of South Vietnam, if you like - our fear of regional turbulence spreading from or into such places, our own concern for human rights as an essential ingredient of world order, oblige us to try "reform," to improve the appearance or performance of such countries, despite our reluctance to get dragged too deeply into internal turmoils that we have few means of mastering. And so we become domestic peacemakers as well. In 1978 alone, we were obliged to deal, in January, with the political situation in Italy, when it seemed (wrongly) that the Communist Party might make a bid for power in the cabinet; with political crises in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic; and with the threat of collapse of the Shah of Iran. Now Egypt even expects us to rescue its economy. In all these instances, we are in a most uncomfortable position: fumbling with levers we do not control.

These three problems - lack of a strategy vis-à-vis the Soviets, a tendency to get caught between states, and our weak allies or clients - provide us with a melancholy paradox. On the one hand, they push American diplomacy into ever more widespread and deeper involvement. The very absence and indeed the difficulty of developing an integrated strategy toward the Soviet Union, which could guide us about where we most urgently need to contain our rival, makes it seem hazardous to overlook too many trouble spots that could provide the Soviets with opportunities. But, on the other hand, the fact that local or functional circumstances must be given their full due complicates our own role enormously. And the power at our disposal is not what it used to be.

Many Americans have tended to confuse the limitations of power with a weakening of will. It is not enough to proclaim one's determination, to rattle one's might or one's virtue, to call for a stand to intimidate all enemies, and to state that our present troubles (for instance, in Africa) result from past failures to prevail. We must begin by understanding these failures - for instance, in Vietnam or Angola - and reject the temptation to explain them all by stabs in the back or collapses of will. The fact is that our power is greatly affected by two sets of factors.

Abroad, our power encounters the inevitable rise of the power of others. In recent years, not only has that of the Soviet Union continued to grow in the realm of armaments, but the economic power of two of our allies, Japan and West Germany, which had seemed dangerously hurt by OPEC's actions in 1973, has recovered remarkably well. We have had to continue to take into account the financial power accumulated by the members of OPEC, and we shall have to think about the implications of China's developing strength, even if it occurs with our help. The economic power and policies of others now affect our economic well-being and policies in ways that seemed remote as recently as a decade ago.

At home, the vagaries of American economic policy affect the economic and monetary strength of the United States in world affairs. And, of course, the limits imposed by Congress in its attempts to curb the "imperial presidency," or the legislative restraints imposed on economic and military assistance, may handicap the use of our power abroad.

In the face of such external and internal developments, it is more than ever essential to distinguish among available, usable and effective power. Our available power remains - on paper - enormous in all domains: military, economic, monetary, ideological. But usable power can be extremely limited, either because of internal handicaps or external obstacles. There were excellent reasons why force could not be used in 1973-4 against the oil-producing states that embargoed the export of oil. Today both our economic situation and congressional reluctance have ruled out or limited the kind of large and widespread foreign aid programs we once used to buttress policy. And for differing domestic reasons there is resistance to the imposition of sanctions against South Africa, or to a blunt resort to pressure against Israel through the withholding of economic or military aid.

Finally, even the power we could theoretically use is not guaranteed to be effective. Would overt military intervention in Iran's present crisis be any more capable of "stabilizing" that country than our expedition to South Vietnam? In 1953, the CIA was able to work with coherent local forces to overthrow Mossadeq. Current circumstances in Iran make it unlikely that the CIA could manipulate a much more volatile country and a much more unified opposition to the Shah. Would the expansion of credits to and trade with Russia help "moderate" Soviet behavior, or build up Soviet might? We still have enough power as a provider of nuclear fuels and technology to be able to use a mix of carrots and sticks on behalf of our nonproliferation policy. But now that we have lost our monopoly as a nuclear supplier, will this mix be effective? Or won't it incite our partners to seek independence from us, to diversify their supplies or even to seek nuclear autarky?

The thornier the uses and the effects of power, the more necessary it is to tailor one's power to a well-considered and domestically supported policy. But when one examines how the Carter Administration has dealt both with the elements of continuity and with the new realities of the last decade, one returns to the problem of coherence and the related problem of consensus.


The absence of an integrated strategy toward the Soviet Union results not only from the nature of the present international system, as discussed above, but also from the chaos of the Administration's own views on the subject. As I have described those views elsewhere, they were, from the start, full of inconsistencies.2 The relatively benign idea of an American policy that focused on domestic and regional realities abroad, and that emphasized global issues and the settlement of regional conflicts (with Soviet cooperation when necessary), tended to assume Soviet passivity while we reshaped the world, or Soviet assent to "our" solutions. But the very attempt at removing the Soviet-American conflict from the center of the stage was bound to affront a status-hungry rival.

More serious still, the new approach included a readiness by the Administration to pronounce on Russia's internal affairs - in the name of universal human rights - and to challenge, at least formally, Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.3 This appeared to Moscow a clear violation of the "rules of détente" as used by Kissinger. In practice, the new approach coexisted with a much more combative one, expressed in statements about the need for a tougher policy toward the Soviets. The arms control proposals sent to Moscow in March 1977 were an interesting blend of those aspects of both approaches that could not fail to provoke a sharp response. Clearly, one cannot both demote the Soviet-American relation and (while wishing for further cooperation) promise greater firmness: the latter will make that relation more tense, hence more central. One cannot both look at conflicts in southern Africa as if they involved only blacks and whites, and analyze them in anti-communist terms when we rediscover, or even merely suspect (on flimsy evidence), Cuban mischief.

The result was almost bound to be confusion. The Administration, in 1978, threatened to link trade, or even SALT, to Soviet behavior in Africa (or trade to Soviet performance on human rights) while reassuring the Soviets about the importance of arms control as a goal in itself. It made of one dissident's trial a presidential test case and signed a communiqué in Belgrade that did not refer to human rights despite the important provisions of the 1975 Helsinki agreements in this area. It hardened its line on Eurocommunism (thus continuing, in the case of Italy, to make the United States a force in domestic affairs), and let contacts with Vietnam fade away - leaving Hanoi with Moscow as its only partner - out of fear of antagonizing Peking (or Congress). But the Administration was very quiet about pro-Soviet coups in South Yemen and Afghanistan (far quieter than Brezhnev about our role in Iran); and after the heated words of Brzezinski at the time of the Shaba affair, it reverted to a far more relaxed attitude toward Soviet and Cuban activities in Africa. The reverse happened in the Middle East: having reintroduced the Soviets into the diplomacy of the Arab-Israeli conflict in September 1977 when we thought that we were heading toward a Geneva conference, we carefully kept the Russians out of the new negotiations that followed Sadat's initiative and led to Camp David.

There was even tactical inconsistency within narrower areas of policy. During the angry days of Soviet trials of dissidents and attacks on U.S. journalists and businessmen, the Administration tightened controls over transfers of advanced technology to the Soviets; yet it ended up allowing the sales of oil drilling equipment. We have moved closer to a comprehensive test ban treaty, thanks to a major Soviet concession on so-called peaceful nuclear explosions, but we have delayed its completion by raising new questions about verification. We initiated negotiations with Moscow over the possible limitation of arms sales by the two biggest suppliers, and had a favorable Soviet response, but on Mr. Brzezinski's instruction our negotiators were not allowed to discuss two of the most important cases of U.S. sales - to South Korea and Iran. We also initiated talks about limiting naval forces in the Indian Ocean but then shied away from substantive discussions.

In the second half of 1978, the Administration appeared to have dispelled its own confusion sufficiently to give a clear priority to SALT and to negotiate in a quieter atmosphere. Yet we recognized Peking in December just before the end of the SALT talks and thus took the risk of delaying an agreement that was already six years in the making, as well as the Brezhnev-Carter summit meeting. The President, suggesting in his speech on June 7 at Annapolis that the choice between cooperation and confrontation was up to the Soviet Union, neglected to mention that we had the same choice, and that Russia's policy, like ours, is affected by its rival's behavior.

Another form of incoherence could be called unilateralism versus internationalism. Are we trying to cooperate with others and willing to accept the need to compromise, or shall we try to impose our conceptions on others? Unilateralism has been sometimes initiated by the executive, sometimes imposed by Congress. This conflict has shown up in three realms - foreign economic policy, human rights and nonproliferation.

In economic affairs, unilateralism has not only taken the form of restrictive import measures, but also of a policy of "benign neglect" regarding the dollar, after the failure in 1977 of one "internationalist" attempt to obtain Japanese and German agreement on the "locomotive" strategy. (That strategy would have increased opportunities for American exports and reduced the balance-of-payments surpluses of Bonn and Tokyo; it also might have created inflationary pressures there.) In this case, unilateralism boomeranged, for the fall of the dollar not only failed to cut deeply into the surpluses of West Germany and Japan, but, by exacerbating American inflation to an unexpected degree, it obliged the Administration in October-November 1978 to reverse its economic policy and come closer to what its allies had seen as desirable all along; it may also have contributed to a new OPEC oil price increase which will complicate the Administration's new task.

Concerning human rights, we have occasionally tried to work with others, for instance in the United Nations and the Organization of American States. But we have often issued our own proclamations and thereby worried West European allies eager to preserve whatever human rapprochement or contacts they had achieved with Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. We have, following congressional instructions, voted against World Bank aid to various states and decreed an embargo on trade with Uganda.

It is in the matter of nonproliferation that the conflict is most acute. On the one hand, the Administration aims at international agreements to strengthen safeguards, curtail the export of dangerous technologies, slow the march toward a plutonium economy, and search for less "proliferation-prone" kinds of fuel cycles. On the other hand, the legislation passed by Congress in early 1978, which closely follows the President's own policy principles announced in April 1977, contains a formidable set of "restrictive, unilateralist export control provisions."4 Not only does it, in effect, submit America's clients to a series of conditions that give the United States the right to intervene in their nuclear energy programs and to suspend deliveries unless strict criteria are met, but it also obliges them to renegotiate existing agreements. This law cannot fail to create difficulties between the United States, on the one hand, and EURATOM, Japan, and India on the other. Delicate negotiations and compromises have marked 1978, but they do little more than postpone head-on collisions until the end of the transition period arranged by the bill. We must start to consider what to do if the present multilateral technical evaluation yields few agreements, and if the countries that have decided to move toward a plutonium economy and to build fast breeders in order to resolve their energy problems are undeterred by our exhortations and controls. There seems to be no good alternative to compromises that will amount, in effect, to a partial retreat from the ambitious goals proclaimed in 1977. But such a retreat risks a collision with Congress.

Besides the incoherence of our Soviet strategy and our tendency to unilateralist policies, a third form of incoherence results from the conflict between the concern for order and principle and the requirements of the competition for power. This conflict (which has sharply curtailed the effectiveness of Carter's attempt at curbing the sale of arms abroad) has particularly troubled both our African and our human rights policies. Should we warn South Africa that we expect it to give up apartheid and accept black majority rule? Or do we want to delay any confrontation in order to avoid encouraging violence in a country of considerable economic importance to us and able to help us in settling the Namibian and Rhodesian issues? On all these points, one can detect some wavering within the Administration.

Can we simultaneously try to court the coming "middle powers," or regional leaders, while demanding that they accept our conception of human rights? It is a fact that we have muted our pressure on Brazil and Argentina, exerted none on Mexico, gave our full blessing to the Shah (until his throne began to shake), restored good relations with the military rulers of Nigeria - and diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China. Can we push the demand for human rights very far when we must also take into account considerations of regional security (as in South Korea, or in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt), or our interests in reconciliation with China or in lessening tension with the Soviet Union?

Our human rights policy has been neither ineffective nor messianic, as critics have argued.5 But its application has been spotty, and its effectiveness has ranged from appreciable in a number of cases (such as the Dominican Republic) to negligible in all the instances of offensive-and-retreat (the Soviet bloc, Brazil and Argentina) and of glaring omission (Iran and China). It may even have been counterproductive in places (Ethiopia, to which we cut off arms sales just as Somalia was shifting from reliance on Moscow to the Saudi connection; perhaps even Uganda: would Amin have struck Tanzania if we had not cut off trade with him?). Now the United States finds itself in a self-made predicament. It cannot drop this line of policy, given the expectations of the public and of Congress for something beyond Realpolitik, nor reduce its effort to solemn exhortations divorced from policy instruments, or to public denunciations by U.S. officials or international agencies relying only on the effects of public disclosure. But a case-by-case approach tends to give precedence in almost every instance to a conflicting concern, a more urgent interest or a special circumstance.

The danger is not, as some have charged, that we shall hit only our "friends," but rather that we shall predominantly hit those expendable offenders who play no important role in the power contests. Human rights can actually become a selective weapon against cold war foes, or against American assistance to the Third World, and such a weapon can increase foreign resentment against American hypocrisy, hegemony or naïveté. Ad hoc-ism is particularly unbearable in a domain which seems to call for consistency, since moral principles are at stake. If it cannot be the consistency of universal application, then it must be of another sort. My own inclination is toward focusing our policy and applying it more rigorously in those countries for which the United States can be said to be largely responsible - where, indeed, violations of human rights in the long run risk undermining our own position.

Among the effects of incoherence, the most devastating may well be the risk of getting the worst of the two worlds one tries to straddle. Might not the Soviets conclude that we are both intent on hostility and encirclement and weak - for example, when we fail to respond to their own probes and advances, in Afghanistan or in the Horn, and appear unwilling to be more assertive in a place as vital to our interests as Iran? Haven't we, by stressing human rights, given hopes to dissidents in Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union, as well as to the Shah's enemies in Iran, while failing to affect the nature of the regimes in the former case (indeed perhaps encouraging the Soviets to dispose of the most notorious dissidents), while utterly failing to move the Shah in reforming his regime when he was still in a situation of strength, yet dependent on our services?


Incoherence, alas, seems to have its roots deep in the Carter Administration's style of policymaking. More than other administrations it has, so to speak, institutionalized pluralism. There has been little agreement on economic policy between the Secretary of the Treasury and the President's economic and political advisers, with resultant drift in the fight against inflation and the fall of the dollar. It is well known that the National Security Adviser and the Secretary of State do not see eye to eye on the subject of the Soviet Union, and that the National Security Council (NSC) staff and the State Department trade accusations of confused activism and lethargic complacency. On technological sales to the Soviets, the NSC and the Energy Department, preferring a reserved policy, were allied against State and Commerce, which favored the sales, with an ambivalent Defense Department in between. There have been differences in the respective enthusiasms of the NSC and of the State Department with respect to the "China card," SALT, and support of the Shah. The National Security Adviser seemed inclined to try to "destabilize" Angola; the State Department, which prevailed, preferred a rapprochement with Neto's regime (and between Neto and Zaïre's Mobutu). The views of the departing head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Paul Warnke, and those of his military successor do not appear identical.

The President's move to curb the statements of both his National Security Adviser and his Ambassador to the United Nations, and to make his Secretary of State the only official spokesman beside himself, has reduced the level of public cacophony. But for every type of issue, there is a different constellation - sometimes under the direction of a shining star, like Robert Strauss on trade matters and (briefly) George Ball on Iran, sometimes not. Sometimes the regional bureaus of State play an important role, sometimes not. Often, and for good reasons, the constellation includes the President's domestic advisers.

Besides complexity, another trend in decision-making has been notable; it too does little to enhance coherence. It is the tendency toward centralization in performance, perhaps to compensate for fragmentation in preparation. The Secretary of State had announced his intention to travel less than Kissinger. And yet he has been constantly in the air - as the chief negotiator of SALT, in southern Africa, in the Middle East. Once again, the consequence has been sluggishness in matters that did not involve him fully (or that did not also receive top presidential attention, as China policy did). This has been true in the case of Nicaragua and, until the explosion, in that of Iran.6

Another consequence of the complexity of policymaking has been the accentuation of what might be called ad hoc-ism. This is also partly the result of the President's own personal involvement in the Egyptian-Israeli peace process. To be sure, that involvement was required by the parties' own mutual distrust and their desire to implicate the President on their side: Begin, in December 1977, had flown to Washington to present his plan for the West Bank to Jimmy Carter before sending it to Sadat. But a regrettable result is that the President's efforts are focused on intricate verbal compromises aimed at keeping the process going now, without sufficient concern for the obstacles that might develop later. The President is led to put all his prestige on the line for limited results: if he wins, he may "win big" at home, but not so much abroad; if he loses, he loses big both abroad and at home. Fragmentation in the process, as so often in the past, forces the top players to concentrate on the short term.

A second source of domestic incoherence is the role and behavior of Congress. If one looks at the results, 1978 was not a bad year in congressional-executive relations over foreign policy: the Panama treaties were ratified, the arms sales to the Middle East were approved, the embargo on arms for Turkey was lifted. But there is a darker side. The amount of capital the Administration has had to spend to avoid defeats has been high, and the costs in the case of the Panama Canal entailed the acceptance of language (e.g., the de Concini reservation) that considerably tarnished the significance of the treaties.7 Similarly, in Rhodesia, the Administration succeeded in defeating a proposal to end the embargo pretty much on Ian Smith's terms, but only by accepting a substitute that was far from an endorsement of its own policy. Victory against the pro-Israel lobby in the intricate maneuvers over the Middle East arms package may have been pyrrhic, and made further pressures on Israel more difficult.

Furthermore, the "deterrent" power of Congress - or of influential members of Congress - has been high, inhibiting contacts with Cuba and Vietnam and affecting, if not the SALT negotiations themselves, at least the climate in which they are being held. Finally, Congress has at times insisted on writing its own foreign policy into bills, either by eliminating what the Administration had proposed, as in the foreign aid bill, or by imposing its own commands, as in the case of prohibitions on military or economic assistance to specific countries, or by refusing to renew the waiver on the imposition of compensatory taxes on subsidized imports, which has greatly complicated the end of the Tokyo round of trade talks.

The breakdown of the traditional preeminence of a small group of "influentials," the strengthening of congressional staffs and of the budgetary process in Congress, the fragmentation of party discipline, the rise of single-issue pressure groups, and that of issue-specific voting patterns - all have their share in congressional resurgence.8 One must also stress a less institutional reason: the absence of any "patriotic" rationale for yielding leadership to the Executive, as in the 1950s and 1960s.

In the absence of such a rationale, two major factors of conflict between the executive and Congress appear. First, secrecy remains essential for diplomacy, especially in dealing with regimes that insist on it and in the expeditious resolution of conflicts - but secrecy and congressional consultation are mutually exclusive; when a secret decision is highly controversial (as, unlike Camp David, the recognition of China was), there are risks for the Executive. Second, diplomatic agreements are usually deliberate exercises in ambiguity, each side agreeing to leave certain conflicts in the dark, with the intention of reaping immediate gains from what could be agreed upon, and the hope of later resolution to its own advantage: witness Camp David or the subtle formula adopted by Washington over Taiwan. But Congress prefers floodlights to the delicate flashlights of diplomats, and tends to insist on the immediate clarification of issues: hence, for instance, the reservations added to the Panama treaties, or the mandatory provisions of the nonproliferation bill, or the instructions Congress periodically wants to give American representatives in international lending agencies over matters involving human rights.

The Executive itself is not without responsibility here. Sometimes it has underestimated the strength of opposition in Congress, only to exaggerate its importance later - an error made evident in the Panama debate. Sometimes it sends to Congress signals that incite more active interference in the policy process: Carter's insistence on human rights and on a draconian new antiproliferation policy, and the Administration's own statements about Soviet activities in Africa, encouraged Congress to write the provisions I have mentioned and to envisage lifting the embargo on Rhodesia.

In the long run, there is no chance for an effective foreign policy unless relations with Congress are systematically improved. This is not a matter of creating new formal institutions, but of moving from occasional consultation and intense mixes of struggle and cooperation during the drafting of bills to increased and steady participation by relevant members of Congress in the formulation of policy itself, which could only result in greater discipline on the floor. Resistance may be expected both from the Executive, zealous of preserving its freedom of maneuver, and the legislators, eager to safeguard their independence. But the very magnitude of the problems the United States faces in every realm of policy suggests that the coordination of powers be given precedence over their separation.

It remains a fact that domestic politics, especially at midterm, rarely take foreign issues, or the external implications of domestic ones, into account. This is not a peculiarly American trait, but it has special consequences because of both our system of government and the importance of our foreign policy. Paradoxically, perhaps the only pattern that emerged from changes in the Senate after the midterm elections of November 1978 was the removal of advocates of a liberal foreign policy without any of the victims having lost because of his foreign policy views or record.

The President, in effect, has to conduct foreign policy with an anxious eye on the politics of timing. It was not insignificant that Carter staged Camp David a few weeks before the midterm elections, at a time when his competence and prestige were in doubt. Nor was it by accident that the announcement of the recognition of China was planned for the time of the expected Israeli-Egyptian peace, and before a SALT II agreement. Success in the Middle East might have weakened conservative opposition to the removal of formal American recognition and military alliance from Taiwan; the fact that many of the opponents of SALT are ardent believers in the "China card" might in turn have eased the ratification of a SALT accord. This need for calculation may well have been one of the lessons learned from the Panama episode. But a good domestic calculation may be an external miscalculation. And for the politics of timing to succeed, the President requires not only success abroad: he must also have, or foster, a consensus at home.

The problems of consensus can be seen, paradoxically, as both mild and ominous. They are mild insofar as, according to the findings reported by Daniel Yankelovich, the public is willing to combine principles and pragmatism, to live with contradictions, to have America play an active role without excessive costs, and to pursue arms control without illusions about détente.9 This is indeed encouraging, as it provides the Administration with freedom of maneuver. But these findings describe, at best, a consensus on moderation, a hugging of the middle of the road, not a consensus on a direction for that road. What is ominous, even in these surveys, is the desire of the public to have a greater say in policy formation, and its unwillingness to give carte blanche to the President. This is disturbing, not because there is anything wrong in a demand for a larger role and in a grudge against past excesses of executive rhetoric and power, but because the "moderate" majority conceals an emerging fragmentation of the public, and especially of the foreign policy elites, into two blocs.

The first bloc is a "hard" coalition composed of two elements: traditional nationalists concerned above all, à la Reagan or Goldwater, with America's might in the world; and what I would call cold war exceptionalists, or cold war idealists, à la Senator Moynihan. The latter believe in America's special mission as the protector of the free world, and see themselves as the heirs of Harry Truman or John Foster Dulles. Their idealism makes them endorse heartily a crusade for human rights directed against the totalitarians and the tyrants who disparage America. But their priority is the cold war crusade, and their idealism slides easily into jingoism (which makes their alliance with the nationalists possible). They start by announcing their willingness to take on the evil ones, they end by stating that whoever is against us, or critical of us, is evil, whoever is with us is good.10

The Committee on the Present Danger, again, forms part of this bloc, which looks at agreements with the Soviets as useless or perilous, at the present military balance with alarm, and at SALT II as misleading or worthless. It demands a drastic change in strategic posture by recommending a civil defense effort and the building of an MX missile capable of threatening Soviet land-based missiles (the bulk of the Soviet nuclear arsenal), and advocates firm support for the enemies of forces aided by the Soviets and their allies. Such a policy offers a dangerous cure, for it imposes an artificially simple and mechanical grid on a complex international system. It would intensify Soviet hostility and fears. It would force us to support countries and factions whose very weaknesses or policies provide opportunities for Soviet meddling and which cannot prevail unless we both match Soviet (or Cuban) efforts and save them from their internal follies - the very thing we could not do in Vietnam. It would prevent or delay the rise of tensions among the members of the Soviet camp - as our containment policy did in Asia in the 1950s. Moreover, despite its apparent simplicity, this is a view full of its own contradictions. In the case of Africa, its supporters want us both to be more concerned about Soviet penetration, and more relaxed about Pretoria's and Salisbury's own efforts at solutions - even though these efforts might only incite further Soviet penetration.

On the other side, there is a "soft" bloc of liberal exceptionalists, for whom the mission of the United States is to do global good. Rather than fighting the evil ones, they would contend, we must combat the evils that threaten us all: hunger, oppression, disease, war, injustice. This group is less manichaean in its interpretation of the scope of human rights policy, but would push it prudently just where the other group would push it vigorously - against the Soviets. This group also tends to oppose American involvement in Third World military conflict and increases in the military budget, whereas the other group shows great skepticism about our involvement in the North-South economic issues, or about non-military aid to nations other than close allies.

This split is potentially as serious as the old one between internationalists and isolationalists before World War II, which inhibited statesmen who wanted to move from insulation to involvement. The new division may appear less dangerous, for both sides accept or seek involvement, but the groups differ profoundly on the kind and quality of commitments they desire. Above all, neither group offers a realistic basis of support for the Administration, since the policy each advocates is quite different from Carter's mix.

That the Administration must seek support from each carries the risk of alienating both. Above all it reinforces the tendency to tilt sometimes in one direction and sometimes in the other, strongly enough to gain the backing of the group being courted for some particular measure, but not so much as to make the Administration the prisoner of any one faction. In other words, for the Administration as well as for the public, the best that seems obtainable is case-by-case majorities, sometimes around the "hard" core, sometimes around the "soft" one.


The course of American diplomacy in 1978 yields several conclusions concerning future developments and trends. Despite multiple American initiatives and negotiations, there is a real danger of drift in four important areas: the international economy, Africa, the Middle East, and relations with Moscow.

On the economic front, there has been little movement over North-South issues, partly because of the difficulties experienced by the industrialized powers and the priority we have given to relations with them, partly because the fall of the dollar reduced the weight of the debts and the cost of oil for the oil-importing less-developed countries (LDCs), partly because many of the oil-producing ones have experienced troubles resulting from excessively ambitious development programs. But the developing countries have not given up their demands; the new increase in the price of oil will worsen the financial plight of some of them, and the risk of any of them defaulting and provoking a major crisis in the international financial system that has so far made the recycling of the petro-dollars possible is far from negligible. The continuing uncertainty over long-range oil flows, the importance of the LDCs as suppliers of minerals and as markets for the advanced countries, the mediocrity of aid flows from the advanced countries, and the resistance of some of them to more imports of industrial goods from the Third World also suggest a need to resume negotiations over the issues which were left unsettled in 1977.

But the root of the matter in 1978, as in previous years, is the need for a responsible domestic economic policy. The policy of 1977 - economic growth in the United States not duplicated by our chief allies nor combined with any major effort to reduce oil consumption, but accompanied by a high rate of inflation which corrodes the competitiveness of American exports - was bound to lead to a huge trade deficit and to international monetary instability. And the weakness of the dollar in turn was bound, through its effect on oil prices, to promote inflation around the world. The energy bill finally adopted by Congress in 1978 does very little to encourage conservation or the development of alternatives to imported oil. We have tended to criticize those of our allies who had mastered inflation and reduced their consumption of oil for failing to help us restore our trade balance or to stimulate their economies sufficiently. The new 14.5 percent rise in the price of oil, stimulated in considerable part by the fall of the dollar, now risks increasing inflation not only here, but also among our oil-importing allies who have been fighting it more vigorously than we have.

In southern Africa, our very determination to seek peaceful solutions through elections open to all parties - designed to avoid both race wars and further Soviet penetration - exposes us to the hazard that mediation efforts always entail: being put at the mercy of the intransigent. Carter's critics charge that his policy plays into the hands of such "radical" groups as the Namibian South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) and Zimbabwe's Patriotic Front, and of their Soviet and Cuban supporters, instead of helping "moderates" and pushing the costs of conflict onto their foes.

But in reality it is not the black "radicals" or the front-line African states (whose economies and societies are being disrupted by the conflict) which form our main problem, but rather the governments of South Africa and Rhodesia. While we have refused to endorse the internal settlement of Ian Smith and the South Africa-sponsored elections in Namibia, we have refrained from pressuring them too vigorously in order to keep open the possibility of securing their agreement to the very policies they oppose. As a result, they may assume that they can pursue their own course with impunity, or that, should this pursuit lead to an escalation of guerrilla war with Soviet support, we might end up by coming to their rescue - thanks in part to domestic U.S. support for their cause. In recent months the black Africans who oppose Smith and Botha may also have come to doubt our determination.

Developments during the year have made clear that our policy does not have a great chance of success, for it carries an assumption that a peaceful outcome is still possible. Its remaining chances depend on our ability to prove to Pretoria and Salisbury that they cannot count on any change of heart in America - that we are willing to tighten the noose either by supporting those of Rhodesia's neighbors that suffer most from international sanctions and from Rhodesian raids, or by applying further sanctions against South Africa. Precisely because a failure of our policy would be a major blow, we must see to it that it works, and accept the apparent contradiction between the goal of peaceful settlement and the means that may be needed to bring the white regimes to accept painful but inescapable conclusions.

In the Middle East, we have embarked on a policy of gradual settlement with an Egyptian-Israeli peace as a first step. But here, too, there is a danger of drift. The acrimonious negotiations that passed the December 17 deadline have already shown that each side wants to take back at least some of its Camp David concessions. (Pressure-cooker diplomacy has risks.) Moreover, should that peace be signed with little subsequent progress in the negotiations over the transition to autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza, not only would Egypt have to choose between isolation within the Arab world and backing away from peace with Israel, but the chances of Jordan or the PLO encouraging or allowing elections to take place in the West Bank, and of West Bank Palestinians running for office, would be very low. The United States would be faced with gradual estrangement from its two moderate allies, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, as well as with the prospect of a largely hostile Arab bloc from Syria and Iraq to the Indian Ocean presenting new opportunities for Soviet diplomatic influence.

The failure to consult Jordan at Camp David, to forge a clear link between the two agreements there, to provide in the "framework" agreement on the West Bank and Gaza for assurances of Israeli withdrawal, to obtain from Begin guarantees against new Israeli settlements, and the decision not to raise the issue of Jerusalem have already led to a cooling off in our relations with these allies. If we want to preserve our interests in that part of the world, we will have to deal at once with what we decided to postpone at Camp David, to prevent a wider breach between Egypt and the other Arab states, and to make sure that the autonomy offered the Palestinians is not a sham. In other words, we must see to it that the Egyptian-Israeli peace is only a beginning. As in Africa, this means deeper involvement and a willingness to use pressure on Israel, despite domestic resistance made even tougher by Saudi Arabia's own hardening (in the area and in OPEC) and by events in Iran.

The most obvious danger of drift, or setback, is in Soviet-American relations. In Africa and the Middle East, the peril of drift results from ambiguities in our chosen course. Here, it results from the absence of a clear course. As we slide into a kind of harder containment, each measure may be justified in itself, but we ought to think through the larger pattern these measures create. Our détente with Peking in 1971-72 was concomitant with détente in Soviet-American relations. The new Chinese-American rapprochement takes place in a very different context. Such a rapprochement had not been a high priority for the Carter Administration in its first year; it became one not only at China's request, but also because of the new tensions with the Soviet Union in the early part of 1978. Our new ties with China, which will promote the economic development and, indirectly, the military rise of Moscow's most bitter enemy, will force Moscow to pay more attention to its eastern front. Not only the timing of recognition, but the apparent ease with which the Administration accepted China's main conditions for it and declared itself satisfied with Peking's mere silence about a peaceful solution of the Taiwan issue - even though Peking is obviously eager for American economic and political support - must feed Soviet distrust of our intentions. We do not hesitate to encourage defiance of Moscow's will in Eastern Europe nor do we plan to give up the cause of human rights in Russia. We are increasing our military budget and may use some of it for new programs that will increase the vulnerability of Soviet nuclear forces or military installations.

Our justifiable tendency is to see in all this the normal exercise of competition, or a response to Soviet military advances, or even part of what the Administration must do in order to obtain Senate consent to SALT. But this should not blind us to the fact that the Soviets have often shown a strong phobia about capitalist encirclement. We will have to make sure that our West European allies' sales of arms to China observe certain restraints - it is anyhow not in their interest to provoke Soviet ire. A mild amount of Western pressure (and "China-card" playing) may perhaps make the Russians more malleable - although the 1971-72 parallel is a risky one - but too strong a series of Western moves, especially if they entail threats to the shaky Russian empire in Eastern Europe and in parts of Asia, may well have adverse affects on a state whose only strong suit is the uniform.

To be sure, there remains a Soviet, indeed a joint, interest in arms control. But as an incentive to détente or a dampener of hostility, arms control is losing its potency. SALT II imposes new ceilings and some constraints, but it implies new expansions, as SALT I had done. Once more, technology is racing far ahead of diplomacy: many genies escape from the bottle before it is stoppered. The greatest virtue of SALT II is the promise of future restrictions, but this time that promise is mixed with misgivings, since it will be difficult to separate SALT III from the Western problems of European defense and from the Soviet preoccupation with China. While it is always risky to pretend to distinguish soft and hard factions in the Kremlin, a struggle for succession is likely soon, and we must be aware of the effects of our acts on that struggle.


For drift to end, for a partnership with Congress to develop, a final condition is needed: not a grand design of dubious value, or a mere collection of lofty goals, but a strategic rationale that brings the fragments together. After two years, the Administration still has not produced such a rationale. In its absence, no "public philosophy" of deference to the executive will keep the Congress and the public satisfied; nor will the Administration be able to build a solid coalition made of elements from both parts of the public. Ad hoc-ism and fragmentation do not cope with the crucial issue of the place of Soviet-American relations in our diplomacy; they cannot monopolize it, nor can we act as if the superpower rivalry affected only a few sectors of policy, and could be handled in those sectors with a simple mix of strategic arms control and shows of strength.

We may be doomed to a large dose of containment. But the Administration must explain that it can take forms involving neither confrontation nor close ties but the development of regional strength. Moreover, there are still possible areas of expanding cooperation, beyond the strategic talks, both in the realm of arms (where several negotiations, ranging from MBFR to anti-satellite weapons, and including conventional arms sales, are in process) and in that of economics.

Even in what I have called the ring of direct confrontation, there is a choice between a drift toward further escalation of the arms race - either in the nuclear competition (especially after the protocol that will be part of SALT II expires) or in the competition between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces - and gradual measures of arms reduction and qualitative restraints. If we want to pursue the latter course, we must of course adapt our China policy to it. If we choose what could be called indirect containment - through the resolution of conflicts in which the Soviets may find openings - and wish to preserve possibilities of cooperation, we must be careful to avoid humiliating Moscow diplomatically as well as remain on guard against either providing the Soviets with occasions for military intervention, or giving Russia a right of veto over our diplomacy. What is required, above all, is subtlety, a sure sense of direction, and the absence of the kind of defensiveness that has often marked the Administration - as if Jimmy Carter had to prove that he will not be pushed around by the Soviets, even at the cost of becoming the hostage of the "hard" coalition. It would be foolish to try to appease the tough new Right since, whatever its moves, the Carter team will never be sufficiently "credible" to those who suspect it is part of the "defeatist consensus" or the "culture of appeasement."11

The prospects for American diplomacy on the eve of 1979 are not brilliant. We can foresee great difficulties in Africa, in the Middle East and around the Persian Gulf, in the world economy, in collision between the President and Congress over Taiwan, SALT, Israel and southern Africa. And yet the world as seen from Moscow hardly looks promising. Western Europe's large communist parties are adrift, Eastern Europe is not tamed, and instability in Iran, with the opportunities it creates for Muslim fundamentalism, is far from being obviously in Russia's interest. Some of its recent allies are basket cases, and there is increasing convergence between the United States, Japan, China and Western Europe.

We do not need to give up our goals, or to reverse any of the policies we have pursued. But we need to revise them, to make them mutually compatible, to replace both the contradictions and the drift of our Soviet policy with a coherent and flexible strategy. The Administration must explain clearly and steadily to the American people and Congress how the pieces fit, what kind of a world we seek, and the means we want to use to get there. It must be able to show how both the deep involvement that will continue to be required of us, and the retreats we may have to accept in certain realms, will contribute to the emergence of a world in which our main interests and our security will be assured.


1 This is further developed in Stanley Hoffmann, Primacy or World Order: American Foreign Policy since the Cold War, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978, Part I.

2 See "Carter's Soviet Problem," The New Republic, July 19, 1978.

3 We did, of course, continue to look at Soviet intrusion in Africa as a violation, but our case was weaker, for we ourselves never gave up competition in regional conflicts - vide the deliberate exclusion of the U.S.S.R. from the Middle East after October 1973.

4 Frederick Williams, "The United States Congress and Non-proliferation," International Security, Fall 1978, p. 45.

6 The celebrated failure of intelligence to predict the trouble in Iran has probably much more to do with the excessively close ties that had developed between our agencies and the Shah's police than with the so-called crippling of the CIA by Congress.

9 See "Farewell to 'President Knows Best'," in this issue.

10 For example, see Daniel P. Moynihan, A Dangerous Place, Boston: Atlantic Little Brown and Co., 1978.

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  • Stanley Hoffmann is Professor of Government and Chairman of the Center for European Studies at Harvard. He is the author of Primacy or World Order: American Foreign Policy since the Cold War, among many other works.
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