The need to respect human rights has lately become the focus of public attention and debate. Such a development is clearly a reflection of rising popular expectations which in some cases have led to a growing tension between governments and the governed. We can discern a worldwide trend to assert individual and collective aspirations and to bring about changes in governmental processes at all levels in order to make them more responsive to these aspirations. This trend shows up in many forms-from movements of national independence to devolution and demands for worker codetermination. In the United States and Western Europe a growing interest in "the human dimension" of world politics is seen by many as a natural and healthy reaction to an overemphasis on great power diplomacy, elitist cynicism, and to excessive secretiveness during the recent past.

This trend also has significant implications for East-West relations. In the compass of this brief essay, our analysis will be limited to two developments which are liable to affect fundamental premises of Western policies toward the Warsaw Pact countries: (1) the more assertive mood of human rights movements in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe; and (2) the articulate stand adopted by the new Administration in Washington on the issue of human rights, implying a distinct departure from the position of the preceding Administration.


The advocacy of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in the widest sense has a double implication. First and foremost, it implies an insistence on effective guarantees to safeguard the position of the individual citizen in the society to which he belongs and particularly to protect him against infringement of basic civil rights and liberties, such as freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of movement-liberties which are inscribed in practically all modern constitutions, including those of the Soviet Union and the East European countries. Second, to champion human rights involves supporting a long-established principle of international relations, reconfirmed in the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE); this so-called Helsinki agreement recognizes the collective rights of peoples to self-determination and equal status in the international community.

Any consideration of the political significance of the human rights movements in the Soviet Union and the East European countries should take both these aspects into account. And it should start by underlining the obvious differences in these countries both with regard to the character of the movements themselves-indeed the use of the term "movement" may suggest a generalization that is neither intended nor justified-and the general political context. Four countries would seem to be primarily affected by the new assertiveness of dissenters and advocates of human rights-the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the German Democratic Republic (G.D.R.).

In the Soviet Union, the very fact that dissenters and human rights groups, like those monitoring the implementation of the Final Act of the CSCE, are at all able to express their views and to pursue their activities-even though under exceedingly difficult, often hazardous conditions-is in itself a sign of the changes that have occurred in Soviet society during the last two decades. While these signs of resilience, alertness, and moral courage may engender hope for a long-term evolutionary process implying some measure of democratization, the immediate political relevance of this rather fragmented "movement" seems to have been very limited. The authorities clearly perceive it as a potential challenge-and as such certainly to be taken seriously-but hardly as a political force within the country. In their view, the current political significance of the movement derives primarily from its actual or potential function as a bridgehead for the spread of "subversive" ideas. Hence the official response has mainly consisted of physical isolation, intimidation, or expulsion of the most active individuals, accompanied by efforts to immunize the public against their messages through concerted campaigns of vilification against these allegedly "criminal elements" and "foreign agents."

The situations in Poland and Czechoslovakia are distinctly different. In both countries, but particularly in Poland, the activities of human rights groups must be seen against the background of acute economic difficulties reflected in inflationary tendencies, increasing indebtedness to the West, and recurring shortfalls in agricultural production. While economic hardship has always been the breeding ground of political protest and opposition, this is particularly true of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the G.D.R. where the rule of governing elites is not based on popular consent and where distinct constraints inhibit recourse to a policy of national self-assertion as a means to mobilize popular support. Yet neither in the Polish nor in the Czechoslovak case can the outbursts of dissatisfaction, dissent, and even open violence be attributed primarily to the inadequate economic performance of the system.

What is at the root of the unrest and opposition in Poland would seem to be the increasing discrepancy over the last few years between popular expectations and government performance. The initial popularity of the leadership provided by Poland's Edward Gierek was, after all, not only due to the new impetus infused into economic life as a result of its initiatives in 1971-72. Just as important was the new style of government, the much heralded system of consultation with all strata of the population, which suggested a genuine concern of the governing elite for popular aspirations. In shattering these hopes a potentially explosive situation has been produced. As a result of events last June, a confrontation took place between the official party and government apparatus on the one hand and a somewhat amorphous conglomeration of political forces on the other, including Catholic authorities, intellectuals and some representatives of the working class, whose main common concern is opposing the repressive features of the regime and its subservience to the Soviet Union.1

While in Poland the relationship between the authorities and opposition groups concerned with the protection of human rights can be described as an uneasy tug-of-war involving some measure of mutual restraint, the situation in Czechoslovakia is marked by a more acrimonious confrontation. This is due, at least in part, to the aftereffects of 1968. Despite continuous intimidation and repression, a socialist opposition movement with roots in the reformist group of 1968 has continued to operate in the country and represents a force in being that the Husak regime cannot disregard. Lately it has managed to demonstrate its viability through "Charter 77," a manifesto signed by hundreds of Czechs. The ultimate strength of this movement derives from a fundamental solidarity between a patient and fearless intellectual elite and a body of devoted labor leaders with considerable backing among the rank and file of the industrial workers. Its aspiration remains the humanization of conditions in Czechoslovakia not by political opposition but through a constructive dialogue with the authorities and particularly by drawing public attention to violations of civil and political rights. These activities, far from producing a "constructive dialogue," have provoked the authorities into launching a vicious campaign and taking reprisals against the signatories of "Charter 77"-all of which has generally increased political tension.

In East Germany one can hardly speak of a human rights movement in the strict sense of the term. Explicit criticism of prevailing conditions, particularly in regard to cultural policy, has been voiced by a few artists and writers, notably Professor Robert Havemann and the poet Wolf Biermann. The expulsion of Biermann at the end of 1976 led to a petition addressed to the party leadership asking for the case to be reconsidered; within a few days it was signed by more than one hundred intellectuals.2 While this manifestation of open dissent by a "loyal group" of citizens implied an explicit challenge to the measures adopted by the party leadership, it was rather limited in scope and did not suggest a potential alliance between intellectuals and workers, as did the developments in Poland and Czechoslovakia.

Far more widespread and hence more immediately sensitive politically is another type of "human rights movement" in East Germany: the efforts of tens of thousands of East German citizens to leave the country legally, invoking the Human Rights Declaration of the U.N. and the provisions of the Final Act of the GSCE, as well as East German legislation. The contagious effect of this development appears to have brought about a reversal in the previous trend toward more liberal practices in the realm of family reunification and visits across the border between the two German states. While the general hardening of the official East German stand on contact and communication with the West has been less dramatic than in Czechoslovakia and Poland, it implies a distinct limitation of the human rights enjoyed by East Germans during the years 1973-75.

In accordance with an explicit commitment in the document itself, the text of the Final Act of the CSCE has been published in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in such large circulation newspapers as Pravda, Trybuna Ludu and Neues Deutschland. One of the arguments behind Western insistence on making the text as widely known as possible was that this might start an internal process in the Soviet realm. This expectation has been fulfilled. Thanks to the human rights provision of the Final Act, millions of Soviet citizens became aware of their fundamental rights for the first time.

While the Final Act has thus served as an encouragement for the human rights movements in the East, the subsequent escalation of Western indictments of these practices has caused considerable embarrassment and irritation in Eastern capitals. Since governing elites in the East are ill-equipped to judge whether such manifestations of Western public concern are genuine or manipulated, the result of these interacting developments has been that the Eastern elites have become more suspicious of Western designs.


The human rights movements in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe have focused the attention of their ruling elites on two fundamental issues corresponding to the individual and collective aspects of the human rights problem just discussed: (1) the relationship between socialism and liberty (or "democracy," which in this context is used as a synonym in the internal communist debates); and (2) the nature of Soviet-East European relations. Two markedly differing perspectives compete with each other when these issues are debated among communist leaders, one emanating from the Soviet leadership, the other from Eurocommunists.

With regard to the first point, the Soviet leaders, while recognizing the objective need to safeguard rights and liberties of individual citizens in the process of building a socialist society, conceive the effective enjoyment of these human rights and liberties as something gradually conceded, "handed down from above" and made dependent on the "responsible" performance of the recipients.3

This perspective is distinctly opposed to the views expressed by the Eurocommunists and also by the "loyal" Soviet dissident Roy Medvedev.4 The November 1975 Eurocommunist manifesto explicitly guaranteed "the freedom of thought and expression, of the press, of assembly and association, of demonstration" as well as the "free circulation of persons at home and abroad" and the "inviolability of private life" and "religious freedom." While this stand has undoubtedly been motivated by the imperatives of the domestic situation in France and Italy, the French and Italian Communist Parties have lately displayed an inclination to propagate the universal applicability of their model of socialism, thus posing a potential challenge to the validity of Soviet concepts in Eastern Europe.

This holds true as well for the collective aspect of the human rights issue, an aspect touching upon the latitude of individual communist parties to determine their course of action with regard to crucial domestic and international questions. Here the Soviet Party leadership has insisted on retaining in major documents regulating Soviet-East European relations the key concept of "socialist [or proletarian] internationalism," a modification of the "limited sovereignty" principle invoked to justify the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.5 In addition, Moscow has attempted to equate the observance of the rules of proletarian internationalism with a stance of fundamental solidarity with the U.S.S.R., thereby underlining the claim that the Soviet Party should remain the ultimate arbiter of the collective interests of the Warsaw Pact countries.6 The Eurocommunists, however, and the Italian Communists in particular, have forcefully advocated the right of each communist party freely to decide on its policy in accordance with national needs and circumstances. Moreover, together with other "autonomous" communist parties, they managed to elicit a formal recognition of the equality and autonomy of all communist parties at the June 1976 conference of communist and workers' parties in East Berlin.

There can be no doubt which of the two competing communist conceptions is more in line with fundamental Western values. In fact, the Eurocommunist stance corresponds with traditional goals of Western policy toward Eastern Europe, i.e., the promotion of individual liberty and some measure of pluralism as well as greater independence from Soviet domination. Yet in the West these goals have long taken second place to a concern for East-West stability. The rise of the human rights movement in Eastern Europe and the Eurocommunist challenge thus confront the West with the question of whether these same goals can now be pursued more forcefully without jeopardizing the fruits of détente.


Before turning to the second main theme of this analysis-the new American stand on human rights-we must review the development of public and governmental perceptions of East-West relations prior to the election of Jimmy Carter.

Despite the controversy over the benefits of détente policies, it is generally recognized that they have produced important improvements in crisis management and a concomitant limitation of the risk of confrontations that could lead to a military conflict. While the success of these policies may in part have been due to the fact that they involved distinct restraints on Western efforts to effect internal changes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, they were neither devoid of moral values nor ineffective with regard to "the human dimension" of East-West relations. In view of the stakes involved, the preservation of a peaceful relationship between East and West must in fact be regarded as the supreme moral value.7 Nor should we underrate the tangible improvements in human conditions that were achieved as a result of the agreements of the 1970s, particularly in Berlin and the two German states. These facts notwithstanding, there can hardly be any doubt that by the end of 1976 détente policies were in the doldrums.

As for the East, even prior to the change of Administration in Washington, the reactions of governing elites to the new emphasis on human rights suggested that they no longer believed that undesired consequences of reduced tension and wider contacts with the West could be contained. Since the Soviet leadership is unable to alleviate the economic difficulties of its allies and seems to recognize the need to appease the increasingly self-confident workers, particularly in Poland, Moscow has not opposed the relentless efforts of East European governments to expand trade and economic cooperation with the West as a means to ensure technological innovation, a high rate of investment and better productivity. Particularly in view of the Eurocommunist challenge, recent developments in Eastern Europe tend to amplify Moscow's fear of an erosion of its position in the presently most sensitive and explosive part of that region, again, Poland. Such apprehensions, in turn, are liable to enhance the perceived importance of the Soviet military presence in Eastern Europe and may inhibit Eastern negotiating positions at the MBFR talks in Vienna-talks which could lead to some reduction of that presence.

The fact that dissenters and human rights groups in Eastern Europe have invoked the Final Act of the CSCE to support their claims has generally sensitized the attitudes of the authorities. Their statements suggest the perception of a growing threat to "the system" and may well reflect the faltering confidence of policymakers that détente implies a balance of benefits.

In the West, long before the Carter Administration came to power, the fate of such renowned personalities as Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov had contributed to a more critical public assessment of the premises underlying détente policies. In the United States in particular, the plight of Soviet and East European dissidents produced among liberals a growing disenchantment with official policies that were felt to be less than fully responsive to public pressure for a more adamant U.S. position on humanitarian issues. At the same time, the conservative wing of congressional and public opinion became increasingly alarmed by evidence suggesting a growing Soviet arms buildup, and criticized the executive branch of the government for its failure to reciprocate. The determined Soviet effort to expand its military forces worried America's European allies as well. Concern was also expressed in public debate and by governmental spokesmen in Western Europe about the discrepancy between the rhetoric of détente and developments in arms acquisition and deployment, underscored by the lack of progress in the arms control and force reductions negotiations. Concern over Soviet intentions was further heightened by Moscow's involvement in Angola, widely interpreted as a breach of the rules of mutual restraint underlying the détente relationship. The ensuing conflict between the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. government concerning what should be the appropriate response tended to undermine Western self-confidence and resolve.

In the business community, interest in cooperative ventures with Eastern partners lessened as a result of growing frustration with the political and bureaucratic constraints involved. Moreover, not only in the United States but in West Germany as well, public opinion seemed less inclined to sustain a policy of long-term cooperation with governments that clamped down on their dissidents and whose implementation of the Final Act of the CSCE disappointed many often-exaggerated Western expectations, particularly with regard to the "third basket."

Finally, the more rigid and uncooperative attitudes of the authorities in the G.D.R. toward movements across their common German border, together with Eastern efforts to tamper with the status of Berlin, raised some doubts about the viability of the basic East-West agreements on Berlin and intra-German relations, regarded by many as the touchstone of détente in Europe.

This review of Eastern and Western perceptions is necessarily fragmentary. The essential argument boils down to the following: in 1976 the deterioration of the general climate in East-West relations reached a point where the continuity of détente policies was seriously imperiled. A reversal of this trend seems to require: (1) the creation of a foreign policy consensus in the United States adapted to a long-term relationship with the East marked by a combination of conflict and cooperation; (2) the continued effective orchestration of Western policies toward the East; (3) the reestablishment between policymakers in East and West of the degree of trust that existed before but now seems to have wavered as a result of recent developments; and (4) concluding concrete East-West agreements, both between the superpowers and at the European level, designed to reconfirm the conviction that a rough balance of benefits accrues from détente. These basic requirements should be kept in mind when assessing current prospects in East-West relations and particularly the impact of the new signals hoisted by the Carter Administration.


It is notoriously difficult, especially for a European, to read those signals which suggest the main direction of American policy. At the present juncture this difficulty is compounded by the confusion resulting from a new Administration and the concomitant multiplication of authoritative statements with a more than "normal" ratio of incongruities. In spite of these caveats we must try to determine in what sense the foreign policy stance of the Carter Administration represents new departures in the American approach to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Three new features of a general kind and two specific postures seem to have had an immediate bearing on U.S.-Soviet relations. On the first score, the most distinctive new aspect of American foreign policy since the beginning of 1977 has clearly been the determination of the Administration to advance the respect for human rights all over the world. This has been reflected not only in constant declarations on the subject-from President Carter's inaugural speech through a number of press conferences to his U.N. speech on March 17, 1977-and in dramatic gestures such as the President's letter to Andrei Sakharov and his meeting with Vladimir Bukovsky. It has also led to tangible actions: foreign aid to some countries has been cut because of violations of human rights and American domestic practices are being reviewed to bring words and deeds into accord with each other. This tends to underline the Administration's assertion that in its advocacy of respect for human rights it does not wish to single out the Soviet Union.

A second substantive novelty in Carter's foreign policy is a more radical stand on arms control and disarmament. In his inaugural address the President committed himself to "move this year a step toward our ultimate goal-the elimination of all nuclear weapons from this earth." This has been followed by declarations suggesting that the Administration attributes top priority to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) and efforts to contain the arms race in general. Indeed, the first concrete proposals submitted to the other side in these negotiations envisaged substantial reductions of nuclear force levels.

The third new departure of a more general kind-yet with immediate relevance for U.S.-Soviet relations-relates to the commitment to "open" government. It implies a determination on the part of the President to expose the framework if not the details of negotiations with foreign powers to the continuous scrutiny of Congress and the public. In his press conference on March 24, 1977 Carter displayed considerable confidence in the ability of the executive to steer successfully between the Scylla of secretiveness, from which he clearly wishes to dissociate his own Administration, and the Charybdis of exposing negotiating positions that might jeopardize future agreements.

As to specifics, two innovations of the Carter Administration are again both substantive and procedural. On substance, one can note a tougher ideological stance reflected in the belief that the ideological struggle is a two-way street and the request that Congress double the funds for Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. With regard to procedure, there is the explicit disclaimer of the Administration about "linkages" between issues, and particularly the insistence on the fact that the SALT negotiations need and should not be affected by the more articulate official U.S. stand on human rights.8


What can be said about the effects of these changes in regard to a new start in détente policies? At this writing, the Carter Administration is clearly still in its initial probing period. Thus, the following observations are based more on impressionistic hunches than on conclusive evidence. There can be hardly any doubt, however, that the rebuilding of a viable policy consensus is high on the agenda of the new Administration; moreover, it seems to be succeeding in this task. The erosion of popular confidence in the executive resulting from Vietnam and Watergate, the concomitant deep crisis in executive-legislative relations and the inability of the previous Administration to revive public support through diplomatic achievements contributed decisively to the present low tide in East-West relations. To paraphrase Stanley Hoffmann, the balance-of-power strategy did not balance at home (although partly for reasons that he could not foresee in 1972).9 Measures aimed at redressing that domestic American balance must be of primary interest not only to the United States but also to the Western alliance as a whole, and indeed to everyone concerned about, continued détente.

To judge from early public reactions in the United States, two features of the foreign policy stance of the new Administration have been particularly conducive to generating the popular support that Carter is so eagerly seeking: his advocacy of human rights and his commitment to open government. This is hardly surprising in view of the traditions of American society and the deeply felt need to relate the government's foreign policy to fundamental values reflected in these traditions. The question that arises, however, is whether in terms of substance the emerging domestic consensus is adequate for the conduct of a foreign policy adapted to the realities of the present era. Here doubts must be expressed with respect to repercussions both on U.S.-West European and East-West relations.

As for America's European allies, their initial reservations about the new Administration may well have been primarily related to other issues than East-West policies, such as nuclear technology exports, relations with the Third World, weapons acquisition and arms transfer policies. Yet the articulated American stand on human rights in combination with the new open style of government have caused considerable bewilderment both in official circles and in the media. This is particularly true of West Germany-always most sensitive to changes in Washington that might affect its precarious security, as well as being the West European country with the most immediate interest in a low-tension relationship with the East. There seems to be serious concern in the Federal Republic lest a new upsurge in American moralism impair rational policymaking and endanger the relative stability in East-West relations.10

The opportunities for closer U.S.-West European cooperation on issues relating to the "human dimension" of East-West relations should in principle have been enhanced by the Administration's genuine concern for human rights. In view of the upcoming CSCE follow-up conference in Belgrade in June it would be particularly regrettable if the Carter Administration's first approach to these issues were to make a continued effective orchestration of Western policies toward the East more rather than less difficult.

Even more serious, however, are the immediate effects on the essential relationship between policymakers in Washington and Moscow. The new features of U.S. foreign policy and particularly the stance on human rights have called into question some of the fundamental premises underlying earlier policies. In 1975, when the results of Mr. Kissinger's endeavors were being subjected to increasing criticism at home, George Kennan issued a call for forbearance that contained the following warning: "To many people, the advantages of the present relationship [with the Soviet Union] may not seem large. But they represent the product of long and patient effort; and they rest, such as they are, on certain reassuring concepts of the motives and purposes of the other party which it has taken long to establish but which could be quickly shattered by confusing signals or abrupt changes in personality and behavior at either end. Once shattered, these concepts could not be easily restored . . . ."11

Reviewing the events of recent months it is hard to escape the conclusion that what Kennan was anxious to avert is beginning to happen. President Carter's stand on human rights and his tougher ideological posture are liable to increase Moscow's concern about what has been called above the bridgehead function of dissidents and opposition groups inside the Soviet Union, as well as its fears of explosive developments in Poland, Czechoslovakia or the German Democratic Republic.12 Furthermore, the new American stand has made it more difficult for the Soviet leadership to differentiate between "sober-minded Western leaders"-with whom businesslike cooperation is possible and desirable-and "aggressive imperialist forces" attempting to poison the international atmosphere and to subvert the peoples of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Hence, the difficulty in mobilizing the necessary elite consensus for continued détente policies and in arriving at agreements with Washington, even on subjects where the mutuality of interests continues to be recognized by both sides. By disclaiming any explicit "linkages" between particular issues, the Carter Administration disregards the inherent interconnection of all major policy questions in East-West, and particularly U.S.-Soviet, relations.

It is this inherent interconnection that Georgi Arbatov, one of Mr. Brezhnev's close advisers, must have had in mind when he emphasized the latter's observation that "further developments in Soviet-American relations will also depend on the overall 'level of détente' which means among other things mutual confidence and trust."13 But what is meant by mutual trust between leaders whose world outlook and values are diametrically opposed?

West Germany's Egon Bahr, who shares with Mr. Kissinger the experience of being both the architect and the chief negotiator of major agreements with Moscow in the early 1970s, has declared that the most difficult part of his negotiations with the Soviet leaders was to convince them of "the sincerity of our intentions." He has described confidence-building between the top leadership in Bonn and Moscow as a process involving a continuous effort of both parties to delineate primary interests, including those that were diametrically opposed. As a result, there emerged a kind of minimum trust between the two sides which Mr. Bahr denoted as "vigilance."14

Two aspects were characteristic of both Henry Kissinger's and Egon Bahr's endeavors: (1) the evolution of a conceptual framework for the overall relationship with the Warsaw Pact countries that took as its first priority the safeguarding of peace in the nuclear age; and (2) the centralization of policymaking and of the conduct of the most important negotiations. Both would seem to be essential for sustaining the kind of limited mutual trust that was achieved as a result of the East-West negotiations of the early 1970s. Both have so far been lacking in the most recent stage of U.S.-Soviet relations.

Yet it would be disastrous indeed if we concluded that the urgent requirements of consensus-building in the United States are incompatible with the equally urgent requirements of confidence-building with the Soviet Union. Is there a way out of this dilemma?


The first business at hand would seem to be to salvage a maximum of those "reassuring concepts" of the motives and purposes of each party which George Kennan has pinpointed as an essential element of stability in U.S.-Soviet relations. This requirement applies to the European allies of the superpowers as well. The reaffirmation of the "importance of the quadripartite agreement of September 1971" after the unsuccessful first round of SALT negotiations in Moscow indicates that both sides were aware of the significance of the Berlin accord as a symbol for the continued viability of certain ground rules.15

But the uneasy probing period in U.S.-Soviet relations during recent months has also shown the need to reassess the assumptions underlying these ground rules and to modify and complement them where necessary. Georgi Arbatov's suggestion of "a code of principles . . . which would draw a line, mostly on the basis of common sense, on what is good or bad for détente" points in this direction.16

Since the new foreign policy consensus emerging in the United States includes a strong emphasis on human rights, a new code of conduct between East and West must take this into account. The earlier the Soviet leadership recognizes the genuine public concern for human rights as a major determinant of Western foreign policy the better for détente. The West, on the other hand, will have to elaborate a human rights stand that not only constitutes a key element in its overall strategy toward the East but also stands a fair chance of producing tangible results. U.S. initiatives which reflect concern for both these requirements will certainly be welcomed by the West European allies and other European states, who have been strong advocates of a prominent human rights stand in the CSCE negotiations and were at times dismayed by the "low profile" of the previous American Administration on these very issues.

A common Western position which meets these requirements should be based on the recognition that a crucial-though not a sufficient-condition for improvements in respect to human rights in the East is the continuation of détente itself. To safeguard the continuity of détente must therefore be the first priority of any Western policy designed to champion human rights in the Warsaw Pact countries. This suggests that an effective Western strategy will have to make clear the distinction between the formulation of official Western goals and the means adopted to promote them. As for the goals, it is both legitimate and essential to proclaim the promotion of individual liberty, some measure of pluralism, and greater East European independence from the Soviet Union as objectives of Western policy. It is equally important to emphasize that the ultimate goal is to bring about a situation where respect for human rights in the widest sense of the word will be recognized by all governments as the best guarantee of peaceful and productive interstate relations. And the means employed by a common Western strategy for the promotion of human rights will have to reflect deference to established rules of intergovernmental relations.

This need not conflict with "open government," since the latter is not necessarily identical with "open diplomacy." But it will clearly impose restraints on the kind of measures Western governments can adopt to promote human rights in the East. It is one thing for a Western government to be outspoken on these issues; it is another thing to go beyond moral support of human rights movements and to take measures which can be more easily construed as interference in internal affairs. Such measures are likely to be harmful rather than helpful to the movements themselves.

A common Western human rights stand must, therefore, not only reflect the greater public concern with these issues but also produce tangible results roughly congruent with popular expectations. The approach suggested by President Carter's initial performance hardly satisfies these criteria, since it has served to undermine the limited degree of trust between governments in East and West while at the same time raising new hopes in East and West. The growing discrepancy between popular expectations and likely results inherent in this approach could well lead to disenchantment and frustrations on both sides. The President's letter to Andrei Sakharov and his meeting with Vladimir Bukovsky can perhaps be explained in the light of the previous Administration's misjudgment of the public mood. But from the point of view of the realistic management of East-West relations these steps must be deemed political errors.

This is not to suggest that the President of the United States cannot write to or meet with Soviet or East European dissidents. One could well imagine circumstances when such steps might in fact protect a given individual against reprisals. But in the overall context of East-West relations the consequences of such initiatives have to be very carefully calculated. Under the conditions prevailing in early 1977 and within the framework of what appeared at the time as a presidential crusade in support of human rights, the effect of these particular steps was to jeopardize the continuity of détente policies and thereby one of the essential foundations for the effective pursuit of the respect for human rights in the Warsaw Pact countries.17

A recent pronouncement of President Carter suggests that he is now fully aware of the need to pursue the human rights effort "in a sensitive way."18 Generally speaking, the most promising path to achieve tangible results would seem to be a gradualist approach attempting to demonstrate as convincingly as possible to the other side the close interconnection between major elements of policy in the management of East-West relations and the more conspicuous role of the human rights issue in the overall spectrum of public concerns in the West. Regular review sessions on the implementation of the Final Act of the CSCE would seem to offer the best conceivable machinery for this kind of long-term operation, provided they are not turned into tribunals of mutual recrimination.

This approach does not preclude either Western efforts to conduct the intensified ideological contest on more equal terms or a determined advocacy of respect for human rights. A forceful stand on human rights at the Belgrade conference seems, in fact, unavoidable in view of the changes in Western, and particularly American, public opinion on these issues since the Helsinki conference.

What does seem essential in this context is to convey to the governments of the Warsaw Pact countries that Western support for human rights movements in the East does not reflect an aspiration to upset the political and social systems in these states.19 The goal must be to make it clear that Western advocacy of respect for human rights is motivated in part by a concern for the predicament of individuals flowing from an appreciation of the intrinsic value of each human being; but it also derives from the conviction that deference to the aspirations of human rights movements is the best guarantee that accumulated problems will not one day explode, with incalculable risks for peace in Europe and throughout the world.

Is this all wishful thinking? We do not know. But there is some encouraging evidence suggesting that the CSCE process may have served as a constraint against extreme forms and extensive application of repression in the East. In addition, it has induced the authorities in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to institute practices which, while marginal from the Western point of view, nevertheless constitute some improvement of human conditions. Finally, as the British Foreign Secretary, Dr. David Owen, has rightly stressed, the first task of governments must be to "provide and sustain the framework of peace and security within which human rights can be discussed, championed and enlarged."20 Only if governments are successful in achieving this task will Western, and indeed Eurocommunist, opinion be able to affect internal developments in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Even so the effects can only be gradual and long-term.

Whether this approach is compatible with the requirements of winning the confidence of governments in the East remains to be seen. But at least we have the signatures of their leaders on a document that explicitly legitimizes this approach-the Final Act of the CSCE. To make the best possible use of that instrument to sustain the framework of peace and security in Europe is the challenge confronting all those governments meeting in Belgrade.


1 For a detailed and thoughtful analysis of recent developments in Poland, see Adam Bromke, "A New Juncture in Poland," in Problems of Communism, Vol. XXV, No. 5, September-October 1976.

2 For the text of the rather respectfully formulated petition, see Die Zeit (Hamburg), December 3, 1976.

3 See Y.V. Andropov's speech of April 22, 1976, on the occasion of the 106th anniversary of the birth of Lenin, Izvestia, April 23, 1976.

6 Cf. Pravda, January 24, 1976.

7 See also, Marshall D. Shulman, "On Learning to Live with Authoritarian Regimes," Foreign Affairs, January 1977, p. 325-339.

8 In the words of the American Secretary of State ". . . SALT is so important that it can and should stand on its own two feet . . . ." Transcript of a press conference held by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance in Moscow, March 27, 1977, United States Information Service, Stockholm.

9 Stanley Hoffmann, "Will the Balance Balance at Home?" Foreign Policy, No. 7, Summer 1972.

10 For a well-reasoned argument along these lines, see Marion Gräfin Dönhoff, "Weltpolitik mit Fanfarenstössen," Die Zeit, March 4, 1977.

11 George F. Kennan, "The Realities of Détente," International Herald Tribune, January 13, 1975.

12 Cf. Leonid Brezhnev's speech to the 16th Congress of Soviet Trade Unions, March 12, 1977; also Dr. Georgi Arbatov's remarks to Henry Brandon, reproduced in the latter's article, "Carter's rebel calls have upset the Kremlin more than he thinks," The Sunday Times (London), March 21, 1977.

13 See Fred Coleman's interview with Arbatov in Newsweek, March 21, 1977.

14 See Egon Bahr, "Vier Jahre Ostpolitik," Die Zeit (Hamburg), December 14, 1973.

15 See text of U.S.-Soviet communiqué issued March 31, 1977, in The New York Times, April 1, 1977.

16 See Arbatov's remarks to Henry Brandon, quoted in the latter's article from Moscow, The Sunday Times (London), March 21, 1977.

17 Henry Brandon quotes Roy Medvedev as saying: "It is too bad that Carter launched his foreign policy with a crusade in support of Soviet dissidents. If he had taken up our cause after he had achieved progress in, say, arms negotiations, he might have achieved better results." Henry Brandon, "Carter isn't helping us, says Soviet dissident," The Sunday Times (London), April 10, 1977.

18 See the President's interview with the four Europa newspapers, reproduced in The Times (London), May 3, 1977.

19 A recent pronouncement of President Carter should offer some reassurance to the East on that score. In connection with the American human rights effort he asserted: "We cannot change the structure of governments in foreign countries. We cannot demand complete compatibility in a system of government or even basic philosophies with our own, but we reserve the right to speak out freely and aggressively when we are concerned." Ibid.

20 See Dr. David Owen's speech before diplomatic writers in London, as quoted in Peter Jenkins' article "Delicate Balance," The Guardian Weekly, March 13, 1977.

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  • Karl E. Birnbaum, former Director and now Research Fellow of the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, is currently engaged on research on East-West relations. He is the co-editor of Beyond Détente: Prospects for East-West Cooperation and Security in Europe.
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