Can Putin Survive?
The Lessons of the Soviet Collapse
European leaders were pleased to start 1981 with a new American President and looked forward to steadier Atlantic relations rather than to a bumpy, unpredictable course with Jimmy Carter. Not that they agreed more with Ronald Reagan; they knew very little about him. But they had come to dislike and disdain Mr. Carter so much that it was assumed a change must be for the better, and Mr. Reagan's general projection of a newly vigorous, confident, purposeful America, after a disheartening decade, was most welcome.
By late in the year, however, the common theme on both sides of the political spectrum, and on both sides of the Atlantic, was that the Alliance had never been so gravely troubled and so uncertainly led. The tone of complaint was no longer familiar grumbles about disarray or lack of consultation, the cyclical quarrels and reconciliations which have been characteristic of the unusual bonds between Western Europe and the United States for nearly two generations. The direction was only down. Some people have even begun to question the value of a partnership established to correct the failures of the 1930s by establishing a joint security system in a world so enormously changed. The unthinkable-a rupture-was being thought.
As the gloom deepened, the usual calls for reviews of procedures, new mechanisms to strengthen policy planning and crisis management, faded away. It was as though people sensed there was too much danger in any kind of tinkering lest something collapse. Europe as a whole was called "semi-Gaullist," in the sense that President Charles de Gaulle sought to silhouette France against the United States. But those who looked back and judged that de Gaulle's maneuvers to identify France as a power between the United States and the Soviet Union were not only right but prophetic forgot how much he had done to prevent the consolidation of Europe. There still wasn't any European "pillar" to fit President Kennedy's image of a more equal Atlantic relationship, and less prospect than ever of a united European defense to reduce dependence on America's protection.
And, for much of the year, there was a discomfiting new vacuum. Soviet-American relations seemed to have vanished. There was neither confrontation nor exchange. There was rhetoric, at first conciliatory from President Leonid Brezhnev seeking a meeting with Mr. Reagan, then increasingly harsh as the year wore on. The U.S. policy toward Moscow was unclear and perhaps unsettled. There was no agenda, except a decision in the fall to start talks on intermediate-range Euromissiles at the end of November. Later, it was announced that the U.S. and Soviet Foreign Ministers would meet in January to see about launching new talks on long-range strategic weapons; SALT II had never been ratified and was losing relevance with time. The result would be crucial, since both sides had come to expect that no useful agreement could be hoped for on intermediate-range weapons except within the framework of limitations on the biggest missiles. Any dividing line between the two areas was necessarily arbitrary, controversial, and, in the end, probably unworkable, given the French and British nuclear arsenals. But beyond these first steps, there were no clear sign posts on what kind of East-West relations Washington was seeking, what it expected from the U.S.S.R. beyond not taking advantage of weak spots on the earth's political crust. There was no visible plan for developing new relations with Moscow, only denunciation of the way things had been going.
Some Administration members, though it was not known whether they were expressing their own views or reflecting considered policy, told Europeans privately that the vacuum was deliberate. Their thesis was that nothing could be achieved with the aging Brezhnev regime, and that nothing should be attempted for several years until the U.S. rearmament program had produced enough added force to back up Washington's words. Then, they maintained, some future Soviet regime might see that it must change its ways to get on in the world and shift attention to its frozen home front.
Late in the year, Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig, Jr. told a congressional committee that the United States sought "restraint and reciprocity" from Moscow. That was the first sign that Washington was beginning to think of proceeding with Soviet-American relations. But it wasn't spelled out and there were no specific areas outlined as possible subjects on which future diplomatic exchanges might be engaged.
Then suddenly, on November 18, President Reagan reversed the barometer. After a period of seemingly haphazard and sometimes contradictory U.S. public statements about the possibility of a limited nuclear war in Europe and whether there were plans for an atomic "demonstration blast" should war start, accompanied by a burgeoning European peace movement with mammoth demonstrations in several countries, Mr. Reagan made his first major foreign policy speech. He stressed America's dedication to peace and her desire for effective arms control. It was a few days before Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was to visit Bonn and little more than a week before the opening of the Soviet-American talks in Geneva on intermediate-range arms in Europe. Mr. Reagan announced that the United States would seek removal of all such land-based weapons, the "zero-option" which West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt had been urging as the negotiated alternative to deployment of 572 new U.S. missiles in Western Europe capable of reaching the Soviet Union.
Echoes of continuing argument within the American Administration left many in doubt whether this was just a speech, America entering the propaganda war as some called it, and an all-or-nothing offer meant to be rejected; or whether it was a policy envisaging renewal of dialogue with Moscow on a broad range of issues looking toward restarting détente. NATO chose to take Mr. Reagan at his word and was cheered. A speech can force creation of policy, even if it does not represent the climax of a period of thoughtful study and conclusion enriched with specific plans.
In any case, the speech and the offer did reflect Washington's acknowledgment of European distress at the way things had been drifting. Europeans simply could not accept the idea of just sitting out a few years with their backs turned to the Soviet Union. Public opinion had been putting rapidly mounting pressure on the leaders. The apparent policy freeze in Washington had added substantially to the strains in U.S.-European relations.
On December 13, the military coup in Poland added a new element. The West had been watching for so long to see whether or not there would be a direct takeover by the Red Army that it was unprepared to react to the use of Polish force against Poles. At first, many wished to believe assurances from the head of the new military junta, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, that he was only curbing extremists and that the process of "renewal" would continue in partnership with the Solidarity union as soon as "normalization" was achieved. Even the first Polish Pope, John Paul II, warned, above all, against the shedding of more Polish blood. Washington quickly understood the essential Soviet role in the decision to impose a strict order wiping out liberties won in 17 months of struggle in Poland. As more and more bits of information trickled West, the European governments also came to realize that the Polish attempt to liberalize communist society had been quashed. It was not easy to reach a joint Western decision on what to do about it, but the shock to public opinion brought a sharp change in the Western climate. Once again, the basic East-West differences in society and the basic attitudes common to the West and underlying its alliance were clearly visible. The pendulum shifted.
How long it would last and how suppression of the Polish workers would affect relations in the longer term depended on volatile developments. Nonetheless, the strains between Europe and America over the meaning and hopes of East-West détente were not simply washed away. Of course, they had not developed in a single year. Current perceptions of divergence on the core issue of security and survival tend to set the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979 as the marker. But there was a deeper tension. For the first time, the meaning of nuclear parity was sinking in. The argument about the possibility of a limited nuclear war in Europe revealed a basic, historic change in the world's strategic situation. Twice, the United States had watched war rage in Europe and finally decided to intervene. The North Atlantic Treaty was signed to settle that painful question before-hand. A European war would also be America's war, and that certainty had prevented fighting in Europe since 1945. Nuclear parity and modern missiles created a new question. Would an American war necessarily also be Europe's war, perhaps limited to Europe's soil?
Sober heads were convinced that the underlying reason for the Atlantic relationship had not changed despite a certain sense of Europe as a buffer between two global powers. Neither the United States nor Western Europe would be safe in a world where one couldn't rely on the other. They do share political and social values which they want to preserve and, despite malicious gibes, their systems permit cooperation and abhor domination. Though some people were thinking about the possibility of rupture, the very thought sent chills of dread in the hearts of leaders and the responsible public. The necessity of alliance and partnership remains.
If the atmosphere had so deteriorated, however, it was because these foundations found little expression during most of the year. The public discourse was focused on fears and threats. In Europe, the Reagan Administration's assertions of stoutheartedness and its images of danger to justify a vast but not clearly coherent military program seemed like bravura, the kind that could bumble into disaster. More missiles of all kinds, weapons as the tender of diplomacy, reluctance to engage the adversary in earnest negotiation, reverberated as an increased risk of war. That provoked the upsurge in neutralist and pacifist sentiment and a degree of anti-Americanism. The plan to deploy cruise and Pershing II missiles in Europe to counter Soviet SS-20s became the magnetic pole to attract and organize an outpouring of these feelings, with huge demonstrations in West Germany, Holland, Italy, Britain. The U.S. leadership was surprised and at first contemptuous. It had expected warm support from Europe for its new boldness; its concentration on communism as the source of all the world's evil led it to ascribe the reaction to outside agitation and a wobbly resolve. Washington answered with hints of a new "Mansfieldism," a threat to withdraw U.S. troops from Europe and by implication to leave the Europeans to fend for themselves.
Throughout the year, Administration officials, legislators and American commentators had been warning that if the American public perceived a lack of European interest in joint defense or too much divergence in judging and sharing the tasks of the Alliance, American public opinion would lose patience with supporting 300,000 men in Europe, mostly in the front line of possible attack. Sometimes this was expressed as a dangerous possibility which European leaders should help to avert. Sometimes, it sounded almost like a threat. On the one side neutralism, on the other unilateralism or even isolationism: the retorts provoked each other, never at the highest level but insistent enough to aggravate irritabilities.
The deepening recession was part of the darkening mood. A world depression had led to World War II. There is no logical link now between sagging economies and a threat to peace, but the unavowed memory was ominous. In any case, economic troubles turn countries inward and enhance nationalist tendencies which complicate foreign relations. There was no particular quarrel with President Reagan's economic program at first. Whether they believed in his methods or not, the Europeans hoped for a U.S. recovery to ease their own difficulties. But when Reagan's economics produced exorbitant interest rates, they were affected and complained bitterly. To fight inflation at home, the Reagan Administration severely curtailed the supply of credit, driving up its price. This attracted a flow of money from abroad to take advantage of high U.S. interest rates and forced a relative devaluation of European currencies as the dollar floated upward. Europeans had complained about President Carter's "benign neglect" of the dollar, but President Reagan's over-muscular dollar hurt even more and they began to talk of a "third oil shock," the added cost of paying fuel bills in expensive dollars. Then, toward the end of the year when it became increasingly evident that Reaganomics wasn't going to deliver renewed prosperity soon-the social cost for Americans had never been a European concern-the worries grew.
The dollar, the American economy, has been an immediate European problem since World War II. In the 1950s, it was said that "when the U.S. economy sneezes, Europe catches pneumonia." Successive U.S. governments have insisted on their sovereign right to run the economy as they think best. But it adds to Europe's sense of impotence, and resentment, when changes of policy it cannot influence aggravate its own less than satisfying attempts at economic management. This has been particularly true since the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system in 1971 and the volatility it introduced in currencies. At the end of World War II when the dollar reigned alone, the United States and its friends had established an international monetary system intended to prevent the rival devaluations, blockages and uncertainties which had deepened the Great Depression in the 1930s and had been factors leading to war. It was based on full convertibility of the dollar firmly pegged to gold at $35 an ounce. Inflation, fueled by the American refusal to take account of the economic drain of the Vietnam War, and Europe's economic revival and trade, led to continuing U.S. balance-of-payments deficits. President Nixon loosened and then cut the dollar's tie to gold, allowing it to move with the market's forces and permitting broad fluctuations in exchange rates. From time to time, pleas were advanced for establishment of a new, more orderly and predictable system. But it has never been possible to agree on more than temporary patchwork.
On top of all this, there was the irritating spectacle of public backbiting, feuding and contradictions in Washington. Not that the same things do not happen in other capitals, but the size of the issues was so much greater. When American Cabinet members toss brickbats at each other, they're talking about war and peace. President Reagan had met all the major European leaders by the end of the year and the personal chemistry was fine, but he had yet to cross the Atlantic. There had been none of the abrasion that marked President Carter's encounters. But nothing much came of the meetings either. Mr. Reagan listened, smiled a lot, repeated his message on the advantages of private enterprise and his determination not to be pushed around by Russians, and went his own way, apparently unmoved. Gradually, Europeans wondered what role he actually played in his Administration, indeed, whether he was even running his own government.
The result of all this was a mounting sense that the Western world was running out of control, that the levers were disconnected. That queasy feeling was more responsible for the strains between Europe and the United States than any decision or pronouncement. It made people feel that they must do something to catch hold or get out of the way. But they didn't know quite what. The trouble was that the European countries were in no better control, together or, many of them, domestically. And there were no international leaders admired and trusted beyond their borders as giants able to bear the woeful world and to guide it.
The sense of community was draining out of the European Economic Community. It was surviving, but, as one ardently supportive senior diplomat observed, its primary impact had become its "negative value," that is, as a bulwark against pressures for even greater protectionism and for national advantage among the member states. For market reasons, the feared deadline when financial resources and budget demands would produce an absolute deficit did not arrive in 1980. But no one doubted that the crisis would soon come, and nothing was being done to avert it. The two major issues were the Common Agricultural Policy, now generally admitted to be an unmanageable deformation of economic sense, and financial obligations which have grossly overburdened West Germany and Britain without the balancing sense of redistribution to overall communal advantage which makes such inequities tolerable in a federal system. Britain's The Economist summed up the situation after the year's last Common Market summit failed to budge any of the disputes. Its cover showed Britain's Thatcher, West Germany's Schmidt and France's Mitterrand holding their heads in various gestures of distress under the title, "Why Did We Ever Invent the EEC?"
The three largest members were following domestic economic and social policies bound to widen the gaps. At one extreme, Britain stuck to controlling the money supply and deflation while unemployment rose to postwar records. At the other, France focused on employment and social change, sharply raising government spending and leaning on business to break what its socialist theoreticians called the "the power of money" in society. France's future interest in the Community, these ideologists said, depended on whether it can be converted into a "social space" with a dominant concern for workers' rights and welfare, or would remain what they consider a protectorate of multinational capital. West Germany was somewhere in between, no longer the model of economic success, moderately in trouble, trying moderate solutions, but scarcely less politically exacerbated. Meanwhile, some smaller countries added pique to the gloom. Greece's new Socialist Premier Andreas Papandreou seemed intent on taking over the familiar role of spoiler, once played in turn by France and Britain, threatening a referendum on continuing membership but apparently seeking leverage to extract more benefits. France maintained its opposition to early membership for Spain, mainly to keep out competitive foodstuffs, and sharpened the divisive effect by offering extra support for Portugal to join ahead of Spain. Most governments were weak, or almost nonexistent (Belgium and Denmark, for example), more than ever concerned with local troubles at the expense of a broader vision.
The most secure European leader turned out to be one of the newest, France's François Mitterrand. With his election on May 10, the Fifth Republic turned out Charles de Gaulle's heirs and installed the Left opposition for the first time. New parliamentary elections gave Mitterrand's Socialists a solid majority. He took his fractious Communist allies into the government, but was not dependent on them. With the next legislative election not due until 1986, and the presidential election scheduled for 1988, the French government was free of political risk.
Nonetheless, the initial euphoria of change and proof that the constitution could survive a transfer of power gave way to unease as France waited to see what kind of socialism the new rulers had in mind. The promised quick reversal of economic decline did not materialize. Both unemployment and inflation continued to grow. Some of Mr. Mitterrand's associates began to blame the failure of their formulas on "sabotage" by "the power of money," the business community which had largely supported and benefited from previous governments. They spoke alarmingly of the "ancien régime" as though they really intended to overturn society abruptly and irreversibly. The climate did nothing to encourage investment in the private sector, and that reticence brought threats of further radicalization. The public sector, enlarged by nationalization of the 11 biggest firms and all remaining private banks, did not revive a sense that good times were on the way.
Although there was nothing like the open display of dispute that characterized Washington, there was a tug-of-war between the theorists of socialism and the pragmatists on Mr. Mitterrand's assorted team. That added to uncertainties. Conflicting economic policies frayed the close partnership with West Germany, and there was no replacement by some other special intimacy in Europe. Despite ideological differences, a tougher French position toward the Soviets warmed relations with America on East-West issues. But that was somewhat offset by the clash between Washington and Paris on North-South problems, with the French advancing their championship of the Third World, including elements such as the Salvadoran insurgents whom the Reagan Administration considered Soviet-backed proxies. Altogether, the stability of her government did not translate into an expectation of enhanced solidity for France.
In West Germany, prospects for political smooth sailing after Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's handy reelection in 1980 drained away rapidly and his hold on power came to look fragile. About a third of his Social Democratic Party (SPD) moved well to his left, and part of the Free Democratic Party, his minor but essential coalition partners, began to grumble and think of switching sides.
A new mood, impossible to measure and hard to define, was swelling in the Federal Republic. Some called it left-wing nationalism, others called it anti-politics, the search for an "alternative," which was the name chosen by a group which did surprisingly well in West Berlin elections and took enough votes from the Socialists to install a Christian Democratic mayor in that old SPD stronghold. Without a change of leadership, West Germany was also changing climate. A book by Peter Bender, called The Europeanization of Europe, became the bible of the discontent. Its advocates said it meant that people in both Eastern and Western Europe want to get rid of their superpowers and make their own new way of life. The churches, the Left, the environmentalists, and the simply uneasy contributed to a fuzzy movement without a program but with a conviction that something was profoundly wrong and something should be done about it. Their language was reminiscent of the counterculture movement of 1968, and they provoked some of the same reaction from stolid burghers. But the lines were vague and the direction unclear.
In this atmosphere, but not essentially because of it, Chancellor Schmidt incarnated West Germany's new role as a major political as well as economic power. That is likely to be the most important and long-range European development of the year with effects far beyond the horizon. The milestone was Mr. Brezhnev's visit to Bonn. Mr. Schmidt cast himself as "interpreter" between Moscow and Washington, to help the two superpowers renew a dialogue and get back to the effort of controlling arms. Mr. Brezhnev called West Germany "a partner for peace" and spoke of common sufferings in World War II without a hint of the old Russian fear and suspicion of Germans. Mr. Schmidt made clear that although he was eager for renewal of general détente, there could be no question about West Germany's firm anchorage in NATO and its special ties with the United States. Still, the striking advance of West German-Soviet reconciliation and the unknown implications for West German-East German relations echoed distant rumblings which might or might not signal an earthquake in Europe's political terrain well after both leaders have gone from the scene. The partition of Germany was fixed in the 1975 Helsinki accord, but even the stars move.
The apparent paradox of Mr. Schmidt's attempt to preempt the political stage, while his very hold on power was being undermined by a stridently hostile left-wing faction of his SPD and a swelling peace movement, did not really change the meaning of Germany's evolution. The opposition Christian Democrats are more solidly pro-NATO, but in power they would face an even stronger critique of their foreign policy and perhaps more temptation to indulge the nationalist sentiments of much of the discontent. The CDU has shown no real unhappiness with the new German-Soviet relationship, and should not be expected to reverse the underlying trend.
The problem of national identity and significance in the world of powers remains profound for West Germans, and probably for East Germans, too, though they have little chance for self-expression. Even Mr. Schmidt's harshest critics welcome the fact that when "he talks to the big ones of the world, it makes us somebody again." France has begun to feel uneasy, and that must be read as the basic purpose of her attempt to revive the moribund Western European Union as a forum in which to discuss "European defense solidarity." This time, however, it is not to draw Germany away from its American ties but rather to anchor it more firmly. As the conservative commentator Alfred Fabre-Luce said in December, France has shifted from fear of German revanchism to fear of German neutralism.
Britain, too, passed a milestone on an uncertain road. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's version of monetarism and old-style conservative economics, launched two years ahead of Mr. Reagan's economic program, was also well ahead with bad results. Industrial production was down to the level of 1975, unemployment continued rising at 11.4 percent in November compared to 8.4 percent in 1980, and the advertised beginning of recovery was yet to be seen. The Tories were restive, the public impatient with what no longer looked like a new idea worth a try. The opposition Labour Party mirrored the move toward ideological fundamentalism. The Labour Party conference rejected the leadership bid of moderate Denis Healey in favor of the Left's candidate, Michael Foot. The choice reflected the growing power of the constituency apparatus, dominated by the ideological Left and ever more assertive in its demand for controls, over the traditional leadership of Labour's parliamentary bloc with its greater sensitivity to the broad sweep of public sentiment. Even Mr. Foot, recognizing the electorate's distaste for so much radicalism, later moved away from the most adamant leftists and managed to block Anthony Benn's attempt to become Deputy Leader.
The widening gap between Right and Left, in the homeland of restraint and civility, made way for a new Social Democratic Party. Its leaders, breakaways from Labour, made an alliance with the tattered Liberals in the belief that the electorate was predominantly Center-Left. The response in by-elections was phenomenal, and the British political landscape was thoroughly jarred. Compared to France and Germany, that created a modest uncertainty which had no international repercussions. But, eventually, it could force changed assumptions about Britain's sturdy support for current U.S. policies and its ineffective role in the European Community, which Mrs. Thatcher seemed to see as a greedy gang to be held at bay. The three parties offered three truly divergent choices for Britain, both domestically and internationally.
But the rise of the newborn Social Democrats presented at least the chance of a moderate solution in a few years. The Social Democrats, whose Shirley Williams won triumphantly in the Crosby suburb of Liverpool, showing the new party could draw from Tory voters as effectively as from Labourites, stood firmly for the Common Market and NATO. Their goal of becoming the swing force with their Liberal allies in the next general election, preventing either a Conservative or Labour majority, no longer seemed implausible. Both traditional parties were bound to be deeply affected, though neither was yet able to absorb the conclusions and translate them into changed positions. Mrs. Thatcher has until early 1984 to call elections. But it seemed unlikely that either major party could sufficiently change by then to squelch the new party's threat.
Other countries in northern Europe, in their cooler way, were equally bedeviled in kicking the shins of those in power. Belgium was the worst case, with Europe's highest unemployment (12 percent), an ominously mounting debt, and still almost total political paralysis from its language feud. No longer were Belgium or the other small countries providing the brilliant spokesmen free to voice the larger concerns of Europe from a limited but sturdy podium. Domestic squabbles kept rending coalitions, and internal affairs devoured all energies.
The Netherlands consumed governments like herrings, though the diagnosis of "Hollanditis" did give it some international impact. That referred not so much to instability of leadership as to protest movements in the name of moralizing the country and the world. Two neutralist slogans, quoted by veteran diplomat and businessman Ernst van der Beugel, were so similar to prewar Dutch themes that he wondered whether Holland's participation in the Alliance was just one generation's aberration from an old tradition. "I fear the worst," he said in a speech. Another slogan was unique, and uniquely armored against logic. But it echoed among West Germans usually resistant to the pleasure of paradox. It called for "neutralization within NATO," and whatever that meant was meant seriously. Holland's natural gas kept the economy afloat, the currency strong, and inflation low. But the country is totally dependent on trade (89 percent of gross national product compared to 43 percent in Germany, 31 percent in France and 16 percent in the United States). Huge social expenditures are coming to be recognized as substantially beyond its productive means.
Italy remained engulfed in its own cheerful disorder, with almost no impact on larger European or Atlantic affairs. Even the Euromissile issue provoked relatively little fuss, although acceptance of cruise missiles to be based in Sicily was an important matter for the Alliance. West Germany's condition for deployment from the start, apart from an effort at negotiations, was that at least one other continental country serve as a base. Belgium and Holland remained uncertain candidates, so Italy could be decisive. But international affairs attracted little attention there and the rest of Europe paid little attention to Italy, a grave concern just a few years ago when its society seemed to be disintegrating.
For the first time since the war, a premier who was not a Christian Democrat took office. He was the small Republican Party's Giovanni Spadolini, an amiable man who made the breakthrough seem painless and therefore not a drastic change. There were still no clear signs whether the new coalition heralded a more durable equilibrium in place of the now traditional musical chairs system of changing governments, whether the Christian Democrats would be able to use a period of diminished responsibility to achieve their long promised internal renewal, whether Italian politics were really evolving or continuing their rhythm of minor variations on a single theme.
Spain had a far more dramatic and worrisome year. An attempted putsch on February 23 explosively disclosed the intensity of nostalgia among parts of the army and the Franco loyalists in business and high society. It failed because of prompt and clear action by King Juan Carlos, whose determination to maintain democratic structures was evidently underestimated by the Right. (His Queen, Sofia, is the sister of ex-King Constantine of Greece and whether his conviction stemmed from character or from the negative example of how his brother-in-law lost a throne was problematical. It was probably both.) His guidance eased but by no means dispelled the difficulties Spain was having in establishing the habit of democracy, and Spaniards themselves did not take the future of the regime for certain. Terrorism, aimed largely at the army and the police, and its impulse, regionalism, which the military considered a threat to national unity, were the main reasons advanced for their challenges to the new system. But underneath, there was a tangible resistance by the old elite and its beneficiaries to change and liberalism, for them equivalent to disorder.
The Union of the Democratic Center, an amalgam put together for the first parliamentary elections in 1977, remained in power with a new Premier, Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo, but it was crumbling. Political tolerance and cooperation are not easy to install at any time, and a period of recession adds obstacles. The Spanish conservatives were losing their cohesion. But so were the Communists, who won only nine percent in their national debut, and they, too, had a series of internal quarrels threatening a split. Common expectation was that the Socialists will come to power in the next election, a prospect that the military traditionalists find "unacceptable."
Repeated plots were bruited about to prevent any such thing. Socialist leader Felipe Gonzalez, young and handsomely reassuring, is a confirmed social-democrat but none could be sure how his untried party would manage to govern. He had told some people that he felt obliged to oppose Spain's entry into NATO, but would be glad enough to have the issue out of the way before assuming responsibility. Gradually, however, his public opposition stiffened, and he said the Socialists would resubmit any ratified decision to a popular referendum when they take charge.
The major importance of Spain's joining the Atlantic Alliance, incomplete but on the way at the end of the year, was more domestic than international. The Spanish-American treaty already provided the military requirements in terms of Europe's defense needs. But the Spanish army has had little to do beyond dominating politics since the Civil War, and it was adjusting poorly to the loss of the old role without acquiring a new one. Absorption in Alliance machinery, new tasks justifying new organization and promotion lists, could help it move into the more normal position of a defense establishment under civilian controls, and everyday involvement of its officers with allies who take democracy for granted could shift attitudes. It was important for Western Europe, too, that Spain's emergence from its long isolation prove stable and politically sympathetic. The effect of Spain's civil war and its dictatorship had not been forgotten.
The other Spanish effort to rejoin the Continent, membership in the European Economic Community, was not going well. Its fruits and vegetables were seen as devastating potential competition in France and indirectly in Italy. Common Market political support for the new Spain was not strong enough to override national economic lobbies and extend an early welcome to Madrid, a source of resentment on the peninsula since stalling also affected Portugal.
Still, though threats to stability were greater than anywhere in Europe, Spain deserved a judgment of cautious optimism. Despite the stereotype of hot blood and volatility, its people had calmly gone a long way in a short time along the most difficult road for any society-establishment of orderly freedom after revolution, war and dictatorship. Though participants in the Civil War were dying out, there is such a thing as social memory and social education to the folly of fratricide. The loyalty of the King to the parliamentary regime and the steadfast refusal of the great majority of people to be diverted from a democratic goal remained dominant.
The position of Greece in Europe was almost the obverse of Spain's. It did join the European Community, and its military ties with NATO were reestablished after a long sulk to protest what Athens considered better treatment of Turkey. Then, in the fall, the conservative government established after military rule had collapsed in 1974 was ousted by Andreas Papandreou's Socialists.
The election was as spectacular as Mr. Mitterrand's in France and posed even more questions. Premier Papandreou withheld his most far-reaching campaign threats on taking office. But he announced that the United States would be required to remove its nuclear weapons from Greek territory, a unilateral step aimed at establishing a future Balkan nuclear-free zone; negotiations would be sought for the removal of U.S. bases; the new military agreement with NATO would be reviewed; and the Common Market would be asked to give Greece a special, preferential status.
As though to demonstrate that Greece had no intention of playing the docile newcomer to the Community, Mr. Papandreou imposed a veto on the plan for the Ten to endorse the dispatch of British, French, Italian and Dutch troops for the multinational force to separate Israel and Egypt in the Sinai. There were even greater problems involving the force, primarily between Britain and Israel, and Greece couldn't veto national decisions; but Athens' recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and its readiness to challenge a political move by its nine European partners, added to the signs of an activist foreign policy by the new Greek government.
Mr. Papandreou went a step further at the NATO Defense Minister's Council (he is also Defense Minister) and, for the first time in Alliance history, prevented the issuing of a communiqué by demanding an expression of guarantees for Greece that was unacceptable to Turkey. The U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense held meetings with him, which he called "sympathetic," but they obviously made no promises and nobody knew how far Mr. Papandreou's ploy was serious threat and how much was bluff.
To what extent the Greek government was now going to be anti-American was a matter of how to measure, but it was clearly going to be anti-Turk. Nationalism had been as important in the campaign as socialism. One reason given by Mr. Papandreou for his dissatisfaction with NATO was that it failed to guarantee Greece's border with Turkey, presumably including disputed Aegean air and sea space. The "southern flank," as Greece and Turkey are designated in NATO jargon, was in for more trouble.
Turkey was relatively quiet, compared to the murderous period of gang warfare between Left and Right which had brought the military to depose civilian government once again. But the promised return of power to the politicians kept receding. The Generals were finding that trying to run a government as well as an army accumulated the same intransigent problems which had frustrated them before. Violence was repressed, but Turkey's troubles were no nearer solution. Moreover, West European opinion was stirring against prolonged military rule, and warnings multiplied that apparently unequivocal U.S. support for the junta was provoking the same kind of anti-American resentment within Turkey as support for the Colonels had produced during their seven-year reign in Greece.
But Washington was determined to think strategically, brushing aside issues of democracy and political prisoners. That showed in the establishment of a new U.S.-Turkish joint defense board and a request for a large increase in military aid to Turkey in current and future U.S. budgets. It was the familiar dilemma, most dramatically exposed in Iran in recent years, between current U.S. global concerns and longer term appreciation of popular feelings. Turkish journalists returning from the United States told Swedish Social Democrat Pierre Schori, with evident disgust, that Americans argued to them, "In Europe, your religion is democracy. Ours is stability." Because of continued turmoil in Iran and lack of progress in resolving Middle East tensions, Turkey's strategic importance had been much enhanced. But that acknowledgment from Washington could in no way guarantee stability, and its approach could actually help undermine it.
Altogether, the pattern of political change showed that neither the "red tide" proclaimed in the mid-1970s, nor the conservative tide announced a few years later, had been the real trend. Rather, it was the "outs" overtaking the "ins," even in Scandinavia with its habit of generations of social democracy. It has been a time of rejection, of fitful trial and error, of waning confidence both in familiar national authority and in the mighty directors of the world. Uncertainties were pronounced with vehemence, but that made them no more steadying.
The European Community continued to hover like a lightning bug, real, visible, but unable to set a direction. Jean Monnet's initial idea that the small countries would work together to offset divisive national demands of the larger ones wasn't working. To the extent they looked to Europe, each sought its own specific advantage. Lowered expenditures postponed the absolute budget crisis, but none of the urgent reforms was made and the next foreign ministers' meeting, the next summit, was adjured to tackle them. The directly elected European Parliament, expected to provide fresh and more popular momentum, turned out to be no better at mobilizing energies than its predecessor. The cry of impending disaster has been heard too often to make it credible that the Community is really going to fall apart. But neither is it moving in a way that could elicit hope and enthusiasm, so that "Europe" cannot satisfy the yearning for a reassurance which is missing on both the lesser and the grander scale.
It is true that governments in the Community further developed the custom of political consultation and a search for consensus in foreign policy. That is often noted as a countersign to the massive evidence of immobilism in its own affair of "building Europe." Its members have achieved a certain coherence which gives shape and weight to their views in the rest of the world. But this applies only to external issues, usually declaratory, such as a United Nations vote or a patently sterile "initiative" telling the Middle East what it ought to do to resolve its problems. The new Commission President, Gaston Thorn, derided the idea that the Community can generate effectiveness by agreeing on statements to be made to the outside world and avoiding decisions.
Eastern Europe looked no more firmly established in its mold nor more predictable. The Soviet Union, indeed, remained remarkably congealed, with no change in leadership, no noticeable change in the mysterious relation of forces in the Kremlin, or in policy. Leonid Brezhnev passed his 75th birthday, obviously ill, with his puffy face and his wooden walk, but still apparently very much in charge. His long unmoving rule, evidently based on a delicate balance of rival pressures, only intensified the question of what will happen when the battle for succession breaks into the open. There was no visible preparation for handing on power, and therefore no hint of whether the long containment of ambitions will explode with ferocity or just continue containing itself for fear of an explosion. It is known that there are groups, at least in the middle leadership, who are worried about the lack of any notions of reform and structural modernization, particularly in agriculture. They complain, privately, that 64 years after the revolution, the Soviet superpower is less able than ever to feed itself. Brezhnev aired some of these concerns himself in a speech to the Central Committee, noting the failings of Soviet agriculture and admitting they can no longer be blamed on bad luck and bad weather alone. But what all this might presage is sheerest guesswork.
Meanwhile, the Soviet leader continued to show keen interest in renewing exchanges with the United States and in meeting President Reagan, although in harsher, less inviting terms than early in the year. West German officials said that a comparison of transcripts showed Mr. Brezhnev using the same angry, impatient phrases in private conversation about Mr. Reagan in the second half of 1981 that he had used about President Carter in 1980.
The problem of food supplies had become general throughout the Eastern bloc, with Hungary and Bulgaria the relative successes. Bread, sugar and oil rationing had to be imposed in Romania, and there were reports that its dynastic ruler Nicolae Ceausescu was stoned during visits to mining areas. Before the Polish crisis came to a climax and while peace demonstrations were sprouting all over Western Europe, the Romanian leadership organized a huge, unusual anti-nuclear march of its own in Bucharest. The illusion of making common cause with Western protestors did not last long, however. After the Polish coup, lines were more tightly drawn again. Czechoslovakia was in a state of tangible decline. A flourishing black market became crucial to reasonable distribution in the cities. A leader was reported to have declared sarcastically that border signs should read: "Welcome to Czechoslovakia, an industrial museum." Apocryphal or not, the point was confirmed in aging factories and drooping productivity. East Germany remained the most effective economy. But it depended on the enormous advantages of its large trade with West Germany and the special arrangements which give it almost equal access to the Common Market, without any of the responsibilities of membership.
It was lack of food and overall economic wastage which provoked the Polish crisis in the summer of 1980. The spontaneous creation of the union, Solidarity, which amassed a membership of ten million almost overnight, totally changed the situation in Poland and sent muted but piercing signals through the bloc. The ruling Communist Party, bewildered and yet aware that new attempts at repression against such massive resistance could only bring disaster, temporized and seesawed. It was never ready to accept what at first were modest Solidarity demands. But, as it conceded one after the other under threat of total national paralysis, the workers' disgust and audacity mounted. In December of 1980, Soviet troops mobilized ominously. The Poles refused to be cowed. It was the Russians who backed down, though we may never know whether they were really on the brink of direct occupation as in Afghanistan in 1979 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 or had only hoped to intimidate.
Through most of 1981, the question of Soviet intentions toward Poland remained perilously unclear. It seemed that Moscow had finally decided to let Poland stew in its own juice until its people grew tired of defiance, but no one could be sure. In any event, Moscow appeared to welcome the continued flow of Western aid and credit which kept Poland limping on its tightrope and made no objection when Poland, following Hungary by special Comecon agreement, applied to join the International Monetary Fund with all the openings to the West which that implies.
Arguments, strikes, negotiations, and further deterioration of the economy went on all year. After an inconclusive Party Congress in July, which had been anticipated with excitement as the moment when renewal and reform would be launched, the new First Secretary, Stanislaw Kania, was ousted and replaced by his Premier and Defense Minister, Wojciech Jaruzelski. The resort to an army leader reflected how far the Party's authority had collapsed. A strange triad of Party (government), Union and Church (the revered Cardinal Wyszynski died and was replaced by the relatively unknown Monsignor Joseph Glemp) emerged at the head of the nation, though how far they could be said to rule was something else. No governing communist party had ever submitted to such a division of control; no communist country had ever lived under such peculiar conditions of individual freedom (secured quite simply by assertion) and national constraint (secured by geography).
It came to an end on December 13. There were massive arrests, including almost all the Solidarity leadership conveniently gathered in a meeting hall in Gdansk, and proclamation of martial law with suspension of all civil rights. The security police, never dismantled though scarcely functioning during the period of struggle, and the army took control. Reportedly, General Jaruzelski, who was already First Secretary, Prime Minister and Defense Minister, had received an ultimatum that the Soviet armed forces would move if the Poles did not. The traditional nationalism of the army at first gave an ambiguous aura to the new Military Council of National Salvation which he established. It was the first time that military authority had been erected above Communist Party authority in a communist-ruled country. But, gradually, resistance developed, and it appeared that the old communist structures were to be reestablished, with some changes of personnel. The regime announced ominously that it "would not retreat because it had nowhere to retreat to," and that was blazingly clear. The Union was decapitated and could not conceivably become a willing partner in reviving the economy. The Church, at first hesitant before what seemed a danger of civil war, slid back into its millennial role of embodying Poland's national aspirations and seemed to be taking the long view. The people mourned, mostly in silence, here and there in desperate anger which could still ignite violence.
In the circumstances, any hope of economic recovery appeared to recede further and further. Jaruzelski's base, perhaps even in the army, was precarious, and overt Soviet action remained an imminent threat. There was little likelihood that Western state and private banks would continue to pour funds down a Polish drain which had already consumed $27 billion in debt. But the idea of proclaiming default was equally unsettling. In any case, Poland probably marked a watershed in East-West economic relations, bringing a more severe look at other hopeless debtors, such as Czechoslovakia and Romania, and setting a long-term caveat against more loans to state-run economies with so little prospect of repayment. Ironically, the Soviet Union was in a better position because of its high-priced oil and gas exports. But it presumably would have to bear much more of the burden of sustaining production in Poland, and it was unclear to what extent Moscow might accept some responsibility for Polish debts in order to protect its own and Soviet-bloc credit.
The most profound blow was to hopes, both East and West, that somehow gradual reform of communist societies could develop to ease their cumulative pressures. Italy's Communist leader Enrico Berlinguer spoke out most explicitly, saying it was no longer possible to look to the East. Uncertainties about just what was happening in Poland, with internal as well as foreign communications cut, and what the end of the crisis would bring made it difficult to draw the likely historical consequences. But it was already clear that they would have the greatest importance to the future of the whole communist movement and to the search for East-West equilibrium.
The outlook is uncertain and dangerous on both sides of Europe. But alarm bells are ringing loudly in the West now, and that may be the most encouraging sign. There is a wide understanding, developed over the year, that the trouble isn't a grippe best left to cure itself. Thoughtful people were beginning to reexamine basics and look for new policy proposals. My own view is not that policy has many different ways, but that the facts of the world have changed and the ideas which served so well in the postwar period have to be adapted to new circumstances.
First, because it is the focus of dissension and the source of greatest fear, is defense policy. NATO doctrine has relied on nuclear superiority to balance conventional weakness and thus to deter war. It worked very well. But there is no longer nuclear superiority. The atomic arsenal has changed its meaning. It no longer guarantees security but it could bring about apocalypse. Enlarging it adds no defense that couldn't be far better achieved by mutual reductions. Instead of being well equipped for a quick response to a massive Soviet attack, what the Alliance now needs is assurance of time to expose the adversary to weaknesses behind its own lines and force it to share in the awesome decisions of escalation. That means serious new attention to conventional defense. Europeans who have always resisted the cost may think differently when they realize it would downgrade the nuclear substitute and raise the nuclear threshold. France's François de Rose has suggested a new integrated doctrine that would not only permit sharp reduction of atomic weaponry in Europe (and, in truth, in the United States as well) but remove the dread obligation of having to initiate a nuclear exchange or accept defeat. Doctrine revised to actual circumstance could provide a coherent, and therefore credible, arms procurement and manpower policy, now lacking.
The Europeans have become set in the habit of objecting when the United States has failed to set an Alliance line and objecting when it insisted on compliance. They greatly underestimate the influence they could have in Washington if they made constructive proposals to the common benefit. President Reagan's acceptance not only of Euromissile negotiations, but his offer to negotiate on the whole nuclear spectrum showed they can help shape U.S. policy.
Second, if the approach to the Middle East cannot be better harmonized, at least it could be less frenetic and impulsive. The United States needs to be more attentive to the political issues and less fascinated by arms supplies as the way to soothe worried or irritable clients. Max Kohnstamm, former aide to Jean Monnet, has proposed that life problems in all of Palestine and surrounding areas-water, food, energy supplies-should be the way to engage Palestinians and Israelis in talks. This was tried and it failed several times in the past, but the Middle East has changed too. The Europeans haven't really drawn any advantage, or made any contribution, with declamations. They could be more supportive of Egypt, which has made peace, and more cooperative with the United States in developing practical policies.
Third, decolonization is over but nonindustrial countries remain vital as markets and suppliers to the industrial states, and especially to Europe. The new countries' politics are varied and unpredictable. That shouldn't get in the way of a fruitful development and trading partnership. Europe will insist on it, and the United States will lose both in terms of strains with the allies and opportunities in the North-South relationship if it tries to impose political or economic conditions based on ideological preference.
Fourth, a decade after the collapse of Bretton Woods, there is still no adequate world currency system. The tremendous multiplication of trade makes reliability of exchange far more necessary, and without it the surge of investment essential to development will be hampered and distorted. Cooperative economics is as essential to the U.S.-European alliance now as the Marshall Plan was to the success of NATO.
Fifth, U.S.-Soviet relations have gone awry and cannot be mended either by reverting to the cold war or pretending détente didn't stumble. This is primordial to the U.S.-European connection. A sense of timing has been vital. The new U.S. Administration sought a recess while America rearmed and considered its possibilities. That was a dubious idea, not only because Western Europe can't wait. There is no way at all to foresee the tilt in Kremlin policies after Brezhnev. But it seems obvious that while Brezhnev has the power to negotiate with the United States and to accept mutual restraints, once he goes his successors will be preoccupied for some years with their own struggle for power and scarcely in a position to make any concessions. They could be tempted, for internal reasons, to be more adventurous.
The problem of dealing with the Soviets was the reason for the Western alliance in the first place. Comfortable coexistence, without danger, is not yet possible but confrontation can no longer be envisaged. Together, the United States and Europe need to reconsider an overall policy toward Moscow, what they can reasonably expect from the Soviets, and what they are prepared to contribute to put the inevitable rivalry on a basis of least possible risk and the best prospects for lowered tension.