In the memory of the American public, three events, or sets of events, stood out in 1983. The first was the September 1 shooting down, by a Soviet fighter, of a Korean Air Lines flight that had strayed into Soviet air space and was carrying 269 civilian passengers, including 61 Americans; in the aftermath, favorable American opinion toward the Soviet Union dropped to a 27-year low, and the incident aborted what had been brief hopes for better communication between Washington and Moscow and some progress at least on minor issues.

Then, in late October, disaster and triumph came hand in hand. On October 23 a terrorist truck-bomb destroyed the headquarters of the U.S. Marine contingent at the Beirut airport, claiming the lives of 241 Marines. It was the very weekend when the President and his advisers were deciding on the occupation two days later of the small island of Grenada in the Caribbean. First called an invasion but later styled a rescue mission, the occupation was a complete military success, relieving fears that several hundred American medical students in Grenada might have been taken hostage by what loomed as an extreme Marxist military leadership. Although criticized abroad, it won the quick and strong approval of the American public, partly because the Administration's reasons for acting appeared to be borne out by subsequent evidence and partly because the action hit a particularly vivid chord in the national memory-that the United States should not again experience anything resembling the 1979-80 hostage crisis in Iran, and especially at the hands of Cuba-backed communists.

And then, on November 22, the West German parliament gave its final approval to the initial deployment of intermediate-range U.S. missiles (INF) in Germany, and the Soviet Union at once responded by breaking off the Geneva INF negotiations-followed shortly by refusal to set resumption dates for the strategic arms talks (START) and those on European force reductions (MBFR). Whether and how arms control negotiations could be renewed was wholly uncertain by the end of the year, and the state of relations, particularly of communication, between the two superpowers was at a longtime low.

The Grenada occupation and NATO's ability to carry through the initial INF deployments in the face of determined Soviet pressure on Europe were, at least in domestic political terms, clear successes for President Reagan. By December, his poll ratings both for overall performance and for the handling of foreign policy had recovered from the trough of 1982 and much of 1983 and were back at the honeymoon levels of late 1981. An enormous assist to the President's standing was the U.S. economic recovery of 1983, which exceeded the projections of Administration and other economists (though not those of the President himself), with an estimated 3.4 percent growth rate for the year and an inflation rate that had dropped below four percent. As columnist Joseph Kraft put it, "Ronald Reagan has made the country feel good about itself."1

For the Administration, there was thus a large bright side to the picture of the year. On the other hand, the same polls showed a new degree of public worry about the dangers of U.S. involvement in war; with economic anxiety declining, foreign policy had emerged-as it rarely does-as the foremost single concern.2 This was centered primarily on the Middle East, where the mission and usefulness of the Marines-approved in September by the Congress with a generous 18-month time limit-were increasingly questioned both by Congress and the public, and where a series of incidents between U.S. and Syrian forces (including the shooting down of two U.S. aircraft and subsequent bombardments by the battleship New Jersey) suggested a situation that might get out of control and even involve Syria's Soviet backers.

After a long series of difficulties with Israel under Menachem Begin, the Administration moved in November to tidy the relationship through a new agreement on "strategic cooperation" with his successor, Yitzhak Shamir, but this remained vague (and in Arab eyes disturbing), and by the end of the year there was another sharp disagreement with Israel over Yassir Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization, with Arafat once again driven out of Lebanon, this time by Syrian-backed PLO rebels. Whatever hopes there might be for a renewal of negotiations on the Palestinian issue seemed secondary to the growing likelihood that Lebanon itself would become either chaotic or dominated by Syria-or perhaps both-and that there was little that the United States or Israel could do to prevent this. The ultimate specter of a sixth Arab-Israel war-this time between Syria and Israel-lurked in the minds of both serious observers and policymakers, with the Soviet military presence and practical alliance with Syria adding a particularly disturbing element.

And in Central America and the Caribbean, the tonic of the Grenada occupation had to be set alongside a deteriorating situation in El Salvador, with the guerrillas making substantial gains and the government unable to control right-wing death squads despite growing pressure and statements from the Administration, including Vice President George Bush. Toward Nicaragua, Administration policy had shifted gears in June and July, with a program of maneuvers and other military threats apparently designed to bring the Marxist regime there into serious negotiations-but hard to distinguish from preparations for outright U.S. intervention. The negotiating track initiated by the four-nation regional Contadora group had not got off the ground, and it seemed that the Administration itself had not made up its mind whether it could accept a Marxist Nicaragua even under negotiated safeguards against external interference from outside or within Central America.

Even the Administration's good economic news had its obverse international side. Continued high U.S. interest rates and a strong dollar-linked almost universally to the scale of present and especially prospective budget deficits-were blamed by European governments for their own lagging recovery, and more concretely made it difficult to see how the Latin American debt crisis that had emerged in 1982 could be handled either from a financial standpoint or in terms of the social and economic strains in key South American countries. The Administration had worked closely with the International Monetary Fund and the commercial banks in dealing with the immediate need-and the U.S. contribution to the IMF was increased after a long and close-run congressional fight. But at best the problems were held at bay, and 1984 looked more difficult. In these and other respects, President Reagan was paying a high international price for sticking rigidly to his fundamental policies on tax cuts and a massive military buildup, but there was little sign that the grave problem of structural budget deficits would be tackled convincingly in a 1984 election year.

In East Asia too there were gains and problems. Relations with China were smoothed, and in Japan the advent of Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone led to constructive steps on both sides-but by the end of the year his narrow election victory cast a cloud over the continuation of these trends in a crucial relationship. And in the Philippines, a beleaguered Marcos regime, tarred with the tragic assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino, confronted the Administration with a new version of the problem of declining authoritarian regimes, with echoes of the Shah in 1978-79.

All in all, it was not a year that went as the Administration had hoped, on most key fronts. In its still-dominant East-West prism of judgment, there was the consolation of Soviet failure to prevent the INF deployment in Europe, and the prolonged illness of Yuri Andropov gave Soviet policy an air of indecisiveness. But equally there were disturbing signs of increased military influence in the Kremlin, and neither Americans nor the rest of the world could take comfort from the impasse between the superpowers. If the tests of 1983 were weathered after a fashion, the prospect of issues reaching a boil in 1984-especially in the Middle East-was a daunting one.


How American foreign policy is conducted always turns on four elements: the central views, style and characteristics of the President himself; the coordination of policy within the executive branch, including the relative influence of key advisers; relations with the Congress; and the level of popular support for the Administration and especially for the President personally.

That Ronald Reagan has left a clear stamp on American foreign policy is beyond question. No President has gone so far in personal criticism, even denunciation, of the Soviet Union, nor has any recent president been so inclined to see the Soviet hand in all the world's troubles. And it is basic to this view that this President has continued to insist that the key to dealing with the Soviet Union is the attainment at least of military parity and preferably a degree of superiority.

This central approach was again manifest during the year, especially in the President's March speech to an evangelical gathering, in which he described the Soviet Union as an "evil empire"; the speech obviously came from the heart, and can hardly have been fully checked by a State Department that might have recalled that this phrase had been used by others including Adolf Hitler. Shortly after, the President delivered what came to be called his "Star Wars" speech, urging a massive effort to develop a space-based defense capability against strategic missiles; again the thrust was personal and there was evidence of incomplete staff work-only a few days later did the President suggest that some future president might consider cooperating with the Soviet Union on a possibility that it was bound to find deeply threatening.3 And, most basically, the President remained adamant on two key and related issues: refusal to consider even contingent tax increases effective in 1985, and a five-year military program under which the military budget was proposed to rise by ten percent (after inflation) in fiscal 1984. On the latter issue, the President's inflexibility probably lost him a chance to achieve a compromise figure of about a seven percent increase; in the end, Congress voted one of only five percent.

In terms of specific issues, the President's grasp remained uneven. In 1982 he had clearly put his personal stamp on the Reagan Plan for addressing the Palestinian issue. And in April 1983 he spoke comprehensively for the first time on policy toward Central America, in a major address. At the Williamsburg Summit in May, he was a firm and tactful chairman and on top of his brief-while leaving it to Treasury Secretary Donald Regan to make the most important single statement of the gathering-that whatever the seven leaders agreed about the importance of addressing structural budget deficits, the United States would not move to raise taxes until after the 1984 elections. In his three encounters with Prime Minister Nakasone, Reagan achieved considerable personal rapport, and his additional trip in November, to a South Korea in shock from the loss of several Cabinet members to a North Korean terrorist attack in Rangoon, was handled with care and skill.

But on a host of less formal occasions the President continued to make significant misstatements and to describe policy in varying terms, often to the confusion of his own State Department and more seriously to that of foreign leaders.4 Even to sympathetic members of the White House press corps, the fact that he was fully in command of details of the Grenada occupation was a newsworthy exception to his generally loose command of the specifics of foreign policy issues.5 And the picture of a President with strong fundamental views but little grasp of subtlety or detail was certainly predominant among foreign governments.

But the President also again demonstrated during the year one conspicuous asset-the ability to deliver a home run in a major televised address. Not since Franklin Roosevelt had a President been more effective in this kind of national reach, and the results were clearly evident on several occasions in 1983-including his State of the Union address in January,6 his Central America speech of April, and most notably his October 27 speech pairing an explanation of the Grenada occupation with a defense of the mission of the Marines in Lebanon. This President has shown a special capacity to appeal to the American public over the heads of the Congress, and the effect has been not only to increase his public support but to cause his critics to think twice before taking him on frontally.

Mr. Reagan was less successful in achieving full coordination of his foreign policy team. Although Judge William Clark made a valiant effort to coordinate policy on obvious key issues, the National Security Council has apparently been used only rarely to develop systematic policy papers or, above all, to anticipate future problems. The State Department/Pentagon fault line of the Reagan Administration's first 18 months was somewhat less evident,7 but there was still constant guerrilla warfare between hardliners and those with more pragmatic views.

Most notably, whereas in late 1982 it had appeared possible that Secretary of State George Shultz would emerge as the clearly dominant presidential adviser, this never really happened. Shultz was to the fore in Middle East policy, and apparently played a key role on the international economic front, especially the response to the primarily Latin American debt crisis. Under his influence, the issue of East-West trade policy that had so troubled NATO relationships in 1982 was muted-with the Pentagon taking the lead in a determined program to catch exports of militarily significant technology and equipment to the Soviet Union. And Shultz's steady hand was also evident in the management of several key bilateral relationships-including Japan, China, and Canada (where there had been serious friction in 1981-82).

But the Secretary of State had a severe shock in May in the dismissal of his Assistant Secretary for Latin America, Thomas Enders, who had been handling Central America pretty much on his own since the spring of 1981. Enders apparently believed that, bad as the Marxist regime in Nicaragua was, it could not be removed short of a U.S. military intervention, which he considered both unwise and not in the cards in terms of domestic support. This view was sharply contested by Judge Clark and particularly by Jeane Kirkpatrick, the Latin Americanist Ambassador to the United Nations. And for a time these two officials appeared to have taken over policy toward Central America, with a series of moves in July that were loosely handled to the point where Shultz felt impelled to make a personal protest to the President in early August about lack of coordination. In due course, the policy lines on Central America seemed to return to the State Department, with a new non-career Assistant Secretary, Langhorne Motley, who was both decisive and trusted at the White House. But by September there was a clear sense that Shultz was losing stature.

Then, in early October, there was a sudden turnaround. When James Watt was pressured to resign as Secretary of the Interior, Judge Clark volunteered to be his successor, and the President accepted his wish to get away from what Clark had found to be great strains in pulling policy together and in dealing with his White House colleagues and with the major departments. The resulting competition to succeed him was short but bitter-James Baker, the active and effective White House Chief of Staff who was also under continuing fire from hard-core "Reaganauts," made a bid for the job, and in response Jeane Kirkpatrick was pushed by those same Reaganauts. Instead of either, the President chose Robert McFarlane, who had been Clark's deputy and then briefly the President's Middle East negotiator. With experience in previous Administrations, McFarlane was primarily a steady coordinator, although he could still inject his views forcefully (but invisibly) on occasion. Under him the machinery appeared to work more smoothly, but the sheer pressure of working in an atmosphere of conflict was obviously taking a heavy toll by the end of the year, especially on the White House staff.

To describe these events is not to suggest that a smooth decision-making process is necessarily the hallmark of successful foreign policy: there have been many examples to the contrary, including that of Franklin Roosevelt. At the end of its third year, the Reagan Administration was hardly riven by the kind of deep top-level differences that President Carter never resolved between Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. But the tendency to sharp and personalized infighting remained, and was not neglected by media that were often its channels.

In executive-congressional relations, 1983 was certainly a landmark year. In his first two years the President had overwhelmingly had his way with Congress without the serious efforts toward bipartisanship that had been conspicuous, for example, in President Eisenhower's dealings with a Democratic Congress (not to mention President Truman and the Republican Congress of 1947-49). But by the beginning of 1983, the Administration was blocked by the Congress on one key element in its defense program-the MX missile-and was in serious difficulty in getting support for its actions in Central America.

In response, the Administration borrowed from the model of the Greenspan Commission, which in early 1983 produced a bipartisan consensus on social security adjustments to keep the system solvent, so that the Congress dealt successfully with this issue (although the adjustments still fell way short of what would be needed to meet the problem of the structural budget deficit). On the MX, another bipartisan commission was created under the chairmanship of retired General Brent Scowcroft, who had been National Security Adviser under President Ford. The Administration's hope was that the Commission-stacked on the Democratic side with strong defense advocates-would back the MX and get it over the hump. As it turned out, the Scowcroft Commission did endorse the MX, but only on a limited basis and with a new emphasis on moving to single-warhead strategic missiles (notably the so-called Midgetman project for the late 1980s or early 1990s) and on seeking arms control agreement to reduce multiple-warhead missiles especially.

The latter theme was promptly picked up by congressional leaders (including the Republican Senators William Cohen and Charles Percy) already concerned about the rigidity of the Administration's position in the START talks, and the result was an initial deal under which they agreed to support the MX but only on condition that the Administration come up with a more forthcoming START position. The fact that the MX had, as usual, to run the gauntlet of four separate votes during the year gave the congressional leaders continuing leverage, and when the Administration had failed to move by August, they really put the heat on, in favor of a so-called build-down proposal under which new strategic missiles would be compensated by greater reductions in existing missile forces, while at the same time the United States would agree to discuss reductions in its bomber force as part of an overall package.8

The result, in October, was that President Reagan-still constrained by one remaining critical MX vote-yielded to the congressional group and agreed to include in the U.S. START position a revised version of the build-down proposal. Whether the new proposal would get anywhere was wholly unclear at year's end-with the Soviet refusal to come up with a date for resumption of START talks-but it remained an extraordinary example of direct congressional impact on the substance of policy.

Central America, too, was a running fight during 1983, but with somewhat different results. What seemed for a time to be a likely showdown over congressional appropriations to support "covert" operations against Nicaragua was finally resolved by a compromise six-month appropriation in October. And while the Congress, especially the Democrat-controlled House, continued to insist on human rights conditions on military aid to El Salvador, and cut appropriations for this purpose below the Administration's wishes, it saw the danger-especially after the President's April speech-that Congress and the Democratic Party would be blamed for the "loss" of El Salvador and gave the Administration much of what it asked.

Then, whereas Congress had not intervened in the Administration's Middle East policy either during or after the Lebanon war of 1982, the events of September 1983 brought on an intense debate. The specific issue was the continuation of the Marine contingent at the Beirut airport, which was already under attack. And on this issue Congress-primarily but by no means solely the Democratic House leadership under Speaker Thomas O'Neill-insisted that the War Powers Act of 1973 must apply. The Administration strenuously resisted, to the point of arguing that this Act was actually unconstitutional, and in the end the pressure of events produced an authorization for the Marine presence to continue against a time limit of 18 months, with each side stating its position on the applicability of the War Powers Act. While the President's highly effective speech of October 26 defused the issue for the balance of the year, there was every indication by early January 1984 that a bipartisan coalition in the Congress would move in the new year to set a short deadline for the withdrawal of the Marines. Plainly Congress was becoming increasingly firm that it had to be consulted in the fullest manner on any action likely to involve U.S. troops in hostilities-and the implications extended to Central America as well as the Middle East.

A fourth front in the executive-congressional relationship concerned the approval of an increased U.S. contribution to the International Monetary Fund, on the lines agreed by the Administration in February with other major nations. The U.S. contribution was strongly supported not only by the Administration but by a wide spectrum of informed opinion, including Democratic presidential candidates. But it ran into a buzz-saw of opposition from right-wing Republicans who saw it as a bailout of improvident debtor countries, and liberal Democrats who saw it as a bailout of greedy U.S. banks; the chairman of the relevant House subcommittee had still another bone to pick, demanding increased housing funds above the Administration's program. The result was a prolonged and often doubtful fight. In the end, the President weighed in personally, and the increase was approved on November 18, with the House vote close.

Finally, on Central America, the Administration tried still a third commission approach. Accompanying the stepped-up military pressures against Nicaragua of July, the White House persuaded former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to chair a National Bipartisan Commission on Central America. This time the selection process seemed almost haphazard, and the commission was far from having the combination of bipartisanship and expertise of the Greenspan and Scowcroft Commissions. But under Kissinger's energetic chairmanship, it went about its business with the utmost seriousness, looking to a report in early January 1984. Only a few largely self-selected members of Congress were involved, however, and it remained to be seen whether the commission report could produce any semblance of national consensus either on short-term issues or longer-term measures-such as the often-suggested "Marshall Plan" for the area.

All told, it was a remarkable year in the relations between President and Congress. And the growth in congressional self-confidence seemed likely to extend well into 1984.

Congress always looks in two directions, abroad with genuine views on foreign policy, but with a weather eye to the state of public opinion. And the latter is particularly influential as a presidential election year approaches: no position of the President or the Democrats in Congress in 1983 could be traced predominantly to the election factor, but its shadow was inevitably present, notably on Central America where the differences were sharpest.

There was no question that the President's personal standing improved markedly during the year: in the careful periodic polls of Daniel Yankelovich his overall approval rating went from 45 percent in March to 59 percent in September and 60 percent in December-returning to the level of late 1981.9 The more frequent Gallup Poll showed a particular rise after the Korean airliner shootdown and again more strongly after the Grenada occupation.10 And his rating for foreign policy moved in step. 11 By the end of the year, one particularly significant indicator was a strongly favorable balance on the question of whether the President could be trusted to make right decisions in foreign policy.12

To some informed observers, this rise seemed hard to square with public perceptions of the danger of conflict and with what was clearly a distinct change from the assertive public mood at the outset of the Reagan Administration. In November a bare majority in one poll thought that the situation in Lebanon would lead to U.S. involvement in war, while the same poll showed a substantial majority against the proposition that the stakes there were important enough to warrant a conflict.13 And the sentiment against any direct U.S. intervention in Central America appeared at least equally strong. But the President was still rated far better than President Carter had been.14 And if the national mood was one of avoiding confrontation and seeking agreements with the Soviet Union and others if possible, it appeared that, while the public showed only moderate confidence in the President's peacekeeping capabilities, it did believe that he had made a real effort to go halfway toward the Soviet Union. In this he was surely helped by Andropov's rigidity over the NATO missiles, and especially the Korean airliner shootdown, which in a Gallup Poll reduced American favorable views of the Soviet Union to a level of nine percent, the lowest since 1956 and significantly below the 13 percent level reached after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in early 1980.15

Overall, the public mood appeared uncertain and potentially volatile. But there was clearly a substantial degree of underlying confidence in the President personally, and Grenada in particular had impressed the man in the street as proof that this Administration would "stand up for America."16 The President's standing and power were at the same time heavily personal: none of his advisers had generated substantial public support or the kind of prestige and respect enjoyed in the past by such powerful Secretaries of State as Henry Kissinger, or earlier by George Marshall. And the President's own standing depended heavily on an ability to articulate his position that might be severely tested if complex situations came to a head in 1984. For the time being, however, his power was great and it was noteworthy that little effective or concerted criticism had been mounted by the several Democratic presidential candidates.


Economic strength is the foundation of any nation's foreign policy. And throughout the postwar period the performance of the U.S. economy has had an enormous influence on U.S. power and ability to influence other nations-a positive factor till about 1970, and then increasingly negative during the 1970s as the United States faltered in coping with the energy crises and their economic consequences. In the Reagan Administration, economic policy has been equally important for U.S. standing abroad. The Administration's emphasis on combating inflation has been almost universally shared with other industrialized nations, and it was accepted by all that the United States must lead in emerging from the 1979-82 recession; but how it did this also mattered greatly.

Thus, the U.S. recovery in 1983 was in itself a big plus. But the fact that it was accompanied by continued high interest rates and a dollar substantially overvalued at least in commercial terms posed serious problems for other nations. True, they could export more to the American market-and did to the tune of an estimated $70 billion U.S. trade deficit, with the prospect that this deficit may approach $90 billion in 1984. Yet the high interest rates and strong dollar also operated to draw foreign capital to the United States, while at the same time raising the cost of dollar-priced oil to nations heavily dependent on oil imports. Almost certainly (as Sylvia Ostry argues in her accompanying article) the European tendency to blame the United States for their lagging recoveries was exaggerated, and neglected flaws in their own policies and performance; the debtor countries likewise had a substantial responsibility for their plight.

As these nations saw it, the twin problems of interest rates and the dollar were due largely to the unprecedented budget deficits that had arisen under the Administration's policies of substantial tax cuts, combined with a massive military buildup and with domestic spending cut only moderately so long as the so-called entitlement programs remained sacrosanct. The problem of escalating social program costs and transfer payments, outrunning the capacities of economies no longer growing as they had in the 1960s, was virtually universal among the industrialized nations-hence the so-called structural nature of a large part of budget deficits. But the inability of the United States to come to grips with this problem, even prospectively, not only cast a cloud over the solidity of the U.S. recovery but entailed heavy costs abroad. Certainly it was a major reason for the failure of the NATO countries even to consider increasing their defense spending. And for the less-developed countries and the middle-income debtor countries, U.S. policy was a drag that threatened any real recovery at all and made the debt burden ominous in financial and political terms.

Thus, President Reagan and the Administration were under a publicly subdued but privately vehement chorus of criticism and pressure throughout 1983 to show that the deficit would be brought down. And within the United States-largely for domestic reasons-there were similar appeals from an extraordinarily broad spectrum of responsible opinion. In March, for example, a bipartisan group of six former Cabinet members (including five Treasury Secretaries) framed an appeal for deficit reduction-by a balanced program of tax changes and expense cuts (including defense)-that enlisted the support of virtually every chief executive among the Fortune 500 companies.17 And in Congress the same leaders who in 1982 had persuaded a reluctant President to accept a cumulative $80 billion package of adjustments were again active and in the fall of 1983 mounted a determined effort, with the Republican Senator Robert Dole again in the forefront, for congressional action on the very kind of contingent tax increases, effective in 1985, that had been formally part of the Administration's own budget proposals early in the year.

But the President refused to budge. In 1982, it had been apparent that most of his advisers privately favored something like the Dole package of that year. Now even their voices were silent, obviously at the President's strong command-with the conspicuous exception of Martin Feldstein, the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. In effect Mr. Reagan was saying that tax increases and any significant reduction in the military budget were out.

It was a fateful decision, and it reflected the President's standing that he was able to stick to it. As always, Congress can block or modify parts of what an Administration seeks, but it has grave difficulty in taking an initiative. And the result, as all could see by the end of 1983, was that a problem of horrendous dimensions would be in the lap of whoever was elected in November 1984. For the intervening year can hardly see more than nibbling at the fringes of the problem, especially if the Administration seeks to restore the limited cuts in its military budget that Congress imposed in 1983 and goes for an increase on the rumored order of 15 percent or more (over and above inflation).

In effect, given the extremely limited scope of nonmilitary budget cuts now conceivable, the President was saying that the military buildup was paramount, and that the country should not be asked to pay for it now. It was a judgment seriously contested even by foreign leaders highly sensitive to military needs, who argued that on security grounds alone the negative impact of U.S. economic policy on the overall strength of the Alliance far outweighed the importance of U.S. defense increases, at least at the margin. To put it another way, such leaders believed that an extra $20-$30 billion of U.S. defense spending could wisely be forgone as part of a deficit reduction package that brought interest rates down and thus made the recovery in Europe and elsewhere stronger and more solid.

While this was surely the central issue of the year in the relationship between U.S. policy and the international economy, the Administration's performance on most international economic issues was steady and constructive, within the limits of political practicability. Protectionism edged up, in the United States and elsewhere, but President Reagan's free-market philosophy continued to apply and the line was generally held. The U.S. role in handling the debt crisis was generally effective.

At the end of the year, however, it became clear that there were still strong voices, especially at the Treasury, who retained their original negative attitudes toward the major multilateral financial institutions and did not extend to the World Bank the same exception they had come to make for the International Monetary Fund. Despite the urgent pleas of Bank President A.W. Clausen and the support of Secretary Shultz, the President decided in December to limit the U.S. contribution to the next three-year program of the World Bank soft-loan arm, the International Development Association, to a level of only $750 million per year; the action had the effect of reducing the overall IDA three-year program to $9 billion, well below the $12 billion Clausen had sought, which was itself below his and most responsible observers' $16-billion estimate of the needs of the IDA-dependent poor developing countries.18

It was a jarring note, especially at a time when U.S. bilateral aid programs were in continuing difficulty in Congress and ever more heavily committed to Israel and Egypt (and now perhaps to Central America). The issue was argued primarily in terms of straight economic need, but behind this there always lurked the question whether desperately poor countries would at some point behave in seriously disruptive ways, through renewed local conflicts or otherwise.


Soviet-American relations in 1983 were heavily centered on the long-scheduled deployment of U.S. missiles in NATO countries. The 1979 NATO two-track decision to deploy these missiles, while at the same time seeking to negotiate an agreement with the Soviet Union, had been taken in response to the massive Soviet deployment of SS-20 mobile missiles from 1975 on, a move that may initially have been induced by simple military and technological momentum, but which soon came to be perceived (by the Soviets and equally by European leaders) as a strong means of political pressure.19 The Carter Administration had also been moved to offset the negative impact of Carter's personal decision to drop the battlefield "neutron bomb" in early 1978, after he had committed doubtful NATO governments to that venture.20

Many in the Reagan Administration felt that the 1979 decision had been bad to begin with. But the view that prevailed in early 1981 was that the deployment must go through as planned, above all to demonstrate that Soviet pressure could not exert a veto on NATO plans, especially in the nuclear area. Then, in its first 18 months, the Administration let fly a series of loose statements on possibilities of nuclear war-fighting and of a nuclear exchange confined to Europe; in effect it dug a hole already a foot deep to a much deeper level-contributing mightily to a growing peace movement in Europe that attacked the deployment as dangerous and provocative and tended to ignore the Soviet SS-20 initiative that had brought it on.

President Reagan's "zero-zero" negotiating proposal of November 1981 stemmed the tide somewhat (and for longer than might have been expected, as Christoph Bertram notes in his accompanying article). But by late 1982 the pressure from European countries was substantial for greater flexibility in the U.S. position.

Meanwhile, as came to public light only in early 1983, the U.S. negotiator in Geneva, Paul Nitze-by far the most experienced Administration figure on arms control and at the same time a longtime expert on NATO politics and Germany in particular-had made a daring move in July 1982. Without authority from Washington (which he obviously considered too divided to frame negotiable positions), he worked out the outlines of a possible package deal in preliminary conversations with his Soviet counterpart, Yuli Kvitsinsky, and then put his plan into a memorandum which Kvitsinsky and he edited together in a celebrated "walk in the woods" outside Geneva. In essence the deal called for reduced deployments on both sides, with a slight warhead edge to the United States (which would retain only 75 cruise missile launchers with 300 single-warhead missiles), as compensation for the United States dropping all the 108 Pershing II ballistic missiles, which could reach Soviet military targets in 10-15 minutes and were thus a particular source of concern to the Soviet Union as well as a particular target for the peace movement in Europe. Moreover, the plan ignored the Soviet negotiating ploy of insisting that missile totals be pegged to the levels of British and French strategic weapons in Europe.

To Washington, Nitze's plan was a hot potato. In the end, the President-with a new Secretary of State unfamiliar with arms control matters-was swayed by the advice of hard-line civilians in the Pentagon that to drop the Pershing IIs was unsound in terms of strategic and NATO doctrine; the opponents may also have been moved by lack of sympathy for the already tottering Social Democratic government in Germany of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. Throughout the internal debate there was no consultation whatever with the Germans or the other NATO countries involved, and the final decision-disclosed to the Soviets in early October-was to refuse to endorse the Nitze plan. Almost simultaneously, and probably reflecting their own independent decision, the Soviets turned it down and returned to their insistence on the British-French ploy.

In the hindsight even of early 1983, this was a watershed U.S. decision. We are not likely ever to know whether the Soviets might have accepted the Nitze plan if the Reagan Administration had endorsed and publicized it well before October and put them on the spot-and the teasing mystery remains why Kvitsinsky went as far as he did. Even if the Soviets had rejected the plan, it could have stood as a tenable and reasonable U.S. position right up to the time of actual deployment, and this would surely have taken much of the heat out of the peace movement, and especially given Schmidt (who strongly approved the Nitze plan when he learned of it only after leaving office) real ammunition to deal with the growing defection of his SPD from the project. The counter-argument that was presumably made-that to take a negotiating position that dropped Pershings would make it even harder to deploy them if the Soviets did not agree-does not seem persuasive to this observer; in effect the decision accepted the political cost of a significant fraying of the all-parties consensus in the Federal Republic that had prevailed for more than 20 years, for reasons that were a mixture of strategic theology and dislike of Schmidt.

This was water over the dam by late 1982, and with the death of Brezhnev the Soviet line seemed even more clearly aimed, not at agreement but at achieving maximum disruption in Europe, especially in Germany, hoping at best to head off the deployment completely and at worst to set up serious and lasting divisions among the Allies. The Reagan Administration had a delicate hand to play, first in relation to the German elections of March and then throughout the year, and the problem preoccupied senior officials in Washington and Moscow, in the latter case perhaps to the point of making Soviet policy in other troubled areas more conservative than it might otherwise have been.

In the event, the Administration's handling of the issue during 1983 was at least considered and competent. It decided not to modify the U.S. position before the German elections, lest a change inject a new debate on detail in a situation where the Christian Democratic Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, appeared likely to win in any case on predominantly economic issues. The Soviets overplayed their hand by demonstrative threats, and Kohl's solid victory was clearly a setback to them and in that sense a plus for U.S. policy. The subsequent reelection of Margaret Thatcher in Britain, and the accession in Italy of a Socialist Premier, Bettino Craxi, who was firm on this and other NATO issues, also helped, as did the strong supporting statement that was worked out at the May Williamsburg Summit (and joined by Prime Minister Nakasone of Japan, in an important "first").

Vice President Bush made two useful trips to Europe to present the arguments for the deployment and to try to counter the peace movement, and President Reagan put forward more flexible positions in late March and again in late September. In the end the predicted "hot autumn" in the Federal Republic produced large demonstrations but no serious incidents that might have deflected the Kohl government from final approval of the deployment, which was given by the Bundestag in late November. In response, as already noted, the Soviets broke off the Geneva INF negotiations and suspended the other arms control talks.

On its face this was a significant victory for NATO cohesion and for the Reagan Administration. And for the time being the Soviets had put themselves in a weaker position by their withdrawal from the negotiations. But the defection of the German Social Democrats on this issue (though not on support for NATO generally) does represent, in Christoph Bertram's words, the breaking of "an important strand in the transatlantic rope" that binds West Germany to the Alliance,21 and the controversy could still be renewed as the deployment proceeds over the next three years. And from a longer-term viewpoint, the whole confrontation has been in any event an enormous distraction for NATO from its major need to get on with strengthening its conventional forces, and has muddied the strategic arms control situation (difficult as it would have been in any case), contributing to a loss of precious time on that key front.

So long as the missile deployment issue was unresolved, it was probably unrealistic to expect any real thaw in Soviet-American relations generally. The atmosphere was clearly worsened by President Reagan's evangelical speech of March and his ensuing "Star Wars" speech, but by August there was hope in the White House and State Department that minor issues could be handled and even that the stage might be set for a Soviet-American summit in 1984. A major event at this period was the signing in late August of a new five-year U.S.-Soviet grain deal, in which large amounts were promised with a guarantee against interruption for political reasons; it was a deal that responded to heavy domestic political pressures from the U.S. farm belt rather than being a considered move toward the Soviet Union. But its immediate impact was constructive.

The Korean airliner incident ended these hopes, and by the end of the year communications appeared almost totally frozen. Even before the illness that removed him from the public eye from August right to the end of the year, Andropov had not put any clear mark on Soviet policy, and even on small issues the signals from Moscow were often confused; the emergence of Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov as the Soviet spokesman in the Korean airliner incident, as well as the best reconstruction that one could make of that incident, suggested a degree of military autonomy and policy influence that could be disturbing.

Soviet diplomacy was by no means inactive-at the United Nations a strong vote of condemnation for the shooting down of the Korean airliner, and another overwhelming vote against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, were at least partially offset by the General Assembly's sharply critical vote on the U.S. occupation of Grenada. Soviet diplomatic efforts at the United Nations have become much more sophisticated in recent years, in contrast to the ideological posture of the Reagan Administration in that forum.22 And the Soviets were clearly not neglecting such long-term opportunities as the cultivation of groups hostile to South Africa.

But on the fronts that were most acute during the year-the Middle East and Central America-Soviet tactical policy was generally restrained, although Soviet backing was basic to the disruptive forces on both fronts. To these we now turn.


The Middle East was as usual the most threatening area in global terms. While immediate U.S. concerns at the end of 1983 centered on the deeply troubled situation in Lebanon after the unhappy 1982 war, experienced observers-especially abroad-saw the stalemated war between Iran and Iraq as almost equally ominous, with the possibility that a beleaguered Iraq might at any time lash out, bringing on Iranian retaliation in the Gulf. On both fronts there was evidence of resurgent Islamic fundamentalism, stimulated by Iran but not confined to that presently theocratic country under America's nemesis, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.23

But the immediate obstacle to U.S.policy was the Syria of Hafez Assad. Humiliated by Israel's destruction, early in the 1982 war, of its Soviet-supplied air-defense system and much of its air force, Syria had seemed at the end of 1982 to be chastened and prepared to accept a parallel withdrawal, alongside Israel, from Lebanon. And in late 1982 the Soviet Union seemed to many to have been almost removed from the play.24 Both judgments were wrong. In January 1983 it was announced that the Soviets had undertaken in December to resupply Syria with more sophisticated air-defense capabilities, which in time extended to accurate ground-to-ground missiles with a range of roughly 100 miles. The Soviets sent a major contingent of 7,000 military personnel to Syria to operate the new systems initially and to train the Syrians in their use.

Thus reinforced, Syria became at first the major spoiler of U.S. diplomatic efforts and then, from September onward assertive in seeking to establish its own control of the political structure in Lebanon. To this end, it took the lead in stirring up Moslem groups in Lebanon against the government of Amin Gemayel and also provided bases and support for extremist Shi'ite elements, some coming from Iran (which Syria had consistently supported against its Arab rival, Iraq). The result was, successively, a failure of U.S. diplomatic efforts and, by the end of the year, a witch's brew in Lebanon that included the disaster to the U.S. Marine contingent, and by early December sharp military exchanges between Syrian and U.S. forces, involving the U.S. naval force stationed just offshore.

At the beginning of the year, the Reagan Administration was attempting two major parallel efforts: to achieve withdrawal agreements between Lebanon, on the one hand, and Israel and Syria on the other, through active U.S. mediation; and to bring King Hussein of Jordan and Palestinian representatives into a new phase of negotiations on the future of the West Bank. Although Israel remained negative on the Reagan Plan of September 1982, and moved steadily to expand its West Bank settlements and toward the Likud government's declared objective of permanent control of that area, the initiation of a new negotiation could at least get things started and put Israel on the spot. But the hope of bringing Hussein around was directly linked to getting Israel (and therefore necessarily Syria) to withdraw from Lebanon, which Hussein and other moderate Arabs regarded as a crucial test of U.S. credibility. And it was already clear by the end of 1982 that Israel not only had major demands as the conditions for its withdrawal but that it saw the link and was prepared to slow down the withdrawal negotiations so that the Palestinian peace process would not get off the ground.

In the event, with Hussein always unwilling to move without the approval of the PLO, it was the politics of that troubled organization that decided the question of a new peace process.25 Although Yassir Arafat seemed prepared to give his blessing, from January onward he was vigorously opposed within the top echelons of the PLO by rejectionist elements egged on by Syria. And in April Arafat's opponents voted him down-from their base in Damascus-and what had been close to a deal between Hussein and Arafat foundered. During the summer, Syria pressed its support of the rebels against Arafat, and its backing was decisive in a sharp and painful armed conflict in Tripoli that in November evicted Arafat for the second time from Lebanon. Although he remained the titular head of the PLO, whether he or any successor in an official Palestinian organization could play any part was not clear.26

And, shortly after the Hussein debacle, the Reagan Administration was confounded on the withdrawal issue. In the tripartite negotiations with Lebanon and Israel, the latter had insisted on special privileges and a degree of ties between Israel and Lebanon that were clearly at odds with Syrian views, and when an arduous shuttle by Secretary Shultz finally produced agreement in early May-providing for Israeli withdrawal contingent on Syria's doing likewise-Assad's rejection was categorical. For the time being at least any hope of a negotiated mutual withdrawal was dead, and Israel turned to ensuring its bedrock objective, neutralizing southern Lebanon to remove any military threat to northern Israel.

By summer, moreover, Israel was increasingly disturbed by the casualties its forces were taking in sporadic conflicts with anti-government elements in the Shouf mountains. Menachem Begin, by then a distraught and beaten man, was about to resign as prime minister, and in his last weeks Israel decided-over strong U.S. objections-to pull its forces out of the Shouf mountains.

Syria immediately moved to take advantage of the weakened situation. Conflict erupted in the Shouf area and one of the immediate consequences was to engage and threaten the reinforced U.S. contingent of about 2,000 Marines that had come to form part of a four-nation peacekeeping force alongside French, Italian and British troops. That Marine contingent, originally introduced for the limited purpose of assuring the withdrawal of the PLO from Beirut at the end of the 1982 war, had been withdrawn briefly and then reinserted in the wake of the massacres in the Palestinian refugee camps in September 1982. For almost a year its position seemed tenable and the presence of the four-nation force was some help to Amin Gemayel in his efforts to strengthen and broaden the base of his government in Lebanon.27

But in September the situation changed drastically. In intense negotiations with Syria and Saudi Arabia, Robert McFarlane (who had succeeded Philip Habib as U.S. negotiator in July) was able to obtain a cease-fire but only on condition that there be formal internal negotiations to establish a new government balance and structure in Lebanon.

Then came the devastating October truck-bombings of the U.S. Marine headquarters and the French headquarters, followed shortly after by a similar attack on Israel at Tyre. While there was no hard proof, it was widely judged that the perpetrators were extremist Shi'ites, probably coming from Iran but surely supported and based in Syria or Syrian-controlled territory in Lebanon. The French and Israelis retaliated by attacks on the base areas of these terrorists, but the United States did not follow suit. Instead it chose to intensify air reconnaissance of Syrian-controlled areas in Lebanon; the now-emboldened Syrians responded by firing on these reconnaissance missions and the United States then bombed Syrian air-defense positions with Navy aircraft. It was a debatable choice of weapons-given the availability of the battleship New Jersey-and two of the aircraft were lost, with one pilot killed and his navigator taken prisoner. The incident was a sharp setback to U.S. military prestige-especially after the virtually unscathed success of similar Israeli attacks on a much bigger scale in June 1982-and it also stimulated strong criticism in many Arab quarters, including moderates, and raised the specter of the United States confronting a concerted Muslim opposition. Determined not to be neutralized, the Administration renewed the reconnaissance flights and when they were again fired on, turned this time to the New Jersey for retaliation. It was an edgy situation: though neither Damascus nor Washington sought a wider conflict, and the exchanges were not renewed during December, there remained a danger of incidents escalating with unpredictable consequences.

Whether the Marine contingent should remain was the principal immediate issue for the President and Congress. In a series of statements in November and December, Mr. Reagan-who by that time had received Amin Gemayel in Washington-stood firm that the Marines must stay until there was political stability in Lebanon, but he also conceded the possibility that the situation there could become so chaotic that they would serve no further purpose.28 Congress in September, as already noted, had authorized an 18-month time limit for the Marines, and in the tense period of December it was in recess. But by the end of the year influential members from both parties were strongly questioning whether the Marines should stay-and their immediate withdrawal was urged on December 31 by the leading Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Walter Mondale.

In November, the Administration moved to get some leverage against Syria by closing ranks with Israel. In an intense and ostensibly friendly visit in Washington by the new prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, there was a broad but apparently vague agreement for "strategic cooperation," and the Administration moved rapidly to ease Israel's desperate financial situation, primarily by transferring to grant status a very large volume of past (and future) military aid that had been in a loan status. The agreement led to serious negative reactions even in moderate Arab nations, and the Administration was forced to use its new Middle East negotiator, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, to do what he could to ease these concerns.

But it was not clear what Israel could do to prevent de facto Syrian control of a new internal structure in Lebanon, although Israel did take vigorous military action against the Shi'ite base areas, seeking to deter what was already intensified Shi'ite guerrilla activity against the Israeli position in southern Lebanon. The scars of past U.S.-Israel dealings remained, including a new revelation that in the early June stages of the 1982 war the United States had dissuaded the Israelis from engaging Syrian ground forces and driving them from the Damascus-Beirut highway.29 And even if the often-stormy relationship had been smoothed out for the time being-a decision taken on policy grounds at the urging of Secretary Shultz himself, but with obvious domestic political benefits in an upcoming election year-the basic question was whether either the United States or Israel had any effective cards to play on the key issue of who would control Lebanon. The early withdrawal of the Marines would remove a hole card,30 and Syria seemed likely to get its way one way or another, although the Administration clung to the hope that the formal internal negotiations among the Lebanese parties, being conducted in Geneva, would somehow produce a new framework that would be acceptable to Syria but not dominated by it.

It seemed a tenuous hope, and the prospect of Syrian domination in Lebanon also suggested an increased chance of outright conflict between Israel and a rearmed Syria. If the Administration attempted to ease this danger by seeking to promote wider negotiations with Syria, it seemed certain that at some point Assad would demand the return of the Golan Heights, which the Begin government had formally annexed to Israel in December 1981 and which his successors would be highly reluctant to give up.

All told, the situation was bleak at the end of 1983. In hindsight, there were those (in Europe especially) who thought that the Administration had mishandled the withdrawal negotiations by failing to have parallel negotiations with Syria. But this would have been an extraordinarily difficult hand to play on all counts, and to this observer it seems that the outcome would not have been different. Likewise, while some argued that getting a new Palestinian peace process should not have been linked to withdrawal from Lebanon, the reasons for this linkage were hard to escape, including particularly King Hussein's insistence on it. In short, the diplomatic failures of the first half of the year were tragedies that probably could not have been avoided, especially given the resurgence of Syria.

The Israeli withdrawal from the Shouf, which precipitated events from September on, reflected a new factor in the situation-that an Israel deeply disillusioned by the outcome of the 1982 war and the casualties from it, and under heavy economic strains, was simply a lot less powerful, or at least less willing to use its power (which may come to the same thing), than it had seemed up to 1982.31 Yet if the United States moved to link itself even more closely to Israel, this would surely enlarge the risk of antagonizing virtually all the neighboring Arab countries, including moderates always conscious of the internal threat to their power from radical Muslim elements including extremist Palestinians. Thus the Lebanon situation alone was perhaps the most visibly dangerous and volatile in the area since 1967, or even since 1947, and U.S. policy options were limited and potentially painful.

Meanwhile, the Soviets continued their harsh oppression and occupation of Afghanistan, including the steady buildup of a base complex there. Negotiations went on throughout the year aiming at a gradual Soviet evacuation, but the Soviets appeared to be insisting on retaining a regime they could dominate totally. Pakistan remained under pressure, but its political stability held up and it was starting to receive the military benefits of the substantial U.S. aid program initiated in 1981. But there was little sign of India and Pakistan drawing closer together in response to the new Soviet presence.

Even more serious, the war between Iran and Iraq threatened at any time to enter a new phase-in the fall, France had acted on its own (and against U.S. advice) in supplying Iraq with a number of Super Etendard aircraft, which with Exocet missiles could attack Iran in new ways, possibly stimulating the drastic retaliation Iran frequently promised. Washington was acutely aware of this danger and at the end of the year moved away from its steadfastly neutral policy toward the conflict, avowedly tilting toward Iraq at least to the extent of seeking to assist the marketing of Iraqi oil to ease the extreme financial strains of the war.

Again, however, the U.S. capacity to influence events was limited. If Iranian retaliation should threaten the oil supply routes or producing areas, this could bring on a new oil crisis at least for Europe. And if the pot boiled over in the Gulf, this would hardly reduce the temperature in Lebanon and would surely put Gulf nations friendly to the United States under severe strain.


Simultaneous crises on two fronts would be a nightmare for any government. They are particularly difficult under the American system (witness, for example, the 1967 Middle East war at a crucial point in the Vietnam conflict) and even more so in an Administration that has never found a solid managerial style and that has to deal with a Congress in which one House is controlled by the opposition party and there is no semblance of the bipartisan consensus that prevailed for a time under such presidents as Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy. Yet this was the picture that loomed large by the end of 1983, with a deteriorating situation in Central America that had already triggered a major policy shift and seemed likely to become worse.

By the spring of 1983 it was clear that bringing the guerrillas under control in El Salvador was at best a long-term proposition, even though U.S. aid and political advice were being handled ably and with substantial resources. Thus it was perhaps inevitable that the Reagan Administration should return to the theme that had been sounded loudly by then-Secretary of State Alexander Haig in early 1981-but then dropped lest Central America affect congressional approval of the Administration's central program of tax cuts and military buildup-namely that it was time to get at the source and to hit at the external supporters of the Salvadoran guerrillas.

The emphasis this time was on Nicaragua, and by May there was plainly an intense debate within the Administration over whether it should go beyond its existing program of "covert" aid to anti-Sandinista guerrillas, to threaten Nicaragua more directly with the application of direct U.S. power. For the previous two years, policy on Central America had been largely in the hands of the State Department, and specifically Thomas Enders, a career officer with hard-line credentials from his service in Cambodia in the early 1970s, but at the same time a tough-minded political realist not previously immersed in Central American matters. He saw the stakes there as not warranting direct U.S. military intervention even to deal with a Nicaragua he recognized as under Marxist-Leninist control. Enders had tried without success to negotiate with the Sandinist junta, and he had few illusions about their objectives or good faith. But he saw no alternative to the basic policy that had been pursued.

It was a view vigorously contested by Judge Clark and Jeane Kirkpatrick, who had become an active participant in National Security Council debates on Latin American policy. President Reagan-reengaged more actively in Central American policy through his April speech-accepted their advice and on May 27 Enders was relieved and shortly replaced by Langhorne Motley, a political appointee with long Latin American business experience and a creditable record as Ambassador to Brazil. Apart from its bureaucratic implications, the change was a clear signal that a policy shift loomed.

In early July that shift took shape. Its principal features were the initiation of a sustained program of military maneuvers off the Central American coast, the deployment of substantial naval forces there, a much expanded training program for Salvadoran government forces in Honduras, and the sending of a significant American Army contingent of men to Honduras to engage in periodic joint maneuvers with Honduran forces. Alongside this new program the Administration moved almost frantically to establish the Kissinger Commission, with a mandate to report on long-term U.S. policy toward Central America-but plainly with the hope that the Commission would help to create a bipartisan consensus in support of the Administration's short-term policies. The idea of such a commission had come originally from two Senators, the Republican Charles Mathias and the Democratic Henry Jackson (who died shortly after it came into being), but the Commission's membership was not truly bipartisan and was noteworthy for the fact that with one exception its members had no depth of area experience.32 Henry Kissinger remained a national figure, not previously enlisted (or even apparently frequently consulted) by the Administration, and while his own area experience was modest and mixed, his personal standing and capacities for judgment and articulation were counted on heavily.

The military program became public knowledge very rapidly, and in the confusion the Administration never really made its purposes clear. It appeared that the State Department had been largely left out, and the lack of effective coordination caused Secretary Shultz to complain personally to the President in early August (perhaps contributing to the subsequent departure from the White House of Judge Clark).

But the program, though sharply criticized in many quarters, did seem to have an impact on Nicaragua-which understandably saw it as foreshadowing the U.S. military action it has always seen as likely.33 By September 1 Nicaragua seemed more responsive to the negotiating efforts of the regional four-nation Contadora group, which in that month formulated a 21-point statement of principles for a negotiated settlement. And a special U.S. negotiator, former Democratic Senator Richard Stone (a hard-liner by past reputation), made several trips around the area, indicating U.S. willingness to pursue negotiations but avoiding a central issue, whether the United States would tolerate a communist Nicaragua even under a regional settlement with undertakings and safeguards against interference in other nations. Moreover, it was unclear what the Administration might do under a negotiated settlement about the covert opposition groups operating against the Sandinistas from Honduras and Costa Rica, of which the largest one was heavily backed and supported by the CIA.

By the end of the year Nicaragua had softened to the point of offering vague proposals for internal reform, plainly not yet acceptable to Washington, but the Contadora group had not been able to go beyond its general principles. Though the key countries were deeply concerned about the threat from Nicaragua-with Cuba the principal backer of the Sandinistas and with ultimate Soviet support and supply-they too were not clear what could be negotiated that would give some promise of easing the situation even for a time.

Meanwhile, it was crucial to the Administration's new approach that the Salvadoran situation itself remain at least stalemated. But in the last months of the year-the usual season for expanded guerrilla activity-the Salvadoran government suffered a succession of reverses, culminating in the destruction of a major bridge to the eastern part of the country that was defended by a large government force. And simultaneously the activities of right-wing death squads in El Salvador went on unchecked, both feeding the appeal of the guerrillas and intensifying criticism and concern within the United States and elsewhere. On this issue, the Administration took a much more forceful line in the fall than it had ever done before (in late 1982 then-Ambassador Deane Hinton had even been rebuked for a strong speech criticizing the death squads). Defense Under Secretary Fred Iklé made pointed comments during a visit to El Salvador, Henry Kissinger did likewise, and the big guns were brought up in the form of a strong statement by Vice President Bush in November, who brought with him a specific list of government military personnel involved in death squad activity who should be exiled.

But as of early January 1984 the weak Salvadoran government of President Magaña had not acted convincingly. Plainly the extremist right remained in a strong position both within the Salvadoran armed forces and in the Assembly, and its designated presidential candidate, the notorious Roberto d'Aubuisson, loomed as a threat to win the presidential elections scheduled for the spring of 1984.

Alongside getting the death squads under control, these elections had become the primary short-term target for U.S. policy in El Salvador. Former President José Napoleón Duarte was to head a coalition of his own Christian Democratic Party and other centrist groups, and the Administration staked its hopes heavily on his election. But even if this came about, the effects on the conduct of the war would probably take a considerable time to appear, and the momentum of the guerrillas appear difficult to reverse.

In this increasingly dark picture, the U.S. occupation of Grenada in October was a brighter note. It came about for unrelated reasons, although it undoubtedly was a blow to Cuba and added bite to the Administration's threatening posture toward Nicaragua. The occupation was clearly a crash decision, not based on long planning but on the extremist military coup of October 13 and the resulting threats of total communist control and to the 800 American medical students studying in Grenada. The Administration felt it had to act fast and it did-at the expense of serious friction with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain, who was not fully consulted despite the Commonwealth status of Grenada. Although the legal basis for the Administration's action was shaky, depending heavily on an appeal by several neighboring mini-states in the Eastern Caribbean, its practical justification gained force when it became known that the imprisoned Governor of Grenada had likewise appealed for help, and when the popular reaction within Grenada was revealed as overwhelmingly favorable. Almost all of the original U.S. force of 6,000 was withdrawn by December, though there was as yet no Commonwealth force to take the place of the remaining 300 men.

Apart from its dramatic effect on President Reagan's standing with the American public, the Grenada occupation was only a blip on the larger screen of policy in Central America and the Caribbean. In a wider sense, it dramatized the inherently unstable status of such mini-states and their high vulnerability to determined subversion. While the exposure of Cuban activity in Grenada did not necessarily prove that it would have become the important military base portrayed by the Administration, what Cuba had done to establish effective control, with Soviet help and on Soviet lines, was clear and could be repeated. The Caribbean presents its own problems, both political and economic, and a coherent U.S. policy has yet to emerge, although the enactment during the year of the trade provisions of the Caribbean Basin Initiative of 1982 was at least a good first step.

As to long-term policy toward Central America, the Kissinger Commission's report in early January could not be assessed as this article went to press. Whatever its impact on support for the Administration's short-term policies, the report will surely be important especially for its longer view of the needs of the small and strained Central American countries and what the United States can do, with others, to assist them to stand on their own feet and remain independent.


The crucially important U.S. relationship with Japan had on the whole a good year. Although a series of trade liberalization measures have still not opened the Japanese market to the extent Washington and American business circles (and other nations) seek and need, the trend was in the right direction and the Nakasone government's modest increase in its defense efforts was likewise welcome. If this were to be supplemented by a substantial increase in Japan's overseas economic effort, that effort could become an important offset to the continuing decline in U.S. foreign aid levels both multilateral and bilateral. And at the end of the year Japan's bid to become the recognized No. 2 nation in the World Bank and IMF was a sign that she might be moving toward an overall international policy commensurate with her economic stature.

After a bad patch, relations between the United States and China-equally important in the long term-improved significantly, although the Administration could still rock the boat by occasional loose statements of its support for Taiwan. Economic dealings were put on a steady and expanding course, and a limited military supply relationship stood open if the Chinese themselves really wanted it, which so far they had not.

Korea had a bad year. The mass killing by North Korean regular military officers, in Rangoon in November, of the core and best brains of the South Korean Cabinet, in a dramatic example of state-supported terrorism, served to unite Koreans for the time being behind President Chun Doo Hwan, as did the loss of the Korean airliner in September. Along with other East Asian nations, Korea remained a success story in economic terms, but its political stability was far from assured.

In the Philippines, the uncertain state of Ferdinand Marcos's health had already raised the issue of succession before the outrage of the assassination of the central opposition figure, Benigno Aquino, on August 21. The resulting outcry (based on almost universal belief that the deed had been done, if not by Marcos himself, at least by his close associates) threatened for a time to topple the regime, but Marcos stood firm and at the end of the year appeared still in control. But an already serious economic situation was brought to the crisis point by the drop in confidence, and the future seemed highly uncertain.

The Reagan Administration had received Marcos warmly in Washington in 1982, as part of its overall policy of seeking close relationships with authoritarian regimes important for security reasons, and of not criticizing them publicly. When he came under fire in the fall of 1983, the Administration reacted only by demanding an impartial investigation of the assassination and by quietly cancelling a planned trip by President Reagan to Manila. It was a posture sharply (and surely designedly) in contrast to the Carter Administration's handling of a beleaguered Somoza in Nicaragua in 1978-79, and posters attacking "the U.S.-Marcos regime" were prominent in many Manila demonstrations during the fall. But at the same time the United States was not seen to be taking any affirmative steps to prop up Marcos, and the fact that the opposition to him had no clear focus on any group or individual, with Aquino gone, made the problem somewhat easier. By the end of the year, the U.S. ambassador, Michael Armacost, was obviously acting on orders in urging steadily that the Assembly elections now set for May 1984 be genuinely free-in contrast to the rigged votes that had applied since Marcos imposed martial law in 1972.

With or without some debilitating decline in Marcos's health, the problem of a transition to a new regime, and the extent of the restoration of democracy, hung in the balance and might or might not be resolved during 1984. And in the meantime Congress would have to come to grips with whether or not to approve the new base agreement negotiated in May 1983, which would provide economic and military aid totaling $900 million over a three-year period. Subic Bay and Clark Field had not yet become grave issues in the Philippines, but the overall American presence in the Philippines is in any case so large that a turbulent political situation could confront Washington with tough choices.

From the outset, the Administration's policy toward South Africa stemmed from the same general attitudes as its policy toward authoritarian regimes that lack the abhorrent characteristic of apartheid. In 1983, Under Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger delivered a major speech in a moderate tone, urging the need for peaceful change (but conspicuously refusing to relax the U.S. refusal to deal in any way with the leading black opposition group, the African National Congress); and the November referendum among white voters on a new constitution to give Coloureds and Indians a new status (but not the black majority) was applauded by Washington as a forward move. Others saw it as at best a token and at worst a step away from granting blacks real participation in the political process. And the South African government was notably militant in its attacks on neighboring countries that gave aid to the ANC or to the black liberation movement for Namibia, SWAPO. U.S. criticism of these attacks was muted, and on the important problem of Namibia the Administration's continued insistence on the simultaneous departure of the Cubans from Angola had progressively alienated the other four members of the Contact Group that had once been the promising vehicle for a Namibia solution.34

Altogether, the Reagan Administration was doing little to head off South African policies that could hold the line for a time, but that might make an eventual explosion all the more violent-with the Soviets keeping up their support of the ANC and other opposition groups. The policy was profoundly repugnant to leading black groups and others within the United States, and opposition grew during the year and could reach serious proportions if violence should spread within South Africa or in the adjacent areas. But there seemed little chance that the Administration would be swayed from its chosen course.

A final word on the Administration's handling of its dealings with multilateral and world organizations. Here there has been from the outset an outspokenly negative attitude, reflected particularly in the U.S. Mission's behavior at the United Nations.35 One can debate the merits of a confrontational posture in that forum-and the Administration had strong allies in its criticisms of the inefficiency and profligacy of the U.N. bureaucracy, despite the excellent efforts of the present Secretary General, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar of Peru. But the scars of the 1982 U.S. rejection of the Law of the Sea Treaty remain, and the U.S. position on the IDA replenishment by the World Bank, already noted, was surely seen by a large number of the developing nations as strongly negative.

At the end of the year, one particular issue came to a head. The United Nations Education, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had become both heavily politicized, with an ideological bias, and extraordinarily profligate. For these qualities it was sharply and rightly criticized, and by many nations besides the United States.36 In December, the Reagan Administration concluded-notwithstanding the contrary advice of an appointed citizens' advisory council-that it should serve notice that it would withdraw from UNESCO by the end of 1984.37

The decision will be vindicated if it leads to marked improvement in UNESCO's behavior during the coming year-in which case the Administration could decide to stay. If there is not such an improvement, a rupture between UNESCO and the United States might have become inevitable at some point in any event. But final U.S. withdrawal would still break a significant tie, on an overall front where the United States may be losing unnecessary ground, not merely in debating terms on the always vague sounding board of "world opinion" but in more concrete terms of its relations with individual nations and with multilateral organizations to which it must turn frequently in any event.


In my title I have labeled the year "portentous." The mutter is audible-"all years are portentous," in a world where the chocks against conflict and its spread seem to be steadily eroding. But to this observer there was a smell to the events of the year, especially at its close, that in its mixture of favorable short-term news and deteriorating important situations recalled two previous years, 1964 and 1978. In the former, American confidence had stood at an all-time postwar high, but the Vietnam situation hung like a cloud-and of course burst in 1965. And at the end of 1978 President Carter had brought off the Camp David Accords and normalization with China, but the collapse of the Shah in Iran was imminent and was to prove in the next two years the root of new and grave problems, as well as of Carter's own undoing.

Something of the same judgment must apply to the situation at the end of 1983. As we have noted, the public mood was one of mixed approval and apprehension, and the latter feeling was perhaps predominant in informed quarters including some senior policymakers. 1984 seemed overwhelmingly likely to produce greater difficulties and perhaps traumatic decisions.

If one had to use a single word to describe the Administration's handling of the two key areas of crisis or impending crisis-the Middle East and Central America-my own choice would be "dogged." The Administration was at best muddling along, sticking to its broad objectives but faced with intractable developments to which it could often only react, sometimes unsuccessfully and never with more than limited success. The dilemmas remained real-"Whether . . . to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them?" The latter choice was particularly tempting, at least to this Administration, in the case of Nicaragua, but in the Middle East what would surely be intended as a judicious use of force might likewise beckon and could even be compelled in some fashion.

On the opposite side of the coin, negotiations might offer hope in the Central American quagmire-although any "settlement" would surely leave the situation there highly uncertain; in the Middle East there was no such early hope, only that the situation in Lebanon might simmer down and the Gulf not erupt. In each case wise policy choices should give heavy emphasis to strong underlying trends in the Middle East and in Latin America as a whole. The resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism is a powerful force today. And there is deep and growing sentiment in Latin America that the continent must work out its own problems; unilateral U.S. action on any large scale could run the long-term risk of alienating much of Latin America, especially the rising younger generation of an area whose population will be double that of the United States by the year 2000.38

It is a paradox that Latin American sentiment against unilateral U.S. security action should have reached its present high pitch just at a time when major South American countries are heavily dependent on large-scale U.S. trade and financial help (along with that of others) to handle their debt crisis. Yet paradoxes are often political reality, and if the United States were seen to be stingy and insensitive in its response to the continuing debt crisis, the political consequences in Latin America (serious domestically in any case) could well include a strong push in the direction of alienation and confrontation toward the United States.

Such underlying long-term factors could be hard for any Administration (but perhaps especially this one) to grasp, or to articulate to an American public that still has what Dean Acheson once called a tendency to believe that foreign policy problems are like headaches, and that they can be dealt with, if not by the aspirin to which Acheson referred, at least by firm and determined U.S. action, unilateral if necessary. (In this sense Grenada was surely a unique case, and to the extent the emotions it engendered persisted, these would not be helpful.) And it must be noted that while this President and his Administration have produced an increasing volume of rhetoric on their willingness to negotiate-from arms control to the Middle East to Central America-the actual negotiating positions have been vague on Central America and until recently inequitable and unrealistic on strategic arms. This is not a President likely to accept negotiated deals that cannot be presented as wholly in U.S. favor, and yet just such give-and-take deals may be the only alternatives to wider action.

But there is another large danger, of a growing gap in perceptions of the world as between the Reagan Administration (and most Americans) and the members of the broad Western Alliance that remains the crucial foundation not only of U.S. policy but of world order. Over and over again, for at least 30 years, the United States has felt it had to take responsibility for action in difficult and ambiguous situations in parts of the world where other members of the Alliance were either unable or unwilling to act. But even when the United States went wrong on a large scale-as I believe it did in Vietnam-it has been possible to hold the Western Alliance together, and in the case of Vietnam the United States was never alienated from the nations of the region involved, East Asia.

More and more, the triple tasks-of preserving essential U.S. interests, holding the Alliance together, and retaining strong relationships and U.S. influence among regional nations affected by crises-are going to be arduous and demanding. What the United States sees as paramount needs will not necessarily be perceived in the same light by other nations, and the differences in perception are already visibly serious on many fronts. And, as Americans familiar with their own country's behavior prior to 1941 should recall, there is always a strong tendency in nations not in the front line to take a critical view of the responsible nation's handling of a given problem, even to the point of carping.

By far the most important difference of perception concerns the degree of threat from the Soviet Union, and on this point the Reagan Administration's broad view seems to this observer nearer to reality than the often excessively sanguine and parochial stated positions of other major nations. But the President's Manichaean expressions of that view, as well as some of the Administration's early policy initiatives since modified, have unnecessarily widened a gap that it is deeply in the U.S. interest to narrow.

Part of that narrowing must be a much more determined and effective effort at arms control than the Administration mounted in its first three years-just as soon as the opportunity again presents itself. Public sentiment in America and Europe may exaggerate the short-term dangers of the nuclear arms race, and both publics remain vague and sometimes shallow in their understanding of how major reductions in the nuclear arsenals of the superpowers can best be achieved in practice. But the longer-term concern is deeply right, and it will be tragic if the issue is not tackled much more vigorously by both superpowers in the near future.

The most acute and immediate problem remains the handling of the kind of regional crises exemplified by the Middle East and Central America. Here the trick for U.S. policy must be to understand and take full account of the local factors involved, not for a moment ignoring the basic Soviet factor now present in both situations, but acting judiciously to meet the local threat on a wide front and to enlist the maximum possible regional support and advice. It is a tall order. If the United States resorts to unilateral action that it cannot effectively explain to friendly and potentially friendly nations, there could be enormous damage not only to the prospects for world peace but to that effective influence on other nations that is in the last analysis the essence of U.S. power.

Choices that involve these factors heavily may not come about in 1984. But they do loom as distinct possibilities, if not then, at some point in the near future. And it is this thought, above all, that leads me to the conclusion that the overall situation today is as threatening and truly portentous as it has been at any time since World War II.

1 Joseph Kraft, "It's Been a Reagan Year," The Washington Post, December 29, 1983, p. A17.

2 In December, a poll by Yankelovich, Skelly & White asked what were the main problems facing the country. The leading answer was "danger of war," at 31%. Three other foreign policy issues-the Middle East, the nuclear arms race, and Central America-were in the top six stated subjects of concern. Time, December 26, 1983, p. 13.

4 In early December, for example, a series of apparently conflicting presidential statements about American intentions in Lebanon confused President Amin Gemayel of that country to the point where he requested clarification. Gemayel apparently felt the statements were at variance with what he thought the President had assured him of in his visit to Washington just before. A noteworthy instance of the President's loose grasp of detail was his candid admission, in October, that he had never fully taken in the fact that the Administration's May 1982 START proposal, in stressing sharp reductions in land-based strategic missile forces (while excluding bombers), was dealing with an element that comprised a high percentage (72% in fact) of the total strategic missile force on the Soviet side and a much lower percentage (22%) on the American side. See also footnote 8.

5 In late October, Lou Cannon, White House correspondent for The Washington Post and the writer of a not unsympathetic biography of the President, quoted a congressional leader's remark that "Reagan displayed 'an unusually detailed grasp' of strategic details" concerning Grenada. The Washington Post, October 26, 1983, p.A1. Cannon quickly admitted he had thought the comment newsworthy because of its contrast with the more usual picture of presidential grasp.

6 One responsible poll took readings just before and just after this address and found-in response to a question whether the country was headed in the right direction-that the affirmative percentage was 43% before the speech and rose to 58% after it. ABC News/The Washington Post poll, summarized in its Survey 0091, Question 9. Daniel Yankelovich has written that in the "pre-Watergate" era, a President "could count on adding up to 50 percent of the electorate to his support column" after he announced major foreign policy decisions. "Farewell to 'President Knows Best,'" Foreign Affairs, America and the World 1978, p. 670. While President Reagan's impact has hardly brought the country back to that period, it is certainly far greater than that of his recent predecessors.

9 Time, December 26, 1983, p. 13.

10 The Gallup Poll found that Reagan's performance rating rose 4% between late August and early September (from 43% to 47% approving). Before the Grenada invasion, the President's approval rating was 46%; after, 53%. The approval of high school graduates increased most: 45%-60% before and after Grenada. Men approving of Reagan increased from 47% to 58%. October 16 and November 20, 1983 (press releases).

11 Reagan's foreign policy rating in early November was 55% approving, 37% disapproving; in January, 45% approving and 33% disapproving, and in September, 42% and 50%, according to ABC/Washington Post polls, Survey 0091. In early November, 69% approved Reagan's handling of the situation in Grenada; 24% disapproved, according to the same poll.

12 The same poll, concluded on November 7, found that 62% of Americans trusted the President to make the right decisions; 34% did not.

13 In the same poll, 45% of Americans believed the U.S. would go to war in Lebanon; 44% did not. Asked whether Lebanon was important enough to risk war, 56% responded no, 33% said yes.

14 In early November, 51% said Reagan was handling foreign affairs better than Carter; 18% said not as well. ABC/Washington Post Survey 0091.

15 In 1973, 45% of Americans held a favorable opinion of the U.S.S.R.; in 1976, 21%; in early 1979, 34%; after the invasion of Afghanistan, 13%; in 1982, 21%; and in September after the KAL incident, 9%. This was the lowest since 1956, when 5% held a favorable opinion of the U.S.S.R. The Gallup Poll, special report on opinion of the Soviet Union, October 23, 1983.

16 The word "man" is deliberate. There remained a substantial difference between the responses of men and women on many issues, particularly foreign policy. In a New York Times survey in November, 57% of men approved of the way Ronald Reagan was handling foreign policy, while only 43% of women did so. In an ABC/Washington Post poll of October, the respective percentages were 64 for men and 48 for women.

17 On January 19, five former Treasury Secretaries urged tax increases and deficit reduction. The New York Times, January 20, 1983, p. A1. On March 26, six former Cabinet members of both parties called for a $25 billion cut in military spending and for a reduction of the deficit from $175 to $75 billion. The New York Times, March 27, 1983, p. 37.

18 Hobart Rowan, The Washington Post, December 8, 1983.

21 See Bertram, "Europe and America in 1983," at p. 627 of this issue.

23 I have long been suspicious of neat historical generalizations, but one remark heard during the year has stuck in my mind. A German expert on the Middle East quoted the words of a senior PLO leader as follows: "The 1960s were the decade of Arab nationalism under Nasser, the 1970s were our decade [the PLO's], but the 1980s will be the decade of Islamic fundamentalism."

26 After Arafat left Tripoli in December 1983, he paid an important visit to President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Washington applauded the meeting, clearly on the basis that it suggested Arafat moving closer to Egyptian views; but it was roundly denounced in Israel, which continued to demonize Arafat and to regard him as a terrorist pure and simple.

27 See David B. Ottoway, "Marines, in Quest of Beirut 'Presence,' Became a Target Instead," The Washington Post, December 8, 1983, p. A21, for an excellent summary of the evolution of the mission of the Marines and their experiences during 1983.

28 The New York Times, December 15, 1983, p. A1. It was these statements that particularly disturbed Amin Gemayel, as noted in footnote 3.

29 Flora Lewis, "Think, and Dial Moscow," The New York Times, December 6, 1983, p. A31.

30 An ABC/Washington Post poll on November 7 found 68% of Americans believed Syria, backed by the Soviet Union, would take over Lebanon if U.S. Marines were withdrawn; 25% disagreed. Loc. cit. footnote 11.

31 For a good short summary of Israel's situation at the end of the year, see "Troubles never come singly," The Economist, January 7-13, 1984, p. 29.

32 Thus there was no effort to include the many moderate Republicans and moderate-to-liberal Democrats who had participated in previous studies of the area, for example, in two recent commission studies chaired by Sol Linowitz. And the only member with long living experience in the areå-Professor Carlos F. Diaz-Alejandro, a distinguished Yale economist with a strong Latin American suit-was apparently confused with a businessman brother of strong conservative credentials.

34 These were Britain, Canada, France and West Germany.

35 See Finger, loc. cit. footnote 21.

38 These points were eloquently made by the distinguished Mexican author/diplomat, Carlos Fuentes, in an address to the Harvard Alumni Association on June 9, 1983. Substantial portions of this speech appeared in The Boston Globe of June 10, and the full text was published in The Harvard Gazette, Commencement Issue, June 1983.



You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now