American-Soviet relations can be approached in two ways. One approach avails itself of the techniques of meteorology, in that it concentrates on taking regular readings of the East-West climate as manifested in the level of rhetoric emanating from Washington and Moscow, the prevalence or absence of dialogues and negotiations, and the intensity of their competition in regions outside their immediate control. This approach is favored by journalists because it focuses on concrete events which they can report as news and subject to instant analysis. It also prevails in liberal circles whose adherents believe that there exist no genuine differences of either values or interests among nations and that such conflicts as do occur derive from mutual misunderstanding or lack of conciliatory spirit, mainly on the part of U.S. administrations.
The alternative approach has more in common with the science of geology. It perceives the East-West conflict as rooted in fundamental differences dividing the two societies, differences which are imbedded, as it were, in their respective ideological substances and political structures. Firm diplomacy and military preparedness may prevent these disagreements from erupting into overt hostility, but they cannot alter the reality of an inherent antagonism. This second approach, dominant among Western conservatives, happens also to be shared by the Soviet leadership.
Neither of these approaches is entirely satisfactory. Surely, relations among sovereign states involve more than atmospherics; there unquestionably exist significant differences in the nature and operations of democratic and communist societies that neither enhanced human contacts, nor good will, nor proper negotiating techniques can eliminate. These differences affect relations of the two societies because of the close and direct relationship that exists between a country's internal condition and its external conduct: foreign policy, after all, is driven mainly by domestic interests and shaped by a society's political culture. If this is the case, then the decisive factors influencing the course of East-West relations must be sought elsewhere than in the day-to-day decisions of the leaders of the respective blocs, and
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