Courtesy Reuters

Living With the Soviets

In 1955, just after the summit meeting between President Eisenhower, General Secretary Khrushchev and Prime Minister Bulganin in Geneva, Chip Bohlen, then our ambassador to the Soviet Union, invited my family and me to stay at the American ambassador's residence in Moscow. At that time the British ambassador in Moscow was Sir William Hayter. There was a story that Hayter, when asked what it was like to negotiate with the Russians, had said it was rather like dealing with a defective vending machine. You put in a coin and nothing comes out. There may be some sense in shaking it, you may get your coin back; but there is no point in talking to it.

Hayter's statement, like most witty remarks, is a gross overstatement, but there is a kernel of truth in it. It can serve as a starting point for a review of the differences and difficulties that have beset the conduct of our relations with the Soviet Union.


First, we have to consider how the Communists think that policy should be analyzed. They start with the proposition that there are certain fundamental theses that distinguish the Communist approach to the world from that of others, particularly from that of the capitalist world. Among these theses are the primacy of the class struggle and the continuing fight against "imperialism" in the formerly colonial world. These theses they hold to be unchangeable.

They also have a somewhat more flexible view with respect to strategy. They think that strategy should, from time to time, be altered to reflect changes in the "correlation of forces." In the correlation of forces they include not only military forces, but economic, political and psychological factors as well. When the correlation of forces is favorable to their ends, their doctrine calls on them to exploit that favorable correlation by moving forward. When the correlation of forces is negative, the doctrine calls upon them to hold or to retreat while they attempt to reverse the adverse trends.

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