Courtesy Reuters

Reykjavik and Revelations: A Turn of the Tide?

For much of its first six years, the Reagan Administration has cruised along in its foreign policy in a manner both serene and enviable. The errors in nuclear policy that had marred our relations with Europe in President Reagan’s first year were attributed to growing pains. Mistakes such as the Euro-Siberian gas pipeline controversy with the Europeans and the Administration’s initial hard line toward the People’s Republic of China were repaired with little permanent damage. Even a major blunder, our ill-starred intervention in Lebanon, was terminated quickly—and our forces extricated with such tactical skill that little permanent damage was done (save to our prestige and influence within the Middle East). Certain other actions—our support of El Salvador, our move into Grenada and our attack on Libya—however controversial at the outset, turned out to be generally successful and much of the initial criticism died away.

Meanwhile the Soviet Union was passing through a time of troubles. International dynamics in a world still significantly bipolar reflect to a large extent a kind of counterpoint between the United States and the Soviet Union. Consequently, the position and prestige of one superpower tends to vary inversely with the gains or losses of the other. At least until the accession of General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union appeared plagued by bad luck and unable to deal with its many internal and external problems. President Reagan had had the good fortune to come into office as the Soviet Union went through three succession crises in a row. In addition to its internal drift, the U.S.S.R.’s policies were also marked by a series of blunders—from the walkouts at the INF (Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces) and START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks) negotiations in Geneva, the heavy hand and threats directed against Western Europe, and the shooting down of a Korean Air Lines passenger jet. For much of the early 1980s, therefore, the Soviet Union wore the black hat

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