The Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan were the decisive initial moves in an effort to stem a postwar Soviet thrust for hegemony in western Eurasia that had been gathering momentum in the bleak winter and early spring of 1946-47. The historical circumstances pose two related questions: Why did the enterprise seem in Moscow a possible dream? Why did the U.S. reaction to the Soviet pursuit of its objective come late? The American delay imparted, as lagged responses and feedback generally do, a cyclical character to the U.S.-Soviet relationship which was to persist and yield three distinct cycles over the next four decades.

A full answer to the first question surely involves mixed impulses of fear and ambition deeply rooted in Russia’s history and collective memory, elements of ideological commitment and evangelism, and more mundane variables of geography, resources and technological capacity. But the cold war can be viewed more simply. It has arisen from the fourth major effort in the twentieth century by a latecomer on the world scene to enlarge its power at the expense of earlier front-runners already at or beyond the inherent limits of their international stature. Stripped of details, the past century has witnessed two attempts by Germany, one by Japan and, since 1945, one by the Soviet Union to achieve strategic hegemony in their respective regions, although Soviet ambitions in the cold war evidently came to reach much farther—as did Germany’s at the peak of its ambitions.


Think for a moment of how things stood in 1870 when Bismarck rounded out the German Empire with his three small wars. Britain accounted for 32 percent of the world’s industrial production; Germany, 13 percent; France, 10 percent; Russia, 4 percent; and across the Atlantic, the United States, 23 percent. The Japanese, only two years beyond the Meiji Restoration, were not in this company.

The German takeoff began in the 1840s; the Japanese, in the 1880s; the Russian, in the 1890s. By 1914 Germany had acquired all the then existing major technologies, as had Japan and the Soviet Union by 1941. These three challengers had come, in my vocabulary, to technological maturity which, in that era, required some 60 years beyond the takeoff. By 1936-38 the shares of world industrial production reflected the relative decline of Britain and France, the rise of Russia and the appearance of Japan in the arena of power: Britain had 9 percent; Germany, 11 percent; France, 5 percent; Russia, 19 percent; the United States, 32 percent; Japan, 4 percent. World War II canceled out for a time two of these players, gravely weakened two others, and left a proud, ambitious but war-torn Soviet Union and an undamaged United States economically rehabilitated from the Great Depression.

My first proposition is, then, that it was not unreasonable for Soviet planners, as Allied victory became increasingly certain after the great turnaround in the autumn of 1942—at Stalingrad and at both ends of North Africa—to set their sights high for the postwar extension of Soviet power. There is ample evidence that they did.

But what about the United States? After all, as the war ended it was the greatest industrial power in the world, producing almost half the world’s output and enjoying a monopoly on nuclear weapons. But the United States was also unilaterally disarming. It was behaving as if it were about to repeat its convulsive withdrawal from responsibility of 1919-20. American behavior appeared every day to be confirming President Roosevelt’s opening statement at Yalta, in which he made what Churchill described as the "momentous" prediction that the United States would not keep a large army in Europe and that its occupation of Germany could be envisaged for only two years. Anyone who wishes to understand why the Soviet Union cautiously concluded that it might dominate Europe should examine the course of American politics and policy in 1945-46. Robert J. Donovan, in his biography of Truman, correctly designated 1946 a "disastrous" year.

This poses the second question: Why was the American reaction to the Soviet movement toward European hegemony so late?

The full answer lies in the same variables that explain Russian behavior: history, ideology, geography and economic capacity. But we should begin with a narrower question: Did some special dispensation of grace exempt the United States from the latecomer’s impulse to seek regional hegemony?

By no means. The American takeoff came about the same time as Germany’s, in the 1840s and 1850s. The American instinct to deploy its new power was expressed, in the first instance, in consolidating its authority across the American continent, and then in asserting itself in the Pacific, the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico. But however strong the imperialist impulse may have been among some Americans of the pre-1914 generation, it was reined in by three forces: an ideological sense among a good many other Americans that imperialism was incompatible with the values and institutions on which American society was built; disconcerting confrontations with nationalism in areas that resisted American intrusion (for example, in the Philippines and Mexico); and, starting in 1917, the recurrent problem of dealing defensively with the efforts of latecomers to achieve hegemony at a time when Britain, which had managed the balance for almost a century after 1815, could no longer cope without our active engagement.

When American energy was focused on the rounding out and consolidation of the North American continent, we had a positive sequence of objectives and were capable of taking the initiative or acting swiftly—and sometimes brutally—to exploit unexpected opportunities. But when we inherited part of the task of fending off thrusts for hegemony in Europe or Asia our central mission in protecting the national interest became negative and defensive. We acted reluctantly, late, and usually in a context of crisis. To this day our traditional political rhetoric makes it difficult—almost embarrassing—to articulate the quite sensible balance-of-power strand in the national interest.

Nevertheless, if one were to play over the last seven decades without a soundtrack—putting aside the rhetoric, debates and oscillations of American foreign policy—the United States has behaved in times of crisis in a consistent way. We have consistently acted as if we were mortally endangered should a single power or coalition achieve hegemony in Western Europe, in Asia, or in both. We have also, of course, reacted systematically since the 1920s whenever a major extracontinental power threatened to install substantial military force in this hemisphere. In the nuclear age we have reacted consistently whenever we have judged ourselves potentially threatened by a first strike that might radically reduce our second-strike capability, or whenever our allies have been placed under heavy diplomatic pressure backed by an explicit nuclear threat.

But the acceptance by an effective majority of American citizens that the nation had abiding interests in the balance of power in Europe (and Asia) came hard. Even in World War II it required the attack on Pearl Harbor and Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States to resolve the deeply rooted national schism concerning the nature of our interests in Eurasia. As many have noted, this is a problem reaching back to John Winthrop’s time and our self-image as a "city upon a hill"; to Washington’s Farewell Address almost 170 years later; and to the many other occasions when Americans felt impelled to distinguish their society, values and posture on the world scene from those of the wicked Old World. We tended to await times of acute crisis, when U.S. interests—strategic, ideological and economic—palpably converged, before acting forcefully to restore the balance of power in Eurasia. That is what happened in 1917 and 1941. The spring of 1947 was also such a time, and the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan resulted, providing between them a posture comfortable for a substantial majority of Americans. Thus ended the first cold-war downswing of 1945-47, giving way to the contentious upswing of the first cycle.


There have been three distinct cold-war cycles, measured peak-to-peak from an American perspective: 1945-55, 1955-73 and 1973-87. The first cycle might be called the Truman-Stalin duel. It began, as I have suggested, with a descent from a wartime peak in the relative power of the United States. This retrogression was marked by U.S. weakness and confusion in 1945-46, including rapid unilateral reductions in effective military strength. This interval was also marked by progressive movement toward the division of Germany and Europe. Then in 1947 came the first two of three belated American cold-war reactions—the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan—followed two years later, in the wake of the blockade of Berlin, by the creation of NATO.

As Europe quieted down into a stalemate along the Elbe in 1948-49, the scene of intense action shifted to Asia. There, Mao Zedong moved toward victory in China while the French continued to fight the Viet Minh to maintain their hold in Indochina. Guerrilla warfare erupted in Burma, Malaya, Indonesia and the Philippines; and the Korean War was planned (according to Khrushchev) in Moscow early in 1950 by Stalin and Mao at Kim Il Sung’s instigation. Following the death of Stalin in 1953, a truce was quickly negotiated in Korea, and Mao, in his somewhat idiosyncratic style, turned to domestic development. Asia, like Europe, seemed to have settled into a postwar stability. The exception was the struggle in Indochina; and that conflict, after eight years, appeared to be sealed off by the Geneva Accords of 1954. The Austrian State Treaty and the Geneva summit of 1955 seemed to signal a possible subsidence of the cold war after a decade of thrust and counterthrust amid the dishevelment of post-World War II Eurasia.

But in 1955 the second cycle was, in fact, already under way, its contours foreshadowed by Khrushchev’s nuclear threat, made in Birmingham during his visit to Great Britain, and by the Soviet-Egyptian arms deal. The Soviet thrust consisted of thermonuclear-tipped missiles—used to apply political pressure on Western Europe—and the extension of the cold war into the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and, before long, Latin America. Soviet momentum accelerated after Sputnik I was launched in October 1957 and after an optimistic communist summit meeting was held in Moscow in November of that year. The tone of that meeting was well captured in Mao’s keynote address at the University of Moscow, in which he argued that "the East Wind is prevailing over the West Wind. That is to say, the forces of socialism have become overwhelmingly superior to the forces of imperialism."

Soviet initiatives followed in the Congo, in Indochina, where war was revived in 1958 by Hanoi, and in the Caribbean, where Castro rose to power in 1959. Nuclear blackmail assumed a quite lucid, operational form with Khrushchev’s on-again, off-again ultimatum on Berlin, with its explicit threat to Western transport routes.

This was what confronted John Kennedy when the second turnaround began. The American response to nuclear blackmail built up to related climactic crises in Berlin in 1961 and early 1962 and the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962. The Congo gradually settled down under U.N. auspices; and the 1962 Geneva Accords on Laos appeared to have again yielded calm in Indochina. But, as in the first cold-war cycle, there was a second round of conflict, including the movement to substantial conventional war in Indochina in 1964-65, the Malaysian-Indonesian konfrontasi and an attempted communist coup in Indonesia, and an exacerbation of the multiple conflicts of the Middle East. The latter conflict reached a temporary climax in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war; the Indochina conflict in the peace agreement of January 1973.

It was in this second round that the protracted test between communist and non-communist methods of modernization in the developing regions, launched with President Truman’s 1949 Point Four, was fully joined.

With the beginning of the normalization of U.S.-China relations, the Nixon-Brezhnev summit meetings and the first Strategic Arms Limitation Talks treaty, there was an interval in the early 1970s during which it appeared the cold war might be subsiding.

Then came the third cycle. It was triggered by the convergence of the self-destruction of an American president via Watergate, throwing the whole political system out of balance for the better part of the 1970s, and the underlying schisms, traumas and uncertainties generated by the protracted U.S. military engagement in Southeast Asia. The result was not only a remarkable period of unilateral reduction in U.S. military expenditures relative to GNP, but an across-the-board weakening of American will to deal with strategic reality. Perhaps a bit to their own surprise, Soviet planners, conducting their correlation-of-forces analyses in 1973-75, perceived the most attractive array of opportunities since Sputnik I—or perhaps even since Roosevelt’s opening statement at Yalta. As in the 1955-73 cycle, there was an exercise in nuclear blackmail against Europe—this time with the SS-20 missile buildup. There were new thrusts, exploiting Cuban and Vietnamese forces, into the Caribbean and Central America, Angola, Ethiopia, Yemen and Indochina, permitting the acquisition or strengthening of important Soviet naval and air bases. Finally, there was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. This triggered the third belated, reactive turnaround in U.S. policy, echoing those of 1947 and 1961.

Eight years after the turnaround of 1979, the United States and the Soviet Union are in a phase of relative political equilibrium (like 1953-55 and 1969-73) that might be translated into either a movement toward ending the cold war or yet another phase of befuddled American weakness, ambitious Soviet activism, a belated U.S. response and a fourth cycle.

On the hopeful side, the votes of the European parliaments on the cruise and Pershing missiles in the early 1980s put an end to the second Soviet attempt at nuclear blackmail. The expansion of U.S. military budgets since 1979 has improved the overall military balance. Nationalist resistance to communist intrusions in Central America, Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia, supported by the United States and others, has thus far prevented Soviet consolidation of the apparent gains of the 1970s. On the other hand, recent domestic economic policy has put U.S. social and defense outlays into conflict. The connection between U.S. strength and the pursuit of a more stable peace, confused by the Reykjavik summit, has not been made clear to the American people or their major allies. And the Iran/contra imbroglio threatens to weaken U.S. military and foreign policy on a broad front, as did Watergate from 1973 to 1979.


I have, with purpose, evoked this dreary 40-year saga as if the sole powerful force at work in the world arena were the U.S.-Soviet cold-war duel and as if each of the three cyclical rounds of the duel were of equal significance to the relative power of the two major contestants. Neither proposition is true.

It was historically understandable, if not quite inevitable, that the Soviet Union would make a bid for hegemony in Eurasia after 1945 and that the United States would react, even if belatedly. In fact, power in the post-1945 world arena was never wholly duopolistic and became progressively less so. Consequently, the geopolitical stake for each side in each of the three cycles of the cold war progressively diminished, while the stake for each side in avoiding a nuclear exchange increased with the buildup in the stockpiles of nuclear weapons and the improvement of technologies for their accurate delivery.

After all, the first round (1945-55) directly concerned regions and nations that still determine the strategic balance in Eurasia. It settled the initial postwar political and strategic orientation of Western Europe, Germany, Eastern Europe, Japan, China and India. The second round (1955-73) related to the Eurasian balance in a somewhat more oblique way: the Berlin crisis and the diplomatic and psychological threat to Western Europe via nuclear missiles; the acceptance or rejection of Soviet missiles in the western hemisphere; and the future balance of forces in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

The intensity of the Soviet nuclear blackmail threat via the SS-20 in the third round, with its denouement in the votes of West European parliaments, did not match the intensity and raw drama of the Berlin and Cuban missile crises 20 years earlier. Similarly, the ample supply of trouble generated in recent years in Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean does not appear to have had quite the immediate strategic importance of the earlier crises in the Third World.

The implications of this point should not be misconstrued. The shift of the East-West struggle to what might be regarded as more peripheral areas, where Soviet support was thrown behind local communists when opportunity for incursions was created or otherwise occurred, does not mean that these initially limited efforts to enlarge communist power could not have affected the central power balance if ignored by the United States and others who opposed Soviet hegemony. The incursions in each of these regions, if unchecked, could have yielded major shifts in the Eurasian or western hemispheric power balance. Nevertheless, the crises of the third round (1973-87) have had distinctly less initial specific gravity than their predecessors.

Why should this be so? One reason is that the orientation of the major strategic regions was settled in the first cold-war cycle and has not been subsequently upset. There have been, of course, some substantial shifts: the defection of Yugoslavia from the Soviet orbit, the Sino-Soviet schism and the communist successes in Cuba, Nicaragua and Indochina. But it is also the case that quietly, erratically, the capacity of the developing regions to resist intrusion and to shape their own destiny has been increasing. In part, nationalism, always fundamental, has gathered strength. In part, economic, social and technical progress under non-communist auspices has reduced the possibility of external manipulation. The members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, for example, used to good effect the time painfully bought in Vietnam between 1965 and 1975 and rallied together rather than collapsed when Saigon fell. At the moment, the major threats to these countries stem from domestic instability rather than overt external aggression of the kind that engulfed Indochina. In the Middle East the Iranian revolution, the Iran-Iraq war and the tragic internecine struggle in Lebanon show that the countries of the region are not wholly the playthings of cold-war manipulation or ideology and will increasingly go their own, not always attractive, ways. Indeed, historians may well assess the rising power of nationalism and the demonstration of the superiority of non-communist over communist methods of modernization as more significant over the past two generations than most of the cold-war clashes, serious though they were.

Still another somewhat related trend has been quietly at work reshaping the world arena of power over the past two generations: the relative decline in the economic power of the Soviet Union and the United States as Western and Southern Europe, Japan, the developing countries of the Pacific Basin, and some of the more advanced developing countries in other regions have moved forward more rapidly. The combined gross national product of the United States and the U.S.S.R. may have declined from about 44 percent to 33 percent of the global product between 1950 and 1980.

To sum up thus far: the three rounds of the cold war have conformed to a pattern of Soviet initiative and belated U.S. response, reflecting the historical roots and asymmetrical character of the struggle. There was nothing self-limiting about this long succession of thrusts, and their containment required considerable effort by the United States and others. Nevertheless, the issues at stake in each round have been increasingly less fundamental to the strategic position of the two central players. This is partly because the capacity of the Soviet Union and the United States to influence the behavior of the developing nations has progressively declined with the rise in power and assertiveness of nationalism and the overall strengthening of their economic foundations. The Soviet Union and the United States have maintained over these 40 years the two greatest concentrations of nuclear power. These have proved to be useful almost exclusively to assure mutual nuclear deterrence, although the U.S.S.R. unsuccessfully mounted two major exercises in nuclear blackmail. But usable military power, as well as economic capacity, has tended to diffuse away from both superpowers; and the costs of all-out war have steadily increased for both parties.

In short, barring an irrational stumbling into nuclear war, the underlying historical forces at work would appear to decree that the Russian latecomer’s drive for hegemony—like the earlier efforts of Germany and Japan—will fail. If the United States were to engage in such a hegemonic effort, it also would fail. The second half of the twentieth century has proved a bad time for empires. The 21st century promises to be worse. The question is: Can we bring the cold war to an end without the kind of major conflict that ended the German and Japanese efforts, which, in a nuclear age, would constitute a disaster for all humanity?


The possibility of a soft landing for the cold war is strengthened by two related revolutions that have been proceeding concurrently over the past decade. One is a major technological revolution generated in the advanced industrial countries, the other an educational revolution mounted in the more advanced developing countries, which is putting them in a position to absorb and apply the new technologies. What can be observed, for example, in South Korea’s remarkable race to high-tech status is what we can expect increasingly over the next several generations in the developing regions.

Taken together, these revolutions are accelerating the diffusion of power away from both Washington and Moscow and posing domestic challenges that render the ideological aspects of the cold war increasingly anachronistic. The logic of these revolutionary forces calls for a quite different, still difficult, but potentially more benign U.S.-Soviet relationship.

To validate these bald assertions requires that we examine a bit more closely the dual revolutions and the challenges they pose for both the older and newer industrial societies.

The technologies that moved from invention to innovation in the mid-1970s include microelectronics, genetic engineering, a batch of new industrial materials, lasers, robots and various new means of communication. They have four distinctive characteristics: a close linkage to areas of basic science also undergoing revolutionary change; a capacity to galvanize the old basic industries as well as agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry and the whole range of services; an immediate relevance to developing countries to a degree depending on their stage of growth; and a degree of diversification such that no single country is likely to dominate them as, for example, Britain dominated the early stage of cotton textiles and the United States the early stage of the mass-produced automobile.

While the old industrial countries of the North have been spawning this glamorous, much discussed revolution in technology, the developing regions of the South have been mounting a little-noted human revolution of their own.

Overall, the proportion of the population aged 20-24 enrolled in higher education in what the World Bank calls "lower middle income" countries rose from 3 percent to 10 percent between 1960 and 1982; for "upper middle income" countries the figure increased from 4 percent to 14 percent. For Brazil, fated to be a major actor in this drama, the proportion rose from one percent in 1965 to 12 percent in 1982. In India, with low per capita income but a vital educational system, the figure rose from 3 percent to 9 percent. To understand the meaning of these figures, it should be recalled that in 1960 the proportion for the United Kingdom was 9 percent, for Japan 10 percent.

There has been, moreover, a radical shift toward science and engineering. In India, for example, the pool of scientists and engineers has increased from about 190,000 in 1960 to 2.4 million in 1984—a critical mass exceeded only in the United States and the Soviet Union. In Mexico the annual average increase of graduates in natural science was about 3 percent, and in engineering 5 percent, in the period 1957 to 1973. From 1973 to 1981 the comparable figures were an astonishing 14 percent and 24 percent, respectively—an almost fivefold acceleration.

Even discounting for problems of educational quality, the potential absorptive capacity for the new technologies in the more advanced developing countries is high. Their central problem—like that of most advanced industrial countries—is how to make effective use of the increasingly abundant scientific and engineering skills they already command. This requires, in turn, an ability to generate and maintain flexible, interactive partnerships among scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and the working force.

These figures, signaling a surge in technological absorptive capacity, mark the arrival of a stage when national growth rates are, under normal circumstances, at a maximum. Despite current vicissitudes, India, the developing countries of the Pacific Basin (including China) and those containing most of the population of Latin America are likely to absorb the new technologies and move rapidly forward over the next several generations. Much the same would happen, I believe, if the Middle East could find its way from its chronic bloodletting to a twentieth-century version of the Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years’ War in 1648.

Thus, if my view of what lies ahead is broadly correct, the world economy and polity face a familiar adjustment in which latecomers narrow and finally close the gap with front-runners. But this time it is likely to occur on an unprecedented scale. The advanced industrial countries (including the U.S.S.R. and the East European nations) now constitute about 1.1 billion people, or approximately one quarter of the world’s population. At least 2.6 billion people, about 56 percent, live in countries that will, I estimate, acquire technological virtuosity within the next half century. Moreover, population growth rates in the decades ahead will be higher in the latter group than in the former. We are talking about a great historical transformation.

This transformation poses major challenges to the United States, Western Europe, Japan and the Soviet Union—as well as to the newcomers.


The United States, Western Europe and Japan need to explore the possibilities opened up by the new technologies and to apply them across the board to basic industries, agriculture and the newer service industries. Only by so doing will they be able to maintain economies of sufficient productivity and flexibility to support and enlarge their affluence in the face of the sustained competitive test ahead. I believe this requires a historic shift in the pattern of domestic politics in the Western world. The shift is away from a more or less decorous struggle over how real national income, assumed to be automatically expanding, should be distributed. It can be argued that this has been the dominant pattern of politics since Bismarck initiated his welfare legislation in the 1870s. The required shift is toward a cooperative effort that embraces business, labor and government as well as the scientific, engineering and entrepreneurial sectors and the working force to ensure that real national income in the advanced industrial countries will continue to expand in the face of increasingly severe international competition.

For historical reasons, Japanese politics is, for the moment, well oriented for the tasks ahead. Since Commodore Perry turned up in Tokyo Bay some 130 years ago with his squadron of black ships, the interaction of the external world with Japanese pride and ambition has yielded a succession of crises that have strengthened the nation’s sense of unity and common purpose. Since the mid-1950s Japan’s economic position in the world has been the focus of that sentiment. Japan’s challenge will be to maintain a sense of clear, common purpose when it shifts, as it inevitably must, from an obsessive focus on maximizing its export surplus to a wider spectrum of domestic and external objectives.

In the West the transition is necessary to maintain not only politically and strategically secure societies but also societies sufficiently well poised to manage peacefully the adjustment that must take place as the newcomers approach technological maturity.

Clearly, the world that emerges as the developing regions absorb the new technologies is not going to be dominated by any one power. But the lesson of the past four centuries is that the diffusion of technological competence can generate dangerous neomercantilist conflicts. Mutual survival in a nuclear age requires that we now do a better job with this kind of structural transition than has been done by our predecessors since the British challenged Dutch primacy in the seventeenth century.

What does a better job require? The general formula for a peaceful adjustment of front-runners and latecomers was set out first by David Hume in 1758 in explicit opposition to mercantilist doctrine. He noted two facts, confirmed by later experience: the older front-runner can gain from the enlarged two-way trade induced by the rapid rise of a latecomer; but to enjoy that advantage and hold his place in the queue, the front-runner must vigorously exploit his technological and other relative advantages and adjust flexibly to the inevitably intensified competition. Hume concluded that the original front-runner could do well and benefit, on balance, from the rise of the latecomer if he remained "industrious and civilized."

In our time, that evocative phrase implies a response at three levels. First, the individual nations of the West and Japan must react at the national level with vigor and resilience to the new technologies and the intensified competition within the world economy. A successful adjustment is unlikely if the major countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development are defensive, bedeviled with unsolved problems and grasping for evasive short-term economic solutions.

Second, if a mercantilist fragmentation, likely to intensify rather than end the cold war, is to be avoided, something new and difficult, but not impossible, will be required. Western Europe, Japan and the United States will have to generate collectively the leadership none can now provide alone. This means designing and abiding by new rules of the game for trade, capital movements and domestic policy in the extraordinarily internationalized economy that has emerged. On the basis of such rules, they will have to work with each other and with the developing regions to exploit the new possibilities and make the peaceful adjustments cooperation could render realistic and mutually profitable. And, I would add, as the latecomers move forward, they must gradually assume an increasing degree of responsibility for the viability of the international system as a whole. The United States grossly failed this test between the two world wars—with tragic results. Japan now confronts this test, and before long so will South Korea, Taiwan, Brazil and the other aspiring, fast-moving latecomers, especially India and China.

Third, to manage this dynamic process of mutual support and adjustment in a civilized way to the common advantage, global rules of the game in trade and finance will require an underpinning of regional organization. That should be the central mission for an intergovernmental Pacific Basin organization, the subject of endless symposiums but virtually total governmental inaction. This is also the next task for the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Development Bank—not to try out of nostalgia to recreate the old Alliance for Progress but to assure that Latin and North America move forward with steady, mutual support as the former makes the transition to full technological maturity, coming to grips along the way with debt and other acute problems.

But what about the Soviet Union? As Mikhail Gorbachev is quite aware, the Soviet Union also confronts related domestic and foreign policy challenges in the face of the dual revolutions now under way. The challenges are captured in his oft-stated assertion that, if the Soviet Union does not restructure its institutions to permit an acceleration of scientific and technical progress, its global stature will be reduced and its hopes for a higher standard of living will be endangered. Put in such general terms, the problems on the Soviet agenda are similar to those confronting the United States; in both cases they require important institutional and political changes for their solution.

Take, for example, an issue posed by the new technologies. By accident of history, the United States and Russia emerged with quite different methods for organizing science and technology. The Russian government, modeling its arrangements on those of early eighteenth-century Western Europe, built up over the subsequent two centuries a distinguished Academy of Sciences, which was carried forward and greatly expanded in the Soviet Union. Its many institutes contain a high proportion of the U.S.S.R.’s best scientists and engineers, but their ties to those beyond their bureaucracies are often limited. This did not matter so much in the era of steel, electric power plants, cement and other technologies rooted in the pre-1914 world, although Soviet productivity in these classic older sectors remains lower than it might have been, in part because the capacities of Soviet scientists and engineers have not been effectively brought to bear in the Soviet civilian economy. As Soviet leaders are aware, the problem is now much more serious with respect to the new round of technologies. The flexible, interacting, day-to-day linkage of the institutes to the production process required for the generation (as well as diffusion) of the new technologies is proving difficult to bring about without radical institutional change.

These linkages are somewhat easier for the United States. Two useful and gracious institutions in Philadelphia (the American Philosophical Society) and Boston (the American Academy of Arts and Sciences) attest that we, too, found inspiration in the British Royal Society and the French Academy, respectively, during the eighteenth century. But our tradition is better symbolized by the land-grant colleges. We are fortunate that our academic institutions generally accept the proposition that basic university research may be legitimately addressed to the problems of the active world, and that two-way contacts across academic boundaries can be mutually beneficial, albeit sometimes complex. I suspect that, for some time, the United States will do quite well in generating new technologies.

A second and quite distinct problem is to assure that the new technologies are promptly introduced into the sectors where they are likely to prove cost-effective. Here the United States (as well as the U.S.S.R.) has difficulties, as the condition of the American automobile, steel, machine tool, textile and other basic industries attests. In some sectors we have spawned entrepreneurs who, whatever their virtues, find it difficult to deal creatively with their research and development departments. Their considerable expertise never prepared them for a world where a 30-percent per annum obsolescence rate is common. The application of short-run profit maximization in a sector where the linkage of management to R&D is weak can yield a result not unlike that induced by the setting of quantitative production goals by a central planning organization. The common result is sluggishness in exploiting new technologies or, in the American case, the pursuit of cheap labor by relocating overseas. Yet in other U.S. sectors, such as electronics, chemicals and aerospace, the management-R&D linkage works quite well. These are industries that, in effect, arose out of laboratories—an origin that has left its mark.

Overall, the problem appears more acute in the Soviet Union than in the United States. In fact, all socialist countries, including those most willing to reform, have found it difficult to provide incentives for technological innovation in industry.

Well over a century ago, contemplating the contest he saw ahead between democracy and socialism, John Stuart Mill, who viewed socialism seriously and with considerable sympathy, concluded that the choice would probably hinge on "which of the two systems is consistent with the greatest amount of human liberty and spontaneity." The challenge is particularly profound in the U.S.S.R., as Gorbachev appears to perceive, although there is no basis for American complacency. The paradoxical fact is that both superpowers are now in the grip of major productivity crises.

The Soviet domestic changes required to meet the challenge must take place at a time when the relative rise in economic and technological stature of the developing regions is palpably moving the more advanced countries among them beyond the reach of superpower hegemony. Meanwhile, the thrust for national independence and increased human freedom is certain to rise with the passage of time and the succession of generations in Stalin’s East European empire. Even now, Soviet control is diluted in quite different ways in Romania, Hungary, Poland and East Germany as Moscow makes concessions to gathering historic forces in order to hold on to what it now regards as necessary to the security of the U.S.S.R. The pressure to find some alternative way to satisfy legitimate Soviet security interests in Europe is bound to increase.

Under appropriate circumstances, all this could lead Soviet policy to reflect what Soviet leaders and analysts almost certainly suspect: that the emerging world arena is not one capable of sustained domination by Moscow or any other single power, and that the appropriate historical role of the U.S.S.R. will be to join the older and newer industrial powers in managing as peacefully as possible the somewhat precarious transition already under way.


I believe a peaceful transition of this kind is possible but not certain. It is possible because forces are at work that in time may make an end to—or a gradual withering away of—the cold war logical and safe for leaders of both the Soviet Union and the United States. But ending the cold war will not be simple. Diplomatic and military history will not end. The Soviet Union and the United States both have abiding interests to protect as nation states; they will have to look after those interests. And a new flow of difficult, but hopefully more benign, problems will arise. In fact, exit from the cold war should be viewed as a process—probably protracted—of getting from here to there. It should be carried forward by steps that permit each side to feel confident as it supplants one set of relations with another. With its unsettling mixture of grandiose objectives, chicanery and transparent propaganda, and with its minimal attention to the process of getting from here to there, Reykjavik will remain a model of how not to proceed.

What, then, in rough outline, would a working agenda for ending the cold war look like? Initial understandings would have to be reached in three critical areas.

The first would, of course, be the nuclear arms race. Here three conditions would have to be satisfied: a thoroughly inspected U.S.-U.S.S.R. nuclear balance sufficient to guarantee, at lower overall force levels, secure second-strike capabilities but no capacity for nuclear blackmail; agreements on nuclear force ceilings with other nuclear weapons powers; and, against this background, a drive to implement more firmly the Non-proliferation Treaty. The path of wisdom may alter as we learn more; but I would be skeptical of solutions that eliminated nuclear weapons, wholly relied on the Strategic Defense Initiative or totally eliminated elements of SDI as part of stable deterrent systems. Evidently, problems of immense complexity are embedded in these conditions, even under circumstances of maximum goodwill among the parties.

The second area would be a reorganization of NATO and the Warsaw Pact in ways that allowed an increased scope for national political freedom in Eastern Europe and guaranteed agreed force levels, securely inspected, for residual NATO and Warsaw Pact forces. The most complex issue certain to arise is the degree and character of German unity. But the objective can be simply stated: the U.S.S.R. would have to decide to accept a balance of power rather than a hegemonic solution to its legitimate security interest in Eastern Europe; that is, a solution guaranteeing that no other major power dominates Eastern Europe, rather than Soviet domination of the region. On this proposition basic U.S. and Soviet interests firmly overlap.

Finally, the third condition: the settlement of regional conflicts with a cold-war dimension and the development of new longer-run rules of the game. In the short run, intimate Soviet ties to Hanoi, Havana and Kabul might provide the basis for settlements in which the existing government would remain but would be effectively confined within its own borders without the presence of external military forces. But, clearly, no guarantees can be given to Moscow or Washington regarding the long-term political orientation of the countries concerned. (As this is written, the Soviet Union appears to be experimenting with a resolution of this type in Afghanistan; its terms do not appear consistent with prompt success.) This would work only if the United States and the U.S.S.R. agreed that henceforth they would live with outcomes determined by strictly local historical forces—an evidently difficult condition to live with given habits built up over the past 40 years. The Middle East would, of course, be extremely difficult to sort out in these terms, given the limited powers of the United States and the U.S.S.R. in the region. But, as elsewhere, those powers would be formidable if rooted in a joint conviction that the cold war was no longer a sensible framework for the conduct of U.S.-U.S.S.R. relations or the superpowers’ respective relations with others.

In all cases, U.S.-U.S.S.R. understandings would be basic to a successful outcome, but the interests of many other states would be involved. Negotiations would therefore be complex. Moreover, the outcome would be stable only if new common rules were established and validated by successful experience. But once the expectation was established that all were engaged in transforming the cold war into something more desirable, the process might move forward quite briskly.


I am reasonably confident that this kind of scenario of how the cold war might end is realistic in that it conforms to historical forces likely to persist and gather strength. My uncertainty, however, is serious and comes to rest on two critical questions: one concerns the U.S.S.R., the other the United States.

The set of changes in Soviet relations with the United States, Western and Eastern Europe, and the developing regions implied by this scenario is quite significant. So are the changes required in Soviet society and its institutions to render the economy efficient and capable of absorbing in all sectors the remarkable flow of new technologies. As Marxists should be the first to acknowledge, technological changes of this magnitude require changes in politics, the language of politics, and the texture and institutions of social life. To use Khrushchev’s good phrase, the age of "steel-eaters" is over.

It is easy to take the view that the Soviet political leadership, by some combination of Russian history, communist doctrine and institutional vested interest, is and will remain so deeply committed to indefinite expansion that only defeat in bloody war could bring about a resolution of the cold war—that is, the emergence of a Soviet Union which, like other latecomers, would come to accept fully that hegemony was beyond its grasp and that its primary task was to look after more conventional national interests in an increasingly complex, multipolar world by encouraging balance. Soviet leaders may even fear that such a change in perspective would undermine fatally the legitimacy of Communist Party rule over Russia. I am inclined to believe that, with the passage of time, the problem of legitimacy, however real it may have been earlier, has diminished. Perhaps the turning point was the Soviet role in the defeat of Germany in World War II. At the moment, one cannot help feeling that the viability of Soviet domestic rule hinges rather more on the progress of the economy than on the continued expansion of Soviet power. But Russia is unlikely to be exempted by history from the slow-working but stubborn and rising insistence of human beings on political systems that provide dignity and increasing degrees of human freedom. What matters, however, are not the views of external observers but the views of those who operate and live within the Soviet system.

In any case, I would judge that it is on the willingness of the Soviet leadership to make the requisite domestic changes that a soft landing depends; but the posture of the United States might affect that willingness to the extent that it generates in Moscow a sense of insecurity, security or revived hopes for hegemony.

This brings me to the second uncertainty: Is the United States, as a society, capable of a reasonably steady military and foreign policy? We have oscillated since 1945 between evasive illusions and feverish, belated efforts to halt or roll back Soviet expansionist initiatives launched to exploit those intervals of American myopia. We have survived on the basis of Dr. Samuel Johnson’s dictum: "Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." But our survival by periodic, belated, convulsive exertion has exacted great costs and imposed great risks on humanity in a nuclear age. After 40 years of cyclical behavior the leaders of both political parties ought to be able to unite on the need for a steady, long-term military and foreign policy.

Moreover, despite certain natural advantages, it is still to be demonstrated that American society and its political process will, in fact, make the necessary outlays for education and research, find a new generation of entrepreneurs and otherwise accept the discipline and flexibility that the age of the new technologies demands. Our performance thus far—especially at the level of national politics—suggests a society that prefers to go down in the style to which it has become accustomed rather than to grapple with reality.

Thus a soft landing from the cold war is an American as well as a Soviet responsibility; for a steady America, strong but not aggressive, paying its way in the world, conscious of the reality of its own interests as well as the legitimate interests of others, can help make the transition easier and more secure for the Soviet leadership. An America that once again slides into distracted complacency or continues to borrow rather than elevate productivity to sustain its amenities, could set in motion yet another cold-war cycle with potentially tragic results. The outcome might well be an extension of areas of chaos, including nuclear proliferation, beyond the capacity of either Moscow or Washington to control.

Be that as it may, the overriding lesson of the years since the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan is that Soviet behavior cannot be predicted unless one answers the question: What is the Soviet view of the strength, unity and will of the United States?

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  • Walt W. Rostow, who has been involved in U.S.-Soviet relations since the summer of 1945, is currently Rex G. Baker Jr. Professor of Political Economy at the University of Texas at Austin.
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