China Is Not Ten Feet Tall
How Alarmism Undermines American Strategy
Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev seem to be moving warily toward their third meeting. Both leaders have an incentive for another summit: they both face major internal problems, and both need a visible success in foreign policy. Even though their motives differ, the two leaders have a common interest in keeping the arms control process alive. Yet they approach another summit from quite different positions. Gorbachev is still in the early phase of what may be an extended period of power as the Soviet leader. President Reagan is looking toward the end of his tenure. Unlike Reykjavik, this summit is being prepared slowly, with considerable maneuvering over the likely centerpiece—an arms control agreement eliminating intermediate-range ballistic missiles as well as cruise missiles in Europe and the U.S.S.R.
When the Reagan Administration took office, the outlook for East-West relations was gloomy in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It would have seemed fantastic to foresee three summit meetings and an important arms control agreement. Seven years ago, the era of détente was at an end, and there were major uncertainties as to what might follow. Many feared a new series of confrontations, a breakdown of arms control and an intensification of strategic arms competition. In the early 1980s American policy seemed geared to these expectations.
Despite such apprehensions, Soviet policy was increasingly constrained in this period. Moscow was generally passive in a series of regional crises, and was unable to block the deployment of American missiles in Europe. By late 1984, rather than confronting the Reagan Administration, Moscow was seeking to negotiate with it on arms control. Although this Soviet turnabout preceded Gorbachev, it was the new Soviet leader who exploited it vigorously, agreeing not only to the first get-acquainted summit in Geneva, but hustling for the second encounter at Reykjavik.
The beginning of the Gorbachev regime coincided with the high tide of the Reagan Administration. By 1984-85 much of the original Reagan defense program had been achieved. The Soviets had been brought back to the negotiating table under conditions favorable to the United States. The Administration could and did claim that it engaged in East-West diplomacy from a position of strength. In this light the Geneva summit of November 1985 was interpreted as a vindication of Administration policy.
After this first meeting, however, relations did not take a turn for the better. The deadlock that had been implicit in the two sides’ arms control positions, especially over the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), became explicit at Reykjavik. What had appeared to be a strategic opportunity for a superpower breakthrough suddenly looked doubtful. For a time after Reykjavik it seemed that the Kremlin might decide to wait out the Reagan Administration. But then, in February 1987, Gorbachev took the initiative to revive the arms control negotiations. By midyear the near-term prospects for Soviet-American relations had improved.
Soviet policy has been relatively constrained during President Reagan’s years in office—in part because of the prolonged leadership crisis in the Kremlin. Almost four years passed between the final year of Brezhnev’s tenure and Gorbachev’s accession to office in March 1985. This period was also marked by crises for Moscow: in Afghanistan the war escalated, and in Poland the very essence of communist power—the party’s supremacy—was severely challenged. Soviet economic troubles worsened, and Soviet society was suffering from a widespread malaise, as Gorbachev now acknowledges.
This combination of factors led to an assumption in the West that Gorbachev would pursue a conciliatory foreign policy to gain time to concentrate on his internal problems. After taking office he suggested as much himself in various public statements and interviews. The reorganization of his foreign policy/national security apparatus also suggested that he would conduct a more sophisticated policy. A new flexibility seemed confirmed by a loosening of several Soviet positions toward China, Japan, Western Europe, Israel, and, eventually, the United States. Much of the change was stylistic. But some observers detected in the "new thinking" the seeds of more significant changes, especially regarding the nature of East-West security and the extent of Soviet involvement in the Third World.
Gorbachev has adopted a basically defensive strategy, rather than the aggressive one feared in 1980, but his tactics include a number of interesting innovations and initiatives. He is making a determined bid to establish a major Soviet presence in the Persian Gulf, where he aspires to be an honest broker between Iran and Iraq. His main effort is to reduce the "encirclement" of the Soviet Union by developing openings to the regions on its periphery, especially China and Japan. Unlike his predecessors, he is apparently prepared to make some concessions to both countries, including a withdrawal of some Soviet troops along the Chinese border.
Gorbachev has apparently concluded that the quest for genuine strategic superiority over the United States is futile and, consequently, he appears ready to settle for a prolonged strategic stalemate. But in the process he must be able to guarantee that the United States accepts the same premises; and this leads him to arms control agreements as a means for codifying his assumptions about security and the nuclear relationship. Of course Gorbachev also assumes that in the process of working out a new superpower relationship he can cause or encourage the retraction of the American presence in Europe, and perhaps in Asia as well. Here, too, he has offered concessions (e.g., the zero option, eliminating all of the SS-20 missiles from the Soviet force).
Under Gorbachev the Soviet Union is likely to be more prudent in the risks and responsibilities it undertakes in the Third World. This reflects a new and more modest evaluation of the prospects for the Soviet Union. It also suggests that Gorbachev does not accept the proposition that the contest with the West can be decided in the Third World. Indeed, he apparently believes the effort to gain a clear victory is too burdensome for the potential risks and gains.
Gorbachev seems to recognize that the Soviet Union’s global position has weakened over the last decade. The Soviet state is now forced to play the role of a more conventional world power. It no longer leads a revolution, it no longer offers ideological inspiration to the world, it no longer poses as the model for economic development.
Moscow is still the master of an East European empire, but another of those empires that is decaying from the virus of diversity and democracy. Champions of a universalist doctrine are poor imperialists—precisely because empires tend to find them wanting. The British had the wit to devise the Commonwealth; the Soviets have only the threat of intervention. The rise of Solidarity in Poland was a watershed for the Soviet empire; its further decline is only a matter of time. In this sense the lands behind the old Iron Curtain have become the new Sick Man of Europe, where the danger of a future war may be greatest.
It is possible to see in Gorbachev’s changes nothing more than shifts in tactics. It can even be argued that the wily old Gromyko would have arrived at similar conclusions about the position of the Soviet Union, but without resorting to Gorbachev’s novel rhetoric. A more persuasive analysis, however, is that Gorbachev views foreign policy in much the same way he sees his domestic situation. That is, he still believes in the basic system but recognizes that radical changes are in order, and that this will involve paying a price in the near term to achieve longer-term aims. Thus he is introducing innovative elements into current Soviet foreign policies which are beginning to outweigh the elements of continuity.
In sum, the accession of Mikhail Gorbachev to the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union marks the beginning of a new historical period. The transition from Brezhnev to Gorbachev is a genuine generational change, unlike the transfer of power from Khrushchev to Brezhnev in 1964. Gorbachev is the first post-revolutionary Soviet leader; he was born 14 years after the October Revolution. Indeed, he is a postwar leader—he was only ten at the time of Hitler’s invasion. But as the product and inheritor of a huge bureaucratic system, Gorbachev’s freedom of action is limited. The Soviet system can be reformed, but not drastically or quickly. Yet the domestic crisis in the Soviet Union cries out for just that—radical and urgent change.
This is Gorbachev’s dilemma. His only hope of pulling the Soviet Union out of the stagnation of the Brezhnev era is to strike hard at the system and continue the pressures for change. This is producing opposition at all levels, even in the Politburo, and thus his strategy puts his political survival at risk. He has even acknowledged this, but he will probably persist with his reform program. At some point, say within the next two to four years, he will probably face an internal crisis. If he prevails, he may well change the Soviet Union profoundly; if he fails, he may lose power. If he senses that he is failing and struggles to survive, it could be a dangerous period for the United States, as the temptation to compensate for internal failures with foreign adventures may prove irresistible.
The Soviet Union will not simply acquiesce in the disintegration of its world power position. Gorbachev was not enthroned to preside over the dismantling of the Soviet empire. Quite the contrary: many observers already detect a revival of Russian nationalism, which also poses dangers for the states on the periphery of the Soviet state. A nationalist policy might seek greater influence, even physical domination.
Even though the global position of the Soviet Union has weakened, a revival under Gorbachev is quite possible, albeit probably not in the near term. In any case, Gorbachev will give priority to domestic policy; his clear preference is to buy some time in foreign policy. Thus the overall combination of circumstances suggests that it is a time of unusual opportunity for American policy.
Whatever the outcome of a third Gorbachev-Reagan round of summitry, Gorbachev represents a force for change in the Soviet Union. But it is important to note that the struggle between the two superpowers has also been changing—quite significantly—since the Afghan invasion. The changes have affected the nuclear as well as the political relationship.
The danger of war has receded. Both powers seem to have arrived at roughly the same conclusion: that achieving a clear nuclear superiority is no longer possible. This explains why Reagan and Gorbachev could agree that "nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought," the epigram accepted in the Geneva summit communiqué. While it is easy to dismiss the statement as mere rhetoric, it represents a shift from a decade or so ago, when Soviet doctrine allowed for "victory" in nuclear war. Moreover, in other respects the Soviets have been gradually de-emphasizing nuclear forces in favor of a new buildup of conventional forces.
The global balance of forces works against war between the United States and the Soviet Union. The collapse of the Sino-Soviet alliance and the growth of Sino-American ties have fundamentally altered the strategic position of the Soviet Union. All of the major powers are aligned against the U.S.S.R. Moscow is confronted by the probability of a two- or three-front war. The Soviet leaders can no longer expect that the outcome of a major war would be advantageous, and this is reflected in adjustments in Soviet military doctrine.
Peace is by no means guaranteed, but it seems more likely to endure now than 20 or 30 years ago when there were frequent Soviet-American crises. Most strategists believe that a Soviet-American war as a consequence of a deliberate choice is now only a marginal possibility. But war through inadvertence is still possible. The specter of Pearl Harbor has been replaced by the specter of Sarajevo.
The geopolitical conflict has also changed. There is little left of the ideological crusade of the early American policy of containment. The conflict has increasingly taken on the character of a struggle for power and influence along more traditional lines. Ideological conflicts brook no compromises, but power and interests are negotiable commodities; they can be limited in mutually acceptable ways. This is the essence of international politics. The change from an ideological struggle to a conflict of interests explains much about the recent history of Soviet-American relations and why clashes can arise, even in sensitive areas, without automatically producing an East-West confrontation.
During a particularly bad period of superpower relations, 1980-85, both sides nevertheless avoided turning a number of regional conflicts and small wars into a confrontation. The United States put small military contingents into Lebanon twice without a Soviet reaction. The United States invaded Grenada and bombed Libya without even a hint of a clash between the United States and the Soviet Union. The British navy sailed unobstructed to fight in the Falklands. Iran and Iraq are fighting a seemingly endless war, and the United States and the Soviet Union have both supported Iraq. Some analysts have concluded that the superpower rivalry is, in fact, moderating.
There is some evidence that the Soviets have become increasingly dissatisfied with the burden of their imperial missions. They seem to be disenchanted with their weaker clients in the Third World and reluctant to undertake new commitments (e.g., in Libya). This attitude could be explained by the Soviet Union’s recognition of its unfavorable circumstances, and a conclusion in Moscow that a period of consolidation is required before a new advance.
Some observers, however, believe that more fundamental changes are involved. Recent Soviet behavior may reflect a basic post-Brezhnev reassessment of policy toward the Third World that has resulted in a more wary approach, one that is more sensitive to the impact of Soviet behavior on the central relationship with the United States.
The situation in the Third World has become much more complex: there is still the potential for sharp and dangerous East-West conflicts, but such clashes seem less likely than in earlier decades. Under the Reagan Doctrine, Washington has revived a policy of selective containment at the very time when the U.S.S.R. may be adopting a policy of selective commitment. And therein may lie the chance for some moderation of the contest.
No grand settlements are likely at this stage. But for the first time since the era of détente, the two superpowers seem to be carefully testing the possibility of a new relationship in the Third World. It could turn out to be only an interlude before another serious clash—perhaps in the Persian Gulf. But it could also herald the beginning of a slow process of defining less ambitious objectives, and even setting some mutual rules of behavior. The Soviet Union and the United States might agree—tacitly or through negotiations—on the containment of specific Third World conflicts (i.e., Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Iran-Iraq) to prevent them from spreading. And they might agree on a set of more formal procedures for consultations to head off new conflicts.
We are entering the fourth major period in which some progress toward settling our rivalry with the Soviet Union is possible. Since World War II there have been three moments for such progress: after Stalin died in 1953, after the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 and during the 1969-1972 period of détente. Each period yielded some progress, and consequently the conflict has become less volatile. But each period ended in failure. It is this inability to stabilize the relationship that is dangerous and that challenges the current American and Soviet leaderships.
For American policy, Gorbachev is a complicating factor. There is a strong temptation in the United States to "help" him because he presents himself as a liberal reformer—which in fact he may well be. Moreover, a good case can be made, as Andrei Sakharov does, that Gorbachev may be the last best hope, lest a far more ruthless regime take over. But this cannot be a basis for Western policy. Gorbachev may be in power for a month, or for decades. He may abandon his reforms and become another Brezhnev, or like Khrushchev challenge the West dangerously as his domestic position weakens. What the West needs to survive these potential twists and turns is a general strategy that recognizes that there indeed are domestic changes under way in the Soviet Union, but tempers that recognition with a hardheaded assertion of Western security requirements. We should help Gorbachev only if we thereby help ourselves.
American policymakers cannot risk waiting for history to transform the conflict with the Soviet Union. In the nuclear era the United States must make some progress toward a settlement, even if only a partial one. This means a greater reliance on politics and diplomacy, and diplomacy that goes beyond the prevailing obsession with arms control.
The first objective for America is to create the circumstances that will make it difficult for the Soviet Union to resume the offensive if and when Gorbachev or his successors have rebuilt Soviet power. In the near term, this approach rests on the assumption that Gorbachev still wants a "breather" in world affairs. But the United States has to be clear about his purposes; he wants to gain time to "reconstruct" Soviet power in all of its dimensions. It is the task of Western strategy to make him pay a price for this interlude—a price that provides for strategic stability and the settlement of regional conflicts.
To deal effectively with the Soviet Union we must realize that much more is involved than developing clever schemes to solve the latest problem. The starting point has to be the clear recognition of the source of strength of our international position—our alliance with Europe and Japan. For some reason we refuse to learn how to live with the undeniable success of American foreign policy since World War II. Despite all the setbacks, failures and outright catastrophes, the Western cause has grown in strength. Few alliances have been more successful than NATO; rarely have major powers so quickly put the animosities of a great conflict behind them. And rarely has one of the victorious powers come to dominate the world to the extent that the United States has. The United States must continue to support and lead a powerful coalition of forces to contain the Soviet Union, but it will have to do so in an era vastly different from the period of the coalition’s creation.
We have won the ideological war; we are close to winning the geopolitical contest in the Third World, except for the Middle East. We long ago won the economic competition. As James Reston remarked in his final regular column for The New York Times: "I think we’ve won the cold war and don’t know it."
Yet there remains a nearly irresistible strain of isolationism in America. This is reflected in the continuing concern in the United States with altering the Atlantic alliance and withdrawing from Europe. We must resist the periodic temptation to tinker with a successful alliance, to play with various forms and types of American involvement. There is nothing more encouraging to the Soviet leaders in their time of troubles than the hope that sooner or later the United States will disengage from Western Europe. The struggle for the mastery of Europe, to paraphrase the British historian A.J.P. Taylor, continues, and will continue as long as the Soviet Union remains one of Europe’s great powers. The balance of world power could still be changed by shifts in this vital area. Preserving the European alliance must remain the cornerstone of American policy.
Maintaining an anti-Soviet coalition has become more complicated by our tentative alliance with China; the natural course for Sino-American relations would be to move toward a closer military relationship. But while we cannot grant Moscow a veto over American policy, the American connection to China needs to be handled with extreme care. We have limited mutual interests with China (whether that country "modernizes" or not) beyond the common opposition to Moscow; and the Sino-Soviet relationship will undoubtedly be subject to fluctuations as both the Soviets and Chinese try to moderate their strategic differences. The new generation of Soviet leaders will seek greater flexibility in Sino-Soviet relations. And sooner or later there will be a new generation in power in Beijing that will not have experienced the clashes with Moscow of the 1960s and 1970s. All of this, in turn, will be unsettling for Washington unless we accept the limits to our relations with China.
A successful alliance policy cannot ignore the fact that the industrial democracies will not support a foreign policy that does not include an effort at détente with the Soviet Union. Our Western allies and Japan obviously want both containment and coexistence. This may even be the basis on which the Chinese are prepared to join with the United States. In practice this means that the United States has to engage in negotiations with Moscow, including arms control arrangements, not only for the sake of our alliances but because it is also in our own self-interest.
Arms control has had a checkered history. Agreements that seemed important have turned out to be ephemeral or misleading, and there have been some deep disillusionments. But time and again the idea of limiting or otherwise controlling nuclear weapons has returned to the forefront of East-West relations. This is not accidental; it simply reflects the imperatives of the nuclear era. Some American administrations have made arms control a centerpiece, others have become engaged more reluctantly. But a pattern seems to have been fixed: East-West relations start with the control of strategic and nuclear arms.
It was certainly not the aim of the Reagan Administration on taking office in 1981 to return arms control to the focal point of East-West relations. At that time the prevailing attitude was that arms control negotiations held little promise unless and until American power had been rebuilt and Soviet behavior had changed. Even though Washington was pressured by its European allies into early negotiations on theater nuclear forces in November 1981, the course of events seemed to bear out Washington’s basic pessimism.
The Soviets withdrew from the arms negotiations in 1983, and for over a year after there were no official or formal talks on strategic arms control—a first since such negotiations began in November 1969. In retrospect, however, it was more significant that during this interlude both sides maintained some contact and abided by the constraints of the unratified Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) agreements and the nuclear threshold test ban. In June 1984 the Administration accepted—to Moscow’s surprise—a Soviet proposal to begin talks on preventing the militarization of space; this shrewd tactic undercut the Soviet charge that the United States was responsible for the absence of negotiations, and the Soviets then wriggled out of their own offer. In July the two sides agreed to upgrade the "hot line" between Moscow and Washington. Near the end of the 1984 election campaign the Soviets ostentatiously resumed discussions with the White House in a meeting between Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and the president. Shortly after the elections, the United States and the Soviet Union announced a new round of arms control negotiations.
One reason for this turn was that the United States and its allies had scored a major political triumph with the initial deployment of American missiles in Europe during 1983-84, without splitting the Atlantic alliance. The Soviet Union’s failure to stop that deployment was a major setback. The Soviet walkout from Geneva in late 1983 had failed, and new tactics were called for.
In the negotiations that led to the formal resumption of arms control talks in 1985, however, it was the future of President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative that occupied the attention of the two powers. The tortured communiqué that announced the new talks referred to stopping an arms race on earth and preventing one in outer space. The new talks had three parts: strategic offense, strategic defense and intermediate-range weapons. For the first time since 1972 the two sides accepted a formal link between offense and defense.
Many observers—including in the White House—concluded that it was SDI that had brought the Soviets back to the bargaining table. This in turn led to the view that SDI was the ultimate bargaining chip, which could ensure the success of strategic arms control. Gradually there emerged what came to be called the "grand compromise": the United States would virtually abandon or significantly restrict SDI in return for a substantial reduction of Soviet offensive forces.
The positions of the two sides began to coincide, reinforcing the belief that there could or would be a grand compromise. Both sides made proposals for major reductions in offensive forces, varying between 30 and 50 percent. At the 1985 Geneva summit Reagan and Gorbachev agreed to work for a 50-percent reduction in strategic forces. The Soviets conditioned their position on prohibiting space-strike weapons and banning all but laboratory or basic research on such weapons. There were occasional hints, however, that the definition of "laboratory" was open to negotiation.
Washington eventually proposed that for a period of five years both sides commit themselves not to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which prohibits the deployment of the space defense system envisioned in SDI; this would be followed by a two-year interim during which negotiations would take place to determine the future course of deployment, but after which both sides would be free to deploy SDI. The United States’ position was that during this seven-year period the ABM treaty would be "broadly" interpreted to allow testing and development of space-based components of an SDI system. (At Reykjavik the United States proposed that this interim period for non-withdrawal be extended to ten years.)
The Soviets rejected any automatic right to deploy the SDI system and contested the broad American interpretation of the testing provisions of the ABM treaty. But Moscow more or less agreed to the idea of establishing some interim period for a prohibition on withdrawal from the ABM treaty; this period, Moscow proposed, should be "up to" 15 years.
Meanwhile in the intermediate-range nuclear force negotiations, a compromise began to take shape. During 1986 the Soviets suggested a separate agreement on INF, not conditioned on an agreement on longer-range offensive forces or SDI. The Soviets also finally dropped their insistence on including forward-based U.S. aircraft, and then dropped their proposal to freeze British and French nuclear systems. Shortly before Reykjavik there was widespread speculation that there would be an INF agreement, including the complete elimination of intermediate-range missiles in Europe, while leaving some number of Soviet missiles in Asia and an equivalent number inside the continental United States. The American delegation approached Reykjavik anticipating this outcome.
The debacle at Reykjavik need not be rehearsed again. It is obvious that the more utopian elements discussed there have been put aside. There will be no agreement to eliminate all nuclear weapons or to eliminate all ballistic missiles. What remains, however, is the outline of a three-part agreement: (1) a major reduction (about 50 percent) of strategic offensive weapons; (2) an agreement not to withdraw from the ABM treaty or to deploy SDI for some defined period (say, ten years) and (3) a separate agreement eliminating all American and Soviet land-based intermediate-range missiles (the so-called zero option).
This, then, is what a "grand compromise" might entail. If such a compromise is reached in the next year it could probably only be in the form of a "framework" agreement; only the INF treaty is close to completion. Even if such a framework is agreed upon, the United States and the Soviet Union will continue for at least a decade to operate within the mainstream of arms control and strategic policies that have characterized their relationship since the late 1960s. Both sides will retain large strategic offensive forces, even after reductions of 50 percent. Deterrence will still rest on the certainty of retaliation, and there will be no significant defense against strategic attacks. Hence the populations and military targets of both sides will be vulnerable. Significant imbalances in conventional forces will remain in Europe, but there will be a new debate about America’s nuclear guarantee of NATO and how to implement it.
Standing alone, unlinked to the other components of arms control, the new INF agreement will be hostage to the outcome of further negotiations, and vulnerable to new military decisions on both sides. It is difficult to imagine an INF agreement surviving the collapse of the ABM treaty and the beginning of SDI competition. This isolation from other points at issue is a major defect of the new agreement.
Reducing or even eliminating a category of weapons cannot in itself be the basis for a durable strategic relationship. An arms control agreement must meet the broad criteria of long-term strategic stability—a formidable task if only because there is no agreement, either in the United States or between the United States and the Soviet Union, on what constitutes stability. It has become far more difficult in light of the revival of strategic defense: creating a durable balance between offense and defense is the very essence of stability.
It is still possible that no arms control agreement will be reached under the Reagan Administration. SDI remains a major issue, and it is not clear that the Soviets have given up an attempt to make the prospective INF agreement conditional on a solution of the SDI dispute, a repeat of the tactic pursued at Reykjavik. But the general trend seems to point toward the completion of a treaty on INF. Its chief benefits are that it moves the process of negotiated arms control forward, and does in fact eliminate, for the first time, an entire category of nuclear weapons.
Even if there is a limited agreement arising from a third Reagan-Gorbachev summit, major policy questions will remain, probably to be addressed by President Reagan’s successor. Is it credible for the United States to continue to rely indefinitely on the threat of strategic retaliation to maintain deterrence, even at severely reduced levels of strategic forces? A more immediate question in light of possible agreements on INF concerns the viability of extended deterrence in Europe after the elimination of all American missiles from Europe. Finally, and most critically, have we reached the point that some form of strategic defense is necessary, for strategic, political or psychological reasons? If so, is a new offensive-defensive balance possible and desirable in the 1990s? Can it be stable? What would be its content?
The next Reagan-Gorbachev summit looms as a benign version of Reykjavik. It will center on arms control, and thereby confirm the decline of "linkage," of making arms control negotiations or agreements dependent in some degree on progress on political issues, for example, on progress toward an agreement on Afghanistan or Nicaragua, or even the Persian Gulf. This decline in linkage was probably inevitable: as the size and sophistication of nuclear arsenals has grown, intricate Kissingerian strategies of linkage have carried less and less conviction. President Ford did not really link arms control and geopolitical issues despite the Soviet-Cuban intervention in Angola. President Carter invoked linkage only after the invasion of Afghanistan, and Reagan formally abandoned it when he continued arms control talks after the imposition of martial law in Poland; no serious attempt was made to revive it when confronted by summit meetings.
The decoupling of arms control from geopolitical issues is bound to limit American policy, perhaps in a dangerous way. For it remains clear that the chief threats to Soviet-American relations are not only nuclear weapons but regional conflicts as well. The invasion of Afghanistan should have demonstrated the dangers of delinking arms control: President Carter had no choice but to withdraw SALT II after the invasion.
It is also true, however, that it will be difficult to tie arms control to other issues. It takes the power and authority of a strong president to insist on parallel progress on contentious political issues and to resist the pressures to settle for partial agreements. If this trend toward separate arms control agreements is not arrested, new and potentially serious disputes in Soviet-American relations are inevitable. Consider one example: Would the Administration proceed to sign and seek ratification of an INF agreement if MiGs were sent to Nicaragua?
Whether in arms control or regional negotiations, a serious American diplomacy will finally have to decide how to define and deal with legitimate Soviet interests, and how to gain public support for a policy that inevitably involves some American concessions to these interests. Does the Soviet Union have a right to strategic parity, or is this too dangerous a state of affairs for the United States? What is the legitimate security interest of the Soviet Union in the areas on its periphery: in Eastern Europe, Afghanistan, China? Does it have an implicit right of intervention in its sphere of influence? If so, does it include intervention with armed forces? Can the United States tolerate such a permanent threat to peace? What of the link between the nature of the internal Soviet regime, which will never be acceptable to the United States, and the content of Soviet foreign policy? Can the two be separated?
These are not academic questions. They remain at the heart of Soviet-American relations.
A viable Soviet-American relationship demands agreements, or at least some process to control nuclear arms and to resolve regional conflicts. The effort to achieve these two aims is bound to be protracted, and will involve reconciling contradictions and finely tuning tactics and strategy. A policy that requires such a consistent and careful management in a democratic society is not doomed to fail, but it is extraordinarily difficult to carry out. Above all, it will have to command the depth of public support necessary to sustain the policy when challenged in the next crisis.