How Russia Decides to Go Nuclear
Deciphering the Way Moscow Handles Its Ultimate Weapon
THE Summit Conference has collapsed, in anger, bewilderment and dismay: the Conference on which, for more than a year, the world had placed high hope. In this situation anything can happen--and probably won't. It is always risky to forecast what is going to occur in the kind of world in which we now live. It is more so than ever at this turbulent moment in the relations between the two super-powers.
We of the West are dealing with a man, Nikita Khrushchev, who is as unpredictable as he is touchy and tough; we are also dealing with a society, Russian and Communist, which functions in a way which we of the free and "open" West find it well-nigh impossible to understand. Such understanding is particularly difficult for North Americans who by tradition and temperament are prone to consider conflict between nations as something temporary and abnormal and who are not easily conditioned for trouble of indefinite duration and uncertain outcome. We like to think of other peoples as basically friendly and we find it difficult to understand the mentality of those for whom conflict and tension are a normal part of national and personal life.
So we are shocked that one man should smash so ruthlessly a Conference for discussion and negotiation which was largely his own creation and for which, presumably, he had been preparing for months. There are, of course, many reasons that can be produced for this irrational conduct: the stiffening of the Western position over Berlin; the contrast between the President's friendly attitude at Camp David and hard United States statements which followed it; a struggle between factions within the Soviet "governing clique," between those who wished to ease international tensions and the Stalinists; pressure from Peking. These, singly or in combination, plus the mercurial "kicks and carrots" disposition of Mr. Khrushchev, are enough to explain what happened.
There was also the U-2 incident which handed the Russians, no doubt to their surprise, the excuse they needed. They found it easy to transform this excuse into a reason. In doing so, they not only had the strong and organized backing of their own people; they also found considerable support in world public opinion.
We can leave aside speculation on the weight to be attached to these various reasons for the Summit collapse. We have already heard much and will hear more on this score. It is more important now to analyze the effect of this breakdown of summit diplomacy on the relations between the Communist bloc and the free democratic coalition; on relations within that coalition and, more particularly, on the position of the United States as its leader.
The signs point to a colder war than we have been experiencing of late. Coexistence is likely to become chilly. This may not happen, for Mr. Khrushchev's growling outbursts in Paris may be succeeded by peaceful and expansive words elsewhere. The "hot and cold" technique may be applied again to keep us off balance. We like to hear reassuring sounds and, as before, we may yield to the temptation to read into them more than they deserve, hence to forget the meaning--and the menace--of the Paris meeting.
The signs, however, though they may soon change, are for a return to a tougher and more intransigent line in Soviet policy, to a colder war. As one result, the words and attitudes of Soviet delegates at the United Nations and other international meetings may revert to the rough excesses of Mr. Vishinsky.
We should not react in kind. If Soviet manners change, we should remember that their objectives do not. It remains true, however, that any increase in tension, any deterioration of the atmosphere, will make progress more difficult on such matters as disarmament, banning of nuclear tests, coöperation in the peaceful uses of atomic energy, international control of outer space and on a host of other things where international coöperation and action are so important in the interest of global security and peace.
There may be more snarling than smiling, then, at the council table. That will be depressing, though nothing to cause panic. The Western countries, refusing to be stampeded into matching the talk or the methods of the other side, should remain calm as well as firm. We should refuse to let Mr. Khrushchev or his men determine our own course of conduct and action--by threats, any more than by promises.
We should, however, in my view, change the emphasis in our diplomatic methods. We are now more generally aware, after the sorry experience of Paris, of the dangers and difficulties of negotiation at the summit. The top is nearly always a dangerous and a slippery place. Diplomacy there has its value, but only when the circumstances are propitious and the preparation is thorough. Summit diplomacy, therefore, should not be exalted into a normal political practice, at least not for Western democratic countries. It was natural, and even necessary, for the court to follow the King in medieval times. In the more complicated political and economic society of today it is better for the leaders, and their foreign ministers, to make peregrinating diplomacy the exception rather than the rule.
There is something else, and it may be one of the saddest results of the Paris collapse. Disillusioned by this experience on the Summit, we may be tempted in the West to throw up our hands about the possibility of any successful negotiation with Communist governments on any issue; about the chances of easing any tensions through discussions and contacts. This would be a bad mistake--to yield to defeatist, I-told-you-so counsel, to fall back on more arms and less diplomatic effort, a policy of no truck or trade with the Soviets. This tactic would end whatever hope there is for finding any agreed solutions to specific international problems. Once again the United Nations, in so far as the great powers are concerned, with their satellites on one side and their friends and allies on the other, would become the battleground of the cold war. Negotiation would become merely an exercise in propaganda and diplomacy a mechanism of conflict rather than coöperation. The developing contacts on other than political-official levels between the people of the two worlds would cease. Relations would freeze into a state of fear and suspicion which would affect our national as well as our international attitudes.
For any such dismal result, the U.S.S.R. will have to take the sole responsibility, providing--and the proviso is all-important--that the West, in its own policies and tactics, continues to make a serious and persistent effort to bring about a better state of affairs. If we do not do this, we shall share the responsibility for the dangerous stalemate which will result, with the two sides dug deeply into their diplomatic trenches.
We must do everything possible to avoid such a situation. If it arose, we may be sure that the consequential disputes could not be confined to those questions now directly at issue between the Kremlin and the Atlantic Alliance, such as Berlin, nuclear tests, spy flights, bases, etc. If we can't halt, and reverse, the retreat from reason which Khrushchev sounded in Paris, there is bound to be a broadening as well as an intensification of the cold war. There will be an extension of the lines of conflict, with each sector of the front, whether it is Quemoy or Berlin or Baghdad or Seoul, subject to controlled, inter-related pressures from a Communist center and with a continual probing for new weak points to be exploited. This will be the easier when the different sectors are defended separately and when some of the defenders think some of them should be abandoned.
Unity on our side will be all the more important, therefore, if things become more difficult. In the exchanges of friendly visits across the Channel and the Atlantic, in the temporary and uncertain calm in the Mediterranean, in Korea and off the China coast, we had begun to forget that the Western coalition is only half-united in its global aims and anxieties. It is a coalition--with NATO as its most important political expression--which is dedicated to the collective defense of its territories, and its values, against aggression and erosion. The coalition is finding the former--defense against aggression--easier to organize than the latter. But even here the unity is limited and the coöperation incomplete. The debacle at Paris should persuade us to do something about this.
The Council of NATO has had some success, but not nearly enough, in building up the defenses of the European part of the North Atlantic region. In the Mediterranean and on the continent of North America--the main base for the nuclear deterrent--there is nothing that can really be called collective security, in the sense of genuine collective responsibility for defense.
In regard to foreign policy, without which there can be no unity in defense, coördination is partial and incomplete. There is consultation, but it is not deep or broad enough. Nor should this coördination and unity of policy, if it is to be effective, be confined to the NATO area. We must surely have learned by now that there can be no boundaries to coöperation for peace and security. It will be increasingly difficult to be united over Berlin and divided over Peking.
The NATO powers--especially the leaders--should do something about this before it is too late. Differences, wherever they exist, should be removed. Otherwise a deterioration of the general international position--and we are having it now--can be expected to show itself soon in Russian-Chinese attempts to foment serious tension on the Pacific front. Divergence of policy within the coalition--especially on China--is an invitation to do this. We have already only narrowly escaped some serious consequences from it.
Consideration by the Allies of these inter-related problems, on a global scale, is essential. The best international agency for this purpose is the Council of NATO. But it is far from good enough in its present form because the governments composing it refuse to use it for the kind of non-military and military coöperation which its founders hoped for. Its members cling to outworn concepts which require the NATO Council to act as a limited, diplomatic agency. Anything more than that is considered to be an inadmissible limitation on the freedom of national action, especially on that of the bigger powers. When will we learn that we can only defend the right which matters most, the right to be free, by surrendering some of the rights of national sovereignty which matter less? How many mistakes could have been avoided recently if we had had a central and really effective coördinating political agency for the whole Atlantic coalition, an agency which knew what was going on and could organize, consolidate and carry out genuinely collective policy for collective defense and collective action!
This raises another subject which is very much in all our minds. What has been the effect of the fiasco in Paris on the unity of the Western coalition and, more particularly, on the position within it of the leader, the United States of America?
The immediate effect of Khrushchev's crude behavior in Paris; of his sudden torpedoing of the Conference for which he bore so much responsibility in the first place; of his insulting attempt to humiliate the President by presenting him with demands which he knew would be entirely unacceptable--the immediate effect of all this was to bring the members of the Alliance closer together. That was the inevitable and the right reaction. A tight square was formed against the Cossack assault. If Khrushchev thought he could divide and rule through his shock tactics, he has learned little from the history of the last 15 years. Shock and fear have been the very foundations of the Atlantic Alliance--shock at Soviet aggressions, fear over their implications for peace.
But let us not draw wrong, if comforting, conclusions from this first reaction. The U-2 incident and, even more, the way it was handled in Washington, have caused some anxious questioning in other friendly capitals, not about the aims of United States policy so much as about the methods used in pursuing those aims, both in defense and diplomacy. It would be unwise to underestimate this uneasiness merely because of the quick and united reaction to the stupid over-playing of his hand by Mr. Khrushchev in Paris.
There can be no doubt in any informed and reasonable person's mind as to who torpedoed the Paris Conference. Moreover, Khrushchev has again appeared on our television screens. So has President Eisenhower. The difference between the two men was again made clear. We were made acutely conscious of something we were beginning to forget, that we are up against an enigmatic, massive and fearful force, alien and menacing to many of the things we take for granted in our own way of living. So we are looking again for unity and strength inside our group, and for steady, wise, confidence-inspiring leadership. In that search, recent events will prompt some earnest searching of the soul. We should carry this process through in a positive and constructive way. There should be no criticism for its own sake. But we should draw the right conclusions from the reexamination we make, and act on them now so that we may not take wrong courses in the future.
We, who are friends of the United States, honest enough in our friendship to criticize as well as praise, must acknowledge with gratitude the great effort that it has made to discharge the responsibilities of free-world leadership which it did not seek but which have been accepted. We remember the great-hearted generosity that has inspired so much of its foreign policy. We know what the protection of its power means in a dangerous world. But we know also that we cannot escape the consequences, for good or ill, of American actions. So we scrutinize everything that goes on in Washington with a natural and intense concern. Certain things which we have seen since May 6 have increased that concern. They have raised doubts about the steadiness, wisdom and effectiveness of some aspects of American diplomacy.
Intelligence operations--spying, if you like--have been carried on by all governments ever since there has been political society of any kind. Only the methods have changed in recent years. The surprise and rage of Mr. Khrushchev and his colleagues over the U-2 is sheerest hypocrisy. The whole Soviet system rests on spying, inside and outside its borders.
Intelligence operations, however, should be managed intelligently--especially when something misfires. In the light of the facts that are known, it is not easy to feel that this incident was so handled in Washington, that there was not some fumbling and confusion. That is how it was bound to appear to many. Anger over Khrushchev's personal attack on the President and admiration for Mr. Eisenhower's attitude and conduct in this trying situation cannot, and should not, conceal the fact that some damage has been done to the reputation of the United States. Therefore, the strength and unity of the coalition have suffered. It does no service to that unity to obscure this issue or to try to convert Khrushchev's mistakes into a victory for our side. What the Russian leader has done by those mistakes is to have saved us from a more embarrassing situation.
It is as well, perhaps, that we saw the other side of the Soviet chief, the side we do not see when he is tripping through the corn fields or visiting a supermarket. But it is not good for any free country to have the image of United States policy cast in shadow and blurred by misunderstanding and contradiction. Yet this did result from the denials and admissions, the explanations and counter-explanations, the advances and withdrawals, that came from various American quarters from May 6 to May 16. Furthermore, what seemed to many to be uneasiness, an absence of sure touch, came at the worst possible time, on the very eve of a conference on which so many people, unwisely perhaps, had set such high hopes. Before there was time to recover from the first confusion, to adopt a consistent line--one which would command general confidence and support--the Soviet leader had descended on Paris in circumstances that were made to order for the kind of sabotage operation he was about to launch.
If some damage has been done to United States leadership within the coalition, that can be and, we hope, soon will be repaired. This, however, must be more than a patching job, more than the comforting words of a communiqué. Otherwise there will be another crisis which will expose other weaknesses inside our coalition and which will require other remedies. We cannot afford this kind of erosion which, the Communists hope, will eventually lead to the disintegration of our alliance. If the Atlantic coalition is to survive, it must reduce these centrifugal disturbances to a minimum, through sure, confident and wise leadership and with continuous and far closer consultation among its members than previously, in order to work out a common policy in the face of a common threat. If the various governments make their separate plans, pursue their separate adventures, we will eventually succeed in doing ourselves what the rulers of Russia would dearly love to do, and have not been able to do by direct action--namely, destroy the Atlantic Alliance.
If we have lost some confidence by recent diplomatic developments, the Communist leaders may have gained some. Mistaking surface manifestations for something deeper, they may now have a lessened respect for American leadership, strength and skill and for the steady purpose and resolution of United States public opinion.
As Herman Kahn has written: "One gets the impression that up to about 1956 or 1957 the average senior Russian did have an enormous respect for United States planners and decision-makers--a respect which they have now begun to lose. Many of the comments they make on remarks that some of our military and political leaders have made are contemptuous."[i] It is doubtful whether the developments of the last three weeks have made the United States look more competent, diplomatically and politically, in these Russian eyes. This is a danger, because it might tempt them to rash courses, which would be fatal to themselves--and to us.
Competent leadership in the execution of wise policies is, however, not enough. There must be a strong, resolute and mature public opinion as a spur and support for such leadership. We have no right to assume that we always have this in our countries. Indeed, there are signs that it is lacking, that today we are more concerned with exploiting our material resources than with strengthening and defending the moral values of our society. We can and do measure up to the demands of war--or catastrophe. We can react with firm words, stout resolve and closed ranks to shock or crisis. But when the shock does not result in explosion and the crisis seems to have passed, we return with relief to our payola investigations, our adult westerns, to our campaigns for higher subsidies and lower taxes. We long for what we think is "normalcy," without realizing that what is comfortably normal for us has little meaning for the majority of the people of the world or that the problems which face us in our tight little nuclear globe are unprecedented and may not be susceptible to solution by normal processes.
The Communists, whose "normalcy" has been struggle and revolution, are more aware of this than we are. They may talk about "peaceful coexistence" and believe in it after their fashion. They may be quite sincere in proclaiming their desire to avoid a nuclear war. But they also take for granted--or their leaders do--that their relationship to the free, democratic and therefore anti-Communist world must be one of continuous and relentless conflict, not necessarily carried on by war but by such things as nuclear threats, missile boasts, divisive diplomacy, propaganda, subversion and trade. We should not reject their own assessment of this relationship, while striving with patience and persistence, but without illusion, to change it.
We should also realize--and examine our own societies in the light of the realization--that Communist states are organized for this conflict in every detail of national life; that their citizens make, or are forced to make, great sacrifices for it; that they serve, or are forced to serve, the State in ways which we of the free democracies do not accept save in time of great crisis or war.
If collapse on the Summit brings about a really serious reassessment of the position within and between the nations of the Atlantic coalition, a more than superficial analysis of our purposes and policies, a clearer understanding of our dangers and our opportunities, then some good will have come from this most recent shock treatment. We may come to certain conclusions that make sense and, more important, try to act on them. Here are three such.
First, there must be far greater and more continuous coördination of policy within the Atlantic Alliance. This can best be done by making the NATO Council into one of political leaders, deputies of their heads of government, meeting as a political general staff. I do not see how anything less than this will suffice if those countries, who have agreed to defend themselves collectively, are to solve collectively the problems that they face. I see no other way of bringing about that unity of policy inside the group and that cohesion in the execution of such policy which are essential.
If the coalition cannot strengthen its unity in this way, its value to many of its members will be reduced to a point where they may think that the liabilities and risks from membership exceed the advantages. This--as recent events have illustrated--would apply also to defensive democratic alliances other than NATO. Such a development would be a tragedy. But it could happen.
Second, the Atlantic Pact countries must use the United Nations far more than they have recently done in the search for solutions to problems that now divide and may destroy the world. This is particularly true of such matters as disarmament. The great powers, operating both within and without the United Nations, have shown their inability to make any significant progress in this field. Nor is such progress likely to be easier after the events of Paris. If deadlock results, why should a committee of middle powers not be asked by the United Nations to draft an actual disarmament convention? It would then be the responsibility of the great powers to prove its inadequacy or its undesirability. In doing so they would not, at least, be rejecting each other's ideas, whose source alone makes them often so suspect.
Third, there is one matter which should be pushed hard, without delay, and irrespective of what Mr. Khrushchev may have said or done in Paris. This is agreement on the cessation of nuclear tests, where so much progress has already been made. The West should not be responsible for sacrificing this to Mr. Khrushchev's recent conduct.
The collapse in Paris has confirmed again what has been obvious for many years--that we are living in an era of towering material and scientific achievement, along with a stubborn refusal to accept, in political action, the implications of that achievement. It is a desolate thought that, in the field of coöperation for world peace, we are not far beyond the tribal in our hopes and fears, in our policies and practices. Man can now receive a message from a gadget 8,000,000 miles away in outer space, a gadget whose course around the sun he has determined. But a message of peace across a curtain is blocked or misinterpreted or misunderstood.
Humanity can--as we are so often told--be lost in the chasm created by this imbalance. This is no holiday from history. It is the time when man's destiny is to be decided. It is a time of challenge to our resolve--and our right--to survive.
[i] "The Nature and Feasibility of War and Deterrence," Stanford Research Institute Journal, v. 3, n. 4, 1959, p. 139.