Søren Kierkegaard once said that "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." As applied to public policy in general, and to foreign policy in particular, this is a counsel of despair because it implies that men must govern themselves and shape their policies without really knowing what they are about or why. But if this observation is to be disproved, and the historian unseated as the only proper analyst of human affairs, then men must be prepared resolutely to try to follow Aldous Huxley's advice "to look at the world directly and not through the half- opaque medium of concepts, which distorts every given fact into the all too familiar likeness of some generic label or explanatory abstraction."

In reference to American foreign affairs, and particularly at this time in our history, such an effort is difficult. In all countries foreign affairs are likely to become the object of more emotionalism and irrationality than domestic questions. This is the heritage of history viewed through the lens of nationalism. And today the task of looking outward upon the world with calm objectivity and realism becomes doubly difficult because ours is a world so different from that of even our immediate forebears that neither national experience nor the clichés of political leaders offer easy guidance to the puzzled but conscientious citizen. The effort, however, must be made, and particularly so in an election year when important choices face the voter.

Perhaps it may be useful to begin with an unscholarly oversimplification and to suggest that the United States may be about to enter a fourth period in the history of its foreign policy. The first, of course, was our century- long avoidance of any long-term diplomatic commitments in Europe or elsewhere. Wrongly called a policy of "isolation," it was, in fact, merely a shrewd use of a special historical situation-the nineteenth-century Western European equilibrium of power and the British Navy's domination of the Atlantic-in order to gain precious time for the growth of national strength and unity.

A second policy period coincided roughly with the first half of the present century. Following the flexing of our muscles in the Spanish-American War and the assumption of political commitments in the Pacific, we became concerned over the rise of German naval power and the consequent drawing in of British naval power from the Far East. In terms of its relationship to our own security, we then began to value more highly than before the existence of even an unsteady European power equilibrium. When it was threatened with destruction, in each of two world wars, we intervened to help preserve it. In both cases we were drawn into actual belligerency by a series of incidents that blurred this central issue, but our antipathy to a possible German victory was in part an instinctive reaction that our own national future would be more secure if Western Europe avoided domination by a single powerful state.

Our effort after World War II to set up barriers against Soviet expansion was in the same general policy tradition. The physical exhaustion of the Western European countries, the vast military strength of the Soviet Union and the Stalinist commitment to the extension of Soviet power caused the United States-once the early illusions of postwar Allied collaboration were dispelled-to try to rebuild some degree of European equilibrium by such heroic measures as the Marshall Plan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. There was genuine fear that western continental Europe otherwise might be forced to follow the Eastern European states into the Communist orbit; hence we strove mightily, and successfully, to ward off this danger and to restore a reasonable power balance. We did not hope to equate Western Europe with the Soviet Union, but we did believe, as before, that single-power domination of Western Europe would be inimical to our own security interests.

To accomplish this end, we were obliged to recognize that the postwar situation was so new and different that we could be successful only if we were to abandon a primary characteristic of our second policy period- namely, ad hoc interventionism-and accept permanent diplomatic and military commitments. This was such a basic policy change that it seems reasonable to refer to the situation roughly since the end of the last war as a third major period in United States foreign policy. Moreover, and again in distinction to the second policy period, our commitments now ranged far beyond Western Europe. The identification of the Soviet Union as our great antagonist and the military weakness of all the states around the Soviet periphery forced us to expand the policy of containment to global proportions. Our new world-wide foreign aid program-technical, financial and military-was in substance an extrapolation of our commitment to try to preserve a strong and independent Europe. Since such a program could not be confined to Soviet border states, it became, in effect, a world-wide program of defense against Soviet infiltration. It has been staggeringly expensive, and since it had to be based upon the strengthening of democratic forces and institutions in countries where, in some cases, there was little upon which to build, the American people, always prone to demand quick and dramatic successes, have become increasingly restive and critical of results achieved by such a massive and costly effort.

Meanwhile, in this third period, the fantastic developments in military technology obliged us to undertake hitherto unimaginable peacetime defense expenditures at home. To meet the new Soviet capability for direct attack upon the continental United States, we went into a crash program, both for defense and retaliation, that has made a primary claim upon our national budget and upon our supply of scientific talent. This burden has been borne without serious taxpayer complaint because our people have realized that all our political, diplomatic and military efforts abroad would be useless unless they were based upon our recognized ability, in the face of this new situation, both to ward off a direct Soviet attack and, if need be, to inflict massive destruction upon Soviet power centers.

These, then, have been some of the guide lines of our third-period policy: massive strength at home, both for offense and defense against a direct Soviet onslaught; aid, in some form, to all countries where a Communist threat, direct or indirect, is believed to exist; the encouragement, with American participation, of regional, anti-Communist, international organizations; and a general opposition to any policies, by any non- Communist government, that might be somehow beneficial to the Soviet Union. We have supplemented this policy by warm collaboration with the United Nations and other international organizations wherein there might be discovered opportunities to mitigate the cold war, but the general anti- Soviet temper of the American people, fed by frequent Moscovite provocation, remains a basic, national, policy-conditioning attitude.


It is the argument of this paper that while the third, or postwar, policy of the United States has served us well and has achieved many of its major ends, the time may not be far off when we shall want to reëxamine it substantively. The reconsideration of any policy does not necessarily lead to major changes; it could merely reaffirm the general conclusion that, despite new situations, the original policy and the basis upon which it was constructed remain as sound as ever. But the benefit of any thorough and periodic reëxamination is that it may lead our decision-makers and the general public to envisage and grasp new opportunities, afforded by changing circumstances, to give greater benefit to our country in its world relations.

This task of reëxamination is not easy in these complicated days even for our statesmen, and still less so for the private citizen, but the effort ought not to be avoided just because it is difficult and because it is bound to evoke mixed reactions, particularly from those whose commitment to a fixed line of policy is such that they may ascribe dubious motives to all who propose even a reëxamination.

Several years ago when I was invited to have a personal interview with the head of a major European state, I was somewhat taken aback by his opening question: "What is your opinion of the general state of affairs in the world?" As the conversation progressed, I soon realized that this had not been merely an opening gambit or an effort to make polite conversation. Rather it was a reflection of a profound personal need to think globally about situations and trends that might have an effect upon the basic architecture of his foreign policy.

In that spirit, and in the conviction that the basic world situation may be beginning to change in certain respects, it may be useful to try to list certain conclusions, facts, situations and trends that ought to be taken into account in any basic reëxamination of policy. Such a listing necessarily is a highly personal exercise, and it is not likely to be useful unless it provokes some disagreement both over inclusions and exclusions. Such an exercise, moreover, is more useful for the private citizen than for the policy-maker, but the latter must bring the former with him if he is to do anything more than remain in a well worn policy rut. And most government officials do back away from any public-opinion battle that can be avoided. To date, Senator Fulbright is one of the few men in public life to indicate an acute awareness of the value to be achieved by a fresh look at foreign policy.

A first item on such a list is the simple fact that the Soviet Union must be regarded as a viable political and economic entity with which our country necessarily will coexist for an indefinite time. Because the U.S.S.R. has so frequently proclaimed itself to be an avowed antagonist of the United States, and has so acted on many occasions, some Americans, seizing upon well-publicized Soviet failures and shortcomings, still cling to the hope that one day it may disintegrate under the weight of its own internal contradictions and inadequacies as a political, economic and social mechanism.

Such catastrophic happenings are always possible, particularly in a political system that has not yet solved the thorny problem of the orderly transfer of political power. But the fact remains that the Soviet Union has survived-through great internal and external trials-for nearly half a century. Today, as far as a foreigner can judge, its internal effectiveness, stability and popularity are greater than at any time in its history. The Soviet Humpty Dumpty one day might fall off the Kremlin wall, but it would be the height of folly for Americans to base any policy assumptions on that expectation.

Further, if through some internal or external cataclysm the present régime were to be ousted from power, we have no right to assume that any successor régime would be markedly different in attitude or theory, or any easier for us to deal with. This observation is prompted by the belief that most of the basic foreign policies of the Soviet Union-as distinct from many tiresome speeches and policy pronouncements-have been motivated to a greater degree by what are conceived to be Russian national interests than by the desire to encourage the doctrinaire advancement of world Communism. While many Americans reject this conclusion, its validity as a policy consideration for the United States seems to be borne out by the phenomenon of the Soviet-Chinese split.

A second possibility, derived from the first, is that the conservative and cautious tendency currently apparent in Soviet policy may be an evidence of a long-range trend and not merely a temporary gambit designed to lull our suspicions and lure us off base. Societies generally become less adventurous when hard-won gains could be lost by failure-a point illustrated by the tactical and ideological differences now so apparent between China and the Soviet Union. None the less, and human nature being what it is, it is not to be expected that Soviet leaders ever would make any open dramatic renunciation of past beliefs or practices. Hence, one cannot take seriously occasional American statements to the effect that because the Soviet record is one of duplicity in international dealings, we must avoid placing any trust in any Soviet action unless the Soviet leaders openly disavow their past and announce that they now wish to settle down and become normal and coöperative members of the world community. This is merely childish thinking.

But it is reasonable to conclude that as conditions in Russia become progressively better, and as Marxist illusions about the outside world recede into unreality, Soviet leaders are likely to talk more and more about the ultimate and eventual triumph of their system through peaceful demonstration of its validity, and less and less about any world cataclysm to be brought about through the expiring death throes of decadent capitalism. Therefore, relying upon the significance of actions rather than words, it seems fair to conclude that the present Soviet policy line is not a tactical man?uvre but a reflection of growing stability at home and an unavowed re-assessment of the prospects for the non-Communist world.

Such a judgment is based upon a third fact of our contemporary world, which is the continued and growing strength and vitality of the more important non-Communist Western countries. The Soviet masses may still believe propaganda about the decadence, weakness and internal disunity of the West, but their leaders can have no such illusions for they are fully aware of the facts. Just as Western policies must be based on the assumption of the continued viability and strength of the U.S.S.R., so Soviet policies must be founded on a similar conclusion about the West. The revival, for example, of postwar Western Europe is a success story that cannot be discounted or overlooked by any intelligent Soviet policy-maker.

Another contemporary "fact of life" is the much-discussed nuclear stalemate which means that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union can force its will upon the other without risking its own total destruction in the process. Senator Fulbright recently observed that "By their acquisition of nuclear weapons the two great powers have destroyed the traditional advantages which size and resources had placed at their disposal. Their security now is a tenuous thing, depending solely on their power to deter attack and, ultimately, on sheer faith that each will respond with reason and restraint to the deterrent power of the other."[i]

The Cuban confrontation bears ample testimony to the essential validity of the position that nuclear weapons, in a state of sufficient quantity and equivalence on each side, are more of a restraint upon the free exercise of policy than a means for achieving desired ends. Chairman Khrushchev had to withdraw from an untenable position, and the United States, in turn, accepted the unattractive conclusion that it ought not to accept the risk of insisting upon the total liquidation of the Castro régime. The simple fact, and one that is new in history, is that great nuclear powers cannot now consider the use of force against each other as an instrument of policy. In such a situation a policy of Soviet or American "brinkmanship" is essentially irresponsible because it does not really carry with it the actuality of a threat that might make it successful in breaking the will of an opponent. It is dangerous to peace because it could unleash popular emotions so powerful politically as to determine, fatally, the process of decision-making in a crisis situation that had been allowed to escalate to major proportions.

Another situation, stemming partly from the nuclear "balance of frustration," needs to be kept in mind in thinking about United States foreign policy. This is the fact that, despite the formidable military, financial and industrial capability of our country, our relative status in the world has been declining. European recovery has produced new rivalry for world trade opportunities and new freedom from financial dependence upon us. As a consequence of this trend and our massive foreign expenditures we have been plagued by a persistently adverse balance of payments that has weakened our gold position to a point where it has occasioned genuine national concern.

Such developments in Western Europe were the inevitable consequence of success of the aid programs after the war. Now that this success has been achieved, the adjustment by the United States to a condition of greater equality in partnership is filled with policy implications at every level. The problem appears, for example, with respect to attitudes toward trade and other relations with the Communist world. If it is in any way true, as has been suggested by some writers, that Americans seem to have grown attached to the cold war, the same could not be said of our European allies who, in varying degrees, have shown that they believe that closer diplomatic and economic relations with the Communist world will be more a source of long-run safety than risk.

The lessening of America's world status is not confined to our relations with Western Europe and its resurgent strength. The effects of what is called "polycentrism" as the successor to "bi-polarity" can be observed in the significant growth of either outright anti-Americanism or vocal criticism of the United States throughout much of the world. One London newspaper remarked editorially a few weeks ago that one explanation for the results of the Republican Party convention was a natural American reaction against the torrent of criticism and abuse to which this country had been subjected from so many foreign centers in recent years. This may be an exaggerated view, but it does point up the fact that the world leadership of the United States is not accepted as unquestioningly today as it was in the years immediately after the last war. And Americans, who do like to be liked by foreigners, often have been offended by this mounting criticism, particularly when it comes from countries whose current status has, we believe, been made possible to such a large extent by our own foreign-aid program. It is quite clear that we have relied overly much upon "gratitude" as a force in international affairs because we have viewed our program as sheer national generosity while many foreigners have regarded it as a policy device for the expansion of American influence, the relief of agricultural surpluses and the advancement of our global policy of Soviet "containment."

But criticism and depreciation of the United States abroad is not important to our policy-makers except as it is a reflection of the world-wide phenomenon of resurgent nationalism. It was to be expected that many of the newly independent states in Asia and Africa, whatever their history-or lack of it-or their weaknesses and doubtful viability, would be strongly nationalistic in this first flush of emotional exuberance following the achievement of freedom. Our own history should have prepared us for this conclusion. We were not, however, quite prepared for the same outburst of popular demands in Western Europe for independence from what was felt to be United States domination. It was a natural phenomenon, probably inescapable, but it has caught the American people unawares and, momentarily, it appears to have produced a political reaction that could have important policy consequences.

Possibly of greater significance is the fact that the same trend has appeared in the Soviet bloc. Some of the Eastern European satellite states have profited from the opportunity of the Sino-Soviet split to assert, in varying degrees and in cautious ways, more independence of policy than before. One should not underestimate the possible long-range significance of their encouragement of trade and, more recently, tourist traffic, with the non-Communist world. The grim and dramatic reality of the Berlin Wall has perhaps caused us to overlook the growing movement of peoples for travel and business across the Iron Curtain elsewhere in Europe. If affluence and political relaxation could permit such traffic to assume substantial proportions in the years ahead, the results might be beneficial.

The rising current of nationalism is another indication of the fact that, for an increasing number of people everywhere, the last war is being forgotten except as an event of past history. Those Americans who continue to view the outside world as they did quite reasonably even a decade ago should remember that young Europeans of voting age could have been born as late as 1943, and even earlier in countries where the minimum age is less than 21. Such young people have no real recollection of the war and only a dim memory of its immediate aftermath. It is this rising generation that, understandably, helps to foster the attitudes of independence, and even sharp criticism, with respect to the United States and its erstwhile predominance. These younger people must be expected to be unimpressed by our role in the struggle against Hitlerism and our aid to European reconstruction thereafter. They are growing to adulthood in a Europe of revived prosperity, and one cannot assume that they will be everlastingly grateful for something they did not experience. Theirs is a new world, a postwar world, and in the immemorial fashion of young people they look only to the present and the future. In Europe the change in the past five years to a new postwar mentality is a phenomenon which cannot escape the attention of any thoughtful observer. It helps to explain the immense popularity of the late President Kennedy in Europe, and it has profound significance for the present and future artificers of our foreign policy.

So many other items could be added to this list of things which ought to influence our foreign-policy thinking. Among them are (1) the world-wide instability produced by the excessively rapid proliferation of new and weak states with such poor prospects for viability as effective, independent, political entities; (2) the effects of this flood of new states upon the United Nations as an action agency; (3) the rising levels of expectation among populations of underdeveloped lands and the problems thereby presented to the world; (4) the strong possibility, with or without Castro's influence, of explosive social change in some Latin American states; and (5) the menace of Communist China to its Asian neighbors and, quite possibly, to the world.

But the choice to leave these issues to one side here and to direct attention primarily to Europe and the Soviet Union was deliberate. In the years immediately ahead, as in the past, the single greatest influence upon our foreign policy will be the climate of our relations with this part of the world. Everything else we do, everywhere, will be profoundly affected, perhaps determined, by our European and Soviet policies.


What conclusions and implications should one draw from the five items singled out for brief discussion: (1) the strength and viability of the Soviet Union; (2) the strength and viability of the Western democracies; (3) the balance of nuclear power between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.; (4) the possibility that Soviet foreign policies may follow a long-range trend of gradual but increasing conservatism and adjustment with the West; and (5) the effects of the rising tide of nationalism in the world?

First of all, it must be emphasized that, though we may have a détente of growing significance in Western-Soviet relations, we should not expect any dramatic or rapid clearing of the political atmosphere. Undoubtedly, and for some time in the future, the United States will continue to try to counter and to contain efforts to expand Soviet influence abroad, and the Kremlin will seek to do the same for our foreign activities. Each will continue to man?uvre against the other as long as each sees in the existence, policies and strength of the other a threat to its own future. But this kind of contest for external political influence, familiar to all diplomatic historians and inherent in the collisions of highly competitive, great-power states, bids fair now to be carried on in relative freedom from the old fear that it may be but a prelude to Armageddon. Given an irrational person in a post of the highest authority in either state, a world catastrophe could ensue; for today the head of a nuclear-armed state, in his capacity as commander-in-chief of all the defense forces of his country, has literally in his own hands-unchecked by any legislative mandate-the power to plunge mankind into an unimaginable abyss. Such power did not exist in the old days of conventional weapons. Its mere existence is frightening, and it is sure to have some cautionary effect upon the selection of any head of government. We must assume, however, that leaders in this awesome position will be prudent, rational men, in which case the great-power diplomatic contest of the foreseeable future will be reasonably free from the possibility of any deliberate resort to the use of ultimate force as an instrument of state policy.

With respect to nuclear-weapons policy, the immediate prospect is for the tacit continuation of the status quo. The Soviet Union appears unlikely to accept that measure of international inspection that might make us willing to accept a substantial reduction of nuclear armaments. In the absence of any such assurances the United States cannot, and should not, take any steps that would diminish its own existing nuclear capability. Those who clamor for disarmament as a path to peace should remember that armaments are more a product of distrust than a cause thereof. We should be content with the present balance of power, and we should maintain it at whatever level may be necessary. As indicated above, the adversity of a nuclear standoff has uses that may be beneficial to us even if they are not sweet in the mouths of either the pacifists or the jingoists.

These two general observations point to four foreign-policy implications for the near future. First, we should be prepared to take advantage of ail opportunities arising from the growing trends toward nationalism to encourage individual Eastern European states in the Communist orbit toward greater independence of action vis-à-vis Moscow. This will be a slow process because any excessive or premature action on their part would certainly provoke a Hungary-like repression. But it would be catastrophic for us to assume that the entire Communist bloc is merely a single, monolithic, centrally directed conspiracy against the West. The men in the Kremlin make no such mistake in their dealings with the Western Alliance. The leaders of the West, if they are clever and unimpeded by obsessions, gradually may be able to strengthen the spirit of nationalism that coexists uneasily with Communist internationalism in every Eastern European state. If this can be done in such a way and at such a pace as to avoid giving Moscow the feeling that a mortal blow is being prepared, good and positive results for the West might be forthcoming. At least, the effort is worthwhile.

Second, we must accept the fact that the prospective development-economic, political and social-of a large part of the world will not be according to our own pattern and quite possibly not greatly to our liking. Many of the rising countries feel the political urgency of more rapid national development than can be achieved by primary reliance upon the private sector. Therefore, the mix between private and public sources of capital is likely, in many cases, to go further in the direction of "socialism" than we would prefer. But this is a fact of contemporary life and we would impair the strength of our basic world position if we professed to see in all such trends and developments merely the cunning hand of the professional Communist agitator.

Politically speaking, the same prospect is before us. Throughout much of the world we are likely to see far more authoritarian government than we like. Reluctantly, we are beginning to accept the fact that some of our earlier ideas about world political trends and the inevitability of democracy were, to put the matter bluntly, naïve. We now know that democratic institutions, such as we enjoy, require for their successful operation a whole set of conditions-political experience, a satisfactory level of education, general agreement on the fundamental structure and purposes of the state, etc.-that are entirely lacking in much of the world. Time and wise direction may bring to many of these states conditions in which individual liberty may be widened and deepened, but even then the end result may be quite different from our own institutions and ideas.

Third, as suggested earlier, we will be living in an unsettled and even dangerous world for a long time to come. Therefore, the conduct of our foreign policy must be animated by prudence and great sobriety even though undergirded by fully maintained strength. Flamboyance and brinkmanship always will have popular appeal, but patience is a greater attribute of statesmanship than sabre-rattling. For the individual as well as a society there is an emotional catharsis in losing one's temper and threatening an opponent with dire punishment, but such a course is always a luxury which few individuals and no great powers can afford.

Finally, our policy must continue to do whatever can be done to strengthen all available mechanisms of international coöperation and peaceful adjustment of differences. It would be folly to believe that the United Nations or any other international organization can be regarded as a complete substitute for diplomacy in a world of independent nation-states, but it can help to solve small problems that otherwise might grow to dangerous proportions, provide the best possible means of face-saving for a loser, and offer a world forum in which, hopefully, a growing consensus about standards and procedures relating to international conduct gradually may evolve.

To sum up: our new policy period must be characterized by an attitude of resolute firmness whenever necessary, but this must be tempered with greater flexibility, inventiveness and realism about the world as it is. As we move into such a time, our greatest national danger could arise from a widening gap between the thinking of our policy-makers, who have been trained to view the world coldly, prudently and realistically, and the attitudes of large sections of the public which frequently reflect little more than strident emotionalism. This gap always exists, but it is a growing danger, and only the courage and forthrightness of our leaders in their public utterances can help to close it. The demagogues always will be with us, but the field of public discussion must not be left to them simply because other and wiser men fear the rough and tumble of public debate. The issues at stake are great, and the American people deserve from their leaders not only candor and courage but also sobriety and restraint.

[i] J. W. Fulbright, "Old Myths and New Realities." New York: Random House, 1964, p. 54.

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