The Limits of Détente

President Lyndon B. Johnson (behind) with Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin

Like many other observers, Karl Marx noted that from the time of Peter the Great Russian foreign policy showed a general tendency not merely to expansionism, but to "unlimited" power. He put this even more strongly in a speech of January 1876, when he spoke of Russia's lodestar being "the empire of the world." Engels, too, wrote of her "dreaming about universal supremacy." They were referring not to any fixed plan, or wholly explicit intention, but rather to the spirit and character of the Russian State. The extent to which this general tendency (though, of course, with different content) still subsists, and the degree to which it is expressed in actual practice, are clearly central to any but a superficial estimate of Soviet foreign policy.

Even under the Tsars expansion was not constant. There were periods of stasis, even of withdrawal. The provisions of the Treaty of Paris, which limited Russian naval power in the Black Sea, were not repudiated until the opportunity at last arose in 1871. And comparably, the Soviet Union abandoned expansion for more than a decade before 1939.

The assurances given that this would be permanent were various and formal. In the sensitive matter of the Baltic republics, for example, a series of treaties provided against any conceivable Russian pressure. The renunciation of "all rights of sovereignty forever" in a treaty signed (to take the Lithuanian case) on July 12, 1920, was followed on September 22, 1926, by a nonaggression pact, twice renewed in the thirties, guaranteeing Lithuanian sovereignty in all circumstances. This was strengthened in 1933 by a convention defining aggression, which said that "no considerations of a political, military, economic or any other nature" would justify it. Even when, on October 10, 1939, Lithuania signed under pressure a "Mutual Assistance Pact," under which Soviet troops set up bases in the country, its Article 7 guaranteed that this would "not in any way affect the sovereign rights of the contracting parties, in particular their state organizations, economic and social systems, military measures and, in general, the principle

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