Our reactions to Soviet foreign policy have a way of jumping from one extreme to another, both in the long and short run, with more regard for changing superficial appearances than permanent objective factors. During the last year of the Second World War, we tended to idealize the Russians, Stalin became "Uncle Joe" to be charmed by Roosevelt into coöperation, and the United Nations, having done away with "power politics," was supposed to be the vehicle of that coöperation. From 1947 onwards, the Kremlin was perceived as the headquarters of the devil on earth, causing all that was wrong with the world and, more particularly, scheming the destruction of the United States. These extreme swings of the pendulum can also be observed in much shorter time spans.

On August 27, 1970, The New York Times reported from San Clemente that "authoritative White House sources have declared that the United States is prepared to join the Soviet Union in a two-nation peace-keeping force to maintain a settlement of the Middle East conflict. . . ." The reader was left with the clear inference that both the President and Mr. Henry Kissinger, his adviser on national security, had something to do with this statement. If Mr. Nixon had made such a statement ten years ago, it would have been judged at best to be utterly eccentric and at worst might have jeopardized the then Vice President's political career, and if Professor Kissinger had made such a statement 20 years ago, the House Un-American Activities Committee might have investigated him as a likely subversive.

Yet less than a month passed, and the atmosphere was drastically transformed. For the Soviet Union had not only violated the ceasefire agreement in the Middle East on a massive scale but seemed to have intended doing so from the outset. Furthermore, the Soviet Union was suspected to be building a submarine base in Cuba. Thus, Secretary of State Rogers, at his news conference of December 23, 1970, discounted as "totally impractical" the idea of such a peacekeeping force as had been adumbrated in August and denied that the United States had ever given any thought to such a possibility.

Yet beneath these fluctuations of mood and tactics the perennial question about the future of American-Soviet relations persists in demanding an answer: Is it possible to move from sterile confrontation to meaningful negotiations? While 20 years ago such a question was purely rhetorical since the negative answer was a foregone conclusion, it can now be asked seriously, and it deserves a serious answer, derived not from the changing mood of the day but from the objective factors which in the long run determine the relations among nations. What has happened during the last 20 years to account for the possibility of posing that crucial question seriously?


Five factors have transformed the relations between the United States and the Soviet Union: the rejection of nuclear war as an instrument of national policy; the ideological decontamination of foreign policy at least with respect to each other; the failure of the competition for the allegiance of the third world; the implicit recognition by the United States of the status quo in Eastern Europe; and the Chinese threat to the Soviet Union.

The fear of mutual destruction through nuclear war has imposed effective restraints upon the foreign policies of the superpowers in two respects: the avoidance of direct military confrontation and, when it inadvertently occurs, its speedy liquidation. The United States has fought in Korea and Vietnam wars for limited objectives, falling short of military victory, because of the fear of such a confrontation. It has kept its hands off a series of East European revolts against Soviet domination. For the same reason, the Soviet Union has not followed up with action its repeated demands-twice in the form of ultimatums with a precise time limit-for a change in the status quo of West Berlin. In the Middle East, Russia has come close to a military confrontation with America, but the latter has not responded in kind, and both powers have joined in an initiative to restore peace. When there was military confrontation during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, both sides went as far as they dared without compelling the other side to take steps that might lead to nuclear war, and retraced their steps in partial retreat.

Sharing the conviction of the suicidal irrationality of nuclear war, the United States and the Soviet Union have thus in a sense helped each other to avoid it; they appear to have concluded that the sole legitimate purpose of nuclear arms is not to win a nuclear war but to deter it Nevertheless, they have continued an unlimited nuclear arms race as though there did not exist an optimum of nuclear preparedness sufficient for deterrence, beyond which to go is utterly irrational. They have thus pursued the rational goal of nuclear deterrence with the irrational means of an unlimited nuclear arms race. Recognizing this irrationality, they have joined in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), searching for an agreement which could bring the nuclear arms race under control.

While the United States and the Soviet Union have begun to deal with each other as one great power with another, having certain interests in common and being at loggerheads with regard to others, there was a time, not much more than a decade ago, when we took the communist dogma much more seriously as a guide to policy than did, for instance, Stalin, who with utter cynicism and brutality used communism and communists as a means to further the traditional ends of the Russian state. Yet we saw in Stalin the heir of Trotsky who was out to accomplish the communization of the world, begun in Eastern Europe at the end of the Second World War, while in truth Stalin was the heir of the Tsars, seeking the traditional goals of Imperial Russia with the new instruments communism put at his disposal. The Russians, in turn, interpreted our insistence upon democratic governments in Eastern Europe and our verbal commitment to "rollback" and "liberation" as evidence of the undying hostility of capitalism which since 1917 had used every opportunity to try to destroy the Soviet Union.

The emancipation of American and Soviet foreign policies from these dogmatic ideological stereotypes-again I must emphasize, limited to their mutual relations-has been the result of the impact the facts of life have made upon the thoughts and actions of the governments concerned. Foremost among these facts has been their failure to win the ideological allegiance of the nations of the third world in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The third world was supposed to be the decisive battleground in the struggle for men's minds, a struggle which would decide the fate of the world. Khrushchev, for instance, used to assure us that the third world would follow the lead of the Soviet Union and thereby seal the doom of the West. Nothing of the kind happened. The new nations of the third world have apparently preferred to be miserable in their own way to being made happy by the United States or the U.S.S.R.

This failure of ideological competition has led both superpowers to the conclusion that it is not worth the expense and the risk of a direct military confrontation, and they have given it up. The absence of any ideological reference and the explicit disavowal of ideological commitment in President Nixon's message to Congress on the state of the world of March of last year at least provides verbal evidence of this fundamental change in our approach to certain aspects of foreign policy. On the other hand, the Soviet Union has banished, a few exceptions to the contrary notwithstanding, ideological considerations from its policies in the third world. It has very close relations with the United Arab Republic whose communists are in jail, and it supports Latin American dictators against their communist parties, which are in turn supported by Cuba, the ally of the Soviet Union. That is to say, it practices old-fashioned power politics, unencumbered by ideological considerations.

It is part and parcel of this victory of the facts of life over ideological blinders that the United States has for all practical purposes recognized the Soviet predominance in Eastern Europe. True enough, we have contained the Soviet Union at the line of military demarcation of 1945; but now we and the Soviet Union realize that the United States, too, has been contained at that very same line. This realization has removed from the cold war its main issue: the territorial status quo, especially with regard to the two Germanys. The recent treaty between the Soviet Union and West Germany makes explicit what had been implicit in the policies of the two superpowers: the recognition by all concerned of the territorial boundaries established at the end of the Second World War. This normalization of East- West relations in Europe has also deprived the status of West Berlin of much of the leverage which Stalin and Khrushchev used against the West. They threatened the status quo of West Berlin in order to compel the West to recognize the territorial status quo in Eastern Europe. Since that recognition has now been forthcoming, the status of West Berlin as a pawn in the hands of the Soviet Union has markedly decreased, although it still retains its usefulness as an instrument of annoyance.

Finally, even if these two developments had not greatly contributed to stability in Europe, the Soviet Union would have a vital interest in such stability. For the Soviet Union must cope at its Chinese frontier with endemic instability which might well escalate into war, and in such a contingency it must be reasonably certain that its western frontiers are secure. It needs that certainty in particular because its élite is obsessed with the fear the Americans will gang up with the Chinese. The Russian leaders suffer from the same "cauchemar des coalitions" which disturbed Bismarck's sleep (only he had better reasons than they). Thus they are not likely to provoke the United States in Europe as long as the insecurity at their eastern frontiers persists.

Considering the beneficial impact these factors have had on the relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, it is tempting to conclude that, undisturbed by contrary tendencies, these factors will continue to exert their pacifying and normalizing effect. This conclusion is particularly tempting for those who have conceived of our relations with the Soviet Union primarily, if not exclusively, in ideological, that is, anti-communist terms. Since we do not need to worry any more about the Soviet Union as the spearhead of communism bent upon destroying us, so the argument runs, there is really nothing at all to worry about. This position, simple if not simplistic and superficially attractive since it caters to our wishes, is, however, vulnerable to three arguments: the elimination of ideological considerations from our foreign policy is partial, and tenuous where it exists; the power politics of the Soviet Union contains residues of ideological commitment; the U.S.S.R. is a great power whose interests and the policies serving it, regardless of ideology, may run counter to the interests of the United States and the policies serving it.

Nor does the ideological decontamination of our relations with the Soviet Union signify that our foreign policy has been altogether freed of its ideological ingredients. We still think about foreign policy in demonological terms and allow our actions to be influenced by them. Why are we fighting in Indochina? In order to prevent the communist takeover of South Vietnam is the official answer. Why did we send our troops to the Dominican Republic? Because we cannot have another communist government in the Western Hemisphere, said President Johnson. Thus it appears that the struggle against communism still influences our actions. Only the devil's place of residence has changed. He could at a moment's notice move back to the Kremlin, and his reappearance in his old haunts would rekindle the ideological animosity between the United States and the Soviet Union. As William Graham Sumner put it: "The amount of superstition is not much changed, but it now attaches to politics, not religion," and, one can add, it attaches to one locale rather than another as circumstances seem to require.

This propensity for political demonology finds support in the nature of the Soviet state and the foreign policies it pursues. It is true that since Stalin the Soviet Union has used ideological factors as means to the end for the Soviet state and in consequence has been able to switch with great alacrity its ideological preferences and stigmatizations from one country to the other. Thus the German "fascist beasts" became comrades-in-arms against Western imperialism after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of August 1939, and the "neo-fascists" and "revanchists" of West Germany transformed themselves into respectable partners, once they were willing to recognize the territorial status quo. China was embraced as a junior partner in the world communist movement as long as it was satisfied with that junior position. It was read out of the Marxist-Leninist camp altogether when it struck out on its own in competition with the Soviet Union.

But it is also true that the Soviet Union regards itself not only as one nation among others but also as the "Fatherland of Socialism," the leader of all "progressive" forces throughout the world. It is this position, now to be maintained against China's competitive claims, that imposes upon Soviet foreign policy certain ideological burdens which the Soviet Union would not need to bear if it conceived of its national interests in strictly traditional terms. What happens in Cuba has no bearing upon the interests of the Russian state traditionally conceived, but it bears heavily upon the position of the Soviet Union as leader of the "progressive" forces of the world. For that reason, the Soviet Union subsidizes Cuba to the tune of approximately $1,000,000 a day even though Castro supports subversion and civil war against the very Latin American governments with which the Soviet Union deals on a pragmatic basis. It is for the same reason that the Soviet Union supports North Vietnam with military aid, carefully limited so as not to provoke the United States to escalate the war, but sufficient to prevent an American military victory.

Thus the ideological conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union is not dead but only dormant. As long as the interests of the two superpowers do not openly clash, the ideological conflict may remain in its present state of suspended animation. But if and when one superpower shall again openly encroach upon the interests of the other, the ideological demons are also likely to be awakened from their slumber. Here is indeed the crux of the future relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. Can they pursue their respective interests without encroaching upon each other's?


Since the downfall of Khrushchev, the Soviet Union has unobtrusively and effectively expanded its political and military influence in the eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East, South Asia and the Indian Ocean in the best tradition of great-power politics and has enhanced its economic influence throughout the world in the best tradition of a capitalist trading nation. The pattern of that expansion has been constant: Russia has moved into the spaces left by the liquidation of the British and French Empires, thereby bringing close to consummation the Tsarist aspirations which during the better part of the nineteenth century had pitted Russia against Great Britain over the "Eastern Question."

Yet there are less spectacular and potentially as important achievements as well. The following story from the London Financial Times of February 14, 1968, points out that Moscow has seen considerable commercial advantage to gain from the blockage of the Suez Canal. Across the Soviet Union lie "straight-line" routes from Western Europe to most of Asia, and the Russians are beginning to exploit this fact.

Already [the Russians] have developed two alternative water routes of their own to the East-the waterway system linking the Baltic Sea with the Caspian, and the Northern Sea route from Europe through the Arctic Ocean to the Pacific. Distances by these routes are shorter than via Suez (unlike the corresponding Cape journeys) and in the event of a long closure could well capture some of the traffic permanently. Iran's use of the Baltic- Caspian waterway has reached an advanced stage already. This route . . . is cutting 2,700 miles off the Suez route between Germany and Iran.

The Financial Times goes on to report that Russia had also announced that she would be "opening her previously tightly guarded Arctic shipping lane across the top of Siberia to foreign ships." Such a new sea route would put Yokohama only 8,500 miles from London whereas the Suez passage totals 12,500 miles.

Instead of remembering how in the sixteenth century the center of power shifted from the Mediterranean to the nations bordering on the Atlantic in consequence of the opening of new trade routes, we have been hypnotized by the ideological aspects of the Indochina war. While we put our minds to beating the Russian communists to the moon and keeping the Vietnamese communists out of Saigon, the Soviet Union has occupied much of the middle ground between these cosmic and parochial goals. Thus the absence of open conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union or, to put it in positive terms, the improvement in U.S.-Soviet relations is in good measure the result not of the settlement of outstanding issues or of the absence of points of conflict, but of American failure to compete with and oppose a Soviet Union steadily expanding its power throughout the world. What looks to the naïve and the wishful thinkers as a new harmonious phase in American- Soviet relations is in truth a byproduct of our military involvement in Indochina. We have been too busy with trying to save Indochina from communism to pay much attention to what the U.S.S.R. was doing in the rest of the world and to compete with it or oppose it as our interests require.

As long as our main national energies and human and natural resources remain absorbed by Indochina, we will continue to enjoy "good" relations with the Soviet Union. The "good" quality of these relations will be the result not of the identity or the parallelism of interests derived from the settlement of outstanding issues, but of letting the defense and promotion of our interests go by default. After all, it takes two to quarrel. If one side does not object to what the other is doing, there will be harmony, but it can be harmony at the former's expense. Thus, paradoxically enough, the lack of controversy in American-Soviet relations results in good measure from the pathological inversion of our national priorities caused by our involvement in the Indochina war. Once we terminate that involvement and conduct our foreign policies again on the basis of the rational assessment and ordering of our national interests, we are likely to find ourselves again in competition and conflict with the Soviet Union.


Four issues, if they are not settled, are likely to revive the competition and opposition between America and Russia: the nuclear arms race, the status of Germany, the balance of power in the Middle East, and the ferment in the third world.

The restraints which the fear of mutual destruction has imposed upon the foreign policies of the United States and the Soviet Union are predicated upon the certainty of that destruction. That is to say, they depend upon what Churchill called a "balance of terror," in which B, after having suffered unacceptable damage from nuclear attack by A, would still be able with what remained of its retaliatory nuclear force to inflict unacceptable damage upon A, and vice versa. It is this psychological conviction that a nuclear war is a genocidal and suicidal absurdity which has preserved the peace and at least a modicum of order in the relations of the superpowers.

However, the indefinite persistence of this conviction cannot be taken for granted. It is threatened by two assumptions: that one or the other side has acquired a first-strike capability which would destroy the enemy's retaliatory capability or at worst reduce it to tolerable proportions, and that one or the other side or both sides have developed a defensive system which at worst would reduce nuclear damage to tolerable proportions. It is irrelevant for the purpose of this discussion whether or not these assumptions are correct; it is sufficient that they might be held. If they were held, they would be bound to exacerbate drastically the nuclear competition between the United States and the Soviet Union; for then the question before us would no longer be the relatively simple one of maintaining mutual deterrence, but how to assure for oneself, and deny to the enemy, the ability to wage a successful nuclear war. The restraints which, as we have seen, have characterized the foreign policies of the superpowers would then follow mutual deterrence into oblivion; for the avoidance of nuclear war appears no longer as a precondition for physical survival if a nation is convinced that it can win a nuclear war either through irresistible attack or impenetrable defense.

It is this dire possibility that makes the success of the SALT talks, seeking a way to control the nuclear arms race, so crucially important for the future of American-Soviet relations. If they fail, a drastic deterioration of these very relations is likely to result. If they succeed, they will not only have stabilized the nuclear arms race on a level sufficient for mutual deterrence, though not for a first strike or effective defense, but they will also have demonstrated the ability of the two superpowers to translate their common interest in survival into operative policies.

While this issue, overshadowing all others, is still in the balance, the normalization of the relations between West Germany and the Soviet Union through the former's recognition of the territorial status quo has brought to the fore a conventional issue which touches the vital interests of both the United States and the Soviet Union: the future orientation of West Germany. Almost 20 years ago, West Germany joined the Western alliance in order to contain the Soviet Union and to assure powerful backing for its claim to be the sole legitimate representative of the whole German people, East and West. It succeeded in the first, and failed in the second, objective. That failure was due to the East German government's staying power and the Soviet determination to contain the West at the 1945 demarcation line.

For West Germany, however, the relations with East Germany and West Berlin have remained crucial. Bonn has come to recognize that the only power which can improve and secure these relations is the Soviet Union. By the same token, the Soviet Union knows that the security of its European empire depends upon West Germany's position. A West Germany which is the dissatisfied spearhead of a hostile alliance is a constant threat; a neutralized and friendly West Germany is an invaluable asset. For a Russo- German combination would become the master of the Eurasian land mass, reducing what remains of Western Europe to an insignificant promontory. This has been the long-range aim of Soviet foreign policy at least since Khrushchev. Khrushchev expressed time and again in private conversation his conviction that there would be another Rapallo, that is, another understanding between Germany and the Soviet Union after the model of the Rapallo Treaty of 1922; that it would come not under him and not under his successor but under his successor's successor; that it was inevitable; and that the Soviet Union could wait. The Soviet Union, in the treaty with West Germany recently concluded, has taken the first step in the direction sketched by Khrushchev.

This treaty, on the face of it, performs the function of a peace treaty-a quarter of a century overdue-in which West Germany recognizes explicitly the territorial status quo of 1945. This recognition has been implicit in the policies which West Germany and the United States have pursued for two decades vis-à-vis the Soviet Union and the nations of Eastern Europe, but the revisionary rhetoric accompanying it, especially in the 1950s, could not help but create doubts as to whether that implicit recognition could be relied upon if opportunities for a change in the territorial status quo should arise. These doubts have now been laid to rest.

However, it is hardly necessary to point out that the development so confidently predicted by Khrushchev would run counter to the interests of the United States and would nullify the policies Washington has pursued in Europe since the end of the Second World War; for it was the major aim of these policies to prevent all of Germany from being drawn into the Russian orbit. In the course of such a development, the Soviet Union, by replacing the United States as the predominant power in Western Europe, would achieve another of its long-term aims: the expulsion of the United States from Europe.

Here is indeed a potential source of serious conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union. Whether or not that conflict will materialize depends upon two factors: what other steps may follow after the initial step taken by the Soviet Union and West Germany, and whether the United States, remaining aware of those interests in Europe over which it fought the cold war, is still willing to support those interests with appropriate policies. As concerns the last point, domestic support for the proposal to reduce drastically our military presence in West Germany must give us pause.

At present it is the Middle East which appears the most obvious point at which the interests and policies of the United States and the Soviet Union appear to collide. The Soviet Union seeks to maintain and expand its predominant presence in the region, while the United States tries to contain it. In order to realize its aim the Soviet Union must support the Arab aspirations up to the point where the survival of Israel is in jeopardy; for much of the Soviet leverage in the Arab world depends upon the continuation of the enmity between the Arabs and Israel. Paradoxically enough, the Soviet Union has an interest in the survival of Israel, however precariously placed in the midst of continuing Arab hostility. On the other hand, the United States, too, is interested in the survival of Israel, secured through the acceptance of the Arab states; for such acceptance would reduce the Soviet leverage to a minimum and improve the chances for American influence reasserting itself. Thus American and Soviet interests with regard to Israel are both contradictory and run for quite different reasons along parallel lines. They make for conflict as well as coöperation.

The third possible point of friction between the United States and the Soviet Union, the revolutionary ferment in the third world, differs from the others in that it is highly speculative. In theory, both superpowers are committed to incompatible positions on this issue. The Soviet Union has repeatedly come out in favor of "wars of national liberation," while the United States favors stability, which means in concrete terms the defense of the status quo against revolution from the Left. In consequence of these incompatible positions, the United States and the Soviet Union have found themselves on opposite sides of the fence in the Congo, the Middle East, Cuba, Vietnam. But, as pointed out before with regard to Latin America, the Soviet Union has not hesitated to abandon this position in favor of a pragmatic pursuit of its national interests as a great power. And the United States, after the Indochinese experience, is not likely to intervene openly in Africa or Latin America in order to defend the established order against revolutionary change. In view of the abatement of ideological commitment on both sides, this source of friction may appear remote at present, but it might become acute overnight if an unforeseen event, domestic or international, should suddenly awaken the slumbering ideological passions.

The amicable or at least peaceful settlement of the substantive issues outstanding between the United States and the Soviet Union is greatly complicated and under certain conditions may well be jeopardized by a peculiarity of the Soviet approach to negotiated settlements. The Soviet Union has been painstaking in keeping the agreements-both political and commercial-that were in its interests to keep, and this is about all one can expect from any nation; for all nations will disregard-either openly or surreptitiously-those agreements which no longer serve their interests. It is peculiar to the Soviet approach to negotiated settlements to enter sometimes into such settlements with the intention not to honor them. It is one thing to disregard agreements when they no longer serve one's purposes; it is quite another to pledge one's word to an agreement with the intention not to honor it. The former is accepted diplomatic practice, however morally repugnant. The latter is treachery-Gromyko assuring Kennedy of the absence of Russian missiles in Cuba while the President had photographic evidence to the contrary; the Soviet Union agreeing to a ceasefire for the Middle East and violating the agreement at the very moment of its coming into operation. The experience and the resulting expectation of such treachery may well make the difference between accord and conflict and, when the chips are down, between peace and war.

Thus the future of American-Soviet relations is shrouded in uncertainty. Neither amity nor enmity is foreordained. Those who proclaim the inevitability of conflict on ideological grounds are as wrong as are those who assert the inevitability of peace, or even friendship, because the United States and the Soviet Union have become more restrained in words and deeds in dealing with each other. The future depends first of all upon how the two governments conceive of their respective interests and how they will go about defending and protecting them. If they conceive of them in compatible terms and pursue them with appropriate concern for each other's sensibilities, the future might well witness the realization of Roosevelt's dream, Stalin's grand design, and Mao's nightmare: the coöperation of the United States and the Soviet Union in establishing and maintaining a modicum of order in the world. Otherwise, the world will continue to hover on the brink of self-destruction.

The outcome, however, will no longer depend exclusively upon the actions of the superpowers vis-á-vis each other, but to an increasing extent upon the actions of secondary power centers-China, Japan, West Germany, either alone or in concert with a politically and militarily united Europe-and the reactions of the two superpowers to them. Thus the issues dividing the two superpowers will remain susceptible to peaceful settlements only in the measure that the superpowers are able to prevent their relations with the secondary power centers from exacerbating their relations with each other. When they deal with each other, they must also, as it were, look over their shoulders to see what other nations are doing and to anticipate what they are likely to do. While the freedom of man?uvre which the secondary power centers are likely to enjoy will introduce a new element of uncertainty and risk into the relations between the superpowers, concern with the interests and policies of the secondary powers may well strengthen the self-restraint with which America and Russia have been dealing with each other because of the fear of nuclear war.

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