Dilemmas of Détente: Apparatchiks and Entrepreneurs: US-Soviet Economic Relations

Courtesy Reuters

If the world should erupt before these words are in print, the fault is unlikely to lie with the policy of détente. So far, the advantages of détente have been somewhat more evident than the costs. The capacity of the two superpowers to communicate effectively in the white heat of the Middle East crisis, for instance, must surely be counted as a significant dividend.

The policy of détente, however, is extremely vulnerable. It is exposed to the possibility that differences such as the Middle East imbroglio may prove too large to be contained. And it is exposed to another source of peril-less obvious but no less powerful-namely, that the dividends from détente, including the economic dividends, will be distributed between the parties in a grossly lopsided way.

During two decades of cold war, the economic contacts between the United States and the U.S.S.R. were reduced to a bare minimum. On one side of the iron curtain, the Soviet Union sat sullen and withdrawn. On the other side, the United States was busy imposing an Orwellian mesh of bureaucratic controls to choke off any initiatives that its own businessmen happened to offer.

On the surface, the objective of the U.S. controls was to protect or advance the security of the United States. But even a passing familiarity with these controls suggested that other standards also were being applied. At times the U.S. bureaucracy seemed to be screening all transactions by one simple criterion: How would an ignorant, though well-meaning, patriotic Congressman react? Accordingly, exports were prohibited and imports discouraged even when the effect on U.S. security seemed remote. The Soviet bureaucracy was treated to a dress rehearsal of what would happen if an embargo were applied by force of arms, and one can be sure that it profited from the rehearsal.

Among the various dividends that détente has yielded is a reduction in the masochistic impact of the U.S. restrictions

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