Courtesy Reuters

Dilemmas of Détente: Pluralism and Policy

No factor is more needful of fresh consideration in both the practice and study of American foreign policy than its domestic underpinnings. For despite the recent example of Vietnam, a war that created bitter domestic conflict which itself played back upon the war, the tendency lingers within the foreign-affairs community to frame policy exclusively in terms of the perceived requirements of the international environment. President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger, of course, hope to receive public support. But their plain inclination is less to submit the shaping and executing of foreign policy to the domestic political process than to make what minimal policy adjustments they must in order to keep themselves in control of the policy. For them, this is a matter of constitutional legitimacy as well as diplomatic necessity and, for the President, political advantage.

By students no less than practitioners, the domestic politics of foreign states are regularly acknowledged as relevant to American policy. In the October 1973 issue of Foreign Affairs, for instance, appeared an article entitled "The Domestic Politics of the New Soviet Foreign Policy." Yet in a second and related article, "Toward a Western Philosophy of Coexistence," there was this revealing observation: "it is to the inner politics and the underlying forces operating in the two [Soviet and American] societies that we must look in order to judge the prospects for continuity. . . . The American side of this equation is presumably familiar to our readers; in the following section, we turn to an analysis of the Soviet view. . . ."

But is this presumption of familiarity correct? What is "the American side of this equation?" In brief, what is the politics of détente? An intriguing topic, it tells much about our policy, our country, and the times. And, unless there develops a fuller understanding of the politics of détente, and a wider acceptance of the notion that policy evolves not just out of the world view of statesmen and the craft of diplomats but out of the

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