Courtesy Reuters

Détente or Entente?

The U.S.-Soviet détente is neither fully understood nor certain to endure. The sheer complexity of détente balancing-holding the Soviet Union, China, the Western allies and Japan in a complicated network of associations with the United States which involve conflict as well as cooperation-may not last. Even if it could be sustained, some argue that American interests dictate that it should be dropped or radically modified. To others détente is an attitude, but not a policy. It represents a desirable and overdue recognition of realities in foreign policy-the need to achieve better relations with the Soviet Union and China. But it does not specify where the United States should go from there. Détente without a positive core of policy goals could jeopardize American relations with Japan and Western Europe without gaining any durable benefit from the Soviet Union. The collapse of the Soviet-American trade agreement makes it seem even less likely that the United States can use détente as a means to extract important concessions from the U.S.S.R.

Other critics contend that whatever the merits of détente policy, the political costs it imposes cannot ultimately be borne. Congress and the American public can understand and support a policy which clearly discriminates friend from foe. They can accept a policy of nonintervention and reliance upon allies. But they can neither understand nor fully support a policy which switches back and forth: now balancing for one state, now for another.

Such shifts in policy depend upon a bureaucratic mastery of the defense and foreign policy apparatus that has seldom existed in American history. Today they rest on the personal ascendancy of one man, Henry Kissinger. But even in 1975 new centers of opposition to Secretary Kissinger-on the President's staff and in the Defense Department, to say nothing of Congress-were threatening his unparalleled sway. No successor seems likely to achieve a similar primacy.

Entirely aside from its apparent structural weaknesses, the opponents of détente

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