Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and United States Vice President Richard Nixon's impromptu debate in a model American kitchen at the American National Exhibition in Moscow, July 1959.
Thomas J. O'Halloran / Library of Congress

When, in the year 1917, Russian society was overtaken by the most tremendous and far-reaching upheaval it had ever known, American opinion-makers were poorly prepared to understand either the meaning or the implications of this event.

This was partly because there was little understanding in the United States of that day for Russian history or for the nature of the political society in which these events were taking place. Russian studies had been developed in North America only on the tiniest and most rudimentary of scales. Knowledge of Russia rested on the tales of the occasional traveler or on the reports of press correspondents, very few of whom were qualified to see deeply into the great political and social stirrings that tormented the life of Russia in those final decades of Tsardom. The traditional antipathy of Americans for the Tsarist autocracy was understandable enough; but it was seldom balanced by any realistic examination of the nature of the possible alternatives. And in the final years before World War I, governmental and journalistic opinion in the United States had tended to be preempted by the problem of the treatment of Jews within the Russian Empire, to the detriment of the attention given to other and even deeper aspects of the slow crisis in which Russian society was then embraced.

This was the situation as of 1914. But as the First World War ran its course, and particularly in the year 1917, there came to be imposed upon this general shallowness of understanding a far more serious source of confusion: and that was America's own involvement in the war. If it be conceded that one of the most stubbornly ingrained characteristics of American democracy has been its inability to accept and experience military involvement without becoming seriously disoriented by it and without permitting it to distort judgment on other questions of policy, then it must be said that never did this weakness reveal itself more sharply and fatefully than in American outlooks on Russia during the First World War. Entering the war only a few weeks after the first of the two Russian revolutions of 1917, Americans resolutely declined, from that time on, to view Russian developments from any standpoint other than that of the war against Germany, and not of a thoughtful and objective image of that war, at that, but rather as it was perceived through the grotesquely distorting lenses of wartime propaganda and hysteria.

Thus both Russian revolutions of that fateful year were seriously misperceived. The first-the fall, that is, of Tsardom and its replacement by a regime which was liberal-democratic at least in intent-was welcomed less in its possible significance for the future of Russia than because it was seen-wholly incorrectly-as releasing forces of enthusiasm for the war effort previously suppressed by a supposedly pro-German imperial court. The second revolution, in November, which brought the Bolsheviks to power, was misunderstood by reason of the widespread belief that the Bolshevik leaders were German agents; as a result of which the new regime, not generally expected to last very long in any case, was opposed less for what it really was than out of resentment for its action in taking Russia out of the war.

It was only after the termination of hostilities against Germany that the way was cleared, in theory at least, for a view of Russian communism as a political phenomenon in its own right. But by this time a new welter of bewildering and misleading factors had entered in: such things as the passions and uncertainties of the Russian civil war; the exaggerations of propaganda on both sides; our own semi-involvement in the Allied intervention; the measures of the new Communist regime with relation to Tsarist debts and foreign property; etc. It was not, really, until the early 1920s, after the termination of the Russian civil war and the overcoming of the famine of 1921-22, that the meaning of what had occurred in Russia since 1917 began to emerge from the turmoil of events with sufficient clarity to permit the beginnings of thoughtful and reasonably informed debate in the United States over the nature of the problem which the installment of Lenin and his associates in the traditional seats of Russian power presented for American statesmanship.


Before going on to consider the nature of this problem and of the responses with which it met, it would be well to have a glance at one particular involvement of the United States which occurred in the confusion of those immediate post-revolutionary years and the main effect of which was to muddy the waters of mutual understanding for decades to come. This was America's part in the Allied intervention of 1918-20. Precisely because this action has so often been depicted by Soviet propagandists as an unsuccessful effort by the American government to unseat the Soviet regime, it is important to recognize its essential origins and dimensions.

The United States sent troops only to two areas of Russia: to the European north, in the neighborhood of Arkhangelsk on the White Sea, and to eastern Siberia. Both of these areas were far from the main theaters of the Russian civil war then in progress. In neither case was the decision to dispatch these troops taken gladly or-one may say-independently, in Washington. In neither case was it motivated by an intention that these forces should be employed with a view to unseating the Soviet government. In neither case would the decision have been taken except in conjunction with the World War then in progress, and for purposes related primarily to the prosecution of that war.

First-as to northern Russia. President Wilson consented to the dispatch of American forces to that region only in the face of a massive misunderstanding on his part of the situation prevailing there, only with great misgivings and skepticism as to the usefulness of the undertaking, and only when it had been insistently urged upon him by the British and French, with the support of Marshal Foch, then Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, all of whom portrayed it as a measure required by the war effort against Germany. What brought him to the decision was well described by his Secretary of War, Newton Baker, in a letter written some years later. He had convinced the President, Baker wrote, that the decision was unwise: . . . but he told me that he felt obliged to do it anyhow because the British and French were pressing it upon his attention so hard and he had refused so many of their requests that they were beginning to feel that he was not a good associate, much less a good ally.

The three battalions of American troops (for that is all it amounted to) were sent to Arkhangelsk, and served there, under British command. The decisions as to how and for what purposes they should be employed were British decisions, not American ones. The uses to which they were put were ones of which Wilson was ignorant at the time, ones he had never envisaged, ones of which, had he known of them, he would unquestionably have disapproved. That the units remained there after the end of the war with Germany was due to the fact that they were held there, over the winter of 1918-19, by the frozen condition of the White Sea. When the ice broke up they were removed as soon as this could be accomplished.

As for the troops that were sent to Siberia: the consent to the dispatch of these units was given only when Wilson's unwillingness to send them had been worn down by six months of pleading from the Western Allies. Their missions were restricted to the guarding of the Suchan coal mines, in the Maritime Province, and of certain sections of the Trans-Siberian railroad north of Manchuria-services, that is, that were of high importance to the lives and comfort of the inhabitants of the region, regardless of politics. The areas in question were, at the time of the dispatch of the units, thousands of miles removed from the main theaters of the Russian civil war; and the units took no part in that war. Their presence probably gave some satisfaction and comfort to the non-Bolshevik Russian forces in Siberia (although little love was lost between those forces and the Americans), and it may have had some effect in delaying the eventual extension and consolidation of Bolshevik power in the area. But this, so far as Wilson's intentions were concerned, was incidental. That they remained as long as they did, and were not withdrawn in 1919, was due rather to suspicion of the Japanese (who also had troops in the area) on the part of the Americans rather than to hostility toward the Bolsheviks.

The task of attempting to understand the permanent elements of the Soviet-American relationship will be best served if these regrettable episodes of the final weeks and immediate aftermath of the First World War be left aside, as the pathetic by-products of wartime confusion, weariness and myopia that they really were, and the focus of attention be shifted to the more enduring sources of conflict that were destined to complicate the relationship over ensuing decades.


The first and most fundamental of these sources of conflict was of course the ideological commitment of the Bolshevik-Communist leadership. This was something wholly new in the experience of American statesmanship. It was the manifestation of a form of hostility Americans had never previously encountered. Americans had known, of course, the phenomenon of war, as a situation defined and recognized by international law. But war was (normally) the expression of a hostility limited both in time and in intent. It was limited in time because it was coincidental with the existence of a formal state of war. It was limited in intent because the aims it was designed to serve were normally ones of a limited nature: the transfer of a province from one sovereignty to another, a change in the arrangements governing maritime commerce, the replacement of one ruler by another for dynastic reasons, etc.

But what American statesmen now saw themselves faced with, in the person of the new Russian-Communist regime, was something quite different: a governing faction, installed in the seats of power in another great country, which had not even dreamed of declaring war formally on the United States but which was nevertheless committed, by its deepest beliefs and by its very view of its place in history, to a program aimed at the overthrow of the entire political and social system traditional to American society-committed, that is, to a program calculated to inflict upon the society of the United States a damage more monstrous in the eyes of most Americans than any they might expect to suffer from even the worst of purely military defeats at the hands of the traditional sort of adversary.

This situation was destined to undergo many changes and modifications in the course of the ensuing decades. There would be times when the ideological hostility on which it was based would be soft-pedaled for reasons of tactical expediency. In general, the cutting edge of the hostility would be progressively blunted over the course of the decades by the erosion of frustration and the buffeting of contrary events; so that it would come, with the years, to assert itself more as a rhetorical exercise than as a guide to policy. Particularly with respect to the United States, where its chances for political success were singularly slender, this messianic dedication would gradually lose its bite with the passage of the years, so that Americans would ultimately come to fear it less for its possible effect upon themselves than for its effect on other peoples: its effect, that is, in alienating those peoples from that portion of the international community with which America could have a comfortable and friendly relationship and adding them to that other sector (to be greatly increased in the Third World after World War II) in which America, and all that she stood for, would be regarded only with prejudice, misunderstanding and rejection.

But these would be gradual changes. They lay, as of the early 1920s, well in the future. They were not yet generally visible or predictable. The American statesmen of that day had to take the ideological challenge at its own words, and deal with it accordingly.

It would be wrong, of course, to suppose that this sort of hostility remained one-sided, or even that it was wholly one-sided from the start. It naturally bred its own reaction on the part of many Americans; and it would be idle to pretend that this reaction was always thoughtful, reasonable, devoid of prejudice, sensitively responsive to the nature of the challenge itself. It was a reaction that would manifest itself, down through the years, in many ways, most of them unpleasant: in the anti-Red hysterias of 1919-20 and 1950-53; in the vulnerability of large sections of the American public to the sanguine urgings of the Chinese-Nationalist and "captive nations" lobbies; in the exaggerated military apprehensions and phantasmagoria of the post-World War II period. Hampering at every turn the development of a sound and effective response to the challenge which had provoked it (or provided the rationalization for it), this exaggerated reaction would constitute at all times a complication of the Soviet-American relationship in its own right. And it was not slow in making itself felt in the immediate aftermath of the Revolution. It was one with which American policymakers were obliged to contend from the start, in their efforts to design an effective response to the challenge in question.

Before proceeding to examine this response, it would be well to note that there were two features of this unprecedented relationship that were fated to constitute basic and unalterable elements of the problem it presented for American statesmanship. One was the fact that, fiery as were the assertions of intent upon the part of this ideological opponent to destroy our system, and heartily as this challenge was accepted by sections of our own public opinion, neither side was in a position, or ever would be in a position, to achieve the total destruction of the other. Each might hope for it; each might do what little it could to abet processes that seemed to run in that direction. But neither could, by its own action, achieve it; nor did ulterior forces produce this result. The result was that each had to accept, for better or for worse, the other's existence and to start from there in the designing of policy.

This-"peaceful coexistence" if you will-was a reality of the relationship from the beginning. It did not need a Khrushchev or a Brezhnev to discover it or create it.

The other inalterable element of this problem, destined to become wholly visible and compelling only in later years but also present, in reality, from the start, was the fact that in this complicated world of ours there could be no international relationship which was one of total antagonism or total identity of interests-none which did not contain both sorts of ingredients, however uneven the mix. Just as there could be no relationship of friendship undiluted by elements of rivalry and conflict, so there could be no relationship of antagonism not complicated by elements of occasional common purpose or desiderata.

The fact that these were, precisely, the basic elements of the problem was not always clearly visible to all the American statesmen who had to deal with it, any more than it was to all sections of American private opinion. But the fact was always there, on the visible surface or below it; and those who attempted to ignore it risked the prospect of being yanked back sooner or later, and sometimes in painful ways, to the plane of reality.


It would be unfair to search in actions of the American statesmen in the 1917-20 period for the elements of a serious and considered response to this problem. The situation was too chaotic, their oversight over events too imperfect, to expect this of them. But with the end of Allied intervention, and with the gradual grinding to a halt of civil conflict in Russia, the situation became clearer; and it is instructive to observe the emergence of a more systematic and principled response.

The first to make the attempt to design such a response were those who were responsible for the conduct of American diplomacy at the end of the Wilson Administration.

These did not really include Wilson himself, except as the influence of his thinking from earlier days still made itself felt. He lay, at that time, ill and helpless in the White House. But it was impossible for his assistants not to take some attitude toward the problem, and this they proceeded to do. It was a purely ideological attitude, as uncompromising in its acceptance of the Bolshevik challenge as were the authors of that challenge in their creation of it. It was succinctly expressed in the note that Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby addressed to the Italian government on August 10, 1920. "It is not possible for the Government of the United States." Colby wrote:

to recognize the present rulers of Russia as a government with which the relations common to friendly governments can be maintained. This conviction has nothing to do with any particular political or social structure which the Russian people themselves may see fit to embrace. It rests upon a wholly different set of facts.

. . . upon numerous occasions the responsible spokesmen of this Power . . . have declared that it is their understanding that the very existence of Bolshevism in Russia, the maintenance of their own rule, depends, and must continue to depend, upon the occurrence of revolutions in all other great civilized nations, including the United States, which will overthrow and destroy their governments and set up Bolshevist rule in their stead. . . . We cannot recognize, hold official relations with, or give friendly reception to the agents of a government which is determined and bound to conspire against our institutions.

The essential features of this response are easily observed. It accepted the first of the elements of the problem noted above: the existence of the Soviet state and the impossibility, for the United States, of doing anything to change that situation, beyond the refusal to accord formal diplomatic recognition. It revealed no awareness of the second element: namely the existence of a limited area of common interest; indeed, its authors would have been skeptical of the thesis that such an area existed, or could exist. Nothing of this nature was visible to them.

This declaration was, of course, one of the swan songs of the Democratic Administration of that day. That Administration shortly was to be replaced by the first of the successive Republican Administrations of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover.

The Republicans accepted the reasoning of the Colby note, as far as it went; but to the motivation of the policy of nonrecognition they added one more feature not present in Mr. Colby's pronouncement. This was a reference to the failure of the Soviet government to recognize any obligation in principle to assume the foreign debts of previous Russian regimes or to reimburse foreigners for property previously owned by them in Russia and now nationalized by the Soviet authorities. In the view of these Republican statesmen, the Soviet government, in order to regularize its relations with the United States, would not only have to cease its advocacy of revolution in the United States and its ill-concealed support for elements working to that end, but would have to assume the financial obligations incurred by previous Russian regimes to the U.S. government and to American nationals.

On this, the relationship rested for 13 years. Individual American businessmen were not prevented from traveling in Russia and trading with the Soviet foreign trade monopoly, at their own risk. Herbert Hoover, emerging with halos of glory from his leadership of the American relief effort in Europe at the end of the war, was not prevented from organizing and conducting in Russia, in 1921-22, as a private undertaking, the magnificent work of the American Relief Administration, which saved several million people from starvation and may well, for all anyone can tell, have saved the Soviet regime itself from utter failure and collapse. But the American government itself was officially blind to a regime whose attitude and behavior it found unacceptable as a basis for formal relations.

The Soviet government, for its part, was quite aware, over the years in question, of the complexity of its relations with the Western countries, and of its need for certain forms of collaboration with them even in the face of ideological hostility. It did not, however, find itself too adversely affected by the American stance. What it wanted from the Western powers was trade, recognition, and credits. Trade it got, without difficulty, from all of them, including even the United States. Recognition it received, mostly in the years 1924-25, from all the leading European powers. Commercial credit, too, it succeeded in obtaining from some of them, notably the Germans, within the relatively narrow limits prescribed by circumstances. All these benefits were achieved without paying the price the U.S. government was demanding: which was the suppression of the Comintern and the sort of activity its existence implied, as well as major concessions in the field of debts and claims. Thus the incentive on the part of the Soviet leaders to meet these American demands became weaker with the passage of the years. They wanted American recognition and financial help; but they were not prepared to pay, and did not need to pay, the price the Republican Administrations of 1921-33 were demanding.


Franklin Roosevelt's assumption of the presidency, in 1933, marked, of course, a fundamental turning point in the relationship. To him, the old question of debts and claims seemed, in itself, unimportant, likewise the issue of propaganda. He recognized that these issues engaged the feelings and interests of important segments of American opinion, and thus presented domestic-political problems he would have to meet; but he could not have cared less about them from his own concept of America's external interests.

On the other hand he was, in contrast to his Republican predecessors, very conscious indeed of the existence of at least one area of common interest with the Soviet Union: with relation, namely, to the threat of Japanese penetration onto the mainland of Asia. This was shortly to be supplemented by similar feelings on his part with relation to Hitler's obvious intention to win for Germany a dominant position on the European continent.

Franklin Roosevelt was contemptuous from the start of the reasoning of the State Department and of the upper-class Eastern establishment which had for so long inspired Republican policy toward Russia. He was much influenced by Mr. William C. Bullitt, the brilliant and charming dilettante who, as a very young man, had been sent to Russia in 1919, during the Peace Conference, by Lloyd George and Colonel House, had returned convinced that it was possible to deal with Lenin and his associates and disgusted with the Allied leaders for declining to do so. FDR, persuaded as he was of his own great powers of ingratiation and persuasiveness, readily lent his ear to Mr. Bullitt's suggestions that the Soviet leaders, being human, would now be responsive to a more friendly and conciliatory approach, and that, having even more to fear than did the Americans from a Japanese penetration into Manchuria (not to mention an expansion of Nazi power into Eastern Europe) they could easily be made into an asset from the standpoint of possible resistance to these developments. And the result, of course, was the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in the autumn of 1933.

It was characteristic of FDR that the preliminary Soviet-American agreements (the so-called Roosevelt-Litvinov letters), on the basis of which the establishment of diplomatic relations was arranged, were ones designed, in his own eyes, not at all to assure to the United States any real advantage in the forthcoming official relationship, but rather to meet the prejudices and disarm the criticisms of groups within the American political community whose opposition to recognition was to be expected. Such of the wording of the Litvinov letters as appeared to assure a cessation of subversive propaganda and activity with relation to the United States, and a settlement of the questions of debts and claims, was thus far too vague and full of loopholes to satisfy anyone really wishing to see these issues resolved; and in this sense it could be charged, and was, that Roosevelt's acceptance of it constituted a direct misleading of the American public. But there is no reason to suppose that FDR doubted that desirable results could be obtained in the end, by one means or another, regardless of the precision of the language of the understandings. For real gains in the Soviet-American relationship the President was inclined to rely not on written documents but on the power of his own charismatic personality.

The result, for anyone who knew anything about Russia, was predictable. The issues of debts and claims were never resolved; it remained for the passage of time to drain them of most of their meaning. The propaganda and the support for subversion did not cease. Trade, instead of increasing, declined. The Soviet authorities, recognition having now been obtained, the Japanese threat having for the moment slightly abated, and it having become clear that in any case the Americans were not going to fight the Japanese for their benefit, now lost interest either in making good on the concessions they had semi-promised or in making new ones. The new American Embassy in Moscow, founded initially with exuberant optimism under the auspices of Mr. Bullitt as the first Ambassador, soon fell victim to the age-old Russian aversion to dealing with the resident-diplomat (regarded as too avisé, too guarded and skeptical, too patient and too little susceptible to being rushed into hasty agreements) and its preference for dealing directly with the foreign statesman, innocent of any close personal knowledge of Russian realities.

So Mr. Bullitt, not surprisingly, left in disgust after a year or so of frustration, to join at a later date the ranks of the Soviet Union's most bitter critics and opponents on the Washington scene. His successor, Mr. Joseph E. Davies, a man to whom for various reasons the appearances of good relations were more important than their reality, made a valiant attempt, if not a very plausible one, to maintain those appearances. But he, too, soon gave up the struggle, and retired from the Russian scene in 1938. The American Embassy was felt, thereafter, to share for years to come the dim semi-existence customarily led by the Moscow diplomatic corps, isolated, guarded, seen but not heard, useful-in this case-primarily as a school for young Russian-speaking diplomats, obliged to contemplate and to study the Russian scene while they pondered the reasons for their own isolation.

The years immediately following the resumption of Soviet-American relations were, of course, the years of the purges. With the millions that perished in those fearful agonies, there perished also-there could not help but perish-the magical afterglow of the hope and idealism of the Lenin period. By the end of the 1930s not even the greatest enthusiast could ignore the dread hand of terror, denunciation, and moral corruption that had gripped Russian society. Only the most wishful and uninstructed of foreign sympathizers, outraged by the phenomenon of European fascism and inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to anything that even appeared to oppose it, could retain the illusion that here was a superior and more humane civilization.

But such sympathizers did, of course, exist in the United States. They were encouraged by what seemed to them to be the implications of the economic crisis that had now overtaken their own "capitalist" country. They encouraged, and helped to preserve, in Franklin Roosevelt and certain of those around him a somewhat battered but undefeated partiality for the Soviet regime: a readiness to dismiss the tales of the horror and injustice of the purges as just some more of the anti-Soviet propaganda that had been pouring out from reactionary circles ever since the Revolution, and a readiness to continue to believe in the essential progressiveness of the Soviet "experiment," all the more acceptable, seemingly, by way of contrast to the European fascism and Japanese militarism just then advancing upon the world scene.

The Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939 was of course a great blow to people who held these views. Together with the ensuing Russian attack on Finland and taking over of the Baltic states, this unexpected development was enough to suppress down to the year 1941 the latent pro-Sovietism just described. But it was not a mortal blow. The inclinations in question survived, below the surface, into the eventful year of 1941. And when in June of that year Russia herself was invaded by Hitler, it was as if the unhappy events of 1939-40 had never occurred: Robert Sherwood's moving play on the suffering of the Finns under the Russian attack was soon revised with the replacement of the Finns by the Greeks, and the Russians by the Germans. A new era, once again dominated by the fact of America's being at war, was beginning to dawn in the history of Soviet-American relations.


Never, surely, has the congenital subjectivity of the American perception of the outside world been more strikingly illustrated than in the change of attitude toward Russia that followed Pearl Harbor and the ensuing German declaration of war on the United States, in December 1941. Gone, as if by magic, were most of the memories and impressions of the past. Forgotten, now, were the Russian purges, along with the reflection that the men now running Russia's war effort and diplomacy were the same who had once conducted those bloody persecutions. Forgotten, too, were the cruelties only recently perpetrated by Beriya's police establishment upon the innocent populations of Eastern Poland and the Baltic states. Forgotten was the fact that Russia's involvement in the war was neither the doing nor the preference of her own rulers: that, on the contrary, they had made desperate efforts to remain aloof from it, and would, had this been possible, have witnessed without a quiver of regret further Western reverses in the war, provided only that the contest was sufficiently bloody and prolonged to exhaust Germany's war-making potential along with that of its Western opponents. Ignored, in large measure, was the fact that the demands which Stalin was making on his Western allies, even as early as the end of 1941, were substantially the same as those he had placed before Hitler as the price for Russia's initial neutrality. In place of all this there emerged, and was systematically cultivated in Washington, the image of a great Soviet people, animated by the same noble impulses of humane indignation and yearning for a future free of all tyranny by which Americans conceived themselves and their allies to be animated, fighting with inspiring heroism and grandeur against an opponent in whose repulsive political personality all the evil of an imperfect world seemed to be concentrated.

The image was, of course, not wholly wrong. The heroism was there. So was the grandeur of the effort. That the Western powers owed their military victory to that effort, in the sense that without it their victory could never have been achieved, was undeniable. It was also true that a great proportion of the Soviet people conceived themselves to be fighting for the defense of their homeland-an aim with which Americans could at least sympathize even if the homeland was not theirs.

But what was important, of course, in the given circumstances, was not what the mass of the Soviet people conceived themselves to be fighting for but what their rulers perceived as the uses they wished to make of victory; and this, as the past had shown, was a different thing.

Weighty reasons were offered for the idealization of the Soviet ally, and the encouragement of belief in the possibilities of postwar collaboration with it, that inspired so much of Franklin Roosevelt's wartime policy. Without a belief on the part of the public that Russians and Americans were fighting for the same thing it would have been impossible, it was said, to maintain American enthusiasm for the war effort and the readiness to give aid to Russia in the pursuit of that effort. Without American aid, without American moral support, without expressions of American confidence in Russia, Stalin might have been tempted, it was argued, to make a compromise peace with the Nazis, permitting Hitler to concentrate his entire great force against the West.

There was much in these arguments. The weakest part of them was perhaps that which most appealed to the American military establishment, now the center of American policymaking: the fear of a complete Russian collapse or (as the tide turned) of a separate Russian-German peace. Stalin, of course, would have loved the latter, though not until the Germans had been expelled from at least the pre-1939 territory of the Soviet Union; and once things had gone that far, and the Germans had begun to crumble, then his own appetite was stimulated to a point where he saw no need to stop. But that fear of such a development, coupled with a sense of humiliation over their own inability (until 1944) to pick up a larger share of the military load, haunted the American military leadership throughout the war and inclined them to give moral and material support to their Soviet opposite numbers in every possible way, is clear.

Behind this whole argument, however, there lay a deeper question: and that is whether it ever pays to mislead American opinion, to be less than honest with it, even in the interests of what is perceived by the political leadership as a worthy cause. It is characteristic of wartime psychology that the end tends to be seen as justifying the means. But when the means include the manipulation of opinion by the creation and propagation of unreal images, there is always a price to be paid at a later date; for the distortions thus engendered have some day to be straightened out again.

And so it was in the years after 1945. It must be said in defense of FDR and his associates that they probably never fully realized (although they came closest to it in the days just preceding the President's death) the extent to which they were actually misleading American opinion on this point. Amid the stresses of a great war effort it is particularly easy for the wish to play father to the thought. Stalin, too, encouraged, in his own delicate and cautious way, the propagation of this myth: soft-pedaling, while the war was in progress, certain forms of criticism of the Western Allies, and making adroit use of those idealistic semantic generalities which can mean all things to all people.

But the fact remains, however extenuating the circumstances, not only was the unreal dream of an intimate and happy postwar collaboration with Russia extensively peddled to large portions of the American public during the war, but they were encouraged to believe that without its successful realization there could be no peaceful and happy future at all.

The events of the final weeks of the war and of the immediate post-hostilities period rapidly demolished this dream. Event after event: the behavior of the Soviet forces in the half of Europe they overran; the growing evidence that the Soviet authorities had no intention of permitting the free play of democratic forces in the countries of that great region; their cynical reluctance to collaborate in the restoration of economic life and stability in areas they did not control; the continued secretiveness and inscrutability of Soviet policymaking and political action; the failure to enter upon any extensive demobilization of the Soviet armed forces; the narrow, suspicious and yet greedy behavior of Soviet representatives in the new international organizations-all these things fell heavily upon a public in no way prepared for them; nor was there any Franklin Roosevelt, now, with his talent for the leadership of opinion, to make the transition in company with those whom he had, wittingly or otherwise, misled-to ease them out of the wartime euphoria he had once eased them into.

The results were not unnatural. Unrequited love now turned only too easily into unreasonable hatred. To people taught to assume that in Russian-American postwar collaboration lay the only assurance of future peace, the absence of that collaboration, in the light of a conflict of aims becoming daily more visible, inevitably conduced to visions of war. To people unsettled by the recent experience of being at war, the real personality of Russia, in all its vast complexity, was often lost to view; and in its place, assuming in many respects the aspect of the late-departed Hitler, there emerged one of those great and forbidding apparitions to the credence in which mass opinion is so easily swayed: a monster devoid of all humanity and of all rationality of motive, at once the embodiment and the caricature of evil, devoid of internal conflicts and problems of its own, intent only on bringing senseless destruction to the lives and hopes of others.

Neither of these reactions-neither the exorbitant wartime hopes nor the angry postwar disillusionment-were shared by all sections of American opinion; and where they were shared, not all experienced them in like degree. There were those who labored, with moderate success, to correct them. Alone the effect of these aberrations might not have been deep or enduring. But they happened to fall in, most fatefully, with the emergence of a new pattern of fears and misunderstandings -this time of a military nature.

The failure of the Soviet government to carry out any extensive demobilization in the post-hostilities period has already been mentioned. Here again, taken outside the context of ulterior circumstances, this might not have been unduly alarming. For centuries it had been the custom of Russian rulers to maintain in being, even in time of peace, ground forces larger than anyone else could see the necessity for. The reasons for this must be assumed to have been primarily of a domestic political and social nature. But this time the circumstances-and along with the circumstances, the reactions-were different in a number of respects.

In the first place, in contrast to the situation of earlier decades and centuries, the Russian armed forces now had an area of deployment in the very heart of Europe, with secure lines of support and communication behind them. In the past, it had been possible to employ their great numerical strength in Western Europe only after first overcoming both the geographic and the military impediments of the territory that lay between Russia's traditional western borders and the industrial heartland of the European continent. Now, a Soviet offensive, if one wished to launch one, could be started from within 60 miles of Hamburg or 100 miles of the Rhine. To military planners, trained to give greater weight to capabilities than to intentions, this could not fail to be disturbing. And not to military planners alone. The peoples of Western Europe, all of whose memories, with one or two exceptions, included the overrunning of their homelands by foreign troops at one time or another, and usually within the past century, suffered from la manie d'invasion and found it difficult to believe that the Russians, having already overrun so many countries since 1944, should not wish to overrun more.

Secondly, Western strategists, inclined anyway, for reasons of professional prudence and others, to a chronic overrating of the adversary's capabilities, now found themselves confronting no longer the traditional primitive and slow-moving Russian ground forces, defensively strong on their own ground but not well fitted for offensive purposes against a strong Western opponent, but rather, modern, mechanized units with equipment little inferior, sometimes not inferior at all, to that of the Western armies themselves. The result, of course, was increased anxiety.

But overshadowing both of these factors, as a source for the militarization of American thinking about the problem of relations with Russia, was of course the development by the Russians of a nuclear capability, visible from 1949 onward.

The writer of these lines knows no reason to suppose that the Soviet leadership of Stalin's day ever allotted to the nuclear weapon anything resembling a primary role in its political-strategic concepts. There is no reason to doubt that Stalin saw this weapon as he himself described it: as something with which one frightened people with weak nerves. Not only was he aware from the start of its potentially suicidal quality, but he will be sure to have recognized, as one in whose eyes wars were no good unless they served some political purpose, that for such purposes the nuclear weapon was ill suited: it was too primitive, too blindly destructive, too indiscriminate, too prone to destroy the useful with the useless.

Merciless as he could be, and little as his purposes may have coincided with ours, Stalin was entirely rational in his external policies; war, for him, was not just a glorified sporting event, with no aim other than military victory; he had no interest in slaughtering people indiscriminately, just for the sake of slaughtering them; he pursued well-conceived, finite purposes related to his own security and ambitions. The nuclear weapon could destroy people; it could not occupy territory, police it, or organize it politically. He sanctioned its development, yes-because others were doing so, because he did not want to be without it, because he was well aware of the importance of the shadows it could cast over international events by the mere fact of its inclusion in a country's overt national arsenal.

But it was not to this weapon that he looked for the satisfaction of his aspirations on the international plane. Indeed, in view of the physical dangers the weapon presented, and the confusion which its existence threw over certain cherished Marxist concepts as to the way the world was supposed to work, he probably would have been quite happy to see it removed entirely from national arsenals, including his own, if this could be done without the acceptance of awkward forms of international inspection. And if his successors were eventually forced into a somewhat different view of the uses of the weapon, as they probably were, it was surely the Western powers, committed from the start to the first use of the weapon in any major encounter, whether or not it was used against them, that did the forcing.

Little of this was perceived, however, on the Western side-and on the American side in particular. Once again, the interest in capabilities triumphed over any evidence concerning intentions. The recognition that the Russians had the weapon, and the necessary carriers, served as sufficient basis for the assumption that they had a desire to use it and would, if not deterred, do so.

In part, this was the product of the actual discipline of peacetime military planning. The planner has to assume an adversary. In the case at hand, the Russians, being the strongest and the most rhetorically hostile, were the obvious candidates. The adversary must then be credited with the evilest of intentions. No need to ask why he should be moved to take certain hostile actions, or whether he would be likely to take them. That he has the capability of taking them suffices. The mere fact that they would be damaging to one's own side is regarded as adequate motive for their execution. In this way not only is there created, for planning purposes, the image of the totally inhuman and totally malevolent adversary, but this image is reconjured daily, week after week, month after month, year after year, until it takes on every feature of flesh and blood and becomes the daily companion of those who cultivate it, so that any attempt on anyone's part to deny its reality appears as an act of treason or frivolity. Thus the planner's dummy of the Soviet political personality took the place of the real thing as the image on which a great deal of American policy, and of American military effort, came to be based.

Nor does this exhaust the list of those forces which, in the aftermath of World War II, impelled large portions of influential American opinion about Russia into a new, highly militaristic, and only partially realistic mold. The fall of China to its own Communists, a development that was by no means wholly agreeable to the Soviet leadership, came soon to be regarded as the work of Moscow, implemented (was there ever an odder flight of the imagination?) not directly but through the agency of naive or disloyal Americans. Out of this, and out of the related discovery that there was political mileage to be made by whipping up suspicions of fellow citizens, there emerged the phenomenon known as McCarthyism, the unquestioned premise of which was the existence of a diabolically clever Russian-Communist enemy, consumed with deadly hostility and concerned only with our undoing. And not long thereafter came the misreading by the official Washington establishment of the nature and significance of the Korean War-a misreading by virtue of which an operation inspired overwhelmingly by local considerations related to the situation in the Manchurian-Korean area, and one from which the Soviet government studiously kept its own forces aloof, came to be regarded and discussed in Washington as, in effect, an attack by the Soviet Red Army across international borders, and as only the first move in a sort of Hitlerian "grand design" for military world conquest.

It was out of such ingredients that there emerged, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, those attitudes in American opinion that came to be associated with the term "cold war." These were never to dominate all of American opinion. Many people, while generally prepared to give a polite show of outward credence to the image of the Soviet adversary just described, remained aware of the scantiness of their own information and were prepared, by and large, to reserve judgment. In their extreme form the fixations in question remained the property of a small but strongly committed right-wing minority, the electoral weakness of which was repeatedly demonstrated, and of the military budgeteers and nuclear strategists, who had little electoral significance at all.

Nevertheless, the image of the Soviet Union as primarily a military challenge was now widely accepted. And for reasons that warrant more scholarly investigation than they have received, the resulting fixations acquired a curiously hypnotic power over the professional political community. A certain show of bristling vigilance in the face of a supposed external danger seems to have an indispensable place in the American political personality; and for this, in the early 1950s, with Hitler now out of the way, the exaggerated image of the menacing Kremlin, thirsting and plotting for world domination, came in handy. There was, in any case, not a single Administration in Washington, from that of Harry Truman on down, which, when confronted with the charge of being "soft on communism," however meaningless the phrase or weak the evidence, would not run for cover and take protective action.

These observations should not be misunderstood. The reality that deserved recognition in place of this exaggerated image was never its opposite. There were indeed, throughout this period, as there always had been before, threatening elements in both Soviet rhetoric and Soviet behavior. That behavior remained marked at all times, in one degree or another, by features-disrespect for the truth; claims to infallibility; excessive secrecy; excessive armaments; ruthless domination of satellite peoples; and repressive policies at home-that were bound to arouse distaste and resentment in American opinion, and thus to feed and sustain the distorted image of Soviet Russia we have just had occasion to note. It is not too much to say, in fact, that if the Soviet leaders did not want to live with this image, they could have done a great deal more than they actually did to disarm it; a few obviously specious peace congresses and the ritualistic repetition of professions of devotion to the cause of "peace" (as though peace were some sort of abstraction) were never enough.

Most serious of all, as distortions of understanding from the Soviet side-particularly serious because massively and deliberately cultivated-were the dense clouds of anti-American propaganda put out, day after day, month after month, and year after year, in the postwar period by a Soviet propaganda machine that had never been inhibited by any very serious concern for objective and observable truth, and was now more reckless than ever in its disregard for it. The extremes to which this effort was carried, particularly in those final months of Stalin's life that coincided with the high point of the Korean War, were such as to be scarcely conceivable except to those who experienced them at first hand. Here, the United States was portrayed, of course, as the most imperialist, militaristic and generally vicious of all aggressors. And this affected the climate of relations at both ends; for on the one hand, the very extremism of these attacks confirmed Americans in their view of the sinister duplicity of Soviet policy (why, it was asked, should a government that was really of peaceful intent have such need for the lie in the statement of its case?); while on the other hand, those Soviet leaders and officials who had a part in the making of policy, despite the cynicism with which they launched this propaganda, could not help being affected by it themselves, and were influenced accordingly in their interpretation of American behavior.

Against this background of mutual misunderstanding, the course of Soviet-American relations in the immediate postwar years, and to some extent down into the Khrushchev era, was determined by a series of spontaneous misinterpretations and misread signals which would have been comical had it not been so dangerous. The Marshall Plan, the preparations for the setting up of a West German government, and the first moves toward the establishment of NATO, were taken in Moscow as the beginnings of a campaign to deprive the Soviet Union of the fruits of its victory over Germany. The Soviet crackdown on Czechoslovakia and the mounting of the Berlin blockade, both essentially defensive (and partially predictable) reactions to these Western moves, were then similarly misread on the Western side. Shortly thereafter there came the crisis of the Korean War, where the Soviet attempt to employ a satellite military force in civil combat to its own advantage, by way of reaction to the American decision to establish a permanent military presence in Japan, was read in Washington as the beginning of the final Soviet push for world conquest; whereas the active American military response, provoked by this Soviet move, appeared in Moscow (and not entirely without reason) as a threat to the Soviet position in both Manchuria and in eastern Siberia.

And so it went, less intensively, to be sure, after Stalin's death, but nonetheless tragically and unnecessarily, into the respective misinterpretations of such later events as the bringing of the Germans into NATO, the launching of the first Sputnik, the decision to introduce nuclear weapons into the continental components of NATO, the second and prolonged Berlin crisis provoked by Khrushchev in the late fifties and early sixties, and finally the Cuban missile crisis. Each misreading set the stage for the next one. And with each of them, the grip of military rivalry on the minds of policymakers on both sides was tightened and made more final.


One of the most fateful effects of this preoccupation with the military aspects of the relationship was to dull in a great many Americans, including many legislators, opinion-makers and policymakers, the sensitivity to real and significant changes occurring in Soviet society and leadership. Most fateful of all was their effect in obscuring the significance of Stalin's death. The changes that followed on that event were of course gradual ones, and ones of degree. In part, they were the objects of deliberate efforts at concealment on the part of the new leadership. All this, admittedly, made them not always easy of recognition. But they were important. They greatly deserved American attention. And they were not undiscernible to trained and attentive eyes, of which the American government had a number, if it had cared to use them.

The Khrushchev era, and particularly the years from 1955 to 1960, presented what was unquestionably the most favorable situation that had existed since the 1920s for an improvement of relations with Russia and for a tempering of what was by this time rapidly becoming a dangerous, expensive, and generally undesirable competition in the development of armed forces and weapons systems. Khrushchev certainly had his failings-among them, his boasting, his crudeness, his occasional brutalities, his preoccupation with Soviet prestige and his ebullient efforts to ensure it-most of these were the failings of a man who was outstandingly a peasant parvenu, not born to the habit or expectation of great power and with a tendency to overdo in the exercise of it. But he was intensely human, even in relations with the ideological opponent. One could talk with him-talk, so far as he was concerned, to the very limits of one's physical stamina (his own appeared to be unlimited).

The primitive and naive nature of Khrushchev's faith in Marxist-Leninist principles as he understood them was, strange as this may seem, an advantage; for it caused him to wish, even in confrontation with the capitalist visitor, to convince, to convert, and-to this end-to communicate. This, from the standpoint of efforts to reach a better understanding, was far better than the crafty cynicism of a Stalin. To which must be added the recollection that Khrushchev's secret speech, at the Twentieth Congress of the Party in 1956, dealt to the extreme Stalinist tendencies in the Party and in the world communist movement a blow from which they were never fully to recover.

The Khrushchev period, too, was of course not lacking in serious crises. In addition to the Berlin crisis mentioned above, there was, above all, the Hungarian rebellion of 1956. It should not be taken as an apology for the Soviet action at that time if one points out that this action was neither correctly understood nor usefully reacted to on the American side. The misunderstanding arose (as it was again to do in the face of the Czechoslovak crisis of 1968) from the apparent inability of a great many Americans to understand that the Soviet hegemony over Eastern Europe, established by force of arms in the final phases of the war and tacitly accepted by this country, was a seriously intended arrangement that the Soviet leadership proposed to maintain, if necessary, by the same means with which they had acquired it.

As for the American reaction: the resort to armed force by the Western powers was never a feasible alternative; the conflict could not have been limited; and even Hungary was not worth a nuclear war. Where the United States might usefully have acted was by an offer to make certain modifications in its military posture in Western Europe if the Soviet government would let things in Hungary take their course. But the preoccupation of the American Secretary of State at that moment with the deplorable happenings of the Suez crisis, together with the already firm commitment of the United States and the other NATO members against anything resembling a disengagement in Europe, made such an offer impossible.

The situation remained, therefore, essentially unchanged. In certain relatively powerless sectors of the American government establishment people continued to explore, patiently and with insight, the possible channels of approach to a less dangerous and more hopeful state of affairs. But in other and more powerful echelons other people continued to carry on with the concepts born of the Korean War, as though Stalin had never died, as though no changes had occurred, as though the problem were still, and solely, the achievement of superiority in preparation for a future military encounter accepted as inevitable, rather than the avoidance of a disastrous encounter for which there was no logical reason at all and which no one could expect to win. The interests of the gathering of military intelligence continued to be given precedence over the possibilities for diplomatic communication. And who does not remember the result? The almost predictable accident occurred. The U-2 plane was brought crashing to the ground in the center of Russia, carrying with it the prestige of Khrushchev, discrediting him in the eyes of his own colleagues, shattering his ascendancy over the Soviet military establishment, hastening the end of a career already seriously jeopardized by other factors.


Four years were still to elapse before Khrushchev's final fall-years marked by President Kennedy's rather unsuccessful effort to establish a personal relationship with Khrushchev, and by the further complication of the Cuban missile crisis. Whether the unwise effort to put missiles in Cuba was something forced upon Khrushchev by his own colleagues, or whether it was a last desperate gamble on his part with a view to restoring his waning authority, seems still to be uncertain; but that it completed the destruction of his career is not. And from 1965 on, with LBJ now in the White House by his own right and with Khrushchev removed from the scene, a new period opened in Soviet-American relations.

The omens, at the outset of Mr. Johnson's incumbency, were not, by and large, wholly unfavorable. The shock of the recent unpleasantnesses still weighed, to be sure, upon the atmosphere of relations. But even the fall of Khrushchev had not canceled out many of the favorable changes in Soviet conditions against which Soviet-American relations had to proceed; modest improvements, and gradual ones, to be sure, but not without their significance. The terror had been mitigated. The independence of the secret police had been greatly curtailed. There had been some relaxation of the restrictions on association of Russians with foreigners. There was a greater willingness on the part of the authorities to permit many forms of participation by Soviet citizens in international life, culturally and in the sports. These changes were, to be sure, only partially recognized in Washington. Many people, as the future would show, remained quite blind to them. But LBJ and his Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, were not wholly oblivious to them, nor did they fail to try to take some advantage of them. The result was that certain gains were made, in the 1966-68 period which, if one had been able to build further on them, might well have developed into the sort of thing that later, in the early 1970s, came to be known as "détente." (The word was in fact even then in use.) Agreements were reached on the opening up of direct airline communications, on the establishment of consular representation in cities other than the respective capitals, and (in very modest measure) on certain fishing problems. New arrangements for cultural exchange were agreed upon, and the first soundings were taken for what were later to be the SALT talks and the collaboration in space exploration and research.

These beginnings soon fell victim, however, to two developments: first, the Soviet action in Czechoslovakia in 1968; secondly, and of much greater importance, the American involvement in Vietnam. It was not until the first could be forgotten, and the second brought into process of liquidation in the early 1970s, that prospects again opened up for further progress along the lines pioneered by Messrs. Johnson and Rusk some four to six years earlier.


The positive results of the phase of Soviet-American relations that came to be known (somewhat misleadingly) as the Nixon-Kissinger détente are too recent to require extensive recapitulation. These results were compressed, for the most part, into an extraordinarily short period, but one full of activity: from the time of the Kissinger visit to China in the summer of 1971 to the Brezhnev visit to the United States in June 1973. The individual bilateral agreements arrived at in the course of the various negotiations and high-level visits were too numerous to be listed here. They covered some 15 to 20 subjects, sometimes overlapping, and sometimes representing successive stages in the treatment of a single subject. Not all of them were of great political importance; a number of them represented beginnings, rather than the full-fledged achievement of wholly open, fruitful and secure arrangements; but they represented steps forward. The most important of them was, without question, the SALT agreement signed by Messrs. Nixon and Brezhnev on the occasion of the former's visit to Moscow in May 1972.

These were all bilateral Soviet-American agreements. They were flanked, of course, in their early stages, by the achievements of what came to be called Chancellor Willy Brandt's "Ostpolitik." (Again, this was a poor term-as though this were the first German government, or the last, ever to have a policy toward the East.) There were also the highly confusing and largely meaningless negotiations that were to lead, eventually, to the Helsinki agreements-multilateral negotiations in which the Americans took only an unenthusiastic and secondary part. But by and large, the Nixon-Kissinger détente was a movement of a positive nature in bilateral Soviet-American relations, observed even with some uncertainty and misgiving by America's European allies.

From the Soviet standpoint this effort of policy was stimulated and made possible by two changes in the international situation that marked the early 1970s: the liquidation of America's Vietnam involvement and the Nixon visit to Peking, followed by the establishment of a de facto American-Chinese official relationship. At the American end it was of course simultaneously the presence in positions of authority in Washington of two men: Richard Nixon, then at the height of his power and prestige, bringing to the White House a reputation as a cold-war hardliner which gave him a certain margin of immunity from right-wing attack as he moved to improve relations with Russia; and Henry Kissinger, who brought to the operation a measure of imagination, boldness of approach, and sophistication of understanding without which it would have been difficult of achievement.

Both sides saw in this effort toward the improvement and enrichment of the relationship a chance for reducing the dangers of unlimited rivalry and proliferation in the field of nuclear weaponry; and both, be it said to their credit, were aware of the immense, almost mandatory, importance of progress in this direction. In addition to this, the Soviet side saw reinforcement for itself in its relations with Communist China, and a measure of assurance against too intimate or exclusive an association between that power and the United States. The American side was astute enough to realize that the various rigidities that marked the cold war, both as a state of mind in America and as a condition of American-Soviet relations, were not conducive to American interests in other areas of the world. In addition to this it is evident that Mr. Nixon was not wholly indifferent to the domestic-political fruits to be derived from the drama of successive summit meetings.

These recognitions, however, also roughly defined and delimited the aims and the scope of détente. Beyond them, it was not possible to go. The Soviet leaders were determined that the development should not affect the intactness of the dictatorship at home; nor was it to hinder them from continuing to adopt, with relation to the problems of third countries, a rhetorical and political stance of principled revolutionary Marxism, designed to protect them from charges by the Chinese Communists that they were betraying the cause of Leninism-Marxism. There is no evidence that they ever attempted to conceal from their Western opposite numbers the nature or the seriousness of these reservations.

Whether, in their actions affecting the 1973 Middle Eastern war and-somewhat later-Angola, the Soviet authorities did not violate at least the spirit of the earlier understandings with Messrs. Nixon and Kissinger is a question that surpasses the limits of this examination. But some people on the American side certainly thought that this was the case; and the impression was used to justify the very clear changes that did occur in American policy.

The pressures against détente had never been absent in Washington, even at the height of its development; they had only been repressed by the momentary prestige and authority of the White House. As the power of the Nixon presidency disintegrated in 1973 and 1974, the anti-détente forces moved again to the battle lines, and with great effectiveness. This was, to some extent, only to be expected; for the overdramatization of the earlier contacts and negotiations had bred false hopes and concepts of what could be achieved; and a certain disillusionment was inevitable. The signs of this reaction were already apparent in late 1973. Efforts to save the situation by another (and very misconceived) Nixon visit to Moscow, in June 1974, were unavailing. Some limited further progress was made, to be sure, in the field of cultural exchanges. But by this time, resistance in the Pentagon and elsewhere to any further concessions of consequence in the SALT talks, as well as to any acts of self-restraint in the development of American weapons programs, was too strong to be overcome, particularly by a desperate and harassed Nixon, or even by a bewildered Gerald Ford, by no means personally unresponsive to hard-line pressures.

The Jackson-Vanik Amendment, and the subsequent demise of the trade pact, dealt a bitter blow to any hopes for retaining the very considerable momentum that had been obtained in the development of Soviet-American relations. The very modest and tentative results of the Vladivostok meeting led only to new protests and attacks from anti-détente forces that now had the bit in their teeth and were not to be gainsaid. By the beginning of 1975, although the various cultural agreements reached under the heading of détente were still in effect and were being, so far as can be judged from the public reports, punctiliously observed by both sides, the prospects for further success in the SALT talks had been heavily damaged, and along with them the political atmosphere in which, alone, further progress could be made in the improvement of the Soviet-American relationship generally.

What followed-the wrangling over the language of the Helsinki agreements, the conflict over Angola, even the most recent spate of expressions of alarm in Washington over the pace of development of the Soviet armed forces-these were in the main the products rather than the causes of the limited deterioration of the Soviet-American relationship which the period since mid-1973 has witnessed.


It would be idle to pretend, as the year 1976 runs its course, that the prospects for the future of Soviet-American relations are anything less than problematical. Formidable impediments continue to lie across the path of any efforts at improvement. The Soviet authorities will no doubt continue to adhere to internal practices of a repressive nature that will continue to offend large sections of American opinion. They will continue to guard what they regard as their right or their duty to subject the United States to periodic rhetorical denunciation and to give to anti-American political factions in third countries forms of support that Americans will find unreconcilable with a desire for good relations with this country. They will, rather because they are Russians than because they are Communists, continue to cultivate and maintain armed forces on a scale far greater than any visible threat to their security would seem to warrant. They will continue what they will describe as efforts to achieve parity with the United States in naval and long-range nuclear capabilities; and others will continue to be in doubt as to whether these are not really efforts to achieve a decisive, and irrevocable, superiority. They will continue to hide all their undertakings behind a wholly unnecessary degree of secrecy-a secrecy which invites exaggerated fears on the other side and enhances the very dangers to which it is supposed to be responsive. None of this will be helpful to the development of the relationship.

On the other hand, the Soviet leadership has, and will continue to have, a high degree of awareness of the dangers of a continued nuclear competition. Along with all its exaggerated military efforts, it does not want, and will not want, a world war. It has a keen realization of the suicidal nature of any nuclear war; and it has too many internal problems to allow it to wish to assume inordinate risks. It is now governed, furthermore, by a relatively old, habit-worn and weary bureaucracy, which is going to have to give over in the relatively near future. Waiting in the wings is a new generation of officials who, insofar as one is able to judge them at all, would appear to be no less tough than their elders, no less capable, and certainly no less nationalistic, but more pragmatic, less confined by ideological rigidities, less inhibited in association and converse with foreigners. To which must be added that curious streak of friendly and sometimes even admiring interest in the United States-a mixture of curiosity, eagerness for peaceful rivalry, and sometimes even real liking-that runs through the Soviet population and has never failed to be noted by observant American students of Russian life.

All these factors lend assurance that, given an American policy reasonably adjusted to these contradictions of the official Russian personality and conscious of the immensity of what is at stake in the future of the relationship, there need be no greater danger of apocalyptic disaster arising out of that relationship than there has been in the past-and the United States, after all, has contrived to live in the same world with this regime for over half a century without finding it necessary to resort to arms against it in order to protect American interests. Possibly there could even be a further successful effort to improve things.

But if this is to occur, American statesmanship will have to overcome some of the traits that have handicapped it in the past in dealing with this most unusual, most dangerous, and most serious of all the problems of foreign policy it has ever had to face. It will have to overcome that subjectivity that caused Americans to be strongly pro-Soviet at the height of the Stalin era and equally anti-Soviet in the days of Khrushchev, and to acquire a greater steadiness and realism of vision before the phenomenon of Soviet power. It will have to make greater progress than it has made to date in controlling the compulsions of the military-industrial complex and in addressing itself seriously to the diminution, whether by agreement or by unilateral restraint or both, of the scope and intensity of the weapons race.

American politicians will have to learn to resist the urge to exploit, as a target for rhetorical demonstrations of belligerent vigilance, the image of a formidable external rival in world affairs. And American diplomacy will have to overcome, in greater measure than it has done to date, those problems of privacy of decision and long-term consistency of behavior which, as Tocqueville once pointed out, were bound to burden American democracy when the country rose to the stature of a great power. In all of this, American statesmanship will need the support of a press and communications media more serious, and less inclined to oversimplify and dramatize in their coverage of American foreign policy, than what we have known in the recent past.

It is not impossible for American government and society to make these advances. To do so, they have only to match the best examples of American statesmanship in the past, but then to give to their achievements, this time, a more enduring commitment and a deeper general understanding than was the case at other high moments of American performance.

There is not, however, infinite time for the achievement of these results. Certain of the trends of international life at this moment for which the United States bears a very special responsibility, notably the steady expansion and proliferation of nuclear weaponry and the preposterous development of the export of arms from major industrial countries, are ones which it is impossible to project much farther into the future without inviting catastrophes too apocalyptic to contemplate. The greatest mistake American policymakers could make, as the country moves into the years of a new Administration, would be to assume that time is not running out on all of us, themselves included.

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  • George F. Kennan is Professor Emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. He was U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, 1952, and to Yugoslavia, 1961-63, and is the author of Soviet-American Relations, 1917-20 (2 Vols.); Memoirs (2 Vols.) and other works.
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