On Power: The Nature of Soviet Power

President Ford and Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev signed a Joint Communiqué in November 1974. 

For three decades Soviet power has obsessed American foreign policy. By it we have judged our own; because of it we have committed ourselves far from home and justified our commitment in terms of the menace it represents; around it we have made a world order revolve. For us, Soviet power has been the ultimate measure and the central threat, a seminal idea and a source of orientation.

Should it still be, however, now that international politics are changing so? Or should it still be, because Soviet power is changing so? Is the evolution of the international setting altering the meaning of growing Soviet power? Or is the growth of Soviet power undermining the meaning of an evolving international setting? The ambiguous relationship between the two makes it much harder to know what role the Soviet Union ought to play in our concerns. Judging the significance of larger and more modern Soviet military forces becomes increasingly difficult when traditional frames of reference no longer hold, when the old rules and characteristics of international relations yield to new ones, when the uses to which military power can be put are depreciated, and when the concept of security as such loses its precision, swollen by strange anonymous sources of insecurity, many of them economic in nature. It is a world in which fewer and fewer of our problems are caused by the Soviet Union or can be solved by it, save for the ultimate matter of nuclear war.

Yet, amidst the loosening of the old order - the deteriorating hierarchies and orthodoxies, the growing number of political actors and political axes, the new imperatives of interdependence - there is also the distracting spectacle of ever-expanding Soviet military power. During these years of passage, the Soviet Union has busied itself with a vast buildup of its armed forces, introducing new technologies, enlarging numbers and most significantly venturing into areas far from its historic spheres of concern. The Soviet Union has spent the decade turning

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