Courtesy Reuters

Russia, America and Détente

During the past year, spokesmen in the Carter Administration have on various occasions urged us to be less preoccupied with the Soviet problem. Because of the rise of Soviet military power, it has been said, there was a tendency in recent administrations to see Soviet-American relations as the center of the universe and to pay inadequate attention to other forms of power and trends extant in international affairs, including some of the less than successful ventures of Soviet foreign policy in the past few years. President Carter, in a major address at Notre Dame University last May, suggested that we had been given to an "inordinate fear" of the Soviet Union and that it was time to approach our relations with Moscow with greater confidence.

Nevertheless, the problem of Soviet power remains a central concern for the United States. As Marshall Shulman, formerly of Columbia University and now the principal Soviet affairs advisor to Secretary of State Vance, stated in congressional testimony last October: "there is scarcely an aspect of international life that is not affected by this relationship, and that would not be made more difficult and more dangerous by a high level of Soviet-American tension and unregulated competition."

Some of our debates about Soviet policy have tended to turn more on the definition of the labels that have been attached to it than on substance. "Containment," "cold war," "an era of negotiation," "détente," and a host of other phrases have paraded through the headlines over the years. They all caught elements of the complex realities and challenges confronting American statecraft in dealing with the U.S.S.R., but over time they came to obscure rather than illuminate them. Some of them, like "containment" in its day, and "détente" most recently, have acquired pejorative meanings. It is instructive to go back to the debates over Soviet purposes and American policies 30 years ago to find that invidious definitions of "détente" - like "one-way street" and "giveaway" -

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