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" - had their almost precise antecedents at that time.

President Carter, at Notre Dame, sought to take the curse off "détente" and to return it to respectability by defining it as "progress toward peace," involving cooperation which also implies obligations. This seemed a sensible way to describe the issues in a relationship which, Administration officials have once again wisely reminded us, will long be marked by a mixture of cooperation and competition. Policy, of course, should try to shape this mixture and the contents of each element in ways that protect and advance American interests and values. Put another way, given the weight of the Soviet Union in international affairs as it now exists and evolves, we must be concerned with the role it plays; and our policies must be concerned with how we can help to affect that role. That does not necessarily make the Soviet Union the center of the universe but, for better or worse, a major actor whose future and conduct is of vital importance to us. That broad problem, rather than how to encapsulate the tasks before us in a phrase, is what should engage our concerns.


While recognizing the existence of a multiplicity of trends in the international arena - even if we wished it were not so we must begin any consideration of the choices before us with the fact that the Soviet Union is the principal military opponent of the United States in the world and will remain so for the indefinite future. It is not likely that any other single power, or combination of powers, will assume this position for the rest of the century.

America and Russia have been military antagonists since the end of World War II, but the character of this relationship has changed substantially over this period as the U.S.S.R. has become a power of global rather than essentially continental dimensions.

It will remain a matter of speculation whether the Soviet Union or, for that matter, the United States, intended at the end of World War II to become global military competitors. Much argues for the view that the Soviets set out to maintain military forces sufficient, in their estimation, to prevent the recurrence of the near disaster of World War II; in short, their military programs were designed to protect the Soviet periphery on the Eurasian landmass, including territories acquired outright in the course of the war or subjected to Soviet control in its aftermath.

But, as Stalin made clear in early 1946, the commitment to this task was not finite. It involved an open-ended determination to build up the physical strength of the Soviet state. The economic priorities and efforts of the society were single-mindedly geared to this objective, which, moreover, never seemed to be quite within reach. As the outside world reacted by building or rebuilding its own defenses, the Soviets, in turn, saw in them a renewed threat to themselves.

In any case, the advance of military technology and the increasing domination of postwar international politics by Soviet rivalry with the United States, already a strategic power with global concerns, virtually ensured that the U.S.S.R. would gradually acquire forces that could be brought to bear beyond the confines of the Eurasian land mass. It began to do so in earnest in the mid-1950s. This period coincided with accelerated decolonization in the less-developed world, and, under Khrushchev's leadership, produced a renewal of the revolutionary optimism that had waned soon after the Bolshevik Revolution. That optimism was almost certainly nourished by a growing sense of power. And Soviet ambitions to support the "national liberation" struggle, in turn, fed the impulse to acquire the instruments of power.

As the process of building large and diverse military forces went forward, a powerful military-industrial interest group evolved within the Soviet political structure. It gradually achieved a major, if not always fully united, voice in Soviet economic decision-making. Soviet political leaders, from the Khrushchev to the Brezhnev eras, never lost the basic propensity to amass power but their ambitions to provide also for a measure of improvement in the lives of the Soviet people and to further the modernization of the Soviet economy involved increasingly complex choices concerning the allocation of resources. It has clearly been the purpose of the military-industrial elite to ensure that in this process the power sector of the economy should always be allotted a large proportion of Soviet economic wealth, skilled manpower and technological resources.

Given the centrality of economic decisions, it was hardly surprising that this broad interest group should seek a significant say in the makeup of the post-Stalin political leadership. It seems fair to say that none of Stalin's successors could consolidate or even attain power against the sustained opposition of the military-industrial elite. In retrospect, it is suggestive that some major Soviet military decisions during the 25 years since Stalin's death seem to have coincided with periods of political maneuver among the top leadership. With the lead times involved, it can thus be noted that the impressive advances in Soviet strategic and naval power in the early and mid-1960s must have stemmed from decisions taken a decade earlier, the period, that is, in which Khrushchev was consolidating his power. Similarly, the wave of Soviet strategic deployments that gathered momentum in the early 1970s, and the impressive modernization of Soviet theater forces in Europe, which began to show its cumulative effects in the same period, must have derived from decisions in the mid-1960s - the period when Brezhnev was consolidating his own authority following the removal of Khrushchev.

Without pressing the suggestion too far, any assessment of the goals of the Soviet military buildup must at least give some weight to such indigenous factors. If there is any validity to this supposition, we may again be entering, if we are not already in, a period in which the bargaining surrounding the emergence of a new leadership will produce military decisions whose effects will become evident probably in the early to mid-1980s.

But apart from speculation concerning the domestic political origins of particular decisions, a steady growth of Soviet military power has been assured by the long-term growth trend of some three to four percent a year in military outlays. The result of this persistent effort has been that in the strategic area the U.S.S.R. has been deploying forces needed, by any reasonable set of criteria, not only to deter attack, but capable of threatening the effectiveness and survival of substantial portions of U.S. strategic strength. Thus, the Soviet land-based missile force now being deployed, though somewhat inhibited by the first SALT agreement, is on the way to placing in jeopardy the fixed land-based ICBM forces of the United States that have long constituted a reliable part of the U.S. deterrent. Further, while under the 1972 ABM treaty both sides agreed to curtail antimissile defenses, major Soviet research-and-development programs continue in this field while a major air defense program is degrading the effectiveness of the present U.S. bomber force.

In addition, the Soviets, after relying for an extended period on a relatively modest and steadily aging heavy bomber force, are now adding to it some of their Backfire bombers and, according to reports, are also developing a new heavy bomber. These forces do not, at present, have to contend with any significant American air defenses.

The Soviets have also steadily increased the size and capabilities of their sea-based strategic forces, whose numbers (over 60 nuclear-powered submarines and over 800 launchers) are substantially larger than those maintained or planned by the United States. In this category, the United States will, however, retain larger numbers of re-entry vehicles for the foreseeable future.

In the roughly quarter of a century since both sides began to deploy strategic nuclear delivery systems, there have been times when the forces of each were vulnerable to disabling attack from the other. In the face of such dangers, various measures could be and were taken by both sides: dispersal of bomber bases, the placing of bombers on airborne alerts, the deployment of missiles in dispersed silos or on mobile launching platforms such as submarines at sea. Moreover, bombers and missiles were equipped with penetration devices to maintain their ability to reach targets despite defensive weapons deployed against them. The purpose of these measures, as far as the United States was concerned, was not only to ensure the effectiveness of its strategic forces if a decision to launch them were to be made; the intent was also to reduce pressures to launch weapons in haste, should there be ambiguous evidence of a possible attack, or, in some other crisis conditions, lest they risk being destroyed before they could be used.

The United States, in this context, developed certain doctrines concerning "stability" in strategic relations and generally deployed forces in numbers and with characteristics consistent with them. The Soviet Union never enunciated such doctrines authoritatively - though there is much evidence that Soviet strategic analysts understand them. The Soviets did, of course, act to protect their own forces by means not unlike some of those used by the United States. But for some time now they have gone beyond this in a manner inconsistent with what Americans regard as compatible with stability. It is this trend, perhaps more than the purely numerical advances in Soviet force levels, that has given rise to concern that the Soviet Union seeks substantial military advantages over the United States.

This American perception is reinforced by the fact that the changes in the strategic relationship have a profound impact on regional military balances, notably in Europe. The Soviets have, of course, long enjoyed regional military advantages on their periphery; that, indeed, has been an outgrowth of the military policies initiated in the Stalinist period. In Europe, where this problem affects American interests most directly and, contrary to our historical tradition, gave rise to treaty commitments, the United States for many years offset Soviet advantages by augmenting NATO's conventional forces with the deployment of nuclear weapons in the theater and the potential use of strategic nuclear forces. Similar conditions prevailed at other points around the Soviet periphery where the United States entered into defense commitments.

But in Europe particularly, the elements in the balance have been steadily shifting as the Soviet Union's own theater nuclear forces and strategic power have grown. And, added to these developments has been the dramatically growing strength of Warsaw Pact conventional forces in recent years, as well as the deployment of large Soviet naval forces on NATO's flanks, to the point where there must now be concern that the U.S.S.R. is acquiring an ability to launch an attack without NATO being able to count on adequate warning and mobilization.

Along with the increase in Soviet strategic and regional power, there has also emerged a substantial and still growing capability for military intervention at large distances from the U.S.S.R. The principal elements in this capability are the large and diversified Soviet navy; a growing merchant fleet that can be used to sustain naval units operating at great distances from home; and a growing number of various types of transport aircraft as well as ships, capable of moving men and equipment to virtually any location in the world (though for more distant places the ability to do so rapidly will be affected by overflight and intermediate landing rights). These forces have never been used for overt military attack. But they have several times been brought into play to supply and support the military preparations, and, in some instances, the military actions of others, usually with the justification that the U.S.S.R. was aiding a "national liberation" struggle. In Angola, for the first time overseas, the Soviets actually transported and equipped a proxy expeditionary force to intervene in a conflict.

The trends briefly reviewed here have convinced many in the West that the Soviet leaders have been pursuing a deliberate policy of achieving military "superiority" over the United States. Soviet spokesmen, including Brezhnev, have vigorously denied any such intent and have solemnly repudiated any notion of a "first strike" against U.S. strategic or any other forces. Especially in private meetings with official and private American representatives, Soviet spokesmen, like some Americans, have argued that even if the Soviet Union were to acquire a theoretical ability to destroy a high proportion of American ICBMs and to intercept large numbers of American aircraft, the remaining American strategic capacity would make the risks of any Soviet strategic attack prohibitive. Some Soviet spokesmen, pointing to the American overseas base structure, naval aircraft, and still sizable advantages in numbers of deliverable nuclear warheads, contend that far from seeking superiority the U.S.S.R. is still in the position of catching up. They stress, moreover, that Soviet force planning must also take account of British, French and Chinese nuclear forces, all of which are being, or may be, modernized. One also occasionally encounters claims to a form of "historical justice" according to which the United States, which for so long enjoyed advantages in strategic posture over the Soviet Union, should now get accustomed to having this situation equalized, if not reversed.

The question of whether Soviet military growth has the specific purpose of securing "superiority" in accordance with some systematic schedule and with specified criteria cannot, in fact, be definitively answered. For, as the Soviets undoubtedly realize, the answer does not depend on their desires or plans alone; it depends on American actions as well as those of other military powers.

Despite some hesitations and controversy, the United States has indeed begun to take measures that would, over time, reduce the dangers to the effectiveness of our strategic forces. Thus, the capacity of our bombers to penetrate to their targets can be improved, if not restored to earlier levels, by equipping them with various types of cruise missiles and other devices; our land-based missile force can be reinforced by the projected MX missile, which, in its proposed mobile deployment mode, would be substantially less vulnerable to a highly damaging attack than the Minuteman force; cruise missiles launched from submarines or surface vessels could in time likewise augment our retaliatory capability, something of considerable interest also to our European allies. There are several other technical possibilities open to the United States, which, while not necessarily removing Soviet advantages in certain areas of strategic power - such as the total payload that can be delivered by the Soviet missile force, the size and payload of individual missiles in that force, or the number of missile launchers - could nevertheless substantially reduce the threat of an effective attack on portions of our strategic force.

Furthermore, some of the technical options open to the United States have the potential of posing increasing threats to the Soviet Union's own land-based strategic forces. For the Soviets, this may be a possibility that is even more troubling than the vulnerability of our Minuteman force is to us, because Soviet land-based missile forces represent a far larger proportion of Soviet strategic power than our land-based forces do for us. This is but one example of the uncertainties the Soviets face in seeking a meaningful advantage over our strategic forces.

There are other vulnerabilities, actual and potential, in the Soviet military position, which, depending on the extent to which the United States and others exploit them, complicate a Soviet quest for superiority. For example, Soviet naval forces of all types, including those carrying strategic missile launchers, must pass through relatively constricted waters on their way to and from home ports. There is little Russia can do about this awkward fact of geography. It may account, in part, for the fact that thus far the Soviets have reportedly maintained on station at sea only a relatively small portion of their 62 nuclear-powered, ballistic missile-carrying submarines with their 800-plus launchers.1

More generally, the Soviet Navy, while growing impressively in the number and variety of its vessels and in the skills and experience necessary to operate at great distances from home, does have vulnerable lines of communication. It has few secure ports and anchorages outside the U.S.S.R. in case of war. (The recent expulsion of Soviet military personnel and facilities from Somalia is but the latest instance of the fluctuating success of the Soviet Union in maintaining a far-flung support structure for its long-range military capabilities.) The Soviet navy is also approaching a period when large numbers of ships become obsolescent at about the same time.

The fact that the Soviet Union has not succeeded in surrounding itself with friendly states will continue to impose major military expenditures on it. And the forces that it will find necessary to deploy, particularly vis-à-vis China, play little direct role in the balance with the United States and the West.

Further afield, while Soviet long-range intervention forces have grown, no one can assume that Soviet military interventions will always go unopposed locally or by possible counterinterventions by the United States or other military forces. The Soviet capacity for sustained or intensive operations overseas remains modest.

In sum, though its military growth has been unremitting and impressive, this has still left the U.S.S.R. with substantial actual and potential limitations on the effectiveness and utility of its armed forces. If the Soviet Union does seek a dominant military position, the United States and other nations retain the ability to impose on the U.S.S.R. continuing heavy requirements for additional and diversified forces. But the United States and others must communicate a readiness to do so not only in words but also through actual defense efforts. Indeed, that is the principal means by which the United States can not only protect its security interests but also stimulate Soviet desires, present in an ambivalent way since the days of Khrushchev, to seek negotiated agreements that limit the growth of international military programs.

Plainly, the Soviets are interested in inhibiting the military programs of potential adversaries, and, equally, they would prefer to do so by cutting down their own programs as little as possible. So far, experience does not bear out the hope that acts of American self-restraint induce reciprocal acts by the Soviets; on the contrary, they tend to make negotiations more difficult. This is not a "bargaining chip" argument, for it is unwise to develop and buy expensive forces simply for the sake of trading them away again on the bargaining table. Forces should be bought to serve requirements, and they should be maintained as long as they are needed. If negotiations or unilateral actions remove or reduce a requirement, then the forces designed to meet it can be adjusted accordingly.

In the current state of negotiations it is rates of changes in forces, upward or downward, that will be the most likely subject of agreement. For example, as has been pointed out by the Administration, no foreseeable SALT agreement is likely to remove or even greatly reduce the vulnerability of our fixed, land-based missile force. If, therefore, the United States wishes to retain an effective and secure land-based component in its strategic force, it will need to take action to proceed with an MX, or similar type of missile. How rapidly it actually does so can be adjusted, by negotiation or otherwise, to the development of the threat to the Minuteman force. If, beyond that, the United States wishes to persuade the U.S.S.R. to consider reducing the counterforce capacity of the Soviet land-based missile force, it may be able to do so by signaling an intention to increase the vulnerabilities of this force by increasing the projected MX force. Whether such an increase actually goes forward can be negotiated or decided in the light of how the U.S.S.R. disposes of the threatening portions of its own land-based missile force. If a SALT agreement is to have the effect of reducing actual or emerging instabilities in strategic relations, it should not foreclose U.S. programs that safeguard the effectiveness of U.S. forces, though it can also provide an incentive for the Soviets to moderate the most threatening aspects of their strategic dispositions.

In short, the propensity of the Soviet political system to amass power, whether to attain superiority or simply to have it as a tool to implement policy, can probably be affected only marginally by current negotiations. The latter are not likely, in the foreseeable future, to relieve us (and others) of the need to offset some of the gains the Soviet Union has achieved in recent years, particularly in the area of strategic forces and in the European theater. The margin of what may be negotiable will widen as the Soviets become persuaded that negotiation is the most effective way to inhibit the worrisome military programs of their adversaries, in return for inhibitions on their own.

But neither negotiations nor the military programs of the outside world seem likely to divert the Soviet Union from its determination to be the other military superpower in the world. The impulse to amass military power seems pervasive among the Soviet ruling elite regardless of generation. Soviet political dynamics seem to favor it, and the Soviet economic system seems unalterably geared to it.


Possession of military power does not necessarily determine how, and how effectively, that power is used. External powers, notably the United States, have had little ability to influence the growth of Soviet military power. Nor are they likely to have anything but a modest direct influence in this respect in the future. But they must and can be concerned with the uses to which that power is put. For the United States, broadly speaking, the purposes of policy toward the Soviet Union must be, on the one hand, to prevent injury to American interests and, on the other, to avoid open warfare. Policy must operate within these limits.

The question with which American statecraft must cope is how to maximize the restraints upon the uses of Soviet power. Part of the answer, as already indicated, is to seek to maintain a military balance, where possible in direct or indirect association with others who share our interest in restraining the uses of Soviet power and the potentially detrimental effects of its existence. This raises complex problems in addition to those alluded to earlier about the size and types of forces we must maintain and acquire over the rest of the century and beyond. Without addressing details here, the general point should be made that military deterrence requires forces that are generally thought to be usable for defined ends should fighting break out with the U.S.S.R. or its clients. To the extent this can be done, it is likely to place restraints on direct and indirect Soviet use of force, because it serves to impose upon Soviet decision-makers substantial uncertainties regarding the outcome.

But the problem does not end or begin with military measures alone. The Soviet Union, both as a polity and as an actor on the world stage, has developed unevenly. The international environment in which its power has developed and can be used is itself in a state of dynamic evolution. Military power does not translate automatically into influence and even less into control. Even in regions where Soviet military power goes essentially unchallenged, such as in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union has not been able to control or prevent developments which sap Soviet hegemony or, at any rate, undermine the kind of uniformity which Soviet rulers used to consider essential to their own well-being and security.

Elsewhere, in more distant areas, where the projection of Soviet power at one time appeared to confer upon Russia a potentially dominant influence, indigenous and external factors have diluted it or, in some instances, even reduced it to the vanishing point. This is not a law of nature and cannot be relied on to work automatically, especially if the United States itself is uncertain about the Soviet role it prefers to see in these regions. But the history of the last 20 years or so of Soviet "imperial" penetration into distant regions does provide a useful corrective to earlier fears - and Soviet expectations - that Soviet influence once established will become dominant and can only rise.

Among the reasons for the spotty Soviet record is that the Soviet mentality does not adapt easily to the nationalism and peculiarities of other peoples; Soviet ideology and institutions have not proved to be readily applicable or even appealing in other places and societies; Soviet political support is equivocal and frequently self-serving; and Soviet contributions to social and economic development are often inept, inappropriate and irrational, reflecting, as they do, Soviet society itself. For all the Soviet efforts during the last 20 or more years, it is the Western industrialized nations, and the international institutions they have been instrumental in erecting, which have played the greater external role in the development of the new nations around the world. All these factors have limited or even counteracted the effects of Soviet military power in advancing Soviet influence.

One is tempted to conclude from the history of the postwar period, which includes also the increasing diversity within the international communist movement itself, that socialism - Soviet-style - in one country, once a temporary expedient, has in fact become a hallmark of our era. Whether it will remain so will depend, in part, on the evolution of Soviet society itself, on the people who run it after the present generation leaves the scene, and on whether Soviet military power will continue to be balanced so that it cannot become so overwhelming in some place or region as to enable the U.S.S.R. to determine the course of events there for a substantial period of time.


Meanwhile, the steady though uneven expansion of Soviet external influence has been accompanied by, and has indeed contributed to, the gradual emergence of the U.S.S.R. from its isolation. This is most notably the case in the area of economics. Burdened as it is with enormous and constantly rising military expenditures as well as by ponderous and over-centralized bureaucratic controls and a rigid social structure, the Soviet economy has been unable with its own resources to provide for the broad modernization of Soviet life. While impressive by the indices of the 1950s, the Soviet economy lags well behind other industrial countries in technical sophistication and productivity. Trade with the outside world has long been used to fill gaps that the Soviet economy itself could not fill. But the volume and diversity of this trade have steadily increased in recent years; the methods have evolved from barter or straight cash deals to more complex commercial arrangements, including considerable reliance on foreign credits. These latter have now risen to some $40 billion for the Soviet block COMECON countries as a whole; Soviet hard-currency indebtedness is in the neighborhood of ten billion dollars. A substantial volume of economic activity in the U.S.S.R. and other Eastern countries must now be devoted to earning hard currency to finance imports and to service mounting indebtedness.

Brezhnev and other Soviet leaders have affirmed Soviet interest in an international division of labor, though they certainly have not meant by this any total Soviet reliance on certain external sources of supply. Indeed, in their foreign economic policies the Soviets have sought to minimize extended foreign reliance by trying to get foreigners to build up within the U.S.S.R. economic and technical capabilities which the Soviet Union is unable or unwilling to create with its own resources and skills. The Soviets no doubt continue to hanker for some form of autarky even if, for a time, they are prepared to accept something called a division of labor. But there is no reason why the external world needs to accept this Soviet preference. It is true that a systematic long-term policy by the industrialized nations to maximize Soviet economic reliance on the outside world would encounter formidable difficulties. In particular, Western political and economic systems do not readily lend themselves to long-term economic policymaking of any sort, but this is especially so since the long-term management of economic relations with the U.S.S.R. would require large-scale and sustained government involvement. The difficulties in coordinating the policies of several of the principal industrial countries are even greater, despite the fact that these nations should have the incentive to do so since they are linked to each other by security alliances and numerous other institutional arrangements as well as common interests and broad values.

Despite the difficulties, there is scope for an economic strategy that uses Soviet needs to draw the U.S.S.R. into the disciplines of international economic life. The United States, for example, although unable to use periodic Soviet need for grain for specific political purposes, e.g., to affect Soviet conduct in a crisis, did prove able to negotiate an agreement that imposes more orderly practices on Soviet behavior in this field. The 1975 grain agreement requires the Soviets to consult the U.S. government before it can purchase agricultural products above eight million tons a year2; it requires the Soviets to purchase a minimum quantity of six million tons of certain specified products from the United States each year even when they would not otherwise do so because of a satisfactory harvest; and it places upon the U.S.S.R. obligations to permit U.S. vessels to ship the products Russia buys.

In the future, it should not be impossible to reinstitute Soviet eligibility for U.S. government export-financing facilities and thereby to influence the flow of credits and the degree to which the Soviet Union balances the reliance on credits with the use of exports to finance its imports. In general, it would be desirable to encourage the U.S.S.R. to pay for more of its imports with exports and to reduce the share of credits in financing imports. If the issue of tariff discrimination were at some point separated by the United States from issues of Soviet emigration policy, to which it is now linked, the Soviet Union might have incentives to devote more high quality resources to exports. Soviet economic planning and priorities could thus become somewhat more susceptible to external demands. Moreover, it would be both desirable and feasible for Western nations to evolve harmonized concepts in these respects, with the goal of reducing the autarkic nature of Soviet economic decision-making and complicating Soviet resource choices.

Soviet economic connections with the outside world seem, in any case, destined to become more extensive and complex. Already, the Soviets are not immune to currency fluctuations and inflationary trends beyond their own borders. Their planners and hard-currency managers must take account of them, and Soviet economic officials have an obvious stake in operating in foreign markets to minimize injury to Soviet financial interests. Western governments should consult and work with one another to ensure that the U.S.S.R. operates responsibly in the international financial community and that individual Western lending institutions do not become excessively exposed vis-à-vis the East.

Over the somewhat longer run, the Soviets may get caught up in international energy shortages and price rises. Russia's own resources, while large, will evidently become increasingly expensive to recover, and international dealings in the energy field on a growing scale may well become part of Soviet economic life. Planning should be undertaken sooner rather than later for the time when the Soviets may become large-scale petroleum buyers in international markets. There may be similar needs and opportunities with respect to other commodities. The needs of Moscow's East European allies in these areas may provide useful leverage to help induce Soviet interest in more orderly international arrangements.

Many other fields of actual or potential Soviet involvement in the international system can be cited.

For some years now, the Soviets have sensed the need to participate in international efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapon manufacturing capacities around the world. Indeed, because most potential nuclear weapons states are not friends of the U.S.S.R., Moscow seems to have sensed the need for restrictive actions even before some Western nations. So far, the Soviets seem to have imposed fewer limitations on their domestic nuclear power development than the United States. The future of the breeder reactor and the "plutonium economy" is uncertain as the United States debates its merits, and other Western nations experience domestic opposition toward these and other kinds of nuclear power facilities which may make the pursuit of coherent nuclear energy policies difficult if not impossible for some years to come. It remains to be seen to what extent these problems, including that of waste disposal, spill over into the U.S.S.R. At any rate, however, Soviet export policies are becoming part of an international regime in this area, and the utility of Soviet nuclear exports for political purposes, by "underselling" Western suppliers, is now probably minimal.

The regime of the world's oceans is another area where the Soviet Union is compelled to participate in international discipline if it does not wish to deny itself the benefits of the available resources. Similarly, the U.S.S.R. should not expect to be able to operate in outer space without submitting to legal and other constraints developed by the international community. Incentives also exist for Soviet participation in international arrangements to curb environmental pollution. The international civil aviation regime is still another example.


In these and other ways, the Soviet Union has slowly and often grudgingly accepted foreign constraints on its freedom of action. Will these constraints also affect the way in which the U.S.S.R. pursues its geopolitical interests and ideological ambitions through the use of its military power? The answer depends in part on the extent to which external powers see international politics as composed of interrelated parts. But there can be no definitive answer because the processes whereby the U.S.S.R. is becoming more involved in the international system are frequently only in an early stage and far from fully understood. And even when adequately appreciated, it is not always simple to utilize them for broader political purposes; nor is it obvious how to do so. Moreover, the cost of depriving the Soviet Union of some of the benefits of international interaction may fall not only upon the Soviets. We have, for example, seen how American farmers were opposed to our own government's using possible embargoes on grain exports in order to exert political pressures on the U.S.S.R. Western bankers may well fear the effects of massive defaults by their Eastern clients if economic relationships become hostage to political vicissitudes.

Yet these are issues that have to be faced. The growing needs of the Soviet Union for access to the assets and products of the West should be satisfied to the extent that Moscow conducts itself with restraint internationally. It is probably not workable to deny a particular benefit or break a specific contract in an effort to affect Soviet conduct in a crisis. But given the interactions that have already evolved, a strategy should be possible whereby these evolving mutual reliances can over time moderate any disposition to let competition drift into crises of such intensity that they will inevitably tear the fabric of interconnections. But, to repeat, such a strategy can work only if the military risks for particular Soviet geopolitical excursions continue to be kept high.


There is a further and perhaps even more controversial and contingent set of factors that needs to be put in the balance. Inflation, environmental pollution and the other issues alluded to above are not the only external forces that fail to respect national or ideological boundaries. Soviet society, in part because of the broadening and intensification of Soviet external relations in the 1970s, is no longer hermetically sealed off from the outside. Blue jeans, rock music, literature and pop art are but a few, and probably the least significant, of the foreign habits and activities that have begun to affect Soviet life. More significant, there probably would never have been major Jewish emigration pressures in 1971-72 if there had been no leap forward in the Soviet Union's relationship with the United States. There probably never would have been any Soviet response - however reluctant and sporadic - to the demands of foreign constituencies of some sections of Soviet society if Soviet leaders had not begun - however hesitatingly - to calculate their interests in terms of their reputation abroad. It is worth noting that even after the Jackson Amendment was enacted and the Soviets angrily rejected their trade agreement with the United States, Jewish emigration continued at over 12,000 a year and individual "hard-core" cases continued to be acted on favorably. As we have learned this past year, Soviet toleration of these kinds of external intrusion is not unlimited, and foreign powers, to be effective in influencing Soviet practices, must calibrate their strategies and tactics with some care. But the principle has been clearly established that the state of human rights within a country is now a matter of legitimate international concern.

The Jewish population is not the only minority in a state composed of minorities. Thus, in the case of ethnic Germans wishing to leave, the Soviets have also been prepared to respond to outside pressures and inducements. Who is to say how foreign constituencies may someday manifest their interest in the condition of the Soviet Union's large and growing Muslim population? And who is to say how the long-suffering Soviet consumer may some day find his frustrations adopted as a cause abroad? Will Soviet youth be forever kept on an intellectual starvation diet compared to their counterparts in other industrial societies?

These lines of speculation should not be pushed too far. The Soviet system is traditionally repressive. Its aristocracy has a vigorous sense of survival in the face of real or imagined threats to its monopolistic hold on power. It possesses a vast panoply of instruments of power to contain unwanted intrusions.

Yet, the Soviet Union can never return to the isolation cell to which Stalin condemned it to make his brand of socialism in one country a reality at home and a virtual impossibility abroad. That isolation is now past history, though there is probably little the Soviets can do for years to come to make themselves "beautiful Russians" around the world. By the same token, the costs and risks of using power for political ends, and the impediments to doing so, are amply present in the world at large. And the world at large, in all its variety, increasingly stretches its influences into domains hitherto controlled by the Soviet rulers.


We have thus entered an era in which the United States and the external world generally can seek increasingly to draw the Soviet Union into the constraints and disciplines but also the advantages of the international system. To do so requires conscious strategies and policies. Passive reliance on historical trends will not suffice. Much progress was made during the 1970s, building on some progress before that, to devise "rules of conduct" for the restrained uses of power. The American-Soviet understandings arrived at during the three summit conferences of the early 1970s, the Helsinki Final Act, and numerous similar understandings between the U.S.S.R. and various Western nations such as France and Germany, have probably gone as far as negotiated documents can go in laying down ground rules for competition. None of these understandings are, however, self-enforcing in the sense that they will be adhered to simply because they have been put on paper. Nor can they be instantly or systematically implemented except where very precise obligations are involved, as in arms control agreements. Many of the understandings, such as the Joint Statement of Principles of 1972, the Agreement on Prevention of Nuclear War of 1973 and the Helsinki Final Act provide standards and goals rather than enforceable commitments to specific, unambiguous modes of behavior.

The Soviets have undoubtedly contravened some of the principles, and they probably consider that we and others have also contravened them. Notions about eschewing efforts at obtaining "unilateral advantage," in particular, are difficult to nail down in the shifting sands of international alignments and in circumstances where the successor states of the old colonial empires continue to be embroiled in territorial and other conflicts and seek external support for their causes. The effects of Soviet, or American, efforts to gain "unilateral advantage" are often unpredictable. The United States has not resisted, and sometimes has sought, opportunities to diminish Soviet influence in places where it had previously flourished - for example, in the Middle East - though this has not always resulted in corresponding American gains.

The Soviets for their part were quite prepared to seek a new role for themselves in southern Africa when the decisions of the U.S. Congress made the risks of doing so seem manageable while the benefits of not doing so were not evident. Their use of Cuban proxy troops - though in fact the Cubans probably pursued objectives of their own as well - opened disturbing vistas of new forms of Soviet expansion. But it also drew the United States and other Western powers more actively into the affairs of southern Africa. The Soviets were not uninvolved in the outbreak of the 1973 October War and the oil embargo, though their role was less active and direct than critics of the policies of the last Administration would have had us believe. But whatever the precise Soviet role, the outcome did nothing to impede, and actually speeded up, the decline of Soviet influence in parts of the Middle East.

Rules of conduct and other formal arrangements to limit the intensity and dangers of competition must thus be buttressed by other policies, furthering the trends discussed above, to reduce over time incentives to adventurism and to strengthen the incentives for restraint and greater interrelatedness.

This necessarily involves arrangements from which the U.S.S.R. can draw benefits, be it in the form of economic relationships or in its ambition to be accepted as a power with global interests. For Americans, this side of the equation has been a difficult one to accept and has given rise to the notion of détente as being a "one-way street." But it is almost certain that disappointments about expected benefits from détente have also led the Soviet Union to question whether or not the costs - in terms of external intrusion, limitations on Soviet freedom of action, reductions in hard-won foreign influence, restiveness in Eastern Europe, diversity among communist parties, continued high levels of American military preparedness, the unpredictability of American conduct and many other equivocal trends from the Soviet standpoint - are worth paying.

Many observers have stressed that U.S.-Soviet relations can no longer be seen as operating independently of other major trends in international politics, even if in military terms the relationship remains largely bipolar. As noted at the outset, it is often suggested that we should rid ourselves of our fixation with the Soviet Union. The time has come, says one commentator, when "at least for a while, the best way to conduct U.S.-Soviet relations may be to reduce the intensity of the relationship, to cool it."3 The new Administration, like virtually all its predecessors, entered office with the hope that it could reduce the preoccupation with the Soviet relationship in order to concentrate on "world order politics" and global "architecture."

Yet Soviet military power continues to grow and Soviet involvements in world affairs, whatever the fluctuations, remain on the rise. World order politics which fail to envisage the inclusion of the U.S.S.R. in the disciplines, constraints, and advantages of the international system would hardly be consonant with the facts of the age. Despite its hopes, the new Administration has found itself heavily engaged with the U.S.S.R. and seems to devote as much energy to that relationship as to any other, if not more. It may be that, as President Carter said at Notre Dame, " . . . the threat of conflict with the U.S.S.R. has become less intensive even though the competition has become more extensive." But the distinctions are not always obvious. And there can be no assurance that an intensification of conflict could not rapidly return.

Thus, given the pervasiveness of U.S.-Soviet interactions, geographically and functionally, our policies toward the U.S.S.R. are likely to remain the most active and far-flung among our external policies. Certainly, because of the military aspect, they will continue to place the largest single external demand upon our resources and the federal budget. And however much we may seek to "de-link" issues in given instances, we will not be able to avoid the essential interrelationship between them. Nor should we. Efforts to regulate military competition by negotiation and agreement will not stand alone as an island in a sea of crises or virulent antagonisms. On the contrary, though it is likely to be limited in impact on military programs, the effectiveness of SALT and other negotiations will depend heavily on the rest of the relationship. Similar points can be made about virtually every major facet of U.S.-Soviet negotiations. Above all, it is unlikely that the incidence and intensity of crises, whatever our diplomatic skill and other restraints, can long be held to moderate levels unless there is in operation a whole range of constraints and incentives that give each side a stake in restraint.

What is involved is, of course, a long-term evolution which requires constant attention and effort and which will see many occasions that will defy clear characterization as to whether they represent progress, retrogression, success, failure or "irreversibility." There is no joy in ambiguity, especially for Americans. But that is precisely what will mark our relations with the Soviet Union for a long time to come. We will probably never stop arguing over whether we actually have a détente that, in the President's words, constitutes "progress toward peace." That will have to be a judgment of history.


1 Data on Soviet force levels are in The Military Balance, 1977-78, London: IISS, 1977, p. 8.

2 According to press reports, the Soviets may have found a way to circumvent this consulting requirement in signing contracts to buy grain to make up shortfalls in the 1977 harvest. While the purchases involved will apparently be from American sources and thus benefit American farmers in a surplus period, it would be desirable to correct any loophole in the 1975 agreement.

3 Seyom Brown, "A Cooling-Off Period for U.S.-Soviet Relations," Foreign Policy, Fall, 1977, p. 21.

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  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt is currently a Visiting Scholar at the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University. He was a senior member of the National Security Council staff from 1969 to 1974 and was Counselor to the State Department from 1974 to 1977.
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