Courtesy Reuters

America and Russia: The Rules of the Game: U.S.-Soviet Relations: The Need for a Comprehensive Approach

Like the stock market, U.S.-Soviet relations are subject to mysterious rhythms. Despite occasional bullish pronouncements from Washington and Moscow, the downturn in relations that began when the euphoria of détente wore off in 1976 continues. Both countries are poised at the brink of major new weapons programs. The United States has openly befriended China, a nation regarded in Moscow as a mortal enemy. The risks of U.S.-Cuban and U.S.-Soviet confrontation in Africa grow as political compromises over southern Africa become more difficult. The strategic arms limitation (SALT) negotiations in Geneva and Moscow have been exhausting and the arguments over ratification in Washington promise to be embittering. The process has not led to an improved international climate. Indeed, a strong case can be made that in the last few years the SALT negotiations have exacerbated tensions between the two superpowers.

The unfavorable political climate for the development of better U.S.-Soviet relations that has developed in the United States is a predictable, perhaps inevitable, consequence of the process of negotiation. One reason why the opposition to SALT is more enthusiastic than the support is that the goals of SALT are not entirely clear. The opponents can rightly note that any agreement, however minimal, raises the emotion-laden issue of whether we can trust the Russians. But the supporters cannot maintain that the arms race will be stopped or "capped," since the technological competition is intensifying. The Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress recently compiled an imposing list of strategic weapons that can be built lawfully under the SALT II agreement-and which, in the present climate, no doubt will be built.1 The military buildup of each adversary can be interpreted by the other either as an effort to amass "bargaining chips" for future negotiations, as an indication of lack of faith in the possibilities of negotiation, or as a strategy of increased reliance on military power to achieve political goals.

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