The Endangered Asian Century
America, China, and the Perils of Confrontation
Seldom in recent history has the attention of the world been so closely focused on a single geographical region as it was in 1980. The region was known before the First World War as "the Middle East," to distinguish it from "the Near East," the Levantine countries whose shores were washed by the eastern Mediterranean. It had then loomed large on the maps of British statesmen concerned to protect their Indian dominions and communications in the "Great Game" they were playing against the encroaching power of the Russian Empire. Now that the term "Middle East" has been extended to cover the whole region lying between the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and the mountain tableland of Central Asia, a new name has been devised to cover these counties on which attention has been concentrated during the past 12 months-Southwest Asia: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and the oil-bearing states bordering what now must tactfully be termed simply "the Gulf," all constituting a politically seismic zone of incalculable explosive potential.
Nobody doubted that the Iranian revolution of 1978-79 was a major historic event whose consequences would take many years to work themselves out. It did not yet signify a major transformation in the global balance between the Soviet Union and the United States. Rather, in its fundamentalist rejection both of Marxism and of "Western values," in its search for indigenous roots within an Islamic culture equally hostile to both, it revealed how superficial, almost trivial, had been the analysis of both Western and Soviet statesmen who had attempted to force so complex a society into their own simplistic and intellectually impoverished frameworks. The Iranians were rejecting the entire international system of which they saw themselves, with some reason, to have been the victims for a century and a half; a system that had enabled British, Russians and, latterly, Americans to manipulate Iranian politics and the Iranian economy as, in their superior Western wisdom, they thought fit. The unfortunate American diplomatic mission, seized in November 1979 and held captive throughout 1980, was the object of a populist rage that needed scapegoats-a rage beyond the power of law, reason or statesmanship to control.
It would probably be misleading to trace any direct connection between the Iranian revolution and the turmoil of Afghanistan that led to the Soviet invasion of December 1979, but there were evident common factors. Like the Shah of Iran, Deputy Prime Minister Hafizullah Amin in Afghanistan was unpopular both because of the ferocity with which he suppressed opposition and because his reliance on foreign support eroded his legitimacy. Like the Shah, Amin ignored the advice of his cautious patrons and precipitated a situation which neither he nor they could control; and like the Shah he was faced by a wave of Islamic fundamentalist protest. Whatever support the United States had given the Shah and his regime, however, in the last resort it recognized the right of the Iranian people to determine their own destinies. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, intervened first to support, then to replace, their client. Whether they were wise to do so it is yet too soon to say, but politically they have had to pay a very heavy price indeed.
Finally, in an almost classic ploy of power politics, Iran's neighbor and principal local rival, Iraq, seized the opportunity presented by the weakness of its traditional adversary to press for readjustments of its disputed frontier, and when these were not granted to try to effect them through force. The disruptive effect of the Iranian disorders on Iraq's own minorities, and the aspirations of Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein, to take the place left vacant by Gamal Abdul Nasser as the charismatic military leader of the Arab peoples no doubt also played their parts in the Iraqi decision to initiate regular hostilities in September 1980. The war remained limited in scope but, unlike previous conflicts between Third World powers, showed every sign of being prolonged and indecisive. And disagreeable as the world found the prospect of a Blitzkrieg in the center of the Middle Eastern oil fields, that of a long war of attrition was even worse.
There can be few, if any, regions where such eruptions would cause such universal and justifiable concern. The world was already entering a deep recession that was causing severe problems even for the strongest economies and insoluble difficulties for the weaker. So interdependent had the economies of the world become that the prospect of their further dislocation by a major interruption or disruption of oil supplies was one that all governments, except perhaps a handful of "crazy states," could only view with profound alarm.
Further, there were few areas of the world where either of the superpowers was capable of exercising less influence. The failures of Soviet diplomacy in the region had left it with no friends outside Syria and South Yemen. The latent goodwill toward the United States on the part of many Arab states including the most powerful, Egypt, and the wealthiest, Saudi Arabia, was vitiated, if not entirely nullified, by an apparently unconditional American support for Israeli policy determined rather by the pressures of domestic public opinion than by any clear calculation of American global interests; and this commitment was made the more embarrassing by the refusal of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin's government either to compromise over the Palestinian issue or to desist from extending the areas of Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Deprived of any serious leverage in the Arab world, the United States could only sit by and watch events unroll. And American frustration was increased not only by the national humiliation inflicted on the United States through the treatment of the hostages but by the belief that Soviet involvement in Afghanistan represented not so much an embarrassment and a humiliation for the Russians as a dangerous extension of their military power.
Any American President confronting such a situation would have needed exceptional diplomatic skills, not only to handle the international problems involved but to cope with his own public opinion. These were qualities that neither President Jimmy Carter nor his National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, conspicuously possessed. Instead of insisting on the injury done to the international community as a whole through so massive a violation of diplomatic immunity, President Carter treated the hostage issue as a purely national, indeed a personal, matter. In the constant emphasis on the status of the hostages as Americans it was gradually forgotten that they were diplomats and as such entitled to the support not only of their countrymen but of their diplomatic colleagues throughout the world. By allowing the Iranians to reduce the issue to a bilateral affair between themselves and "the Great Satan," the American Administration went far to legitimize their action as simply another tactic in the Iranian "struggle for liberation," which enjoyed so much sympathy in the Third World.
A firm, patient and dignified appeal to international law and custom and to the solidarity of the diplomatic community in Tehran, combined with continual pressure on friendly powers and the United Nations for action, might not have speeded the release of the hostages. It would certainly not have satisfied American public opinion. For that it was perhaps necessary for a rescue attempt to be mounted, however remote the prospects of success. The consequent debacle in April was certainly humiliating; but there was general relief that it failed at so early a stage, before more widespread damage was done. But such unilateral action could do the American cause nothing but harm. A wider and more measured effort from the start would have preserved American dignity and prestige better than the bilateral haggling to which the American government, once it had allowed itself to be placed in so false a position, was ultimately reduced.
American public opinion probably also prohibited any but the strongest of reactions to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Here also the knowledge of physical impotence no doubt added vigor to American declaratory policy. The arguments of those critics who maintain that, had President Carter been "firmer," the invasion of Afghanistan would never have taken place, are not persuasive. It is hard to see what threats or inducements the United States could have employed, even during the era of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, that might have persuaded the Soviet Union to let ill alone, to accept so humiliating a defeat for the revolutionary cause, and to abandon Afghanistan to a hostile Muslim regime with far-reaching consequences to its own Muslim republics. What was needed to deter Soviet intervention was not so much "firmness" as the negotiation of a settlement that safeguarded Afghan independence while reassuring the Russians of the continuing friendliness of the regime; and this lay beyond the power of any American President to do. Détente, if it meant anything, should have involved not only conformity by the Soviet Union with the usual norms of international behavior, in which abstention from the military invasion of sovereign states ranks high, but some understanding on the part of the West of the pressures which might compel the Russians to transgress those norms.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when it came, could not, however, be accorded the same kind of recognition as a "police action" to hold their empire together, as had been reluctantly granted to their invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Whereas the invasion of Czechoslovakia represented a consolidation of Soviet military power in an area where its presence constituted part of an acceptable military balance, that of Afghanistan was a blatant extension of it. Some saw it as a renewal of the historic Soviet quest for a warm-water port; others, as the acquisition of a springboard for intervention in the Gulf; and even those who, like the present writer, remained deeply skeptical of any such planned deliberation in Soviet policy were compelled to recognize that the military occupation of Afghanistan, whatever may have occasioned it, presented the Soviet Union with a number of new and very interesting strategic options. For a British historian who can recall how the British Empire developed in India, extending northward as the Russian Empire extended southward by pacifying unruly tribes beyond its frontiers, the most probable next step for the Soviet Union appeared to be Pakistan; not because the Soviets coveted its territory any more than the British coveted the same area a century and a half ago, but because their tenure in Afghanistan would remain uncertain so long as Pakistan provided sanctuary for Afghan rebels and refugees. It is often only with the best and most defensive of intentions that empires extend their sway.
If the international community was to check this creeping extension of Soviet power, two things were clearly necessary. The first was to ensure that the costs which the Soviet leadership must have taken into account when they decided to invade Afghanistan should actually be paid. However great the provocation, the transgression of international law was blatant and had to be punished if it was not to be repeated. The second was to deter any further forcible extension of the Soviet military empire; and this could be done only by making it clear that such extension would meet firm military opposition; that there were no further power vacuums waiting to be filled.
The problem was that whereas the first response had to come from the international community as a whole, the second could credibly be provided only by the United States, and then only with difficulty. It was important that the issue should not appear simply as another superpower confrontation from which Third World countries, including those in the affected regions, could plausibly distance themselves-much less as one in which the United States was taking advantage in order to extend its own military power. On the other hand, without American commitment and involvement no deterrent activity would appear credible.
The problem was neatly encapsulated by the course of events in Pakistan, whither Mr. Brzezinski somewhat precipitately flew to offer American assistance, taking the opportunity to pose defiantly for the television cameras on the Khyber Pass. The Pakistani government rejected the preferred military assistance as "peanuts," while asking for a "friendship treaty" to guarantee Pakistan's independence. A few months later, on May 18, President Zia ul-Haq declared that Pakistan would maintain a position of nonalignment between the United States and the Soviet Union unless it became convinced that the United States was "genuinely committed" to blocking Soviet expansion in that area of the world. The genuineness of the commitment, it was implied, could be precisely measured in terms of dollar aid.
The dilemma was a familiar one for the United States. It could make a credible commitment to the deterrence of Soviet expansion only by intruding into a region that clung at least to the rhetoric of nonalignment, and by providing lavish support for a regime whose record in the field of human rights left a very great deal to be desired. There was no inclination in Washington to build up Zia ul-Haq as a substitute for the Shah. But whatever the United States did, given the existing state of Arab and Muslim opinion, was likely to be taken amiss, and no doubt Washington thought it necessary to convey firm and immediate messages to the Soviet Union even though the Arab countries might prefer to keep their distance.
In the event, the Arab countries needed no prompting in conveying their own messages. Soviet influence was exercised in vain to prevent the Islamic Foreign Ministers' Conference meeting in Islamabad in January from condemning the Russian invasion of Afghanistan as forthrightly as they condemned the Iranian seizure of the American hostages-though to balance the ticket they condemned American sanctions against Iran, the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, and Israeli incursions into south Lebanon as well.
The immediate and unilateral American response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan also caused problems with the European allies that a more careful process of consultation would have done much to avert-though it must be admitted that the Europeans took their time about consulting one another and harmonizing their own very diverse reactions. The British, who had their own folk memories of Afghanistan, were the readiest to follow the American lead, but they appreciated better than most the magnitude of the task that confronted the Soviet armed forces, and they placed a higher value than did the United States on encouraging initiatives on the part of the regional states. The proposals put forward in February by the foreign ministers of the European Economic Community that Afghanistan be declared a neutral country under international guarantees-proposals to which Washington extended a far from cordial welcome-were largely inspired by Lord Carrington. The French preferred, as usual, to play a lone hand, at whatever embarrassment to their allies; but although there is no reason to suppose that he said anything that President Carter would not have been glad to endorse, French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's decision to meet Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev tête-à-tête in Warsaw in May aroused critical comment even in France.
As for West Germany, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's statesmanship was sorely tested. The question that was so often asked in the United States, "what have we got out of détente?" was not often asked in the Bundesrepublik, where every family with relatives in East Germany knows precisely, in terms of communication and travel, how much their divided nation has benefited from the Ostpolitik initiated by Chancellor Willy Brandt at the beginning of the decade. It was these human contacts, as well as the increasing flow of trade and investment with Eastern Europe, that the government of West Germany was anxious to preserve, and this had become a matter commanding such political unanimity that at the federal elections held the following autumn it was barely mentioned as an issue. For very many Germans, events in Afghanistan seemed irrelevant to the immediate task of maintaining the prosperity and stability of their own country and deepening its ties with the East, and this was a sentiment which Schmidt, whatever his own views on the matter, had to take into account. On the other hand, whatever his private-or not so private-opinion about American policy and President Carter's method of conducting it, the preservation of the Alliance had always been Herr Schmidt's first priority. Ostpolitik was critically dependent on Westpolitik if it was not to become as divisive an issue for his country and his party as it had been when Chancellor Adenauer was first elected to office. He had thus to support American policy unhesitatingly, but to ensure at the same time that that policy did not destroy the still precarious achievements of a decade of détente in Europe.
Thus, although the Europeans differed over questions of emphasis, it was not too difficult for them to reach agreement on their common reaction to the Afghan crisis. There was no question but that there should be strong and unanimous political condemnation of the Soviet Union. It was also accepted that some military response was necessary, and that, although this could come only from the United States, the European members of NATO should be prepared-at least in principle-to shoulder a greater share of the burden of their own defense to enable the Americans to redeploy their forces, especially their maritime forces, to provide some combat capability in the northwest sector of the Indian Ocean. They also, as we have seen, accepted the British view that the crisis should so far as possible be seen and dealt with as a regional rather than a global issue and that nothing should be done to make the local actors feel they were being used as pawns in a Washington-Moscow confrontation. This view was certainly shared in the State Department; it was not altogether clear, however, that it penetrated to the White House.
As for sanctions, the reluctance of the European powers to go to the full lengths demanded by the United States was understandable. At a time of deepening recession there were limits to the amount of economic damage they were prepared to inflict on themselves in a gesture which would not, they believed, seriously affect Soviet policy, except possibly for the worse. With regard to the Olympic Games, there were even narrower limits on the capacity of democratic governments to affect decisions taken by independent and interconnected groups within their own societies dedicated to an activity which they believed, somewhat naïvely, to be "above politics." The degree of popular support these groups received both in Europe and in North America provided interesting evidence of the extent to which the peoples of industrialized societies during the last quarter of the twentieth century consider themselves entitled to free circuses, as well as to free bread. Eighty-one nations eventually took part in the games and about sixty abstained. Soviet "face" was saved, but the anxiety and disruption caused by the threat of abstentions must nonetheless have made its mark in Moscow.
In spite of these disagreements, however, the West could on balance feel satisfied with the world reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. There was certainly no tendency anywhere to be overawed by this exercise of Soviet military power. Those who used this occasion, as they had so many others, to talk about "Munich" only revealed as little understanding of events in 1938 as of those in 1980. The communist world was even more divided over the issue than it had been over Czechoslovakia in 1968; the Romanian and Yugoslav as well as the Spanish and Italian Communist Parties sharply condemned the Soviet action. The position was made worse for the Russians by their decision to send into internal exile the distinguished scientist Andrei Sakharov, which was too much even for the staunchly pro-Soviet French Communist Party. In the Arab world only the handful of radical socialist states withheld their condemnation. Egypt and Saudi Arabia strengthened their military links with the United States, which also gained useful strategic facilities in Kenya, Somalia and Oman.
There may have been Soviet strategists who saw Afghanistan as a further step toward world conquest, but the immediate consequence of their invasion was to saddle them with a military involvement that seemed likely to prove as long-lived and embarrassing, not perhaps as Vietnam had been for the United States, but certainly as Northern Ireland was for the British. The last traces of détente with the United States on which Brezhnev had set so much store, and on which he perhaps relied to check the extravagant demands of his military lobby, collapsed, and a new and intensive period of armaments competition appeared inevitable. The communist world was divided and the Third World alienated. By November, open supporters of the Soviet Union in the United Nations had dwindled to 22 against a condemnatory majority of 111.
In addition to the differences in the European and the American reactions to the invasion of Afghanistan, there were two wider issues on which American and European policy was divided. The first was that of arms control. The American suspension of all further consideration of the SALT II treaty as part of their sanctions over Afghanistan surprised nobody, in view of the problem faced by the Administration in getting it through the Senate anyway. But the prospect of abandoning all attempts to limit armaments, whose growing costs worried governments as much as their lethality and effectiveness alarmed their populations, was a prospect that disturbed the Europeans very much more than it seems to have done the Americans. It was a curious aspect of the situation that, whereas in the United States the strongest protests against armaments policy came from those who wanted greater expenditure on defense, those in all European countries came from groups who wanted less; and that the measures designed by ingenious American technologists-cruise missiles, neutron bombs-to meet the security needs expressed by their European allies should have been so widely regarded in the countries concerned as making their position if anything rather worse.
The American attitude was based on a somber estimate of Soviet capabilities. Their critics in Europe considered Americans to be unnecessarily alarmist, and were in their turn accused by the Americans of self-Finlandization. There was probably justice in both views; but somehow it was easier for Europeans to view the undoubted Soviet arms buildup of the past decade as reactive rather than as a deliberate bid for world dominance, and to take at least as much account of the massive incompetence of the Soviet economy and the virtual isolation of the Soviet Union in the world community-an isolation deepened by the Afghan adventure-in assessing the seriousness of any Soviet "threat." While accepting that some improvement in their defense posture was necessary, the last thing any European government wanted was to be drawn by superpower competition into further expenditure on armaments that would, for all of them, be politically deeply divisive, and for some would be economically crippling. While SALT II was not considered an ideal treaty, it was widely accepted in Europe as the best that they were likely to get, and there was no sympathy whatever for the view that appeared to be gaining currency in the United States, that it might be better to abandon arms control altogether. It was the fear that this view might become dominant that influenced many Europeans when they contemplated with such little enthusiasm the advent of Governor Ronald Reagan to presidential power.
The other issue which divided the United States from its European allies was, of course, that of Israel. The common American belief that the Europeans were simply responding to Arab "oil blackmail" in refusing to follow the American lead on Middle Eastern policy was a long way from the whole truth. In the first place the British and the French had centuries-old connections in the Middle East that gave them distinctive perspectives and interests in a region where, they felt, the Americans had never succeeded in creating a very effective rapport. In the second it was widely felt in Europe that nothing now prevented the West from establishing close and friendly ties with the Arab states, based on economic interdependence and a common suspicion of Soviet power, except for the Palestinian issue-a matter in which many Europeans believed that, oil or no oil, the Arabs had right on their side. The continued festering of this grievance could have dire results, making more difficult the internal position of those "moderate" regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan which have been traditionally friendly to the West, and strengthening the hand of the radical leaders of Libya, Syria, Algeria and South Yemen, for whom the West has remained the embodiment of neocolonial imperialist oppression.
Given these fears, it seemed in Europe not that the United States was mistaken in its handling of the situation, but that it was incapable of handling it at all. Nothing had made President Carter more popular than the 1978 Camp David Agreements, though it was recognized that the true hero of the occasion was the man who had made them possible, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. But Camp David was only halfway across a chasm. If the crossing could not be completed with an agreement about the West Bank acceptable to the rest of the Arab world, the only result would be that Egypt would share Israel's unpopular isolation and Sadat's own position would grow increasingly precarious. President Carter thus had to maintain the momentum he had begun; but this was something that in an election year, with a host of domestic problems on his plate and such time as he had available for foreign affairs eaten up by Afghanistan and Iran, it was quite impossible for him to do. It also seemed impossible for him even to consolidate the gains of Camp David by restraining Prime Minister Begin from pressing on with his highly controversial program of settlement in the West Bank and what could be seen only as a flagrantly provocative gesture: the formal annexation of East Jerusalem.
Quite what led Prime Minister Begin into a course of action that made Israel's friends despair, delighted its enemies, deeply divided a country riven by economic difficulties, and turned Israel increasingly into an oppressive garrison state will no doubt be explained elsewhere in these pages. But clearly Washington had neither the will nor the capacity to check him. President Carter's repudiation of the U. S. vote over Israel in the United Nations on March 3 revealed either a frightening lack of coherence in the Administration, or the overwhelming power of the Jewish lobby in an election year, or more probably both. But from that moment, President Carter lost all credibility as the leader of the West in shaping policy for the Middle East. It is not surprising that the European powers decided, faute de mieux, that they must now chart their own course.
Yet the serious differences between America and its West European allies over Israel did not, happily, operate to prevent both from pursuing careful parallel policies in relation to the Iraq-Iran war. In the early stages of that war, when it appeared possible that it might widen to the point of threatening the oil lifeline of Western Europe (and Japan), who depend far more vitally on it than even the United States, there were indeed quiet precautionary naval deployments undertaken on the basis of bilateral consultations between Washington and other capitals. In the event, the danger of a widening of the war has receded, and Americans and Europeans are at one in resisting any thought of intervention or assistance to either side. The Soviet Union has also, so far, shown a comparable caution.
But if 1980 was a disturbing year for the Western allies, for the Soviet Union it was little short of disastrous. Reference has already been made to the disarray within the communist bloc and the alienation of the Third World states. The latter included not only the Islamic nations but the overwhelming majority of the states in sub-Saharan Africa, where only a few months earlier Soviet attempts at penetration had caused the West so much alarm. Neither in Angola nor in Ethiopia did the Soviet presence seem to produce any benefits comparable to its very evident costs.
More important, Soviet prospects of further gains suffered a major setback when the British government, assisted by President Samora Machel of Mozambique, achieved a major policy success in bringing to an end the civil war in Rhodesia and establishing in the new Zimbabwe a regime that, although its black nationalism and radical socialism boded ill for the remaining white minority, seemed both pragmatic and prepared to be friendly with the West. But in South Africa itself Prime Minister P. F. Botha's timid initiatives toward the integration of the black majority were brought virtually to a halt by resistance from his own party, and the time bomb of race war ticked inexorably on. And in South Africa there are signs that an increasing number of black radicals are indeed turning to the Soviet Union as the only possible source of help against what they see as intolerable oppression.
Meanwhile, on the eastern frontiers of the Soviet Union the hostility of China had been, if possible, intensified. With its friend Pakistan and its own frontiers threatened by the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and its client Cambodia taken over by one of Russia's few reliable allies, Vietnam, the People's Republic of China was understandably alarmed and made renewed efforts to strengthen its links with the West. Chinese and American officials spoke of relations between their countries in terms of careful moderation, but their growing intimacy was not concealed, and only Governor Reagan's unreconstructed views about Taiwan seem to stand in the way of their becoming yet closer.
The greatest threat to Soviet security, however, appeared in the West. Paradoxically, it was a threat that might never have developed, or certainly not with such startling speed, had it not been for the hard work that the Russians themselves had over the past two decades put into normalizing relations with Western Europe and promoting pan-European security and cooperation. Their efforts had for long been resisted by timorous Western statesmen who saw in their proposals only threats to the stability of their own societies, without realizing how far more vulnerable were those of Eastern Europe. The greater the flows of trade, capital and communication between East and West, the greater would become the discontent of the peoples in Eastern Europe at the contrast between the performance of their own regimes in raising the standard of living of their peoples, and those of the West.
The most powerful instrument at the disposal of the Russians for the control of their satellites, apart from the presence of their own troops, had for long been the fear of a revanchist West Germany. Over the years this had gradually faded away, and with the Ostpolitik of Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt it had practically vanished. The election of a Polish Pope, however discreetly he conducted himself, could only strengthen Poland's sense of community with Western Europe. The Helsinki agreements of 1975 meant that Western travelers, news media and literature circulated more freely in spite of all efforts to prevent them. Brutal oppression in Czechoslovakia, skillful economic management in Hungary, and a massive Soviet presence in East Germany had kept the situation in these countries under control; but in Poland the combination of chronic economic mismanagement and a renewed sense of national independence from their clumsy and incompetent Russian masters eventually proved uncontrollable.
Throughout 1980 everyone handled the Polish situation with remarkable good sense. Faced by a workers' rising of impressive and undoubtable unanimity, the Polish government did what it could to meet its demands. The strike leaders negotiated with an admirable combination of toughness and good humor. The Russians made threatening noises but stayed in the background. And the West did everything in its power to make clear its noninvolvement. The fact that the United States during the autumn of 1980 had no time to spare for anything save its own presidential elections may here indeed have been something of an advantage.
But when the strikers began to extend their demands from the reshaping of the economy to the reshaping of the state structure, the dismantling of the security services and the dethronement of the Party from its supreme position within the Polish state, they were venturing on to very thin ice indeed. The Soviet government was brought nearer the horrible choice between watching the whole structure of its western empire gradually unravel, with inevitable repercussions within the Soviet Union itself, or intervening as it had in Czechoslovakia and preserving its security at the price of deepening its political and economic isolation.
Soviet intervention in Poland would, of course, create a situation with which the Reagan Administration would be temperamentally fitted to cope. It would finally destroy both détente and arms control. It would be taken to legitimize massive defense expenditure in the West. It would make it inevitable that Brezhnev's successors would take a hard line of their own. We would be back in the iciest days of the cold war. The danger is that Reagan's victory may make the Russians believe that we are heading back for the cold war anyway, and that they have nothing to lose. There is probably as much hankering after the old certainties within the Soviet Union as there is in the United States.
But too much has changed during the past 30 years for any such simple return to be possible. Soaring defense expenditures at a time of deep economic recession would destroy the fragile consensus that holds the societies of Western Europe together. A continued obsession with superpower rivalry will only make it more difficult for the West to cope with crises in those regions-the Middle East, southern Africa-on which global peace and prosperity ultimately depend, to say nothing of addressing itself to the urgent and tragic issues raised by the Brandt Report on relations between industrialized and developing countries. Increasingly the problems that obsess governments are not those of international security but those of internal stability: how to provide for their peoples, on shrinking economies, the livelihood that they increasingly feel entitled to expect.
The Soviet Union is as much the victim of these difficulties as anyone else. Certainly it must be prevented from resolving them at the expense of its neighbors, but ultimately there can be no solution for it or for the rest of the world save in patient and farsighted cooperation. If we do not hang together we shall certainly hang separately-and quite possibly cut one another's throats in the process.