Courtesy Reuters

Superpowers and Regional Conflicts

There was some disappointment, though no great surprise, at the failure of the November 1985 Geneva summit to provide much hope of agreement on nuclear arms. But there was general satisfaction, in Europe as elsewhere, at the understanding reached there for regular consultations on regional conflicts.

Discussions of this kind, many believe, may be more relevant to the real problems of the modern world than the endless negotiations about nuclear weapons and other forms of disarmament that have proceeded so interminably over the past 40 years with so little apparent outcome. They will, after all, relate to the kind of wars that actually take place today rather than to the possibility of an all-out East-West confrontation, which few now think likely. The regional conflicts themselves usually involve one or other of the superpowers, occasionally both, and appear a more likely cause of a direct confrontation between them, even if only with "conventional" arms, than the situation on the East-West frontier. Indeed, since it is these conflicts that are the main source of tension between them at any one time—as in Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Angola, Cambodia and other places—an accommodation over such questions may be the essential condition of reaching an understanding on the more fundamental relationships between East and West. Far from being an irrelevant and unimportant sideshow, therefore, these conflicts, and the disagreements between East and West about the way they should be resolved, may lie at the very heart of the matter.

So what are the chances of significant progress being made in these discussions? What kind of arrangements and understandings, even direct trade-offs (such as Soviet concessions in Afghanistan matched, say, by U.S. concessions in Nicaragua) might be reached to reduce their dangers? Above all, are there any general principles governing superpower conduct in such areas that might provide the basis for a wider consensus over disputes of this kind, and so reduce dangers in the future?

II

Many of the most bitter East-West conflicts of recent times

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