World Order and American Responsibility

Courtesy Reuters

One lesson of the last fifteen years, most conspicuous in the Viet Nam war, is that the capacity of even the strongest power to intervene effectively in other states has been eroded by time, space and history. Apparently the only state a great power can still attack with impunity is one of its allies. Even there, as the Soviet Union will no doubt discover, the costs of intervention will in time heavily outweigh the gains.

Far from encouraging the two superpowers to protect their interests or their creeds by the exercise of military force, the consequences of intervention in Viet Nam and Czechoslovakia are likely to make them much more chary of doing so in the future. Indeed, as far as Americans are concerned, Viet Nam risks causing them to revert to their post-World War I fantasy of withdrawal and isolation. The dissidence of Czechoslovakia, like that of China, is another symptom of the disintegration of the communist monolith, which will limit Russia's freedom of action.

Yet the world in the autumn of 1968, despite all the lessons of the past, is no less unstable than it was a few years ago. The appetite for ever more devastating weapons quickens the arms race at all levels and in all latitudes; détente is interrupted and Europe once more brutally shaken by the misuse of the Red Army; peace in Viet Nam seems as far off as ever and China as hostile; the interminable conflict in the Middle East threatens more than ever before to provoke new confrontations among the great powers,

We can argue about what "responsibilities" the United States or any other state must assume in face of this situation. What is not open to doubt is that the United States and the Soviet Union at least, however harshly each may condemn the Other's behavior, have an overriding national interest in restricting possible occasions for a nuclear war to the absolute minimum, since both would be likely to become main targets

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