AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY IN THE 1970S -- IN the years since the end of the Second World War, American foreign policy has consisted primarily of the effort to cope with two immensely difficult problems which the events of that war brought into being, neither of which had been adequately anticipated and which the discussions among the victor powers at the end of the war failed to solve. One was the question of how should be filled the great political vacuums created by the removal of the hegemonies recently exercised by Germany and Japan over large and important areas of the Northern Hemisphere. The uncertainty and emerging disagreement over the attendant questions concerned not only much of Central and Eastern Europe but also parts of East Asia that had been overrun by the Japanese, including-alas-Indochina; and the settlement of the Asian aspects of the problem came to involve not only the United States and the Soviet Union and the inhabitants of the affected territories themselves but also, with the completion of the Chinese Revolution, the new communist power in China.

The second great problem with which American policymakers of the postwar period had to struggle was one for which they were equally unprepared: what to do now, in time of peace, with the fearful new weapon of mass destruction they had created during the war and had used, at the end of the struggle, against the Japanese. The problem was effectively without precedent. It might well be argued (the writer himself adheres to this school of thought) that it should not have taken the nuclear weapon to persuade people that war, as a method for resolving conflicts among industrially advanced great powers, had become inordinately costly, dangerous and self-destructive. The First World War, one might say, should have been adequate evidence of this. But the nuclear weapon involved a change in degree of destructiveness so great as to be in effect a change in kind; and the questions as to how-or whether-it should be fitted into national arsenals, and what relation it should bear to traditional concepts of the role of weaponry, had never been faced before. It fell to the United States, as the first to develop this weapon, to take the lead in seeking solutions to the problem; and the subsequent agonies of decision-whether to base defense plans on the new weapon; what to do about sharing control of it; whether to magnify the problem along the way by proceeding to the manufacture of the hydrogen bomb; and how, finally, to react to the acquisition by a political antagonist of a comparable capability, along with adequate means of long-range delivery: these agonies of decision were all no more than stages in the effort to find correct solutions to the problem as a whole.

It remains to be noted that these two great bewilderments of the postwar period (if one may call them that) were mutually interconnected and interreacting. The political conflicts arising over the problem of the filling of the vacuums threatened-in the eyes, at least, of a world public conditioned to viewing war as the logical outcome of serious conflict among great powers-to lead to hostilities. It thus accentuated the significance of weaponry generally. The tendency, on the other hand, to see in the nuclear explosive the "absolute weapon" and to believe that a clear preëminence in its development would permit a power to dictate terms to any power which did not have it or was inferior in the development of it, suggested that this might turn out, in the end, to be the decisive factor in the solution of great political problems, such as those connected with the filling of the political vacuums in East and West. Each of these bewilderments, therefore, increased the other.


Today, after the lapse of a quarter of a century, it must be recognized that at least one of these problems-that of the nuclear weapon-is still very much with us. Indeed, it is in some ways more serious and more urgently in need of solution than it was 25 years ago. The destructive power of existing arsenals of this nature has increased many fold. Our own monopoly of the weapon has disappeared. It has been developed in great quantity by our leading political adversary. Improvements in delivery systems have rendered our entire territory technically vulnerable to attack by it. It is steadily proliferating into the arsenals of other powers, not all of which can be depended upon to observe even that measure of restraint which the great powers have heretofore been able to muster. In so far as the two major nuclear powers are concerned, enormous interests, economic and bureaucratic, are now vested, on both sides, in the cultivation of this form of weaponry. And its proliferation into further hands is stimulated by the fascination it holds for world opinion, particularly the opinion of those who do not yet possess it but cannot divest themselves of the belief that if they had it, it would bestow upon them some sort of magic power they do not now command.

It is instructive to compare this state of affairs with the hopes and objectives entertained by American statesmen in the initial postwar period, as they proceeded to design American policy in this new field. For neither has this policy led to any effective international control of the weapon, as many then hoped, nor has it given us any incisive increase in political bargaining power, as others may have conceived. With relation to our leading adversary it is politically useless to us, because it is checkmated by his reciprocal capability. With relation to the non-nuclear powers it is useless because it is not a weapon with which one achieves, actually, any specific political purpose (for that, it is too destructive, too little discriminating, too little susceptible of intelligent gradation). Appalling as has been the readiness of the American military establishment and successive American administrations to use other means to wreak devastation from the air on foreign territory, notably that of Vietnam, the United States has not yet come to the point where it would be prepared to inflict on helpless populations, whose governments had no ability to reply in kind, the fearful devastations of which the nuclear weapon is capable. However one looks at it, therefore, American policy in the field of nuclear weaponry-a policy marked by basing our defense posture upon it, by our early commitment to the principle of first use in any serious encounter with another great power, and by our attempt to assure ourselves a commanding lead in the development of it-has been a failure. Whether it could have been otherwise is anyone's guess.

The first tentative recognition, in practice, of the sterility of this policy has found its expression in the conduct of the SALT talks with the Russians. This is, of course, only a small step. Even if successful, it will relieve only a small portion of the existing danger. Experience shows that there are limits to what can be achieved in the field of disarmament by formal contractual agreements, particularly such as would require congressional approval in this country. SALT will have to be supplemented by much more in the way of unilateral gestures of restraint in weapons development on both sides-gestures inevitably involving some degree of risk- if the ever greater dangers of the weapons race are to be substantially mitigated.

All this suggests that if and when the United States has finally extracted itself from the quagmire of Vietnam and has thereby recovered some peace of mind as well as some freedom of action, the time would be ripe for a searching critical examination, at the highest level, of the results of our policy of 25 years in this field, with a view to seeing whether different principles of action, including above all a greater readiness to accept minor risks in the interests of diminishing major ones, would not offer better prospects of success.


If the nuclear problem, then, is still very much with us, the problem of the vacuums-at least as a prime claim on the attention of American policy- makers-has been largely resolved.

The first and most vital of these vacuums, from the American standpoint, was Western Europe itself. It, too, after all, had been largely under German occupation. With the withdrawal of the German forces its political future, too, was not without question. The state of shock and insecurity in which its peoples found themselves, as the Nazi grip was released, together with the great strength of Communist parties among the reviving political forces, raised questions which rightly concerned the Western statesmen of the post-hostilities period. The problem was resolved, as we all know, by the successful insistence of the peoples of the region, with the aid of the United States, on continuing an independent political existence outside a Soviet hegemony. Soviet acceptance of this situation occurred, in reality, with the failure of the Berlin blockade in 1949.

This was, of course, never a complete or willing acceptance, valid for all time. Ideology alone would have forbidden it. Since 1949 the Soviet government has continued to press, wherever it could, for the disruption of NATO and the removal of the presence and influence of the United States from the region as a whole. Those West European Communist parties that retained the affiliation with Moscow have aimed, as a rule, in that direction. Clearly, this objective, if realized, would have provided the Soviet Union with important new possibilities for the exertion of influence in Western Europe.

But one cannot say that this effort has constituted, since 1949, a prime and immediate goal of Soviet policy; nor has it at any time shown serious prospects of success. In this sense we are able to say that to the extent Western Europe represented a political vacuum in the conditions of 1945 to 1947, that vacuum has now been satisfactorily filled and no longer represents a serious political problem between the United States and the Soviet Union.

As the strength, self-confidence and unity of the West European community grow, the importance of the American involvement naturally declines. We are already approaching a point where Western Europe could, if it so wished, effectively defend itself, by its own means and without American assistance, against any pressures or efforts from the Soviet side to exert undue influence. But this point has not yet been reached, particularly not in the consciousness of the West Europeans themselves, conditioned as they are to seeing their security as resting in the American nuclear umbrella. And it is from this fact that there flows the continuing significance and necessity of NATO.

NATO is of course not a perfect instrument. Its effectiveness is threatened today by a number of factors: the sulky nonparticipation of the French; the vacillations of Iceland; the shortsighted acquisitiveness of the Mintoff government in Malta; the discontent of large portions of the West European public with the new régime in Greece; the parlous internal state of Italy; and the growing signs of potential instability in Germany, particularly the ineffectiveness exhibited by official authority in the face of student radicalism. It is no time for panic about the state of Europe; but it is also no time for complacency.

There are, of course, very narrow limits to what the United States could expect to do about any of this. There never was a time when Americans could be more to the West Europeans than they are to themselves. The success of their defense of their own independence depends in the first instance on what they themselves do. Meanwhile, however, NATO represents a solemn American commitment, the most important one we have, and the one most firmly anchored in the interests of our own security. Whatever changes the coming years may bring in the configurations of American policy, this is a commitment the United States must continue to meet-America must meet it loyally but modestly, recognizing the primary interest of the West Europeans in their own security, encouraging them to assume leadership in the assurance of it wherever they are prepared to do so, shifting to the other side of the Atlantic the burden of decision in such matters as rapidly as this may safely be done, but never giving the Europeans reason to doubt the reliability of America's commitment to the obligations of the pact. It is only too obvious that this definition precludes any hasty, unbalanced and unilateral withdrawal of American forces now stationed on the Continent.

It is difficult, in these circumstances, to see the justification for great indignation, apprehension or suspicion over the suggestions and proposals recently advanced for a European Security Conference and for a mutual and balanced reduction of forces in Europe. Suggestions of this nature, coming now from one side, now from another, have already been in the air for more than three years. The complexity of the problems they raise-particularly the question of force reductions-suggests that they will still be there three years hence.

There is no reason in principle why one should not wish to talk with the Russians and the other Communist governments of Eastern and Central Europe about such problems. The acceptance of a political division of Europe, as an arrangement expected to prevail long into the future, does not necessarily imply the perpetuation of the existing expensive, in some respects onerous, in some respects even dangerous, military arrangements. There should be better and safer ways for Europe to live; and what is important is not that one should decline resolutely to discuss such matters with people outside the Alliance but that the positions one adopts, when one discusses them, are reasonable ones, consistent with the security of the entire Western community and sufficiently anchored in a Western consensus so as not to represent a threat to Western unity. Sooner or later the West Europeans will have to think about such matters and to think about them independently, in the acknowledgement of their own primary responsibility. The present time, more than a quarter of a century after the end of the war which produced the problems in the first place, is not too early to begin; and there is no reason why people on this side of the water should wring their hands in nervousness because others have undertaken to do so.

The problems concerning consolidation and expansion of the Common Market are another matter. The sharp divisions of opinion that prevail in the European countries themselves over the various component questions suggest that it is very difficult for anyone, native or outsider, to see very far into the future regarding the consequences of one or the other of the proposed courses of action. One may doubt that the outcome of these various controversies-who is to join the Market, what the terms of membership or association are to be, etc.-is really of vital importance to this country. We have problems, indeed, in our financial and commercial relations with Western Europe. It could scarcely be otherwise. But there is not sufficient differentiation today in these problems, as between large countries and small ones, between countries belonging to the Market and countries not belonging, to justify us in taking strong positions one way or another. Having enjoyed for many decades both the advantages and the headaches that go with great size, the United States has no reason to begrudge or to fear the same status in others. The restraint shown by successive American administrations in making judgments with relation to the tortuous quest for greater economic unity within the West European community has thus not been lacking in justification. Americans, writhing under the agonies of their involvements in other parts of the world, may take comfort in the reflection that here is at least one great problem the solution of which they may safely leave to others.


The counterpart of the effective Soviet recognition of the division of Europe is of course the comparable acceptance by the West of the corresponding situation in the Center and East of the Continent. This acceptance was already implicit in the creation of NATO and especially in the association of West Germany with the Alliance. These arrangements created a situation in which it would be impossible for any of the countries of the Soviet bloc to move on a serious scale toward a normalization of relations with Western Europe without appearing, in Soviet eyes and in the eyes of the world, to be undertaking something in the nature of a renversement des alliances and thus challenging Soviet military and political prestige. They signified the abandonment by the West of any realistic hope of unifying the Continent by peaceful means in the foreseeable future, and, implicitly at least, the acceptance of the de facto division. This, however, was for many years not openly acknowledged, particularly in West Germany. The recent initiatives of Chancellor Willy Brandt, founded on the reasonable conclusion that the continued refusal to acknowledge the real situation held more disadvantages than advantages for Germany and for Europe, merely brought into the open and sealed with the stamp of acceptance what had long been a fact.

If today a shadow of doubt continues to hang over the durability of the dominant Soviet position in Central and Eastern Europe, it flows not from Western policy but from the attitudes and reactions of the respective peoples themselves. That Soviet hegemony over this region involves serious strains has been made painfully evident, at one time or another, in every one of the countries except Bulgaria. To some extent, the strains have been eased here and there by relaxations in the rigor of Soviet control; but basically, the situation continues to be in many ways delicate and difficult, and there is a tendency for new forms of strain to arise as older ones are removed.

The West, having accepted the division of the Continent and made arrangements predicated on this acceptance, has no reason to exert itself to heighten these strains. On the contrary, since it is already amply clear that efforts in this direction can easily place the East European peoples in situations even more onerous and tragic than those they knew before, no Western statesman really has a right to take the responsibility of encouraging them. But the Soviet leaders, on the other hand, should recognize that the burden they have assumed, in endeavoring to keep these peoples for an indefinite time within their own military, political and ideological orbit, is one of their own choosing, and is carried at their own risk. If it proves heavy at times, they must not blame anyone but themselves.


A somewhat different, and more complex, situation prevails in East Asia. It may be said that the vacuum created by the retirement of the Japanese from the areas they had occupied in mainland China has now been filled-to at least the grudging satisfaction of all interested parties. But three great questions remain in which both the United States and the Chinese Communists have an interest: Korea, Taiwan and Indochina.

Even prior to the recent Vietnam involvement, the security of South Korea represented a serious American commitment. Its seriousness has been heightened by the unwise acceptance by the United States of Korean assistance in Vietnam. The Chinese Communists, too, will have to take account of that fact. There are times in life when one finds one's self committed even by an opponent's mistakes.

The United States has, of course, never made up its mind as to what might realistically and safely be sought as a permanent solution to the Korean problem. The best that could be expected, one might suppose, would be a return to something resembling the effective neutralization of the country that prevailed before the 1880s-before, that is, the delicate arrangement of earlier decades was disturbed by the bungling intervention of Americans in search of trade. It was a situation in which both the major interested powers-Japan and China-showed themselves prepared to refrain from attempting to make political and military use of the territory, leaving it to the Koreans to settle their own internal affairs in their own peculiar way. The United States, in the postwar period, never accepted this concept, preferring to pursue the unrealistic goal of a wholly non-Communist and "democratic" unified Korea. But things have been changing, both in East Asia and in American policy. The effort, in any case, to find a better solution than the situation which prevails today should not be abandoned, for the present situation is not wholly devoid of danger. Meanwhile, the United States has no choice but to stay the course.

The position of the United States with respect to Taiwan is a weak one, and has been so ever since FDR and Harry Hopkins, acting with staggering frivolity and scant regard for the principle of self-determination, tossed the island to China at the Cairo Conference in 1943. Being viewed as part of China, the island will, so far as the United States is concerned, ultimately have to make its peace with the powers that be on the Chinese mainland. If, of course, the terms of this accommodation were to be a complete absorption into the life of the mainland, without any distinguishing status, it could be a drastic and unhappy outcome for the inhabitants. But the Chinese have more than once recognized the advantage to themselves of conceding special status (always in practice, never in theory) to areas which they claim as part of China, if this seemed useful to their own external commercial and financial exchanges; and the Chinese genius for unadmitted compromise may yet discover a similar solution for the Taiwanese people. The United States can perhaps use its dwindling influence in this direction, though it will have to have a very light touch to make it effective. More than that it cannot do. The bed it must lie on, here, is of its own making.

As for Vietnam, the less said at this point, the better. In this, the most disastrous of all America's undertakings over the whole 200 years of its history, the United States has not only contrived to do a great deal that is unconstructive in the immediate past but has precluded itself from doing much that is constructive for some time into the future. The only graceful and halfway posture it can adopt will be one of total withdrawal, followed by silence and detachment, leaving initiatives to others.


The fact that the filling of the vacuums is no longer a serious problem in Soviet-American relations, coupled with the growing awareness on both sides of the unnecessary expense and danger of the unrestricted competition in the cultivation of nuclear-tipped missiles, and a readiness to try to arrive at certain minimal understandings in this respect, does not mean that the Soviet Union is no longer a serious problem in American foreign policy. The Soviet régime continues to be inspired by an ideology hostile in principle to the Western nations, from which it dares not depart. It continues to be dependent on certain habits of conduct, in part inherited from earlier Russian régimes-a passion for secrecy, an exaggerated preoccupation with internal security, a rather childish suspicion of foreigners, a tendency to propagandistic exaggeration and distortion, and above all, the maintenance of armed forces considerably greater than any visible external danger would seem to justify-which make it in many respects an uncomfortable neighbor. To this must be added the ties it continues to maintain to certain foreign communist parties. These ties no longer have the firm disciplinary connotations they had in Stalin's day, but still are not wholly devoid of political significance and present a further dimension of insecurity from the standpoint of the Western countries.

Yet the problem Russia presents for American policy-makers differs markedly, and in the main favorably, from what it was 25 years ago. The world communist movement, once a monolithically controlled instrument of Stalinist power, is now widely fragmented; only a portion of it retains a relationship to Moscow which could cause it to serve as a vehicle for Russian policies. Not only that, but the highest priority in Soviet policy appears to be given today to the effort to resist encroachments by the Chinese on Soviet influence among radical-socialist and "anti-imperialist" movements across the world-an undertaking which does not greatly concern the United States and does not represent a field of conflict in Soviet- American relations.

This situation can, of course, change, as can Soviet policy toward Western Europe; and this warrants a continued wariness on the Western side. But altogether these circumstances mean that there are today no political issues between the Soviet Union and the United States which could conceivably be susceptible of solution by war, even if the state of weaponry had not made any major military conflict between the two powers unthinkable. And this being the case, the weapons race-a race which, admittedly, is not confined just to nuclear weapons alone-has to be regarded as essentially devoid of political justification. The two powers may have conflicting interests or desiderata in other parts of the world. The armed forces they maintain could conceivably have roles to play with relation to third parties. But none of these conflicts of interest are remotely great enough to justify the madness of a Soviet-American war. There is no reason, then, why the two powers, even if no fonder of each other than they are today, should not be able to coexist indefinitely without armed conflict-with no more than the usual maneuvering and skirmishing in relations with third parties.

One wonders whether the implications of this situation have been fully taken into account. Even the smattering of information that leaks out to the general public suggests that the greater part of the military activity carried on by both sides-particularly on the naval level-is inspired by planning scenarios in which the appearance of the other party as the major antagonist is taken for granted, and the encounter itself assumes the aspect of an inevitable certainty. Why? There is, as we have just seen, no political justification for such an assumption, And who, with even a superficial glance at the historical record, could doubt the self- fulfilling quality of most military planning of this nature? In the light of what now goes on in the Soviet-American field, Woodrow Wilson's horror and indignation upon discovering, in 1914, that the War Department had a Division of Plans, seem less naïve than they have over the intervening decades. Perhaps he was right to be suspicious of such activity.

It is clear that one must try to be prepared for a variety of contingencies. But does this necessarily mean that the ships and submarines of these two powers must go on indefinitely shadowing each other across the world oceans in a never-ending game of blind-man's buff that is as ridiculous as it is dangerous? Could not the two navies bring themselves, pressed by their governments, to accept each other's presence on the high seas as a normal phenomenon and learn to exchange courtesies and even services in the spirit of comradeship and mutual respect that has generally united seamen of all nations? Could they not perhaps even collaborate occasionally on constructive undertakings? The idea of employing military and naval forces in the struggle against pollution and destruction of the environment is not new with this writer.[i] It has been suggested, for example, that the two navies might collaborate in helping the riparian powers of the Mediterranean Sea to master the problems of pollution that now threaten its natural salubriousness and usefulness. Perhaps the thought is practical, perhaps not. But where is the official willingness to examine it? Or others like it?

These last observations have been addressed to the Soviet Union because it is here that the military rivalry is most dangerous. They apply, of course, no less to Communist China. If the problems of Taiwan and Vietnam can be laid to rest (and without the liquidation of the second, in particular, no coherent thinking about the future of American policy is possible at all), the two powers will have no really serious conflict of interest except possibly in Korea; and even here no general military conflict could be useful to either party as an approach to the solution.

In the case of China, the greatest danger would seem to lie not in military rivalry but in the entertainment, following the Nixon visit, of unreal dreams of intimacy. For reasons only a social psychologist could explore, euphoric dreams of this nature have long been a congenital weakness of American opinion. After two decades of frustration, this tendency is again appearing.

It is perhaps a good time to remind ourselves that Chinese and Americans, for all the courtesy of Chinese hosts and for all the impressive good order now evident in mainland China, are very different peoples. In international- as in personal-life, the best recipe for coexistence between very different people is elaborate courtesy-and distance. History suggests that Chinese tend to regard all overt manifestations of diplomacy-including exchanges on the official level-as a species of ceremonial, in the course of which due deference is always paid to the excellent qualities of the Chinese people and the dignity of the Chinese state. Real problems are discussed, or sometimes treated without discussion, in more delicate ways. Foreigners, furthermore, and particularly Western foreigners, are not really popular with the Chinese; it is plain that there are limits to the period of time over which their presence in China, even as guests, is fully appreciated. This leaves relatively little room for the more fulsome forms of international "contact" in terms of which Americans like to conceive of international friendship and collaboration. But if the United States is prepared to respect Chinese sensibilities, to accord to its relations with China that punctiliously ceremonious character which those sensibilities demand, and not to expect too much in terms of an American presence in China, there is no reason why an acceptable and outwardly pleasant relationship should not be established and indefinitely maintained.


If, then, the United States does not have as many specific sources of conflict with the great communist powers as it accustomedly thinks of itself as having, and yet has some, the same might be said of its obligations to others. Aside from NATO and South Korea, already mentioned, it has only two major and serious commitments: one to Japan, the other to Israel. (The enduring and imperative need for the most careful cultivation of cordial relations with the two North American neighbors, Canada and Mexico, is too obvious to require special mention.)

Japan is the naturalally of the United States in East Asia. The United States has a vital interest in assuring that the immense industrial potential of the Japanese archipelago does not become associated, through any relationship of dependence or undue influence, with the vast manpower of mainland China or the formidable military potential of the Soviet Union. The fact that this is also a vital interest of Japan herself is what provides the basis of an effective Japanese-American alliance.

This does not mean, to be sure, that there must necessarily be an indefinite maintenance of American bases, or stationing of American forces, on Japanese territory. It means in fact that such arrangements should not exist at all unless they flow from clearly expressed Japanese desiderata and have the acknowledged support not just of precarious parliamentary majorities but of Japanese political opinion as a whole. But it also means that the United States cannot remain indifferent to the fate of Japan, as a fellow Pacific power, and must be prepared to take a friendly and coöperative interest in Japanese security whenever the Japanese need that interest and are prepared to welcome it. Japan, by the same token, has a vital interest in the ability of the United States to carry on as a strong and effective force in international affairs; and Japanese statesmen have shown themselves, ever since the recent war, to be well aware of that fact.

These realities are, of course, already expressed in the existing Japanese- American Treaty of Mutual Coöperation and Security. But that pact was conceived in the most harrowing period of the cold war, and it was generally understood as reflecting the narrow anxieties and rigidities of that day. The treaty itself is unexceptionable. It will presumably continue to be supplemented periodically by agreements on specific questions of military collaboration to fit the circumstances of the moment. But it is important that it be understood, in the coming years, as the reflection of mutual interests broader and more enduring than those which led to its initial conclusion.

As for Israel, the commitment is founded less on demonstrable geopolitical interests than is the case with Japan, but it is no less real. No one could deny that the United States, by its conduct over the course of 25 years, has incurred a heavy moral commitment to the preservation of the state of Israel and the protection of its inhabitants against massacre or political disaster at the hands of their irreconcilable Arab neighbors. As in all such cases, the main burden of responsibility lies, of course, with the people to whom the commitment is made. The commitment assumes a reasonable degree of prudence, restraint and good will on their part. It is not a blank check for any and all behavior. The task of American policy-makers, as they themselves have well understood, consists of trying to assure to the Israelis that which is really essential to the maintenance of their existence as a state, of dissuading them from claiming more than is essential to that purpose, and of avoiding any escalation of the situation into a serious Soviet-American conflict. This is a thankless, complex task- a species of Sisyphean labor-which the United States has been performing- not badly on the whole-for many years, and which it must expect to pursue for many years to come.

That the pursuit of this task has to proceed at the cost of America's relations with most of the Arab peoples is unfortunate but scarcely avoidable. In many respects this is, perhaps, less regrettable than it seems. Given the present passionate, volatile and intensely self-centered disposition of the Arabs, their friendship could be, as the Russians would probably testify, in many instances hardly less onerous than their hostility. But their state of mind does raise serious questions regarding the reliability of the Middle East as a source of oil for the West, above all, for Western Europe.

The oil business is of such complexity that any attempt by governments to regulate it or influence it presents formidable difficulties. But the steady increase in the costs of Middle Eastern oil, the ruthless greed with which the governments in question have pressed their advantage in negotiations with the companies, the justifiable doubt that they can or will spend to any very good purpose the enormous tribute they are now levying, and the growing unreliability of the countries in question as sources of supply to the West in this vitally important commodity: these factors raise serious problems, not so much for the companies, which regularly pass on their losses to the Western consumer, but for the consumer himself, who has no means for protecting his individual interest. Economic as well as strategic considerations may soon make it necessary for the Western governments to exert their authority individually and collectively, with a view to reducing Western dependence on the Middle East as a source of fuel. It is not too early for them to begin to study how this might be accomplished.

There remains the problem of the so-called "third world": the band of states that sweeps from the Indian subcontinent through sub-Saharan Africa to the west coast of South America. In its relations with these many countries the United States finds itself face to face with two unpleasant facts. The first is the legacy of Vietnam.

In the fluid stream of international life, there is nothing which cannot and will not in due time be forgotten and forgiven, as are now most of the follies of the European colonial powers in earlier centuries. But these things take time. The cynicism about America's purposes which was to some extent endemic among the poorer nations even before Vietnam but which has been mightily fed by the Vietnam War, and of which our political antagonists did not fail to take due advantage, will not be overcome in a day. In the meantime, American initiatives will court misunderstanding, and for that reason will best be avoided.

To this must be added the fact that experience has now shown the insubstantiality of most of the concepts of foreign aid by which American statesmen were inspired as they attempted to design their relationships with the underdeveloped countries in the 1950s and 1960s. The assumption that aid should bring gratitude and admiration; the fetish of industrialization; the belief that others would be aided by becoming more like us; the concept of economic aid as a desirable and effective weapon in the cold war; the neglect of the factor of overpopulation; the belief that economic advancement is automatically conducive to political maturity and democracy; the failure to recognize that the pace of change is fully as important as its nature, and that instability can as easily be sown by desirable change too rapidly achieved as by change undesirable in nature: one by one, these misconceptions have now been revealed, leaving us disappointed, frustrated and sorely in need of rethinking the whole problem. That rethinking will take time. It can hardly be carried out, as a subject of national discussion, before the great confusing element of Vietnam has been cleared away. Meantime, the best the United States can do is to channel through international bodies as much of its aid effort as possible (bearing in mind that these bodies can themselves be compromised if too large a proportion of their support comes from the United States), but to do this with its eyes open, regarding these donations as a species of goodwill advertising and not promising itself too much in the way of demonstrable results.


This completes the listing of specific situations, dangers and commitments to which American statesmen will have no choice but to give serious and responsible attention in the remaining years of the 1970s. The list fails, as will readily be noted, to include a number of situations (the state of affairs prevailing in southern Africa might be an example) in which others, for one reason or another, would see weightier grounds for American involvement than does this writer. But it represents, as it stands, a fairly formidable set of problems: most of them complex, some of them highly recalcitrant, one or two of them, as of today, without visible possibility of solution. They suffice, at the very least, to make ridiculous the thought of a retirement of the United States into anything resembling the earlier posture of isolation.

Formidable as they are, these specific demands do not exhaust the range of either the challenges or opportunities facing American policy. They are flanked by two situations of a general and universal nature which not only will demand the attention of our government in these coming years but will present the greatest possibilities for constructive statesmanship that lie before it.

The first of these concerns international action for the improvement and preservation of natural environment on a world scale. Two and a half years ago, in this same journal, I urged the establishment of an international environmental authority. I conceived of it initially as an agency only of the major industrial and maritime nations, both Communist and non- Communist, not universal in membership and not administratively subordinate to the United Nations. This concept was rejected, in effect, by the international community, including the United States, which preferred to follow the more leisurely and laborious course of further study within the United Nations, and action only on the basis of a universal consensus. This decision, for which there was admittedly much to be said, made possible the extensive but inconclusive airing of the problem which took place at, and in connection with, the recent Stockholm Conference.

But meanwhile, the deterioration of environment on a global scale, occasioned not least by the reckless abuse of the high seas, has continued essentially unabated. There is still no authority in the world charged with, and capable of, putting a stop to the pollution and destruction of environment where these processes occur in media, such as the high seas or the atmosphere, that are not under the sovereign control of any nation. Even conceding that the most serious excesses in pollution occur within national boundaries, those which do not are also far from negligible. An international authority continues to be needed not just to inhibit unsound practices in the international field but also to bring intelligent pressure on individual governments in exercising their own environmental responsibilities. Here is a rich field for American ingenuity and initiative, one that continues, Stockholm notwithstanding, to call urgently for attention.

The second great problem of universal significance with relation to which the United States has both a duty and a rare opportunity for constructive action is the restructuring of the international community and the development of the full potential of the United Nations. The effort to achieve a world made up exclusively of sovereign entities, all completely equal in status; the absolute quality of the modern concept of sovereignty; the increasing fragmentation of the international community; the consequent phenomenon of the mini-state-an entity saddled with a modality of participation in international life to the demands of which its resources are patently inadequate; the damage done to international parliamentarianisni by the wild incongruities produced by the principle of "one country, one vote;" the contradiction involved in this steady multiplication of sovereignties in certain parts of the world in an age when governments elsewhere-governments of greater age and more mature understanding-are trying precisely to bridge the rigidities of sovereignty and to recognize a higher and more unified pattern of obligations: all these factors call out for the sort of study of the problem, and leadership in attacking it, which the United States is outstandingly equipped to give. The failure to find reasonable answers to these questions has already had an adverse effect on the United Nations and has limited the contribution-so desperately needed-which that organization should be capable of making to the improvement of international life.

The possibilities of American diplomacy are not limited, therefore, to the correction of past mistakes, or the overcoming of the instabilities resulting from the heritage of the past war and the great process of decolonization. There are other possibilities : ones that have wider and more promising horizons-ones for the solution of which American strength is needed and the American genius is peculiarly suited. These possibilities can be tapped only in the measure that Americans contrive to put aside the fixations and rigidities of the cold war and to recognize that humanity is threatened by common dangers-in the field of weaponry, of environment, of the organization of international life-more important to it than the competitive ones that have preoccupied statesmen in earlier ages.

[i] See article by Morris Janowitz entitled "Volunteer Armed Forces and Military Purpose" in Foreign Affairs, April 1972.

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  • GEORGE F. KENNAN, of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton; formerly Ambassador to the Soviet Union and to Jugoslavia; director of the Policy Planning Staff in the Department of State, 1947, author of "Memoirs, 1950-1963," "Memoirs, 1925-1950," On Dealing with the Communist World" and other works.
  • More By George F. Kennan