How Russia Decides to Go Nuclear
Deciphering the Way Moscow Handles Its Ultimate Weapon
As a European, and particularly as a Briton, I had the unusual good fortune to come first to Asia by way of America. The African and Indian friendships formed during college days at Oxford whetted my appetite for an understanding of the non-white world, but only when I arrived at Berkeley for a postgraduate year did I enter the life of the Chinese, the Japanese, the Filipinos, the Indonesians-who were there by the score, sharing with me the experience of being a foreign student in the United States.
And then I sailed on the Oregon Mail for Yokohama in 1953 with a cargo of military supplies for the Korean front, wheat for the Asian market, an earnest missionary and three cheerful Mennonite relief workers going to serve as noncombatants in Korea. It was my first exposure to the contradictions in U.S. policy toward Asia.
The Asia which I began to observe two decades ago was a post-colonial Asia already swept off its feet by the American presence. Technically the occupation of Japan had just ended, but its visual reminders, in the form of the paraphernalia of the U.S. military, were still strong. It was, I suppose, the high point of the American postwar "empire" in Asia, when every inquiry ended at the U.S. Embassy and every foreign visitor was presumed to hunger for hamburgers and french fries.
Only later did the pre-Americans (the French, Dutch, Germans, British-and their extensions, the Australians) begin to return to their earlier haunts, reminding Asians that the United States was not the only other country in the world. Only later did the Asians begin to extricate themselves from the mire of postwar poverty and chaos, to see Americans not as gods dropped from another planet but merely as rather better-off fellow-humans. And now the American era is over.
I have watched it flow and ebb away from three distinct vantage-points. The first was in 1953, when I traversed Asia from Yokohama to Bombay on a shoestring. With only a knapsack and a notebook, I stayed in Sendai, Matsue, Tokyo, Sapporo, Nara, Kobe, Hongkong, Singapore, Rangoon and Calcutta with the families of students met in California-and was taken into their hearts. To be an Englishman in Asia in those days, and to lack money, was to be lionized.
It is hard to believe that my first host in Asia, a Japanese businessman whom I had originally met in a Japanese bridge-game group at the Berkeley International House, actually emigrated to Argentina soon afterward because he was convinced that China would cut Japan off from her markets and permanently postpone his country's economic recovery. He lacked faith in the American alliance and even in economic ties to America: I wonder what his thoughts are today.
Five years later I returned to edit the Far Eastern Economic Review in Hongkong, and from 1958 to 1964 traveled extensively as a professional journalist in the region, including China itself. Then in 1969-72 I was based in Singapore as an adviser to a newspaper group there, and saw Southeast Asia a little more closely.
My credentials for Asia-watching were my Oxford and Berkeley degrees, youth, a yearning to understand the non-European world and a pragmatic instinct for the center of the road whether in party or ideological terms. I failed to see how communism could succeed in its aims, given the human material with which it had to work, or how it could satisfy anyone for long without succeeding. But if a nation like the Chinese chose to make a shot at it, that was, by my lights, their own affair-so long as they did not express their frustrations in the form of forcing others to copy.
Broadly, I accepted the American ideals for Asia (which I interpreted as political independence, democratic institutions and economic growth by the free enterprise system) but not by any means all of successive American administrations' assessments and interventions. I found these basic attitudes widely shared among the Asians I spent most time with-students and teachers, lawyers, journalists, administrators and other professional men, and businessmen.
Now the wheel has come full circle. America has disengaged from Vietnam, and the Nixon Doctrine holds sway in one form or another across the whole continent: Asian solutions for Asian problems. It is important to try to take stock of the overall impact of the United States on East Asia in the first postwar quarter-century, from the Japanese surrender to Henry Kissinger's first trip to Peking. Inevitably Americans, especially liberal Americans, tend to judge the whole of their country's contribution to Asia, in the harsh and blinding light of the Vietnam experience, as ill-conceived and tragic in its results, My purpose here is to examine the record as it appears to one who observed it at the time and from the Asian perspective.
Japan was the first object of U.S. postwar Asian policy, and it was in Japan that that policy won its surest successes, America came to Tokyo as a conqueror, but never lost sight of the goal of restoring the Japanese to a normal and viable existence, within a framework calculated to prevent further misconceptions and misadventures of the kind that had led them earlier into militarism and aggression.
The MacArthur régime was perhaps the most statesmanlike military occupation of a defeated enemy in history. It began with an overly naïve faith in pacifism and democracy, and the pacifist constitution had to be hastily reinterpreted after the Korean War had broken out to allow the creation of a 75,000-strong "police" force which subsequently developed into the present Self-Defense Forces. But the American role in Japan from 1945 to 1952 laid a sound foundation for the latter's reintegration into the world community.
The land reform in particular freed Japan in perpetuity from dictation by a landowning élite, and Japanese scholars and politicians concede that probably no indigenous government, ineluctably hostage to vested interests, could have achieved this short of peaceful revolution.
The Japanese found themselves, to their delight and surprise, well treated by the victors. The possibly apocryphal story of the Japanese farmer who, asked by an American researcher for his opinion of MacArthur, replied: "The Emperor could not have chosen a better man," is a good epitaph. But the Americanization of their lives was only skin-deep; the fundamentals of national tradition and culture were not affected as fully as some Americans (and others) supposed at the time. We may smile ruefully at the sardonic observation of Kenichi Yoshida, brilliant son of the first postwar Prime Minister, that: "The American occupation brought to Japan its own culture and living habits, and our people were able to study for themselves personally the behavior of the West, and so reassure themselves gratefully of the enduring superiority of the Japanese way of life."
Japan's status as the least easily assimilable great nation in the global club-founded, after all, by the Atlantic Anglo-Saxon-Gallic-Iberian group- was not really changed by the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or by the MacArthur shogunate. For all the external and superficial signs of Westernization and reasonably contented participation in the international capitalist system, Japan more than China seems to me the country whose internal tensions may again give her neighbors and the other powers cause for anxiety. This is not because of any inherent aggressiveness, but merely a consequence of four characteristics of twentieth-century Japan not shared, in combination and to the same degree, by any other large state: rapid internal modernization, great economic power, dependence on other countries for the maintenance of that power, and an inadequate understanding of world forces.
There is nothing that the United States could wisely have done differently, or would wish to have done, about the first three of these factors, but the fourth has been more responsive to outside influence. U.S. policies since 1945 have ensured that the Japanese tendency to misperceive the currents of international politics has been steadily eroded. It still exists, but there is now, thanks to the sympathetic spirit of the occupation and the exchanges of students and scholars, a possibility of its never again provoking a total breakdown in communications with the outside world.
Yet the period of therapy was all too short, insufficient to achieve fundamental alterations in a nation's weltanschauung. And from mid-1971 on, the patient has perhaps been put to the test too suddenly and traumatically.
In the game of twentieth-century diplomacy all major players are deemed theoretically equal, and each is expected to protect its self-interest vis- à-vis the others with the minimum of general dislocation. It does not seem to occur to many in Washington, especially on Capitol Hill, that these rules can appear strange to the product of East Asian civilization, whether he be Chinese or Japanese, and that the behavioral patterns of dependence, paternalism and hierarchy-the Confucian family model of relationships- retain a strong appeal in East Asia.
Thus a Japanese diplomat can argue that Peking harbors no resentment against Japan for her part in seeking to exclude the Chinese People's Republic from the United Nations in the fall of 1971: the Japanese were merely meeting the obligations of their alliance with the United States at that time-and such loyalty has appeal to the Chinese mind.
But the corollary is that many Japanese came to nurse high levels of expectation from the U.S. alliance. They supposed that a senior ally should and would behave as a close relative-someone with full authority within his own smaller household, and with an overriding inner-directed concern for protecting the common interests of the larger family. To hold this personalized familial view of international relations is inevitably, from time to time, to feel betrayed and unfairly singled out in the rough-and- tumble of the modern Western diplomatic world, where the multiplicity of both common interests and conflicts with another state is accepted as the norm.
No one would suggest that there is a rigid and sharp distinction of political behavior here as between Japanese and Americans. The United States is not always unresponsive to emotional appeals of this kind, while Japan has considerable experience of "younger brothers"-like the Republic of Korea-who both need and hate their patron, and toward whom it is virtually impossible to maintain an attitude of patient, consistent understanding and support. Many Japanese policymakers are also fully aware intellectually of the internal democratic constraints upon a U.S. president. The difference is one of emphasis only, but at moments of crisis it can be crucial.
Given this analysis of the Japanese problem, one is tempted to conclude that Americans in the 1960s would have been wise to have loosened the apron strings a little sooner and more gradually. The 1950s were a time of concern about the Japanese acceptance of their new role in the international capitalist system, protected from the threat of bullying by Soviet power. The Japanese expected to be punished by their conquerors in 1945. Instead they were encouraged to rebuild their national economy, this time within a truly international coöperative frame, and to develop their own democratic politics. By the early 1960s, these goals had been achieved. Ideally the period of dominant U.S. influence in Japan ought to have begun to be phased out then, so that successive Japanese leaders could have acquired experience in steering their national craft through regional and world waters. Some patient detachment could usefully have been experimented with and maybe accomplished, had it not been for the distorting and distracting pressures of the Vietnam War.
Just as the Korean War thwarted the American experiment of imposing total pacifism on Japan, so the Vietnam War created a situation where the United States could not afford to allow Japan to wander off on her own. Former Ambassador Edwin O. Reischauer's difficulties in 1965 in keeping the Japanese press ''straight" on the Vietnam question provided a vivid measure of the U.S. dilemma. If Washington had let go the reins in Japan, the thrust of the U.S. intervention in Vietnam might have been blunted by overt opposition from one of the key Asian "beneficiaries" of that intervention. Yet by bringing pressure on the Liberal Democratic Party leaders to rally convincingly behind the U.S. role in Vietnam (on the performance of which Japanese opinion was never invited), Washington helped to perpetuate a sense of dependence and to frustrate indigenous attempts to chart constructive diplomatic paths for Japan.
Now Japan has undertaken an international great-power role which has no precedent, namely the assumption of economic and political power without military backing, and this will require diplomatic skill and sophistication of the highest order. Its success will also depend on a high degree of understanding from the United States. The first postwar quarter-century of U.S.-Japan relations, culminating in the reversion of Okinawa, was a remarkable achievement of American wisdom. But the second quarter-century has not begun propitiously, and there are signs that the new pressures of multipolarity are reducing America's capacity for sympathy toward Japan. This marginally increases the risk that Japan may feel herself once again unaccommodated and unappreciated in an alien world order.
In Korea, too, American policy-first a limited U.S. occupation, then the war against the North and the close political alliance with the democratic forces of the Republic of Korea-has been surprisingly successful. The original intervention in the war was a loud and clear signal of U.S. determination to see that régimes demonstrating reasonable signs of viability and some grasp of the problems confronting their societies should not be pushed over by massed force from across a frontier.
That message meant a great deal to Asia. If it had not been muddied by the unwise decision to march beyond the 38th parallel to the Yalu, and by the subsequent mistaken assumption of belligerent intentions on the part of China when the Chinese made their predictable response, its effect would, of course, have been immensely greater, and the war itself shorter and less damaging. Korea's tragedy is to constitute a buffer between three giant neighbors-Russia, China and Japan. If MacArthur, Truman and Acheson expected to be able to establish Syngman Rhee north of the parallel without provoking a Chinese or Soviet retaliation they were guilty of grave misjudgment. Had the North Koreans been rolled back to their starting line, and the allied forces restrained from pursuing them beyond it, the United States would have ridden high on a wave of world admiration-and reduced the Communists to virtual impotence.
Let us be very clear here. The fact that the United States was ready to resist armed aggression from across an internationally recognized partition line, and proved willing to fight through to a peculiarly bitter end, undoubtedly strengthened the minds and hands of those throughout non- Communist Asia who aspired to independent viability free from dependence on the two Communist giants, China and the U.S.S.R.[i] But that encouragement would have been at least as effective, and far less draining on America's willpower and credibility as a conscientious world policeman, if the U.S. response had been more measured.
After the truce, the problem in Korea was to clean up the mess and the demoralization of the South, and this was tackled by the United States with characteristic vigor and, in the end, remarkable success. A new and almost unrecognizable South Korea climbed out of the ashes of war, and in the 1960s achieved not only an economic growth of impressive proportions but also a regime nearer to the democratic ideal and in better touch with the popular will than any other in Korea in modern times. The transition from Rhee, via the democratic politicians, to military rule and the "elected reign" of Park Chung Hee was accommodated by the United States-at least through 1971-with the minimum of stress and awkwardness, indeed with delicacy and good sense.
The major error of judgment in postwar Asia was, of course, in China. If only Truman or Eisenhower had come to the conclusion reached two decades later by Richard Nixon, had negotiated some sort of terms with the Communist régime (short, if necessary, of diplomatic recognition), and had maintained a dialogue with it and taken the trouble to understand, if not always to accept, its point of view. . . .
In late 1949 and early 1950, Truman was evidently ready to overrule the Chiang Kai-shek lobby and recognize the de facto victory of the Communists in the Chinese Civil War, just as the British had. But his opportunity, given the realities of internal American politics and the way in which the Democrats had their hands tied behind their backs on the issue of international communism, was too short: the Korean War opened only nine months after Mao's proclamation of the Chinese People's Republic in Tienanmen Square. Yet Eisenhower and Dulles, whose credentials for dealing with the Communists were unimpeachable (and used to advantage in bringing the Korean War to an end), allowed the entire 1954-58 period to elapse without any effort to respond to the possibilities of a détente with China. The blandishments of Chou En-lai at Geneva in 1954 and at Bandung a year later were contemptuously ignored, and that was a fundamental error.
These two periods are among the most tantalizing "ifs" and "might-have- beens" of recent history. Had Mao been assured from the start, as he is now, of America's lack of designs on Chinese territory and willingness to let the Communist government on the Chinese mainland be, it is surely possible that the Sino-Soviet split would have come earlier-for it was the common bogey of American imperialism which held the honeymoon between Peking and Moscow together as long as it did last. And if China had entered the United Nations in the 1950s her first formative decades of full international life would have been under the guidance of the remarkable Chou En-lai. Only after he has left the Chinese political scene are we likely to appreciate the measure of Chou's internationalism, and to regret to the full that it had so narrow a scope during the most fruitful period of his working life.
For it is my guess that the men who come to decide China's foreign policies after Chou will not be the polished diplomats, the Chiao Kuan-hua's or the Huang Hua's, but men cast in a rougher mold, probably not foreign-educated, who have survived all the internal upheavals of the Communist Party and built a local power base-probably army men or party bosses lacking Chou's interest in the details of world affairs or his capacity to follow them. So it will always be a matter of intense regret that the most enlightened internationalist whom modern China has thrown up was lost to world affairs, that this early opportunity to habituate an instinctively inward-looking, isolationist China to an active participation in the running of our planet's common business was forfeited. The next phase of China's foreign policy is quite likely to be the pursuit of China's national interests relatively narrowly defined.
And, of course, what a difference a more thoughtful and less panicky American policy toward China could have made, not only to the expansion of the Korean War but to the origins of the Vietnam War. If the Americans had continued to talk to the Chinese Communist leaders in 1949, many of the misunderstandings and agonies in Asia since then might have been avoided. And if the United States had been freed from its self-created blindness about China, had been observing and working with China more intimately, it could even have helped reduce Southeast Asian fears regarding Chinese expansionism-and perhaps acted as a steadying influence, reminding the Chinese leaders of the counterproductiveness of supporting weak liberation movements in Southeast Asia. Peking needed a disinterested foreign voice in the 1960s to convey another view of the realities of the region. Instead, the Robertson-Dulles-Rusk boycott narrowed Peking's policy options in Southeast Asia, and contributed to the very tension which the United States was professing to deplore.
Let the indictment here again be specific. There were three separate and distinct errors of judgment which entered into the myopic China policy of the 1950s and 1960s. The first was the initial characterization of the Communist régime as a transient phenomenon, lacking a solid domestic power base and depending on Soviet support for its continuation. The truth was, of course, that Mao came to power in spite of Stalin and not because of him- as was well known at the time to American specialists on both China and the Soviet Union.
The second error was the assumption that the Chinese Communist leadership would seek systematically, as a matter of priority, to bully and harass the non-Communist regimes in Asia. In fact this goal was only a spasmodic one, and was generally accorded a relatively low priority in Peking's scheme of things, except insofar as it coincided with the strong desire to resolve China's land border ambiguities.
China's energies in this period were instead directed to rehabilitation after the ravages of the Sino-Japanese and Civil Wars, to coping with her Soviet neighbor and with what was perceived as American imperialism (at least after October 8, 1950, when U.S. forces drove north of the 38th parallel), and to restoring her territorial integrity (i.e. in Tibet in 1950 and, later, on the Indian frontier in 1962). U.S. misgivings about possible Chinese expansionism were to some extent excusable, given Peking's strident propaganda and the confused contemporary evidence about the origins of the Korean War and also of the Sino-Indian conflict. But, to repeat, Chinese attitudes should at least have been tested after the Korean ceasefire during the Bandung period.
The third mistake was the belief that China was sufficiently powerful and well organized to carry through on such ambitions beyond her frontiers, and would therefore have to be contained by a strong show of defensive force all around her. This misjudgment could have been avoided by the application of plain common sense, but common sense was clouded, especially in the 1950s, by ideological prejudice and distrust of specialist advisers who had known China intimately.
Before leaving America's tragic postwar relations with China, one should say a word about the prodigious effort which has been poured into Taiwan. This tiny island has received all the favors originally intended for a country 60 times its size, and its inhabitants cannot but be grateful to the United States; they would have labored under the same or a worse autocracy without American help, but their standard of living would be infinitely lower. With luck the fruits of this labor will be absorbed into the mainland and contribute to the mainstream of Chinese life once a modus vivendi between Peking and Taipei is established. And, with benefit of hindsight, it is just as well that the United States did not seek to bring a sense of reality into Taiwan's international posture by insisting on an abandonment of the myth of mainland rule by the Republic of China. That would have created a new and independent state of Formosa whose accommodation with the People's Republic of China in the 1970s would now be made even more difficult.
America's Vietnam involvement has produced sufficient polemics already. My objection is not to the idealism which inspired it but to the inadequate perception of the reality on which the ideals were intended to work. There never was a viable alternative to the Vietminh in Vietnamese politics: if successive intervenors, whether largely military (France and America) or largely political (Russia and China), had stayed their hands, Ho Chi Minh would long before his death have established his party as the dominant force not only in Vietnam but in all Indochina.
This is not because of any intrinsic superiority on the part of communism- far from it. It is simply because Ho had a grassroots organization which, like Mao's or Tito's-but unlike the Communists in Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Korea, Poland or Romania-was 100 percent indigenous. By good luck and able leadership Ho was able to harness Vietnamese nationalism to his cause, and there was nobody else in Vietnam who had bothered to build up a strong organization as an instrument of conscious and considered reform. However hostile the outside observer or statesman might be to communism as such, however clearly he might have predicted its ultimate failure and rejection, his best plan here-as in the Soviet Union itself, and also in China and Yugoslavia-would have been to let it run its course, and wait patiently to encourage and help its liberalization in due time.
Again, the United States misjudged the political process in a non-European culture. Because America knew there were Vietnamese who disliked communism, had suffered from it-even, in the southward flight of refugees, sought to escape it-she assumed they would and could unite and fight for an alternative system. The Diem or Thieu regimes might have made it had they been more effectively reformist, or had they been fighting Communists of the caliber, experience and commitment of any other Communist Party in Southeast Asia-perhaps, though the comparison becomes farfetched, of any Communist Party in Western or Eastern Europe save Tito's. But against a sophisticated indigenous organization the forces of non-Communist nationalism were outmatched from the start, and no outside intervention could change this basic fact.
True, it may now be that a decade of war with the world's strongest power has so weakened North Vietnam that an alternative to communism will be practiced for some time to come in many parts of South Vietnam. But the human and ecological costs to Vietnam of the American intervention have been completely out of relation to such a modest possible result. And the psychological factors will tell as soon as the physical aspects of U.S. support to Saigon are withdrawn. I doubt very much if we shall see any non- Communist rump of Vietnam in, say, 10 or 15 years' time. And if there had been no intervention at all, the nature of communism itself and people's attitudes toward it would in any case have altered by then.
So, it would surely have been far better for America in 1954 to have taken the Geneva accords at their somewhat cynical face value-and accepted that the North would through some form of elections take over the South after a short interval. Furthermore, I believe that an American withdrawal from Vietnam, even with the post-1954 degree of commitment, would have been the better course at each one of the later points: by Kennedy in 1961, by Johnson in 1965, by Nixon in 1969.
Such conclusions are now obvious, if one looks at the welfare of Indochina alone. And I would hold to them from the wider perspective of the Southeast Asian region as a whole, and of American national interests there and elsewhere around the periphery of China in the quarter-century we are discussing. In these areas the Vietnam intervention did, of course, produce some gains-and they were appreciated throughout the area at least in the late 1960s. Time was bought for the non-Communists in other countries to consolidate themselves and to win some ascendancy over local Communist rebels. To the extent that Asia needed an alternative to communism, this was indeed a gain-though bought at too high a cost-provided only that the time so bought has been well used and not wasted in lazy inactivity or sectional aggrandizement.
Whatever the gain, it cannot be measured in Asian progress toward America's own domestic ideals-the projection of which has sometimes seemed to Asians the foremost American interest and objective. America is an unusual power, her identity resting on a piece of political dogma rather than on the ethnic and linguistic factors which are commonly the determinants of nationhood. This particular dogma assumes the equality of individual human beings, their desire to bring their environment under control, their confidence in voting each other in and out of office in order to pursue the collective interests of the majority.
Asia does not work on such premises, though it may come to do so in the future. Authority, dignity and legitimacy are more important than equality, self-improvement or dissent. After a quarter-century under an American umbrella, the Thais are only marginally more interested than before in the democratic system, and after a much longer tutelage the Filipinos have just accepted a drastic diminution of their civil liberties in exchange for a little more order and socio-economic progress.
Over and over, statements of U.S. policy in Asia have stressed the objective of allowing people to "choose" their own system. Actually, most people in Asia do not want to choose and are baffled by being asked to do so. Village self-rule means something to them, but is not usually part of the package offered them. National parliaments are meaningless without the political infrastructure of individual emancipation, economic development and the building of a genuine sense of shared nationhood. State politics are left, in the average Asian society, to the élites-the priests, the nobility, the merchants, the intellectuals.
To be sure, there have also been more limited statements of American purposes, such as that of William H. Sullivan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, in late 1971:
The U.S. never intended to move into East Asia with the desire of establishing a sort of permanent hegemonic influence there. We came in rather reluctantly. We came as a result of the collapse of the previous system. We came in and established a military shield behind which we helped the countries on the periphery of China to build up their independence so that they could stand on their own and make their own decisions.
It may indeed be argued that national independence rather than internal democracy was the primary goal of U.S. policy in Asia, and this squares with the American underpinning of reactionary but nationalistic régimes. But it is worth recalling Lee Kuan Yew's bitter aside, that if the Americans rather than the British had been ruling Malaysia and Singapore in the 1950s, "I would have been in jail, probably tortured and dead"-as a suspected Communist. Acceptance of Asian communism at its face value, as international and anti-national, prevented Americans from allowing the left wing its due weight in the nationalist movements. So the two goals, of internal anticommunism and external nondependence, became inextricably mixed up.
Yet the U.S. shield has changed neither the instinctive pattern of political behavior (deference to established authority and reluctance to express overt dissent on issues short of life-and-death ones) nor the geographical milieu (propinquity and material inferiority to China) of the smaller states of East Asia. At most, it has tided these nations over, leaving them to cope in the 1970s through their own efforts, with the American presence now to be withdrawn. As things stand, Southeast Asia is having to come to terms with both the Chinese and the Vietnamese Communists (not to mention Japan and the U.S.S.R.) all at once-and against the insistent deadline, reinforced by congressional and precinct opinion, of the Nixon Doctrine.
I recently had a discussion with a close Thai friend, a man of outstanding ability and patriotism, who does not believe his country capable of playing the neutralist game perfected by India, of playing one big power off against another, China against the United States, Japan against the Soviet Union. He is convinced that his country's leaders simply do not think that way. If America is no longer available as a big uncle, then Thailand will probably negotiate as painless a nephewship as possible with Peking-unless the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) can be built up into a strong regional grouping capable of the muscle and determination to resist satellite status.
Yet the Guam Doctrine's reliance on regional cohesion could prove unreal; certainly it has been to this point. Of course it would be in the collective interests of the smaller states of East and Southeast Asia to band together, make regional economic and security arrangements, present a united front against the big powers. But the underlying sense of common purpose is lacking on the ground, in the paddy-fields, on the factory floor, in the housing estates. Even in Europe, with its far higher level of cultural, ethnic, religious and political homogeneity, unity has come only this year after stupendous and repeatedly ignored lessons of blood and destruction. Petty nationalism defeated the early pioneers and more recent advocates of European unity and may yet defeat its engineers in their frail base in Brussels.
Much of Asia is not yet even at the nationalistic stage. For many parts of Indonesian, Philippine and Malaysian society, the entire historical process of nationalism remains to be gone through, while U.S. Senators and State Department officials fly through the considerably Westernized airports and Hilton Hotels urging everyone to forget their nationalistic reservations and pull together with their neighbors against their common threat.
ASEAN has indeed done better than any of its rivals, and that in part is due to the absence of any overt American initiative in its formation. It is also slightly less heterogeneous than the Asian and Pacific Council, and owes nothing to any big power in the way that the South-East Asia Treaty Organization owes to the United States and Britain, or the Ministerial Conference on South East Asian Development to Japan. Yet there is little concrete to show for ASEAN's six years of existence, apart from noncontroversial minor coöperation in telecommunications, railways and tourism, and the less tangible but more important beginnings of a habit of consulting the others before making any dramatic foreign policy changes.
ASEAN foreign ministers have steadfastly ignored recommendations by the United Nations and other economic experts for industrial specialization and limited internal tariff-cutting. They have, it is true, concerted their China policy, their trade negotiations with the European Economic Community, and some aspects of their activities in the U.N. General Assembly. And yet how fragile ASEAN really is. It would need only a change of personality in one of the five foreign ministries or of the entire administration in one of the five member-countries for it to be put in jeopardy again.
And the quarrels are just as significant as the collaboration-military distrust on the Thai-Malaysian border, conflicts of interest over the regulation of the Malacca Straits, the disputed sovereignty of Sabah, alleged Philippine repression of its Muslim minority-the list could go on and on. ASEAN follows Christianity, Buddhism and Islam; embraces Chinese, Indians, Malays and Thai; speaks English, Dutch, Malay (or Bahasa Indonesia), Spanish, Tagalog, Thai and a whole string of minority languages, not to mention Chinese in many of its varied forms. To expect a Thai leadership in Bangkok to depend on ASEAN as a substitute for the U.S. military base at Sattahip in backing up a policy of firmness toward China is to be remote from Southeast Asian realities.
Thailand is a special case, because alone of all the present clients of the United States she shares a de facto land frontier with China and faces a not unimportant insurgency in her border areas. It does not seem so urgent in Singapore or Djakarta as it does in Bangkok to clarify one's relations with Peking. But even the smaller countries less close to China, less sensible of her potential dominance, are not going to maintain a united diplomatic front or construct a credible military alliance merely because President Nixon urges them to do so.
Yet, though the future is uncertain, the balance sheet of U.S. policy in Southeast Asia is far from wholly negative. On the ruins of discredited empire a new system has been nurtured which works, which delivers more goods to more people than ever before in the region's history, and which enjoys the possibility of continuing socio-economic change without war. The independence of the Philippines, the restraining hand exercised on the Dutch over Indonesian independence, the support for Indonesia over the West Irian question and later for the new policies of the Suharto administration- all these were enlightened actions which helped to offset the blunders of the 1950s (notably those of the CIA) and have left a residue of trust and goodwill.
But if the United States had ditched Vietnam in 1954 or in the 1960s, substituting enhanced economic, diplomatic and military support for the other small countries of Southeast Asia, I believe that this new system would be even more viable and solidly grounded than it is today. Suppose the new Asia experts of the Kennedy-Johnson administrations had not taken their stand in Vietnam, but instead allowed Ho Chi Minh to overrun Indochina? If they had so acted in the context of a general abandonment of big-power responsibilities in East Asia, in a spirit of isolationism, leaving Thailand and the others to make their best way with the Chinese, the Vietnamese and the Soviets, then history would have condemned them for their callousness.
Had they done so, however, with a tough stance on a new front line and with the latter-day Nixonian combination of entering a dialogue with China while simultaneously retaining air and naval strike capacitjr in East and Southeast Asia, then history would have praised their foresight and courage. (For it would have taken great courage for a Democratic President to "sell out" to the Communists in Indochina, even if it was a Republican predecessor who had set the trap by underestimating the force of communism in China and Vietnam and overestimating it in the rest of Asia.)
As one saw it from Asia, in the early and mid-1960s in particular, there was a genuine danger that the small nations of Southeast Asia would be coerced, bullied, brought within the effective control of China or the Soviet Union-and a felt need in the area for an American presence to counter that threat. Nor was it only a question of freedom from big-power bullying. President Ishak of Singapore once pointed out that if Asian problems had been left fully to Asian solutions in the 1960s, then his own state would have disappeared entirely-into Sukarno's Indonesia.
Never mind that China and the U.S.S.R. were probably less capable of expansionism than U.S. administrations imagined. There were still decision- makers in the smaller countries who saw the threat from Moscow or Peking as quite enough to justify a kow-tow. Prince Sihanouk's cri de coeur of late 1967 was representative of many less mercurial leaders: "As long as the Americans are [in Cambodia], China cannot yet swallow Cambodia."
Sihanouk's country, as part of Indochina, could not have been underwritten; it was never physically possible for American military force to hold there or in Laos against North Vietnamese and/or Chinese forces. Nor did the local political conditions exist. But the nations at the next line of defense, Thailand and Malaysia, could have been explicitly assured that any overt aggression from beyond their frontiers would be met by U.S. arms, while at the same time American diplomats could have sought to introduce them to a more realistic assessment of their regional situation, including a less hostile attitude toward China.
No man can say with assurance that such a course would have worked; nor can a foreigner judge whether it would have been politically possible for an American president to conduct a strategic withdrawal and still command domestic support for the kind of firmness coupled with conciliation that I have described. Conceivably such a course might, if the Communists had been so stupid as to try it, have created a "Thailand War" almost as vicious and difficult as the Vietnam War-but with far more solid grounds for victory and with unequivocal international support.
I am inclined to think it would not have come to that, although there might have been a period of great strain and confusion. Rather, I believe, Southeast Asia would have adjusted to the reality of its geographical position rather more smoothly, safely and gradually than it is doing today, ten years later, after all the trials of the Vietnam War.
Finally, let me dwell for a moment on American idealism. Right across the Asian continent there are now thousands of U.S.-trained scholars, administrators and professional men who have carried back with them a little piece of the American dream. For Asians as well as for Europeans, the United States remains, for all its apparent divisions and deficiencies, the most potent visible proof that men can make an international society whatever their differences of race, religion or language. This pervasive influence will go on, fed now through the 50,000 Asians studying in U.S. colleges and universities.
But the idealistic role of the United States as an actor in Asia is over. Singapore's Foreign Minister, S. Rajaratnam, put it well recently in a speech to foreign correspondents:
Gone for ever is the America that we in Southeast Asia once knew-the sentimental, moralistic, naïve and more often than not generous America. . . . The U.S. [has now] matured emotionally and intellectually into a great power.
And to the extent that the behavior of a great power pursuing its national interests frankly and rationally is easier to predict, Rajaratnam welcomed the change.
The danger averted by the moralistic phase of U.S. policy was that of bullying by the other big powers. Most Asians have recognized that the United States has no territorial ambitions of its own in Asia, and has sought at most a political responsibility among the smaller nations in the west Pacific in order to prevent Soviet or Chinese hegemony. This American influence has in extreme cases caused the downfall of no longer favored leaders like Diem in Vietnam, but it has never entailed the repression which we associate with Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia more recently. Quite the contrary, the trend toward authoritarianism on the part of America's allies-from Chiang, Sarit and Thanom to Park and Thieu-is one that has been resisted and criticized by Americans.
But just as an injection of drugs can generally weaken the patient while curing his particular condition, so the massive American intervention in East Asia, over nearly a generation, has had a heavy debit side-and not only in Vietnam. Lee Kuan Yew in 1967 put the literal, physical application of this when he described the balance of power in Asia as "too directly dependent on an American intervention on so prodigious a scale that it cannot go on indefinitely." He elaborated: "It depends so much on outside bolstering that it must become tiresome to those who have to do the bolstering, and debilitating to those being bolstered."
And in a more insidious way it has been all too easy for Americans-and their protégés in Asia-to equate resistance to potential Communist aggression with stability and progress per se. In seeking to prevent a Communist revolution the United States has sometimes taken the position of preventing revolutions of any kind, perhaps because it lacked the knowledge or intuition to tell one revolution from another, or because it has come so far from its own natal revolution. It is still possible that history will say that the United States mistook the enemy in Asia, that, in the phrase of an editorial in the London Observer some years ago, "America's enemy is not Communism, it is chaos."
It is sad that so many Asians, especially among the young and the less privileged, should see the U.S. role, in Senator Edward Kennedy's words, as making Asia "safe for the mandarins and landlords," or as "the leading opponent of revolutionary change." The risk of this role is reduced now that the United States is disengaging from the very intimate and detailed presence it used to have in the continent. The decisions will increasingly be made indigenously, not necessarily by a mathematical majority or by widespread popular participation, but at least by the political forces which have been produced within each country.
Americans should derive satisfaction from their part in making this process possible, and one is hopeful that they will no longer feel rejected merely because their particular model of political life is not followed. If democracy is a good system, and if it suits the genius of a country, then nothing will stop it from emerging in the long run.
You can try to save one country from another, and there can be nothing more honorable. But it is pretty hopeless, as a complete outsider, to try to save one element within a country from another unless the indigenous odds are at least even. The United States tried to do that in China as well as in Vietnam, and in so doing weakened the support which it was giving to the forces of freedom and progress in the other countries of East Asia-not disastrously, but measurably. The smaller non-Communist countries of Asia are more independent, and feel and know themselves to be more independent, than would have been possible without the postwar American umbrella. That is the U.S. legacy to the region. Future generations of Asians will doubtless express gratitude for it even while they observe that its benefits could have been richer and speedier without the tragic mistakes over China and Vietnam.
[i] Here the reader may cavil that I omit mention of the United Nations' part in the Korean War. Important as this was from many standpoints, including no doubt American opinion, to Asian eyes the crucial fact was that it was the United States that had acted-as of course it was plainly the decision of the United States to cross the 38th parallel and advance to the Yalu.