In Praise of Lesser Evils
Can Realism Repair Foreign Policy?
The main objectives of President Jimmy Carter's foreign policy in his second year in office were clear enough. Toward the East he sought to maintain the momentum of détente. Toward the West he sought to preserve the coalition of liberal democracies and - in line with the prescriptions of "trilateralism" - to engage them in more intimate forms of economic consultation. In the vast and amorphous areas of the so-called South, where the Soviet Union and the Western powers do not meet in direct confrontation, his impulse was to treat the forces of change as rooted in indigenous developments rather than in superpower rivalry and to work with rather than against them.
In the course of the year developments within the United States and in the external world threatened to knock President Carter off course, but by and large he remained faithful to the main lines of his policy. Despite the rise in America of a belligerent public attitude toward the Soviet Union and difficulties created for him by Soviet policies in Africa, Carter kept America committed to the pursuit of a second agreement in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). Despite the challenge of widening economic conflict within the Western world, the policy of close collaboration among the liberal democracies was maintained.
In southern Africa, the policy of working with the forces of change was complicated by Soviet intervention, and even more by the inescapable and diametric opposition that existed between these forces and established Western positions. In Latin America, the long passage through Congress of the Panama Canal treaties underlined the difficulties America was experiencing in adjusting to the post-colonial era. In Iran - where the United States was caught unawares by forces of change now arrayed against its influence - Western policy seemed about to suffer a disaster. In relation to the Arab-Israeli dispute President Carter registered his most spectacular diplomatic triumph of the year in the Camp David agreements, but these did not lead - at least by the end of this year - to the expected Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, and the tie-up complicated already ominous developments in America's relations with the oil-producing Middle East countries.
Only in East Asia, where the emergence of a post-Mao China bent on rapid modernization and close relations with the Western countries signaled a major shift in the world alignment of forces - recognized by the agreement on normalization of relations between Washington and Peking announced in December - did there appear to be, at least for the time being, a true harmony between American policy and the forces of change in developing countries. Yet despite the challenges encountered in all these areas, President Carter's policy of seeking to view Third World issues in regional and local terms and to maintain a balanced view of the Soviet factor (while not denying that it existed) remained intact.
The main thrust of President Carter's policy toward the East was to press forward with the policy of détente toward the Soviet Union. There was, of course, a departure from the precedent of the Kissinger era because of Carter's emphasis on relations with allies rather than enemies, and on relations with particular Soviet bloc countries rather than with the Soviet bloc as a whole, as well as his disavowal of some of the methods by which Kissinger had sought to pursue détente - the insistence upon explicit "linkage" between SALT and other issues, the "bargaining chip" approach to arms control negotiations, the reliance upon personal and secret diplomacy. It is also true that President Carter in his election campaign had had to take account of the tide of feeling against détente that had been rising in the United States since the Angola crisis of 1975 to the extent of dropping the term from his political vocabulary. Even he himself on first coming into office had seemed ready to jeopardize détente by championing the rights of dissenting Soviet citizens and by departing drastically from the 1974 Vladivostok arms control understandings in the abortive March 1977 SALT proposals with which Secretary of State Cyrus Vance was sent to Moscow. Nevertheless, the Carter Administration sought to build upon the work of the Nixon and Ford Administrations in preserving and deepening the structure of understanding between the superpowers.
During the year a whole series of arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union were in progress - in fields that included nuclear nonproliferation, conventional arms transfers, chemical weapons, anti-satellite weapons and arms limitation in the Indian Ocean area. Although no significant agreements were concluded, new life was breathed into the long-dormant discussions of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in the talks between the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union; the deadlock in East-West negotiations on Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions seemed as though it might ultimately be broken when the Soviet Union, in its June proposals, accepted the principle of equal ceilings on forces, which the West had been demanding since 1973; and, above all, the SALT discussions reached the stage where agreement had clearly been reached on the essentials of a SALT II treaty. The expectation, at the end of the year, was that President Carter and President Leonid Brezhnev would soon meet to sign the treaty and thus demonstrate the continuing vitality of the détente process, of which SALT was the centerpiece and chief symbol.
But in the course of the year the reactions evoked in the West, and especially in the United States, by Soviet conduct had again made the policy of détente deeply controversial, so much so that the forthcoming debate over U.S. ratification of a SALT II treaty, already being compared in its fatefulness to the debate on the Versailles Treaty, seemed to overshadow every other issue of world politics. Three elements in Soviet policy were the subject of concern. One was the continuation of "the Soviet military buildup" in the strategic nuclear area, in forces deployed facing NATO in Central Europe and in the Soviets' capacity for intervention in the Third World, all of which showed, according to groups such as the Committee on the Present Danger in the United States, that the Soviet Union was aiming not at military parity with the United States but at superiority.
A second element was the continued apparent disregard by the Soviet Union of the obligations it had assumed under the 1975 Helsinki Accords toward the human rights of its own citizens, highlighted during the course of the year by the intransigence of the Soviet Union at the conference that met in Belgrade from October 1977 until March 1978 to review the Helsinki agreements, and by the sentences passed on the Soviet dissidents Yuri Orlov, Aleksandr Ginzburg and Anatoly Shcharansky.
The third element was Soviet and Cuban military intervention in support of Ethiopia in its conflict with Somalia over the Ogaden region in January-March and in its long-standing conflict with the Eritrean secessionists, together with the alleged involvement of Cuba in the incursion of insurgent forces based in Angola into the Zaïrean province of Shaba in May. These events showed that Soviet military intervention in Africa was a continuing factor, the more alarming because of its bearing upon the conflicts under way in Namibia and Zimbabwe and expected ultimately to break out in the Republic of South Africa.
Responding to these developments and to the pressures they evoked within the United States, President Carter spoke in strong terms - as at Wake Forest University on March 9 - about the determination of the United States not to allow any other nation to achieve military superiority with or without a SALT treaty, and a number of steps were taken to enhance U.S. military capability. The Shcharansky trial led to the cancellation of some planned official visits to the Soviet Union. The Soviet-Cuban interventions and alleged interventions in Africa were roundly denounced, and led the Administration - first in a statement by National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski on March 1, later in a major speech by the President at Annapolis on June 7 - to qualify its previously enunciated policy of not seeking to link the SALT issue to other areas of the Soviet-American relationship. While the Administration, the President said, had no desire to make such linkage, the public might do so: "To be stable, to be supported by the American people, and to be a basis for widening the scope of cooperation, détente must be broadly defined and truly reciprocal."
Nevertheless, the Carter Administration did not swerve from its basic course. Although reported to be divided on the question of linking SALT to other issues, it did not qualify its own commitment to the SALT process. While making clear to the Soviets that the United States, too, was prepared to act on the principle that détente does not imply the cessation of ideological struggle, it was careful not to antagonize the Soviet Union in ways that might have endangered the détente process itself. After the high point of the sentencing of the dissidents in July, there was a certain cooling of the "human rights offensive" against Moscow. There was not any disposition to embark upon the policy of "playing the China card," in the sense of seeking to align the United States militarily with China or supply it with defense equipment, and America's normalization of relations with China at the end of the year passed off without expressions of Soviet hostility or alarm and indeed even with ostensible Soviet blessing. The more orthodox line in pursuit of SALT II and the strengthening of détente, associated with Secretary of State Vance and Soviet affairs adviser Marshall Shulman, seemed to have prevailed over the more skeptical line attributed to Brzezinski. By November President Carter was speaking of an improvement that had taken place in America's relations with the Soviet Union, and anticipating a meeting with President Brezhnev early in the new year that would bring the second phase of SALT to a conclusion.
President Carter's steadfastness in pursuit of SALT II displayed a finer judgment of the position of the United States in the world than did that of his critics. Great powers, if they are to be recognized as such, have to act responsibly, and the responsibility of the United States and the Soviet Union is to pursue together - indefinitely and with the utmost seriousness - ways of alleviating the menace which is presented by the weapons they possess to the rest of the world. The results of the SALT process - in terms of its impact upon the stability of the strategic balance and the reduction of superpower strategic arms levels and expenditures - may be small, the progress slow, the demands of nuclear "have-nots" for radical disarmament no nearer to being satisfied and the process itself surrounded with humbug. But if the United States were seen to slacken its commitment it would create widespread alarm and risk forfeiting its claims to leadership.
It does not follow from this that any SALT II agreement is better than none, or that debate about the details of the proposed agreement is not vitally necessary. It cannot be argued in relation to SALT II, as it could be with reference to the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963, that concluding the proposed agreement as it stands is essential to the process of détente itself: even without SALT II, much of the structure of Soviet-American understanding might remain. Yet one's impression of the SALT II debate in America is that it is only apparently about the details of the proposed agreement, and that the chief issue at stake is détente itself - whether the United States should still strive to relax tension and broaden the scope of cooperation with its adversary or should enter a new phase of combativeness. The latter prospect is viewed by America's European and Pacific allies, and by most of the international community apart from China, with fear and alarm.
It is difficult to feel any sympathy for the argument that SALT or the wider détente process was somehow invalidated by the Soviet military buildup. As Secretary of Defense Harold Brown said repeatedly during the year, this did not in fact represent an actual or likely upset of the military balance. One of the factors underlying the campaign against SALT II in the United States was clearly that old attachment to American strategic primacy that had prevented Soviet-American negotiations on strategic arms control from getting under way before 1969. The old American strategic ascendancy - at the strategic nuclear level, and in naval and global interventionary power - was basically at odds with the requirements of international order. International order has to be founded upon a general balance of military power. It is the United States which throughout the post-1945 period has been the potentially dominant power, no less so because of its virtues. It is important that some state or group of states should undertake the task of balancing the power of the United States. For the present this can only be the Soviet Union.
Nor can one be impressed by the argument that Soviet disregard of human rights provides a reason for relaxing America's commitment to SALT or to détente. It is one thing to make known America's disapproval of the Soviet government's treatment of its citizens in the matter of human rights, but another to make changes in Soviet internal policy the condition of agreements entered into with the United States. In terms of traditional principles governing the relations of sovereign states, Soviet protests on this score have been justified. When the agreements at stake concern the control of nuclear arsenals and the responsibilities of the nuclear superpowers as trustees for the security of mankind, it would be particularly irresponsible to allow one's priorities to be distorted by the hope of reforming the Soviet political system.
In his policy toward the West, President Carter had committed himself to repairing his predecessors' neglect of America's allies, and was also encouraged by the successes of democracy in southern Europe and driven by his own belief in human rights toward a renewed sense of ideological communion with the liberal democracies. He sought in the strategic area to invigorate the Western alliance and in the economic area to move toward closer consultation and collaboration.
In the strategic area the Carter Administration's efforts had a smooth enough passage. Among the North Atlantic allies President Carter's handling of the "neutron bomb" affair in April - first trying to persuade the allies to endorse it, then deferring production on it - was a source of irritation; there was mounting evidence of concern about the exclusion from both the SALT and the regional force reductions (MBFR) discussions of the control of those Soviet strategic weapons that could not reach the United States but could reach Western Europe; and still troubling were the related issues of nuclear nonproliferation policy and the development of nuclear energy, which in 1977 had led to friction between the United States on the one hand and France and Germany on the other. But the overall sense of common purpose underlying the alliance was perhaps stronger than it had been for many years on both sides of the Atlantic.
The weakening of détente and the concern caused by the Soviet military buildup tended to diminish both neutralism in Europe and neo-isolationism in North America. President Carter in January was able to announce a strengthening of the U.S. forces in Western Europe together with an improvement in capacity for reinforcement, and the NATO Council meeting in Washington at the end of May announced a commitment to a three-percent increase in real (or inflation-discounted) defense spending and a new ten-year defense program. The threat thought to be presented to NATO by Eurocommunism, that had loomed so large in the last days of the Kissinger era, seemed to recede with the victory of the Center-Right coalition in the French elections in March, just as President Carter's own more relaxed attitude toward Eurocommunism removed the anxiety that had been felt in Europe that the United States might over-react to it.
President Carter's success in bringing the Senate in July and the House of Representatives in August to end the arms embargo against Turkey removed an obstacle to that country's reintegration into the alliance. The survival of democracy in Spain, Portugal and Greece, and the steps being taken to incorporate those countries within the European Community, seemed to show that the Western coalition was based not merely on opposition to communism but on positive values of its own. In the Pacific also, the basis of American strategic cooperation with Japan and with Australia and New Zealand was securely founded upon heightened concern about the Soviet Union and continued improvement of relations with China.
In the economic area, however, ominous cracks within the Western coalition were appearing. Continued slow growth within the North American, West European and Japanese economies, increased competition from the new industrializing countries, concern over the availability of energy and other raw materials, and the continued inability of governments to hold down inflation and unemployment to acceptable levels were engendering a new spirit of conflict. In trade relations among the industrialized countries, protectionist pressures were becoming stronger, even though they were not yet out of control and governments were still committed to the liberal trading system. Uncertain of access to one another's markets, the advanced industrialized countries were involved in heightened rivalry for the markets of the Third World, on which they had become increasingly dependent. Japan was involved in acrimonious disputes with the United States and the European Community over its export surpluses. The United States was roundly condemned by both Japan and Western Europe for failing to curb its energy consumption.
The deepest crack was in the dollar-based international monetary system. The drastic depreciation of the dollar in relation to most other currencies, reflecting the failure of the United States either to curb its energy import bill or to develop its export trade sufficiently to compensate for it, proceeded throughout the year until it was stabilized by the November rescue package. It gave rise to increased instability in foreign exchange markets, widening payments imbalances and widespread loss of confidence in U.S. management both of its own economy and of the dollar-based exchange and payments system. The decision taken at the European Community summit in Bremen in July to endorse the Franco-German scheme for a European Monetary System was from one point of view an attempt to take the Community a further stage toward its goal of integration; but it was also a step taken by Community countries to decouple Community exchanges and payments from the dollar and from American management of the dollar system.
The Carter Administration sought to contain these fissures within the trilateral world in a variety of ways. In common with its allies it continued to uphold the goal of further trade liberalization being pursued at the Multilateral Trade Negotiations at Geneva during the year. By September the Carter Administration's energy legislation - the first of a series of measures aimed at reducing the oil import bill and developing alternative sources of fuel - had passed Congress, though in emasculated form, and an export drive, modelled upon the efforts of countries more dependent on foreign markets than the United States has traditionally been, had been launched: both of these measures were designed in part to help stabilize the dollar. At the OECD ministerial meeting in Paris in June, Secretary Vance outlined a program for a return to sustained growth in the advanced industrial countries, for expanded world trade and for national policies of adaption to structural change, rather than resorting to the protection of inefficient industries. At the seven-nation Bonn economic summit in July - the successor to the London economic summit of 1977 and the principal expression of the trilateral element in the Carter Administration's thinking - the United States committed itself to cut oil imports, Germany and Japan to stimulate growth, and all to combat inflation, resist protectionism and expand trade.
In a year that saw a certain decline in the salience of "North-South" economic tension in world politics, there was a good deal of prominence given to the new specter of "the disintegrating West." But those who claimed to see in these rivalries the "contradictions" that would lead capitalism to its doom overlooked the underlying vitality of the Western alliance at the political and strategic levels. There was also an unwarranted element of economic determinism in the official ideology itself, according to which a division of the West into separate trading blocs was bound to stimulate political rivalry and war, as it was said to have done in the 1930s. It is by no means clear that a system of economic blocs or quasi-blocs, such as may now be developing, is incompatible with the political and strategic unity of the West or with the preservation of a sense of common responsibility for management of the international economy.
In East Asia the principal development in U.S. foreign policy was the agreement to normalize relations with the People's Republic of China, announced to a startled world in mid-December. The secrecy that surrounded the negotiation of this agreement was reminiscent of Henry Kissinger's diplomatic revolution of 1971, but the normalization agreement was in no way revolutionary but rather a natural completion of processes already in train. Normalization had been promised by President Carter in his election campaign and expected since President Nixon's visit to Peking in 1972. There was no question in 1978, as there had been in 1971-72, of a price to be paid for a shock delivered to Japan: the formula of a diplomatic mission in Peking and a trade office in Taipei was the one the Japanese had already adopted for themselves, while Japan (actively encouraged by the United States) had herself just moved dramatically closer to China with the historic Treaty of Peace and Friendship concluded with Peking in August.
America's West European allies had also been drawing closer to China in the course of the year, both for economic reasons and as a consequence of a deepening perception of shared strategic interests. The normalization agreement was no isolated act of U.S. policy but was part of a general process of rapprochement, sought on both sides between China and the Western powers acting in parallel. The agreement was, of course, denounced by the Taiwan government and the Taiwan lobby in America (the United States indicated that it would exercise its right to terminate the defense agreement with Taiwan, and did not succeed in wringing from Peking a commitment to abstain from the use of force in solving the Taiwan problem), but this could hardly have been otherwise.
During most of 1978 the Carter Administration's policy in East Asia had appeared to be mainly a passive one. Although National Security Adviser Brzezinski visited Peking in May, stimulating discussion of the common security interests of the two countries, progress toward normalization was not known to be taking place. Nor were there any striking U.S. initiatives taken in relation to Japan, apart from continued attempts to have that country reduce its export surplus. The withdrawal of American ground troops from Korea was still proceeding at only a snail's pace, and was counterbalanced by measures to strengthen U.S. tactical air power. And there was no disposition to accede to Vietnam's terms for normalization.
What had appeared to justify this relative inactivity was that events in East Asia were moving in directions highly favorable to the objectives of U.S. policy without any need for encouragement from Washington. The presence of communist governments in power in Indochina had not led to the emergence of any imminent threat to non-communist governments elsewhere: the only such threat that existed in the region was the perennial one of North Korea to South Korea. The resources that communist states in Asia might conceivably have devoted to expanding their influence elsewhere in the region were largely consumed by their conflicts with one another: the Soviet Union with China, Vietnam with Cambodia, Vietnam with China. The appeal of communist ideology cannot have been strengthened by reports of border fighting among communist states, the Cambodian government's repression of its population, the persecution of the Chinese minority in Vietnam and the massive exit of refugees. Among non-communist states in the area, by contrast, there existed comparative harmony, while the economic growth and impact on international trade of countries such as Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and the Southeast Asian countries in ASEAN riveted the world's attention.
The Soviet Union found itself increasingly isolated in the region. In China Mao's successors were not seeking to mend their fences with the Soviet leadership as some had believed that they would do. The new element they brought to China's foreign policy was a concern to speed the modernization of China's economy, and this caused them to look first to the major centers of advanced technology - the United States, Western Europe and Japan. Japan's decision in August to conclude the Treaty of Peace and Friendship with China, despite Soviet objections to the "anti-hegemony" clause which it contained, was a major setback for Soviet policy in the area, although in the light of the failure of the Soviet leaders to display any flexibility toward Japan's demands, one that can hardly have been surprising to them. Neither in the ASEAN countries, toward which China was also drawing closer, nor in relation to North Korea did the Soviet Union have any success in combating Chinese influence. Only Vietnam, which joined the Soviet bloc economic group, COMECON, in June and concluded a Treaty of Peace and Friendship with the Soviet Union in November, seemed to provide a secure basis for Soviet influence in the region.
Whereas in Africa and Latin America Western powers are still vulnerable to the charge that they are dominant powers maintaining a historic position of privilege, in East Asia - where the Western powers, after much blood and tears, have largely liquidated their historic position - it is the Soviet Union that is vulnerable to this charge. The Soviet Union, its Asian nationalities now increasing demographically in relation to the rest of the population and unlikely to remain immune to the stirrings of separatist sentiment, can be viewed as the last colonial power. Further, the U.S.S.R. faces unsatisfied territorial demands from the two largest states indigenous to the region - Japan and China - which are now drawing together. China, in particular, seeks to mobilize against the Soviet Union the sentiment of Asian peoples against "unequal treaties" and outside interference.
In the Middle East President Carter had his most dramatic success of the year - the September Camp David agreements. These agreements helped establish the President's authority in the conduct of foreign policy, which earlier in the year had been much questioned, and immensely strengthened his position in Congress and the nation. Even if the Camp David agreements do not lead to an Arab-Israeli settlement or even to an enduring Egyptian-Israeli peace, their historic importance in opening up new diplomatic avenues is not in doubt. There is, however, some question whether in seeming to solve certain of the problems of Arab-Israeli relations they do not make more difficult the solution of others.
The policy consummated at Camp David was in important respects a reversal of that which the Carter Administration had developed in relation to the Middle East in 1977. At that time the emphasis had been upon the pursuit of a comprehensive - all parties, all questions - solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, by way of a reconvening of the Geneva Conference that met in the aftermath of the October 1973 war, and upon working toward such an objective in tandem with the Soviet Union, as proclaimed in the October 1977 Soviet-American Joint Statement. The attempt to reconvene the Geneva Conference had not got off the ground when in November 1977 President Sadat's historic visit to Jerusalem, followed by Prime Minister Begin's return visit to Ismailia, created the possibility of advancing the cause of peace through the unprecedented route of direct, bilateral negotiations on the most fundamental issues between Egypt and Israel.
American policy then shifted toward seeking to bring these negotiations to a conclusion - through diplomatic intercession as at the December 1977 Cairo conference, the visits of Sadat and Begin to Washington, and the July 1978 Leeds Castle conference; through pressure brought to bear on Israel to make a more generous response, as in the May 1978 vote of Congress endorsing sales of military aircraft to Egypt and Saudi Arabia along with Israel; and, finally, when the Egyptian-Israeli talks seemed to have foundered, by President Carter's inviting Sadat and Begin to Camp David. The United States was in effect returning to Mr. Kissinger's policy of 1973-75, a "step by step" approach to an Arab-Israeli settlement, executed by the United States in relation to the two major parties and leaving the Soviet Union outside.
It may be too simple a view of the Camp David agreements that they are an outline of a separate peace between Egypt and Israel, thinly disguised as the prelude to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli settlement. The link between the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty and the agreement setting out the framework of a wider peace involving Israel's other Arab neighbors and dealing with the West Bank and Gaza is clearly important to President Sadat, so much so that by the end of the year Israeli-Arab negotiations on the Peace Treaty had for the time being broken down on this issue. The United States, given the importance it now attaches to its relations with the Arab states other than Egypt, and especially with Saudi Arabia and Jordan, can hardly cease to interest itself in the Palestinian issue or the issue of Israel's northern and eastern frontiers. Nevertheless, it is clear that the connection between the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and the comprehensive settlement is at best a loose and uncertain one.
For Israel, the gains in being relieved of the threat from the strongest of its neighbors - if this is indeed the outcome of the separate peace - are obvious. Israel will acquire a new freedom of diplomatic maneuver, including a freedom to deal with its other neighbors in its own way. For Egypt, too, on some interpretations, a separate peace, suitably disguised, is a sufficient objective. Under Sadat's leadership, it may be argued, Egypt has been moving for some time toward perceiving itself as primarily an Egyptian state rather than as an Arab state, as it did in the days of President Nasser: there is already a precedent for a separate peace in the armistice agreement Egypt signed in 1973, while Syrian troops were still fighting. Might it not be content to concentrate on its urgent domestic problems, or to turn toward the neighbor that menaces it to the west? Moreover, it may be argued that while an Israeli-Egyptian peace still needs to be completed by a comprehensive settlement, it was only by first breaking the logjam and treating the issues one by one that the wider goal could be approached.
As against this, however, there are certain dangers in the Camp David approach. If Israel is made stronger by the retirement of its principal adversary from the struggle, by the same token Israel's northern and eastern neighbors are made more vulnerable. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was ignored in the Camp David agreements, even though the Palestinian issue was not. It may seem that, deprived of Egypt, Israel's Arab opponents are not likely to present it with any considerable threat. This, however, leaves out of account the uncertainty of Egypt's withdrawal from the struggle and the improvement of its strategic position that would accrue from the regaining of Sinai. It does not take account of the Soviet Union, which is left in a much stronger position to present itself as the champion of Arab radicalism, is resentful at having been excluded from the settlement, and has powerful reasons for undermining it. It also neglects the financial resources of the oil-producing Arab states, the allies of the Arab states in Africa and the Islamic world, and the possibilities of the radicalization of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf states, especially in the light of the likely impact on the region of the cataclysmic events of the last few months of the year in Iran.
The disturbances in Iran dealt a more powerful blow to the existing edifice of U.S. and Western policy than any other developments in 1978. Rioting directed against the Shah's rule grew throughout the year and by September had resulted in the imposition of martial law. By late December a mass movement, bringing together the politically oriented National Front and the religious opposition, and responding to the direction from France of the exiled Shi'ite Muslim Ayatollah Khomeini, who was calling for an Islamic republic and the rejection of Western ways - but composed of diverse elements and uncertain in its ultimate political direction - had shaken the Shah's government to its foundations. Iran was in a state of protracted near-anarchy, with continuous confrontations of demonstrators and troops; oil production had fallen so low that it was being imported; and a mass evacuation of foreigners (a phenomenon now so common as to serve as a symbol of the West's relations with the Third World in the 1970s) was under way. It was not possible to say whether what would eventually emerge from the crisis would be a civilian or a military government, whether or not the Shah would still play any role in it, or what elements of Islamic fundamentalism, Marxist radicalism, or both might lie behind it. It did, however, seem safe to assume that the old order in Iran had gone forever, and that whatever took its place would be very much less amenable to the policies of the West.
Iran under the rule of the Shah had been a keystone in the arch of Western policy. Not only was Iran a major source of oil for the United States, Western Europe and Japan (and the chief source for South Africa and Israel), an influence for moderation among the oil-producing countries and the object of a massive transfer of goods and technology purchased with petrodollars. It had also been built up by Presidents Nixon and Ford as a source of stability in the region, a regional hegemonic power on whom the local wardenship of Western interests could be devolved: not only in the Persian Gulf (where the mantle was passed to Iran after Britain's 1971 withdrawal) but in South Asia and (as demonstrated in the Ethiopian-Somali conflict earlier in 1978) in the Horn of Africa. Not only because of its own weight but also because of its pivotal position in the Islamic world, Iran was a major element in the world power balance, whose shift out of the Western orbit (even if this shift were to prove only partial and was not a shift into the orbit of the Soviet Union) was bound to have profound repercussions.
President Carter did not fashion the policy of building upon the Shah, but inherited it and applied it, and does not seem to have critically examined it. The arms transfers to Iran continued with only minor modifications, the human rights policy was not allowed to become an obstacle, and in January Tehran was favored with a presidential visit. When the crisis flared to major proportions the President himself and Secretary Vance (in common with British Prime Minister Callaghan) made strong statements in support of the Shah, which will now complicate the business of coming to terms with a successor government. There were complaints in Washington at the failure of the intelligence services to provide warning about the lack of stable foundations for the Shah's Iran, into which the Western countries had poured such a vast quantity of material resources and upon which it had built such extravagant hopes. But that the whole unwieldy structure was built on sand and not on rock should not have been difficult to see; it is not as if this were the first time stability had been wrongly imputed to a congenial government in the Third World.
The Soviet Union is now well placed to be a beneficiary of these developments. Even before the emergence of the crisis in Iran, it had been strengthening its position in the surrounding region. The April coup in Afganistan established a pro-Soviet government in that country, which at once led to fears that it would stimulate Pathan and Baluchi risings in Pakistan. The June coup in Aden established a pro-Soviet communist government in South Yemen. Turkey under Prime Minister Ecevit moved in a neutralist direction during the year, and in June concluded a non-aggression treaty with Moscow. The Ethiopian victories against the Somalis and Eritreans in the spring, brought about with Soviet and Cuban assistance, appeared to secure Soviet influence, at least for the time being, across the Red Sea. Syria and Iraq, in part reacting against the Camp David agreements, were drawing close to Moscow. The political earthquake in Iran, and the shocks emanating from it that will soon be felt in the Persian Gulf states and in Saudi Arabia, will provide new opportunities.
The Soviet Union, however, cannot be held responsible for having brought about the changes in Iran, and has no more reason than the West to look forward to an Iran committed to Islamic fundamentalism. The basic problem for Western policy is to understand the changes taking place in Iran and make appropriate adjustments to them, and this problem would have to be faced even if the Soviet Union did not exist. What is so arresting about the changes in Iran is that they represent not a bourgeois revolt against a traditionalist autocracy or a socialist revolt against capitalism or a nationalist revolt against colonialism but - at least on the face of it - a religious and traditionalist revolt against modernization. We do not yet know, however, whether this is a total or only a partial rejection of modernization, whether it represents simply a Luddite phase that will quickly pass or an enduring development, or whether it expresses mainly local factors or the wider contemporary revival of Islam.
President Carter's main thrust in relation to the South was to seek to make a new effort to come to terms with the revolt of the Third World countries against Western domination: harking back to Franklin D. Roosevelt's anti-imperialism and Good Neighbor policies and to John F. Kennedy's efforts to forge closer links with nonaligned governments, Carter sought to alter the perception of the United States as a power hostile to change, especially in Latin America and black Africa.
This policy was advanced - or, in any event, a crushing defeat of it was averted - when the Senate in March and April ratified the Panama Canal treaties, which had been signed by President Carter in September 1977, thus at last bringing to a conclusion the process of negotiation that President Lyndon B. Johnson had opened with Panama 14 years previously. For all the provisions in the treaties ensuring American management of the Canal Zone until the end of the century and rights to protect its neutrality in perpetuity, the assurances of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that America's strategic interests in the waterway would be enhanced, and the claim of President Carter that Theodore Roosevelt himself would have endorsed the treaties, they have not made America's position in the Canal secure, for this is beyond the power of any treaties to accomplish. While they provide the American public with the illusion that things will not basically be changed, they do not satisfy the demands of the Panamanians, who are now most likely to focus on the revision of the treaties and the reopening of the issue. But the American public would hardly have settled for less; while President Carter, whose investment of time and attention in the Panama treaties issue was much criticized at the time, at least prevented what would have been a catastrophe for his Latin American policy and brought America past one milestone on the long road to adjustment to the post-colonial era.
The Carter Administration's new "affirmative" policy toward black Africa, in part the overflow into foreign affairs of America's own civil rights revolution, was pursued vigorously in a year that saw the first state visit to black Africa by an American President (when Carter visited Nigeria in April), Ambassador Andrew Young's daring speeches at the United Nations and elsewhere early in the year (he became progressively less vocal as time wore on), the resolute pressing of the Anglo-American proposals for a Rhodesian settlement, the policy of working with the U.N. majority toward elections in Namibia, and the implementation of the U.N. arms embargo against South Africa. Yet it was clear that the policy was running into heavy weather.
Part of the difficulty arose from Soviet and Cuban intervention in Africa. The Carter Administration had been insistent that African issues should be viewed on their own merits and not simply as part of the East-West conflict. But if the Soviet Union and Cuba introduced an East-West element into the African equation, could the United States afford to ignore it?
On the one hand, there were those who argued, as Kissinger had done in relation to the Angolan civil war in 1975, that Soviet intervention in Africa needed to be met by some form of counterintervention, direct or indirect. But the Soviet Union and Cuba, in backing Ethiopia against the Somali incursion into the Ogaden and in supporting the Ethiopian government against the Eritrean separatists, were intervening at the request of an incumbent government and within the consensus of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in favor of the preservation of existing frontiers. Had Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia after the latter withdrew its forces from the Ogaden it seems possible that some action might have been taken: Iran and Saudi Arabia warned Ethiopia that they would not stand by if Somalia were attacked, but this did not transpire.
At the other extreme there were those who argued that no response to the Soviet Union and Cuba was called for, since the more they intervened in Africa, the more they would get bogged down in their own Vietnams and defeat their own objectives. This argument, however, assumed that the Soviet or Cuban intervention would take the crass and insensitive form it had taken in a number of interventions by Western powers. It was, of course, possible that the Soviet Union and Cuba would outstay their welcome in Africa, and come to be perceived as having stepped into the shoes of the colonialists and neocolonialists. This, after all, is how they were already perceived in Egypt and Somalia, which together with Zaire and Cambodia attacked Soviet intervention in Africa at the Non-Aligned Conference in Belgrade in July. But this was not the predominant perception in black Africa.
The Carter Administration reacted strongly in verbal terms against Soviet and Cuban policy. As noted above, it drew attention to the link that American public opinion would make between events in Africa and the SALT issue. It supported materially the Franco-Belgian intervention in the Shaba province of Zaïre - which, however, can hardly be regarded as counterintervention inasmuch as Cuban involvement in the operation was doubtful. But it did not endorse any form of direct or indirect counterintervention, nor in the end endorse the proposal for a pan-African intervention force, outside the framework of the OAU, that was discussed by West European officials at a meeting in Paris in June.
The weakness of the Western powers in Africa is that, because of the historic position they have inherited as former colonial powers, as current "neocolonial" powers and as mainstays of the white supremacist governments, it is against them that African nationalist movements have been and still are principally directed. The strength of the Soviet Union is that (in contrast to its position in Asia) it has no historical entanglement in Africa, and is free to ally itself with the forces opposing colonialism, neocolonialism and white supremacy, which it correctly judges to be the winning side. In the view of most African states and movements it is the Western powers - through their de facto support of South Africa and Rhodesia, their predominant economic (and, in the case of some francophone territories, military) presence, their continued resort to military action in defense of citizens, as in the Franco-Belgian action - that even today are the prime intervenors in African affairs, and the Soviet Union and its Cuban ally that are the counterintervenors.
The primary objective of Western powers in Africa, as the Carter Administration has seen, should be to disengage themselves from their support of positions of dominance and to come to terms with African nationalism. Soviet intervention complicates the achievement of this objective, but does not make it any less primary. It is by pressing on toward the fashioning of a new relationship with black Africa - and not by counterinterventionary operations against the Soviets mounted in disregard of African opinion - that the Western powers can in the long run best protect those economic and strategic interests in Africa which Soviet bloc activities now threaten.
Coming to terms with black Africa, however, is a policy that is easier to recommend than to carry out. The Western societies, which have to be brought to accept this policy by such visionaries as President Carter and Ambassador Young, are societies in which there is a keen awareness of present strategic and economic interests well served by a southern Africa constituted as it is now, and in which there is as much or more willingness to empathize with white kith and kin in southern Africa as with black nationalism. The African nationalist movements with which these Western societies are asked to come to terms, moreover, are not the opposition parties hoping to come to power in Westminster systems that Harold Macmillan had in mind when (in the prototype statement of the policy of President Carter) he told the South African Parliament that it must face "the winds of change," but are Marxist guerrillas. The cost of coming to terms with African nationalism may have to be measured not only in strategic and economic terms but also in terms of an affront to Western values. It is one thing to demand an end to the white monopoly of power in the name of "No Independence before Majority Rule" in Rhodesia, U.N.-supervised elections in Namibia or full political rights for all South Africans, but another to do so simply on the grounds that a particular armed group or combination of such groups seems bound to win.
Toward the world as a whole President Carter continued to project the vision of a new world order: in place of Kissinger's starting-point of the national interest there was a return to ideological objectives; in place of the negative ideological objective of anti-communism there was the positive one of the promotion of American values; in place of the older values of American liberal internationalism - the rights of states and of nations - there was a new emphasis on the rights of individual human beings.
President Carter's human rights policy was said to have been relegated to a lower priority after the enthusiasm of his early months in office, but in 1978 it remained prominent in American foreign policy, helping to draw the United States closer to the West and further away from the East (as a consequence of the Belgrade conference reviewing the Helsinki Accords) and from certain states in the South (where Uganda, Cambodia, Chile and Nicaragua were special targets of American criticism).
It now appears that President Carter's human rights policy has in certain respects strengthened his position in foreign policy. It has helped to restore in the American public self-respect and a sense of purpose in the world. It has provided the United States with an effective ideological weapon with which to strike back against its critics in the Socialist countries and in the Third World. It has provided a rationale for distancing the United States from unsavory governments with which it had long been associated, or at least from those of them with which the association was judged to be sufficiently unimportant.
At a deeper level President Carter's human rights offensive is an attempt to take account of the fact that the world political system is no longer a mere system of states: America's foreign relations are relations not only with governments, but with non-state groups and individuals in all societies - societies, moreover, which are nowhere static but everywhere in flux and open to the influence of outside ideologies. It is difficult to quarrel with the view that the United States should not stand by while others promote their values but should seek to make its own imprint on the process.
President Carter's policy, however, proceeds from the premise that other societies are awakening to a desire for human rights as these are understood in the West. "The basic thrust of human affairs," Carter said in his address to the United Nations in March 1977, "points to a more universal demand for basic human rights." One of his constant themes is that by embracing the human rights policy the United States is swimming with the tide rather than against it. It is true that much of the emphasis of President Carter's policy is upon very elementary rights, belief in the validity of which is widely shared - such as the right not to be arbitrarily arrested, tortured or imprisoned without trial. It is also true that President Carter has sought to base his condemnation of the behavior of governments on legal instruments to which they are parties rather than on subjective moral judgments. Nevertheless, the policy clearly springs from a belief in the universal validity of human rights as they are understood in the United States, especially the civil and political rights of individuals. Less attention is paid to collective rights, and to economic and social rights, which outside the Western world have provided the primary focus of interest in this subject. It is notable that in 1978, when virtually no progress took place on North-South economic differences, the United States did relatively little in the field of development assistance to demonstrate a continuing commitment to human rights in the economic domain.
As to whether or not non-Western societies will in the long run turn toward human rights as we understand them, all that can be said now is that we do not know. What we do know is that in the short run there is much evidence - in the revival of Islam, in the resurgence of traditionalist forces that (perhaps more than faith in democracy) lay behind the victory of the Janata in India, in the ascendancy of ethnic loyalties in Africa - that the move is away from Western values rather than toward them. If this is so, the achievement of President Carter's goals of détente with the East and accommodation with the South will be greatly complicated by the continued prominence given in his foreign policy to the human rights theme. Of course, if we really think that the rights we cherish in the West are universally valid, and are the entitlement of every human being from China to Peru, we are bound to strive for this goal even though the tide at present may run against us. The hardest question to answer about human rights is whether we really hold it to be a truth that all men have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; it is certainly not self-evident.
The most important development affecting American foreign policy in 1978 was not the Soviet military buildup, nor the economic troubles of the Western world, nor the new promise at least of distant peace between Israel and its neighbors, nor the apparently still inexorable movement toward racial war in southern Africa, nor even the problem posed to Western oil supplies by instability in Iran and its neighbors. It was instead, the emergence of Teng Hsiao-ping's China, committed not only to a continuation of the conflict with the Soviet Union but also to the consolidation of closer ties with America, Europe and Japan.
This development is, of course, highly favorable to the interests of the Western powers as these are now perceived. In America, as so many times before, the events in China have given rise to a certain euphoria - based not, like the post-Vietnam China euphoria, on the attraction exerted by a country that embodied the rejection of American society and all it stood for, but this time on the attraction of a country apparently wanting to move toward the American model. But while there is every reason to welcome the present developments in China and to respond to them as America and its allies have done, there are certain dangers in the present trend.
One is that the Soviet Union, thinking itself faced with a coalition against it of all the other major centers of power in the world, will feel driven into a corner and be tempted to turn to desperate remedies. It will soon experience a change of leadership and a reappraisal of its foreign policy, and there is no reason to doubt the seriousness or the sincerity of the fears it has expressed about Western alignment with China. The Soviet Union is still a superpower, and the maintenance of cooperation with the other superpower in guarding the nuclear peace is still the first priority for American foreign policy.
There is also a need to maintain some reserve about the role of China itself. Poor countries which set out to acquire the sinews of the West have often done so in order to confront it. Chinese society - and Chinese foreign policy - have undergone some dramatic changes in recent years, and may do so again. Rapprochement between China and Japan, widely and rightly welcomed in America and Europe, has often been something of a specter to the Western imagination, and taken in conjunction with the economic tensions between Japan and other Western countries, it is not fanciful to consider that the present rapprochement may prove an ultimate source of difficulty.
In the course of 1978 the overall balance of power between the Western powers and the Soviet Union appears to have become less stable, a radical shift in either direction more possible. Ironically, the conviction grew on each side that a shift was taking place in favor of the other. In the West the fears focused upon the growth of Soviet military power and upon the new opportunities opening up for the extension of Soviet influence in Western Asia and Africa. What concerns the Soviet Union was the evidence that a new grand alliance was in process of formation between Moscow's most powerful adversaries - the United States, Western Europe and Japan - and its most implacable enemy, China.
None of this means that an actual upset of the balance of power has become any less improbable. The developments that each side fears tend to compensate one another, and the factors working against the preponderance of any one power or group of powers in the present world are formidable. But sudden and drastic changes in the present distribution of power have become more likely, and fears of them on both sides are already a fact.
We know that it is in the atmosphere created by such fears that extreme views come to sound plausible, and standard rules of the game to be brushed aside. In 1978 both the American and Soviet leadership managed still to conduct their relations according to the admittedly still vague and uncertain rules of the adversary/partnership. In 1979 the pressures upon them to do otherwise are likely to be stronger.