All the Tsar’s Men
Why Mobilization Can’t Save Putin’s War
By the autumn of 1921 the United States was settling into the postwar era. The conservative Republican administration of Warren G. Harding was taking hold. The Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations had been repudiated by the U.S. Senate. Isolationism was beginning, although the term had not yet been coined.
A number of influential Americans regretted the U.S. refusal to join the League. They believed that one reason for the turn against Wilsonian internationalism was public ignorance not only about the League, but about international affairs in general. This was the background to the formation in July 1921 of the new Council on Foreign Relations. The founding fathers, so to speak, convened in New York City: the honorary president was Elihu Root, a former secretary of state and secretary of war; the president was John W. Davis, a Wall Street lawyer who would run for president of the United States as a Democrat in 1924 against Calvin Coolidge. It was the secretary and treasurer, Edwin F. Gay, former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Business and president of The New York Evening Post, who took the lead in urging that the Council publish its own journal.
In January 1922 Gay approached his Harvard colleague, Archibald Cary Coolidge, a distinguished scholar in Russian studies, with the proposition that "you are the man best fitted to act as editor of this publication." Coolidge had served on the American delegation to the Paris peace conference. Gay also recruited as managing editor Hamilton Fish Armstrong, a young Princeton graduate who had broken into journalism as special correspondent in eastern Europe.
Coolidge was distantly related to the new vice president, Calvin Coolidge, and some who had known the professor in Europe got a little mixed up. A Berlin newspaper commented that the vice president was actually better qualified for leadership than Harding, because of his distinguished academic credentials. Vice President Coolidge took arch delight in forwarding to Professor Coolidge a congratulatory letter from a Hungarian countess who requested that, as vice president, he could make England pay certain claims to her family.
Professor Coolidge stipulated that he would edit the magazine from Cambridge, while Armstrong in New York would oversee the publication. Coolidge also prevailed upon the Council to establish a small endowment to guarantee that the magazine would be published for at least five years. Armstrong estimated that circulation might reach 2,500 during the first year (it turned out to be closer to 5,000).
The first issue appeared in the fall of 1922, dated September 15. On the cover was the original subtitle: An American Quarterly Review, and the original colophon, a man on horseback with the watchword "ubique," meaning everywhere. The issue cost $1.25, and included an editorial statement drafted by Coolidge:
In pursuance of its ideals Foreign Affairs will not devote itself to the support of any one cause, however worthy. Like the Council on Foreign Relations from which it has sprung, it will tolerate wide differences of opinion.
Through the years Coolidge, Armstrong and their successors published authors ranging from Leon Trotsky to W.E.B. DuBois, to Franklin D. Roosevelt, Richard M. Nixon and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
In the first issue the president emeritus of Harvard, Charles W. Eliot, wrote an article urging that the United States join the League immediately, and Coolidge struggled over an assessment of Russia’s international position. "By sitting up till two o’clock for the last couple of evenings," the scholarly editor advised his journalist deputy, "I have managed to get theoretically to the end of my Russian article. The last paragraph is a mess."
A copy of that first issue was sent to a representative of the Red Cross in Russia, who passed it to Karl Radek, one of the leading Bolsheviks, who in turn gave it to Lenin himself. The first Bolshevik leader annotated and underlined passages in the journal, mainly economic statistics. Radek eventually returned the annotated copy to the Council’s library in New York City. Seventy years later it was shown to Mikhail Gorbachev, who remarked upon the ill fate that eventually befell Radek—shot in 1938.
We chose not to remind Gorbachev that Foreign Affairs had also published articles by Trotsky, then in exile, and Nikolai Bukharin, before he was purged. In 1959 Armstrong published an article by Nikita Khrushchev, entitled "On Peaceful Coexistence," and in Spring 1992 Foreign Affairs published an essay by the first foreign minister of the post?communist Russian Republic, Andrei Kozyrev.
For all the attention to the Soviet Union the clear focus of the journal’s initial decade was on broad questions of the struggle for European security. Preoccupation with reparations and war debts received major coverage. Amid all the pious hopes for a more peaceful world in the early pages of Foreign Affairs, Coolidge warned in October 1925 that sooner or later German demands would have to be accommodated. That first decade of the journal was, in fact, a tragic decade, ending with the Great Depression that drove America further into isolation and opened the way for Adolf Hitler in Europe.
Hamilton Fish Armstrong succeeded to the editorship after Coolidge’s death in 1928. His view of Europe was optimistic, but the journal conveyed a consistent foreboding about Asia. Several articles, some by Japanese authors, warned of Japan’s discontent with the postwar settlement and its humiliation by the restrictive American immigration laws. Once the Manchurian crisis broke in 1931?32, Foreign Affairs gave Henry L. Stimson, secretary of state for President Hoover, a forum for explaining his policy of nonrecognition of territorial gains from aggression. A. Lawrence Lowell, the president of Harvard, warned against interpreting the Kellogg?Briand pact as a basis for intervention.
By the end of the journal’s first full decade, in the fall of 1932, the hopes of the mid?1920s had expired and the world faced the grim realities of the Depression and the arrival of fascism and militarism in both Europe and Asia. Walter Lippmann, writing in the tenth anniversary issue of Foreign Affairs, summed up the failure of liberal internationalism:
Ten years ago, when this journal was founded, mankind had just been made acutely conscious of the need of more dependable international government. At Paris, in the winter of 1919, drastic reforms in the organization of international society were instituted and certain ideals were proclaimed towards which, it was hoped and believed, mankind would advance. . . . In the perspective of a tumultuous decade it is possible now to examine that philosophy and with the hindsight of experience to see how ephemeral were many of the cardinal ideas with which men tried to promote a better international order.
A plaintive footnote to history came in this same issue, an accounting by Leo Pasvolsky that showed the United States was still owed about $20 billion in war debt, a debt never to be repaid.
The United States was becoming a "hermit nation," in Gay’s phrase. Congress escaped further into isolation with the passage of several neutrality laws between 1935 and 1937. For all the popular sentiment in favor of such legislation, the editor of Foreign Affairs, along with his co?author, Allen Dulles, then a practicing lawyer, concluded that laws on neutrality were not enough:
As a guaranty that we shall be able to keep out of war it is entirely inadequate. . . . International trouble?makers are trying to convince themselves that the United States will never do more than give lip service to the cause of peace, that it would not be a factor to be reckoned with unless it were directly attacked. They believe that they can count on a passivity which, as history and current observation show, is quite alien to the American temper. The question is, how can we make them aware of this, and do it effectively and in time?
The United States did not in fact make its weight felt, and Hitler kept to his inexorable march toward war. The "armistice at Munich," as Armstrong described it, proved a failure. In a long 94?page appraisal, published just three months after the agreement, Armstrong wrote of appeasement:
Might not Mr. Chamberlain have done better to adopt a motto implying more reciprocity than ‘appeasement’?. . . Would a bolder choice of the sort of a world in which Englishmen have traditionally shown that they do positively like to live, rather than acquiescence in the idea that they must live in a different sort of world ‘whether they like it or not,’ have won the former and staved off the latter? The possibility is suggestive for Americans who see some such eventual choice before them too.
Hermann Rauschning, a former colleague of Hitler’s who had broken loose, summed up the inevitability of war:
Compromise, for National Socialism, is death. The alternatives facing it were and are total success or total capitulation. One or the other. Any retreat abroad would at once create difficulties at home that would lead to the regime’s collapse. From it, then, one could and can expect nothing but an unwavering advance along the road on which it set out—the road to hegemony over Europe and to world revolution.
Finally, on the very eve of the Blitzkrieg against France, journalist Dorothy Thompson, confessing her "frustrated love" for Germany, wrote at length of the German character and concluded that:
Germany is greater than Hitler esteems her to be and Russia is greater than Stalin esteems her. One cannot avoid recognizing that the West confronts the greatest danger in her whole history. . . . The West must save itself from destruction. Its awakening may accompany or follow the war. It has not yet come. But we who love the West, and yearn for a Germany integrated with the West, have faith that it will.
Prophetic words indeed, though they took decades to come about. Ms. Thompson’s faith was eventually justified. Germany would be integrated into Europe, and Russia would finally surmount Stalinism.
The twentieth anniversary of Foreign Affairs found America deep into World War II. Hanson W. Baldwin, military correspondent for The New York Times, summed up the situation after Pearl Harbor:
In less than 90 days the strategic picture of the war had been considerably altered. The United Nations had suffered their worst defeats since the fall of France. As spring approached, the short?range prospects were grim. The Japanese attack . . . enlarged the theater of military operations from a continent to the world. . . . In the fullest sense it is total war.
After the victory it was fear of losing the peace that began to preoccupy Western statesmen. Mr. Armstrong, still the editor of Foreign Affairs, had witnessed the Versailles experience at firsthand and warned against a repetition:
The generation which had fought and won [World War I] after comprehending so much in detail, committed the sin of comprehending nothing in the large; and, after performing so many brave and unselfish deeds, committed the sin of failing to insist that they be carried to their logical end. . . . Will the children now go and sin likewise?. . . We from the last generation can tell them, however, how it was done last time, and we can pray that this time they will not miss the chance to use their victory.
Unfortunately the use of victory was stymied by the beginning of the Cold War, though this was not clearly perceived outside the narrow circles of official Washington. And a new dimension of conflict arose to fill the pages of Foreign Affairs for decades to come: the control of atomic weapons.
The hope that this terrible new weaponry could somehow be restricted by an international covenant was emphasized, for example, by Caryl P. Haskins, who wrote in 1946 that "international control of atomic energy is the surpassingly important objective of this nation’s foreign policy." Allen Dulles, veteran of World War II intelligence, argued in a similar vein, though more skeptically, in January 1947 in his article "Disarmament in the Atomic Age." And Stimson wrote that "the riven atom, uncontrolled, can only be a growing menace to us all." The other side of these pleas was an evolving body of theory on how these awesome weapons might be used in warfare, and more soberly, how they might constitute a deterrent against war itself.
A defining moment of the postwar era came in 1947, with the decision of the Truman administration to launch the Marshall Plan and institute the Truman Doctrine. Washington was shifting to the offensive in an effort to counter the inroads of Soviet power in Europe. The policy reflected the analysis and prescriptions of George F. Kennan, who elucidated what came to be known as the policy of containment. This concept surfaced in a Foreign Affairs article, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," published in July 1947. Since Mr. Kennan was at that time a member of the State Department’s policy planning staff, he preferred to publish under a pseudonym, "X." His identity was quickly revealed by The New York Times, but for many years the Foreign Affairs editors refused to confirm the name of the author.
The article was a landmark for Foreign Affairs: no other article has been as widely read or extensively quoted. Over the years Mr. Kennan came to believe that his concept had been misinterpreted and misapplied as a doctrine of miliary containment of the Soviet Union, whereas he meant to stress a geopolitical concept. In his memoirs published in 1967 he noted that "it was a doctrine that lost much of its rationale with the death of Stalin and with the development of the Soviet?Chinese conflict. I emphatically deny the paternity of any efforts to invoke that doctrine today in the situation to which it has, and can have, no proper relevance."
Kennan was hardly alone in his appreciation of the Soviet threat. In that very same issue of Foreign Affairs the British diplomatic historian, Sir Charles K. Webster, surveying the historical process of peacemaking, wrote about the problem of dealing with Russia and the Soviet Union:
Today peace depends on finding the method by which the Soviet Union, with these bitter memories and with a different scale of values from that of her western Allies, can be induced to accept cooperation rather than conflict. If the experience of 1914?15 is of any value, it goes to show that only a continuation of resistance to undue Russian demands combined with an acceptance of the special claims which history has taught Russia justly to consider fundamental is likely to yield satisfactory results.
Judicious advice gave way to the urgency of the crisis in Europe. The editor of Foreign Affairs, having returned from his annual visit to Europe, reminded his readers that while America worried about the atomic bomb and strategic doctrines, Europe’s preoccupation was plain and simple:
When you are as worried as Europe is about the bare essentials of existence, you are not much interested in ideas. As for the atom bomb, it is comprehended in Europe even less than in America.
In the period that followed the "X" article the Cold War added a long list of byproducts for Foreign Affairs readers, who had to cope with a new alphabet—NATO, SEATO, IMF—and new areas of concern as the Cold War widened beyond eastern Europe. One could still find familiar authors—Hanson W. Baldwin, Barbara Ward Jackson, Raymond Sontag, Henry M. Wriston—but also new ones—Henry Kissinger, John C. Campbell, A. M. Rosenthal—and some world leaders—Paul?Henri Spaak, Lester B. Pearson, Félix Houphouët?Boigny, Habib Bourguiba.
On the occasion of its thirty?fifth anniversary, Foreign Affairs was treated to praise in the press. The New York Times wrote:
The plain blue?gray covers of that publication are recognized throughout the world as containing authoritative articles on every aspect of international relations, contributed by leading statesmen, politicians, thinkers and writers from the four corners of the globe. . . . Hamilton Fish Armstrong . . . can look on his work with deep satisfaction; and the Council on Foreign Relations, publisher of Foreign Affairs, can take well?justified pride in this constantly recurring contribution to American scholarship.
If 1947 was a watershed, then 1957 also qualified as a turning point. It was the year of Sputnik, and it was the start of a long bitter crisis that ended with the most hair?raising confrontation over Cuba, where 42 Soviet missiles were deployed in secret in the fall of 1962.
On the very eve of that confrontation Foreign Affairs marked its fortieth anniversary. In a lead article Mr. Armstrong, drawing on his own personal experience, compared the situation in late 1962 with that of 40 years earlier. Among the new factors he noted that the United States had returned to normal relations with its former enemies much earlier; that there was also in existence a much stronger international organization, the United Nations, and, above all, American policy had shifted from the "static to the active, from the conservative to the creative." Considering the crisis that was about to break, Mr. Armstrong offered a pertinent observation:
Of course the fundamental change for American diplomacy was that this time the American people as a whole, looking at the world with eyes opened by a second terrible experience, saw that their interests and responsibilities reached to every part of it. This meant that their leaders could enter without hesitation into a policy of active international cooperation; and with the public behind them, they did so. . . . Without steady public backing, a Truman, Eisenhower or Kennedy could not have pursued a strong foreign policy, and if he had tried would have ended like Wilson in frustration.
Armstrong could not know how valid his point would be in the months and years that followed. Strong public support was in some measure crucial to President Kennedy’s masterful handling of the Cuban missile crisis. In October 1962 there were no demonstrations, no political hectoring by the opposition party on television, no congressional waffling. But when that same public endorsement faltered in the 1960s, the Vietnam War turned into a political disaster for Kennedy’s successors.
Vietnam was also a crisis of sorts for Foreign Affairs. By and large ever since Pearl Harbor the editorial content of the journal had seemed in line with the official policy of the United States; to be sure, there were dissenting articles—especially on nuclear affairs—and criticisms—on China policy for example. Vietnam sorely tested the consensus. In a preface to a collection of Foreign Affairs articles, written several years later, the editors noted that: "The ‘credit’ for the movement to discredit the Vietnam War must go largely to those American liberal intellectuals who began fairly early to register their discontent with their country’s involvement in Southeast Asia." The problem was aptly summed up in Foreign Affairs by Irving Kristol in July 1967:
Our intellectuals are moving toward a significant ‘confrontation’ with the American ‘establishment’ and will do nothing to strengthen the position of their antagonist. Which is to say that the American intellectual class actually has an interest in thwarting the evolution of any kind of responsible and coherent imperial policy.
But for any imperial policy to work effectively ... it needs intellectual and moral guidance. It needs such guidance precisely because, in foreign affairs, one is always forced to compromise one’s values. In the United States today, a relative handful of intellectuals proffers such guidance to the policymaker. But the intellectual community en masse, disaffected from established power . . . feels no such sense of responsibility. It denounces, it mocks, it vilifies.
The domestic crisis worsened. In early 1968 the Tet offensive shocked the nation; it led to Lyndon Johnson’s decision to withdraw from the presidential contest in an effort to promote a peaceful resolution in Vietnam. Clark Clifford became secretary of defense in March. In the election campaign of 1968 Nixon suggested that he would find a way to end the war. His soon?to?be?named national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, wrote of the improbability of a military victory and the advisability of a negotiated settlement, with the United States discussing the military issue and the Vietnamese discussing the political problems. But Kissinger also argued for continuing military pressures while negotiating.
After he had left office Clifford wrote for Foreign Affairs, outlining a solution. He argued that predictions of progress and of military success had proved "illusory." His prescription boiled down to an initial withdrawal of 100,000 American troops in an effort to convince the Saigon government that South Vietnamese forces would have to bear the brunt of the fighting. Clifford concluded, "Let us start to bring our men home—and let us start now."
American forces indeed began to withdraw, but there was no settlement until January 1973. By then Vietnam had become more and more subordinate to the transformation of Great Power relations: between the United States and China, and between Moscow and Washington. Nevertheless, upon his retirement as editor after 44 years, Mr. Armstrong wrote with bitterness in his final article:
The war in Vietnam has been the longest and in some respects the most calamitous war in our history. It has rent the American people apart, spiritually and politically. It is a war which has not been and could not be won, a war which was pushed from small beginnings to an appalling multitude of horrors, many of which we have become conscious of only by degrees. The methods we have used in fighting the war have scandalized and disgusted public opinion in almost all foreign countries.
Not since we withdrew into comfortable isolation in 1920 has the prestige of the United States stood so low.
Mr. Armstrong’s frustration was understandable. His generation had witnessed the disaster of isolation and appeasement in the 1920s and 1930s as well as the heroic efforts of World War II and the severe tests of the Cold War. It must have seemed to him that the lessons of international responsibility that he had always pleaded for were being squandered in southeast Asia.
Yet there was a new trend that he, as editor, had sponsored. In 1967 Richard M. Nixon, not yet a candidate, had written of Asia after Vietnam, and had foreshadowed a more conciliatory policy toward China. Given Nixon’s reputation and political alignment this was a small sensation, much discussed after he entered the Oval Office.
The new editor of Foreign Affairs, William P. Bundy, was well equipped to follow the post?Vietnam trends. He had served in various capacities in the U.S. government, and in the Johnson administration as assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern Affairs. Working with him was Mr. Armstrong’s last managing editor, James Chace. In his final article for Foreign Affairs in 1984 Mr. Bundy detailed some of the important elements that he believed characterized the conduct of U.S. foreign policy during his tenure at the journal from mid?1972 to late 1984.
The Middle East, he wrote, was "the foremost area of concern and danger." During Bundy’s editorship Israel and its Arab adversaries fought the 1973 war and the United States worked to negotiate a peace settlement, and later the 1978 Camp David accords with Egypt and Israel. The Iranian Revolution overthrew the pro?American shah, and the anti?Western fundamentalist regime of Ayatollah Khomeini took power, seizing American hostages in a fatal crisis for the Carter administration. In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon and a multinational peacekeeping force slowly withdrew after terrorist attacks on American and French forces.
Bundy supported the U.S. "moral commitment" to Israel, and saw U.S. policy aimed at "getting Israel accepted, settled down and at peace with the Arab world." This was a bipartisan objective that successive presidential administrations pursued with only "minor and tactical" disagreements. It was not U.S. policy, but Arab rejectionism and Israel’s resolve to retain the West Bank and Gaza, that obstructed peace: "The tragedy all along has been that at times when one side might have been ready to compromise, the other was not."
Bundy felt that the fall of the shah and the rise of the Islamic republic was "the greatest single setback for U.S. policy and for stability in the Middle East of these dozen years." A related issue was the oil embargo in 1973: the subsequent quadrupling of oil prices made U.S. energy policy a major issue in the pages of Foreign Affairs. In 1978 Walter J. Levy wrote that oil?consuming nations needed to develop alternate energy sources, and that the United States needed to discourage often wasteful spending by OPEC members on rapid development and military buildups:
We cannot much longer afford a situation in which the importing countries waste a substantial part of their energy while the producing countries waste a substantial part of their oil revenues. In the past we have too often been stymied in our efforts to cope with these problems by entrenched national or private interests on all sides. If we should ultimately fail, this period in our history could truly be characterized as ‘the years that the locust hath eaten.’
The failure of the United States not only to lead the industrialized nations out of the oil crisis, but even to design an effective national energy policy, was a major factor in the "renewed decline of respect abroad for U.S. policy," Bundy concluded.
Also during Bundy’s tenure détente between Moscow and Washington began to die. The coup de grace was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. While he had been skeptical that the Soviets would pass up regional advantages or cancel significant military programs, Bundy argued that congressional opposition had blocked Nixon’s and Kissinger’s détente strategy. The Jackson and Stevenson amendments to the trade act in 1974, linking trade arrangements to Soviet immigration, were "extraordinarily unwise." Forcing the Soviet Union to make internal changes was likely to meet firm resistance.
While the immediate prospects for arms control seemed poor, Bundy argued for seizing the initiative, to avoid destabilizing technological changes and to abandon chimerical searches for strategic advantage, such as the then recently proposed Strategic Defense Initiative. Bundy summed up: "All postwar experience . . . points to the wisdom of a steady intermediate policy that on the one hand recognizes the depth and reality of the rivalry and on the other seeks always to keep the lines of communication open and to negotiate wherever possible."
Another Foreign Affairs author, John Lewis Gaddis, deplored the lack of strategic thinking in U.S. policy, and its harmful effect on containment of the Soviet Union.
We really ought not to go on framing long?term national security policy in response to short?term domestic political expedients, crossing our fingers each time in the hope that the result will relate, in some way, to the external realities we confront, and to our own long?term interests. We ought not to neglect, to the extent that we do, the relationship between national security and the national economy.
The persistence of tension and danger in Third World conflicts prompted considerations of parallels to the Balkans prior to World War I. Miles Kahler’s "Rumors of War: The 1914 Analogy" outlined the perils of minor conflicts accidentally escalating into major wars. The two superpowers, wading warily together into the turbulent political waters of the Third World, risked being washed unintentionally into one another with violent consequences.
Bundy saw the Third World conflicts arising from nationalism and the rejection of colonial rule, and the United States, he wrote, also was going against the nationalist trend, intervening in ignorance of the regional source of troubles, in Panama and Nicaragua. He called for a more historically sensitive approach to regional issues, a forward?looking strategic goal of "regions taking responsibility for their own security. . . . In our hearts we know, especially since Vietnam, that the United States cannot be the world’s policeman or even that of a given region." And he concluded with remarkable prescience:
The whole postwar period has been marked by the ending of colonial or quasi?colonial positions no longer compatible with the ethos of the last 40 years or with the felt power and awakened sentiment of the local and regional nations concerned. In that sense, the Soviet Empire is itself by far the greatest anomaly of all; in the next generation its weakening and possible eventual breakup may become the greatest single source of turbulence the world faces.
One theme that ran through this period was the importance of national economic strength. For Bundy national security and international influence, in the long term, depended as much on relative economic resources and performance, as on comparative military strength. Both the United States and the Soviet Union were ignoring the importance of economic strength, with harmful portent.
Throughout came the perennial tensions between the president and Congress over foreign policy. Bundy wrote:
Over and over again, in this period, Congress has intervened to modify, dictate or obstruct foreign policy actions. . . . One’s view of a particular congressional intervention is heavily influenced by personal preference; each of us could pick out many examples (differing to taste) where Congress has acted usefully. But a great many today would surely agree, at a minimum, that the present system is extraordinarily cumbersome and fragmented.
Bundy argued that greater attention should be paid to foreign service and civil service professionals in government. Despite this emphasis on professionalism, Bundy reiterated the theme that had inspired Foreign Affairs from the beginning: "In the end it is public opinion that defines, and in our democracy must define, the limits of foreign policy and often its specifics."
Finally, in 1984, Bundy forewarned readers of the difficulties they would face after the end of the Cold War: "We have to resign ourselves to the fact that the wartime and postwar consensus was a condition that could only survive so long as the dominant fact of world politics was a major hostile power threatening clearly vital interests already familiar to us."
Less than a year after this summation Mikhail Gorbachev assumed power in the Soviet Union and began a series of initiatives that sooner, rather than later, would bring an end to the Cold War, an end to Soviet communism and, finally, an end to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
In 1984 the editorship of Foreign Affairs changed for the third time: the new editor was William G. Hyland, veteran of successive administration staffs in the State Department and White House, assisted by executive editor Peter Grose, a former correspondent and editorial writer of The New York Times. The years that followed have proved to be a truly revolutionary period in the international politics of the century.
It would be presumptuous to claim that this revolution was foreseen in all its complexities in the pages of Foreign Affairs, but there were ample foreshadowings.
The international political climate was tense in late 1984, as the American people approached yet another national election. Leonid Brezhnev was dead, but his successors had continued the confrontational policies that began in Afghanistan. Superpower relations were further aggravated by the Soviet walkout from arms control negotiations, after NATO had decided to deploy American Pershing II and cruise missiles in Europe. Prospects for any improvement in the situation were discussed by Professor Robert W. Tucker:
An improved relationship between the two great nuclear powers is the precondition of virtually any significant measures of arms control. . . . Thus proposals for very deep cuts in nuclear arms—let alone for the abolition of these weapons—are idle unless they assume a relationship that has in all likelihood passed beyond the stage of a mere détente and has become something more intimate and promising. The prospects for this are such that they seem scarcely worth pausing over.
After President Reagan’s reelection U.S.?Soviet arms talks resumed, mainly because the Soviet leaders were becoming alarmed at the prospect of a domestic crisis combined with a foreign crisis. However, the direction of U.S. policy during Reagan’s second term was the source of continuing debate, centering around the old issue of détente. The division between the conservative right and the moderate center was summarized in Foreign Affairs by Norman Podhoretz, on the one hand, and by Leslie H. Gelb and Anthony Lake, on the other.
Podhoretz argued that Reagan risked abandoning the gains of his first term by making imprudent concessions to restore détente, in an effort to appease public opinion. Reagan "was more politician than ideologue," Podhoretz wrote:
This at least partly explains why Mr. Reagan in his first term failed to steer the nation away from the course of détente on which it had been moving since 1972 and toward a new strategy of containment aimed, just as the original conception of containment had been, at a prudent encouragement of the forces of disintegration already operating entirely on their own within the Soviet empire.
In contrast Gelb and Lake were encouraged by the perceived turnaround in Reagan’s outlook, and supported the resumption of diplomatic efforts, as opposed to what they saw as "an attitude of almost anti?diplomacy" during the first term. They concluded that President Reagan:
is almost uniquely in a position to bring American power to bear and get things accomplished. He has a better chance than any of his post World War II predecessors at quelling opposition from the right. He has succeeded in creating the impression that the United States has turned the tide against the Soviet Union in broad strategic terms.
This impression was reflected in Secretary of State George Shultz’s article in the Spring 1985 issue of Foreign Affairs.
The United States is restoring its military strength and economic vigor and has regained its self?assurance; we have a president with a fresh mandate from the people for an active role of leadership. The Soviets, in contrast, face profound structural economic difficulties and restless allies; their diplomacy and their clients are on the defensive in many parts of the world.
This sense of confidence in American power enabled the Reagan administration to advance new overtures for improving relations, especially bolder arms control proposals. Shultz called for "a strategy geared to long?term thinking and based on negotiation and strength simultaneously." The secretary saw more than the vindication of administration policy, but a broader triumph for Western values, and in an interesting premonitory remark, stated:
After more than a century of fashionable Marxist mythology about economic determinism and the ‘crisis of capitalism’ . . . today, in a supreme irony—it is the communist system that looks bankrupt, morally as well as economically. The West is resilient and resurgent.
For Shultz this Western triumph was manifest in the spread of democracy in Latin America and of free enterprise reforms there and in Africa and Asia. But the full affirmation of classical liberalism was to come a few years later. It was ushered in both intentionally and accidentally by a man whose arrival Shultz heralded as "a fresh opportunity" for the United States and the Soviet Union to approach "constructive possibilities."
The accession of Mikhail Gorbachev in March 1985 was the great watershed. Even at this early date it seemed to outside observers to be an opportunity for change in the Soviet Union:
In Moscow, for the first time, the leadership of the Soviet party has passed to a man born after the Bolshevik revolution. Change is in the air. A new generation is taking power.
Gorbachev’s plans for the Soviet Union were uncertain, even after he began to outline a policy of "perestroika." In any case the constraints on Soviet policy were apparent.
At some point he will have to grapple with strategic realities. One of those realities is that the Soviet Union finds itself beset with problems: a potential explosion in its decaying East European empire; an endless war in Afghanistan; infectious religious fanaticism along its southern borders; vibrant adversaries in China and Japan. . . . The new leaders in Moscow should also recognize that the ‘correlation of forces’ that they so carefully assess is no longer favorable to the Soviet Union.
It was in eastern Europe where the world witnessed the decisive turn toward political liberation in that historic autumn of 1989. As Michael Howard put it, "the springtime of nations" blossomed with the abdication of communist rule across eastern Europe.
In 1989, while the nations of Western Europe celebrated the bicentenary of the French Revolution, the nations of Eastern Europe reenacted it. . . . Whatever happens, the structure of world politics has been changed, and changed irrevocably. The problems that those changes present to our statesmen are urgent and complex, but never has there been a better opportunity—not in 1945, not even in 1918—to construct a new order that will finally defuse Europe as a focus of world conflict.
The last great bastion of communism broke loose. At first observers were optimistic about the reforms in Chinese politics and economics and more moderate cooperative behavior in China’s foreign policy. But, tragically, China would reverse this course with the June 1989 killings at Tiananmen Square and the subsequent nationwide repression. For many Americans, concern over long?term U.S.?China relations was drowned by the flood of outrage at the regime’s brutality. Winston Lord, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations and ambassador to China, sought to balance the passion of American convictions for human rights with the reason of American interests in continued diplomacy.
While we must not condone what has happened and is happening in China, we must not totally isolate the Chinese and rip out all the roots that we have so carefully nurtured. We need to find a way to balance our objectives of expressing near?term censure and holding open long?term cooperation with an enlightened leadership.
By 1990 the Cold War was over. The United States was confronted with the need and opportunity to reexamine its foreign policy. A Foreign Affairs article stated that:
For the past fifty years American foreign policy has been formed in response to the threat posed by this country’s opponents and enemies. In virtually every year since Pearl Harbor, the United States has been engaged either in war or in confrontation. Now, for the first time in half a century, the United States has the opportunity to reconstruct its foreign policy free of most of the constraints and pressures of the Cold War.
It soon became fashionable to argue over the proper "vision," but as America began to reconsider its world role, it was not quite prepared for surprises that defied any carefully crafted foresight.
Saddam Hussein provided one such surprise: the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, and the subsequent deployment of international forces to defend Saudi Arabia recast the debate over America’s global role. Fouad Ajami described the importance of American military power during the crisis.
An old order has passed in the gulf. There is talk of a ‘new political order,’ but no one knows what this new political order might look like. It is clear that there is a great power standing sentry in the gulf—a power that was on the verge of believing that military force is the thing of the past. . . . The skeptics may say that Operation Desert Shield is something of a rent?a?superpower deal. But the American military presence in the peninsula and the gulf and the cobbling of the American?led coalition were the only viable answers to aggression in an order of states that remains anarchic and vulnerable to the assaults of aggressors like Saddam Hussein.
The dominant role for the United States in Desert Storm led to new ideas about America’s place in what President Bush had called "the new world order." Columnist Charles Krauthammer argued that the United States was the unipolar power in the post?Cold War world, and securing international order depended on American leadership.
Compared to the task of defeating fascism and communism, averting chaos is a rather subtle call to greatness. It is not a task we are any more eager to undertake than the great twilight struggle just concluded. But it is just as noble and just as necessary.
In the same issue Michael Mandelbaum wrote that the gulf crisis was an anomaly that distracted attention from the real nature of the new world.
The post?Cold War international agenda is beginning to take shape. It is not likely to be dominated by military confrontations between great nuclear powers, or even by crises like the one in the Persian Gulf. Instead, economic issues will predominate, particularly as formerly communist Europe and countries in other regions move toward market institutions and practices.
This message was echoed by Robert D. Hormats in the Summer 1991 issue.
If America’s economy does falter, so will the underlying source of its international power. Thus this nation’s central foreign policy priority in coming years and its central domestic priority must be the same: strengthening the American economy. Unless the United States reinvigorates in this decade the economic roots of its international power, it risks an erosion of self?confidence and of its international leadership at the turn of the century. With a weak economy and a society in conflict over how to allocate slowly growing resources, this nation would find it increasingly difficult to achieve its essential global objectives.
A dangerous coup in Moscow, followed by its collapse in the face of popular opposition, made for another August surprise in 1991. Like the Roman emperor for which that month was named, Gorbachev sought to transform his country. When Gorbachev emerged from the Politburo struggle for leadership in 1985, Seweryn Bialer wrote, he and his closest advisers realized that their country was stagnating:
but they termed it a ‘pre?crisis situation.’ So although they perceived some crisis of effectiveness in the regime, they did not yet comprehend its depth. They thought the regime only needed reform. Six and a half years later the Soviet Union and Soviet communism were dead.
The official end of the Soviet Union coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It was an odd twist of fate, for it was World War II and the destruction of Japan and Germany that opened the way to the aggressive advances of the U.S.S.R. and its satellites and to the Cold War itself. Now that war also had definitely ended. With that dramatic proclamation on December 8, 1991, in Minsk, America was freed from the threats and fears that had driven its foreign and domestic policies for half a century.
With the end of the major threat to Europe, U.S.?Japan relations and other Asian relationships took on new importance. For years Foreign Affairs had warned about America’s increasingly fragile relationship with Japan. George R. Packard expressed concern over deteriorating relations and called for the formation of a wisemen’s commission of statesmen on each side to develop a plan for improving trade relations, including drafting a "mutual economic security treaty" between the United States and Japan. "If such a treaty could provide freedom from anxieties and paranoia, the entire relationship could move away from the prevailing acrimony toward closer collaboration."
In the Spring 1986 issue Ezra F. Vogel predicted "a pattern of limited and uneven Pax Nipponica." The danger as seen by Vogel and others was that Japan would pursue "neomercantilist objectives." With the end of the Cold War there was a growing appreciation that U.S.?Japan relations were based on obsolete concepts. Richard Holbrooke wrote:
Each side will have to change certain attitudes deeply engraved into their national subconscious in the half century since December 7, 1941. The United States will need to accept a Japan that carries out an independent foreign policy and no longer automatically follows the American lead on international issues. Japan will need to recognize the necessity of true equality of market access between the two nations and avoid the temptation to seek complete domination of the East Asian region. Japan will also have to learn how to treat other nations as equals.
This opinion was reflected by Secretary of State James A. Baker, III, in his overview of U.S. policy toward Asia.
The keystone of our engagement in East Asia and the Pacific is our relationship with Japan. . . . But U.S.?Japan relations have changed profoundly over the past decade. Our dealings have become more equal, and their form and substance must now be adjusted to reflect this reality if we are to address the sources of tension.
As Foreign Affairs celebrates its seventieth anniversary we see some parallels between the 1920s, when the journal was founded, and the 1990s. The United States had participated in a great victory in 1918. Then the nation was challenged to redefine itself, both at home and abroad. Two horrendous choices were made: at home, the progressivism of Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt and the elder LaFollette was rejected in the name of a new prosperity promised by Harding and Coolidge; abroad, the internationalism of Wilson was rejected in favor of a new isolationism.
The first mistake led inexorably to the Great Depression and, with it, untold misery. The second mistake led to World War II and the deaths of millions.
With the collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War, America is in the process of once again redefining itself. We are fortunate that in 1992 there are no Hardings, and that the outcome in this year’s presidential primaries routed any revival of isolationism. Yet, as in the 1920s, the desire to shift priorities from foreign to domestic affairs is also manifest. Finding a workable balance is one of the underlying issues of this presidential campaign.
Important differences distinguish these two periods: in the 1920s there was a superficial optimism; in 1992 there is a pessimism that seems to be more than a passing phase. In the 1920s the country was becoming more urban, more sophisticated, better fed, better educated and seemingly more prosperous. Now for the first time in American history it is an open question whether the next generation of Americans will in fact be better off than their parents.
Seventy years ago it seemed that the good times would never end. The editor of Foreign Affairs wrote in 1923: "The position of America among the nations was imposing. In power and wealth she stood first." Today we debate whether America is in "decline."
In 1924, when Calvin Coolidge carried 35 states to win the presidential election, it seemed that peace and prosperity were permanent conditions. Foreign policy was not even an issue. Just four years later the United States, along with other nations, agreed simply to outlaw war—the Kellogg?Briand pact, which Senator Carter Glass, Democrat of Virginia, called "worthless, but perfectly harmless."
In its determination to turn inward and exorcise the ghosts of the Great War, the United States virtually abandoned any pretense of a serious foreign policy. It cannot afford to do so again.
To be sure, the dangers of the 1990s do not even approximate the threats of the 1930s, or for that matter the more recent risks of the early 1980s. The challenges for American foreign policy may seem rather prosaic, albeit elusive and subtle. They range from places as familiar as Sarajevo, to subjects as novel as global warming. As the pages of this journal have indicated for the past several issues, defining what constitutes a "new world order" will not be as easy as it seemed after the victory in Desert Storm. Surely a crucial step continues to be a critical examination of the issues as the basis for genuine debate. That is where a journal such as this one can still play the role for which it was created.
As the eighth decade of Foreign Affairs begins, there will be another presidential election. It will be the first election since the end of the Cold War. It should be a moment for sober reflection about the nation’s new course, but also a time for some self?congratulation, by the candidates, by the parties, but above all by the American people. The dark age of the world that began on a Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, is finally over.