No factor is more needful of fresh consideration in both the practice and study of American foreign policy than its domestic underpinnings. For despite the recent example of Vietnam, a war that created bitter domestic conflict which itself played back upon the war, the tendency lingers within the foreign-affairs community to frame policy exclusively in terms of the perceived requirements of the international environment. President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger, of course, hope to receive public support. But their plain inclination is less to submit the shaping and executing of foreign policy to the domestic political process than to make what minimal policy adjustments they must in order to keep themselves in control of the policy. For them, this is a matter of constitutional legitimacy as well as diplomatic necessity and, for the President, political advantage.

By students no less than practitioners, the domestic politics of foreign states are regularly acknowledged as relevant to American policy. In the October 1973 issue of Foreign Affairs, for instance, appeared an article entitled "The Domestic Politics of the New Soviet Foreign Policy." Yet in a second and related article, "Toward a Western Philosophy of Coexistence," there was this revealing observation: "it is to the inner politics and the underlying forces operating in the two [Soviet and American] societies that we must look in order to judge the prospects for continuity. . . . The American side of this equation is presumably familiar to our readers; in the following section, we turn to an analysis of the Soviet view. . . ."

But is this presumption of familiarity correct? What is "the American side of this equation?" In brief, what is the politics of détente? An intriguing topic, it tells much about our policy, our country, and the times. And, unless there develops a fuller understanding of the politics of détente, and a wider acceptance of the notion that policy evolves not just out of the world view of statesmen and the craft of diplomats but out of the political process-that is, out of what the country wants-then the prospects for making détente real and firm could be appreciably reduced.


The widely sensed failure of American foreign policy in the 1960s has spurred other institutions of government and broader segments of the public to try to share policy control with the President. Whether the judgment of failure is fair or justified, or whether a new policy-making procedure offers reasonable promise of a better result, is here not the question. What is relevant is that a whole series of events, including Vietnam and Watergate and economic slippage, has eroded the primacy of the President in foreign affairs. He does not receive the traditional deference. He must now, in a measure not seen for at least a generation, cajole, use pressure, deal.

From the vantage point of the White House, the painful irony is that these new exigencies of conducting foreign policy within a strongly political context arise not only from the failure of policy but also from its success. For the progress which Richard Nixon in particular has made in reducing the risks of nuclear war and great-power confrontation, in softening some political issues, and in opening prospects for further political and economic coöperation, has emboldened policy critics and political rivals alike. A pervasive sense of international danger no longer muffles debate. Indeed, Nixon has helped make the world safe for an extension of democracy into the policy-making process. Détente is no longer the mesmerizing concept it was, say, three, four, five years ago. "Until recently the goals of détente were not an issue," Kissinger noted recently, not without a certain ruefulness. "The necessity of shifting from confrontation toward negotiation seemed so overwhelming that goals beyond the settlement of international disputes were never raised. But now progress has been made-and already taken for granted." A more politically oriented observer would add that détente has passed from Nixon's first-term stage of dramatic breakthroughs, planned in secrecy and consummated to great public applause, to a second-term stage in which-Mideast largely excepted-the pace is necessarily slower, the process less likely to be understood and hailed by the public, and the substance often subjected to legislative review.

Beyond that, the extent to which foreign policy is now recognized to play back on domestic policy has grown, and this has ensured the "politicizing" of foreign policy. Serious discussion of our government's role in the world now begins and ends with the government's role at home. What state of domestic affairs do we wish to preserve or establish by our international policy? This question was regarded as secondary while we had a seemingly boundless amount of power, money, wisdom and righteousness to expend on the world. But now the sense of limits is so strong that much debate takes place on the theme of whether the United States may or should go "neo-isolationist." Not surprisingly, the tendency of partisans of internationalism over the years has been to claim large domestic benefits-not only economic but political and even psychic-for such a policy. In this tradition Kissinger contends that a successful foreign policy would produce not only peace abroad but "peace at home and peace within ourselves."

Others claim the same benefits for a more modest policy. For his part, Senator Fulbright, his own hopes in this regard long since moderated, asks just for a policy which "advances the well-being of our people, does not drain resources unduly, and is compatible with the national character." The point is that, under the special impact of the Vietnam War, the popular sense of the interrelatedness of foreign and domestic policy has deepened. As this process continues, I would expect the emphasis of foreign-policy debate to fall less on whether a particular move responds to the "national interests" or "vital national interests" of the United States and more on what domestic interests, interest groups and values are served.

Given such difficulties in conducting a contemporary foreign policy, it is no surprise that this Administration-or any Administration-should occasionally yield to doubts about whether a democracy is up to the job. Kissinger has cited Tocqueville's judgement that, in foreign policy, democracies are "decidedly inferior" on account of their "propensity . . . to obey impulse rather than prudence and to abandon a mature design for the gratification of a momentary passion." Certainly, the failure of the Western democracies to take Hitler's measure in the 1930s was real and disastrous and lives on as a haunting memory. The common form it takes in official circles is anxiety over whether the country will support a defense budget high enough to give the President the military and political bargaining strength which he thinks the country needs. Such anxiety is not warranted, however. The power of the President to alert the nation to security needs and to rally popular support for defense spending remains, after all, huge. It is not a misfortune but the defining strength-and risk-of a democracy that the national security managers must convince the country at large of what the national security requires.

The task is, to be sure, demanding. Underlying the new congressional and public readiness to challenge the chief executive is the common feeling that the earlier "bipartisanship" and "consensus" served chiefly to choke off the wider debate which, had it gone forward, might have prevented our over-involvement in Vietnam. At the least, many in Congress are determined to accept a greater degree of responsibility for the nation's foreign relations. This was the thrust of the vote last summer compelling the Administration to halt the bombing of Cambodia. The same spirit fed the successful congressional effort to pass an effective war-powers bill over the President's veto, no less. In these conditions, a return to the old concept of "bipartisanship" is hardly conceivable. That model of executive-legislative coöperation requires at once a degree of international tension and a degree of legislative coöption not likely soon to be restored.

Kissinger has recently stated, "With no clear vision of America's role in the world, partisan political considerations" began to dominate foreign policy immediately after World War II-before George Marshall, Kissinger's model in this regard, became Secretary of State. His plain implication was that it should now be possible, by expressing such a vision, to prevent "partisan political considerations" from intruding again. But this is wishful thinking. To a diplomat, just about any political consideration, or any nonsupportive consideration expressed by a politician, may appear partisan. To a politician, the same consideration may appear normal and right.


John Kennedy as a junior Senator set a precedent of sorts by picking a foreign policy issue almost at random-Algeria-and exploiting it as a vehicle for his political gain. Many politicians now seek similar advantage by offering themselves to the public in the role of world statesmen. Senator Edward Kennedy, for instance, has turned his Judiciary subcommittee on refugees into a forum for personal comment on an ever-widening range of problems around the globe. It cannot be forgotten that the Congress is in the firm control of the opposition party and that it contains a considerable number of men who would like to succeed Nixon in the White House. Add, too, the fact that the "cold-war generation," or "NATO generation," is passing from the scene-one Senator, Biden of Delaware, was still a college student when President Kennedy sent military advisers to Vietnam. Increasingly, legislators, on and off the foreign affairs committees, have foreign policy experts (often former Foreign Service Officers) on their personal staffs. Seats on the two committees themselves are highly prized.

What, then, is the politics of détente, if not a state of affairs in which at virtually every step the country and the Congress contest both the ends and means of foreign policy as selected by the President? It is a state of affairs in which interest groups bring their weight to bear on congressional committees, cabinet officers, or the various political elements representing them, so that the struggle over policy goes on not merely between the legislature and the executive but within them as well. It is a state of affairs in which the Secretary of State deals with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee not only to win support for Administration foreign policy but also to gain a personal power base to give him more standing in interdepartmental clashes over issues of trade, money, food and so on. In effect, foreign policy is being "domesticated," forced to go over the same political hurdles and to submit to the same political processes that are par for the domestic course. Less and less does foreign policy evolve from a professed and coherent world view. More and more does it reflect a test of strength among competing domestic forces. This is the nature of the politics of détente.

The core of the matter is that there is no consensus on what condition we and the Russians ought to be working toward-that is, on what détente means. There is, rather, a debate, one which could not go on while the paramount Soviet-American interest was to reduce the chances of nuclear war and superpower confrontation, but one which cannot be avoided now that that paramount interest has been served. It is characteristic of this debate that each party joining it argues that his cause-first, if not alone-underlies true détente. Some equate détente with trade; others with human rights, emigration and the general "opening" of Soviet society; still others with political settlements and arms control; a few with aid for the world's weak and poor.

Inside the Administration, officials acknowledge that some of these goals may not be mutually compatible, at least within a given time frame, and that pressing some of these goals too hard could shrivel the sense of Soviet-American mutuality which must be preserved if any of these goals is to be achieved. But outside the Administration, such discretion and inclination to compromise are often seen as suspect. Those arguing for a particular goal, say, emigration, usually contend that détente is firm enough to support the strains they wish to place upon it. What else is détente for?

The most political of these goals are trade on the one hand, and emigration and human rights on the other, for the very reason that formidable domestic lobbies fight over them. The "military-industrial complex" is a considerably milder creature, in easier Soviet-American times, than the lobbies organized around trade and around Jews and intellectuals. The trade lobby includes American corporations that sell or hope to sell to the Eastern bloc, American-led multinational corporations that intend to make long-term investments, and American farm interests seeking further agricultural deals. The Treasury, Commerce and Agriculture Departments serve this trade lobby, whose special interests mesh well with the fundamental Nixon strategy of creating ties of mutual economic self-interest between the United States and the Soviet Union in order to offset the shocks which political conflicts are likely to keep delivering to their overall relationship. In opposition is the labor movement, which combines a residual anti-Communist ideology with a new apprehensiveness over corporate readiness to "export jobs."

The trade lobby would be making a good deal more progress than it is, but for the 1972 grain deal. Greeted at the time as a boon to our balance of payments as well as to détente, it has since been criticized for the profits it afforded to grain traders, for its negative effects on American food prices and world food supplies, and for the sharpness the Russians displayed in negotiating it-a sharpness at odds, critics believe, with the requirements for long-term commercial and political trust. Whatever their merits, these criticisms constitute hard political realities in Washington, to the trade lobby's and the Administration's dismay. They color the atmosphere in which economic deals of all sorts are weighed.

The human-rights lobby expresses the special concern of intellectuals, artists and scientists for their Soviet counterparts; these American groups have always been internationalist or, if you will, "multinational." Their political influence is considerably amplified by the overlapping influence of the American Jewish community. Previously, intellectuals and scientists, and American Jews, had felt that open efforts to help their counterparts and co-religionists would backfire; so they were discreet. But now, with Soviet dissidents and Jews openly reaching out for Western aid, concerned Americans have themselves gone public with a vengeance. This lobby, broadened by being in effect "secularized" by Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn, is adept at argument and publicity. By supporting the Jackson Amendment, which attaches conditions on trade and investment to Soviet emigration policy, it has shown itself adept at applying political pressure, too.

Yet politically the Administration has played this issue badly, first by offering the Russians a congressional dispensation ("most-favored-nation" tariff status) that Congress had not yet authorized the President to offer, and then by failing to grasp the nature and extent of constituent pressure acting on legislators. Against the passion of American Jews driven by the memory of their own inadequate efforts to rescue the Jews of Germany, the Administration has had to fall back on arguments with little more force than debating points: that the denial of trade openings would undercut the President's general credibility in Moscow, and that the linking of trade to emigration represents an anomalous and risky form of intervention in another country's domestic affairs. Far from satisfying American Jews, the flow of Soviet Jewish emigration so far-a flow achieved, the Administration insists, by its own "quiet diplomacy"-has only led American Jews to press harder for more. In a period clouded by Vietnam and Watergate, the cause of Soviet intellectuals and Jews may well satisfy a certain traditional American hunger for an authentic moral issue-a hunger felt across the whole band of the political spectrum. But the political influence of American Jews provides the main thrust.

Détente has also created in and on the United States new pressures to retreat from the various regions where, after World War II, it became part of the local balance of power. The rationales commonly cited are to advance détente and to diminish costs and risks. Europe is the leading case, force reductions the suggested course. Yet here, as is well known, the Administration and its critics differ fundamentally both on force-reduction strategies and on the political consequences of the different strategies proposed. Paradoxically, to bolster its position, the Administration is often led to evoke precisely those specters of lurking Soviet hostility whose persistence or strength it minimizes in cultivating support for other détente policies. To judge by the fact that large American forces remain in Europe almost 30 years after the war, these specters are still potent. I would attribute this, at bottom, to what might be called the "European lobby," consisting essentially of the same powerful ethnic (Anglo-Saxon), Atlantic and "Establishment" elements which assured American entry into World Wars I and II. It has so far kept the upper hand over the more widely advertised "anti-defense lobby."

Toward the Mideast, both the ethnic and the economic thrusts of American policy are more conspicuous: Jewish political influence is at the core of American support of Israel, for all the strategic and moral rationales given by some supporters of Israel, and sometimes by the Administration itself. Similar rationales are, of course, put forward by those who believe that the United States has cared insufficiently for its interests in Arab lands-especially, in these days, energy interests. What is central to the politics of détente, however, as the fourth Arab-Israeli war again made painfully clear, is that the Mideast is the one major region where Washington and Moscow support allies who have not resolved the principal political and territorial differences between them. In this context, many anxious American Jews see détente as a threat to Israel, even while the Administration sees détente as offering the only opportunity to approach a settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute.

As the 1976 presidential election approaches, Senator Jackson's candidacy-based as it is to a probably unprecedented extent on taking the Jewish side in Jewish-Kremlin collisions-may well rub the politics of détente raw. This is what makes Senator Jackson so much more potent politically in this regard than Senator Fulbright, who represents a general point of view more than a national constituency which conceivably could claim the Presidency.

On matters of military posture, defense spending and strategic arms control, Senator Jackson takes a consistently hard position, one which embarrasses many of those who applaud his stand on emigration and trade and on the Middle East. Unlike conservatives, many liberals are reluctant to concede that their interest in human rights or Israel is grist for the mill of what they would otherwise call the cold war and the arms race. The Soviet harshness which liberals point to in order to help beleaguered Soviet intellectuals or Jews is picked up and used by conservatives to swing votes for, say, a new submarine. On these military-strategic issues, Jackson dominates the Congress-not because of any conspiratorial "military-industrial complex" but because he speaks to people's abiding fears, because he has a reputation for mastery of the technical material, and, most importantly, because he and the President tend to reinforce each other's "hard" positions, thus creating a defense majority.

Senator Fulbright, on the other hand, may enjoy more repute in the country than in the Senate; nor is he noted for command of the technical material. His predisposition to policies based on Soviet-American coöperation often leaves him offering gratuitous support when the President takes a "soft" step and, given the Nixon-Jackson axis, putting up generally ineffective opposition when the President toes a "hard" line. This is the political dilemma of the defense "doves": they can more easily add to a majority for a measure of which they approve than they can assemble a majority against a measure of which they disapprove.

By cutting from the armed forces more than a million men who were on active duty when he entered the White House, Nixon has taken most of the steam-in the House if not the Senate-out of further efforts to trim military manpower. The key votes now take place on new hardware items. Here, the Nixon-Jackson alliance, united on the contention that strength is essential both for security and bargaining, holds sway. Again this fiscal year, with only token cuts, the Congress approved the Administration's $21.3-billion military procurement bill. Every major weapons system was left intact. On the litmus test of an Administration request to speed construction of the new Trident submarine, the Administration (and Jackson) evoked the cold-war image of a Kremlin eager to pounce on anyone naive enough to take the slogans of détente seriously. The tipping votes for the speedup were cast by usually dovish Senators whose constituents work in the shipyards where the new subs are being built.

Though apprehensions about the reliability of the Soviet Union as a diplomatic partner were aroused by the Russian performance at the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli war, most people still believe the world is now safe enough to argue about. As confidence in government and executive leadership has diminished, Presidents and diplomats-even brilliant diplomats-are hard put to retain control of the conduct of foreign policy. Policy-making has been "democratized" to a degree hitherto unseen. Special-interest groups-economic and ethnic-enter freely into the process. There is no constituency for "détente" as such, only for or against particular elements which, one or another group contends, are the crucial ingredients of it. So wide open has the policy-making process become that Soviet diplomats, who used to sit quietly in the back rows of Capitol Hill committee chambers, now routinely lobby legislators in their private offices. Party chief Brezhnev actually received the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at Blair House last June.

This is a profound development. If men with the foreign-affairs credentials of Nixon and Kissinger have trouble coping with it, imagine the situation of a President or Secretary of State with lesser credentials. It forces upon President Nixon, moreover, an extra dimension of effort at what is for him a very difficult time. He needs public support to carry forward his diplomacy, but never has it been harder for him to attract such support. In time, when Vietnam and Watergate are further behind us, the pendulum may swing back, and the President, whoever he is, may recapture his old primacy in foreign affairs. Until then, negotiating with his foreign adversaries and allies may be the easier part of his job.

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