This article is a reflective look at the period from mid-1972 and early 1973 to the present, in terms of the evolution in the world situation and the course of U.S. foreign policy during these years. It has been, I believe, a time of marked deterioration in the overall world outlook, and the performance of the United States, as a nation, in the foreign policy arena has been at best mediocre-with only limited exceptions.

It is always arbitrary to assess foreign affairs from one date to another: foreign policy is a continuous process, always coping with the legacy of the past and with the future still uncertain. Yet these 12 years have surely been a particularly important and disturbing time-that they happen to coincide with my tenure as Editor of this magazine is relevant only in that it has made my own sense of the contrast between 1972 and 1984 particularly vivid. At least in terms of exposure to thoughtful and informed observers both here and abroad, this editorship is a remarkable vantage point, from which one tries always to be guided by an overriding concern for world trends and U.S. national performance-so far as possible beyond personal intellectual preference or partisanship.

I hasten to add that this article is not in any sense in the spirit of "we told you so"-that if only leaders and molders of public opinion had read Foreign Affairs carefully, U.S. policy would have avoided the errors and miscalculations that beset the period. On the contrary, while articles in these pages have often contained prescient and significant analysis and prescription, our contents have also missed the boat and misread events many times. Practically the last words my predecessor Hamilton Fish Armstrong shared with me-speaking of a book he had just read-were: "It could have been better." It could indeed have been vastly better.

To many, two dominant events operated to hamper or even cripple U.S. foreign policy during these years: the Vietnam War and its legacy, and the Watergate scandal of 1972-74, whose aftermath likewise carried over in many specific as well as general ways. As one who participated in policymaking at critical periods of the Vietnam tragedy, I may not be the best judge of its impact; surely it contributed mightily to the loss of the broad consensus on foreign policy that had prevailed from about 1950 to 1967, and to deep divisions in both informed and broader public opinion and, to a marked degree, between generations. The "post-Vietnam syndrome," alas, is still very much with us: I well recall a remark by Henry Cabot Lodge, in the late 1960s, that if we were to fail there the impact on our future behavior would be lasting and terribly serious. Later, Watergate further undermined faith in government, especially among the young, and at least briefly seemed to exert an almost paralyzing effect on foreign policy.

Both will be mentioned frequently in these reflections. Yet one must take care not to exaggerate their impact. As the coach of the New York Islanders said after his injury-ridden hockey team had lost the Stanley Cup: "I'd like to have had my team healthy. I'm not saying it would have been different, it might have been interesting."

Likewise, one could go at the subject heavily in terms of senior personalities and their interaction, or by looking especially for "break-point" decisions. Conceding the importance of both, I have deliberately omitted them almost entirely, concentrating rather on what might be called "generic" elements in the handling of U.S. foreign policy in what has truly been a "time of troubles."

Thus, this is less an essay in historical causation than it is an attempt to raise key questions, three above all: First, what have been the major trends in the world? Second, what have been the major challenges to U.S. policy? Third, how well have these been met?


Let us start by reviewing briefly the situation as it stood, or at least was perceived, in the late months of 1972 and at the beginning of 1973. In 1972, as in 1984, a Republican President was seeking reelection from a strong position while Democrats wrestled with the choice between a "traditional" nominee and a new face. Then, as now, the U.S, economy had passed through visible trouble and was apparently headed upward. But there the resemblance ends abruptly. To summarize highlights of the situation in late 1972 and early 1973:

1. With the Paris Agreements of early 1973, organized U.S. military forces were quitting Vietnam, leaving a South Vietnamese regime with at least the possibility of survival-even though the peace agreements (inevitably, I believe) had left North Vietnamese forces in the South.

2. A dramatic breakthrough in U.S.-Chinese relations had just ended 22 years of Sino-American separation and brought the weight of China to bear, at least in a limited way, in what was portrayed (and widely perceived) as a new and much more tenable world balance of power.

3. Détente, and with it Ostpolitik, had come into effect through the signing and ratification of the SALT I agreements and a whole range of other understandings-with the strongly expressed official view (again widely shared) that these would over time develop a network of ties that would moderate Soviet behavior and ease the rivalry of the superpowers and East-West relations generally.

4. On the economic front, an almost fevered prosperity was the general rule in 1972 in the United States, among the industrialized nations and indeed globally. The Dow-Jones Index crossed the 1,000 mark in early 1973 (the equivalent of roughly 2500 today), the dollar was dropping but not a source of felt concern, U.S. inflation was at six percent and oil at $2.46 a barrel. (It was widely considered alarmist when James Akins wrote in our April 1973 issue that "The 1970 State Department projection that prices would rise by 1980 to $5.00 per barrel may now be on the low side.")1

5. In the Middle East-as I vividly recall from an orientation visit there in the spring of 1972-there was a state of uncertain peace after the 1967 war and the convulsions of 1969-71. Israel that spring seemed confident and assured, heavily preoccupied with digesting waves of Soviet immigrants, with Prime Minister Golda Meir (in a memorable interview) tough on the Sinai problem but clear and categorical that Israel must withdraw from most of the West Bank-and that she would be prepared to negotiate to that end when the Arab side was ready to abandon the negatives of the Khartoum Declaration of 1967. Then Anwar Sadat expelled the Russians from Egypt in July 1972 and at once sounded a new note.2

6. In NATO, there were few serious divisions and no dramatic worries about military posture or strategy-though the condition of the U.S. Army in Europe, as elsewhere, was at a post-Korea low in morale and effectiveness.

7. Japan was in full stride, moving to its own normalization with the People's Republic, including full diplomatic relations.

8. Africa offered Washington no major worries, and the 1969 policy of the Nixon Administration-then just becoming known-to work with the white regimes of Southern Africa and bet on their continuation was attacked only by liberals on the question of principle.

9. In Latin America, Chile was the chief concern, with the United States apparently pursuing a cool and correct policy toward Salvador Allende. Cuba, after its unsuccessful foray into hemisphere subversion in the 1960s, seemed preoccupied with domestic difficulties.

10. On the problem of security in the Third World, the Nixon Doctrine had been proclaimed, calling for a more limited U.S. rule in support of threatened nations and relying more heavily on strong regional powers-notably the Shah's Iran in the Middle East. Armed conflict in the Third World was at a low level.

11. Terrorist violence had in 1972 reached crisis proportions in Northern Ireland, and in a notable atrocity Palestinians killed members of Israel's Olympic team in Munich. But both seemed to be more new chapters in ongoing conflicts with deep political roots than evidence of terrorism on a wide or mindless scale.

12. Within the United States the power and prestige of the President were high, matching previous post-landslide levels in 1964 and 1956. I recall one discussion in early 1973 in which a leading Congressman was thought heretical when he argued that the pendulum would swing back and the Congress again be heard from, if only because of its power of appropriation.

Finally, an important sector of informed opinion thought that, with the opening to China and détente, much more attention could and should be directed to wider global problems. In particular, there was new international cooperation and concern over the environment (with the Stockholm Conference of June 1972), and an accompanying international focus on problems of food, population and the Law of the Sea.

This was the picture as perceived. Obviously it was not as good as it looked-even then. But I well recall the difficulty of a novice editor in drumming up manuscripts and trying to assess what issues might emerge that could be of major significance. For the most part it was a time almost of intellectual calm, with controversy muted by the apparent success of the Nixon Administration and by what generally appeared hopeful prospects for a change in focus in the rest of the 1970s and into the 1980s.

Turn now to the situation in 1984. There is little need for a parallel listing-going through these headings, readers can frame their own comparisons to the present. On only two of these 12 headings-U.S. relations with China and Japan-is the situation nearly as favorable today as it seemed in 1972; and even there the U.S. relationship with China has gone through marked ups and downs and that with Japan has become beset with economic frictions. Yet both remain pillars of U.S. policy in East Asia, the one region in the world that might today be counted a success story in these 12 years, certainly in economic progress and at least relatively in terms of international conflict.

For the rest, the picture today is one of dashed hopes and of new or renewed fears. I do not suggest that it is one of unrelieved gloom-hundreds of millions of the world's people are today living significantly better than they were then and there have been great strides in science and technology that have opened up new vistas for the future.3

But if one looks at the security situation of the world today, one sees three ongoing wars that are in effect beyond any external control-Iraq-Iran, Afghanistan and Kampuchea-and two serious conflict areas, Central America and Lebanon/Syria/Israel, that are in effect war situations; each of these could readily become worse or spread. The degree of U.S. and multilateral leverage in limiting such conflicts or bringing them to an end has dropped sharply during these dozen years. Moreover, in sharp contrast to the hopes of 1972 and mid-1973, conflict-prone rivalry between the two superpowers has not only failed to decline but has seen a series of semi-confrontations as well as perceived Soviet "gains" that have made both superpowers much more tense and inclined to see not only their interests but their prestige involved.

In this respect the situation is all too forbiddingly reminiscent of that which prevailed in the period prior to 1914-a parallel vividly drawn by a young professor, Miles Kahler, in a seminal article, "Rumors of War: The 1914 Analogy," in our Winter 1979/80 issue. That article had rather extraordinary resonance, especially with Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and a wide circle in the ever-sensitive Federal Republic of Germany; since then a sub-parallel between the Balkans prior to 1914 and the Middle East today has struck many.

And there has been-again as in the period before 1914-a renewed and intensified arms race between the superpowers themselves, as well as a much-increased spread of what might be called "regional arms races" in much of the Third World. Soviet military improvements have covered the whole spectrum of capabilities-nuclear, major conventional, a whole new scale of naval power (as with Germany between 1895 and 1914), and new "outreach" capacity to transport at least limited forces to areas previously beyond the reach of direct Soviet power. In the last few years the United States has responded with its own massive buildup, involving both nuclear and conventional forces but with a heavy stress on the nuclear side.

Today there are high levels of concern, both abroad and in the American public, that a nuclear war may be more likely than it has appeared at any previous postwar time. Similar fears existed at the time of Korea, the Berlin crisis of 1958-62 and notably the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, but in each case only for relatively short periods. Now the fear is more enduring and pervasive: the fact that there is no clear picture of how or where a superpower confrontation leading to a nuclear exchange might come about may indeed make the situation more dangerous than at times when there was a highly specific focus of crisis.

In sum, the world of 1984 is in a much more dangerous condition than it was in 1972-73. The very first "lesson" of the period is that this has been the trend and is the present reality. Nor is the concern merely reflected in polls: it is, at least in my observation and experience, deeply felt by a great many leaders and professionals, though their worries are often expressed frankly only in private.

A second highlight of the situation today is a highly uncertain economic situation. In the industrialized nations the virus of "stagflation" has been a hallmark of these 12 years-in striking contrast to the generally steady progress of the 1950s and 1960s-and while great progress has now been made in reducing inflation, the prognosis is at best cloudy. In key middle-income countries, notably in Latin America, there is a massive and basically unresolved debt crisis with immense potential both for alienation from the lending industrialized countries and for internal political turmoil and temptation to external adventure. And in the poorer developing countries there is little sign that they can make the jump achieved by the middle-income countries (largely in this period), while resource transfers from the industrialized countries are declining both in relative terms and in terms of the scale of the problem.

Here, while all parallels are rough, that of 1929-39 is bound to come to mind. While it was not just the Great Depression that brought on Hitler, a seriously unsatisfactory economic situation both feeds the impulses that lead to war and drastically weakens the capacity to act of those nations who might resist or deter such impulses.

It is of course unrealistic to compare the economic performance of the United States and of the world between 1972 and 1984 with the Great Depression. By any objective economic index, the situation has been much more a case of blasted hopes and expectations than one of absolute and desperate decline. There is no Hitler in sight in the industrialized world, or for that matter in the Third World-although the nations in the latter have, perhaps inevitably at this stage of their history, spawned a fair crop of extremely unattractive leaders, including the likes of Qaddafi. So far, at least, truly extremist and aggressive leadership is rare, and where it exists the reasons are only partly economic.

Yet the connection between economics and war prospects is surely strong today. While economic limitations have not constrained arms races significantly, the overall economic situation has had a visible and marked effect on factors central to peace prospects-notably the cohesion of NATO, and the capacity and above all the will and focus of the United States itself. The point can be put rather tersely: if the industrialized nations today had the economic growth and buoyancy of the 1960s, and if the middle-income countries of the Third World were today progressing as they did for much of the 1970s, the dangers of conflict would be significantly less.

So a second basic "lesson" of the last dozen years is that economics are absolutely critical-to the capacity and will of individual nations (above all the United States itself), to the relative standing of nations in terms of power in all its aspects, and as just outlined, to the danger of spreading conflict and even major war. The point may seem obvious, but anyone close to U.S. foreign policy during the 1950s and 1960s must well recall how much the economic side was taken for granted. On rare occasions it played a crucial part in major decisions-I well recall, for example, how a new Republican President in 1953 sharply reduced the defense budget and conventional-force program of his Democratic predecessor largely because of his deeply felt belief that the foundation of U.S. power was economic strength. But for the most part those who framed foreign policy and its Siamese twin, national security policy, operated on the basis that the United States could do whatever had to be done. When it came to the Vietnam War, budget and economic constraints entered the picture only late in the day under grave pressure (specifically, in March 1968): there was no John Maynard Keynes to remind us constantly of the consequences of not paying currently for wars-though William McChesney Martin tried valiantly-and many economists would trace the onset of inflation in the United States to that neglect. Now we know-or should know-better. Economic health is the root of national power, and international economic policy can further or erode U.S. relationships not only with its allies but with other nations throughout the world.


If these are the most basic conclusions concerning the last 12 years, what of more specific major challenges to U.S. policy and the handling of these?

In this category, the very first set of national decisions-in chronological terms alone-was surely those concerning energy and particularly oil. The profligate energy habits that had developed between 1950 and 1973, notably in the United States but also to a high degree in most industrialized countries, are themselves an important story, but one that belongs to earlier periods. The question is how the United States and others responded to the oil crisis when it became dramatically visible in the fall of 1973, with OPEC by then in the saddle and the "oil weapon" a major factor in Sadat's decision to launch the fourth Arab-Israeli war.

If anything could have brought home the gravity of the new situation, surely the oil embargo and fourfold oil price rise of 1973-74 should have done so. Yet the honest fact is that-lulled by the subsequent recession that for a time eased the real growth in oil prices, and aroused again only by the second oil crisis that followed the Iranian Revolution-the United States never developed more than bits and pieces of an effective oil policy until at least the spring of 1979. Then what in hindsight may seem to have been the obvious solution was finally adopted-moving to market prices while cushioning their distribution effects by the windfall tax. Verily, in the biblical phrase of Walter Levy, these were "the years that the locust hath eaten."4

That the result was devastating in domestic terms alone has surely been self-evident. But even now the foreign policy impact may not be fully grasped. How individual nations dealt with the crisis surely made an enormous difference in the trends of their relative power during the decade of the 1970s-Japan, notably, adjusted with great success, earning a grade of A; so did many of the new middle-income countries; the European nations may have deserved a B minus; but the ratings one would assign to the United States itself, or to international cooperation (almost as a direct result of the U.S. performance), would surely be no higher than C minus. This is not to say that there could have been a "quick fix"; but the fact that for years the United States did not even come seriously to grips with the problem was an enormously important component, I would submit, in a renewed decline of respect abroad for U.S. policy and wisdom, in addition to its specific economic impact.

The reasons for that failure need a harder look than I have seen anywhere. Surely there was initially a serious failure of leadership-with Watergate a factor, for example, in President Nixon's statement in the spring of 1974 that "the oil crisis is over." Successive Administrations failed to face up to the twin problems of framing a sensible policy and selling it to an American public addicted to its energy habits, habitually inclined to pursue scapegoats (who, as always, were not by any means absent), and above all unwilling to face the application of market forces. (In this last respect, the Democratic Party shared deeply in the responsibility.) True, it would have taken an extraordinary demonstration of presidential leadership, a much more solid debate that might have revealed a substantial degree of agreement among those truly familiar with the situation, and an educated public response-but this cannot obscure the conclusion that our national performance on this front was lamentable.

Since 1980, the problem has receded, at least from the headlines and from official attention. That market forces must play a central role is now widely accepted, and it is largely because of those market forces that we have seen the present and prospective role of nuclear power dwindle, with Three Mile Island a special factor. But national energy policy-for which surely there remains an important role-is today in the doldrums; its future is murky even if a new convulsion in the Middle East can be avoided.

In sum, there is a big and important lesson here that is still only marginally addressed or grasped.

As to what we have learned during these 12 years about international economic cooperation, William Diebold's brilliant historical review a year ago remains persuasive.5 By comparison with the 1920s and 1930s, the industrialized nations have cooperated remarkably to this point. By comparison to the creative late 1940s, the record is mediocre. And by comparison to the needs of the situation, the present structure and degree of cooperation surely fall well short. At least one can say-in contrast to energy-that the problems are being addressed constantly, responsibly and voluminously, as even the samples in Foreign Affairs attest. But even broad answers that can command a consensus have yet to emerge.


Let us turn next to the Middle East, in small part for chronological reasons but more basically because it played a dominant role for much of the period and is today surely the foremost area of concern and danger. Each of the three American Administrations that operated for four years each in this period started with a "game plan" in which the Middle East was only one of many concerns. Yet each successively found itself drawn, to almost obsessive degree, into crises there-the 1973 war and ensuing peace efforts, the 1978 Iranian Revolution and then the seizure of American hostages, and the 1982 Lebanon war and its aftermath. The Arab-Israeli conflict and efforts to resolve the Palestinian issue run like a thread through all three Administrations, and from 1977 on were further complicated by the advent in Israel of a Likud regime dedicated to permanent control of at least the West Bank and Gaza. In 1982 the Arab-Israeli conflict in effect merged with simmering civil war within Lebanon, and since late 1980 Iraq and Iran have been locked in a war that now threatens the neighbors of both, as well as the flow of oil from the Gulf.

The Arab-Israeli problem and that of Iran are of course very different, with the operative factors in each largely independent of the other-at least until very recently, when the element of Islamic fundamentalism may have brought the two closer. As to the former, the basic problem has been, as since 1948, getting Israel accepted, settled down and at peace with the Arab world-in hindsight a more formidable undertaking than even doubters then foresaw. In the latter, the fall of the Shah symbolized the generic problem of American support for a friendly authoritarian regime that goes sour, recalling Chiang Kai-shek and Ngo Dinh Diem at earlier times, Anastasio Somoza more recently, and Ferdinand Marcos today. Yet it had special features including-like the 1973 Arab-Israeli war-a direct connection to the oil crisis.

At each successive stage on the Arab-Israeli front, U.S. policy faced controversial and difficult decisions. Notable examples were the 1973 decision to force an armistice before resurgent Israeli forces could complete a military defeat of Egypt, and the 1982 decision (of much the same character) to pressure Israel to limit its gains to expulsion of the PLO apparatus from Lebanon. Each has been sharply criticized and second-guessed by many Israelis and by supporters of Israel; it is my own judgment that the first was extraordinarily farsighted and wise (negotiations do not thrive on humiliation) and the second virtually inevitable, especially given Menachem Begin's failure to consult the United States on a whole series of occasions.

Likewise, the negotiating history is full of debatable decisions. One, little noted at the time, was surely the failure to move quickly to negotiations between Israel and Jordan over the West Bank in June 1974, after the initial withdrawal agreements with Egypt and Syria had been completed and before the Rabat decision of November 1974 that supplanted Jordan by the PLO as the Arab-designated negotiating partner on that area.

The Camp David agreements of 1978 raise other questions: I am inclined to believe that this was the best approach possible and that the results were as much as could then be obtained-even a cool peace between Israel and Egypt was worth a lot. While the record indicates that President Carter simply failed to nail down what he thought was a firm commitment from Begin for a moratorium on settlements in the West Bank, my own hunch is that Begin would in any event have found some excuse to resume the creation of settlements-in an overall deal that always gave him the power to hold American policy hostage to the completion and full implementation of the treaty with Egypt.

And, most recently, there has been the melancholy history of President Reagan's initiative of September 1982. Could this have been separated from the issue of Syrian and Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, or might Syria have been less obstructive if it had been brought earlier into negotiations? My own answers are negative in both cases, but contrary views are strongly held.

So, there has all along been ample room for second-guessing. But the twin roots of the problem have always been Arab rejectionism and its strength at any given time, on the one hand, and since 1977 the resolve of Likud governments to control the West Bank permanently-in an Israeli political situation deeply affected by the initial defeat of 1973 and by understandable security concerns, as well as by important demographic changes. As one looks back, the tragedy all along has been that at times when one side might have been ready to compromise, the other was not. And, while U.S. policy over the years has had some responsibility for Lebanese events, the instability there is almost ingrained and the country bound to be a morass for outsiders.

Yet it is hard to draw enduring or broad lessons from this compound unfolding tragedy. Certainly, given the U.S. moral commitment to Israel-a commitment strongly supported by the American public (and by this writer)-I see no way for the United States to have avoided becoming totally involved at every stage. What may be more important today is to recognize the degree to which that involvement has come to affect not only the attention but the resources for other foreign policy concerns, as well as attitudes within the United States itself.

In recent years there has grown up an extraordinary combination of dependence and independence in Israel's relationship with the United States. On the one hand, Israel, even when it is momentarily at peace, cannot sustain itself without vast infusions of American aid-and is at the same time now threatened by new levels of Arab military power that render uncertain its future ability to defend itself alone as it did in 1948, 1967 and 1973, at least without unacceptable losses. On the other hand, there have now been repeated examples of independent Israeli action, with the future uncertain under the present vague agreement for "strategic cooperation."

More broadly, few outside the Administration, the Congress, and those who work to influence both may today be truly aware of the degree to which American aid to Israel-and the parallel aid to Egypt to which the United States committed itself in the withdrawal agreements of 1974-75-have preempted the resources once available for the wide and in my judgment largely effective foreign aid programs of the Eisenhower and immediately succeeding Administrations. This is not to say that Congress, let alone the public, would today be prepared to appropriate the kind of resources for those programs that were made available in earlier periods. But it is surely striking that aid to Israel and Egypt now accounts for more than one-third of the total U.S. bilateral foreign aid program.6

That is one measure of the scale of the preoccupation of U.S. foreign policy with this issue. No one can suppose that if by some miracle Israel and the Arab states were to reach agreement tomorrow on a settlement or a clear path toward one, the Middle East would then become stable. Its postwar problems were always enormous, and the catalog of local conflicts and internal convulsions would have been a long one in any event-witness only the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq-Iran war, which in terms of human loss may now have become the largest military conflict of the postwar period.

Yet if we have learned anything in these last years, it must be that anything resembling a "strategic consensus" in the area on threats to security-from whatever quarter, including the Soviet Union or those with Soviet ties-will remain extraordinarily difficult to achieve so long as the Arab-Israeli problem continues to fester and grow worse.7 Moreover, the significant differences between U.S. views and those of its NATO allies (by no means attributable solely to oil dependence) already make it harder to get allied joint action on Middle East matters and could, in the event of crisis, reopen the sharp divisions evident in that watershed event, the 1973 war.

What, then, might one say broadly about the lessons for American policy and attitudes? Here it is surely noteworthy that each of the four Presidents of the period-and indeed their predecessors-have come to practice similar policies toward the Arab-Israeli problem: if one were to bring together these four men today (as, indeed, three came together for the 1981 Sadat funeral) the areas of disagreement would be minor and tactical. Each has come to balance unquestioned support for Israel's healthy survival with the need to maintain relationships with the Arab nations and foster moderate tendencies among them-and each has come to realize that any definitive choice between the two imperatives would be a disaster, so that the overriding need is to exert maximum U.S. influence toward a modus vivendi and eventual settlement. In this area as in East Asia, U.S. policy has been in practice bipartisan and in its broad application supported by a national consensus.

Yet a second and disturbing feature of this period has been the increasing politicization of the issue at the fringes. A European today, and many if not most observers here, would say that the United States has had a serious Arab-Israeli policy in recent years only roughly for two years out of each four-year span. King Hussein of Jordan put this harshly last February when he excused his refusal to accept a negotiating role on the ground that he could not have expected effective U.S. action after the spring of 1983; yet the record of the periods from mid-1975 to early 1977, from mid-1979 to early 1981, and only to a lesser degree that since mid-1983 offers strong evidence that he was essentially right. Policy has been hampered if not immobilized for 18 months prior to each recent U.S. presidential election, and an Administration has then taken another six months to sort itself out-in part to modify reckless statements and attitudes adopted during the political campaign.

From every standpoint this must not continue. It is an issue on which emotions naturally run high, and on which it is difficult at any time to preserve one's understanding of why the key nations behave as they do, while at the same time seeking to judge their actions and the possibilities for U.S. policy as objectively as possible. But not since the 1966-68 period over Vietnam-and before that the 1939-41 debate between interventionists and isolationists-have I seen responsible American opinion more concerned, more inwardly disturbed and at the same time less able to conduct really probing and thoughtful discussion. The subject is now a mine field of buzz words, government policy has had to be framed in excessively small groups to avoid leaks and recrimination, and felt political pressures have again and again contributed to failures to explain long-standing U.S positions to the public. On too many occasions, recent Israeli leaders have played off the U.S Congress against the Executive, while the politicization of the issue has been a factor in a deplorable lack of candor (on both sides) in high-level meetings.

The lesson, surely, is that we need much more balanced and responsible discussions and exchanges of views-much as we needed a Great Debate over Vietnam in 1965-66. For example, I believe that much greater candor on all sides could have at least eased the impact of the recent debacle of our high-risk but understandable Marine presence in Lebanon. It is my own judgment that such a debate would reaffirm rather than weaken the fundamentals of U.S. policy-above all support for Israel's healthy survival. In any case, we cannot go on for long as we are now doing, and while responsibility for articulating policy clearly must fall primarily on the Administration of a given time, that for serious and thoughtful debate also lies heavily with all our public servants, with the media, and with each of us as citizens.


The Iranian Revolution must be judged-today even more than earlier-as the greatest single setback for U.S. policy and for stability in the Middle East of these dozen years. One can readily argue the degree to which successive U.S. administrations should be blamed for the Shah's growing separation from his people and eventual fall.8 Then came the hostage crisis and the war with Iraq, instigated by Saddam Hussein but hardly unprovoked. Today the Khomeini regime and its Islamic fundamentalism (which also has wider aspects) have altered drastically the whole picture in the area, with threats, both military and political, to other Gulf States and oil supplies, and an outreach all too visible recently in major terrorist acts in Lebanon. What had been envisaged as a pillar of the Nixon Doctrine policy of greater reliance on regional powers lies in ruins.

The root of the problem from the standpoint of U.S. policy, as I now see it, lay in the changed status of the Shah after about 1971, when he stepped to the forefront of OPEC in the first overall oil price increases, subsequently taking advantage of the much greater price rises of 1972-74. Though the differences between Iran and Israel were enormous, the ensuing U.S. relationship with the Shah might be put in the same terms-an unhealthy combination of dependence and independence. On the one hand, the strategic importance of Iran, and the perceived need to support the Shah totally, led U.S. policy under President Nixon and Secretary Kissinger to open-ended supplies of military equipment and the largest U.S. presence in any Third World country since Vietnam. Although (like Israel) not a formal ally, the Shah remained dependent ultimately on U.S. backing and what amounted to a U.S. commitment to Iran's security. On the other hand, a ruler who had always chafed at extensive (and generally wise) U.S. advice on his military and economic programs, and also on his political policies, felt himself at last his own master and developed inordinate ambitions for quick progress to major-power status. This was of course one of the direct results of the oil crisis, and as it turned out the Shah's domestic muddle was only an example writ large of what happened, in greater or lesser degree, to virtually every other oil-producing country.9

Yet the disastrous result was surely not foreordained. The United States should have redoubled its efforts to follow Iranian social and political developments, instead of buckling totally to the Shah's evident objections to any but official contacts. U.S. representatives could have shifted to a somewhat more detached posture, including measured advice and certainly omitting the unquestioning praise that was the rule from 1971 virtually until the crisis broke in the fall of 1978. And the U.S. presence could have been much more closely monitored and limited, so that it did much less to feed the sentiments that exploded in the Revolution. In the end the United States had the worst of both worlds, vilified as the Great Satan in a situation where it no longer had (or at least chose not to exert) significant influence on the Shah and had only a feeble grasp of what was stirring.

Could the Shah have used the military to beat back the Revolution-or, as the question came to be put, should a friendly authoritarian regime be backed to the hilt where its alternative may be something resembling totalitarianism? Was the Carter human rights policy to blame for rocking the boat? These are significant questions, and on the human rights issue the pendulum of U.S. policy has swung from excessive Realpolitik to indiscriminate emphasis, back to Realpolitik, and, in the last two years, to greater balance. If there is a human rights policy lesson from Iran, there is surely an equal and opposite one from the Reagan Administration's embrace of the Argentine junta in 1981-82. That a human rights component belongs in U.S. policy is as clear as that it cannot be applied without regard to strategic interests.10 It is a balancing with which both Parties are still uneasy.

In the case of the Shah, not only human rights policy but something in our national style was involved. We tend to welcome particular countries or a particular ruler as ours or "our man." This is a tendency much less evident-perhaps, if you will, outgrown-in the dealings of other major powers that have held sway or exerted great influence in the countries of what we now call the Third World.11 Essentially you cannot have it both ways-if you wish a nation to be independent and self-reliant, or if that has become in any case inevitable, then a degree of detachment and reserve is required.

The Arab-Israeli problem and Iran provide powerful evidence of the central importance of regional factors in any Third World security situation. But before returning to the issue of balancing such factors against the East-West or Soviet element, it is necessary to look at what has happened in Soviet-American relations in this period.


Even the most ardent supporter of détente with the Soviet Union, on the lines envisaged in 1972 by President Nixon and Secretary Kissinger, probably would not argue today that this policy could have produced a prolonged period of steadily dropping tensions. At least in the American view, détente was always a variant of the basic postwar policy of containment, relying on agreements and new incentives at a time when U.S. national will to use its power was at a postwar nadir as a result of Vietnam.12 Given the Soviet definition of "peaceful co-existence," the odds were surely very great that they would have responded at some point to the kind of opportunities that were presented in Africa and parts of the Middle East in the years that followed. Likewise, the basic Soviet military programs of the 1970s stemmed from decisions of the 1960s and would surely have gone forward in any circumstances.

Yet it remains true that neither the carrot nor the stick originally visualized by Messrs. Nixon and Kissinger was provided by the Congress (partly reflecting public opinion) in anything like the necessary measure. In particular, the Jackson and Stevenson Amendments of late 1974-attempts to link carrying out already-agreed trade arrangements to Soviet policy on Jewish immigration-were extraordinarily unwise and negative in their effects both on Soviet-American relations and on that immigration itself. The lesson is clear that Soviet sensitivity on what it regards as internal matters will always impose heavy costs on any effort to affect these directly-a lesson that had to be re-learned in the early months of the Carter Administration. The 1974 Amendments were in a real sense casualties of Watergate, as well as forerunners of a congressional activism to which we shall return.

Thus, détente was already on shaky ground by 1975 when Vietnam collapsed. The 1974 coup in Lisbon, with an immediate decision to let go of the Portuguese colonies in Southern Africa, then led to the Angola crisis. The emergence of Cuba (and to a lesser extent East Germany) as willing Soviet surrogates added a new and ominous dimension to Soviet activity in the Third World, as did the demonstration of a new Soviet military capability to move forces and equipment over long distances in quantities relevant at least to small-scale military conflict. Both aspects were demonstrated again in an instigated coup in Ethiopia, with the Soviets accepting the loss of their previous position in Somalia as a good trade. South Yemen too was moved into the Soviet orbit, and in the spring of 1978 another communist coup in Afghanistan triggered the events that culminated in the Soviet invasion of December 1979 and the war that continues today. Simultaneously, a resurgent Castro took advantage of the overthrow of Somoza in Nicaragua in 1979, with his Marxist-Leninist pupils quickly emerging in full control there and shortly acting to stimulate and support the guerrillas in El Salvador.

The catalogue is familiar and its impact on the American government and public was understandably profound. And alongside these Soviet gains there was growing concern over a Soviet military buildup that was pursued unrelentingly on all fronts, well beyond any reasonable assessment of Soviet defense needs-though in the nuclear area one needs to consider the impact on Moscow of the rapid post-1970 U.S. deployment of multiple warheads well ahead of any Soviet program and then much more accurate than anything in the Soviet inventory. In conventional arms the picture was one-sided; here the charge that the United States let its guard down has greater substance, and it may well be that the Soviets pushed all the harder because of this. Certainly the lesson always dinned in by General George Marshall and others-that U.S. defense policy cannot be effectively conducted on a stop-go basis-was both neglected and again demonstrated during these dozen years.

Against this background, what might we now learn about the conduct of arms control negotiations and their relationship to other aspects of the superpower relationship? Here again we have veered from excessive faith (or proclaimed faith) to excessive cynicism recently. The evidence of this period does not suggest, for example, that arms control agreements in good order and in progress (the situation from 1972 to early 1976 and from mid-1977 to at least mid-1979) operate to constrain Soviet adventurism in the Third World. Conversely, however, the absence of visibly serious strategic arms negotiations has surely been a significant contributor to the extreme chill of recent years, in addition to its impact on allied public opinion and to a lesser extent that in the United States.

For technological reasons alone, however, arms control would probably have been in serious difficulty in any case. One obvious lesson, going back before 1972, is that major destabilizing technical changes-a foremost example was multiple warheads-need to be thought through much more carefully by both sides. Now, as the 1983 Reagan conversion to the build-down concept seeks to walk the cat back on multiple warheads,13 the same problem is presented by cruise missiles and by improvements in accuracy.

A corollary lesson, vivid in this period, is that neither side will in practice be allowed to get lasting and important advantage from some innovation. Soviet secrecy and superior American inventiveness will always throw up temptations, but in the longer run a balance will be struck-at higher levels of expense and risk. Both lessons are being tested today-and have so far been neglected-in the areas of space-based defenses and anti-satellite weapons. The case for an early dialogue, even a sharing of such technology, has been made by both Richard Nixon and Dean Rusk,14 and the next American Administration, of either party, will face major decisions here. Is it too much to hope that from its actions there might evolve a new approach to arms control, with less stress on formal agreements than on serious early consultation, with self-denying ordinances leading to accepted mutual restraint, both qualitative and quantitative?

What will not work satisfactorily-is in fact a bad approach-is the model of the Soviet SS-20 deployment and NATO's response, from the mid-1970s to the present. Whether or not Soviet interlocutors were initially sincere in arguing that the SS-20 was intended merely as a replacement of obsolescent intermediate-range missiles, it was bound to raise the threat to NATO Europe by a quantum jump; then, as the threat became clear about 1977, NATO (distracted by the "neutron bomb" issue)15 failed to remonstrate or press negotiations and elected to respond on a NATO-wide basis instead of by unilateral U.S. action as in the past. Deployments were linked with negotiation in a way almost bound to tempt the Soviets to seek to divide NATO rather than settle the question. Here there are surely important lessons of timely action and Alliance management. In the event, what might conceivably have been an early agreement on limited deployments became an outright confrontation, with the result a short-term defeat for the Soviet Union and a dug-in Soviet position that does not look like changing soon.

What then of the broader approach to Soviet-American relations? Of the last three American Administrations, only the first has had reasonably steady and realistic communication with the Soviet Union, with the Carter Administration speaking with many voices and the Reagan Administration's high-level rhetoric and posturing approach to arms control compounding the problems that would have been raised in any event by its Manichean views of the Soviet Union. As others have noted, all postwar experience, but especially that of these dozen years, 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-in effect containment with negotiation and contact. Only such a policy can both minimize the danger of confrontation and engage the continuing support of broad American public consensus and notably that of America's key allies, together with an essential degree of understanding and support from the non-communist world at large.16

Such foreign support and understanding have, throughout the postwar period, been deemed crucial not only to dealing with Soviet threats or threats backed by the Soviet Union but to coherent U.S. foreign policy on all fronts. The Western Alliance, with NATO as its cornerstone, remains unique in history and in its strength and depth of common interests and values. In these last dozen years the United States has had to deal with obstructive action by its allies in at least one case (the denial of transit to resupply Israel during the 1973 war), and with serious disagreement on at least two other occasions (the responses to the invasion of Afghanistan and to the imposition of martial law in Poland). Today Europeans have both strong feelings and vested interests in the preservation of key trade and personal-exchange relationships arising from détente and see its results in far more favorable terms than most of U.S. opinion. NATO has shown itself capable of cohesive action on missile deployment in Europe-though not without significant differences and even defections of minority parties-and the Central European front remains basically secure. But there remain important differences on the handling of the Soviet Union and on potential crisis situations outside the NATO area, notably over the Arab-Israeli problem.

From this mixed record some would draw the lesson that alliances and world reactions are less important today than they have been in the past, and that the NATO tie in particular should be loosened or modified. Such conclusions would, I believe, be profoundly mistaken. Unquestionably our allies should do more in significant respects. But in the last analysis we cannot do without the maximum attainable degree of cooperation from them, as well as from the many well-disposed countries around the periphery of the Soviet Union.17 The United States may have to act unilaterally on occasion-as it did in Grenada-but a profound concern for allied and regional attitudes remains fundamental.18 Where the United States is tempted to unilateral action, but where that action also cuts sharply into allied attitudes and especially allied interest, a unified compromise approach will in most cases be vastly preferable to adopting U.S. preferences to the full-a lesson surely underscored most recently by the pipeline sanctions dispute of 1982.


Let us now take a harder look at crises in the period in the Third World. I have noted my belief that 1914 is a better rough parallel for our present situation than 1929-39-that is, that a major war could come about much more readily by a confrontation outside the main theater of central Europe, with each of the superpowers tied to somewhat independent and unpredictable local and regional actors, so that a local conflict could reach a pitch not intended by either superpower but in which one or the other faced the choice between local defeat and wider action. Moreover, it is in the Third World that what the Soviets call "the correlation of forces" can shift most markedly, not only in the perception of the superpowers themselves but in that of their most responsible major allies.19 That such shifts might relate much less to the classic factors of raw materials and similar concrete factors than to their psychological impact does not reduce their crucial importance, but may even make them more difficult to handle.

Here again there are surely central lessons of foresight from the experience of these 12 years. 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. But in the last 12 years, as in the last 40 as a whole, a principal feature in the Third World has been the breakup of colonial positions held by Western nations sensitive to moral factors and public opinion and unable or unwilling to maintain those positions.

One example here must be the failure to anticipate the Portuguese military coup of 1974 and the immediate decision to relinquish the Portuguese territories in Southern Africa. It seems clear that Washington (and, to be fair, all the major European nations) failed totally to foresee these events or to plan seriously for them. No one familiar with the past history would claim that the problem was easy for the United States-with Portugal both a NATO ally and the provider of key facilities in the Azores (as notably in the 1973 Middle East war). But to bet heavily, as the Nixon Administration had done, on continued white control throughout Southern Africa was clearly an error from which lessons must be drawn.

Similar lessons were right under our noses in Panama and in Central America. There were psychologically understandable and historical reasons for many Americans to reject or put to one side the fact that the U.S. position in the Panama Canal was in this generation a semi-colonial condition that could not endure. But it is nonetheless sad that successive Administrations-themselves convinced of the necessity for change since at least 1964-failed to articulate the problem to the American people. In the end it took 14 years to achieve the Panama Canal Treaties that were finally signed in 1978 and then ratified only after a bruising and distracting debate that drew far too heavily on the Carter Administration's time and on its credit with the Congress.

With that experience a continuing one, the historian of the future may find it even more incomprehensible that the United States failed to move much sooner and more effectively to disengage itself from Somoza and similar authoritarian military ruling groups in Central America-where both leaders and groups were held in power, especially in the eyes of their peoples, largely by U.S. acquiescence and often outright support. The Carter Administration's handling of the Nicaraguan Revolution was far from flawless, but the real national error was that we failed to come to grips with the situation much sooner. That friendly authoritarians may be replaced by hostile totalitarians is indeed a dilemma which, when it actually arises, sometimes has to be faced with due weight for the strategic importance of the country involved-even short-term chaos and instability in Korea, for example, could present extraordinarily difficult choices, as Iran did in 1978. But in Central America there were no such strategic dangers in the many years before 1978 in which the United States could have changed its posture. That it did not do so reflects in part the simple fact that the U.S. policy machinery today is overburdened and overly crisis-oriented.20 Still, there could have been much more foresight and much more will to act.

One could readily point to similar errors of foresight in this period on the part of other major nations, with Britain and the Falklands War a notable example, but of course the twin problems of instability and conflict in the Third World are by no means confined to historically colonial or semi-colonial situations. Their roots are everywhere, and in the present era almost necessarily rampant-from unresolved local territorial disputes (Cyprus for example) to irredentist quarrels (Northern Ireland for example) to internal cases where traditional forms of leadership are challenged or new governments have never attained real legitimacy. And in every type of situation there is the possibility of Soviet meddling. Much as we may hope for and seek its modification, this must be taken as a given in the present state of Soviet policy and East-West relations. For practical purposes it does not much matter whether the Soviets are truly and systematically seeking world domination, or whether one accepts their own argument, that they are entitled to do in the Third World what they see the United States as having been doing for the last 40 years.21

Hence the repeated need to sort out the regional factors from the external ones, primarily but not solely the actions of the Soviet Union and its surrogates. This problem is sometimes put in terms of arguing the relative merits of a "regional" or "global" approach in U.S. policy. The emphasis in this regard has clearly varied greatly in U.S. policy, between the Carter Administration's stress on regionalism on the one hand, and the tendency of both the Nixon-Ford and especially of the Reagan Administrations to see crises in "global" terms.22 As an either/or argument, this seems to me singularly sterile: there is no single "lesson" that Third World crises are either dominantly regional (or poverty-related) or on the other hand that-in Mr. Reagan's extreme campaign formulation-there would be no trouble if it were not for the Soviets. Only in Afghanistan have we seen the Soviet Union both as actor and in high degree the cause itself. Elsewhere, the situation has always been mixed: there would have been grave trouble in almost any event, but it has been raised to a new pitch by external intervention.

In the resulting dilemma, surely the first need is to keep one's balance, recognizing and justly weighing the local and external factors present in each situation on a case-by-case basis. There is, for example, a difference between the depth of the Cuban (and Soviet) tie to Nicaragua and the degree of real Soviet influence in Syria. To fail to recognize these differences is as wrong as to deny the external element altogether.

This said, the thrust of U.S. policy should surely be in the direction of engaging and working with regional nations, seeking to develop a degree of consensus with them. This is as much the case in Central America as in the Middle East or Southern Africa: indeed, in the Central American case the need may be all the more acute because of the past history of unilateral U.S. action in the area. Today our leaders say this in words, but their actions do not seem to key regional nations or to outsiders to measure up to what is said.

We must also recognize that regional nations-themselves heavily preoccupied with their own individual problems-will need time to develop a true security consensus, and that in the meantime they must be dealt with as they are, even to the point of modifying actions that from the standpoint of U.S. policy seem imperative. The larger long-term goal of regions taking responsibility for their own security, so that the East-West rivalry fades into the background, is worth a great deal.23 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. But we must recognize that if we act as if we were, we run the grave risk of alienating a whole new awakened generation in such areas as Latin America.


This brings me to the lessons of the period concerning the role of military power. And here I have a question at the outset. In the minds of many current U.S. policymakers and much of the U.S. public, the fact that the Soviet Union achieved gains in the Third World during this period has become directly linked with the unquestioned fact of the Soviet military buildup at the same time. But it is at least worth raising the question whether that link was as clear and strong as many have made it.

True, newly available Soviet airlift capabilities made possible the Soviet/Cuban intervention in Angola. The Soviet Union has also been in a a position to send large quantities of conventional military equipment to fortify its new clients in Ethiopia, and notably in Syria, though this was scarcely a brand new developments of the last 12 years. One has only to recall the history of the Soviet military relationship with Egypt from 1955 to 1972-not to mention a host of other cases-to recognize that the kind of military power and equipment relevant to Third World conflicts has usually been amply available to the Soviet Union.

There is undoubtedly an important psychological connection. By 1972 the Soviet Union was perceived as having military parity with the United States and the Western Alliance, and the subsequent Soviet buildup has led many to suppose that on an overall basis the Soviet Union then went ahead in significant respects. That this gave the Soviets themselves greater confidence can hardly be doubted, and this has rightly been a major reason for the recent increases in U.S. military spending that began in 1978 and have been greatly stepped up under the Reagan Administration. (Along with most Americans, I have supported the necessity for substantial increases, although-again like most Americans-I am today concerned not only about wasteful practices and management but about the strategic premises behind the naval program in particular.)24

Yet if one looks at the crises in the Third World over this period, the element of military power seems to me usually to have been secondary to the importance of local politics. And a secondary and firmer conclusion is that in sacrificing what might have been a major growth in basic economic strength to this military buildup, the Soviets have neglected the crucial and growing significance of such economic power from every standpoint, but specifically including effectiveness in attaining lasting positions of influence and power in the Third World. Over and over again-with Angola an obvious example-the Soviets have been able to offer the military equipment to get power and the internal security advice and support to keep it, but not the economic ties that could have kept their new clients from turning elsewhere and from diluting their Soviet ties.

And on the U.S. side it seems to me that there is a similar trend that could become dangerous. I have already referred to the central importance of overall U.S. economic strength, simply as the foundation both of U.S. prosperity and of the world economic system as a whole. That strength is no longer as dominant as it was a generation ago-and it is significantly less today than it should be because of unwise policies in the last 20 years. But it is still very great indeed, and any observer of the tools of U.S. foreign policy today must wonder at the degree to which these economic tools have been downgraded, at least at the official level.

One can, to be sure, readily point to the extraordinary panoply of economic resources that have flowed to the Third World through commercial lending and the multilateral lending institutions, as well as to the central importance of the U.S. market for the striking development of many countries in the Third World during this period, notably the so-called middle-income countries. We recognize this economic power instinctively-and have in my judgment been wise not to politicize it in the great majority of cases. But it is still true that when it comes to furnishing relatively small amounts of help, or assured markets and cooperation, in crisis Third World situations, the U.S. government today is vastly less flexible and resourceful than it was in the days of Eisenhower and Kennedy. They would rub their eyes today to learn what it took to get immediate help to Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe after 1979 or to the key Central American countries even after the crisis there of the same year, let alone before. And today the Congress is sharply divided over economic recommendations of the Kissinger Commission that were, in hindsight, long overdue.

No one would argue that the whole postwar experience of transferring resources to Third World nations has been without grave error-for example, the delay in supporting agriculture and the failure to exert influence toward larger reliance on the private sector. But the plain fact is that U.S. policy has today been largely stripped of one of the important tools of postwar policy, and one that has great humanitarian as well as geopolitical importance. I have heard the point stressed by Warren Christopher in his last days as President Carter's Deputy Secretary of State; his views would surely be amply shared both by his predecessors and by his successors today.

Too Little Too Much About Right No Opinion

% % % %

February 1984 12 47 36 5

November 1982 16 41 31 12

March 1982 19 36 36 9

Jan.-Feb. 1981 51 15 22 12

January 1980 49 14 24 13

December 1979 34 21 33 12

July 1977 27 23 40 10

Jan.-Feb. 1976 22 36 32 10

September 1974 12 44 32 12

SOURCE: The Gallup Organization, Gallup Reports International, Vol. II, No. 2, April 1984

In short, we need to look again at two big questions. First, are we today using the economic power we have nearly as effectively as we should? Second-and more basic-are we weighing properly the relative importance of economic and military strength as components of national power?

Today, that basic question arises as we weigh the competing demands on our present military program against domestic needs, and both against the impact of continued high deficits on our economic health and on our foreign policy. I do not wish to get deeply into the current debate, although I will say frankly that my sympathies have been strongly with the sentiments and program advanced by Peter Peterson, other senior former Cabinet officers of both Parties, and an impressive array of leaders in the private sector. What we need to recognize above all, in foreign and security policy terms, is that high and rising interest rates here and abroad (from whatever cause) may already be having a security impact far outweighing the incremental importance to our military strength of the last $50 billion or so in the defense budget. In Europe, those interest rates are a major perceived reason for their lagging recovery, which in turn makes them unable or at least unwilling to move ahead in developing increased NATO conventional strength-a lag which could well set off a negative spiral in U.S. and European attitudes toward NATO itself. And in Latin America's debt crisis, the implications in security terms alone of nations choosing between the Scylla of internal political convulsions stemming from austerity programs and the Charybdis of default may mean that a further rise of even one or two points in the interest rate could set off turmoil in our backyard that would inevitably put heavy strains on overall security in the Western Hemisphere. This is certainly how thoughtful Europeans see the prospect-and with it a grave danger that U.S. policy will abruptly become so preoccupied with dangers to the South that it will scant even the necessary attention to NATO problems-or even the Middle East at some point.25

I have put the question in terms of U.S. policy primarily, but the same issue of military versus economic emphasis is widely present in the world today. Not only the superpower arms competition but regional arms races in many areas of the world represent a diversion to military purposes of enormous resources that might otherwise be used in the direction of progress. Is the military power these nations seek really usable even for the objectives envisaged? In seeking it, are they not sacrificing not only the welfare of their people but the roots of their economic strength-and are we and other Western nations not assisting them in this wrong emphasis? My judgment is that they and we are, and that the lesson is profound and worldwide.


I turn next to international cooperation during this period. The record on economic matters has not been without successes, although I have already noted that the present structure and system have developed serious faults not yet in sight of correction. The major multilateral economic institutions have at least held their ground, with the World Bank and latterly the International Monetary Fund both performing useful services and serving as anchors in a turbulent economic time. Until very recently, the record of the private banking community was excellent, picking up the slack of relatively reduced state transfers of resources from North to South and handling the shock of the first oil crisis in particular far better than many (including myself) foresaw at the time. And while economic summits have not produced the scale of cooperation necessary even among their participants, they have surely been a significant forward step.

On the wider front, including North/South negotiations and worldwide cooperation on global issues, the record has been disappointing. The situation today is symbolized by the inability to agree on the next step in the North/South dialogue, with the industrialized nations bound to insist on control mechanisms weighted in terms of their far greater resources, and the developing countries seeking a more egalitarian structure. It is an impasse unlikely to be resolved at least until there is a rising economic tide that brings with it greater willingness to compromise and look ahead than now exists. On the other hand, one can point to substantial (though inadequate) progress in facing up to the world population problem; much has also been done on food supply and technology, both in meeting famine crises and in expanding the use of new technology often developed by private organizations-notably the Green Revolution.

The lesson may be that where clear and identifiable practical undertakings are needed, international organizations have done reasonably well, but that wider tasks of redistribution or restructuring are simply not now practicable, at least through multilateral agreement. In 1975 and 1976 the developing nations had reached a broad consensus that a New International Economic Order (NIEO) was a moral imperative, and there was a serious dialogue to that end, furthered particularly by France under Giscard d'Estaing and with the United States initially a forthcoming participant. But even by 1977 the effort was faltering and the attempts to revive it since then have been sterile.

The reasons for this deserve examination, although my own conclusions are particularly tentative. The failure of the oil-producing countries to achieve successful domestic development, with an accompanying decline in their relative financial importance even before oil prices levelled off and started to decline in real terms in 1981, was surely a factor. A wider factor was the record during this period of the Third World nations loosely grouped at its beginning as "developing" nations. Whereas oil wealth produced temporary power but not balanced national development among the producers, there emerged the group of Third World countries now known as the middle-income countries-notably on the rim of East Asia (Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore) and in Latin America (notably Brazil). As these countries forged ahead within the existing system, they became somewhat ambivalent about the need or at least the urgency of anything resembling an NIEO. By the end of the decade their concerns and emphasis had shifted to the more concrete matters of obtaining adequate financing and trade outlets.

Indeed, there was surely a major development lesson in the progress achieved by this middle-income group, many of which forged ahead with heavy emphasis on the private sector, guided and assisted by government action. As one who watched this process get under way in East Asia and joined others in foreseeing the economic miracle of recent years there, I would not for a moment deny that there is a lesson in that direction. Yet one must not ignore such basic factors as developed organizational capacities, receptivity to education and sheer vitality. To say that the policies and structural recipes of the middle-income countries could be simply taken over by the rest of the Third World, if nations so chose, is surely to ignore vast differences between them and others less fortunate-whether in terms of size and social complexity (India for example) or in terms of massive and grinding poverty (and in many cases continued high population growth) that make it extraordinarily difficult for this poorer group to get untracked. We may be in for a long period of a kind of three-tier situation among the non-communist economies, with the truly less-developed countries still heavily dependent on large inflows of external resources and unable for compound reasons to make more than very slow progress.

Let me now turn to the state of international cooperation and international restraints in relation to conflict among nations. It has never been in the cards that the United Nations or its Security Council could act effectively in conflicts involving the superpowers-Korea was a historic accident in this respect. That this was again demonstrated in this period over Afghanistan was not a new development. Indeed only a remarkable feat of personal diplomacy, coupled with a real "feel" for the organization, on the part of its U.N. Ambassador enabled Britain to obtain what was surely a helpful Security Council resolution on the Falklands War. We have had Secretaries General of varying quality-the present incumbent seems outstanding-and there is one extraordinary world servant, Brian Urquhart, who has forgotten more about peacekeeping than most of us will ever know. From time to time, such individuals have managed to do extremely useful work in quiet mediation and in the organization of U.N. forces in such areas as Cyprus and the Sinai.

But for the most part this has been at the fringes-as Mr. Urquhart himself implicitly conceded in a telling article on how the Security Council could be made more effective.26 On almost all conflicts, the United Nations has registered policy attitudes at least as much as principle, and if anything this period has seen a decline in progress toward the goal Dean Rusk has always believed in, passionately and deeply, that the United Nations should be able to refer each conflict directly to the terms of the Charter and act accordingly.

On the Arab-Israeli problem in particular, the U.N. record has been generally negative: to concede that this has been in part a result of deep frustrations in the Arab world is only partially to condone the frequent bouts of extremism in recent years, including notably the reception of Arafat in 1974. For a great many Americans, that extremism has obscured the still-central importance of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338-dated as these are with respect to the language concerning the Palestinians-and it has most certainly contributed mightily to a marked and disturbing change in sentiment toward the organization in wide sectors of U.S. opinion. Again, if this crucial conflict could be moved into constructive negotiation, the whole relationship between the United Nations and the United States might change significantly.

This brings me to the state of international law and of U.S. attitudes toward it. And here I could illustrate what seems to me a fundamental lesson-not new to this period but surely reinforced during it-by the final decision of the Reagan Administration not to accept the Law of the Sea Treaty.27 In effect, by declining to accept what was concededly a difficult framework for the future mining of minerals in the deep seabed-in an overall negotiation conducted over the years by a series of able U.S. negotiators and approved by successive Administrations up to the present one-the United States put itself in the position of not being a signatory to a formal structure of sea law that also includes crucially important codification of provisions concerning transit of sea and air lanes, not to mention other provisions relating to science and other commercial activities. Those who defend the Administration's position assert that in some future confrontation concerning such transit, we should be able to rely on a "customary law" status governing U.S. rights; this seems to me, and to many closer to the issue, a frail assumption.

The point, I believe, should be clear. Over and over again the United States has relied, and must rely, on the basic principles of the U.N. Charter and on international law. The examples are legion, from Korea to U.S. support for Britain in the Falklands War and the U.S. objections to the settlement policies of Israel's Likud government in the West Bank.28 That the U.N. Charter in particular may occasionally be invoked corruptly does not diminish its enduring significance as a vitally important code on which, in its own national interest alone, the United States will need to rely frequently in the future as in the past. In that crucial sense, international law-vague and unformed as it is in many respects-is not merely, as Justice Holmes said of law in general, a "brooding omnipresence in the sky." It has concrete importance, not merely for U.S. public opinion but for the enlisting of important support from other nations in meeting and controlling threats to the peace.

This is not by any means to say that international law always can be controlling. In Grenada, for example, it is my belief that we were justified in acting despite the tenuous nature of the legal justification.29 Time alone will not always permit getting the ducks neatly into their legal row. Moreover, as the Grenada case illustrated in extreme form, regional groupings capable of effectively defining norms of conduct in other areas are often inexperienced and unaccustomed to their new role-and on occasion subject to external pressures on individual nations. The emergence of such groupings is indeed a striking feature of this period-the Organization of African Unity, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Islamic Conference, and the Contadora group are important examples. The views of such groups deserve serious consideration at all times from the standpoint of overall U.S. policy; in many cases they both condition the framework and should be guided on. But they are seldom today in a position to do more than define general approaches. They cannot be relied on entirely, especially in terms of defining even customary new international law.

Yet such cases as Grenada should surely be treated as the exceptions to a general rule. I believe that there is an enduring need-made more acute by recent events and U.S. attitudes-to rethink whether we are not, partly because of our national faith in the role of law and partly because of concrete national interests, "at heart on the side of law."30 This must mean that we should also be at heart on the side of supporting and strengthening the U.N. Charter and the legal framework of the United Nations wherever possible, doing our utmost to reverse the trend of recent years.

The operating organizations under the United Nations are significantly different, and should be judged on a case-by-case basis. Some have indeed been politicized and almost all are run at inferior levels of competence, derived heavily from patronage recruitment and the fact that too many who are ostensibly U.N. servants are in fact under the total control and direction of their national governments. These are serious flaws, and the downright protest actions the United States has felt compelled to take in the case of the International Labour Organisation and now in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization seem to me to have been basically justified. But again we must recognize that many of these operating organizations play highly constructive roles both in global terms and in terms of U.S. national interests. We take this for granted in the case of the World Bank and IMF, but it is surely true of several other action organizations under the U.N. umbrella. That we properly object to what has happened in a few U.N. organizations must not diminish our support for others.


I turn now to the management of U.S. foreign policy, starting with the relationship between the Executive and Congress. The subject is too vast to do more than touch briefly on it, but few would doubt that it has now become central. Over and over again, in this period, Congress has intervened to modify, dictate or obstruct foreign policy actions, not to greater degree or effect than in the interwar period but on many more issues. That some of its legislation of these years has now been thrown in doubt by the Supreme Court's decision on the "legislative veto" cannot obscure the extraordinary importance of its role in both specific and general terms, as well as in controlling the agenda of successive administrations. Today more than ever, the role of Congress is of wide-ranging importance, and though our constitutional system is often the despair of foreign governments, its roots lie deep in our national beliefs; basic change would be a formidable undertaking from any standpoint.31

To draw from the pages of Foreign Affairs alone, two distinguished Senators of different substantive views have expressed deep misgivings, each at times when his Party controlled the Congress or at least the Senate. In 1979, J. William Fulbright wrote: "I confess to increasingly serious misgivings about the ability of the Congress to play a constructive role in our foreign relations."32 And in 1981, John Tower compared the situation to the interwar years and concluded that "Congress has inhibited the President's freedom of action and denied him the tools necessary for the formulation and implementation of American foreign policy."33 Senator Tower's focus was on the need to repeal what he saw as unwise specific legislation, Senator Fulbright's on the role of legislators as leaders and educators and the need to train and condition them to this role. Others, notably Congressman Lee Hamilton and then Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher (again both writing when their parties commanded majorities in the Congress), have urged the importance of effective communication and consultation and of what Mr. Christopher called "a compact" between the Executive and the Congress.34

Recommendations along these lines have been made by others, though seldom as clearly or eloquently. Their central thrust surely deserves serious attention. Obviously, 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 (in part because of changes within the Congress itself and the increasingly adversary positions of the two major political parties), and that the burdens it imposes on pursuing any coherent foreign policy are today excessive, not to mention the great and increasing strain that dealings with the Congress, under present customs, imposes on senior executive officials in the foreign policy area.

In short, there is a need for all of us to rethink this problem. Much can surely be done to maintain the proper constitutional role of the Congress and at the same time to reduce unnecessary frictions and make the whole process work much more efficiently. I cannot believe that the Founding Fathers, if they were brought back today, would have wished their (and our) treasured principle of checks and balances to be carried to the extent visible in far too many examples today-when the United States must conduct a global foreign policy and can affect an enormous number of situations, in which our national interests are deeply engaged, by inaction as much as by action.

But the problems of the Executive branch itself may be equally serious. In the handling of the policymaking process the lessons of these dozen years, alas, have been mostly negative.35 Admitting always that Presidents must run the show as they wish, it remains surprising that recent incumbents have had to relearn, at great cost, lessons stamped in the memories of the now-large body of constant observers and past participants. Teamwork and a measure of order are essentials we neglect at our peril.

Even graver, in my judgment, is the problem of training and using to the full the true professionals. I am one of many who started as amateurs and graduated osmotically to full guild status; the fact that our system allows and encourages this kind of lateral entry, not just in political positions, is much more a strength than a weakness. But, whether in-and-outers or stayers, senior officials must always depend heavily on the advice and special expertise of the Foreign Service in particular. No one who has worked with that Service, with our military and intelligence people, or with the true professionals on the economic front can fail to recognize their extraordinary dedication and generally high personal quality and capacity.

In these twelve years the Foreign Service has gone through great and needed changes, in its breadth of origin and in the role of spouses; these are right and indeed overdue. Moreover, it has become in this period a much more dangerous and disagreeable profession-the Teheran hostages were only the outward and visible signs of security and living problems that now prevail in many if not most areas.36

There is only so much that can be done about these conditions of work abroad, although they are reason enough for looking hard at the state of the Service. What concerns me as much is the problem flagged repeatedly earlier, namely our failure to anticipate emerging situations that affect U.S. national interests. Crisis management is heady stuff; it can too easily become addictive, at the expense of constantly running through the inventory of latent concerns so that the grease does not go just to squeaky wheels. This above all is a job for professionals with a feel for foreign societies; we need to have many more who immerse themselves for long periods in important or potentially important countries, especially in the Third World.37

And they need to be listened to. As things now stand, not only the Washington policy structure but local ambassadors are too often not amplifiers but mufflers of doubts and concerns that tend to develop particularly among younger individuals or those without day-to-day policy responsibility-simply because the latter, in the nature of things, get around more and have their pores wider open. I am thinking here of Iran and recent examples, but of course with special feeling about Vietnam through the years.

Part of the problem is, as I just said, simply overloading and preoccupation-though there must be ways to ease these by strengthening the engine-room floors of the State Department and bringing the professionals more into policy thinking and planning. Some of it, however, stems from appointment practices that wisely advised Presidents can do something about. The fluctuating percentages of political appointments to ambassadorships abroad are a guide but an incomplete one; one could readily name people with ingrained political feel who have succeeded brilliantly, as well as situations where a representative especially close to a given Administration was the right ticket. But we are seeing a steadily increasing number of appointments with neither justification.

So there is surely a lesson here, and a job, for those who advise Presidents, for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, perhaps for a way of getting the judgment of past senior professionals.38

Finally, as many have now pointed out, we have a national problem in training and developing area and language competence, as much for private as for public needs.39 Surely it is paradoxical that in a time that has seen a large increase in the scale of American activities abroad, the store of real expertise has, by common consent, shrunk. Disillusionment with government service may be part of the cause, but the biggest one is that we, all of us, have simply not been paying attention or seeing that the necessary resources and backing are provided.


Finally and inevitably, I come to the state of American public opinion. It is the subject on which I feel least at home: an Editor cannot do his job and hold his finger up to the wind constantly, though as a citizen he must always be acutely aware that in the end it is public opinion that defines, and in our democracy must define, the limits of foreign policy and often its specifics. Our cartoon oracle Pogo's memorable statement "We have met the enemy and he is us." is basically true, only wrongly put in that public opinion is never an "enemy" but a beating heart in which we all share.

When Alexis de Tocqueville expressed his doubts about the ability of a democracy to conduct foreign policy,40 even he (who did foresee the emergence of the United States and Russia as dominant powers) can hardly have envisaged the scope of international relations and of U.S. foreign policy today. Still less would he have dreamt of the degree of pluralism in our society today. On an overall reading, and for all our remaining faults, we have done in the last 50 years an extraordinary job of bringing almost all elements into some sense of sharing in power and responsibility-a process that owes much, as Joseph Alsop in particular has noted, to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.41 That these diverse parts of our national being feel special concerns over particular nations and causes abroad is, in essence, no different from the feelings of many with British ties when Britain was threatened in 1940-41.

As for the excessive intrusion of special economic interests, in foreign or in domestic policy-hard to separate on economic matters today-anyone with an ancestor at the Hartford Convention of 1815 had best not be first to pick up a stone. Both types of special interests do need always to be set in a central framework of U.S. national interest, and I suspect that the concerns expressed by one of our most balanced and thoughtful leaders, Senator Charles Mathias, are widely shared.42

But we are, proudly, a varied nation and, since (as Judge Learned Hand reminded us in a time of deep trouble) we are also descended from a long line of chattering apes,43 we are also disputatious, Americans perhaps especially so, and incurably addicted to argument and a high degree of trial and error-which was much of de Tocqueville's point.

Yet this need not mean, and for a quarter-century after 1941 did not mean, that we have to be hamstrung by division. Then we had a working consensus.

Might we rediscover such a consensus today? Those who most bemoan and assign reasons for its loss seldom if ever come up with their own proposals. I suspect there is no answer today-and that 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 major hostile power threatening clearly vital areas already familiar to us.

As the East-West conflict moved into Third World areas, we were headed for trouble, and now that the whole board has become lit up it is just too much to expect that a single line of approach will command solid and unquestioning support. After all, even the cleavages that rend us today over Central America are ones long familiar in related societies-one has no doubt which sides William Ewart Gladstone or Benjamin Disraeli would be on.

Even such philosophical or moral divisions can, however, be moderated. These 12 years started with a Republican President stealing the clothes of the Democrats over China; they have ended with two Administrations that started left and right of the postwar mainstream moving visibly toward the center on many issues. If we could ease up on the emotional stops, if our leaders at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue were much clearer and fuller in expounding (or attacking) foreign policy, if we reached out to each other with much more effort at understanding, we would not suddenly agree on a particular compass course, but we might well find at least a quadrant of agreement.

In the end I think those "ifs" are doable. And for that and other reasons I am by no means as pessimistic for the future as the body of this article might suggest. Things have been much darker before, and again and again this vital, unpredictable but still extraordinarily energetic society has risen to the occasion. I have a gut faith that it will do so again. Yet, as Justice Brandeis put it, "the mode by which the inevitable comes to pass is through effort."

1 James E. Akins, "The Oil Crisis: This Time The Wolf Is Here," Foreign Affairs, April 1973, p. 479.

4 Walter J. Levy, "The Years that the Locust Hath Eaten: Oil Policy and OPEC Development Prospects," Foreign Affairs, Winter 1978/79, p. 305.

7 For a recent thoughtful review of the problems raised by U.S. supplies of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, see Leslie Gelb, "Stinger Sale: Mideast Balancing Act," The New York Times, May 29, 1984, p. A9.

11 I have never been comfortable with descriptions of the United States in recent years as "imperial" or as an "imperial Republic"-though the latter was used by as eminent a scholar as the late Raymond Aron. I prefer the classic definition of imperialism as territorial control. See William L. Langer, "A Critique of Imperialism," Foreign Affairs, October 1935, p. 107.

15 See William P. Bundy, "A Portentous Year," Foreign Affairs, America and the World 1983, p. 500.

20 By way of illustration, Central America is not mentioned at all in Henry Kissinger, Years of Upheaval, Boston: Little, Brown, 1982, in Kissinger, White House Years, Boston: Little, Brown, 1979, or in Zbigniew Brzezinski, Power and Principle: Memoirs of the National Security Advisor, 1977-1981, New York: Farrar, Straus, 1983.

24 The fluctuations in American public opinion on defense spending in the past decade have been a study in themselves. Since 1974 the Gallup Organization has conducted systematic surveys with the same question concerning current military budget levels. The results have been as follows:

25 See "Uncle Sam's Roving Eyes," The Economist, March 10-16, 1984

30 This is a corruption of a statement by Ralph Waldo Emerson, reproduced on the wall of Hunter College in New York City. The full quotation is: "We are of different opinions at different hours, but we always may be said to be at heart on the side of truth."

32 J. William Fulbright, "The Legislator as Educator," Foreign Affairs, Spring 1979, p. 719.

33 John G. Tower, "Congress Versus the President: The Formulation and Implementation of American Foreign Policy," Foreign Affairs, Winter 1981/82, p. 246.

36 Since early 1973 four U.S. Ambassadors have been killed at their posts along with at least six other senior members of Embassy staffs. The most dramatic terrorist action (not included in these figures) was the truck bombing of the Embassy in Beirut in April 1983, in which 21 Americans were killed.

37 This need may apply particularly to CIA agents under what is called deep cover, with no operational mission. It is my strong impression that, after the post-Watergate investigations of the mid-1970s, the Agency's necessary covert intelligence functions have not fully recovered and are at present being excessively subordinated to the present Director's preoccupation with covert operations. In my judgement, local intelligence deserves at least as high a priority as intelligence directed at Soviet representatives.

38 In 1977, the Carter Administration convened a useful panel that included such past senior officials. Proposals for a more permanent structure for advising on the qualifications of proposed appointees are now being considered by the recently created Academy of American Diplomacy in Washington.

39 See The Presidential Commission on Foreign Language and International Studies, "Strength Through Wisdom: A Critique of U.S. Capability," November 8, 1979, Washington: GPO, 1979.

40 The key passage is quoted in Fulbright, loc. cit., p. 719.

41 Joseph Alsop, FDR: A Centenary Remembrance, New York: Viking, 1982.



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  • William P. Bundy has been the Editor of Foreign Affairs since October 1972. From 1951 to 1969 he served in various government positions concerned with foreign policy.
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