The Downside of Imperial Collapse
When Empires or Great Powers Fall, Chaos and War Rise
Someone is always devising a slogan or aphorism to dispose of an idea that is too complex for facile solution. At any given moment of time there are a number of such bromides in the public domain, but today the most popular is "No more Viet Nams." It is a phrase usually proclaimed with heavy emphasis as a statement of ultimate truth, but just what course of action it calls for is obscure. Like most serviceable utterances of this genre, it is artfully ambiguous, meaning quite conveniently whatever the user wishes it to mean. Thus, it may serve as a bugle note sounding the retreat to isolationism-or an argument that we should abandon Southeast Asia altogether-or an insistence that we should never again commit American power so uncritically-or a hawkish demand that we cast aside the restraints of limited war, unleash the military and drop lethal bombs without inhibition.
This is by no means the only cliché that currently mars the public discourse, merely the loudest. Thus, the United States, we are constantly told, is "not the world's policeman," although, of course, we should "resist temptations to backslide into isolationism." It is unfair that we should have to "carry more than our share of the burdens," yet at the same time "we must be fully prepared to halt aggression against free nations wherever it occurs."
What all this quite accurately suggests is a country no longer sure of its role in the world, yet unable to redefine it in a satisfactory manner while, meantime, the easy answers of the past no longer furnish their ancient comfort.
Of course, no nation likes to walk a global beat, but in the two millennia since the Athenian flowering, the world has made exiguous progress toward organized tranquility. Living in political structures that were out of date a hundred years ago, man is still so bedeviled by greed and passion that force and authority must be ever at hand if he is not to blow the world up. So, unhappy as may be the policeman's lot, if we do not walk his thankless beat, who will?
Certainly not our traditional allies. Having failed to achieve even the first stages of political unity, no West European country by itself has either the stomach or resources for significant exertions outside the European parish.
Nor are other sources of force and effort any more promising. Some years ago it was faddish to place great hope on regional organizations, but because in most areas of the world the concept contradicted the realities of power it was always more figure of speech than practical alternative. Based on our experience so far, there is little reason to believe that we can dispose of serious problems through decentralized institutions; yet a universal solution is very little more likely.
It would be pleasant if we could really wash our hands of the world's most troublesome problems by-in the cant of politicians and editorial writers- "taking them to the United Nations." But we should have learned by now that this rhetoric is quite hollow whenever the United States and the Soviet Union are aligned on opposite sides of a serious issue, as is true in almost all situations that even marginally touch the balance of world power.
Still, the hope remains that, on that epic day when the cold war wears itself out, our universal machinery will become workable. Thus, it is argued, if and as we find expanding areas of common interest with the Soviet Union, we should strive with them to "strengthen the United Nations" and move toward the "rule of law." Such a prospect is obviously attractive, though in sober moments we know it to be a long way off. Yet, if we are ever to achieve that beckoning goal, we must be careful not to stumble over our own feet as we plod painfully along.
No one can seriously contend that we now live under a universal system or, in any realistic sense, under the "rule of law." We maintain the peace by preserving a precarious balance of power between ourselves and the Soviet Union-a process we used to call "containment" before the word went out of style. It is the preservation of that balance which, regardless of how we express it, is the central guiding principle of American foreign policy. It is the reason we spend $80 billion a year for our military establishment and-whether rightly or mistakenly-it is the reason why a half-million Americans are currently slogging through the paddies and jungles of Southeast Asia.
Not only do we still depend on the time-honored device of the balance of power, which both the League of Nations and the United Nations were supposed to render obsolete, but we tacitly claim and recognize other hoary concepts, as, for example, "spheres of influence" or, more accurately, "spheres of interest." We paid deference to such a Soviet sphere in 1956 when we sat by while Russian tanks rolled into Budapest, and we recognized it again last summer when we used nothing more lethal than harsh words while the Soviets stamped out those small sprigs of liberalism just beginning to push through the bleak soil of Czechoslovakia.
That is only half the story. For their part, the Soviets tacitly acknowledged our sphere of interest when they stood by while we sent the marines and paratroopers into the Dominican Republic in 1965 (with, of course, OAS ratification) and, earlier and more dramatically, when in 1962 we ordered their missiles out of Cuba.
Irksome though some may find it, we still practice what is derisively called the "old diplomacy" because there seems nothing better to do. All but the wildly romantic are agreed that we will never achieve a workable universal system until the two global powers are prepared to follow parallel, if not common, lines of action on a reasonably broad spectrum of policies. Yet, to make this bright vision come true will not be easy. It will require more will and hardheadedness than we are now exhibiting.
What we need first is squarely to recognize the nature of the institutions presently at hand and how they operate, or fail to operate.
To appraise the United Nations with anything approaching clarity we must avoid the wishful fantasies of its devoted constituency. No matter how much its supporters wish otherwise, the founders of the United Nations did not envisage their creation as a world government, or anything resembling it. At the most, they saw it as a first halting step toward universalism, designed to provide an institutional means through which the great powers could maintain the peace, guided by the body of principles enunciated in the Charter.
Far more clearly than the Covenant of the League, the U.N. Charter placed the prime responsibility for the maintenance of world peace squarely on the Security Council, which, in essential concept, was a club of the great powers-the instrument through which they could reach accord and enforce their decisions.
To understand both the Charter and the Covenant, it is important to recognize their common inspiration. Both drew heavily on the experience of the Council of Europe, that nebulous-even, in some ways, metaphorical- institution through which the concert of great powers sought with fair success to maintain the peace throughout the nineteenth century. In a manner of speaking, that earlier Council served as grandfather to the Security Council, to whom the drafters of the U.N. Charter unequivocally entrusted the maintenance of the peace.
Since then, however, the Security Council has been the victim of a kind of creeping irrelevance, which is a familiar ailment of institutions that are prevented by circumstance from fulfilling their original purpose. In such a climate special interests have an easy time of it since, in the resulting mood of absentmindedness, they find little resistance to subtle changes that may render the original purpose unachievable.
Thus far the Security Council has not been immune from this debilitating process. Losing sight of the essential great-power underpinning of the Charter, the permanent members have already agreed to an inflation of the Council's membership that has altered its character and impaired the chances for its effective operation, if and when the United States and the Soviet Union reach a broader accommodation. Under the Charter in its initial form, the Security Council was to consist of five permanent members together with six non-permanent members who would be designated to serve on a rotating basis. But from a sense of futility and careless complaisance we have supported the enlargement of the Council from eleven to fifteen, with ten non-permanent members. Of those ten, five are, by courtesy and practice, drawn from the nations of the Afro-Asian bloc.
This inflation is a symptom, not of strength, but of weakness that comes from lack of exercise. It finds a sad parallel in earlier experience, for as the League Council moved unsteadily from frustration to frustration the number of non-permanent members was expanded step-by-step from four to eleven.
The result is that, in the Security Council as now organized, action can no longer be taken merely on the agreement of the great powers. Today they must carry with them not two, but at least four non-permanent members. The consequence is not only to infect the Council with the bloc politics of the General Assembly, but to increase the chasm between responsibility and power that has from the beginning made the Assembly, in Burke's phrase, a mere "talking shop."
More disturbing even than the onset of fatty degeneration in the Council is the challenge to its powers and purposes that has recently marked the Arab- Israeli crisis.
Today, the achievement of stability in the Middle East ranks high on the list of priorities. For the United States, as well as for the Soviet Union, the strategic significance of that area exceeds that of the Southeast Asian peninsula by a factor of four or five. It is geographically much nearer the heart of power (which corresponds almost axiomatically with the heart of danger). It contains vast resources of oil, which are not only a major United States investment but a principal source of energy for Western Europe. Including as it does the south and east littoral of the Mediterranean, it has for centuries been a source of attraction for Russian governments. It includes the Suez Canal, which, though no longer commercially important to the United States and, at best, a wasting asset for Egypt, is of major strategic interest to the Soviet Union. Finally, it is an area riven by passion, in which the United States can benefit from friendly relations with both sides but has special emotional and historical commitments to the state of Israel.
It is now two years since the June war of 1967, and the fact that there is as yet no peace nor likely prospect of peace should, it seems, have taught us a lesson. Time has not settled the dust as we had hoped; instead, an indefinite continuance of a strained and abnormal situation in which large pieces of Arab territory remain under Israeli occupation is far more likely to complicate than to hasten a settlement. Raid and reprisal occur in accelerating rhythm, while the Fedayeen are rapidly becoming a super- government whose extreme views inject a new and awkward political element to be accounted for in any settlement.
Nations caught up in a quarrel have only limited options. One option is to settle, another to fight, a third to let matters fester in a state that is neither war nor peace. Yet, if the Middle East festers long enough with no settlement, fighting is almost certain to be resumed, and, from the point of view of American interests and indeed of world peace, renewed war in that irrational area of the world would be too perilous to justify continued passivity.
Yet, unhappily for everyone, there is little prospect that the political authorities on either side can muster the cohesion and domestic consensus that will permit them to take the painful initiatives and make the accommodations necessary to a settlement. The governments of the Arab nations most immediately concerned are too weak to take a strong lead that will open them to demagogic attack, while the Israeli Government, embroiled in an internal power struggle and facing an election, cannot, within its own ranks, agree on concrete substantive proposals; thus, it will probably continue to insist on procedural positions clearly unacceptable to the other side. In the face of these realities, we have no reasonable option but to move away from a passive policy. The best-and perhaps the only-hope for peace is that, through firm and patient negotiation with the Soviet Union, we may be able to hammer out between us the concrete terms of a settlement that would safeguard the interests of both Israel and its Arab neighbors.
For the United States Government to join in trying to shape such a settlement involves the assumption of grave commitments and responsibilities in connection with the guarantees required for its enforcement. Nor is there any assurance that the Soviet Union can be persuaded to agree to a settlement that would represent a fair balancing of the interests of both sides. That necessarily depends on how much the Politburo really wants peace in the Middle East, and on that question, as on most questions regarding the intentions of that furtive and, no doubt, confused body, the evidence is far from clear. Yet it is imperative that we make every effort to bring the Soviet Union to agreement and coöperation in the design and enforcement of a settlement that will provide Ambassador Jarring with concrete proposals to put to the parties. The fact that this process has now begun in the framework of four-power conversations does not remove the need for bilateral agreement-although it may facilitate it. Though the so-called Big Four no longer reflect the realities of relative power, as General de Gaulle liked to pretend, they are still the effective permanent members of the Security Council. Thus their support is essential to the second step-to obtain the institutional approval of a Council rendered awkward by hypertrophy and clearly biased on the Arab side. Because the Soviet Union has, in this case, shown some willingness to try to make the machinery work, it could well prove a test of the Council's ultimate usefulness.
To utilize the Council effectively, however, we must be clear in our own minds as to what that entails. For quite understandable reasons-because it feels that its willingness to withdraw from conquered territory in the past has not assured immunity from Arab attack, and because military success has given it a substantial bargaining position-the Israeli Government has opposed great-power consideration of the problem. In fact, its emphatic admonitions as to the dangers and unacceptability of anything suggesting an "imposed settlement" have been echoed by our own government and treated by our editorial writers as unchallengeable. Yet, regardless of praise or blame, which is not the point at issue, the problem seems more one of semantics than substance.
Here again there is danger that we may be confused by a slogan. "Imposed peace" has an unpleasant ring, with distasteful historical antecedents. It implies the disregard of those pet concepts of the last half-century: "self- determination," "nonintervention" and the sacred "rights of small nations." It recalls brutal actions by which the Concert of Europe dealt with local quarrels during the nineteenth century, such as the occasion in 1896 when the then great powers abruptly halted an incipient war between Greeks and Turks over Cyprus by sending a fleet, landing an army and decreeing the terms of a settlement.
Yet the sensitivity reflected in today's reaction is nothing we can claim to have invented. Even while keeping peace with a strong hand, the leaders of the Concert of Europe were reluctant to admit that they presided over a "naked great-power alliance" or that they made a practice of "imposing peace" without the consent of small nations directly concerned. This, in spite of the fact that whenever the peace of Europe was seriously threatened, they did what they felt they had to do with no apologies.
Unlike Metternich and the other reactionary masters of the Concert of Europe whose compelling ambition was to preserve a dynastic system that had limited survival value even in the nineteenth century, the drafters of the U.N. Charter had more spacious objectives. They expressed these objectives in the Charter as moral and political principles which the institutions of the United Nations were to interpret and enforce.
When the drafters of the Charter met at Dumbarton Oaks and later at San Francisco, they had fresh in their minds an instance of great-power callousness far more shocking than the settlement imposed in Crete. The Western capitulation at Munich-involving, as it did, the dismemberment and ultimate overrunning of Czechoslovakia-was a horrible example of something that should not be permitted to happen again. Thus, the United States delegates were emphatic that the Council should not be given the power to "impose settlements." It should be able to do anything, everything, to "keep" the peace but not to "prescribe" it. Yet, since others insisted that a rigid adherence to this principle was unrealistic, the issue was compromised in the end by empowering the Council, in the event the parties to a dangerous dispute failed to settle it by negotiation or other peaceful means, "to recommend such terms of settlement as it may consider appropriate."
Under this provision, the Security Council could set out in detail the terms on which a dangerous dispute should be settled. In the language of art, however, those terms would be only a "recommendation," not a "decision." The significance of the distinction relates to the technical means of enforcement. It can be argued that the great powers, acting through their instrument, the Security Council, would not be authorized to "impose" a settlement by employing the mandatory-or, in the last resort, the military-sanctions provided by Chapter VII of the Charter. Yet, quite possibly this distinction is not so important as it seems. Sir Charles Webster, a distinguished English jurist who played an important role for the Foreign Office in the conferences from which the Charter evolved, has written: ". . . at San Francisco it was made quite clear that the Security Council itself could decide what the terms of a settlement ought to be. The question as to how far this right extends is a controversial one, but, in my view, the Security Council has the power to impose a settlement on the parties to a dispute, even if this means the alteration of their legal rights, provided that it determines that such a settlement is necessary for the maintenance of international peace and security."
Quite obviously the practical question is not whether the Council can resort to mandatory sanctions to enforce its judgment as to the shape and content of a fair settlement. After all, only once in the history of the Charter have those mandatory sanctions been invoked-and then, I think, quite unwisely. In the case of Southern Rhodesia, the Council made the requisite finding of a "threat to the peace" but on intellectually indefensible grounds.
No responsible national leader wants or expects the global powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, to treat the Middle East as the Concert of Europe treated Crete-nor should that be necessary. Secretary Rogers, it seems to me, got it quite right when he said, "There are lots of ways to influence people without making them do it. I think the force of reasoning and the force of public opinion have a lot to do with influencing nations."
In saying this, the Secretary reflected the eminently sensible view that in the rare situation when the United States and the Soviet Union can reach agreement on a solution for a major problem which the members of the Security Council accept as within the principles of the Charter, they should not be condemned to helplessness-watching with impotent dismay while the temperature of a whole strategic area of the world moves nearer to the flash point.
Yet this could well be our posture if we let ourselves be confused by a semantic argument over the desirability of an "imposed peace." Obviously, it is much better if peace can be arrived at through negotiation among the parties to a conflict and recorded in a peace treaty. So long as there is reasonable hope that this may occur, the great powers should do no more than encourage the process. Not only is it a thoroughly decent policy, fully consistent with the ideas of self-determination, sovereignty and nonintervention that have long been a part of our credo, but, most important, it relieves our country of the responsibility of making difficult decisions on complex issues or appearing to meddle in the affairs of other peoples.
But at the moment this seems highly unlikely.
The problem of the Middle East is important not only for itself, but because it has stimulated another faddish thought-the assertion that even though the superpowers agree on the settlement of a local quarrel they no longer have the ability to do anything about it. What this implies is that the power structure of the world has profoundly changed-that, as it is sometimes put, "the era of the superpowers is finished." No longer, so the argument goes, is power polarized between two giants. Instead, the power structure of the world has become polycentric or multi-centric, depending on whether one's taste runs to Greek or Latin neologisms.
This is, it seems to me, a dangerous misconception. Nothing leads more quickly to the abandonment of responsibility than the conviction that there is nothing useful that can be done. To underestimate the central role of both the Soviet Union and ourselves runs two dangers. On the one hand, it could inspire a dispiriting withdrawal from responsibility; on the other, it could encourage a defeatist assessment of the potential of universal institutions even where the two global powers find themselves moving along parallel lines of policy.
Is there really substance in the assertion? In spite of talk about polycentrism, who can seriously challenge the fact that effective political and military power is still highly concentrated in the only two great nations that are organized on a continent-wide basis and are, at the same time, the major industrial producers? Alone among nations, each has not only the capability to destroy the world but-and this is perhaps most important-lays claim to worldwide interests and responsibilities and can muster the means and the will to pursue them.
The history of the last few years has made this crystal clear. Britain is in economic trouble and is systematically contracting her overseas commitments, while most of the states of continental Western Europe are narrowly preoccupied with parochial affairs. France alone has aspired to an expanding role on the world stage, but that has been largely shadow play. What Adam Smith-in a quite different context-referred to as the "real mediocrity of her circumstances" limited de Gaulle's performance to essentially negative actions; pursuing grandiose goals and tactics, France could tear down and obstruct, but not build.
Nor, at the other end of the world, is Mainland China the serious threat to bipolarity that many assume. Caught up in the distracting throes of an internal convulsion, she finds the very weight of her population a liability rather than an asset in building the modern industrial society that is the only effective basis for world power. Japan, potentially an important factor in world affairs, persists, for the time being-but I suspect not for much longer-in a "low posture." Thus today the United States and the Soviet Union remain the active centers of world power.
Napoleon, during his exile in St. Helena, predicted that the world would sooner or later be "either an American republic or a Russian absolute monarchy," though in the fragmentary report of this observation no time span was defined, Two decades later, de Tocqueville supplied a variant vision in his famous prediction that Russia and the United States would divide the world between them. De Tocqueville's prescience is all the more remarkable in that he could not know that within the next century the powers of Western Europe would tear one another apart in two devastating civil wars. Nor could he perceive that the chaos resulting from the first of these wars would bring to power a communist dictatorship as successor and substitute for Tsarist despotism. This event defined a clear ideological cleavage between the two rival halves of the world and produced a cold war.
The fact, however, that gifted men more than one hundred years ago did foresee the special roles of the Russians and ourselves only tends to confirm the logic of a bipolar world. Nor do I think we are likely to see a material change in this situation for some years to come.
Yet out of the frustrations of Viet Nam have come prophetic voices proclaiming that the age of the superpowers is ended, not because the other industrial nations pose a significant challenge to Soviet or American strength but because the resurgence of nationalism has produced an effective counterforce. The support adduced for this proposition rests on a series of quite dubious assumptions. Most vigorously urged is the contention that the United States has shown by its failure in Viet Nam that it no longer has the power to enforce its will even on a small country. Thus our dismal agony in that morass of jungle and paddy is said to mark the end of the American role as a superpower with a special mission to maintain the peace.
All of this should be taken with a large admixture of salt. Overreaction normally follows frustration and disappointment, and proclamations of the end of an era are normally of a kind with announcements that the world will end next Tuesday. Someone is always averring that a particular phase of history is over, or that we are beginning a new chapter. Yet no one can really be sure of that for many years to come, and then only after the trade union of historians has voted some arbitrary judgments.
Thus, I do not read the lesson of Viet Nam in such dramatic terms. Our experience there has not shown that our power has diminished but rather that there are regions in the world where modern arms cannot be effectively used and thus should never have been committed. The French discovered over a period of eight years that Viet Nam offered an impossible terrain, in both physical and political terms, for the effective employment of Western power-that it was, as General de Gaulle once described it to me, "rotten country." This is a fact of nature, not the subject for a doctoral dissertation. At no time since the Second World War could the United States have intervened effectively in Viet Nam. Had we tried to do so in 1954, for example, when a discouraged France called for our help, we would have embroiled ourselves in the same quagmire that proved so disastrous a decade later.
What our experience over the past eight years should, therefore, have taught us is not that our power is failing but that we should use caution and discrimination in engaging it. We must never again be beguiled by the false assumption-the popular slogan of a few years ago-that whenever the Western presence is withdrawn from a less developed country through the breakup of a colonial structure or otherwise, a "power vacuum" is automatically created, which the United States must fill preclusively by its military strength or economic or political influence, lest the communists gain a new beachhead. This postulate is not in accord with history. In most places where colonial powers have been evicted or have left voluntarily there has been no "power vacuum." A fervent nationalism or a latent tribalism has replaced the colonial authority, and, often, after a brief flirtation, the communists have been heaved out as unceremoniously as were their colonial predecessors.
Thus I find nothing in our experience in Viet Nam to suggest any diminution in our power either in relative or absolute terms. What that experience has done is to help define the outer limits beyond which our power cannot now- and never could-be effectively used and where, therefore, we should avoid embroiling our armies and air force. The fact that we did not learn that lesson some years ago does not prove that the relative power situation has changed; it means only that we had to learn it the hard way.
Not only is there no evidence that the position of the United States as a superpower has weakened in relation to the Third World, but a good argument can be made to the contrary. During the latter 1950s and early 1960s we watched with misgiving the emergence of an increasingly powerful neutralist bloc among the less developed nations, with Nehru as its prophet. But in the fall of 1962, Peking's foray over the mountain barriers threw the Indian Government into a panic. The pieties of neutralism were forgotten in the frantic effort to seek military aid from the Soviet Union and the United States, as well as from Great Britain.
Thereafter, neutralism as structural cement for bloc politics ceased to prosper. It never recovered from India's demonstration that it was irrelevant as a principle of political action. In time, its other apostles either fell from grace or found the cause no longer interesting. Sukarno, the fatuous hero of the Bandung Conference, was hustled off the scene after the abortive revolution of 1965. Nasser, overburdened with defeat, is today a faded and diminished leader, while for Tito nonalignment has lost much of its plausibility as an organizing ideology.
Except, therefore, in the bloc politics of the United Nations, there has ceased to be, among the nations of the Third World, much organized resistance to the superpower role of the United States. Preoccupied with their individual problems and lacking the sinews of collective power, the nations of the Third World have failed to become the decisive political force that missionaries of the "new diplomacy" were predicting a few years ago.
None the less, some still contend that the upsurge of nationalism in Western Europe has sapped the ability of our country to deal with the increasingly assertive nations of the industrialized North. By building the institutions of unity, Western Europe could indeed have challenged the preëminence of the superpowers. But it lacked the driving will to prevail. What kept it from doing so was that very nationalism which some now mistakenly hail as the limiting factor on superpower dominance.
Thus, in spite of his pretensions to a world role, General de Gaulle at no time posed a realistic challenge to America's star billing; instead, by resisting the future, he confined France and other European states to the limited glories of provincial theater. Rude as it may be to say it, a disunited Western Europe has relatively little influence in the world. The main tasks of keeping world peace continue to rest, as they have done ever since the war, primarily on the United States.
Meanwhile, European nationalism, by stifling the chance to bring West Germany within a politically unified Europe, is responsible for leaving unsolved the most important and dangerous unknown of the cold war. That unknown is the political orientation of the German people ten, or even five, years from now. What will be the political tendencies of a Germany controlled by a postwar generation no longer haunted by the dark spectre of the Nazi obscenities and denied the scope to employ their energies in the spacious arena of a unified Europe? Will not the new Germans discover that a nationalistic West has neither the will nor the power to permit them the fulfillment of their own nationalism-that is, the recreation of a prewar German state through reunification? And will they then be tempted to turn eastward as they have done so many times in their history?
These are the kinds of questions which we should now be addressing. Two nations-Germany and Japan-upset the balance of power almost thirty years ago and if not dealt with perceptively, they each could-by political, not military, means-do it again. These are points on which our diplomatic attention should focus-not on a France, which, limited in size and resources, proved unable to shift the balance merely by the lever of a strong man's will, and not on an overpopulated China that startles the world less by its power than its ineffable bad manners.
Yet those who are ready to inscribe the superpowers on the retirement list are not content merely to proclaim the growing resistance to American power around the world. They insist that the Soviet Union also has lost its potency on the world scene. Thus, they point out that Moscow no longer commands unchallenged authority over the communist movement and that in the Third World it has scraped bottom on the same shoals of nationalism as has the United States.
Unquestionably, the Soviet Union has had its troubles. It has experienced a notable lack of success in Africa, where its own racial arrogance has clearly shown through, but that is of only secondary importance in terms of the larger balance. What is important is that it has extended its influence into the South Mediterranean, particularly the U.A.R., and its position in the South Asian subcontinent may well be much stronger in a post-Ayub Pakistan than has heretofore been the case.
Thus, whether the Soviet's role as a superpower has, on balance, been eroded is arguable. In many ways the turmoil in China has diminished the effective rivalry of the only other significant center of communist power. The Kremlin's relations with Tito have been intrinsically unhealthy for a long time. Its niggling differences with Castro are not all that important. What is critical in terms of effective Soviet power is the preservation of its East European empire, and here one must walk with caution. That empire has been threatened with defections more than once during the postwar period. Yet, so far, only one significant state, Jugoslavia, has succeeded in breaking out of the Warsaw Pact corral. Although the experience of Czechoslovakia is fresh in our minds, it is far from presaging the early end of the Soviet empire. Instead, the tragedy must be viewed for what it was: not a self-contained drama but one more episode in a play cycle of relaxation and repression that we have watched for a decade and a half. As early as 1953 riots were put down in East Berlin. In 1956 came unrest in Poland and the bloody affair of Hungary. What the agony of Czechoslovakia signaled was not merely the resilience of the human spirit, but a brutal reaffirmation by the Soviet Union that it was not prepared to lose its East European colonies to the counterattraction of nationalism.
At the risk of affronting the apostles of the "new diplomacy," I would turn back the argument to the essential question as to how in a bipolarized world the U.S.S.R. and the United States can still live uneasily together without blowing one another up. It is assumed in a time-faded metaphor that tunnels bring claustrophobia if one finds no light at the end of them. Aware of this-overcome by it, in fact-we have devised a happy hypothesis (in which I concur) that over the years, if the balance of power is not upset, we and the Soviet Union may each undergo a slow transformation that will enable us to live together in greater tranquility.
Thus, I continue to accept the hopeful assumption underlying American policy that, as we move together into a changing world, the United States and the Soviet Union will, bit by bit, find an increasing number of relatively small areas where the common interests of our two countries overlap, even though they may not be completely congruent. As this occurs, a wise diplomacy will build an expanding base for a negotiated modus vi- vendi compounded of limited settlements. On the testimony of experience, this has proved sound policy. We have been able to make progress in narrowly defined areas: the limited test ban treaty, bombs in outer space, the consular agreement, the civil aviation agreement and, most recently, the nonproliferation treaty. What we must realize at all times is that the Soviet Government is deeply suspicious of our motives. It will, therefore, be reluctant to undertake any negotiation where the course of the settlement cannot be clearly perceived.
It is a safe assumption that the Soviets' apparent willingness to consider some limitation of missile and ABM development springs primarily from concern over the allocation of a limited stock of goods and skilled manpower. At the moment, the Russians are hard-pressed to meet the requirements of various sectors which operate almost as competing baronies for a finite store of resources. The military sector demands more and more material, equipment and manpower for the production of weapons and the maintenance of a huge military establishment. The barony of heavy industry seeks more money for industrial plants, while agriculture demands huge investment for the production of fertilizer. Finally, the consumer sector needs more and more goods, including automobiles, roads and all the appurtenances of motorized travel, to gratify the increasingly insistent demands of a citizenry on whom it is just beginning to dawn that a one-room apartment in Moscow is a poor reward for fifty years of socialism.
It is feasible, within the corporative structure of the Soviet Government, for the Politburo to undertake negotiations to limit nuclear weapons and thus reduce the requirements of the military. But to persuade the military to go along requires that the problem be kept confined to the field of their own interest. To arrange a settlement that affects the interests of different baronies in different ways by trading the interests of one for another seems quite beyond the range of practicality. It would probably have been too complicated even for Khrushchev; it is clearly outside the capabilities of the present collegiate government which, since no one man dominates, is necessarily reduced to the level of opinion of the lowest common denominator.
Finally, in trying to halt the nuclear arms race and specifically the development of an anti-ballistic missile system, I would point out one further misconception: that is the theory that we might advance our own interests by a strategy of systematically outspending the Soviets. The argument supporting this theory is that because our gross national product is well over three times that of the Soviet Union we could force the Soviets into negotiations by continuing at full speed to escalate the arms race until the strain on Soviet resources became unbearable.
In spite of the surface plausibility of this contention, I am certain it is wrong-headed. For the United States to continue to exhaust itself by devoting a larger and larger share of its national income to sheer economic waste would diminish its ability to compete with nations exempt from such a burden (such, for example, as Japan and Germany) while at the same time enlarging and distending what it is now fashionable to call the "military- industrial complex," thus transforming the American economy into a Strasbourg goose with an overdeveloped liver.
That, however, is only part of the story since I am convinced that the theory misreads the ultimate Soviet reaction. To assume that, at the end of the course, the Soviet Union would be likely to break off and seek a cessation of the arms race overlooks the effect of extravagant military spending on the structure and psychology of Soviet politics. To expand the military sector of the Soviet system disproportionately would mean weakening the nonmilitary elements that might favor a more benign policy and a progressively more liberal society.
The creeping dominance of the military would, to my mind, almost certainly increase the dangers of armed collision between our two countries, while the suffocating burden on resources of an increasingly heavy weight of weapons might generate overwhelming pressure to use them. Thus, I think it likely that the continuance and acceleration of the arms race would ultimately bring about exactly what we do not want. It would impede, and perhaps even set back, those evolutionary changes in the Soviet system which seem necessary if we are ever to share this shrinking globe other than in armed semi-belligerence. At the same time, it would encourage the more reckless utilization of the new weapons in order to justify the expenditure.
I come back, finally, to the theme that this is still a polarized world and that the best hope for peace continues to depend on the ultimate broadening of common interests between the superpowers. Meanwhile, the world, as I see it, is likely to be a far more hazardous place if the United States either fails to maintain an effective power balance with the Soviet Union or ceases its efforts to resolve local quarrels when they arise in strategic areas of the world. And since we cannot wait to perfect the institutions that will satisfy the purists-we may all be blown up before then-we must settle for the possible.
This is not, of course, the kind of counsel one likes to read, for ever since our brief Wilsonian enchantment we have indulged a fondness for brave rhetoric. Yet before we demand much of others, we Americans should search our own souls. For years we have been taught that a stronger United Nations would relieve our country of many of the burdens it now carries. Wilson-the last President to write his own speeches-was a gifted phrase-maker, and the vaulting slogans of his fight for the League lie deep in our national subconscious. Yet that, after all, is only part of our tradition.
Any measure that would materially strengthen the peacemaking authority of the United Nations would encounter considerable opposition from American domestic opinion. Because it would, by definition, involve a significant relinquishment of our national sovereignty, Americans by the thousands would be ready to fight it, particularly at a time when we are concerned and sensitive about our own internal problems.
Repugnant as we may deem the thought in its abstract form, we remain, as we have historically been, a notably nationalistic country. Only in narrowly limited areas have we ever reconciled our nationalism with a willingness to submit to the arbitrament of international institutions. After all, it was America that under the Connally Reservation refused to accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice. It was our Congress that almost passed the Bricker Amendment that would have hamstrung our capacity to make treaties. And at San Francisco we were no more willing than were the French, Russians or British to forgo a veto in the Security Council on measures that directly affected our own country.
Moreover, we should stop boasting of the fact that we have not exercised our right to veto, while the Soviets have used theirs 105 times; our restraint carries a suspicion of false pride, if not of arrogance. It has been made possible because we have had the strength and influence (and from time to time the economic leverage) to block any Security Council action we regarded as seriously harmful. Yet now is not forever. With the shifting power balance in the Council there is no longer even a near certainty that we can invariably muster an adequate blocking vote. I would be surprised if the Nixon Administration were not compelled to break our long record of abstention fairly early in its career.
I suggest, therefore, that to avoid even the appearance of sanctimony we should begin to talk about the United Nations in less metaphorical terms, abjuring slogans for reality, and explaining its limitations rather than trying to conceal them. That would, in my view, be a service to the organization itself, for otherwise we not only create false expectations but weaken the authority of its existing institutions and enormously complicate the task of turning them into anything more effective than they are.
Meanwhile, we should get on with the bitterly hard task of trying to stabilize the military balance between ourselves and the Soviet Union, something that cannot be done in a climate of self-induced fright but only by avoiding hyperbole and getting on in a practical mood with the grubby but essential business of diplomatic haggling. This is a high endeavor in the mutually rewarding purpose of world survival.