In the years since World War II, Presidents have often been accused of “lacking a policy,” but we have seen a proliferation of presidential doctrines. The Truman Doctrine of 1947, which grew out of the necessity to resist Stalinist incursions upon Greece and Turkey, was elevated to a declaration of global ideological warfare against communism. The Eisenhower Doctrine of 1957 declared the United States prepared to use armed force to assist Middle Eastern nations threatened by “international communism.” The Nixon Doctrine of 1969 called for the use of regional surrogates to bar the gates to communism and protect American interests. Now in 1980, we have the Carter Doctrine, stating that “an attempt by an outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States,” to repel which the United States would employ “any means necessary, including military force.”
There is an important difference between a policy and a doctrine. A policy is good for as long as it works or is needed, whereupon, without undue difficulty, it can be altered or discarded. When a policy is finished, it is not the end of an “era”; it is merely the end of an approach that has outlived its usefulness. A doctrine, by contrast, is for the ages, and is neither easily nor safely trifled with, even when it has outlived its usefulness or acquired unintended meanings. With their bias toward the ideological and the broadly geopolitical, doctrines tend to generalize beyond the warrant of ascertainable facts, tempting us to discount local conditions and special circumstances. The trouble is, as Vietnam and Iran have shown, that purely local circumstances often determine the success or failure of grand geopolitical or ideological doctrines.
The hazard of the Carter Doctrine, as spelled out in the State of the Union address of January 23, 1980, is not in the President’s pledge to protect our vital interests in the Persian Gulf, but in the assumption, without clear or convincing evidence, that our interests are now threatened by a Soviet grand strategy “to consolidate a strategic position…that poses a grave threat to the free movement of Middle East oil.” Four highly plausible possibilities are thus ignored: that the Soviets may have no such grand strategy; that threats to our interests may arise from other, local sources; that detente with the Soviets and securing our interests in the Gulf can be mutually reinforcing; and that the countries of the Persian Gulf region, as well as our historic allies, must be consulted before the United States develops a doctrine or embarks on military intervention related to their interests.
The Carter Administration cannot be held primarily responsible for the explosion of anti-Americanism that accompanied the Islamic revolution in Iran. That was the result of a policy, going back to World War II, of treating Iran as an object in the geopolitics of the Middle East, without regard to its own preferences. The shah and his lieutenants played a crucial role in the high-stakes game of strategy and oil, but the Iranian people were shut out of the game. Cut loose from their traditional religious and social moorings, their expectations aroused by the sudden, glittering affluence of a privileged segment of their society, and alienated by the pretensions and oppressiveness of the imperial regime, the Iranian people became a receptive audience not only to the agitations of thousands of young people the shah had sent abroad for their education, primarily in America, but also to the smuggled-in teachings of a charismatic, exiled cleric.
Although the Carter Administration cannot be blamed for the consequences of past misjudgments, it can quite properly be asked to account for its general unprofessionalism surrounding the admission of the shah to the United States and the consequent seizure of the American hostages in Tehran. The shah was admitted to the United States despite warnings from various sources, including the American charge in Tehran, Bruce Laingen, that it would be dangerous to do so without special measures to protect the embassy or remove American personnel. No convincing case has ever been made that the shah could have been treated only in New York, or that American doctors and equipment could not have been flown to Mexico City. Professor James Still, an expert on Iran at the University of Texas, commented in November 1979, after the hostages had been seized, that although the Iranians had warned us repeatedly about the shah, “we did nothing to assuage their desperate fear of a linkage between the shah and the Administration to plot his return. They cannot forget the CIA plot that ousted Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 and returned the shah to his throne.” The Administration’s patience after the embassy was seized won support from the public and Congress, but there remains the question of whether the hostage crisis need have occurred.
By invading Afghanistan in the last week of December 1979, the Russians rescued the Administration, at least temporarily, from pressure to account for its handling of Iran. The two events merged into a full-fledged Cold War crisis, in which the Russians at least temporarily displaced the Ayatollah Khomeini as the principal author of mischief in southwest Asia. The President called the Soviet action “the most serious threat to the peace since the second World War,” and the Administration for the time being lost interest in retaliatory acts against Iran, urged the Iranians to recognize that the real danger to them came from the Soviet Union, and said that the Iranians might receive American military and economic support against the Soviet threat if they released the hostages. All but forgotten was the President’s statement to congressional leaders on November 27, 1979, that even the freeing of the hostages “will not wipe the slate clean” with Iran. “We have no basic quarrel with the nation, the revolution, or the people of Iran,” the President said on January 21, 1980. “The threat to them comes not from American policy but from Soviet actions in the region. We are prepared to work with the government of Iran to develop a new and mutually beneficial relationship.” The hostage crisis was thus reduced, in the Administration’s rhetoric, from a supreme challenge to American honor and interests to distraction from the real issue of Soviet aggression and expansion. Only when the Ayatollah Khomeini, in the wake of repeated efforts at propitiation by the President, came down strongly on the side of the militants and against President Bani-Sadr’s efforts to arrange a transfer of the American hostages to government control did President Carter announce a formal breach of diplomatic relations and order a ban on exports to Iran, pressure our allies to employ sanctions, and finally launch the abortive rescue attempt.
Until that time the Administration seemed ready to associate itself with Khomeini’s regime, as it had with the shah’s, solely on the basis of its presumed anti-Sovietism, without bothering to look closely at the new Iranian government’s ambitions and viability. Nor did the Administration consider it worthwhile to examine a variety of plausible reasons behind the Soviet move into Afghanistan, or even to acknowledge that we could never really be sure what the motives of the men in the Kremlin were. Instead, the Carter Administration perceived, and forthwith proclaimed, a Soviet grand design to envelop the Persian Gulf region and threaten the free world’s oil lifeline.
There is one possible virtue but several probable dangers in the drastic warning to the Russians in the Carter Doctrine. The possible virtue is that it could destroy any illusions the Russians may have about the importance the United States attaches to the Persian Gulf region and the seriousness with which we regard military intervention in violation of international law. The dangers are in making threats we may not be prepared to back up, in the possibility that the Administration will believe the untested assumptions contained in its overheated rhetoric, and in the extreme difficulty of reversing course once the tough talk has served its immediate purpose. Under the best of conditions, detente has been a fragile edifice, painstakingly constructed. Protracted educational efforts have been required to develop public attitudes congenial to arms control, trade, and cultural exchange. In a crisis these are all too easily dispelled and replaced by attitudes of mistrust and belligerency. Then, when the national interest requires a renewal of cooperation with the Soviet Union, the entire process has to begin anew, painfully, from scratch.
Therein lies the mischief of the Carter Doctrine. It implies a comparison between the Soviet behavior in Afghanistan and the Hitler model of aggression in the 1930s. The lesson of such a comparison is obviously that it is better to stop an insatiable, reckless aggressor sooner rather than later. The trouble with this or any other “lesson of history” is that it is instructive only when you are dealing with a closely similar situation. In the case of the Russians in Afghanistan, the differences far outweigh any similarities to, say, the German seizure of Czechoslovakia in 1938. We are dealing with an aggressor whose record is more calculating than reckless and whose insatiability is more a tenet of ideology than a guideline of practical policy. Not the least important difference between Nazi Germany in the thirties and the Soviet Union in the eighties is that until the late thirties it was feasible to stop Germany relatively easily; after that it was feasible to eliminate the Hitler regime at a high price, but one well short of the destruction of much of the world’s civilization. The Soviet Union, by contrast, deploys conventional forces in Afghanistan that no responsible military analyst believes we can challenge, and is also a nuclear superpower that cannot be eliminated, as Hitler’s Reich was, and with whom we therefore have no choice but to coexist as best we can.
This end is best served by trying to analyze Soviet behavior as objectively as possible, on the basis of ascertainable facts rather than ideological tenets. The facts of Afghanistan are that the Soviets intervened in a country that had come under their domination, without notable protest from the United States, in a Communist coup in April 1978, and that by late l979, following a second coup in September in which one Marxist leader overthrew another, the country seemed to be slipping out of Marxist and Soviet control and into the hands of Moslem insurgents. The regime the Russians toppled, moreover, was hardly one to be mourned: President Amin’s brief reign in Kabul was characterized by a brutality equaled only by its incompetence.
Moreover, there are indications that the Russians, fearing the spread of Islamic militancy across the southern tier next to their borders, have been no more happy than we with the militancy and anarchy in Iran, especially when the Ayatollah Khomeini fulminated against both superpowers as “Satan’s” agents.
The Russians undoubtedly underestimated the difficulties in Afghanistan and the world reaction. The new president they installed, Babrak Karmal, has been ineffective; reorganizing the Afghan army has proven difficult if not impossible; resistance by Islamic guerrillas has been stiff, forcing the Russians to scrap any plans they may have had for an early withdrawal. Nor had they expected so vehement a reaction from the United States and the Islamic countries. The United Nations General Assembly’s denunciation of the Soviet move into Afghanistan by a vote of 104 to 18 with 18 abstentions must have come as a shock and as a major setback to Soviet aspirations for expanding their influence in the Third World.
Another significant factor was the bitter and emotional attitude toward the United States prevailing in Moscow in the fall of 1979. President Brezhnev, who had invested heavily in detente, and whose health and faculties were impaired, had to confront his harder-line colleagues with a catalogue of failure and frustration: the SALT II treaty seemed lost beyond retrieval in the Senate; the United States was preparing to increase its military spending; NATO had agreed to deploy a new generation of American nuclear armed missiles in Western Europe; the United States was moving closer to a working relationship with the Chinese. In addition, an irritating and wholly unnecessary fuss had been stirred up by the American President, for patently political reasons, over a Soviet brigade known to have been in Cuba for many years. Under these circumstances the Soviets may have felt they had little to lose by using military force to retrieve a disintegrating situation in a bordering satellite state.
To all these possible factors–local, regional, and internal to the Soviet Union–the Carter Administration was indifferent, caught up as it was in the excitement of unveiling its new doctrine. It was almost as if, when the Soviets moved into Afghanistan, we were relieved to find ourselves freed from the complexities of Third World nationalism and the Islamic revival and back on the comfortably familiar turf of a bipolar Cold War world. Once they heard the call of the Carter Doctrine, the Iranians would naturally forget about the shah, the Arabs would forget their differences with Israel, our allies in Western Europe and Japan would gratefully follow our lead, and all would join with us in a grand alliance against Soviet aggression. Now the unwelcome “lesson of Vietnam”–as Daniel Yergin put it, “that fundamental designs may be illusory and that global implications may be secondary to local issues”–could also be cast aside. Americans could be patriots again, without bothering to make the troublesome distinction between patriotism and jingoism
In this altered environment our “hawks” joyfully trumpet the coming of the “second Cold War.” They are also proclaiming their own vindication: have they not warned us all along that detente would fail? They have indeed, but the question remains whether they merely foresaw the breakdown, or helped to contrive it.
When the President warned of “the most serious threat to world peace since the second World War,” he inevitably created a war atmosphere in which public discussion, to a greater degree than in many years, has been dominated by war talk. To express dismay at this development is not to preach pacifism: we must be prepared to fight either a nuclear or a conventional war, and we cannot rule out the possibility of either occurring. The issue is not whether we will fight if our vital interests are attacked, but how most effectively to use our policy and diplomacy without resort to war. Preventing nuclear war has become a national interest second to no other, as well as an interest we share with the Soviet Union and with all other nations. It cannot be too often emphasized that a third world war would in no sense be comparable with the first and second world wars, which, destructive though they were, left the world physically intact. Although projections differ as to which side might emerge from a nuclear war with the larger fraction of its industry intact and of its people still alive, no one contests that the losses would be in the hundreds of millions and that our society and economy, even were we to emerge as the “winner” of the conflict, would be grievously crippled.
Avoiding so great a calamity is, in the most literal sense, a vital national interest. That is what detente is about. It is not a policy “option” in the conventional sense, since the only other “option” available is unending cold war, recurrent crisis, an arms race forever escalating in cost and risk, and “at the end, looming ever clearer,” as Albert Einstein warned, “general annihilation.” With implications of such great consequence, detente with the Soviet Union must surely rank with the defense of the Persian Gulf as an essential national interest. The task of policy is to reconcile the two and, if possible, make them mutually reinforcing.
It comes, therefore, as a shock to have detente declared at an end in our sudden alarm for the security of the Persian Gulf. That, however, is the thrust of the Carter Doctrine: in the name of one vital interest, another is to be cast over the side. It would have made a great deal more sense, in the wake of Iran and Afghanistan, if the President, instead of hastily compiling a shopping list of sanctions against the Soviet Union, had put to his advisers the question “By what means are we to protect the two vital interests we have at stake? By what means can we defend the oil lifeline and at the same time maintain necessary measures of cooperation with the other superpower?”
One probable reason for the Administration’s preference for the tough line–in addition to the still tenacious hold of the postwar “doctrines” on many minds–is the tendency to treat international relations as a kind of morality play. The Russians, in this perception, are either good people like ourselves, as we briefly deemed them to be when they were our allies in World War II, or they are bad people through and through–voracious and deceitful, determined to do us in. The basic Cold War assumption, that you cannot do business with the Russians, was codified in 1950 in a joint State and Defense Department document, known as “NSC-68,” which was to become highly influential. “The Soviet Union, unlike previous aspirants to hegemony,” NSC-68 said, “is animated by a new fanatic faith, antithetical to our own, and seeks to impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world.” This basic view of Soviet intentions has strongly influenced American policy for three decades: it had much to do with our involvement in the Vietnam War and it largely underlies the current opposition to SALT.
Since coming to office in 1977, the Carter Administration has blown an inconstant trumpet. Its human rights policy and direct contacts with Soviet dissidents affronted and alarmed the leaders in the Kremlin. At the same time, without explanation or advance notice, President Carter momentarily abandoned the Vladivostok formula and told the Russians he wanted much deeper cuts in strategic arms levels–a highly commendable idea, but one which the Russians took as a breach of the Vladivostok agreement and angrily rejected. For three years the Carter Administration seemed to address the Soviets with two voices–the conciliatory voice associated with Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, who at one point spoke of the “similar dreams and aspirations” held by Brezhnev and Carter, and the more provocative voice of National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who has devoted considerable energy to forging a Sino-American anti-Soviet alliance.
The Soviets, for their part, appear to have been genuinely confused by the Carter Administration’s approach. A Pravda article in June 1978, for example, complained of the “constant zigzags and inconsistency” in American policy. The Soviets welcomed the President’s diligent efforts to conclude the SALT II treaty but resented the lectures on human rights and the refusal to accord the Soviets equal trade treatment despite greatly increased Jewish emigration, exceeding 50,000 a year by 1979. The Russians were also alarmed by the Carter Administration’s readiness to introduce a new generation of strategic weapons, such as the MX missile, as the price of winning support for SALT in the Senate, and by the plan to increase NATO’s nuclear forces by stationing Pershing and cruise missiles in Europe. They took further offense when Brezhnev’s offer of October 6, 1979, to negotiate mutual force reductions in Europe in return for withholding the new NATO missiles, was dismissed by President Carter as a trick. When the President, in the wake of Afghanistan, asked the Senate to defer its consideration of the SALT II treaty, Brezhnev issued a statement denouncing the United States as “an absolutely unreliable partner in interstate ties.” Instead of viewing us as weak, as we often fear, the Soviets may well view us as powerful, unpredictable, and dangerous.
Detente has also become, during the Carter Administration, a partisan issue. Republicans have accused the President of being naive about the Russians and of having cut arms spending to dangerously low levels. President Carter, for his part, set out to prove, through his new doctrine, that he was the equal of any Republican in his mistrust of the Soviet Union, while promising too that he would step up defense spending by at least 5 percent above the inflation rate as demanded by former Secretary of State Kissinger and critics of the SALT treaty in both parties.
But is this promised arms buildup really necessary? The proponents of increased strategic defense spending argue that some time in the 1980s the Soviets will acquire the capacity to launch a nuclear first strike capable of taking out our land-based missiles. This prospect, they say, represents an intolerable threat to our security, even though the other components of the strategic “triad”–manned bombers and especially submarine-launched missiles–would be largely unaffected by such a strike. It is difficult to believe that the Soviets would be so insane as to launch the first strike knowing the other components of our retaliatory capacity would survive.
Another question in need of dispassionate examination is that of Soviet political strategy, or more exactly, whether there is any strategy beyond the imprecise guidelines of Marxist ideology. Is there a pattern in recent Soviet activities in Angola, Ethiopia, South Yemen, and Afghanistan? Do these add up to “an unprecedented Soviet assault on the international equilibrium,” as Henry Kissinger said in his testimony on SALT II, or were they a series of accidents and opportunities brought about by internal disruptions in these countries with which, at the outset, the Soviets had little if anything to do? The evidence points to the latter, but even if these involvements do add up to an overall strategy, it would seem an ill-conceived one, not very clearly directed toward gaining control of the power centers of the world. Nor has this Soviet “strategy” been notably effective: for the dubious privilege of financing the Ethiopian military government’s armed conflicts with Somalia and the Eritrean rebels, to take one example, the Soviets paid the price of expulsion from Somalia, where the naval base they built at Berbera may soon be used by the United States.
By now we should know enough about the Russians to be able to break the cycle of excessive trust followed by bitter disillusionment. The experience of three decades has shown us that the Soviets do indeed believe in their ideology of conflict between social systems; that they take whatever opportunities come their way to implant their ideology and influence in other countries; that they are preoccupied with having friendly, which is to say compliant, governments in the countries around their borders; that they are tough and, when necessary, brutal in suppressing rebellion within these satellite states. We also know from experience that the Soviet leaders seldom let ideology obscure their view of reality; that they have a healthy respect for the power of the United States and NATO; that for good reasons of their own they strongly desire cooperation with the United States in arms control, trade, and other areas; that they are disinclined to take high risks; and that they share with the Soviet people a horror of major war, rooted in the experience of World War II in which the Soviet Union lost over 20 million people. It would seem time for an end to the demonology that has distorted our perceptions of the Soviet Union and made for such wild gyrations in our policies.
There is a limit to our ability to discern Soviet objectives; in trying to do so we tread, as George Kennan wrote in his diary in 1950, “in the unfirm substance of the imponderables.” A sound policy must be rooted in the firmer terrain of our own clearly defined national interests–the defense of the oil lifeline and, at the same time, cooperation in all possible areas with the other nuclear superpower. In formulating a policy for the Persian Gulf we do not need to know for certain what Soviet objectives are. The region is vital to us whatever the Soviet aims may be; with 25 percent of the world’s known oil reserves (and almost 30 percent of the known oil reserves in the noncommunist world), Saudi Arabia would be crucial to the United States even if the Soviet Union did not exist. We can get by without Iranian oil, as we have since President Carter ended imports from Iran last winter, but we could not for the foreseeable future get by without the oil of the Arabian peninsula, from which we now obtain 20 percent of our imports, or 9 percent of our total consumption. Perhaps we should not have allowed ourselves to fall into so dangerous a dependency; we should reduce that dependency as quickly as possible through conservation and the development of new energy sources. But that will take time, even if, as is far from certain, we adopt an effective national energy policy. In the meantime, we and our allies retain a vital interest in the Persian Gulf, and more particularly in the Arabian peninsula.
A direct Soviet threat to the Arabian peninsula and the flow of oil to the outside world, as envisioned in the President’s State of the Union address, is possible but unlikely. The Soviet leadership appears to have been well aware, even before President Carter’s stern warning, that a threat to our oil supply would carry the risk of war. The director of the Soviet Institute for American and Canadian Studies, Georgy A. Arbatov, was quoted in the Washington Star in July 1979: “The Soviet Government would certainly not interfere with Western oil supplies from the Middle East, whether this were done by intimidating the oil producing countries not to export oil to the West or by strangling the sea routes. These would be very hostile acts, close to a declaration of hostilities.” Arbatov said too: “I could not conceive of a scheme the Soviet Union might apply to deprive the West of oil from the Middle East without realizing what this would mean to the whole world situation.” There is surely no harm in reminding the Soviets–and other, possibly greater sources of potential disruption in the region–of our vital interest in the Persian Gulf, but as George Kennan wrote in the New York Times, “Is it really wise–is it not in fact a practice pregnant with possibilities for resentment and for misreading of signals–to go warning people publicly not to do things they have never evinced any intention of doing?”
The more likely threat to the Arab Gulf states is internal, although it is unclear how great this threat is. The seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by religious extremists in November 1979 was a more serious occurrence than the Saudi authorities would have us believe, but it does not necessarily indicate that the House of Saud is about to be overturned. There are destabilizing possibilities, however, in the social disruptions caused by rapid, uneven, and, in many instances, prodigally wasteful economic modernization in the traditional Islamic societies of the Arabian peninsula. We must counsel the oil-producing states against these programs, even at the cost of some profit to American, European, and Asian businessmen and corporations. The profits from huge development projects reduce our heavy payments deficits with the oil producers, but, as with arms sales to the shah, the benefits will be short-lived if the projects contribute to destabilization and takeovers by left-wing or, more probably, Islamic extremists.
In the last resort we must be prepared to use military force to assist friendly governments in the region against external or internal threats. Strengthening American sea and air power in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea would in itself have a useful deterrent and stabilizing effect in the region. Nor is there good reason to excuse our allies, most of whom are more dependent on Persian Gulf oil than we are, from sharing the responsibility of securing the oil lifeline. They have tended in the past to disclaim security responsibilities outside Europe, leaving these to the United States. In fact, both France and Great Britain have sizable navies able to help protect the sea-lanes; the French have a highly trained anti-terrorist commando force, from which a team was reportedly flown into Saudi Arabia during the siege of the Great Mosque in Mecca to help the Saudi national guard flush out the rebels. In his State of the Union address President Carter spoke of the need for “collective efforts” to maintain the security of the Persian Gulf, but efforts to secure allied participation in implementing the Carter Doctrine appear to have focused on boycotting the Moscow Olympics rather than on sharing the military burden. Our allies, for their part, speak of a “division of labor,” the specifics of which would add up to their providing bases and access routes while the fighting was left to the United States. A readjustment of this “division of labor” would seem a more important objective of our diplomacy than our allies’ participation in symbolic sanctions against the Soviet Union. For example, the persistent reluctance of the French to cooperate in joint military undertakings could perhaps be overcome by the designation of a French admiral to command an allied Indian Ocean fleet.
We, as well as our allies, would do well to distinguish between symbol and substance in dealing with the Russians in the wake of Afghanistan. Strengthening our capacity to defend the Arabian peninsula, coupled with an effective and convincing energy program at home, is the real “message” we need to send to the Soviets, and for that matter to OPEC and the rest of the world. In addition, the United Nations General Assembly resolution of January 14 and the planned American boycott of the Moscow Olympics will serve to remind the Soviet Union that the United States takes seriously the commitment of all members of the United Nations under the charter to “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state….” Beyond that, tough talk and marginal, symbolic, and even petty sanctions can do little but further damage our relations with the other superpower while raising doubts in the minds of both friends and adversaries about the dependability and sound judgment of the American leadership.
Among the more ill-considered of the sanctions against the Soviet Union adopted in the wake of Afghanistan is the grain embargo, which will almost certainly damage us more than the Russians. Although other grain-exporting nations have promised not to replace the American grain that is withheld, the Soviets have long been adept at obtaining embargoed goods through second- and third-party purchasers. Thus, the Soviets have an excellent chance of replacing the embargoed grain, but the United States will have little chance of replacing the hard currency that would have been earned by the sales. The purchase of the grain by the Commodity Credit Corporation, as promised by the Administration, will partially compensate American farmers for the loss of income, but at the risk of permanent loss of a lucrative market and at a cost to American taxpayers of at least $2.25 billion. Industries such as railroads and barges that derive earnings from the transport of grain will go uncompensated. The embargo will inconvenience the Soviets and injure American farmers and others, but it is hardly likely to persuade the Soviet Union to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan.
Even if economic boycotts were as injurious as their advocates hope, there would remain the question of whether it is in our national interest to injure the Russians in this particular way. It undoubtedly would be if the enmity between the superpowers were total. In the two world wars, which were total wars based on total mobilization of the populations and resources of the belligerents, anything that effectively injured the enemy–the defeat of his armies on the field, the destruction of his industry and the shattering of his population’s morale by large-scale bombing raids–was an appropriate war measure, toward the objective of “unconditional surrender.” But before the two world wars, relationships of partial enmity were common and considered normal. During the Crimean War, for example, Russia successfully floated a loan on the London private money market, even though it was at war with England. We would perhaps not wish to carry tolerance that far, but the attitudes of that period seem both more appropriate and less dangerous in our current dealings with the Soviet Union than the attitudes engendered by the era of total war.
In the field of cultural relations the sanctions taken against the Soviet Union since Afghanistan seem spiteful and capricious. The cancellation of a long-planned tour in America of art from Leningrad’s Hermitage Museum will insult but not otherwise injure the Soviet Union; the injury and cost are to ourselves. Equally petty was the suspension of preparations for the planned opening of a Soviet consulate in New York and an American consulate in Kiev, the principal effect of which will be to inconvenience a sizable number of American tourists.
In the big leagues of political conflict the potentially most dangerous “sanctions” against the Soviet Union are suspending SALT II and playing the “China card.” Although President Carter asked the Senate in early January to defer further consideration of the SALT treaty “because of the Soviet aggression,” the more compelling consideration was the lack of a two-thirds majority for ratification in the wake of Afghanistan. Whether this in turn reflected a conviction on the part of senators that withholding SALT was a suitable punishment for the invasion of Afghanistan seems doubtful; more likely Afghanistan provided an added political argument for those who mistrusted or disliked the SALT II treaty to begin with. Whatever the motives of all concerned, the treaty is now on the shelf. President Carter, in his State of the Union address, said that efforts to control nuclear weapons “will not be abandoned,” but little has been said about SALT since that time and its revival in this election year seems unlikely.
Therefore, the way is now open for a full-scale revival of the nuclear arms race. A new national intelligence estimate, reported in the press in late January, projected that, in the absence of a strategic arms agreement, the Soviets by 1989 will have almost two and a half times the number of warheads–about 14,000–mounted on highly accurate land-based missiles directe d against the United States than they would have if SALT II were implemented andfollowed by successor agreements. Should this occur, the elaborate system of 200 mobile MX missiles to be concealed at random in 4600 concrete silos, now being planned at a cost of from $30 to $100 billion, would be effectively neutralized, unless we were prepared to double or triple our MX force at double or triple the cost. The result would be astronomical increases in the defense budget, with commensurate effects on the rate of inflation. For the present, both sides are complying with the limits of the expired SALT I treaty and the unratified SALT II treaty, but the time is approaching when both sides will have to retire designated older missile systems–systems that, though “obsolete,” are still lethal–or allow the laboriously constructed agreements to start unraveling. It will be no easy task to reconstruct an agreement once the weapons retirement timetable, reflecting a fragile balance of interests, is disrupted. Moreover, the protocol to the SALT II treaty, of major importance to the Soviet Union because it places limits on the range of American cruise missiles, is scheduled to expire at the end of 1981. Neither side is likely to find it easy to renegotiate the protocol, the Russians because they had not anticipated when they signed it in June l979 that NATO would subsequently agree to the deployment of cruise missiles in Europe, the United States because many members of Congress never wanted to accept limits on the cruise missile.
Because of the crisis atmosphere in Soviet-American relations, the Carter Administration has judged it prudent to await a more favorable time to press for ratification of the SALT II treaty. But a case can be made for the Administration to call on the Senate to take up the treaty, debate it, and vote it up or down without undue delay. What could not be accomplished through cloakroom maneuvering and dubious tradeoffs on future arms spending can perhaps be accomplished by a strong, commonsense appeal on behalf of the treaty’s merits and the essentiality of nuclear arms control. The President could explain, simply but accurately, that abandoning SALT will free the Russians from critically important restraints, that compliance can be monitored by proven procedures, and that without SALT we will face a protracted, budget-busting, inflationary, and exceedingly dangerous arms race.
The conventional political wisdom is to avoid highly controversial national decisions in an election year. So great are the stakes in strategic arms control, however, and in the policy of detente of which SALT is the key symbol, that we should bring the issue to the center of our national political debate and, if necessary, make the election at least partially a referendum on the basic choice between detente and renewed cold war. Such a debate might even establish the case for arms control measures more far-reaching than those of the meticulously circumscribed SALT II treaty.
Second only to an uncontrolled arms race in dangers posed for the future is the possible overplaying of the “China card.” For a year following the normalization of relations with the People’s Republic of China, the Carter Administration maintained a kind of evenhandedness toward China and the Soviet Union. That ended abruptly with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Shortly thereafter, Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, on a visit to China that had been previously scheduled, discussed plans for military support and cooperation. On January 24, after Brown’s return, it was announced that the United States was prepared to sell military support equipment but not weapons to China. On the same day Congress approved nondiscriminatory trade treatment for China–a favor still withheld from the Soviet Union. There has also been speculation on Sino-American cooperation in support of insurgent forces in Afghanistan.
The steps known to have been taken thus far are disturbing less in themselves than for the policy direction they suggest–toward a Chinese-American, anti-Soviet military alliance. Because nothing alarms the Soviets more than the prospect of a China armed with modern weapons and allied to the United States, the advantages of such an alliance are, from the latter-day Cold War perspective, geopolitically self-evident. From the perspective of those who still see merit in detente, there would seem need to inquire whether it really is to our advantage to threaten the Soviets in this way and whether Chinese objectives, other than the containment of Soviet power, are consonant with our own.
There is substantial evidence that they are not. For more than two decades the rulers in Peking regarded American “imperialism” as their foremost enemy; only as our involvement in Indochina neared its end in the early seventies did the Chinese judge that the greater threat came from the “social imperialism” of the Soviet Union, whereupon the United States was demoted to enemy number two. Under Mao Tse-tung’s “three worlds doctrine,” sanctified in the preamble to China’s 1978 constitution, China is bound in solidarity to the oppressed peoples of the Third World against the “first world” of the two superpowers and the “second world” of Europe and Japan. Under the Maoist doctrine, China’s aim is the overthrow of the superpowers’ “hegemony” as the essential precursor to world revolution. It is mistaken to assume that the Chinese, any more than the Soviets, are guided solely by ideology in their foreign policy, but it is no less a mistake to dismiss ideology as an important factor. Indeed, Maoist doctrine explicitly endorses tactical alliances toward the destruction of enemies one by one. It is hardly likely that the Chinese will be in a position, or will have the desire, to destroy us in the foreseeable future, but neither is it certain that a China supplied with American arms will confine their use to threatening the Soviet Union. The Chinese, who used armed force to “teach Vietnam a lesson” in early 1979, might someday perceive advantage in using American arms to pressure India or Thailand or South Korea or even Japan. In playing our “China card” in the geopolitical arena against the Soviet Union, we would do well to remember that the Chinese leaders, who share no common vision of the future with us, are playing their “American card,” toward objectives inimical to our own.
From the standpoint of vital American interests, China is necessarily secondary to the Soviet Union, for the simple, compelling reason that the Soviet Union is a nuclear superpower and China is not. As long as our primary objective is the achievement of a measure of cooperation with the other nuclear superpower, and as long as the Russians know this to be the case, useful leverage can be derived from giving the Russians some concern over our relations with China. Normal political and economic relations between the United States and China can give the Soviets incentive to compete for similar favors and to strengthen detente, while also encouraging moderate and pragmatic tendencies within China. Arming China, on the other hand, although it may be presented as simply an additional measure of cooperation is in fact a policy radically different from the normalization begun by President Nixon and gradually expanded through 1979. Instead of encouraging Soviet-American detente, American military assistance to China bids fair to convince the Soviet leaders that the United States has no further interest in detente. The highly probable result will be a continuing Soviet arms buildup and further aggressive efforts, such as those now being carried out in Afghanistan, to strengthen the Soviet strategic position. In the long term, a Sino-American military alliance could be expected to endure until the Soviets should become sufficiently alarmed to mount a preemptive strike, nuclear or otherwise, against China, or until the Chinese should judge their “American card” to be of no further use.
China is by no means the only country to seek advantage in the rivalry of the superpowers. The Carter Administration’s palpable interest, after Afghanistan, in drawing revolutionary Iran into an anti-Soviet alliance, as well as domestic American political pressure to secure the release of the hostages, may have convinced the Iranian authorities that they could without risk further delay or raise the price for release of the hostages. In agreeing to the formation of a UN commission on Iran without an explicit understanding on release of the hostages, the Administration may have assumed prematurely not only that the government of President Bani-Sadr had the power and desire to liquidate the hostage problem so as to get on with the task of governing but also that the Iranians, although they did not say so, now shared American preoccupation with the Soviet threat. The State Department’s spokesman, in a press briefing on January 18, urged the Iranians to release the hostages so that the United States and Iran “would be better able to coordinate our concerns about Soviet aggression.” Not for the first time, American policymakers projected their own concerns onto others. The Iranian authorities denounced the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and expressed common cause with the Islamic insurgents in that country, and this encouraged our policy-makers to believe that an arrangement could then quickly be made. Less attention was paid to the fact that, in denouncing the Soviet Union, the Iranians did not cease to denounce the United States; Iranian officials have even gone so far as to express public confidence that they need not fear either superpower because each could be counted on to defend Iran against the other.
Caught up as we have beep in the belief that anybody who is against the Russians has got to be for us, we did not find it easy, until Khomeini forced it upon us, to accept the evidence that the Iranian revolutionaries are hostile to both superpowers. Like China and other countries of the Third World, they lump the superpowers together, “imperialists” and “social imperialists,” while seeking profit from playing them against each other.
Instead of fighting the perception widely held in the Third World, the superpowers might find it rewarding to consider whether they do not indeed have common attributes and common responsibilities, as well as a common interest in avoiding nuclear war. As the only powers with global military and political reach, they are the only nations with the capacity to maintain a semblance of order in a turbulent world. To do this they would have to set aside the doctrines that pitted them against one another–the Truman, Nixon, Brezhnev, and Carter doctrines–in favor of a common endeavor for world order. The advantages would be considerable: neither has profited greatly or for very long from various client relationships in the Third World. These have been expensive, troublesome, and often dangerous. Superpower collaboration in areas of the Third World would deprive a number of countries of leverage for their particular national purposes, but it could also serve to protect national independence, reduce regional conflict, strengthen detente, and save a great deal of money which now goes to arm unpredictable surrogates.
Whether President Brezhnev was serious or engaging in propaganda when he suggested in late February a form of neutralization for Afghanistan was not clear. The idea, however, which is strongly advocated by our European allies, is worth exploring and perhaps expanding to include the neutralization and protection of the entire Persian Gulf oil-producing region.
In matters affecting small countries caught between the interests of larger powers, the most reliable, historically tested means of protecting the small countries and avoiding conflict between the big ones is neutralization. It has worked well for European countries such as Belgium, Switzerland, and Austria. If, as seems likely, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan primarily out of concern for the stability of their border region, it might be feasible to work out an agreement under which the Soviet forces would be withdrawn from Afghanistan, a government “friendly” to the Soviet Union but otherwise unaligned would be installed in Kabul, and the Western countries would undertake, so far as possible, to prevent the use of arms provided by them to surrounding countries such as Pakistan in support of the Afghan rebels. A more ambitious approach would be an effort to negotiate a multilateral treaty for the neutralization of the entire Persian Gulf region as well as Afghanistan. Under such a general agreement the regional and nonregional powers, including the superpowers and the principal consumers of Persian Gulf oil, might pledge to respect the sovereignty and neutrality of the countries of the region and the inviolability of the sea-lanes through which the oil flows, with the single reservation, cautiously stated but clearly understood, that a “clear and present danger” to the oil supply would necessitate measures for its protection if requested by a producing country. Itself a prospective consumer of Persian Gulf oil, the Soviet Union could be expected to appreciate this necessity on the part of the United States and its allies.
The alternative to this approach, or something like it, is renewed and intensified cold war, with all that it implies in the way of mounting military expenditures, galloping inflation, and other strains on our domestic life. It would be a misfortune of no small dimensions if the pressures of the election year were to continue to push us in that direction.