America's Unstable Soviet Policy

What has caused the deterioration of relations between the United States and the Soviet Union since 1974? George F. Kennan argues that it has had less to do with external reality than with the shifting impulses of the American political establishment. Mr. Kennan, a Foreign Service officer for twenty-six years and a former ambassador to the Soviet Union and to Yugoslavia, is one of the leading Western scholars of Russian affairs. He is the author of numerous books, including Realities of American foreign Policy, Russia and the West Under Lenin and Stalin, and The Nuclear Delusion, and has won two Pulitzer Prizes and two National Book Awards. He is now professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study, at Princeton University.

THE SECOND RUSSIAN REVOLUTION OF 1917 (ACTUALly not a “revolution” but the Bolshevik-Communist seizure of power in the two greatest Russian cities) took place in the highly confused international atmosphere of the final year of World War I. It was followed by a threeyear period of even greater confusion in Russian internal affairs, marked by such things as the Russian civil war, the Allied intervention, the Russo-Polish war of 1920, and a famine. It was not until 1921 that things sorted themselves out sufficiently to make it clear that the Communists were at least firmly installed throughout most of the former empire and to confront the American government with the necessity of clarifying its attitude toward the newly established Communist regime.

For the next twelve years—Republican years, all of them—the policy adopted in Washington was a simple one: no diplomatic recognition; no official relations at all. The principal reasons for this attitude were two. The first was the refusal of the Soviet regime to accept any obligation to meet the debts of previous Russian regimes or the claims arising from the Soviet nationalization of foreign properties in Russia. The second was the resentment engendered by the world revolutionary pretensions of the Soviet regime. After 1923, the promotion of world revolution gradually ceased, to be sure, to be the prime motivation of Soviet foreign policy. But the inflammatory rhetoric remained. So did the intensive efforts at instigation, support, and manipulation of Communist activities in other countries. The shameless hypocrisy with which the Communist Party leaders attempted to deny responsibility for these activities, pretending that the Communist International was something over which they, in their governmental positions, had no control, was offensive to much American opinion, as was also the scarcely concealed contempt and hostility for all “capitalist” countries which rang through so much official Soviet rhetoric. In all of this were to be found the reasons for the decade-long denial of American diplomatic recognition to the Soviet regime.

Franklin Roosevelt, coming into office in 1933, soon changed the American policy. The change was explained by two facets of his thinking. He cared very little, in the first place, about the reasons that had animated his Republican predecessors in matters of policy toward the Soviet Union. The trouble over “debts and claims” disturbed him only insofar as he felt himself obliged to respond to congressional pressures along that line. Nor did the activities of the Communist International bother him much. Politician and pragmatist that he was, he was well aware of the political insignificance of Soviet-inspired radical activities in the United States (“Stamp out Trotskyism in Kansas” was a flamingheadline in the Daily Worker one day in the early thirties). What seemed to him more important was the shadows of German national socialism and Japanese militarism rising on the horizon—both so offensive to influential segments of American opinion. It seemed to FDR that Americans had a bond in this respect with the Soviet leaders, who had their own reasons for fearing these emerging political forces. This bond, he thought, could be usefully developed by the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Soviet regime. So, at the end of 1933, after skillfully placating American opinion with the smoke screen of the largely meaningless exchanges of diplomatic notes known as the “Litvinov agreements,”he proceeded to “recognize Russia”: that is. to send an ambassador to Moscow, and to receive a Soviet one in Washington, thus establishing the formal diplomatic relationship that has endured to the present day.

During the initial years of this new relationship—the remaining years of the 1930s—the experiment of mutual diplomatic representation was not a particularly successful one. At the moment when relations were established, the Soviet leaders had been assailed by fears that the Japanese might be preparing to attack Russia’s eastern provinces. This had accounted for some of their conciliatory disposition at that time. It soon became apparent, however, that the danger was less urgent than they had thought, and their enthusiasm for the new relationship declined. Little came of the rosy assurances embodied in the Litvinov agreements. Initially welcomed with an unusual show of cordiality, the new American Embassy in Moscow soon fell victim to the routine treatment of isolation, clandestine observation, and avoidance of all but the most perfunctory official contact to which foreign diplomatic representatives have traditionally been subjected in Moscow. The mission came to serve, in those years of the 1930s, primarily as a place where a group of young American Foreign Service officers learned a few things about Russia and went through that unique schooling by means of which the Soviet government has contrived, over a period of half a century, to educate and to graduate from their period of service in Moscow one class after another of embittered diplomats, sending them out into the world to preach vigilance against the wiles and pretenses of Soviet policy.

The years immediately following American recognition were marked in the Soviet Union by the fearful and indescribable orgy of official terror and brutality known as “the purges.”Their effect on the Soviet-American relationship was mixed. On those Americans who lived in Moscow at the time, the effect was one of utter and enduring horror coupled with a profound conviction that any regime capable of perpetrating such monstrous cruelties against its own people, and indeed against itself, was to be dealt with only at arm’s length and with the utmost circumspection. That Franklin Roosevelt ever fully understood the nature and significance of these nightmarish events is doubtful. He appears never wholly to have departed, even in those terrible years, from his conviction that Stalin was probably really not such a bad fellow at heart, that what was needed to set him on the right track was a bit more relaxed treatment—a bit less suspicion and more cordiality than a snobbish upper-class American plutocracy (as FDR saw it) had been inclined to concede. Roosevelt seems never fully to have understood the limitations that rest upon the possibilities for intimacy or friendship with people who have a great deal of blood on their hands. This failure of understanding was to some extent shared by much of the remainder of the American liberal community A greater shock was received by that community, actually, with the news of the conclusion of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, in 1939. Mistreatment of the Soviet population was one thing (much could be excused in the name of the Revolution), but that the Soviet Union, which for years had held itself out as the greatest opponent of German nazism and had encouraged others to go even further in that stance, should now have turned around and suddenly, after highly conspiratorial preparations, made a cynical deal with Hitler at the expense of the Poles and the Baltic peoples was a great blow not only to pro-Soviet liberal circles in the United States but to many Communists, there and elsewhere, as well.

Yet all this abruptly changed again when, in 1941, both the Soviet Union and the United States found themselves (involuntarily) at war with Nazi Germany. The “Russians" became, almost overnight, our great and good allies. The image of Stalin changed instantly from that of the “crafty giant” Churchill once correctly described to that of a benevolent hero of the resistance to Hitlerism. War psychology, to which the American public is no less prone than any other, at once led to the discovery of previously unknown virtues in a regime that was also now at war with America’s principal military enemy. Considering that the Soviet Union was absorbing some 80 percent of the Nazi war effort while we and our Western allies were, up to 1944, unable even to mount a second front, the American official community (and particularly the military leadership) generally felt that the most important thing was to “get on” (that was the term then commonly used) with Moscow, politically and propagandistically as well as in point of military aid. In these circumstances, nothing was too good, in 1942 and 1943, for our valiant Soviet allies. Anyone who in those years attempted to remind others that Soviet ideas about the postwar future might be seriously in conflict with our own was sternly admonished that in wartime we Americans did not “take our eyes off the ball"—the ball being, in this instance, the earliest possible total defeat of Germany. Gone, now, were the resentments over Soviet aspirations for world revolution. Soviet demands, advanced by Stalin during the war, for the westward extension of the boundaries of the Soviet Union were accepted by Britain, and silently (though not happily) acquiesced to by the United States.

In the ensuing years of 1944 and 1945, other far-reaching concessions were made. The bitter implications of Soviet behavior at the time of the Warsaw uprising were largely ignored. There must be no attempt, while hostilities were in progress, to discuss realistically with our Soviet allies the sordid questions of the political arrangements that should prevail in Central and Eastern Europe when the war was over. Such discussions, it was insisted, might be destructive of the wartime intimacy; matters of this nature were to be taken care of, after the termination of hostilities, by general political collaboration among the United States, Britain, the Soviet Union, and—at FDR’s insistence—Chiang Kai-shek’s China.

IT IS SMALL WONDER THAT IN THE FACE OF SUCH WISHful and unrealistic attitudes there was, in the immediate post-hostilities period, a rude awakening and disillusionment. There is no need to recount the details. Soviet leaders, partially confused by the official pro-Soviet American rhetoric of the wartime years and misled by the ease with which they had obtained Western agreement to the extension of their holders and the ruthless consolidation of their political domination in the occupied areas, were somewhat dizzy with success. They were not sure how far they would be permitted to go. Their dreams ran to the acquisition of a dominant political position in Germany and the remainder of Western Europe. They had no thought of trying to achieve this by force of arms. Their thoughts were rather of political devices such as acquiring a share of the control over the Ruhr, taking advantage of the strong positions of the French and Italian Communist parties, exploiting Soviet military-control powers in Berlin and Vienna, and penetrating Western labor-union, intellectual, and student movements. They had, after all, been encouraged to expect an extensive withdrawal of American forces and of American involvement in European affairs when the war was over. This, they thought, would create a serious political vacuum; the rest might be accomplished, or so it was hoped, by the clever, ruthless exploitation of the political cards they now held in their hands.

Actually, those cards were not so strong as the Soviet leaders supposed. This was at once revealed by the Marshall Plan initiative, in 1947-1948, which wholly frustrated any dreams of the political takeover of Western Europe. The remaining Soviet efforts of the 1940s, outstandingly the crackdown on Czechoslovakia and the mounting of the Berlin blockade, were defensive in inspiration—attempts to play Moscow’s last major political cards in anticipation of what they saw looming before them: a new division of power across the European continent.

These attempts reflected no Soviet desire for a fullfledged military showdown, or even for a division of the continent into opposing military alliances. It is entirely possible that had the Western European countries, while resisting the Berlin blockade, continued to concentrate steadily on Europe’s economic and political recovery, Stalin, whose country had the most pressing need for at least several years of peaceful reconstruction, would have been prepared to make extensive compromises—compromises that would at least have obviated the necessity for such a military division of the continent. But the Western Europeans, conditioned by the experience of centuries to see any serious international tension as the forerunner oi a war, immediately interpreted the existing evidence of Soviet political recalcitrance as a menace of invasion. And we Americans, always high-mindedly disinclined to make compromises with evil (except, of course, in our own domestic politics), were disinclined to go in for any political deals with what was rapidly coming to be seen as “the enemy.” Thus the North Atlantic Treaty Organization came into existence, to be responded to, in its turn, by the Warsaw Pact. And thus the decision to take Western Germany into NATO, and to re-arm it, produced the inevitable countermeasures with respect to East Germany. These developments, together with the revelation, in 1949, of a Soviet nuclear capability, followed by the Korean War (the origins and purposes of which were seriously misinterpreted in the West), laid a firm and unshakable foundation for the militarization of the American attitude toward the Soviet problem that has been the dominant feature of American diplomacy ever since.

THIS MIGHT BE A GOOD PLACE TO PAUSE AND NOTE the full import of the changes that by the end of the 1940s had come over the American-Soviet relationship. The factors that had been the determining ones in the early years of the relationship had been either removed or greatly weakened. The problem of what was once called “debts and claims” had been eclipsed by the traumatic experiences of World War II, and was rapidly falling victim to the tendency of international life that so often causes “insoluble” problems, if allowed to remain long enough unsolved, gradually to lose their significance. And as for “world revolution”: the Comintern, once the symbol of all that Americans objected to in Soviet policy, had by this time been formally abolished. It had been Stalin’s custom, in any case, to use the subservient foreign Communist parties as instruments for the support of Soviet foreign policy rather than as vehicles for the serious promotion of revolution. With the abolition of the Comintern, Moscow’s relations with those foreign parties, previously channeled through the Comintern, had been turned over partly to the Soviet secret police, which used them for espionage and for other forms of its chartered skulduggery, and partly to a section of the apparatus of the Soviet Central Committee, to which was given the unpleasant task of holding the hands of the foreign Communist leaders and assuring their continued subservience while preventing them from either unduly influencing or embarrassing Soviet policy-makers. In these circumstances, no informed person, either in the Soviet Union or elsewhere, any longer took seriously Moscow’s theoretical and rhetorical commitment to world revolution.

With these issues out of the way, the relationship was now destined to be shaped primarily by two factors: one old, one new.

The old factor was what might be called the substructure of tensions, misunderstandings, irritations, and minor conflicts flowing from the great disparity between the two political systems, not only in ideology but, even more important, in traditions, habits, customs, and methodology. This factor had never been absent at any time since the founding of the Soviet regime (indeed, to some extent it had been present in the czarist period as well). It continued to weigh upon the Soviet-American relationship in the postwar years, even in the post-Stalin period, almost as heavily as it had before the war. It must be regarded as a permanent burden on the relationship, probably never to be wholly overcome, certainly not to be importantly mitigated in any short space of time.

The new factor was the military and geopolitical situation arising from the circumstances of the war and its aftermath: a situation destined, as it turned out, to overshadow all other aspects of the relationship in intensity, in endurance, and in gravity—gravity for the two countries and for the world at large.

Prior to World War II, the respective military situations and interests of the two powers had not constituted a significant factor in their relations. The Soviet Union was then not a competitor or a threat to the United States in naval power; the same thing applied, the other way around, when it came to land power. By the end of the 1920s, the Soviet Union had acquired, to be sure, a formidable land army (in the Russian tradition)—an army that was already the greatest, numerically, in the world. But the two countries were so widely separated—in the West by the Atlantic Ocean and the intervening powers of Europe, in the East by the Pacific Ocean plus China and Japan—that there was no consciousness on either side of a serious military rivalry.

With the conclusion of World War II, all that changed. The final stages of military operations had enabled the Soviet Union to overcome the communications-poor barrier of the territory between the Baltic and Black seas which had historically separated Central and Western Europe from the Russian armies. The traditional military power of Russia, now represented by the Soviet Union, had been projected into the heart of Europe, where there was nothing to oppose it at the time but a number of Western European peoples either shattered by the recent Hitlerian occupation or militarily exhausted or both. This Western Europe was unable to restore either its political self-confidence or its capacity for self-defense without American support. And the absence of any realistic agreement among the victors on a political future for the defeated Germany, or indeed for Central and Eastern Europe generally, left Soviet and American military forces confronting each other across a line through the middle of North-Central Europe—a line never originally meant to become the central demarcation of a divided Europe but destined, as we now know, to remain just that for at least several decades into the future.

This major geopolitical displacement marked a fundamental change in the Soviet-American relationship. It did not, as many seem to have supposed, render either necessary or inevitable a war between the two powers—then or at any other time. But it injected into the relationship a new factor: an immediate military proximity, made all the more delicate and dangerous insofar as it was superimposed upon the permanent substructure of friction referred to above. If, before the war, Washington had dealt with the Soviet Union primarily as a revolutionary political force, it was now obliged to deal with it as a traditional military great power, suddenly and unexpectedly poised on the very edge of America’s own newly acquired sphere of political-military interest.

And this new geopolitical relationship was burdened by several further complications—all new, all serious.

The end of the war, in the first place, had left the United States with little in the way of military manpower (in view of its precipitous demobilization) but with a bloated military superstructure, and particularly with an expanded apparatus for military planning, for which use now had to be found. With Germany and Japan out of the way, there was need of a new prospective opponent with relation to whose military personality a new American military posture could be designed. The Soviet Union was the obvious, indeed the only plausible, candidate.

It is said that Woodrow Wilson was shocked to learn, in 1915, that the Army War College was studying plans for wars against other countries. The story, sometimes cited as an example of Mr. Wilson’s naiveté, seems to be the somewhat distorted version of a real episode. But it is suggestive of a historically significant reality. When a military planner selects another country as the leading hypothetical opponent of his own country—the opponent against whom military preparations and operations are theoretically to be directed—the discipline of his profession obliges him to endow that opponent with extreme hostility and the most formidable of capabilities. In tens of thousands of documents, this image of the opponent is re-created, and depicted in all its implacable formidability, until it becomes hopelessly identified with the real country in question. In this way, the planner’s hypothesis becomes, imperceptibly, the politician’s and the journalist’s reality. Even when there is some degree of substance behind the hypothesis, what emerges is invariably an overdrawn and distorted image.

And so it has been in the case of the Soviet Union, with the result that what began as a limited political conflict of interests and aspirations has evolved into a perceived total military hostility; and what was in actuality a Soviet armed-forces establishment with many imperfections and many limitations on its capabilities has come gradually to be perceived as an overpowering paragon of military efficiency, standing at the beck and call of a political regime consumed with no other purpose than to do us maximum harm. This sort of distortion has magnified inordinately, in the public eye, the dimensions of what was initially a serious political problem, and has created, and fed, the impression that the problem is one not to be solved otherwise than by some sort of a military showdown.

A second complication—and a tremendous one—has been the addition of nuclear weaponry to the arsenals of the two powers, and their competition in the development of it. This form of weaponry, with its suicidal and apocalyptic implications, has thrown such uncertainty and confusion into the whole field of military planning, and has aroused such extreme anxieties and such erratic reactions on the part of the public, that it has come close to obscuring the real political, and even military, conflicts of interest between the United States and the Soviet Union behind a fog of nuclear fears, suspicions, and fancied scenarios.

Finally, there was one other effect, this time political, of the outcome of World War II that must also be noted. In the two decades before the war, the western borders of the USSR were essentially those of the old Grand Duchy of Muscovy. They corresponded, in a rough way, to the real ethnic line between those who might be called “Russians” (Little and Great) and those to whom that term could not properly be applied. The wartime extension of the Soviet borders far to the west, together with the acquisition and consolidation of a Soviet hegemony over all of Eastern, and parts of Central, Europe, brought into the Soviet orbit a number of non-Russian nationalities—some formerly included in the czarist empire, some not—very much against the will of a great many of their members, especially those who fled and found refuge in the United States. The result was to add materially to those existing American political factions (some highly vocal and not without political influence) that were animated by a burning hatred of the Soviet Union and were anxious to enlist the political and military resources of the United States for the destruction of the Soviet empire.

IN ORDER THAT THIS NEW PROXIMITY OF SOVIET AND American forces, together with its various complications, might be removed, and a more normal and less dangerous situation created in Central and Eastern Europe, three sorts of agreements would have been necessary between the United States and its allies, on the one hand, and the Soviet Union and (for formality’s sake) its allies, on the other.

One would have been an agreement to assure the extensive retirement of both Soviet and American forces from the center of Europe. The Soviet side would never have agreed to this except on the condition that the Germany thus freed from the forces of the two powers should be a neutralized and disarmed one, not in alliance with the United States. Rut this was a condition that the Western powers, for their part, were never prepared even to consider; and with the rearming of West Germany and the consolidation of its position as a member of NATO, all practical possibility for meeting this requirement passed, in any case. This precluded, as early as the first years of the 1950s, and has precluded ever since, any effective agreement over the German problem.

The second essential agreement would have been one assuring the extensive dismantling of the Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe—i.e., the concession to the Eastern European governments of a full freedom of action, including at least the right to change their social systems at will. To this, too, Moscow would never have agreed in the absence of a settlement of the German problem.

The third agreement would have been one outlawing nuclear weapons and assuring their removal from the arsenals of all countries, first and foremost those of the United States and the Soviet Union. However, such has been the commitment of the United States government to nuclear weaponry as an indispensable component of its defense force that there has never been a time since 1950 when that government would have been prepared to consider its complete outlawing. The problem was subsequently further complicated by the proliferation of nuclear weapons into the hands of several other governments; so that today, the level of the largest of these peripheral arsenals constitutes the floor beneath which the nuclear arsenals of the two leading nuclear powers could in any case not be expected to sink.

In these circumstances, there has never been any conceivable basis for a one-time, general settlement of the military-political stalemate that World War II produced. It would obviously require some major alteration in the entire balance of power—some drastic internal breakdown or some new and overpowering external involvement of one side or the other—to make possible, even theoretically, any immediate untying of this knot. The peaceful resolution of this problem is conceivable today only under the benevolent influence of the passage of time, supported by such efforts as mere men can make to promote a greater measure of background confidence and understanding between the governments involved.

Given this situation, the best that men of good will were able to do over the two decades following the death of Stalin was to tinker around the edges of this unresolved and (for the moment) unresolvable military-political deadlock, trying, wherever opportunity seemed to present itself, to narrow the area to which the disagreements applied or to reduce their dangerousness (for dangerous they were and are) in other ways. This a number of these men did; and their successes, while always limited and modest, were more numerous and in some instances more extensive than many today recall.

In Khrushchev’s time, there was, outstandingly, the negotiation of the Austrian peace treaty—a product of Khrushchev’s own relative good will plus the patient efforts of several excellent Western negotiators, among them our own ambassador, Llewellyn Thompson, to whose exceptional skills and insights Europe probably owes more than to those of any other American of his time. This happily removed one strategically placed European country from the arena of Soviet-American conllict. In addition, there was the signing of the first nuclear-test-ban treaty, in 1963; and there were several early arrangements in the field of cultural exchange.

The ensuing Brezhnev era saw, of course, the spectacular summitry of Messrs. Nixon and Kissinger, marking the successful conclusion of a whole series of agreements in a number of fields—cultural, scientific, technological, and military—culminating in the first SALT agreement of 1972 and the initiation of negotiations for the second one. A number of these agreements proved valuable in one degree or another, and some might have yielded even greater positive results had they been given a longer period of trial and a bit more commitment from the American side. They were supplemented, of course, by the West GermanSoviet agreements concluded around the same time, largely under the leadership of Willy Brandt—agreements that, among other things, gave to the western sectors of Berlin, for the first time, reasonably dependable communications with the remainder of West Germany, and thus alleviated one of the greatest, and least necessary, of the dangers of the postwar period.

THESE WERE, I REITERATE, MODEST AND LIMITED gains. Their real significance was obscured, rather than enhanced, by the over-dramatization to which they were often subjected, under the misleading heading of “detente.” The Soviet-American relationship continued, of course, to be burdened at all times by the permanent substructure of friction. But the results of all these efforts to mitigate the prevailing tensions and to improve the atmosphere of Soviet-American relations were on balance positive, so much so that the record of achievement up to 1974 provided in itself no reason why they should not have been continued—rather the contrary.

This, however, was not to be. As we all know, the latter part of 1974 witnessed, together with the Watergate scandal, the beginning of a deterioration of Soviet-American relations that has lasted to the present day—a deterioration in which many of the achievements of the precedingyears have been destroyed.

The deterioration was inaugurated by the JacksonVanik amendment to the 1974 Trade Reform Act—an amendment that had the effect of knocking out the SovietAmerican trade agreement already negotiated in 1972 and of denying to the Soviet Union the concession of the normal customs treatment the agreement provided. Since then, there has been nothing but one long and dreary process of retrogression: rapidly declining trade; neglect or abandonment of cultural-exchange arrangements; throttling down of personal contacts; failure of ratification of the second SALT agreement; reckless acceleration of the weapons race; demonstrative tilting toward Communist China; angry polemic and propagandists exchanges, all culminating in the shrill denunciations and various anti-Soviet “sanctions” of the Carter and Reagan administrations. Of the list of constructive principles agreed upon eight years ago by Nixon and Brezhnev for the future peaceful and productive shaping of the relationship, not one is left that Mr. Nixon’s successors have not denounced or abandoned, or both.

How is this sudden turnabout to be explained? The search for the answers to that question is a revealingexercise.

Was there, perhaps, some change in the nature of the Soviet regime with which we were dealing—some change that, alone, would have warranted a drastic departure from previous American policy? Not at all. On the contrary: the Brezhnev regime was marked expressly by an extraordinary steadiness and consistency of behavior. The entire personality of the Soviet structure of power, as distinct from the Soviet society, has shown very little alteration, in fact, since the first years of the post-Stalin epoch.

Was it perhaps that the men who conducted American policy in the years prior to 1974 were naive, or affected by pro-Soviet sympathies, or for some other reason blind to the negative sides of the Soviet personality and behavior? Again, the answer is no. These men were perfectly well aware of the negative aspects of the political regime with which they were dealing. They simply considered that in the light of the prevailing military-political stalemate, there were limits to the usefulness of heroic gestures of petulance and indignation over these various disagreements, whereas it might be useful to take advantage of whatever opportunities seemed to present themselves for the mitigation of existing tensions in ways not adverse to American interests. Their efforts were often, admittedly, experimental. Not all were fully expected to work out; but most of them did. And the gains were considered to be worth whatever minor sacrifices or concessions were involved.

Was it, then, that American public opinion had revolted against the policies pursued in earlier years? Here, too, the answer is no. There was at all times, of course, a hardline faction, or cluster of factions, not very large but violent in its opinions, that opposed any and every form of negotiation or compromise with Moscow, and looked to military intimidation, if not to the actual use of force, as the only means through which anything useful could be accomplished in relations with the Soviet Union. This faction had always existed; and it had recently been strengthened by new flurries of interest in some quarters in the Soviet “dissidents” and in the human-rights question. But the bulk of the American people had seemed to accept with understanding, if not with enthusiasm, these various efforts to diminish tension and to narrow the dangers of the military-political standoff. Even many of those who were not convinced initially of the usefulness of such efforts were willing to see them given a try by people—namely, the various American statesmen and diplomats in question—who, they thought, knew more, or ought to know more, about the problem of Soviet-American relations than they themselves did, and who deserved a certain initial margin of confidence. This, plainly, was an instance in which people were inclined, by and large, to respond to political leadership; and there is no apparent reason to suppose that if that leadership had wished to continue to conduct, and to explain, the sort of policy that had prevailed prior to 1974, it would have failed to continue to enjoy an adequate measure of public acquiescence.

If one asks those who have presided over this process of deterioration why they viewed it as necessary or desirable, one receives a variety of answers. There was the human-rights problem; there were the restrictions on Jewish emigration; there were the expansionist tendencies of the Soviet regime with relation to the Third World; there was Afghanistan; there was the Jaruzelsky take-over in Poland; there was, above all, the continued Soviet military buildup.

There is some degree of substance in most, if not all, of these charges, but not very much, particularly if taken in relation to Soviet policies prior to that benchmark of 1974. Certainly, there was no change in Soviet behavior in any of these respects drastic enough to justify a change in American policy as abrupt and drastic as the one that took place.

Human rights? The policies applied in the mid-1970s and since in this respect have been no more severe than in the preceding decades, and have actually been far more lenient than anything Russia knew in the Stalin era, when this was scarcely an issue in Soviet-American relations at all.

The treatment of Jews, and the problem of Jewish emigration? In proposing their trade amendment, Jackson and Vanik chose a moment when Jewish emigration was running at the highest rate since at least the 1950s. There was no reason to conclude that, barring this effort, it would not have continued at this rate, or possibly even have increased. Nor would the amendment appear to have been in any way useful to the people on whose behalf it was ostensibly advanced. On the contrary, it would seem to have set Jewish emigration back by some live years.

Soviet “adventurism” in the Third World? I know of no evidence that Soviet efforts to gain influence with Thiixl World regimes were any more extensive in the 1970s, or since, than they were in earlier periods of Soviet history. Least of all is it evident that they were any more successful. The methods had indeed been changing—but changing in a direction (namely, the generous export of arms and advisers) that made them depressingly similar to some of our own.

Afghanistan? Yes, of course: a crude, bungled operation; an obvious mistake of Soviet policy, with origins not entirely dissimilar to those of our own involvement in Vietnam. But not one that impinged directly on American interests, particularly if it be considered that the alternative might have been the growing influence of a Khomeini type of violently anti-American Moslem fanaticism in that part of the world. And one no more serious in its consequences than the absorption of Outer Mongolia into the Soviet sphere of interest in the 1920s, or of Tibet into Communist China at a later date, both changes to which the United States found it possible to accommodate itself without violent repercussions on the bilateral relations with the respective countries.

Poland? Yes, indeed, a tragic situation, the product of a long series of mistakes—many, though not all, on the Soviet side. But this was not a situation that was suddenly created at the end of the 1970s; nor was it worse then than in earlier years. The fact is that Moscow, after being publicly warned by our government on dozens of occasions in 1980 not to intervene militarily in Poland, actually refrained from intervening, and was punished anyway. The theory offered as justification for this—that Jaruzelsky undertook his crackdown on Moscow’s orders and would not have done so in the absence of those orders—rests, so far as I am aware, solely on conjecture. And the resulting situation, while indeed onerous and even dangerous, is less so than it was a year ago, and no more so than the situation that prevailed in earlier decades.

Finally, the Soviet arms buildup? Yes, a reality, no doubt—some of it exaggerated by calculated leaks from Western military establishments, but another portion of it real enough, and parts of it, such as the mounting of the SS-20s in the western districts of the USSR, unnecessary and foolish. But this, too, did not begin in 1974, nor has the United States government done all that it could to prevent or discourage the buildup. It was, after all, we, and not the Soviet government, who declined to ratify the second SALT treaty. There was no reason why that agreement should not have been ratified (we are, after all, finding it possible to observe its provisions); and no reasons why negotiations for further such agreements could not have been put in hand long ago and with a much greater evidence of enthusiasm than the Reagan Administration has evinced. In the welter of mistakes, misconceptions, and fixations that has led to the present arms race, both sides have their hearty share of the blame; but there was never any reason why negotiations for the tempering and overcoming of this dangerous competition should not have gone forward, as they did in earlier years, without detriment to the remaining fabric of Soviet-American relations.

THESE POINTS CONCERNING THE RECENT DETERIORation of relations are mentioned here because they illustrate a situation of great importance, the significance of which seems hardly to have been noted on this side of the water. This is that the fluctuations of official American attitudes and policies with relation to the Soviet Union would appear to have been responsive only in minor degree, if at all, to changes in the nature of the problem that country has presented for American statesmanship. The Soviet Union with which we declined to have relations in the 1920s was not greatly different from that which we found it possible to recognize in 1933. The Stalin regime that aroused our indignation during the Non-Aggression Pact period was precisely the same as that in which we came to discern so many virtues during the war. This latter, in its turn, was no different from the one that we discovered, at the end of the 1940s, to be a great danger to us and to the free world in general.

There was, indeed, a certain real change in the nature of the regime by virtue of the transition from Stalin to Khrushchev in the years 1953 to 1957; and this, as we have seen, was taken advantage of by American statesmen in the ensuing years. But again, the Brezhnev that Messrs. Nixon and Kissinger did such extensive business with was very much the same as the one with whom subsequent American statesmen found it impossible to collaborate at all. There were, of course, over this entire period, important gradual changes in Soviet society and even in the relations between people and regime; but these changes were not pronounced in the structure of power itself, and even less so—except in the transition from the Stalin era to the succeeding ones—in the problem that this structure of power presented for the outside world. Yet American attitudes and policies were subject to abrupt, and sometimes drastic, alterations.

All this would seem to indicate that the motivations for American policy toward the Soviet Union from the start have been primarily subjective, not objective, in origin. They have represented for the most part not reactions to the nature of a certain external phenomenon (the Soviet regime) but rather the reflections of emotional and political impulses making themselves felt on the internal American scene. And these impulses would appear to have been not of American public opinion at large (for that opinion, good-humoredly tolerant but reserved and noncommittal, has exhibited no such violent fluctuations) but of the professional political establishment. This is explicable, perhaps, to the extent that policy toward the Soviet Union has been a partisan political issue; but this has been true only to a limited extent. More important would seem to have been the momentary violence of feeling on the part of politically influential lobbies and minorities to whose pressures the politicians of the moment were inclined to pander or defer.

However that may be, the record of American policy toward the Soviet Union over the six and a half decades of the existence of that body politic gives the impression that it was not really the nature of any external problem that concerned us but rather something we were anxious to prove to ourselves, about ourselves.

It is, surely, not unreasonable to point out that this state of affairs is not adequate as a response to the problem that the Soviet Union actually presents. Indeed, it holds great dangers for this country and for others as well. The problem presented by the need for a continued peaceful co-existence on the same planet of the Soviet Union and the United States is one that would challenge even the highest resources of this country for analysis, for it must be dealt with in ways conducive not just to American national interest in the narrow sense but to peace among the various great powers—a condition without which no American interest of any sort can be served. Vital prerequisites for the successful policy of a great power are stability and consistency. Even our allies cannot be helped by a policy that lacks these qualities. If there was ever a time in the history of this country when there was no place for the sort of self-conscious posturing, and the sort of abrupt changes of concept, that have marked our reaction to Sov iet power in recent decades, that time is now.

To renounce this sort of self-indulgence, deeply ingrained as it is in American political behavior, is admittedly a big order. It will probably never be wholly satisfied. But there have been moments in American history when a bipartisan consciousness of national danger or necessity has enabled us, as in the case of the Marshall Plan, to face a problem objectively and to find the answer to it most responsive to the general interest—an answer, that is, broadly, imaginatively, and generously conceived, and consistently pursued. With a nuclear-weapons race increasingly out of control now staring us in the face—confronted as we are with accumulations of modern weapons, nuclear and otherwise, of such monstrous destructiveness that their detonation (and weapons have a way of being detonated in the end) could well put an end to civilization—we can no longer afford to address to the problem of SovietAmerican relations anything less than the best, in the way of sobriety, objective analysis, steadiness, thoughtfulness, and practicality of purpose, that our society can produce. There is not much more time for the recognition of this fact to penetrate the national consciousness. The clock is ticking; the remaining ticks are numbered; the end of their number is already in sight. Only a thorough, open-minded, bipartisan re-examination of this whole problem, and a determined, imaginative promulgation of the results of such a re-examination, could bring a safe end to this ticking. □