OVER THE PAST year American foreign policy has undergone a littledebated shift toward confrontation with communism in the Third World. The shift was signaled by separate Congressional votes to aid the Nicaraguan rebels seeking to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, the Cambodian rebels seeking to liberate their country from the Vietnamese, and the Afghan rebels seeking to liberate their country from the Russians, and by yet another vote opening the way for the United States to aid the Angolan rebels in toppling the Marxist government in Angola. A scholar employed by the Rand Corporation has suggested that we should view this new shift or emphasis as a counter-doctrine to the Soviet’s heralded support for “wars of national liberation,” and that it should be our official policy openly to back what he calls “Movements of National Liberation from Communist Imperialism (MNLCI).”Support for MNLCI, in fact if not yet as declared policy, has taken its place beside containment and détente as one of the postulates of our foreign policy.
Support for MNLCI is at the other pole of policy from detente; yet, to judge by their actions, the Soviets do not think so. It was, after all, while SovietAmerican relations were in their brief season of détente that communism found lodgment in Nicaragua, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and Angola. Détente, in the Soviet understanding of the matter, evidently was meant to apply only in the realm of bilateral superpower relations. It was thought to be entirely consistent with support for “wars of national liberation” and, indeed, with the most naked sort of mischief in the Third World. For a country so driven by paranoia over “encirclement,” the Soviet Union could not seem to understand that as the seventies wore on and the red flag went up in one country after another, we ourselves would become paranoid—if not over encirclement, then over the spread of communism—and begin to respond in kind.
Given this history, it is unlikely that our support for MNLCI will hurt our chances either for reaching an arms-control agreement or for improving overall relations with the Soviet Union—assuming, of course, that President Reagan is interested in signing agreements or improving relations with a country he has denounced as “the source of evil in the modern world.” The Soviets, it is well to remember, talked arms control and toasted detente with us while President Nixon was bombing Hanoi. In the same cold-blooded spirit of realpolitik, they would no doubt talk about these things again if we, or our surrogates, were to bomb Managua.
Still, besides the fact that the new policy is one of confrontation by proxy, there is a consequential difference between what we were doing in Vietnam and our support for MNLCI. President Nixon bombed Hanoi not to rid North Vietnam of communism but to keep it from imposing communism on South Vietnam. While talking détente to the Soviets, he was practicing a policy of containment vis a vis communism in the Third World. As promulgated by George F. Kerman in 1947 (in his famous “X” article in Foreign Affairs), containment was a Euro-centered doctrine that meant stopping the Russians from taking more ground than the fortunes of the Second World War had already brought them—which is to say nearly all of Eastern and Central Europe. At the time, containment was attacked by John Foster Dulles, then a private citizen, as “immoral”; Dulles and the 1952 Republican Party platform he helped to shape called instead for a “rollback” of Soviet forces in Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, once Dwight Eisenhower, the Republican candidate in 1952, became President, he conducted foreign policy by the logic of containment, not rollback—and did so even though his secretary of state was John Foster Dulles,
Support for MNLCI clearly goes beyond containment. In its appeal to both moral and macho sentiments it is strongly redolent of rollback. Like containment and détente in their heydays, the new policy has won a solid following among Republicans and Democrats alike. Because it has strong bipartisan support, the shift to it—except in the case of Nicaragua—has been almost invisible to the press and the public. It is as if we went to sleep one day in a world caught between detente and containment and woke up the next in the brave new world of MNLCI.