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Now -- the Carter doctrine?

The Russians have brought on a pretty bellicose mood in the United States. More and more we hear talk that President Carter has downgraded his early diplomatic agenda in favor of a tougher, more traditional foreign policy. He is reported to be preparing a new US strategic doctrine to contain the Soviet threat -- something in the vein of a Truman Doctrine. One leading broadcast commentator has referred to Mr. Carter's initial priorities roughly as "human rights and things like that" -- almost as if human rights were the foolish preoccupation of a President not yet experienced in the ways of diplomacy.

Before the pendulum swings too far in the direction of cold war again, some sober reflection might be in order. Mr. Carter indeed has sometimes had a naive view of the world. Perhaps his policies have invited a rude lesson in the unending need for vigilance and firmness in the face of Soviet aggressiveness. Shocked by the events in Afghanistan, he has found that he cannot place less stress on the US-Soviet competition and more on global problems, as his security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski once had hoped.

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But surely it would be short-sighted in the extreme to neglect such global imperatives as arms control, nuclear nonproliferation, and human rights. To curb the senseless building up of nuclear arsenals which could threaten world catastrophe remains a critical priority. This effort must go on. As for human rights -- economic, social, political -- these are not pie-in-the-sky ideals. They are what the struggle in the world is all about, including the ideological and political contest between the USSR and the US. The turmoil and upheavals in large areas of the third world are at root a struggle for "human rights" and the question is which superpower will be able to respond in helpful and moral ways. The outrage voiced by the nonaligned nations in the UN over the Soviet Union's use of force to impose its will speaks eloquently. But this does not mean automatic embrace of the West, from whose "imperialism," real or imagined, the third world also seeks to distance itself.

The world is far more complicated than it was in the time of John Foster Dulles. It is a world in which neither superpower can exert the kind of influence it once did. It is also a world in which growing interdependence still ought to drive both the third world and the superpowers toward cooperation. Thus, the Russians in the end need Western technology and food; the US grows more and more dependent on outside sources of raw materials (we are being reminded these days that most of the palladium needed for catalytic converters in US cars comes from the USSR). The third-world countries, for their part, desperately need aid and investment capital; and they provide many of the resources the West sorely needs.

Nor can economic factors be separated from political ones. We have a good example of this in Rhodesia, where a just political settlement turning power over to the majority blacks means the US will be able to obtain Rhodesian chromium again. Looking down the road, it would be folly to assume that the West will enjoy indefinite access to the rich mineral wealth of South Africa if the system of apartheid is not dismantled. Unless black aspirations are eventually satisfied there, the Soviets will be handed another opportunity to exploit. So the advancement of human rights is not irrelevant to political stability and world order.

The Russians, out of a sense of their own insecurity perhaps, resort to force to "protect themselves" and advance their interests. Such militarism has to be strongly resisted -- in the West's defense posture and in public forums. In the end, however, the West's ability to deal sensitively and magnanimously with the world's yearnings and needs will determine what kind of world we live in. It is a matter of balance and perspective. The Soviet projection of power cannot be ignored; but neither can those global concerns to which the Carter administration admirably gave early voice. These are concerns we hope the President does not short-change as he gropes for a new articulation of American foreign policy.


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