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Why detente deteriorates: a Soviet view

What is the main reason for a sharp deterioration in Soviet-American relations? On the threshold of the 1980s they were thrown back for more than a decade, and the painstaking, strenuous, and constructive work to build their structure to mutual benefit is now in jeopardy.

The first reason that comes to mind is the eve-of-election atmosphere in the United States, the unimpressive record of the incumbent administration both at home and on the international scene and its failure to meet virtually all of its election promises. Extraordinary circumstances are needed to put the discussion on a quite different track and to deflect voter complaints over the failure of the administration to fulfill its promises.

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After all, the average voter is willing to face sacrifices and innumerable unresolved problems at home when there is a formidable outside threat to the independence and very existence of the country. It follows that, if there is no such threat, it has to be created. This explains the continuous bandying about of the myth about the Soviet military threat and the military superiority of the USSR.

The developments in Iran certainly played into the hands of the current administration. It must be hard to convince the public at large, however, that Iran poses a threat to the existence of the United States.

The Soviet Union is a different matter: It has nuclear weapons, missiles, and submarines. As for a pretext, it can always be found: If there were no Afghanistan, they could have "discovered" another Soviet "brigade" in Cuba, or raised a hue and cry over Yugoslavia. To make the whole story sound true, it is possible to sacrifice the agreements that have been worked out with so much effort between the two countries.

It is hard to believe here in the Soviet Union that the President and his entourage actually expect to bring the Soviet Union to its knees by withholding 17 million tons of grain and corn earmarked to be sold to it. If he really believes this, he has a poor knowledge of history in general and the history of the country he is dealing with in particular.

There must be other reasons except the election campaign, of course. We think here that, perhaps, influential US forces relying on certain sections of public opinion failed to embrace the idea of Soviet-American parity both in the military field and in political capabilities on the international scene. They regard the very idea of Soviet-American parity as detracting from the stature of the USA and giving superiority to the Soviet Union. They are unable to understand that new criteria of security based on cooperation between different countries -- some of them strong, others not so strong, still others weak, but all of them equal -- rather than on superiority of strength are making their way in the world.

The Soviet Union and the United States have different social systems, adhere to different philosophies, and have different views of the world, its development, and the motive forces behind this development. At the same time there are spheres of international relations where they can cooperate, pursuing their parallel interests. There include, above all, the prevention of nuclear war on the globe and the ending of the arms race, which is a waste of human resources and mental and physical energies; the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons; and the conservation of the environment, to name a few.

The policy of detente in Soviet-American relations proceeded from the assumption that the idea of cooperation met to a large extent the interests of both states. This does not mean that the other aspect of these relations -- that is, the existence of different social objectives, including those on the international scene -- was overlooked. Suffice it to mention that the Soviet Union agreed to pursue detente at a time when the Vietnam War was raging.

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Throughout the 60 years of Soviet history there have been many attempts "to teach the USSR a lesson," by using force or imposing blockades, for pursuing its avowed principles, which, however, go against the grain of the Western policymakers.The USSR will survive this fresh attempt just as it has survived all others -- but it will make proper conclusions. The first one of them is that the USA -- at least the USA governed by the incumbent administration -- is a nervous and unreliable partner which is capable of losing the sense of reality and political equanimity, cannot approach complex problems in a constructive manner, and tries to take refuge from these problems behind the bastions of the recent past.

We believe that sobriety and common sense will eventually get the upper hand in Washington and that Soviet-American relations will return to normalcy: There are few people in the world, after all, who would like the Cold War to come back. But "eventually" is an elastic notion which can mean months, years, and even decades. And think how much effort and energy and how many resources will have to be spent to return to the point of departure.


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