When President Reagan took office he promised a clear and coherent policy toward the Soviet Union to correct the confusion and uncertainty for which he criticized President Carter. Since then he and his Cabinet have taken a tough verbal stance toward the USSR and submitted an expanded defense budget to improve the military balance. But the administration has yet to define its broader East-West strategy, involving negotiations, especially on arms control, and other issues such as trade, credits, and technology.
Indeed, the signals from various top officials have often been conflicting. When Navy Secretary Lehman disavowed the SALT constraints, the State Department publicly demurred. Secretary Weinberger said TNF (theater nuclear force) negotiations depend on Soviet withdrawal from Poland, whereas Secretary Haig said the test was Soviet nonintervention. The President affirmed the goal of negotiated arms limitations, but the hard-liners seem to be maneuvering to forestall any negotiations. And so on.
Devising an adequate East-West policy does pose some dilemmas. First, it should reflect two time frames. For the nearer term, the question is what mix of stick and carrot is most likely to constrain the proclivity of the Brezhnev regime to expand its influence as in Angola, Ethiopia, and South Yemen, and its domination as in Afghanistan. For the longer term, the West must be concerned with the new generation of younger Soviet leaders who will eventually succeed Brezhnev and his aging colleagues. While trained and promoted by their elders, they will assess Soviet options from their own perspective and impose their own priorities on domestic and foreign policy. No doubt what leaders emerge and what policies they adopt will be determined mainly by internal factors, but their choices will also be influenced by how they perceive their external options. Thus Western policies should clearly offer the alternative of more constructive and cooperative relations if the Soviet Union genuinely reciprocates.
Second, an effective East-West policy will also have to be an allied policy. A unilateral US course would only serve the Soviet aim of dividing Western Europe and the United States. Thus the US will have to recognize and adapt to some divergent European views. An article by Chancellor Schmidt in the current issue of Foreign Affaits sets out an approach to Western policy which would be widely shared in Europe.
For Europeans, arms control negotiations and cooperation with the USSR have a higher priority than for many in this country and in the Reagan government. They stress the need for contact with the Soviets, especially in times of tension, to avoid risks of miscalculation. The consider negotiations essential to restrain the buildup of military forces and theater nuclear weapons, if feasible, and otherwise to convince the electorate that the buildup is unavoidable. And indeed, as the US military budget expands, that may become more important here in order to sustain public support during the decade ahead. Finally, serious proposals for arms control are one means for showing future Soviet leaders that curtailing military spending is an available course.
In seeking a joint East-West policy, the issue of trade, credits, and technology will be a thorny one. Unlike Secretary Weinberger and many other Americans focus on Soviet global actions, the Europeans stress the regional benefits of detente, especially for West Germany, not only in terms of trade, but in terms of access to East Germany and Eastern Europe and the security of Berlin. As they see it, the Soviet desire for technology, credits, and trade has constrained it in Europe if not elsewhere, and they want to preserve those benefits. Despite Afghanistan they want to go on expanding trade and credits, including a massive project for financing a Soviet pipeline in exchange for Siberian natural gas.
By dropping the grain embargo, while the afghan invasion and threat to Poland go on, the President has given the Soviets a similar message: domestic economic pressures severely limit Western use of trade for leverage. The effect is to confirm their own view of detente and to make Reagan's rhetoric seem like bluster. It can also undercut the impact of Western threats against intervention in Poland: the Soviets would probably count on sitting out any reprisals. Accordingly the West must do all it can to make those threats real and convincing.
If Poland is not invaded, the prospect clearly is for arms negotiations and for substantial trade. The US and its allies should at least agree on the principles to be followed. Arms negotiations should be linked to military strategy; their pendency should not be allowed to delay the buildup necessary for military balance; and the West should not strain for agreements for their own sake. And on trade, the allies should tighten up the COCOM list to control the transfer of high technology valuable for military purposes, and should agree on credit terms which do not subsidize Soviet purchases.
Such a policy may not utilize fully the potential Western leverage to restrain the Brezhnev regime, but it appears to be the only practical basis for alliance cohesion on East-West policy.