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The 1983 agenda in foreign policy

In foreign affairs and defense the Reagan administration faces a full agenda of critical issues in 1983. Their handling will settle whether it is capable of a coherent policy. Secretary Shultz has spent 1982 picking up the pieces from the preceding year, introducing some order into policymaking, and mending some broken crockery. But many issues in foreign policy and defense have been postponed or sidestepped. They will have to be dealt with in the year ahead.

1. The tactic of delay has been useful in relations with the allies. By burying the pipeline and agreeing to joint studies of East-West trade and credits, agriculture, and other disputes, tension has been reduced for a while. But by summer, the differing views will have to be reconciled or compromised if conflict is not to revive. Theater nuclear weapons and the negotiations about them with the Soviets seem certain to become more divisive as the time for decision approaches unless handled with great finesse. So may proposals for improving NATO's capacity for conventional defense which Gen. Bernard Rogers, the NATO supreme commander, and others have been urging as the most realistic way to strengthen the deterrent and respond to the antinuclear agitation.

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2. By far the most dangerous challenge for the OECD advanced nations is the global economic crisis, with its stagnation, unemployment, protectionist pressures, and other strains on the trading and financial system. Many see US domestic policy as a major villain, with high interest rates, staggering future deficits and high dollar exchange impeding recovery worldwide. Only concerted policies among the OECD nations can assure economic revival.

3. Mr. Reagan will also have to define more clearly his objectives toward the USSR. The CIA report on the growth of the Soviet economy (just issued by the Joint Economic Committee) should put to rest any idea of fostering its collapse by economic sanctions. What is his East-West economic policy? What kind of arms control does he actually seek? Will he try to reduce risks of nuclear war by curtailing destabilizing systems like the Soviet SS-18 and MX? The US must articulate a strategy toward the USSR which unifies its rhetoric and its actions and which can mobilize support at home and abroad on a steady, long-term course.

4. The same need still exists in defense. Aside from the siting issue, the MX debate reflects a deeper unease about the defense program. Many qualified experts in Congress and outside are concerned about the lack of a convincing strategy and the redundancy in weapons systems, such as the B-1 or the two added carrier forces. They are not satisfied that the secretary of defense is on top of these issues. The price could be declining support and arbitrary cutbacks.

5. The Middle East is especially urgent. Mr. Reagan's courageous initiative for reconciling a Palestinian homeland in the occupied territories with Israeli security has made little progress since September. Begin and Sharon flatly rejected it, invaded Lebanon, and stepped up subsidized settlements on the West Bank and repression of the Palestinians. Theirs is a defiant program to absorb these territories as fast as possible and to rely on military dominance for security. Hussein, and other moderate Arabs, while affirmative to Reagan's proposals, are naturally not willing to negotiate with Begin's Israel, at least until the US has shown its readiness to use its full leverage to prevent Israel's takeover.

The President has not done so thus far. Apparently he had not even raised the issue in meeting with Begin. And he recommended nearly $2.5 billion in economic and military aid for Israel in 1983. He did object when Congress, kowtowing as usual to the Israeli lobby, added several hundred million more. (The Begin regime in effect publicly rebuked the President.)

The President has only a few months to regain his credibility. Begin will not be deflected from his course by persuasion or by the fact that it jeopardizes Israel's long-term future. Nor will the Israeli electorate reject him, if he can dominate the region and enjoy total US support while thumbing his nose at the President and trampling on US interests.

Begin and Israel must be jolted into facing their alternatives. It is said that any threat to suspend aid unless settlements stop and negotiations start would backfire. Demagoguery might work at first. But the Israelis are serious people. They would surely begin to think more soberly about Israel's long-term future and security, and whether it can count on blackmailing the US into supporting it indefinitely while blatantly damaging US interests.

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The issues (and others like Central America) will make a very full plate for 1983. Mr. Shultz has shown impressive ability to analyze the problems, to soothe ruffled allied feathers, and even to influence the President. In the coming year , he will have to display a capacity for toughness, vision, and leadership as well, and get the President to do the same.

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