Last week the United States and the Soviet Union both restated their policies toward each other: in the testimony of Secretary Shultz before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and in speeches by Andropov and Gromyko before the Central Committee and Supreme Soviet. What light did they shed on the prospects for relations?
The Shultz statement laid out a coherent overall strategy or framework for relations with the Soviet Union. Its tone is moderate though firm; and its content is reasonably balanced. It recognizes both the conflicts in purposes and outlook and the common interest in avoiding war and dangerous confrontation. And it stresses readiness for ''constructive dialogue'' as well as the necessity ''to counter Soviet expansionism through sustained and effective political, economic, and military competition.''
In general, the strategy is in the tradition of the Harmel Report adopted by NATO in 1967: deterrence with dialogue. During the intervening 16 years, however , the consensus it represented was fractured by the trauma of Vietnam and the false hopes and disillusion of detente. And in that period the Soviet Union achieved military parity or better and greatly expanded its capacity for the global projection of its power and influence. The revival of consensus has been fostered by Soviet actions in recent years - the military build-up itself; Angola, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan; Poland; and Helsinki violations.
While the Shultz strategy is coherent, it is inevitably general. The question remains: how far will it produce consistent and compatible policy and action? Two areas are especially critical: (1) countering Soviet expansion in the third world; and (2) the specifics of military forces and arms control.
On the third world, the statement outlines a well-rounded approach, which recognizes that military means must be complemented by efforts to bolster stability through resolving regional conflict, military aid, development assistance, and (vaguely) fostering democracy. But the practical record of the administration thus far looks much less balanced. It has not followed up on its initiative for a solution of the Palestine issue. It is relying mainly on military means in Central America. Indeed that is the principal focus of domestic and allied criticism of the handling of that problem. In Namibia it has delayed a solution by injecting the Cuban troop issue. And it has taken a miserly (or negative) attitude toward multilateral development assistance. More broadly the fact is that there are still wide divergences about the general problem of coping with Soviet activities in the developing nations. Aside from vital areas like the Gulf, what should be our objectives and priorities?
Second, beneath the generalities, there are wide divisions regarding military strategy, forces, and arms control, which remain to be thrashed out. Many are not convinced of the soundness of the concepts and priorities on which the defense program is based. And the general goals on arms control paper over deep splits between Defense, State, and the White House which will be hard to resolve if negotiations should become serious.
Even so, the Shultz statement is a valuable step toward a more coherent and balanced policy, which should help in achieving greater domestic and allied consensus. The main allied leaders, including Mitterrand, Kohl, and Thatcher, largely concur in its analysis and prescriptions. Indeed their pressure has helped to move the administration away from some of its earlier positions.
The recent speeches by Andropov and Gromyko, however, tend to dampen hopes for early constructive dialogue or better relations. They displayed few signs of flexibility. So far, the expectation that Andropov would promptly overcome the immobility of the later Brezhnev period has not been fulfilled in either the domestic economy or foreign affairs. This may be due to Andropov's health, political stalemate, or just uncertainty about what to do.
In foreign affairs, the Soviets face some bleak choices on several fronts: Afghanistan and Poland; responding to the US military buildup; greater Atlantic cohesion despite their efforts to divide. Indeed the Soviets probably need to reassess the premises of their policy in the light of changed conditions. Yet they appear to be stymied. A collective leadership, under an unwell Andropov, would have a hard time making sharp shifts in direction at home or abroad. It is more likely to stall or temporize. They will not have the flexibility to pursue Shultz's offer of ''constructive dialogue.''
If that is the case, there is little prospect for early change in US-Soviet relations. Nevertheless, clarifying our own objectives is useful in itself. Relations with the Soviet Union are long-term. Influencing Soviet conduct depends on constancy and allied cohesion. The oscillations in policy over the last decade have been damaging on both counts. A great deal more needs to be done on our side to give concrete content to a general strategy, especially in relation to the developing world and military and arms control policy. That can and should be pursued even if the Soviets may not yet be ready for serious dialogue.