THE past year has been marked by intensified debate about the premises and direction of foreign policy in the years ahead. It has been fired in part by reactions to some of the Reagan administration's actions and proposals. And it has posed again some of the issues debated in the late 1940s and early 1950s, especially about relations with the Soviet Union. That earlier debate produced a bipartisan consensus in the West on a global strategy calculated to promote security, prosperity, and political stability. It remained intact for nearly two decades. That consensus was undermined by the impact of Vietnam, disillusion with the 1972-73 d'etente, disruption of the economic order by inflation and the oil shocks, growth of Soviet military power, and erratic United States leadership.
For over a decade the US and its allies have lacked a common strategy. The deep cleavages about US foreign policy have been manifested by the conflicts between the executive and Congress, within the administration and within Congress, and among supporters as well as critics of the administration.
The issues in dispute are central:
Should the US conduct relations with the Soviet Union as an ideological struggle, requiring a response to every Soviet gain, however minor? Should it back any opponent of a communist regime, regardless of our practical interests? Or should the US practice a more selective containment?
Should the US seek military parity or primacy? What should be the role of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI)? Does arms control serve our interests or not?
How important are economic order and progress to world stability in the coming years?