An ambassador's view; How the Republicans should deal with the Russians
Shortly after Nov. 4, when the American electorate gave its overwhelming mandate to Governor Reagan, I felt it appropriate and necessary that, as a concerned American citizen with considerable experience in foreign affairs, I should take another look at the foreign policy aspects of the Republican Party platform. While those of us who have closely monitored the behavior of new administrations down through the years know that they seldom feel bounded by the rhetoric of the campaign or even by the solemn pronouncements of platform committees, unless we are complete cynics we do recognize that platforms provide the public with a general conception of the party's view of upcoming challenges and problems and how they should be faced. Thus, it is not an idle exercise at this time to take a closer look at the underlying thrust of the party's positions on foreign policy -- as reflected by the platform adopted last summer.
After careful review, I find that there are several lines of thought on foreign policy which cause me concern. First is the recommendation that the US achieve military superiority over the soviet Union. Second is the condemnation of the SALT II treaty is "fundamentally flawed." And third is the underlying assumption that all of our problems with the third world are attributable to Soviet subversion, aided and abetted by Cuban proxies, resulting in the installation of "Marxist tyrannies" in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Let me deal with each of these separately and in some detail.
First, the military superiority theme. The clearest expression of this idea is found in the platform's endorsement of House concurrent resolution 306, which in most respects is an excellent statement of a national strategy of peace through strength, but which, in setting as a major goal the achievement of a military and technological superiority over the Soviet Union, is unrealistic and even inflammatory. We must recognize that, after what it had to regard as its national humiliation by President Kennedy in the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, the Soviet Union decided as a matter of immutable national policy never again to be in a position of strategic inferiority to any power, particularly the United States.
Since 1962 this policy has found expression in the massive buildup of Soviet military power, both nuclear and conventional. We cannot be certain that the ultimate Soviet goal is not simply parity with but superiority over the United States. We must, of course, be constantly on the alert against this possibility , first through meticulous monitoring of changes in the Soviet military arsenal and then through necessary compensating measures of our own to ensure against any dangerous widening of the gap between our respective military capabilities.
On this point, the Republican Party's and President-elect Reagan's views are soundly based, and I strongly endorse their recommendations for strengthening both our strategic and tactical nuclear and conventional capabilities to match the Soviet buildup. and also on this point, the Carter administration can be legitimately faulted, although frankly it is the trend that is disturbing to me, not the alleged current disparities in our respective arsenals on which some Republican spokesman have been overly alarmist.
The fundamental point, however, is that we cannot achieve military superiority over the Soviet Union -- simply because our adversary will not cooperate, just as wem should not acquiesce in any striving of theirs toward superiority over us.
There are those who maintain that we can not spend the Soviets into a position of inferiority. This assumption is not only wrong, it is dangerous. We should not delude ourselves that economic difficulties will, in themselves, curtail the Soviet defense effort or, for that matter, bring about any significant moderation of Soviet behavior abroad. It would be a dangerous illusion to base our own security and foreign policies on the assumption that the Soviets cannot afford to compete with us in an all-out arms race.
Moscow respects our technological ability and certainly would not welcome a no-holds-barred arms race with us. But we know from the historical record that the Soviet regime will demand any sacrifice from the Soviet people necessary to ensure an adequate military posture. And the Soviet people, lacking any effective means to object, have little choice but to comply.
Second, the charge that SALT II is "fundamentally flawed." Neither in the platform nor in statements by responsible Republican spokesmen is this allegation given positive content, and we must therefore deduce from earlier statements by the opponents of SALT II why those who will take the helm in January regard the treaty as "fundamentally flawed."
I would not wish here to belabor the reader with a detailed recital of the arguments pro and con the specific provisions of this highly complex treaty. For the most part, the arguments against SALT II add up to an indictment of the negotiating team as being naive and insufficiently tough in dealing with a Soviet side. Let me now dispose of this line of faulty reasoning as I tried to do last summer before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and in subsequent speeches around the country, while still the American ambassador in Moscow.
The argument for "toughness" is in two directions. First, the view has been frequently exressed that we could have gotten a better deal if only we had been more persistent, less eager to get an agreement -- in a word, tougher. And the corollary to this is that we still can seek a better deal and can rectify our past "mistakes" by going back to the Soviets and renegotiating the treaty. As I told the Senate committee, I am convinced that both assumptions are profoundly wrong. They rest, in my view, on a fallacious perception both of what actually happened -- and I was a member of the negotiating team from beginning to end -- and of what is possible and feasible in our relations with the Soviets. And, frankly, if somewhat immodestly, I believe I have better credentials on assessing the Soviet adversary than most critics of SALT II.
Regarding the negotiation of the treaty, I am confident that the agreement is the best that could have been obtained at the time. We could not have gotten more out of the Soviets on any specific issue, e.g. limits on reentry vehicles. I say this on the basis both of my own involvement in the SALT negotiations and of my long experience with the Soviets.
I think we should also be clear-headed about the prospects for renegotiation. If we should go back to the Soviets to demand that certain issues be renegotiated in our favor -- and the Soviets don't turn us down flat -- this approach will certainly result in a reopening of those issues which were resolved in our favor, and there are many. We should be under no illusions on this score. The Soviets signed the treaty because they believed it was in their national interest to do so, as we believed it was in ours. They want SALT and they have important reasons for wanting it. But it cannot imagine any circumtances under which we could persuade the Soviets to enter into a treaty which they regarded as disadvantageous to them or to accept an agreememt which, at our insistence, was revised in our favor.This simply will not work. In a word, we cannot negotiate a position of superiority with the Soviets; we can negotiate only a position of equality.
There are, of course, legitimate and defensible arguments against the SALT process, related for the most part to Soviet behavior and its bearing on the US-Soviet relationship. And there is the indispensible questions of timing. Certainly in the wake of Afghanistan, I agree that any reconsideration of SALT II must await an improvement in the world atmosphere, and this means a concrete, provable change in Soviet behavior, I agree also that when this happens we will want to seek revisions in the treaty, if only because much time has passed and the strategic picture has changed since its signature in June 1979.
Now, third and finally, the Republican PArty's view of the third world, as I have deduced it from both statements in the platform and by spokesman during the campaign. A careful reading of both leaves one with the impression that in the Republican view, were it not for Soviet imperialistic malevolence, the challenges in the third world would be easily manageable.
This is simply not true. It is undeniable that the Soviets, aided by their Cuban satraps, have little or no interest in a tranquil third world unless it can be Moscow-controlled.And while we must meet threats to our vital interests posed by Soviet actions wherever they may arise, we must be clear in our own minds that it is the strong sense of national pride, the fierce independence, and the drive for economic betterment of the developing countries that will cause almost endless turmoil in the third world.
It is much too simplistic, in my view, to attribute to Moscow and Havana blame for the rise in anti-American feeling in Latin America, and it is wrong to hint that without Marxist influence there would have been a smooth and tranquil evolution of political change in countries like Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.
Similarly, elsewhere in the world where turmoil exists it cannot always be said to be the fault of Moscow. The Qaddafis, the Amins, the Arafats are not under Moscow's control -- although it is true that they are equipped with Soviet arms and from time to time they have had Moscow's encouragement for their misbehavior.
We must deal effectively, using force if necessary, with Soviet and other communist threats to our vital interests around the world, including the developing countries, and we should underline to third world leaders the dangers of collaborating with the Soviets. But our interests will no be well served by blocking peaceful political change even if it should be accompanied by a degreee of anti-Americanism.
It will be clear from these observations that I am not entirely comfortable with the foreign policy positions of the Republican PArty, but I would not wnat to leave the impression that I quarrel with their general thrust. Certainly I agree that we must move quickly to arrest and reverse the decline in our standing as a world power, so that once again we will be respected by oru adversaries and trusted as well as respected by our friends and allies. And I agree that this can best be done by strengthening our military posture and by speaking on the issues with a clear, coherent, and consistent voice. but the Republicans would do themselves -- as well as the nation -- a disservice if, in the process of bringing about these commendable and necessary changes in our foreign policy posture, they set impossible goals and betray an inadequate and inaccurate understanding of our adversaries.
Let me conclude with a modest attempt to advise President-elect Reagan on how we should deal with the adversary I know best, the Soviet Union. This may seem gratuitous to some, especially those in the Reagan entourage who profess some foreign policy expertise; if so, so be it. I would simply point out that with one or two exceptions Mr. Reagan's foreign policy advisers are singularly lacking in operational experience. And we know from the last four years the trouble that springs from acting on the advice of academicians or one's own or other's gut instincts.
I would recomend that in delaing with the Soviet Union, Mr. Reagan and his team:
* Have no illusions as to long-range Soviet aims, which have not changed much since 1917, and as to the Soviet attitude toward the United States, which is basically hostile.
* Be aware that the Soviets' view of the ideal world order, their concept of the proper relationship of man to state, their basic principles and values, are totally incompatible with everyting we stand for.
* Understand clearly that the soviets pay little attention to what we say -- they heed only what we do; that they respect strength, and are contemptous of fatuous good-will gestures.
* Recognize that without a clear perception of our vital interests, both geographic and functional, our negotiators will not know where to stand firm and where to compromise.
* Avoid threats or idle bluffs -- these have been demonstrably useless in eliciting better Soviets behavior.
* Reject agreements based on broad principles or pious expressions of purpose -- they bind us, and the Soviets ignore them at will -- and seek only those agreements that are self-enforcing and verifiable.
* Avoid extreme, bellicose statements in our public posture; stress only that which is attainable, and reflect understanding of Soviet concerns -- e.G. China. In a word, don't tweak the nose of the bear.
* Restore balance to our lines of communication with the soviet leadership by recognizing the Soviet ambassador for what he is -- an able diplomat but a loyal disciple of a philosophy, a system, a goveernment that are implacably hostile to almost everything we stand for, rather than a friend at court.
* Enhance the role of our embassy in Moscow by speaking through our ambassador -- assuming that he will be a qualified professional -- rather than the soviet ambassador; and, in any case, avoid serious misunderstanding by double-tracking through our embassy all we want to convey to the Soviet leadership.
Thus, finally, establish a foundation for a safe and effective dialogue with the Soviet Union, diffficult and uncompromising as that nation is and will continue to be.