Lull in world affairs as US, USSR concentrate on domestic issues
We seem to be enjoying something of a lull in world affairs. Partly it is because in the United States, President Reagan has turned his primary attention to tax reform while in the Soviet Union everyone is fascinated with their new leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, and what he is trying to do with and to the domestic Soviet economy.
In international affairs, probably the most important event was a nonevent. President Reagan decided to delay a decision on his most perplexing immediate problem: whether to denounce and break the SALT II arms control system, or continue to observe its main provisions even though he himself has campaigned against it and his right-wing constituents are pushing him to scrap it.
Other events or nonevents are worth notice.
In Greece, Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou's Panhellenic Socialist Movement won by an unexpected margin, big enough to make him independent of the Communists. The expectation was that he would win but by a narrow margin, thus forcing him into a coalition with the Communists to govern. But his party won 161 seats in Parliament against 125 seats for the main center-right opposition party. The Communists won only 13 seats. Hence Mr. Papandreou has a margin of 36 seats over the opposition, and that is more than twice the number of Communist seats. He can govern without having to pay a policy price to the Communists.
The implication, as read at the White House in Washington, is that Greece will remain, if restlessly, within the NATO alliance. Add in the fact of Greece's dismal economic condition, and it is assumed that Mr. Papandreou will not do anything drastic about pushing Americans out of their various military and naval bases in Greece, bases for which Washington pays handsomely.
In the Middle East, the third anniversary of Israel's invasion of Lebanon found Israel completing the withdrawal of its armed forces from that battered and unhappy country while its coalition government tiptoed nervously around the outer fringes of a possibility of someday beginning to talk to King Hussein of Jordan about peace.
The hard news of the week on that matter was that US Secretary of State George Shultz sent a letter to the Israeli government recommending a favorable response to the opening proposals King Hussein had made during his visit to Washington the previous week. So far the exchange is only about where, when, and under what circumstances preliminary talks might take place.
King Hussein's idea is that, if the Israeli government could take a forward step now, actual peace talks might open by the end of the year. It will take that long at least just to agree on composition of delegations and whether the two sides meet alone or with others at the table.
Also this week, President Reagan continued worrying away at his Nicaraguan problem. He still wants to do something against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, but he was reported to have finally recognized that to get congressional approval he will have to do it through some agency other than the CIA.
Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega Saavedra was back in Managua from his trip to Europe. He obtained promises of some economic help from the Soviets, but apparently less than he had hoped. He was also asking help in Western Europe.
The implication is that Moscow does not consider him worth a major policy investment. Besides, the Soviet foreign aid budget is stretched nearly to the limit by aid to Cuba and Vietnam. There is little left for minor ventures.
Someday soon, Mr. Reagan will have to decide about SALT II. The USS Alaska, the latest of the new Trident submarines carrying strategic nuclear missiles, is due shortly to begin her sea trials. She will carry 24 long-range missiles.
That number would put the US over the SALT II treaty limit of 1,200 ballistic missiles carrying multiple warheads -- unless the US then decommissions one of its older Polaris submarines, which carry 16 missiles each.
The question on the President's desk right now is whether to decommission one Polaris or scrap the SALT II treaty.
He listened for 75 minutes last Monday as Secretary of State George Shultz argued for keeping SALT II, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger argued for scrapping SALT II, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff sided more with the State Department point of view than with their own civilian leader.
To scrap SALT II would mean removing the lid on the number of Soviet missiles aimed at the US. The Soviets would be free to build and mount as many more as they liked.
They have allegedly violated some of the terms of SALT II, but not the limit on numbers of nuclear weapons aimed at the US.
After hearing the arguments pro and con, Mr. Reagan decided to put off a final decision until Secretary Shultz gets back from meeting NATO foreign ministers in Europe.
The decision can be further deferred. The SALT formula would require the dismantling of a decommissioned submarine within six months. It could be put in dry dock or mothballed. The USS Alaska has not yet been commissioned.
Reports from Moscow suggest that the new Soviet leader is concentrating his attention almost entirely on the condition of the Soviet economy.
It is too early to judge whether Gorbachev will be able to carry out major reforms of the Soviet Union's economic system, but there seems to be little doubt that he is trying and that he seems to have public opinion behind him in his efforts.
The implication from the latest reports is that Mr. Gorbachev is focusing more on his economic reform projects than on such foreign policy matters as Afghanistan, Nicaragua, and arms control talks.