Argument

An expert's point of view on a current event.

The Foundering Soviets

When considering detente, Westerners should contemplate the sort of harm an irresolutely hostile Soviet Union -- or a Soviet Union that regarded the United States as irresolutely hostile -- might do in this world.

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Viewing U.S.-Soviet relations during Presi­dent Ronald Reagan's first term, one cannot discount the possibility that the president and his team achieved precisely the sort of rela­tionship desired, and that it represents a form of success. For most of the period, tensions were high but the actual danger of armed confrontation was remote. Nuclear arms con­trol languished as the administration sought the major U.S. military build-up it believed necessary before it attempted to negotiate a treaty more favorable to U.S. interests than SALT II. NATO proved strong enough to overcome domestic opposition and Soviet pressure in Western Europe and to deploy Pershing II and cruise missiles. The threat that communism would spread throughout the Caribbean Basin generated wild public acclaim in the United States for the Grenada invasion and more grudging acceptance of support for El Salvador's anti-guerrilla cam­paign and for efforts to undermine Nicara­gua's Sandinista regime.

Yet the administration's results can also be seen as meager. Throughout Reagan's first term the Soviets played the foreign policy game according to well-established priorities. They crushed the threat to their hegemony in Poland despite White House bluster. Notwithstanding tough body blows resulting from Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, they rebuilt the military power of their Syrian client beyond pre-invasion levels and then watched the U.S.-Israeli position in Lebanon collapse. They continued low-risk support for their Central American friends and pursued their systematic campaign against the Afghan insurgents.

For all practical purposes the Soviets finally discarded prospects for constructive dealings with a first-term Reagan administration in late September 1983. In November they withdrew from the nuclear arms control talks. From that point on, despite the meeting between Reagan and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko nearly a year later, the superpower relation­ship devolved into public posturing -- commu­nication without content, designed solely to rally domestic or international support for each country's inflexible position.

Viewing U.S.-Soviet relations during Presi­dent Ronald Reagan’s first term, one cannot discount the possibility that the president and his team achieved precisely the sort of rela­tionship desired, and that it represents a form of success. For most of the period, tensions were high but the actual danger of armed confrontation was remote. Nuclear arms con­trol languished as the administration sought the major U.S. military build-up it believed necessary before it attempted to negotiate a treaty more favorable to U.S. interests than SALT II. NATO proved strong enough to overcome domestic opposition and Soviet pressure in Western Europe and to deploy Pershing II and cruise missiles. The threat that communism would spread throughout the Caribbean Basin generated wild public acclaim in the United States for the Grenada invasion and more grudging acceptance of support for El Salvador’s anti-guerrilla cam­paign and for efforts to undermine Nicara­gua’s Sandinista regime.

Yet the administration’s results can also be seen as meager. Throughout Reagan’s first term the Soviets played the foreign policy game according to well-established priorities. They crushed the threat to their hegemony in Poland despite White House bluster. Notwithstanding tough body blows resulting from Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, they rebuilt the military power of their Syrian client beyond pre-invasion levels and then watched the U.S.-Israeli position in Lebanon collapse. They continued low-risk support for their Central American friends and pursued their systematic campaign against the Afghan insurgents.

For all practical purposes the Soviets finally discarded prospects for constructive dealings with a first-term Reagan administration in late September 1983. In November they withdrew from the nuclear arms control talks. From that point on, despite the meeting between Reagan and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko nearly a year later, the superpower relation­ship devolved into public posturing — commu­nication without content, designed solely to rally domestic or international support for each country’s inflexible position.

Nowhere was there a sign of a major reorientation of Soviet policy, internal or external. Certainly there was no hint that the Soviets were willing to see the arms control process turned into an engine for redressing what Washington viewed as an unacceptable nuclear balance between the two sides. For all its massive weapons expenditures, the Reagan administration, it turned out, had relatively few assets with which to force Soviet accep­tance of a radically altered strategic relation­ship. Reagan’s approach to dealing with the Soviet Union, in short, appeared not to be working at all.

The administration’s unsuccessful Soviet policy of the last 4 years seems to have been based primarily on an overly optimistic assess­ment of Soviet vulnerabilities. Success during Reagan’s second term will require a more clear-headed understanding of the nature of America’s principal adversary.

Internally, the Soviet Union is every bit as totalitarian as the most committed anticom­munist would argue. But instead of the por­trayal of a regime fueled by an ideological, or worse, a cynical or chauvinistic zest for expan­sion, as some analysts contend, a truer picture is of a country that tempers its revolutionary ideology — by no means extinct — with the practical considerations of staying alive.

The Reagan administration has depicted the Soviet Union as economically enfeebled, rent with nationality divisions, and mired in a leadership crisis. Such an adversary seems ripe for manipulation that could force it to choose between sweeping domestic reform and also-ran status as a world power. But the Soviet Union is nowhere near the end of its economic tether. Its nationalities problem is far more complex and less threatening than the casual outsider believes, and the leadership structure is sufficiently bureaucratic to sustain itself through a quite lengthy period of actuarial transition.

Low Expectations

Few, if any, political systems push their most able citizens into top leadership posi­tions. Countries are fortunate if over several regimes or administrations they achieve coher­ent functioning of government while preserv­ing basic political values. By this standard the Soviet Union is not enduring a leadership crisis, despite the lengthy, recurring illnesses of Leonid Brezhnev in his final years as general secretary of the Communist party, the short, illness-plagued rule of Yuri Andropov, and the apparent health problems of Konstan­tin Chernenko. None of the difficulties either fundamentally threatened or weakened the regime enough to cause grave domestic or foreign policy hardships, as opposed to the chronic malaise and poor performance endem­ic to post-revolutionary communism every­where.

The Soviet people seem clearly to have grown accustomed to the notion of collective leadership. They view the general secretary as a less-than-awe-inspiring figure who, like oth­er senior Politburo members, surfaces periodi­cally to make major policy pronouncements or otherwise deal with important issues.

This trend was most evident immediately after Brezhnev’s death. The four-day mourning period seemed remarkably controlled and rit­ualistic considering it was for a man who had led his country six years longer than Franklin Roosevelt led the United States. Little individ­ual or collective grief was noticeable, certainly nothing approaching the outpouring of emo­tion following the deaths of Roosevelt or John Kennedy.

One striking example of strong, cohesive leadership not noticed abroad took place dur­ing the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. In the West the Soviet position in the Middle East was viewed as weak and ineffective, perhaps reflecting disarray at the top. But as early as June 1982, two tough Brezhnev communiques to Reagan raised the prospect of Soviet inter­vention if Israeli "aggression" against Syria were not stopped. In a second, previously unreported incident of importance, American intelligence learned in that period of Soviet troop movements, including logistical ar­rangements and the establishment of secure communications. U.S. analysts concluded that the USSR might dispatch two Soviet airborne divisions to Damascus. Reagan, then in Eu­rope, at that point insisted that Israel immedi­ately halt its efforts to envelop Syrian troops in the Bekaa Valley. This example of Soviet decision making was not the mark of a para­lyzed Soviet leadership.

Today the general secretary is known to be one among many — a vague and distant figure who serves as the business agent of a company union. So widely known is this role that occasional efforts to make him appear bigger than life — such as Brezhnev’s retroactive lion­ization as a war hero or breathless accounts of the young Chernenko’s hitherto unknown derring-do with the Siberian border guards of the early 1930s — evoke mirth, if not contempt.

Many in more junior leadership positions, including journalists, academics, and members of various research institutes, recognize the need for far-reaching change if their country is ever to take its rightful place in the modern world. But Soviet leaders are under little popular pressure to embark on a program of rapid domestic reform. The population har­bors low expectations and accepts modest rewards. Perhaps for that reason the leader­ship, worried about the impact of economic and political reforms on a socialist state, has disdained meaningful experimentation with either.

In domestic affairs Soviet leaders are at least expected to report frequently on the econo­my’s performance and the progress of various ministries in fulfilling annual plans. No such accountability is present in foreign affairs, however. Soviet leaders may elect for their own reasons to provide considerable detail about their foreign dealings — Andropov did this on arms control — or virtually none at all, as has been true of Afghanistan.

At the same time, there exists absolutely no evidence to support the notion, quite fashion­able in certain Western circles, that Soviet leaders are determined to unlock Russian chauvinism in order to galvanize public sup­port for a policy of expansionism, perhaps to distract popular attention from economic and social failures. The current century has wit­nessed no shortage of societies whose leaders, for domestic political reasons, have whipped their populations into states of ideological, religious, or nationalistic frenzy. The bland, ideological pabulum fed to the Soviet popula­tion is a far cry from the most strident propaganda of modern times. For reasons relating to their own nationalities problem the Soviets keep a firm rein on national chauvin­ism, which in acute forms is proscribed as a deviation from good "Leninist international­ism."

The government, of course, constantly re­minds the Soviet people of dire external threats and the corresponding need for pre­paredness; Western governments advance po­sitions not dissimilar to their own popula­tions. In the Soviet Union, however, the impact of these warnings is magnified because all other lines of analysis are suppressed. But there is little gloating over foreign adventures. Nothing compares, for example, with the gaudy appeals to American chauvinism un­leashed after Grenada.

In foreign policy, Soviet leaders take the long view. The West sees the Soviet failure to prevent deployment of the Pershing II and cruise missiles in Western Europe as a major NATO victory. The Soviets note that the Social Democratic party in West Germany turned against deployment and that all British opposition parties now call for sweeping changes in NATO’s nuclear policy.

The Soviet military is accorded official reverence and treated uncritically both as the guardian of the Motherland and as the servant of the revolution — a fact sickeningly evident after the downing of a South Korean passen­ger airliner in 1983. But nowhere is violence venerated for its own sake. Rarely are the "macho" values celebrated as they are fre­quently in Western countries, including the United States.

During Brezhnev’s long term in power, key ministers, members of the party secretariat, and Politburo members were able to remain at their jobs for lengthy periods, often until extreme old age or death. The added security felt by these officials not only increased their remoteness from the rest of Soviet society, but also resulted in corruption and cronyism.

During Andropov’s short tenure, three new members of the Politburo were appointed and about a third of the Central Committee Secre­tariat was replaced. The committee’s econom­ic policy apparatus was reorganized, several key ministers-including those responsible for transportation and law enforcement ­were replaced, a new KGB chief was installed, and, through party secretary Mikhail Gorba­chev, a potentially important weeding and pruning of senior Communist party personnel was begun on the local level.

During Chernenko’s first months in office this replenishment stalled — the single notable exception being the sacking of Nikolai Ogar­kov, chief of Soviet General Staff, for reasons not yet clear, and his replacement by his second-in-command, Sergei Akhromeyev. But there is nothing in the Soviet experience to suggest that a corps of bureaucratic under­studies does not exist. And today, even in the Politburo itself, a cluster of younger men — Gorbachev, Geidar Aliyev, Grigory Romanov, and Vitaly Vorotnikov — stand well-positioned to succeed their septuagenari­an colleagues.

Fundamental political change is highly un­likely, though it could be triggered by such events as: political contagion in Eastern Europe that an insufficiently alert Soviet leadership fails to anticipate will spill over into the Soviet Union itself; the rise to power of another reformer like Nikita Khrushchev, who this time aims more deeply, gains sufficient time to consolidate his power, and has the necessary political in­stincts to exploit early successes; the seizure of power by Soviet military leaders who become convinced that civilians cannot make the system meet urgent national security needs; a fatal error in economic policy that, as in Poland’s recent past, ignites mass rioting; and a disastrous, non-nuclear military con­frontation with the West that either undercuts the legitimacy of the Soviet regime or actually produces large-scale desertions by Soviet forces or population groups.

The list itself suggests prudence in arriving at policies that assume that the Soviet Union is no longer a going concern or that it is unlikely to remain in business for some time to come. Given the history of erroneous Western prophesies of internal Soviet change, the ex­ceptional stability displayed by the Soviet regime even during profound crises, and the real possibility that U.S. policies designed to force internal Soviet change could just as easily solidify the regime’s popular support, the United States is well advised to pursue policies that attempt to manage the USSR’s external conduct rather than its society’s in­ternal dynamics.

Westerners with even a modestly sophisti­cated eye for economic performance return from travels inside the Soviet Union with long lists of glaring deficiencies, despite rarely seeing more than model farms and enterprises. By now most wisdom regarding the Soviet economy has been distilled to the point of cliche. The Soviet economy can be organized for a specific task such as rapid industrializa­tion, war output, or pipeline construction ­but not to provide the ordinary housing. durables, consumer goods, agricultural com­modities, and services Soviet citizens require for a decent life. The Soviet system, having educated its young on an intellectual regimen of propaganda, pap, and parables, is unable to draw upon a reservoir of creative thinkers, risk-takers, and industrial innovators when the youths mature. Having bought political obedience through a combination of repres­sion, subsidy, institutionalized hopelessness, and welfare, it must now live with a work force of unmotivated malingerers. In addition, the Soviets have passively permitted the emer­gence of a vast, illegal underground economy able to provide goods and services the state will not. One Soviet survey of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic shows that many black marketeers had no idea that their activi­ties were illegal and in an astonishing 20 percent of all cases frankly acknowledge that they plan to resume this career once out of jail.

At the same time, one still encounters evidence of the strength and resilience of this deeply spiritual people: a reverence for poetry, great music, and literature; innate generosity and hospitality; a love of children; and even vestiges of the idealism of an earlier incarna­tion of communism, born of a fury over social and political injustice. Yet the best in the Soviet Union today swim against the current. Having for generations murdered, impover­ished, imprisoned, starved, exiled, and ex­pelled its most outstanding citizens while suffering the tragic loss of tens of millions more through war, the regime has come close to institutionalizing a form of reverse Darwin­ism. The Soviet Union, having bragged for 67 years that it would one day produce the "new Soviet Man," seems to be producing many citizens who are politically docile, intellectual­ly underdeveloped, spiritually deprived, emo­tionally selfish, commercially boorish, hard­-drinking, chain-smoking, and physically out­-of-shape.

All these shortcomings conceded, what has changed during the past year, or 5 years, or 20 years, that makes the Soviet Union uniquely vulnerable to economic collapse right now? Seeing nothing, one scours the available litera­ture for some hint of a condition so acute as to justify Western policies that, if wrong, carry enormous risk.

The small assortment of economic statistics tending to show declining rates of growth and productivity during the past several years seems a rather slender reed on which to base such portentous Western policies. Similar sta­tistics bear eloquent testimony to the West’s own economic difficulties during a similar period. And simple statistics do not take into account the psychology and expectations of the Soviet people, their history of functioning during periods of grave economic duress and foreign challenge, or the range of policy options available to Soviet leaders quite apart from capitulation or massive internal reform.

The point should not be overstated. The Soviet Union does strain to compete militarily with the West. Brezhnev’s remarkable Krem­lin address to military leaders just days before his death-in which he assured them that the Soviet Union would devote additional re­sources to military technology and combat readiness-was one indication that the Soviet military was not pleased with the ratio of civilian to military spending. An article by Ogarkov months before his dismissal, which stressed the threat posed by NATO’s so-called emerging technology weapons, may have been another. The burdens of direct military com­petition with Washington also seem to have caused Moscow to offer less generous terms of trade to its partners in the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance and to cut back on assistance to Third World clients.

Nevertheless, even if one assumes a bot­tomless Western economic well and an inex­haustible political mandate to conduct an unlimited arms race, the long-term Soviet response is difficult to determine. Soviet lead­ers could respond to an unrelenting U.S. military build-up primarily with propaganda designed to make the American move costly both domestically and with American allies. The Soviets also could adjust military and international priorities and increase internal sacrifices to meet the most urgent new threats, or they could even provoke an international crisis in order to bring the growing challenge to a head during a relatively favorable period. Acceptance of second-class status as a world power, however, would be quite far down on any informed list.

Growing Muslim Strength

Another proposition widely accepted in the West is that demographic trends will soon alter irrevocably the character of the Soviet state. It is true that ethnic Russians now make up only a shade over one-half the total Soviet population of 275 million and that because of far higher birthrates, particularly among Asians, non-Russian nationalities by the year 2000 will outnumber ethnic Russians. But recall that the demographic situation is not so different today from what it was in 1900, when more than one-third of the Russian Empire also consisted of non-Russian souls. Further, the Slavic population of the Soviet Union includes not only Russians but also an additional 50-odd million Ukrainians and Bye­lorussians. The regime has carefully cultivated the political elites of these two peoples. Byelo­russia, for example, is Gromyko’s birthplace.

Russians are strategically situated through­out the USSR, often composing 20 percent or more of the local population. In the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, for example, they outnumber the indigenous Muslim s. A perva­sive communist bureaucracy — largely ethnic in composition but internationalist in its in­doctrination — is firmly entrenched every­where as well. Affiliation with the Soviet Union has produced tangible security and economic benefits for the central Asian repub­lics, all of which border on once-hostile neigh­bors and all of which have benefited to some extent from V.I. Lenin’s dictum that the resident populations were victims of both class and imperialist oppression and were entitled to compensatory treatment.

Keeping itself intact geographically and politically is the highest single priority of the Soviet state. To protect its vital interests the Soviet leadership has not hesitated in the past to resort to such expedients as the liquidation of elites, mass arrests, internal exile, and even the "relocation" of entire ethnic groups. Few observers suspect that Soviet leadership would prove squeamish about resorting again to such means in the future should it feel threatened.

The largely Muslim central Asian republics and the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, also predominantly Muslim , merit separate comment. In 1917 they were largely illiterate, feudal backwaters of the Russian Empire. Religious leaders who resisted Bolshevism were brutally suppressed. Today, with surg­ing birthrates and substantial portions of population under the continuing hold of Muslim traditions — thanks partly to the geo­graphic proximity of Islamic states and move­ments-the Muslim republics seem to serve as the rock upon which the Soviet empire may eventually founder.

Tension between the Soviet state and its Muslim populations is readily apparent. Many Muslim s practice their religion with deep intensity; the state is atheist. The Muslim nationalities are predominantly rural and tend to be clannish; the Soviets prefer an urban proletariat mobile enough to satisfy manpow­er needs where they develop. Many in the rural Muslim communities like to raise and trade their own livestock and crops and are comfortable haggling at the bazaar; the Soviet economy is, of course, state-run and rigidly centralized.

Apart from large families, which the man­power-short Soviet Union does not discourage anywhere, the regime rejects other elements of the Muslim lifestyle as relics of past ages. It points to modern Tashkent — population 2 million — as the face of central Asia’s future. But Tashkent may prove too much. The city is roughly one-half Uzbek, with Russians the pre-eminent second nationality, and in factory after factory the work force is little more than one-fourth Uzbek, with a plurality of Rus­sians. Tashkent may well be part of an emerg­ing Soviet sun belt with a growing population of able young Russians juxtaposed with an even faster-growing population of Muslim s linked to rural communities or employed in undesired urban jobs.

The Soviet relationship with the Muslim clergy is delicate. The government uses Muslim leaders as a communications link to Muslim countries in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. The Soviets also work to estab­lish ties between their own Muslim communi­ties and those religious groups in Afghanistan whose leaders have not cast their lot irretriev­ably with the rebels. Yet the payoff from these efforts has thus far been small. In the course of a 1980 Tashkent conference involving reli­gious representatives from a number of Muslim countries an embarrassing number of demands for a Soviet withdrawal from Af­ghanistan led to a high-level shakeup of Muslim leaders within the Soviet Union.

Internally, attacks in the Soviet press against the influence of the Muslim clergy are more than sporadic. A local mullah is attacked for halting construction work because it would desecrate a historic burial ground. Another is condemned for seeking to block the use of land for collective agriculture because it is owned privately by a Muslim residing abroad.

The regime is concerned that too many young Muslim s insist on remaining with their families in the countryside rather than seizing the opportunity to perform needed industrial work in urban centers. Only about 50 percent of local Muslim youths achieve proficiency in Russian, a disability that hinders their at­tempts to learn technical skills and their ability to perform well in the military, and that limits later, work-related mobility. Atheistic propaganda is not succeeding, either. Many a young man, instead of enjoying the fruits of his labor, still puts every kopeck aside so that he can eventually buy his bride from her family.

These sorts of problems retard the pace of economic progress and generally make the Soviet Union a less formidable economic, political, and military power than its land area, resources, and population would suggest. They do not appear likely, however, to gener­ate a serious political instability. One discerns no particular Soviet anxiety regarding the loyalty of the resident Muslim populations as has been caused by the Baltic peoples, whose sympathy for the Solidarity movement in neighboring Poland, for example, was ac­knowledged by the Communist party chief of Estonia. Rather, what is repeatedly expressed is a concern that the mullahs’ religious influ­ence, as well as ancient social customs and mores, are impeding the development of so­cialism and the evolution of a population fully capable of participating in and contributing to Soviet society.

In addition to problems, however, there is progress. Today’s Muslim populations inside the Soviet Union are generally more urban than they were 10 or 20 years ago. More Muslim s have gravitated toward managerial positions in both government and industry. Fluency in Russian has increased markedly. And while a rigid separation characterizes the social relationship between Russians and Muslim s, apparently reliable attitude surveys re­veal no sharp hostility among Muslim s toward Russian neighbors or co-workers. One leaves central Asia persuaded that the problems notwithstanding, there is no foreseeable chal­lenge to Soviet political authority in the region.

A Need for Perspective

If current Reagan administration policies rest upon a foundation of misconceptions about its Soviet adversary, it is no less true that U.S. architects of detente held far too rosy an outlook regarding the possibilities of re­straining Soviet involvement in Third World targets of opportunity. The inevitable back­lash against such naivete appears to have generated fresh mythology, the result being an almost total absence of levelheaded analysis of Soviet activity in the Third World.

Too often Western observers and policy­makers dismiss the continuing vitality of com­munism’s appeal to economically deprived peoples who in some cases only recently have been freed from their colonial yoke, and in others have been prisoners of an oppressive class structure that found willing allies among key elements of Western society. Too often as well, Soviet support for revolutionary move­ments and regimes, though certainly meriting opposition, is seen as a step in the putative process of world enslavement by the Soviets rather than as the inevitable machinations of a great power vying for the handful of the world’s backwaters where it can gain influ­ence and support.

Soviet involvement in the Third World has deep roots. Soviet ideologues claim that al­though Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were initially skeptical of the ability of colonial societies to move directly to socialism, both men came to accept the possibility of a "non-­capitalist path to development." Even before 1917, Lenin was urging a strategic "revolu­tionary alliance" between workers and op­pressed colonial peoples. The post-World War II breakup of colonial regimes gave the Soviets opportunities for influence that did not exist in industrial societies. In addition, Third World involvements enabled Moscow to direct Western resources and energies away from far more threatening endeavors. Even with decol­onization now virtually complete, the Soviets see opportunities in assisting those engaged in an "anti-imperialist struggle against the do­mestic agents of imperialism." While the So­viets’ involvement in any particular situation will ebb and flow with the tide of local opportunity and evidence of Western resolve, they will not agree to any binding, general, hands-off arrangement. They say they will never make deals in observance of these so-­called "rules of the game" or in recognition of the imperialist thesis of preserving the social status quo in the world.

Since the vital Soviet objective of detente unraveled as much because of episodes in places like Angola, Ethiopia, and South Ye­men as for any other single cause, there is reason to take the Soviets at their word. The Afghanistan invasion was, of course, different in kind and far more reprehensible, involving a nonrecurring convergence of factors which included geographic proximity, a historical Russian concern, the potential annoyance of a second Islamic fundamentalist neighbor, an investment in the results of the 1978 coup, the preoccupation of the United States with the Iran crisis, and some cosmic misjudgments regarding the likely U.S. reaction.

Policymakers who in the future seek to repair relations with the Soviets must recog­nize that competition, occasionally even in­ tense competition, will occur between the superpowers in Third World settings and will have as a realistic goal the management of a complex, multidimensional relationship with the Soviets consisting of cooperative endeav­ors in certain areas even while some messy and difficult business occurs elsewhere.

Continuing perspective is called for. Not every contest means the life and death of civilization in our time. Not every altercation on earth necessarily even puts great-power interests at issue. There is no persuasive reason to believe that Soviet policy councils are marked by lively, unending debates be­tween hawks and doves over how to relate to the United States. The regime is too ideologi­cal, too monolithically organized, too set in its ways, too wedded to a "correct" view of historical processes to conduct such exercises.

Over time, however, Soviet perceptions do evolve, policies grow, and plans to execute them come into being. During its early years, the Soviet Union believed a worldwide rise of the proletariat was imminent. For a much longer period, it accepted the inevitability of war with the capitalist states and prepared accordingly. Detente was not a condition to which the Soviet Union gravitated automati­cally, nor is there anything necessarily perma­nent in the view, suggested by Andropov and more recently by Chernenko, that detente is too advanced to be uprooted.

Rather, the Soviets came to detente because they both had learned the limits of their own influence and believed that despite blunders created by class and political orientation, certain Western leaders were "realistic" enough to accommodate the reality of Soviet power, to recognize the benefits of normal dealings, and to see the folly of perpetual armed confrontation. Their list of Western "realists" includes both liberals and conserva­tives-Franklin Roosevelt, Charles de Gaulle, John Kennedy, Willy Brandt, and Richard Nixon, to name the more prominent.

During my final months in the Soviet Union, one veteran member of the Institute of the USA and Canada told me he was beginning work on a "revisionist" treatment of Roosevelt that would show that the 32nd president was plotting to deprive the Soviet Union of "the fruits of Yalta" even while attending the 1945 conference. A second, more prominent, acade­mician, in October 1983, offered an article suggesting that Nixon’s detente had been a trick designed to manipulate the Soviets back into military and political inferiority.

The postwar period furnishes scant evi­dence to support the proposition that the Soviet Union can be made to jump through hoops at the insistence of its Western masters. It is a country lacking in abundant sources of contemporary pride, but it is proud of its historical ability to resist domination from abroad, to absorb incalculable pain, and to make its tormentors pay heavily for their errors. It is a pride etched deeply on the faces of ordinary Soviet citizens and reflected in the habits and attitudes of their leaders. Andro­pov’s reference in one statement to the fact that, "during the two world wars the flames of destruction spared the territory of the United States of America," was not wholly free of condescension. Many a Soviet analyst will today begin a critique of American policies by reminding his interlocutor that in the nuclear age the two broad oceans separating the United States from Europe and Asia cannot spare it, at the very least, from the sort of destruc­tion visited upon his own country in both world wars. "Those who encroached on the integrity of our state, its independence and our system, found themselves on the garbage heap of history," Andropov stated. He was not just playing word games with an earlier Rea­gan utterance, but expressing what to the Soviet mind is existential truth.

Westerners should contemplate the sort of harm an irresolutely hostile Soviet Union — or a Soviet Union that regarded the United States as irresolutely hostile — might do in this world. They should consider not only the material reserves of Soviet society but also its capacity for mischief the world over. Such contemplation may help to put in perspective Soviet conduct during the much-maligned period of detente. It may also lead to some long-overdue questioning of the direction, sustainability, and consequences of recent U.S. policy.

<p> C. Robert Zelnick is a correspondent for ABC News. </p>

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