The 1980 summer Olympic Games are over. They took place in spite of the attempted boycott. Little remains of the once-bold plan for a campaign of sanctions against the Soviet Union to punish it for the invasion of Afghanistan and, if possible, induce it to allow that country to return to its normal primitive life.
So, what do the United States, the associated countries of Western Europe, and Japan do now?
Do they quietly forget about sanctions and look the other way while the Soviet Union proceeds with the military digestion of the protesting Afghan people? Or do they take counsel together, build more military capacity around the great oil field upon which they all depend for their industrial health, and perfect new and perhaps better methods for containing the Soviet Union within limits acceptable to the rest of the world?
The plain, unpalatable fact is that Moscow has discovered from its Afghan adventure that the noncommunist world is not at this time capable of taking effective countermeasures against Soviet expansion southward.
Soviet power is contained at present in Europe. There has been no sign yet of any overt attempt to capitalize on the passing of President Tito of Yugoslavia from the world scene. there has not been an important forward or aggressive move in Europe since Nikita Khrushchev threatened to revive the Berlin question way back when John F. Kennedy was President.
And Soviet power seems to be more or less contained in Northeast Asia where a growing together of the US, Japan, and China has built a potential balance of power sufficient to restrain Soviet adventures. There has been of late a steady increase in Soviet naval power in and around the Sea of Okhotsk as well as a buildup of Soviet ground forces and nuclear weapons in the Soviet maritime provinces. There could be an attempt at a break out in that area.
But to the south Moscow has been active for a long time now and still is active. It is a dominant influence in Angola and Ethiopia. It seems to be losing out in South Yemen and Iraq. But a consolidation in Afghanistan would be some compensation for lost ground in South Yemen and Iraq. Also, success in the Afghan venture would seem to prove that the US and its associates are unable at present to work out a method of containing Soviet power along its southern rim.
Of course acquiescence is not total unless and until the Afghans themselves give up the unequal struggle against Soviet might. So far they show no signs of giving up. Presumably they would continue more or less indefinitely if the outside countries could agree among themselves on the regular supply of arms and ammunition.
The NATO alliance works to contain Soviet influence on its western flank. The combination of a vast China and an energetic Japan do the same for Northern Asia, with US backing. But to the south, Moscow enjoys almost wide-open opportunities for improving its range of influence among the underdeveloped countries of Africa, the Middle East, and Southern Asia.
An immediate question for the Western powers is whether to continue with plans for a meeting with the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact clients at Madrid in the fall. It is scheduled. This is to be a continuation of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which first met in Helsinki in 1975 and produced the Final Act, which was supposed to take down many of the old Iron Curtain barriers to a normal flow of people and ideas between East and West in Europe.
A follow-up to the Helsinki conference was held in Belgrade in March of 1978 at the height of "detente." It produced more or less a whitewash of manifold Soviet violations of the Helsinki agreements.
It called for the further follow-up in Madrid. There is supposed to be a preparatory meeting beginning on Sept. 9, to be followed by a full conference on Nov. 11.
Should and will this Madrid conference take place?
Questions are being asked. Some think that this is no time for Western diplomats to be meeting more or less amicably with Soviet diplomats and their captive clients. Would it look too much like forgetting about Afghanistan? But others think that Madrid will be an excellent opportunity to list and publicize massive Soviet violations of human rights and of the new standards set up by Helsinki for a freer flow of people and ideas across the Iron Curtain.
But one thing there must not be if Moscow is to pay any price at all for its invasion of Afghanistan. There must not be another whitewash job at Madrid over Moscow's relapse since Helsinki into old-style Stalinist-era mistreatment of its own and subject peoples.
There is too much evidence for comfort that a new and harder-line leadership is beginning to surface in the inner councils of the Soviet government. Did Leonid Brezhnev himself approve of the Afghan venture? Some Moscow watchers think that younger "hawks" are dominant in the back rooms now and ready and willing to pursue a much harder policy both toward dissidents at home and in the outside world.
If this is true, then a general acceptance of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan would only serve to encourage this new breed of Soviet leaders in thinking that, having got away with one act of military aggression, they are safe to try another.
This is, of course, just one more reason the US and its European associates and Japan need to take counsel together over ways and means of protecting their interests to the south of the Soviet Union.
Moscow has had its eyes on that avenue of expansion for a very long time. The Hitler-Stalin pact broke down precisely over access to the Middle East. Stalin wanted it for his sphere of influence. Hitler broke with Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union rather than recognize long-term Soviet domination over that area.
Moscow, having been largely shut out of Western Europe and Northeast Asia, is particularly interested, now more than ever, in expanding its influence and its access to the raw materials and markets of the Middle East and Southern Asia. If the West if going to safeguard its access to the oil of that part of the world, it must get going.
But, of course, all the others involved know that nothing useful can be done until after the US elections in November.
Much work that needs doing must wait until the Americans make their choice of a new president.