Too many flash points for comfort

For the moment at least the tension between the people of Poland and their rulers seems to have been relaxed. But words spoken and written in Moscow over the past week suggest that the last act in this drama is yet to be played out.

Poland remains one of the flash points in the world -- of which there are too many for safety or comfort.

In the opinion of the strongest man in the government of China, Deng Xiaoping , there are two other more serious "hot spots": the Middle East and Indo-China. He thinks either of these could light up a new war any day.

In a remarkable interview with Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, Deng also foresaw a Soviet attack in Europe during this decade that would mean a major war between the Soviets and the United States. However, he thought it would remain a conventional war, not a nuclear war, and he recognized the possibility of avoiding such a conflict by preventive measures.

Deng's opinion about the world's drift toward greater dangers was echoed during this same week in Washington by the State Department's chief expert on US-Soviet relations, Marshall D. Shulman, who characterized the attitude of the two superpowers toward each other as a "terminal case of myopia." He said that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had brought US-Soviet relations to "the lowest point in years."

Shulman also warned that failure to ratify the SALT II treaty is leading to "a situation in which the possibility of nuclear war is greatly increased by the perception of each side that the other is preparing the capabilities for a first strike."

Where is the greatest immediate danger? Probably in Eastern Europe, especially if the Soviets were to repeat in Poland what they have done at other times in East Germany, in Hungary, and in Czechoslovakia. The Poles would fight before submitting.

Will the Soviets resort to armed force? Probably only as a last resort because of the extreme dangers involved. But they are on record as arguing that the strikes in Poland were instigated by "antisocialist elements in Poland" that "seek to coordinate their actions with reactionary Polish emigration and with subversive centers functioning in the West." The purpose as stated in Pravda is to "break the party's ties with the working class."

These characterizations of the strikes in Poland were in an article in Pravda signed by Alexei Petrov, presumed in Moscow to give the official view of the Politburo on the subject. If this is the way the Kremlin views events in Poland , it seems questionable whether Moscow will allow the apparent victory of the strikers to last for long.

Perhaps even more likely to touch off serious trouble is the Middle East. The area is in ferment not only because of the tense relations between Israel and most of the Arabs but also because of the highly volatile situation in and around Afghanistan, Iran, and the oil-rich Gulf.

The Arab countries are in consultation over what counter- measures they will take against Israel's claim to sovereignty over East Jerusalem. An oil boycott against any country that condones the asserted annexation of East Jerusalem is being discussed among the Arabs. It could come within the next two weeks.

Other things besides sovereignty over Jerusalem are unsettling the Middle East. Israel is increasingly worried over the apparent determination of Iraq to obtain nuclear weapons. France has refused to hold back shipments of weapons- grade uranium to Iraq. And when Iraq also receives the two nuclear reactors being built for it by the French at Toulon, it will be near the ability to produce nuclear weapons.

The Israelis are presumed to have been responsible for the sabotage of the two Toulon reactors last year. An Egyptian nuclear physicist working for the Iraqis was murdered in Paris in June. Israel's deputy defense minister, Mordecai Zippori, has stated that if "legal and humane avenues" fail to stop the flow of weapons-grade uranium to Iraq, "we'll have to consider other means."

It is generally assumed that the Israelis already have nuclear weapons. They presumably have had them since the disappearance of a large quantity of uranium during an Atlantic voyage from West Germany to Italy 12 years ago.

Pakistan and Libya are believed to be working together to develop another source of nuclear weapons. Libya puts up the money from its petrodollar funds. The work is to be done in Pakistan.

Other flash points?

China's Deng lists Indo-China. There the Chinese are still supporting and supplying the guerrilla forces once led by Pol Pot in Cambodia. Vietnam is in control of most of Cambodia but may have to fight again to hold it. The Soviets support Vietnam in its conquest of Cambodia.

The past week has also brought more reports of continued fighting in Afghanistan where a pax Sovieticam has yet to be established. Nine months have now gone by since Soviet troops invaded that country. Pacification is still beyond the Soviet reach. This in turn causes continued anxiety next door in both Pakistan and Iran. In Iran there is now a parliament and the beginning of a cabinet, but not yet domestic political stability. Relations continue to be poor between Iran and Iraq.

The brightest spot through all this is the theory held among some world watchers that Moscow, already suffering from economic stagnation, has overreached itself by outside ventures, and knows it.

Are Soviet commitments to Cuba and Vietnam, and Soviet adventures in Angola, Ethiopia, and South Yemen, stretching Soviet resources in the same way that US operations in Vietnam once stretched the US beyond the limits of tolerance? Is the creaking Soviet economy now so dependent on Western and Japanese technical-industrial expertise that this acts as a genuine constraint on the men of the Kremlin?

Perhaps. But it is still a troubled world, and becoming more so in the opinions of Messrs. Deng and Shulman, both of whom qualify as experts in such matters.

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