The Gulf war: a chance to revive detente

One thing the outbreak of Iraqi-Iranian hostilities had done is to create a surprising identity of view between the two parties involved and the two superpowers on one important point: The superpowers should stay out.

President Carter has said that the US will follow "meticulously" a policy of noninvolvement. Izvestia, the official Soviet government news organ, said on Sept. 23 that "no one has the right to interfere in relations between Iraq and Iran, least of all to instigate them to further escalation of tensions on their borders."

President Saddam Hussein of Iraq had ealier called for "the rejection of foreign armies and military forces or any foreign forces or military bases or any facilities in any form or under any pretext or cover or for any reason whatsoever" in the Arab world. It is not necessary to document revolutionary Irans opposition to any US presence or intervention in its affairs, and the Khomeini regime's hostility to communism is almost equally clear. Procommunist organizations are being assaulted and driven underground.

Distressing as the conflict is, it does provide a rare opportunity for the two superpowers to get together on something they say they both believe in, to do something positive to reduce tensions in and concerning the Middle East, and -- above all -- to take constructive steps to resurrect detente and reduce the danger of great-power interventions in third countries which might lead to a catastrophic nuclear war.

The first step they could take would be to consolidate their agreement not to intervene in the Iraqi-Iranian conflict into a joint statement and an open commitment not to intervene with their forces or advisers and not to provide arms assistance to either side.

The next step they could take would be to sponsor jointly a conference of the major existing the potential oil-consuming countries (including the USSR and the East European nations). Such a conference could develop proposals to ensure free access to Middle Eastern oil under conditions guaranteeing the territorial integrity and independence of the oil-producing countries. Would the Soviets be receptive to such a proposal? Early this year a Soviet Communist Party specialist on European affairs actually made such a suggestion in a news commentary.

A third step would be for the US and the USSR to begin a far-reaching exploration of the possibility of expanding their joint agreement on the Iraqi-Iranian war into a broader nonintervention pact. Such a pact might, for example, commit both powers not to send combat forces into any third country. It could, if agreement upon that principle was reached, move on to regulate or prohibit other forms of intervention such as the dispatch of proxy forces, advisers, and weapons.

In short, capitalizing upon the present confluence of US and Soviet interest, such talks could move toward restricting the US-Soviet competition for world influence to political, economic, and cultural means. The opportunity is now and the need is urgent.

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