Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev doesn't leave home very often these days. His current trip to India dramatizes how few places the Russians can expect a reasonably warm reception. Is the bear getting the idea that it will have to change its ways before its hug will be returned? The question will be answered not only in Asia, which Mr. Brezhnev is visiting for the first time in seven years, but in various parts of the nonaligned world as well as the West.
Right now the India visit seems a conspicuous exception to Moscow action that almost seem calculated to make President-elect Reagan's Republican platform a self-fulfilling prophecy: "The premier challenge facing the United States, its allies, and the entire globe is to check the Soviet Union's global ambitions." Granted the Russians are not displaying notable success in such ambitions at the moment, whether in Asia, Africa, or Latin America; still they have been acting in a manner to focus the world's alarm on them -- surely to the detriment of their own interests.
The need for the world is not to let alarm itself become a self-fulfilling prophecy but to maintain a prudent alertness to Soviet intentions and capabiliteis. A case in point is Moscow's huge military buildup posed along Polish borders.
It may have been to deter any use of these forces that the White House declared, "Preparations for possible Soviet intervention in Poland appear to have been completed." But the public effect is to make such intervention seem more likely than before, whereas events elsewhere corroborate the nonalarmist view which is so important to prevent an uncertain atmosphere from overheating.
In Warsaw the communist party placed its stamp on an "alliance of reason and responsibility" with the new "independent" unions as well as the Roman Catholic Church. Union leaders reaffirmed there was no need for Soviet intervention since they accepted Poland's Warsaw Pact alliances and the communist Party's leading role in Poland.
In Moscow a sudden meeting of the Warsaw Pact also calmed invasion fears, at least for the moment. The upshot appeared to be acceptance of Poland's ability to keep "sowers of anarchy" within bounds and assure the security of Moscow's communications links through Poland to its defense perimeter in East Germany.
In Luxembourg leaders of the European Community added their voices to the United States warnings against Soviet intervention. Spokesmen stressed, however , that they do not see such intervention as inevitable. As one of the diplomats said in words to the wise anywhere, "We are not trying to talk ourselves into an invasion psychosis."
Of course, an invasion would destroy for Europeans as well as Americans that detente which Moscow has already so badly damaged with its Afghanistan adventure. Even friendly India is expected to call, at least privately, for withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanisstan. It could bolster its claims to leadership in the nonaligned movement by taking the same firm public position as so many of the nonaligned have taken against the Afghanistan invasion. With a nonaligned meeting scheduled for India in February, Prime Minister Gandhi cannot afford to appear simply sycophantic toward Moscow in return for its promises of oil and other aid.
To be sure, Moscow could ignore any friendly advice from India just as it has ignored the warnings and sanctions by superpower America. But will it ever be able to concentrate on stemming the dissatisfactions and improving the lives of its own people if it remains at swords' points with so many of those around it?
In this regard we were struck by what China's senior leader, Deng Xiaoping, said in a Peking interview with Monitor editor Earl foell. He minimized the view of some that, as China modernizes and prospers, it may shift away from the United states and back toward the Soviet Union. The question was not whether China was rich or poor. "The decisive factor is Soviet policy," said Deng.
How could Moscow show a move away from expansionism and imperialism? It could reduce its troops on China's borders "at least to the level of Khrushchev's time," said Deng. It could withdraw its men from Mongolia, Afghanistan, and Southeast Asia. Then an improvement in Sino-Soviet relations could begin.
In just such ways could an improvement begin in Moscow's relations with the rest of the world. Then the bear might be hugged in a few more places besides New Delhi.