Washington — If his Senate testimony is any indication, Alexander Haig will be a forceful, activist secretary of state whose principal concern will be countering Soviet power.
In sharp contrast with the approach of the outgoing Carter administration, General Haig does not appear to include arms control in his list of highest priorities. Instead, President-elect Reagan's nominee for secretary of state would first use an American military buildup as an incentive to the Soviets to negotiate reductions in nuclear arms.
In contrast with former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, Haig seems to believe in "linkage" -- tying arms control negotiations to Soviet activities on other fronts, such as in the so-called third world.
Haig depicted the Soviet Union as an economic failure whose internal difficulties are bound to grow over the next 10 years. As a result, he suggested, the Soviet leaders may be increasingly tempted to seek external diversions to ensure their hold on power.
But in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Jan. 10, Haig denied that he seeks only military solutions to this problem. He asserted that "it is diplomacy which is the core of successful American operations abroad -- that military power merely provides the credibility and the bona fide for an effective diplomacy."
A Senate staff aide predicted, meanwhile, that Haig's nomination would be approved by the Foreign Relations Committee by "a comfortable margin." He said the Senate's search for secret tape recording of 1973 White House conversations between Haig and President Richard Nixon is likely to continue for months beyond the day when Haig's appointment is confirmed.
With the exception of probing by Democrats Gray Hart of Colorado and Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts, the Senate questioning of Haig has been for the most part gentle and respectful.As one staff aide explained, "Everybody is going on the assumption that Haig wil be confirmed, and they don't want to burn their bridges."
Despite the clear and tough tone of his rhetoric concerning both the Soviet Union and Cuba, Haig has kept most of his options open and has refused to drawn into a detailed discussion of how he would procede in some of the most controversial areas of foreign policy. He said he needed more time to study the choices facing the new administration in troubled regions such as the Middle East, southern Africa, and Central America. He declined to comment on the possibility of establishing official relations with Taiwan, an idea that was proposed by President-elect Reagan and then apparently dropped.
Haig's great care in dealing with controversial subjects and his refusal to adhere strictly to the Republican platform on foreign policy have led some observers to conclude that his biggest difficulties may eventually come from senators on the far right of the Republican Party.
Haig's choice of officials to assist him in high-ranking State Department positions has so far done little to please Republican ideologues. His expected appointments of assistant secretaries of state to deal with Europe, Africa and East Asia, for example, are all nonideological and well-established experts from the foreign policy mainstream.
But the main concern of some Democratic senators is that Haig will revive secret overseas operations aimed at overthrowing foreign governments. In answer to questions from Senator Tsongas, Haig declined to condemn the secret efforts aimed at influencing events in Chile that the Nixon White House conducted in the early 1970s.
In Angola, the Carter administration declined to provide military aid to the rebel faction known as UNITA, which was once backed by the CIA and is still fighting the Marxist-led government. Restrictions contained in a 1976 amendment sponsored by Sen. Dick Clark (D) of Iowa in effect prohibit such aid being given. But Haig said he thought the Clark amendment was "self-defeating" and described UNITA as "still virulent and strong, and functioning."
Reagan said last year that he favored supplying UNITA with weapons. Carter felt this would undercut Angolan cooperation in a settlement of the conflict over Namibia (South West Africa).
A senior official from the Carter administration suggested, in the meantime, that the most pressing problems facing Haig as secretary of state will be decisions on military aid for El Salvador, debt rescheduling for Poland, and ways of resuming the Egyptian-Israeli "peace process."
Haig's testimony suggests that his own most pressing preoccupations are Poland and Afghanistan, economic and energy problems, and Soviet-supported insurgencies and terrorism.