The world in 1982: a forecast

In world affairs the prospect for 1982 is for more of the same, with continued and dangerous friction around Soviet borders and in the Middle East. The United States may have as much trouble managing its relations with its small Central American neighbors as Moscow will with its East European involuntary ''allies.'' Israeli expansion will continue to conflict with the American interest in peace between Israel and the Arabs.

Moscow will be unable to stabilize its position in Afghanistan. Moscow will also probably fail to ''normalize'' its relations with China, unless Washington misplays its China cards.

One surprise just might occur in the area of Soviet-American relations. The two superpowers continue to snarl at each other, but they have a mutual interest in reducing the cost of the arms race.

They have begun to talk about possible arms limitations. Both are being pushed by world opinion and by their economic difficulties toward some new form of arms limitation. Thus the tide in their relations which some believed in 1981 had been flowing toward war could turn in 1982 and ebb visibly away from war.

The two superpowers are likely to have to devote most of their time and energy during 1982 to damage control. Both are stretched by unsolved economic problems and by disruptive tendencies within their respective alliances and spheres of influence. Neither is likely to have much energy left over for bold, expansionist ventures. Both are plagued by the problem of holding their alliances together and keeping their various clients under control.

The above does not rule out headline events, or any dangerous strain on Soviet-US relations.

Suppose, for example, that Nicaragua joins Cuba in a general campaign to build an anti-US bloc in Central America. Would Washington invade Nicaragua or Cuba? If it does would Moscow use the event as an excuse to invade Iran?

There is probably more uncertainty about the Middle East during 1982 than about any one other part of the world. Washington recently suspended its new strategic ''understanding'' with Israel. The immediate reason was because Israel had embarrassed Washington by declaring the virtual annexation of the Golan Heights. But the larger reason in the background was a suspicion that if unchecked Israel's next move might be an invasion of Lebanon or Syria or both.

The suspension of strategic arrangements was thus in the nature of a warning shot across the Israeli bow. The hope in Washington is to keep the Camp David process going. Any more Israeli thrusts beyond existing military frontiers could spoil Camp David once and for all.

Mr. Begin damaged Camp David in 1981 by bombing Iraq's nuclear reactor and the high-rise buildings in Beirut. What might he do to that same effect in 1982? He has been warned that Washington will not support or approve if he does.

Then there is Africa.

Now that Rhodesia has turned itself into Zimbabwe and Colonel Qaddafi of Libya has pulled most of his troops back out of Chad, most of Africa seems to have settled into a relative period of stability. One may hope that someone will manage to bring some semblance of order and tranquility to the much abused people of Uganda. Diplomacy should work harder in 1982 for such relations among the contending factions of southern Africa as would allow the government in Angola to invite its Soviet and Cuban ''guests'' to go home.

But there is no such uncertainty about Africa today as there was when the impending changeover from white to black rule for Angola, Mozambique, and Rhodesia offered tempting opportunities to Moscow. The Kremlin capitalized successfully on the first two, but failed on the third. Since Western colonialism is finished in Africa everywhere except for white South Africa's control over Namibia there are few opportunities left for Moscow exploitation.

Asia might produce some subtle and important though non-spectacular change in 1982. India and China are today talking serious business with each other for the first time in 20 years. There was a brief war in 1962, high up in the Himalayan mountains. The issue was location of the frontier. Since then the two have gone separate paths. China moved away from Moscow, as India turned to Moscow for weapons and technology. Now once more, the two biggest Asian countries are trying to soften their differences.

At the same time India is putting a little distance between itself and Moscow and looking around for other sources for weapons and technology. If Washington plays its hand carefully toward both China and India during 1982 it just might find that both the most populous communist country on earth (China) and the most populous democratic country on earth (India) are more friendly to Washington than to Moscow.

Here is a rare opportunity for American diplomacy. But its success depends on refraining from giving anything but defensive US weapons to Taiwan and avoiding the appearance of arming Pakistan against India. The Taiwan issue has not yet been decided in Washington. US relations with India are still frosty. If the Asia hand is played wisely in Washington the end result could be Moscow having only one real friend and client left in all of Asia - Vietnam.

The year 1982 is likely to see a little more of one of the newer but less noticed features of the world: the quiet flow of power away from Europe and North America toward some of the newer economies. A country like Brazil is yet to develop important military power or diplomatic influence. But it is becoming an important economy and someday will be infuential in proportion to its wealth.

The oil bearing countries -- Nigeria, Libya, and those in the Middle East -- are already exercising more weight. Libya is the most spectacular example of an oil-endowed country throwing its weight around recklessly.

In great power (US vs. USSR) relations there is one intriguing possiblity for real improvement. Considering the rhetoric currently emanating from both Washington and Moscow this would appear to be unlikely. The postures of the two have persuaded a lot of people that the drift is toward war rather than accommodation. Yet the economic pressures bearing on both of them could reverse the trend of the tide.

For example, in Washington, President Reagan is confronted by the prospect of horrendous budget deficits which make a mockery of his promise of balancing the federal budget by 1984 -- unless. Unless he either agrees to go for tax increases (which he refuses to contemplate at least for 1982) or cuts back on his defense budget. But he could not in logic or consistency cut back on defense unless he first came to some agreement on arms limitations with the Soviets.

No matter how reluctant Mr. Reagan may be to deal with Moscow it is his only politically visible road back toward the prospect of a balanced budget. His alternative is to go down in history as a bigger spender than the Democrats.

So don't be too surprised if during 1982 President Reagan and Leonid Brezhnev approach the possibility of mutual arms reduction.

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