The Andropov style
Let us be thankful in this festive season for one small improvement on the world scene. The level of bombast and ideology in communications between East and West is down, by several decibels.Skip to next paragraph
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This does not mean that the issues dividing the two great power blocs are about to be resolved, or even that they have been reduced.
But it does mean that the issues can be approached in a calmer and more rational manner. It is easier when men speak softly and in rational terms to find some possible narrowing of differences than it is when they merely bellow at each other in ideological slogans.
The latest example, and the most interesting one yet from the East, came in the speech which the new boss in the Kremlin, Yuri An-dropov, used for launching a new set of Soviet proposals about nuclear weapons in Europe.
He had something interesting to say. He made new proposals. They were not acceptable to the Western allies in the form in which they were stated. But they did represent movement in the Soviet position away from the old and totally unacceptable in the direction of a conceivable compromise somewhere between the new Soviet position and the latest Western positions.
The fact of movement in the Soviet position is the important thing. It would appear to indicate that they have invited the West to start thinking about a possible next move in the Western position toward the theoretical meeting point somewhere in between.
But note that this relatively important new departure in East-West relations was delivered by Mr. Andropov in less than an hour.
Whenever has any Soviet head man made a serious move in world affairs in less than an hour?
Leonid Brezhnev was usually able to say what he wanted to say in around three hours. Nikita Khrushchev might well have taken five hours. Stalin could have gone on for a day and a night. It is something to have a Kremlin position presented to a Kremlin audience in under an hour. Let us all give thanks for small favors.
And, at least in the text of the speech as released by the Soviet government, there is a welcome absence of ideological nonsense. The choice of words was restrained. The English text (not reading Russian, I could not know what it sounded like in the original) was that of a government official being businesslike and saying what he wanted to say with both economy of time and economy of rhetoric.
The speech (again in the English text) lacked the old-style characterizations of opponents. Remember when a Soviet speech was sprinkled with such lively phrases as ''running dogs of capitalism'' or ''lackeys of the imperialists''? We do not know how Mr. Andropov speaks in private. But in public he makes speeches the way a good professional lawyer makes a case for a client; biased, yes, but in rational language and terms.
The proposals in the Andropov speech were biased. If accepted they would perpetuate a Soviet nuclear advantage in the European theater. But, the advantage would be less than the advantage they have now, which is precisely what makes the proposals a mandatory subject for study by the Western experts.
There is another expectable element here. The proposal is to match Soviet medium-range missiles in Europe to existing British and French missiles, on condition of no deployment of the latest and most modern American missiles which are only now beginning to come off the production line.
If accepted, it would mean the latest Soviet weapons counted one for one against French and British weapons some of which were first deployed as far back as 1967 and none later than 1977. Mr. Andropov should not be blamed, I suppose, for trying a fast one. Any good lawyer would do as much for his client's case. The danger is that it might seem more tempting and rational to a European ear than to an American ear. The result could be seeds of dissension within the alliance.
The offer, on merit, is interesting though not good enough. It is presented as a move in a negotiation which is getting interesting. And it is presented in the tone of the new East-West dialogue. US Secretary of State George Shultz launched the new tone for the dialogue. He has not used a bombastic phrase yet in his speeches. As a matter of fact his speeches have been few and far between.
So what we have now is a new East-West dialogue being conducted in temperate and rational terms. That's progress.