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West entering more favorable phase in its affairs

By Joseph C. Harsch / March 18, 1983



It is easier right now, today, to write an upbeat forecast about the world and the relations of the peoples on it than it has been for a very long time. We have entered what Winston Churchill would have called a favorable inclination of our affairs.

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Granted, there are hurdles and pitfalls ahead. Today's cheering prospects can be spoiled. But if you would like to be encouraged for a change by the flow of news, take a look at the following scenario.

The American economy is regaining vigor without a revival of inflation. The danger of inflation coming back is checked in part by the decline in oil prices. They are likely to go even lower. The Soviets this week began to sell oil at $1 to $2 per barrel below the just-reduced OPEC prices.

Revival of the American economy encourages and helps the economies associated with it, particularly those of Western Europe and Japan. It comes before any of the main industrial countries have yet plunged too deeply into protectionism. The urge toward protectionism is fended off both by the fact of recovery and by the decline in oil prices.

The danger of the fragmentation of the Western alliance has been exorcised by the West German election. A moderately conservative government has been confirmed at the polls in spite of the declaration by its leader that he would go ahead with deployment of the new NATO intermediate range missiles (the American Pershing IIs) in West Germany.

The economic recovery in the United States and in other Western countries and the German elections deprive the Soviets of two reasons they previously had to stall on arms limitations agreements with the West.

Until the West German elections there was a calculable chance that the NATO alliance could break apart from trade wars among its members and from resistance in Europe to the deployment of the new American weapons. Also, continued economic recession and high unemployment indicated that Ronald Reagan might be a one-term president.

The Soviets would have no motive to go to the bargaining table with the Americans (over weapons or anything else) if they could expect both a weakening of the alliance and a new president in Washington by just waiting.

Now their calculations must be made on a new basis. The American economy is reviving. Mr. Reagan's chances of re-election go up with each new freshet of economic revival. The system of Western alliances is on the upturn. With economic revival the chances improve that the American economy can sustain the Reagan arms program and that the allies will accept, not be repelled by, the prospective flow of new weapons.

The Kremlin must conclude from the above that it has more to gain from negotiating for a limit on the arms race now than from waiting. The longer it waits, the stronger the West is likely to be. The sooner it negotiates, the better the terms it may get. And certainly the Soviet leaders must include in their calculations the likelihood, as of this season, that Mr. Reagan will be President not just for the next two years, but for the next six years.

Other reasons may impel them in the same direction.

The Soviet military program probably has been moving ahead less rapidly than the Pentagon likes to admit when its own new military budget is being pushed in Congress. The Pentagon put out its annual survey of the Soviet military condition last week. As usual it was based on ''worst case'' estimates of items in the Soviet arsenal in the production line and on the drawing boards. As usual it tends to make the Soviets look about 20 feet tall and the US scarcely better than a midget.