It can be shortsighted to hold preconceptions about other nations in the conduct of diplomacy. Policymakers should constantly test their views against new realities. Take, for example, the Soviet Union and its economic dealings with the third world.
A common Western perception is that the Russians are busy sowing strife between the developing nations and the West and trying to promote an "anti-imperialist front."
Their purported goal is to replace the capitalist world trading system with a system based on Soviet-style socialist principals of "equality and justice."
According to an American academic specialist on the subject, Elizabeth Valkenier, the Russians are fast becoming card-carrying capitalists when it comes to international trade. Far from supporting the third-world countries in their demand for a "new international economic order," they now are telling them in effect to work within the present order and obey the rules of fair trade. Confrontation with the West is out. Coexistence is in.
As the Columbia scholar wrote in our pages recently, this gradual evolution in Soviet thinking away from ideological orthodoxy is self-serving. The Russians stand to gain from a cooperative stance in global economic relations.
But the change should be noted by Western leaders -- and encouraged.
Who knows? Once the Muscovites enjoy the fruits of playing by the rules of the existing economic system, they may be persuaded to try the benefits of cooperation in other fields as well.