The year 1985 in world affairs has been dominated by the second attempt of the two superpowers of this age to find out whether they can live in the same world without going to war with each other. The year opened with the foreign ministers of the two, George Shultz for the United States and Andrei Gromyko for the Soviet Union, meeting in Geneva. The high moment of the year came in the same city 10 months later when their principals, President Reagan and the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, came together from Nov. 19 to 22 for what turned into almost an orgy of superficial camaraderie, but of still-unweighed substance.
The process of getting to the summit occupied almost the entire year. It undoubtedly marked the beginning of a third major phase in the relationship of the two superpowers since World War II.
The first phase dated from the Truman Doctrine of 1947 down to 1972. President Nixon made twin trips in 1972, first to Peking, then to Moscow.
Those trips ended the first ``cold war'' and ushered in the first ``d'etente.'' That, in turn, was undermined by a buildup in Soviet weaponry and finally drowned out by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan at the end of 1979.
The span of time between 1979 and 1984 was a second ``cold war'' marked by trade boycotts, a massive buildup of United States arms and steady counterbarrages of rhetorical abuse and invective. By the beginning of 1984, the atmosphere was so tense that almost everyone was getting worried to the point that the leaders of the two superpowers made speeches which in effect called for a parley.
It took all of 1984 just to get from those first calls to parley to the first real and serious opening of negotiation. This year saw the beginning in a Shultz-Gromyko meeting in Geneva in January. Since then the record shows how gradual was the progress from the opening meeting on Jan. 7-9 to the summit in November. Here is the chronology of intermediate steps.
Jan. 26. The US and Soviet Union announce a decision to reopen arms control talks.
April 7. Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet leader in office only a month, announces that he is suspending the deployment of more Soviet intermediate range missiles.
April 17. Mr. Gorbachev proposes suspension of nuclear testing.
May 14. Secretary Shultz and Foreign Minister Gromyko again meet in Vienna.
July 2. Eduard Shevardnadze replaces Gromyko as Soviet foreign minister in Moscow and it is announced that agreement has been reached for a summit to be held in Geneva Nov. 19-20.
Sept. 27. Foreign Minister Shevardnadze meets with President Reagan at the White House in Washington.
Sept. 30. The Soviets propose a mutual reduction of 50 percent in offensive strategic weapons.
One further fact has perhaps been more important than the surface signs of the gradual groping of the superpowers back into a dialogue: the relative tolerance for each other and negotiations about many individual matters.
Neither the US nor the Soviet Union has made what could be called a forward or offensive move against something deemed vital by the other. Afghanistan was Moscow's last offensive venture. Moscow has stood on the defensive everywhere else since then. Grenada was Washington's last act of overt muscle flexing.
Both have continued what they were doing before the present freeze in offensive action. Moscow continues to try to suppress resistance in Afghanistan, continues to support Angola, Cuba, and the government of Nicaragua. It has recently sent helicopter gunships to Nicaragua thus checking incursions into the country by ``contra'' rebel forces backed by the US.
The US, on the other side, has continued to supply weapons to the resistance fighters in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Angola, moral support to the patriots of Poland (but no guns), all the support Congress will permit to the contras attacking Nicaragua from bases in Honduras, but in all cases this was carrying on with operations in place before the 1985 freeze on offensive action. Nothing new was started by either side.
So in East-West relations the year ends with the diplomatic communication line between Washington and Moscow again carrying heavy traffic. There have been reopened arms control talks, specific negotiations about Afghanistan, and side talks about the Middle East. There is already agreement to open consulates in Kiev and New York. There will be a step-up in cultural and scientific exchanges.
Meanwhile three other important changes occurred in the world during 1985.
What once was a severe shortage of oil, hobbling industrial development in both industrial and underdeveloped countries, turned decisively into a surplus, even a glut. Oil prices plunged from a high of $37 a barrel in 1981 to $25 and lower in 1985. Some oil was to be had at the end of the year for as low as $22 a barrel.
This tended to reduce nervousness in the West about the oil of the Middle East. It also sustained the economies of the US and its Western allies against inflationary tendencies.
It was a good thing for the US particularly. It helped to keep the US economy in a state of apparent blooming health in contrast to the pallor of a semi-stagnant Soviet economy.
In South Africa race relations deteriorated. A succession of bloody riots was marked by increasing police brutality and black assertiveness. For the first time in South Africa there were black riots in the downtown section of Johannesburg and for the first time whites died as well as blacks in interracial strife. More than 1,000 blacks have been killed by police in the past 15 months. At the end of the year white migration away from South Africa had become a front-page news story.
The Middle East saw the withdrawal of Israeli ground forces from Lebanon, but continued Israeli air patrols over Lebanon and sea patrols along the coast. At year's end Moscow supplied Syria with the means to contest this continued Israeli activity. It provided more antiaircraft missiles which were deployed along the Syria-Lebanon border, and new patrol and light attack boats. Syria is gradually moving toward an ability to hold its own against Israel. And King Hussein of Jordan continues to work for a Mi ddle East peace conference.
Iran from March 12 to 19 launched what was probably its last major land offensive in its war against Iraq. It was repulsed without any substantial land gains and allegedly by Iraq with heavy losses. Iran went over to the defensive after that and the war returned to an apparent stalemate.