THE follow-up conference to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act which convenes today in Vienna will have crucial implications for the future of individuals within the Soviet Union, for United States credibility (the Soviets made commitments in 1975 - will the US ignore non-compliance?), and for the continued unity of the Western alliance. So the Vienna review conference promises to be a lengthy East-West diplomatic chess match. Except briefly during a review meeting at Madrid (1980-83), the Soviets have completely stonewalled or diverted any US actions to enforce Soviet compliance with the human rights provision of the Helsinki Final Act. But Moscow has definite new incentives to negotiate, including the opportunity to build upon its recent European diplomatic gambits, such as the Stockholm Conference which approved ``confidence-building measures,'' and the afterglow of the Reykjavik summit.
Still, the American delegation has many obstacles to overcome. The issues at the conference are woven into the entire competitive superpower relationship. Maintaining a united front among the Western allies vs. the Soviets will be a challenge. At an ``experts'' meeting (proscribed by the Madrid conference) on human contacts last summer in Bern, the US was isolated from the Europeans and vetoed the agreement reached because it papered over the Kremlin's repression. Nothing would be worse than to allow the Politburo to use the Vienna meeting to undermine NATO cohesion.
Nevertheless, the US can achieve crucial objectives at Vienna. Most important is neutralizing the Soviets' version of the ``big lie.'' The Soviets claim that all dissidents are traitors and that any Jew wishing to emigrate has already left. The West must set the record straight.
Another key US objective at this conference is to enforce greater Soviet human rights compliance. This can be accomplished by skillful use of the US gambit of balancing the security and human rights provisions of the Helsinki Final Act. Mindful of the broken promises of the past, the US must decline to sign a final document until there is improved Soviet rights compliance. New documents are superfluous, since the fundamental issue is Soviet compliance with the existing ones. The Madrid review meeting lasted three years; this one at Vienna might last longer. But the international integrity of the US will diminish if the US agrees to misleading declarations hiding the painful truths about Soviet practices.
Alliance solidarity is also a necessary US objective at this conference. One of the often underrated results of US diplomacy at earlier review meetings has been the maintenance of allied unity. Constant consultations and incorporation of West European viewpoints can keep US allies from aligning with the Soviets, as in Bern. The US delegation must see to it that alliance unity is not jeopardized.
The general objective of Soviet compliance should include a humanitarian response to cases of separated families and those seeking unique medical treatment, restoration of freedom to dissidents whose only crime has been the exercise of their civil liberties as promised in the Helsinki Final Act, and an increase in the level of Jewish emigration.
What compliance progress is possible in each of these areas?
The opportunity is better than average in the humanitarian cases. The Soviets have promised they will resolve these cases. So instead of treating such people as political pawns and timing their release for propaganda purposes, as they often have, the Soviets should resolve the remaining cases exclusively on humanitarian grounds. The West can insist on it by challenging the Soviets to hold to their previous promises.
Gaining freedom for dissidents will be much more difficult. Their release often becomes an ``exchange'' for a captured espionage agent or a Soviet effort to enhance summit atmospherics. Primary candidates for release, according to the Helsinki Watch Committee, are Anatoly Marchenko, Mykula Redenko, Dr. Anatoly Koryagin, and Viktoras Petkus. The release of one of these dissidents in Vienna must be seen as a nonnegotiable down payment to the West. World opinion does matter to the Soviet leadership. According to Anatoly Shcharansky, the steady and extensive publicity about his case was directly responsible for his release. Such publicity efforts also sustain the dissidents psychologically in their quest for freedom.
Substantially increasing Jewish emigration levels is the final human rights compliance task for the US delegation. The Soviets regard the Soviet Jews seeking to emigrate as important bargaining ``pieces'' worth protecting for future arms control or trade initiatives and would carefully weigh any decision to let more Jews emigrate. But if one section of the Helsinki Final Act is diminished in stature, the entire document's effectiveness is undermined.
These are the major issues at the Vienna review conference, and success is never guaranteed. But the opportunities for genuine accomplishment are possible if the US is restrained and patient.
A ``winning position'' for the US is the combination of several elements: tactical positioning, decisiveness, and creativity. Such qualities will be needed to ``checkmate'' the Soviets. Add to these the factors of continuing media and public interest in US success at Vienna. The standard of success for the conference will be the extent of Soviet compliance with the human rights provisions of the Helsinki Final Act.
Robert E. Foster is an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.