Testing time for US-Soviet relations. Will superpowers link key issues, or pursue them one by one?
``Thaw'' was the word for Soviet-American bargaining in the late 1950s and early 1960s. ``D'etente'' was the label for the Metternich-style deal-balancing of Kissinger, Nixon, and Brezhnev in the early 1970s. What should the world call the superpower warming trend now starting up? And what does it mean outside the missile sphere?Skip to next paragraph
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Do the globe-ranging talks between the Soviet and American foreign ministers in Washington and New York mean, for instance, limited cooperation on the Iran-Iraq war? On Nicaragua? On getting Vietnam out of Cambodia? On Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian talks? On Afghanistan? On trade? On human rights?
The name for the new warming cycle is not terribly important. (President Reagan would probably prefer that it not be ``D'etente II'' because he believes in symbolism and thinks Moscow took advantage of D'etente I.)
Much more interesting is the question of whether United States Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and their bosses will adopt the ``compartmentalization'' style of the Lyndon Johnson era or the ``linkage'' approach of Henry Kissinger.
That's yawn-producing, striped-pants jargon. But it is important. During the Vietnam war period, Washington wanted to keep its relations with Moscow on many subjects relatively calm while it escalated the war against Moscow's client - bombing around Soviet ships supplying weapons through Haiphong harbor. Hence ``compartmentalization.''
During the '70s, Mr. Kissinger and his successors sought to ``link'' progress on arms control and trade to progress on other collision points. Congress linked East-West trade to emigration of dissidents from the Soviet Union. The US and Europe formally linked human rights to recognition of the Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.
Standard diplomatic wisdom at the moment holds that Mr. Shultz has not linked the Gulf war or Central American struggle to East-West missiles and East-West trade, even though he and the affable Mr. Shevardnadze have spent many hours talking about world trouble spots on which they differ.
They may not be linking them to arms control in a package deal. But they are obviously trying to find ways in which they can simplify their respective problems by limited cooperation or balancing concessions. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is strongly interested in cost effectiveness. Shultz is trying to point out conflict areas in which a retraction of Soviet power would not lead to an advance in American power.
All these areas involve risk. None more so than the Gulf war, which this week veered away from discussion of a cease-fire and outside mediation to naval collision and Iranian denunciation of the UN as peacemaker.
Events in the Gulf resembled, in fact, a high-tech version of the Boxer War at the opening year of this century. In that encounter, Chinese extremists took on multinational forces of Western Europe and Russia. The Boxers were a clique of zealots who split with pragmatists in the Chinese court. They threatened Western embassies, as the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have. Some of their troops were taught to believe they were impervious to the Western devils' bullets; some Iranian irregulars reportedly believe the same about the Great Satan's weapons. The Europeans were sometimes united, sometimes divided, as they were through much of the 19th century in their struggle to open Chinese trading ports.