THE United States has, over the years, often accused third-world nations of having a double standard. These countries are critical of US actions while seeming to ignore transgressions by the Soviet Union. Recent events, however, might suggest that Washington has a double standard of its own. The omnibus appropriations measure recently passed by Congress contains a specific waiver of existing legislation on nuclear nonproliferation to permit Pakistan to continue to receive economic and military aid. The waiver was deemed necessary because of strong evidence that Pakistan is developing a nuclear weapons capability and has not submitted to international inspections.
At the same time, the press carries reports of the secret trial in Israel of Mordechai Vanunu, accused of treason and espionage for disclosing secrets about Israel's installation at Dimona, long suspected of being the center of that country's nuclear weapons program. Despite the aid, both economic and military, provided to Israel by the US, the question of a similar waiver for Israel has never been raised, even though Israel, like Pakistan, has not agreed to international inspection.
In another section of the appropriations measure, the administration, after a difficult fight in the Congress, was authorized to sell 70 Stinger antiaircraft missiles to Bahrain, provided Bahrain sells them back within 18 months or as soon as that nation has an alternative antiaircraft system. Bahrain, a small sheikhdom in the Persian Gulf, has for years been one of the few Arab countries to provide facilities to the US Navy. Its royal family has been a close friend to many administrations. With its apprehension over its own security, it is most unlikely to permit the Stingers to fall into other hands.
Yet the administration and the Congress have endorsed, without such restrictions, the sale of Stingers to Afghan resistance fighters and to the forces of Jonas Savimbi in Angola, groups that probably have far less control over the storage and disposition of such missiles.
On Dec. 14, Israel and the US signed a broad new arms agreement, giving Israel latitude in weapons sales and purchases enjoyed otherwise only by NATO countries. The signature came as violence in the Gaza Strip was being suppressed by Israeli forces. Had a similar agreement been imminent with any other nation, Congress would have protested such support for a nation in conflict with an occupied population.
The juxtaposition of these events says much about how Americans view the world. We are concerned about violence in other countries and about the problem of nuclear proliferation. But our primary sympathy is with those nations perceived as strongly anti-Soviet and following a democratic path. That sympathy is strengthened and encouraged when large groups of Americans identify with a people and their tribulations, as with Israel. In such nations, we can forgive much.
Pakistan is seen as a nation of another, less familiar culture, with a troubled and far-from-democratic history. Only awareness of Pakistan's support for the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan turns aside those in the Congress who disapprove of that nation's internal policies and fear its nuclear pretensions.
Bahrain is seen as an oil-rich Arab nation. That single fact awakens concern in Washington, whether justified or not, over association with terrorist organizations. Few are aware of Bahrain's long cooperation with the US Navy, of Iran's persistent claims to its territory, or of the central position of this island nation in the current US deployments in the Gulf. Two Bahraini oil rigs have already been hit by the Iranians. Without this threat from Iran, the administration would probably not have been able to gain even the restricted authority to provide the Stingers. But Congress is providing this system on more favorable terms to less stable guerilla organizations in South Asia and Africa.
The administration officially deplores the violence in Gaza and Jerusalem as it does in Seoul and Johannesburg, but sympathy for the Israeli authorities is deeper in Washington. Americans clearly have greater difficulty in identifying with Arab protesters than they do with those who assume the democratic or anti-apartheid mantles in these other lands.
US actions and policies toward Israel will inevitably be different from those toward nations with which the US has less strong ties and a weaker identification. Washington, however, should not be surprised if others abroad see in its policies a double standard, too.
David D. Newsom is associate dean and director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University.