AS East-West ideological combat subsides, the time is ripe for the United States and the Soviet Union to extend the new spirit of cooperation into the economic sphere to help spur third-world development. Presidents Bush and Gorbachev should launch a joint initiative to assist third-world growth and alleviate poverty. In the long term, third-world, United States, and Soviet interests converge in promoting peaceful and more prosperous alternatives to the chaos and deprivation that now characterize so many less-developed countries.
Such an initiative will face problems and entail risks, but these are surmountable and the benefits could be considerably larger than the amounts of money might imply.
Most important, both the US and the Soviet Union have knowledge and resources that can provide more benefits to the world's poor if joined together than if extended separately. Both countries have long scientific and applied traditions in fields important to developing countries that can be the basis for collaboration, initially on a modest scale.
Second, US-Soviet development cooperation will depend upon continued improvement in the bilateral relationship, but joining forces to ameliorate the human condition in developing countries can actually promote understanding between the two superpowers. Such efforts will test the professed Soviet willingness to work toward common, humane ends and demonstrate American willingness to work with the USSR in areas of importance to both countries.
Third, we can learn from one another. Joint projects would facilitate exchanges between US and USSR development specialists, providing each group with training and experience that will both improve the quality of assistance programs and give us greater confidence in our knowledge of each other.
Finally, joint efforts can improve the Soviets' understanding of requirements for broader participation in the world economy. As Soviets work with Americans in development, they will be exposed to contemporary economic thought.
Routinely, the Soviet Union will need to provide more information on such issues as its international credit position and the size and scope of its aid programs. These exchanges will encourage the integration of the Soviet Union into the global economy, and can help to pave the way for a formal USSR role in the World Bank and other international organizations.
Both Moscow and Washington are reexamining past assistance efforts, and experiencing budgetary constraints. For that reason, all proposed joint projects should build on existing bases of expertise and be economically justifiable and of value to the recipient nation. For example:
Forestry is critical in many areas where extended tree loss leads to soil erosion, diminished fertility, climatic change, and flooding. Joint Soviet-American efforts can be initiated under the general environmental agreement that has existed since 1972.
The joint provision of clean, safe drinking water is a development goal that can unite all sides. Because many such projects will be small scale, they can be managed at the local level, perhaps by private voluntary agencies.
Joint efforts in the alleviation of blindness can have great symbolic appeal and positive impact. At least one-third of all blind people in the world today could have their sight restored by cataract operations. A US-USSR initiative to create minimum-level surgical facilities in selected countries is a feasible short-term objective.
Collaboration could also be very productive in the provision of emergency disaster assistance, joint studies in energy and resource exploration, cooperation in provision of technical education, and in provision of certain urban services.
Of course there will be problems. The normal complications of interaction between two aid bureaucracies will be heightened by remaining ideological biases. Funding will require imaginative new sourcing. Trilateral cooperation between the US, USSR, and a developing country will be difficult, and developing countries may be suspicious of motives. However, at modest risk and cost the US can both test Soviet intentions and contribute to the success of Soviet reform.