THE trip by Secretary of State James Baker III to the Central Asian republics of the Commonwealth of Independent States has raised once more the question of whether the United States should attach conditions to the recognition of new states and the establishment of diplomatic relations.
In the cases of the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, the US for many years withheld formal recognition and the opening of embassies to signal its disapproval of the communist regimes. Ultimately, the broader interests of the nation required abandoning this stance. A doctrine was adopted that established relations with states and their governments, whatever their character, that were in control and prepared to accept basic international obligations. The objective was to end the assumption that diplomatic relations implied approval.
Secretary Baker began his recent visit stating that the US would open embassies in those former republics of the Soviet Union that accepted the principles of democracy, demonstrated a proper regard for human rights, and adopted the free-market system. The purposes of this new doctrine were laudable. These new states, many of which are desperate for outside aid and investment, clearly wanted the approbation of Washington. The secretary may well believe that the moment at which new ties are forged provides
the point of maximum leverage for the US.
Whatever the willingness of the leaders of these states to provide the secretary of state with reassuring words, their backgrounds cast doubt on whether they understand or are genuinely prepared to carry out the assurances. Most of them are retooled communists. As the case of Mikhail Gorbachev, among others, starkly demonstrated, those who have been conditioned by a lifetime in the communist system have little understanding of democracy as it is practiced in the West.
Many, moreover, are reluctant, either for reasons of ideology or power, to relinquish central control of the economy. An added factor, increasingly coming to light in the former Soviet Union, is suspicion within the population of the free-enterprise system and of outside capital. Media reports toward the end of the tour suggested that, with each stop, Baker was becoming more and more aware of these realities.
The placing of conditions, under such circumstances, creates new dilemmas. Ultimately Washington will need to determine whether the conditions are, in fact, being met. If they are not met, what can the US do about it? Should the recently established diplomatic relations be suspended? And what of those states that did not meet the requirements? How will the US determine when recognition can be extended?
The paradox created is that the internal character of a state can best be determined and democracy encouraged through a resident diplomatic establishment. Imposing unrealistic prior conditions robs the US of that opportunity.
Realistically, the US can extend its influence in another way. The interest in relations with the US on the part of many of the republics is tied to the hope of receiving various forms of assistance. In that need for aid and investment lies the pressure for change. Without a hospitable internal climate, such assistance, whether government loans or private investment, cannot succeed. Creating such a climate can be accomplished more effectively by the hard give and take of negotiations between a resident d iplomatic establishment and the new government than through pressing for prior conditions.
With regard to Central Asia, as with other areas of the world, additional considerations enter a final decision on diplomatic ties. During his visit Baker became aware of the struggle for external influence in these new states - especially between neighboring fundamentalist Iran and secularist Turkey. If the orientation of the republics is important to Washington, this maneuvering for position cannot be ignored. The need for Washington to respond positively to hopes for recognition is geopolitical as wel l as ideological.
If the US is to influence the direction taken by the former republics of the Soviet Union, it has little choice but to establish diplomatic missions in each of the new capitals. Neither the day-to-day reporting necessary for decisions in Washington nor the encouragement of democracy and free enterprise in the field can be carried out from a neighboring state or from a distant capital. Current developments in Central Asia suggest that now is not the time to abandon a policy that agrees to diplomatic recog nition without insisting on internal reforms that may take years to realize.