President Carter said he was profoundly shaken by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which he called the greatest threat to the peace since World War II. He was so shaken that he is reportedly working out a new "doctrine" to cover his country's policies in this new crisis.
Well, the Soviets has been building up the Afghanistan invasion force along the Soviet-Afghan frontier of a year before it was sent across the frontier. That deployment was monitored by the US reconnaissance satellites and was well- known in Washington for more than six months. So no one in Washington should have been surprised.
And it was not the greatest threat to the peace since World War II. Probably the greatest threat was triggered by the Soviet blockade of Berlin. Some might think the invasion of South Korea from North Korea was an equal or even greater threat.
But while not the greatest, it is important, serious, and (to the West and its allies) highly dangerous, because it is a sharp assertion by force of Soviet interest in part of the world which has not before been dominated by or from Moscow.
Until these days Afghanistan has been a buffer area between Russia (now called the Soviet Union) to the north and countries to the south which until the independence of India in 1947 and general decolonization of the area had been largely in the British sphere of influence. The move into Afghanistan says that Moscow intends to be more active in that area from now on.
So what does the United States do about it?
The first step, I submit, is to try to clear its own thinking of a holdover from an early era. Once there was the Truman Doctrine under which the US undertook to meet communism anywhere in the world. This doctrine assumed that unless the US did it, no one would. It belonged to an era when the US had almost a monopoly on military power outside of the Soviet Union. It was almost literally true that unless the US did it no one would, because no one else could.
That doctrine was given a new momentum by President John Kennedy, whose inaugural address declared that the US "shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty." It reached its maximum application by Lyndon Johnson with the commitment of half a million American soldiers to Vietnam.
The result ended the Truman Doctrine. The commitment was too much and no longer fitted the new world. Richard Nixon rewrote American doctrine and announced the new one, first in 1969 informally and then, on Feb. 20, 1970, in a formal speech to the Congress. He indentified his "Nixon Doctrine" in these words:
"Its central thesis is that the United States will participate in the defense and development of allies and friends, but that America cannot -- and will not -- conceive all the plans, design all the programs, execute all the decisions, and undertake all the defense of the free nations of the world. We will help where it makes a real difference and is considered in our interest."
That ought to be good enough as a general blueprint. The United States is interested in containing Soviet influence in Southeast Asia and in the Middle East, particularly in the Middle East. But others are equally or even more interested. What happens to the south of Afghanistan concerns Pakistan and Iran directly, and Indian as the nearest other great power. This in turn is of major interest to China to the east of Pakistan and to all sellers and buyers of oil to the West.
The Us had a lively interest as the world's major buyer of Arab oil. But it is not the only country with a lively interest in the area. Nor does it any longer have a relative monopoly on military power outside of the Soviet Union. China and India dispose of substantial military power and live in the immediate area. Pakistan has a smaller but highly trained, army. Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are all armed and with not negligible ability to defend themselves. Israel has elite forces of formidable weapons and prowess.
If all the countries in the region of the Middle East and Southwest Asia whose interests are already damaged by the Soviet advance into Afghanistan were to pool their resources, make a plan for their mutual protection, and set forth upon a program to that end, would they even need US support? They could have it , of course. But the protection of the area must begin with the countries of the area. The most important of those are India and China.
Mr. Carter cannot contain the Soviets where they are now all by himself. The military power of the US cannot play a decisive role in the area by itself. But Mr. Carter and the military power of the US could play a decisive supporting role if those with primary interest would get together and make their own plan. Washington can help those willing and ready to help themselves, but the initiative must be with them.
Mr. Carter's strategic aim should be to bring China, India, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq into some form of regional defense system. He could support that. But without that regional system he could only get himself and his country into deep trouble.