President Carter now defines his policy toward the Soviet Union as peace through strength, a plausible and patriotic-sounding doctrine embraced by every American president since Harry Truman.
But anunadorned policy of strength runs a high risk. For President Brezhnev of the Soviet Union will also pursue a policy of strength, and the inevitable result will be a dangerous confrontation between Russia and America which could lead to truly catastrophic consequences.
More than strength is needed to contain the confrontation. Explicit steps are needed to test and reinforce the Soviet interest in nuclear restraint, the most sensitive issue in the US-Soviet relationship.
In "White House Years" Henry Kissinger asserts, "For as far ahead as we can see, America's task will be to recreate and maintain the two pillars of our policy toward the Soviet Union that we began to build in Moscow [at the summit meeting of May, 1972]: a willingness to confront Soviet expansionism and a simultaneous readiness to mark out a cooperative future."
President Carter has begun to confront Soviet expansionism in Afghanistan with a farreaching array of measures touching every aspect of US-Soviet relations, ranging from a clampdown on all social communication with Soviet diplomats to the beginning of a potentially provocative military relationship with China.
Mr. Carter has suspended efforts "to mark out a cooperative future," and an administration spokesman has declared that because of "events in Afghanistan . . . other issues should now take higher priority." The ratification of SALT II has been deferred.
Many cooperative measures would clearly be incompatible with the steps needed to stop further Soviet interventions. For instance, an unimpeded flow of trade and credits with the Soviet Union would not be compatible with economic sanctions. And some forms of cooperation, like participation in the Olympic Games in Moscow, should be abandoned because of their symbolic significance.
But cooperative measures which limit S0viet military power would be consistent with and even enhance the effort to stop Soviet expansionism. Indeed , the very extensiveness of the present confrontation with the Soviet Union underlines the urgency and importance of limitin Soviet nuclear capabilities.
On Jan. 4 a State Department spokesman declared: "We . . . expect both the United States and the Soviet Union will refrain from acts which would defeat the object and purpose of the SALT II treaty before it is ratified and enters into force." And on Jan. 23 President Carter said in his State of the Union address that "especially now at a time of great tension, observing the mutual constraints imposed by the terms of these treaties [SALT I and II] will be in the best interest of both countries and will help to preserve world peace."
On Jan. 29 Pravda declared that "The Soviet Union, of course, is for the ratification of the SALT II treaty. It is always true to its word and believes that the other side must abide the documen it signed." Thus, SALT II, which limits Soviet strategic forces but permits the US to proceed with all of its planned force improvements, provides the point of departure for measures to restore momentum to the process of nuclear restraint.
Two proposals could be helpful:
One: theater arms limitation talks. NATO needs usable military power -- conventional weapons -- not more nuclear overkill.
Up to now, the exchange of views on limiting nuclear arms in europe has been conducted mainly by speech and communique. soviet proposals would permit Soviet destructive power to continue its steep climb. Western proposals would permit a dramatic increase in the West's destructive power relative to that of the Soviet Union.
The US and the Soviet Union.
The US and the Soviet Union might seek through diplomatic channels terms of reference for talks limiting nuclear arms in Europe which did not prejudge the outcome.
Two: a start on SALT III. SALT II has shortcomings which have troubled the United States Senate: It does not mandate deep reductions; and it does not ensure an invulnerable American land-based missile force. Even with SALT II the strategic balance could be seen to tilt in Russia's favor in the 1980s.
A substantial reduction in missiles with multiple warheads would begin to correct these deficiencies.American plans to develop a new mobile land-based missile, MX, provide bargaining leverage to obtain Soviet agreement to a low MIRV level for SALT III. The Soviet could not then achieve nuclear "superiority" and Senate ratification of SALT II would be facilitated.
These two proposals would slow the Soviet strategic buildup and help contain the crisis over Afghanistan. The superpowers would have revived the process of nuclear accommodation and lessened the risk of nuclear war.