President Carter, with the strong advice of former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, has espoused a dual approach to the Soviet Union built on containment and detente, the two overarching concepts of Western policy.
But after the invasion of Afghanistan, Mr. Carter stopped all cooperative efforts with the Soviet Union, and now seems to believe that a policy of strength alone is sufficient to promote the national interest. American policy is beginning to ape Russian policy, and the consequences could be catastrophic.
The abandonment of negotiating efforts with the Soviet Union represents a radical departure from policies fairly consistently pursued by the United States in times of crisis since World War II. Dean Acheson invented the phrase negotiations from strength. Dean Rusk reminded us that the American eagle clasped an olive branch as well as arrows. Henry Kissinger manifested continuing interest in easing tension with the Soviet Union as well as in stopping Soviet expansionism, and Mr. Kissinger made intensive use of the back channel with Moscow.
The Berlin blockade of 1948 and the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 brought us to the brink of war with the Soviet Union. Presidents Truman and Kennedy believed in a strong reaction in those crises but they also believed in negotiation.
Berlin was blockaded on June 24, 1948, and the West quickly responded with an effective airlift. On July 5 the Western powers proposed negotiations about Berlin -- but not under duress, not until the blockade was lifted. On July 15 the Soviets rejected negotiations with preconditions. On July 30 the West initiated negotiations in Moscow.
On Oct. 16, 1962, President Kennedy learned of Russian missile deployments in Cuba. On Oct. 22 the President informed the world of the deployments and of his decision to blockade Cuba. Negotiations for the removal of the missiles began Oct. 25 and 26, through an exchange of letters between Kennedy and Khrushchev, and through conversations between Attorney General Robert Kennedy and newly arrived Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin.
With the Afghanistan crisis, Mr. Carter instituted far-reaching retaliatory measures against the Soviet Union. But Mr. Carter also brought to a halt virtually all bilateral negotiations with the Soviets and even ordered an end to all social contact with Soviet diplomats. Yet is is hard to envisage a turn away from a deepening and dangerous confrontation with the Soviet Union in the absence of perhaps prolonged communication over the two issues that dominate our relations -- afghanistan and SALT.
There is evidence at present that the Soviets are ready to negotiate their withdrawal from Afghanistan. But a dialogue is essential to an assessment of the costs of the present course and the gains of a settlement for both countries. And regardless of the outcome, negotiations, as Dean Acheson pointed out to former President Truman in a letter dated July 21, 1953, can convince "our allies of the true situation" and restore allied unity. Mr. Carter might follow the precedent set by Messrs. Truman and Kennedy, and start a dialogue with Mr. Brezhnev, about Afghanistan.
SALT II is in limbo and on it, too, Mr. Carter needs to communicate with Mr. Brezhnev. Mr. Carter has delayed the ratification of SALT II because of Afghanistan but he has not discussed this linkage with the Russians. If SALT II ratification is held over until 1981, changes may have to be made in the treaty. Yet we have not discussed these with the Russians. And negotiations are needed urgently if we are to have a chance of stopping a new arms race in Europe, in medium-range nuclear missiles.
Sen. Edward Kennedy recently proposed that a high-level bipartisan commission be formed to develop a foreign policy consensus. But at least on policy toward the Soviet Union we already have an incipient consensus between Mr. Reagan and Mr. Carter. On this central issue we need an alternative rather than a consensus. We need to negotiate with the Russians as well as arm against them.
Mr. Carter, if he will, can take the first step toward restoring the traditional duality of American policy and toward a process of negotiation when the new Secretary of State, Edmund Muskie, meets Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko in Vienna on May 16.