Among the babble of voices which assail us during an election year there are two contrasting notes: one, by far the most common, calling for simple solutions to complicated problems, more arms, less government, stronger leadership, no nonsense from allies or nonaligned; the other, little-heeded voices crying in the wilderness of media overload, calling for more realism, more consistently, more foresight.
During the past fortnight there have been two of the latter sort of declarations of particular distinction and eminence, one a speech at Harvard by Cyrus Vance, who recently resigned from high office because he objected to oversimplified "solutions"; the other an interview with the New York Times by Andrei Sakharov, who has ruined his career and risked his life in protest against even grosser and more systematic errors by the Soviet leadership.
Sakharov has, alas, been driven to the conclusion that regeneration for the Soviet Union must, because of its frozen totalitarian structure, come in the first instance from outside, while Vance remains confident that the American system still has the suppleness to permit renovation of obsolete postures and policies.
"The international diffusion of power and intellect is a fact," Vance said."It will not change. It requires fresh and vital forms of action, not regret and pining for supposed 'good old days.' What is to be regretted is a reluctance to relate our basic purposes to these new conditions. Yesterday's answers will not provide tomorrow's solutions."
Among the areas in which Vance is convinced we must make progress in the 1980 s if the world is not to become "the inhospitable place many now fear it is," he places first preserving a global military balance and achieving also a balance in our political relations with the Soviet Union. Second, he stresses nurturing strong alliances among free nations with shared responsibilities.
In this connection he said: "How we conduct our relations with the Soviet Union will perhaps be the most significant test of our maturity of judgment, our clearsighted recognition of real interests, and our capacity for leadership. It is foolish and dangerous to believe that we can manage this relationship by deterrence alone. We also will need to provide positive incentives. . . . We must work for implicit if not explicit agreements to bound our competition by restraint, by a kind of common law of competition."
Sakharov, from exile and confinement in Gorki on the other side of the world, makes some of the same points. He declares that "a major change has occurred in the world balance of forces, and this change is intensifying." He minces no words in attributing the change to the "fundamental reequipping and expansion of its weaponry" which the Soviet Union carried out in the 1960s and '70s, and to strategic and economic regions of the world."
He calls in the strongest terms for firm Western opposition to this expansion and praises the United States for its sanctions in response to the invasion of Afghanistan. He says that "Western unity is one of the main conditions for international security" but insists that "the reaction in Europe . . . has not been as consistent and united as, in my opinion, it should have been."
At the same time, however, he declares: questions of war and peace and disarmament are so crucial that they must be given absolute priority even in the most difficult circumstances. . . . Most urgent of all are steps to avoid a nuclear war, which is the greatest peril confronting the modern world. . . . Therefore, I hope that when there is some easing of the present crisis in international relations, caused mainly by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, there will be a revival of efforts in regard to SALT II, a technologically progressive treaty that provides the essential foundations for SALT III."
So both men are courageous enough to criticize misguided policies of their own governments. Both are also farsighted enough to recognize that, while military preparedness and political firmness on the part of the United States and its allies are absolutely necessary, these are not sufficient to build a constructive relationship or to avoid "the greatest peril confronting the modern world."
While significant moves to resume the search for accommodation cannot unfortunately be expected during our election campaign, the first order of business of the next administration, whoever wins, should be to try again to refashion this troubled and hazardous relationship along the lines Vance and Sakharov have recommended. Needless to say, if such an effort is to succeed, the Soviet leadership will also have to give much more emphasis to accommodation and much less to competition in their foreign and military policies.