Keep the grain embargo

The US Senate has disserved the national interest by voting to cut off funds for the embargo on grain sales to the Soviet Union. The move was politically motivated, diplomatically irresponsible, and poorly carried out -- adopted on a voice vote without a roll call. Surely this is not the way to make foreign policy. It may be difficult to resist the mounting pressures of American farmers to lift the embargo but, on an issue so important to US diplomacy, the lawmakers should exercise more responsibility. The House has an opportunity to turn the vote around and we trust it does so.

It seems many legislators have a short memory. When the Soviet Union marched into Afghanistan, they were only too eager to support US actions demonstrating American outrage and determination to signal to Moscow it could not count on "business as usual" with the West. The Soviet grain embargo was one of many such actions. Even farmers backed it. Now, the cry from the farm belt -- and the politicians wooing votes there -- is that the embargo is not having any impact on the Russians and is self-defeating. Moreover, it is aruged, the Russians are still in Afghanistan.

Yes, they arem in Afghanistan and they are not likely to get out until they have a relatively compliant regime there. But it was never thought the embargo -- or the withholding of high technology or the Olympic boycott -- would induce the Russians to withdraw. These measures were meant to warn Soviet leaders to think carefully before making any further lunge toward the Persian Gulf. They were also designed to add to the economic pressures on the Soviet regime and add to its problems at home, forcing perhaps more judicious calculations abroad.

These objectives remain. The Russians have been hurt. Denied 17 million metric tons of US grains, they have had to make up the loss by paying higher prices for often lower quality from such suppliers as Argentina. Meat production is down. There is little question that, if the embargo continues, state plans and economic priorities will continue to have to be reordered on the side of fewer consumer goods. This brings home to the Soviet man in the street, who stands in line for meat and even bread, the price he pays for the aggressive policies of his government.

This is not to say that growing consumer dissatisfaction in the Soviet Union will translate into an overturning of the regime. But every contraint, every pressure, that pinches the system ought to be seen in terms of longterm benefit. Poland is an example of what can happen when the pressures get too great; they build a momentum for change. In this connection Poland's current need for Soviet aid, including food, is another reason why this is not a good time to end the embargo. Why should the US help the Soviet leadership out of its difficulties with the Poles? Certainly Soviet preoccupation in its own backyard makes it less tempted to engage in adventurism elsewhere.

At some point, of course, the US embargo will have to be ended -- both for domestic and diplomatic reasons. But this should entail at the least some gesture from the Russians -- a limited troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, say -- and an improvement of the world atmosphere. It is foolish to give up a "bargaining chip," however limited, without getting something in return. It is in fact ironic that the senators are so quick to abandon the tit-for-tat tactic they normally insist on in relations with Moscow.

As for the US farmers, the American taxpayers provide a multibillion-dollar-a-year subsidy to help compensate their loss. Moreover, even without the Soviet market, says Agriculture Secretary Bob Bergland, US farm exports are expected to rise 25 percent this year over last. The point, however , is not how much some segments of society may suffer -- but whether the sacrifice is tolerable given the need today of discouraging the Russians from misusing their growing military might. We think it is.

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