Foreign policy in this unpredictable multipolar world is difficult enough to maintain in reasonable balance even after an administration is well established in office. It is doubly so when a new administration comes in promising, as Mr. Reagan has, substantial changes in current behavior.
There is a strong element in the Republican Party which has felt that it has been excluded from power even under Eisenhower, Nixon, and Ford, but that it has answers which would resolve most of our problems if they were given a chance. It is this element which Mr. Reagan has represented for 15 years.
In view of the disquiet which the charges and claims of this element have often engendered, it may well be that the political climate of the republic will be more equable after they have been given a fair opportunity to test their theories. The critical issue is whether their righteous convictions will impel them to carry their doctrines to hazardous extremes or whether they will face intractable realities. Their most important choice will concern relations with the Soviet Union, since if these are mismanaged the two superpowers could slide into a series of confrontations which might lead to nuclear war and mutual destruction. It is clear that the Reagan administration intends both to increase military spending substantially and to insist on some sort of "linkage" between US-Soviet agreements and Soviet behavior in areas outside these agreements. Up to a point both these courses make considerable sense; the $64 question is to what lengths they will be carried.
Will new military programs be so extensive and appear so threatening -- MX, B-1, cruise missiles, neutron bomb, theater nuclear forces in Europe, beefing up conventional forces -- that the Soviets will perceive them as an American drive for superiority, and will respond by redoubling their own military expenditures, resulting merely in parity at a higher, more costly, and more tension- producing level? Or will increased US military expenditures be tailored to what is strictly necessary to maintain parity more or less at current levels and to induce Soviet agreement to those significant arms reductions Mr. Reagan says he is seeking?
A related question will be our relations with our West European allies which have deteriorated in recent years. Will the new administration interpret the American "leadership" role as requiring that we demand compliance with ourm wishes on defense posture, East-West relations, policies in the third world? Or will it recognize that the United States, no longer unchallenged boss but simply first among equals, must work out in collaboration with its allies policies which serve their interests as well as its own?
A similar situaton obtains in the Far East in respect to our closest ally, Japan, and our new geopolitical partner, China. Will we insist Japan rearm at a pace for which it is not ready and which might rekindle sparks we fought four years to extinguish? Will we try to redress technological obsolescense, mismanagement, and featherbedding in some of our industries by curbing Japanese exports on which Japan's economic viability depends? Will we treat China with the consideration its status as a great power and valuable counterweight to the Soveit Union calls for, or will we allow an exaggerated attachment to Taiwan to undermine our security interests in East Asia?
Similar choices confront us in the Middle East and Persian Gulf. Will we once again here, as so recently in Indo-China, delude ourselves into thinking that every problem has a military solution, that the Soviets can be kept out and unruly local fanatics disciplined by a rapid deployment force for which none of our friends in the region shows any enthusiasm and which, once involved in conflict, might be as difficult to extract as Soviet forces from Afghanistan? Or will we recognize that, here as in Europe, we need friends who are partners not satellites, and that the chief cause of instability in the region is not the Soviet threat but the Arab-Israeli conflict which we have unwisely allowed to fester for so many years?
Finally, will the Reagan administration believe that it has satisfactorily dealt with our relations with the third world when it commands these troubled nations to shape up and behave as we do, when it bolsters up Somozas and Bothas who want the march of time to stop, and when it cuts down further our already shrunken assistance to economic development and to population planning? Will it continue to let the United Nations wither on the vine because we resent its rhetoric, or will we exert our influence to restore the usefulness it frequently displayed when Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy were presidents?
Pressure will certainly be strong to answer these questions in the supposedly "easy way to which many Americans have so long been conditioned. If this course is followed preponderantly, however, the US will soon find iself in varieties of trouble abroad, which might make the predicaments of the Carter administration seem like a picnic.
Fortunately, as Foster Dulles found when he dropped "rollback" and "massive retaliation" like hot potatoes, realism has a way of creeping in and the hard facts of a complicated world overriding dogmas and preconceptions. One might hope and expect that one as familiar as Alexander Haig with the wounds which previous administrations have inflicted on themselves and the country would soon come to the same sen sible conclusion.