According to columnist William Safire and other expounders and defenders of the new Reagan foreign policies, the real purpose behind the "guns to Salvador" policy has little to do with El Salvador itself, but a great deal to do with an attempt "to break the communist winning streak."
That would be an admirable purpose if the premise were correct, i.e., that there has been a "winning streak" moving the Soviet Union toward a rising range of influence in the world.
But has there been any such winning streak?
Have the Soviets won control over Afghanistan? At latest reports the Afghans continue to show vigorous resistance to being Sovietized. The shooting goes on 24 hours a day. The conquest is so far from complete that the Kremlin has even been putting out feelers toward a possible compromise solution of their relations with Afghanistan.
Does the Kremlin exert as much control over the members of the Warsaw Pact as it did during the heyday of the Soviet Empire? Poland is today a pluralistic state in which the church, the unions, the students, and the farmers by common interest share power with the communist party. The party is no longer able to rule absolutely as is supposed to be the case in any orthodox communist country. As a matter of fact it can only rule with the consent of the other power centers in the country.
And, more important still, Moscow has not dared to suppress this heresy against its doctrines and methods. Control over Poland is today exercised only by the power of the Soviet Army and that decisive power has not been used because the results might have been more damaging to the overall interests of the Soviet state than the gains.
There have been two phases in history since World War II when Moscow controlled a dangerously extensive (to others) proportion of the Earth's surface.
The first was from the signing of the Soviet alliance with mainland China in 1950 which ended abruptly in 1960. This overlapped with Soviet influence in Indonesia which dated from 1958 to 1965 when it ended in a revolution which virtually wiped out the local communist party. There was also overlap with major Soviet influence in Iraq which began in 1958 and lasted until 1973. Since then Iraq has been working its way, somewhat cautiously, back into a neutal position between the great powers.
By now the three countries which gave Moscow such an enormous range of influence in the '50s and '60s have all pulled well away from the Soviet sphere of influence. The Soviet-Chinese frontier is heavily armed. The Soviets man it with 46 divisions -- a substantial proportion of their armed force.
A second phase of disproportionate Soviet influence came when both India and Egypt turned to Moscow for military, technical, and economic aid. India was virtually an ally of the Soviet Union from 1962 to 1977. The "special relationship" ended abruptly in 1977 when Morarji Desai defeated Indira Gandhi for the prime ministry. It was not revived when Mrs. Gandhi returned to power. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan shocked India into decisive neutrality, and even into groping for a revival of normal relations with China.
Egypt's pro-Soviet period began in 1956 when Britain, France, and Israel invaded Egypt. It ended in 1972 when President Anwar al-Sadat expelled Soviet troops and turned to Washington for economic and military support.
In the meantime there have been other lesser changes affecting the balance of power in the world. In 1977 the revolutionary government of Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia broke off the older relationship with the US and signed up with Moscow. But this caused Somalia, which had been a Soviet client, to switch sides and turn to Washington. In 1975 both Angola and Mozambique signed up with Moscow.
There are now 15 countries in the world which at one time were members of the Soviet power system, but have broken away from it. The most important are China , India, Indonesia, Egypt, and Yugoslavia. The others are: Albania, Algeria, Bangladesh, Ghana, Guinea, Iraq, Mali, Somalia, Sudan, and North Yemen.
Moscow today controls about 6 percent of the population of the world and about 5.5 percent of the gross national product (apart from the USSR). In terms of power it stands today at about 20 percent against 70 percent for the Western democracies plus Japan and China. The trend of Soviet influence has been declining since India pulled away. It is of course far below its peak when both China and Indonesia were in the Soviet orbit.
The idea that Moscow has been enjoying a "winning streak" is not based on fact. It probably belongs under a listing of pious beliefs.