Containing Soviet power: once again the top US priority
In Henry Kissinger's world, the Soviet Union was the only other important thing besides the United States. He spent most of his eight years at the helm of US foreign policy dealing with Moscow.
In the Carter-Vance world, Moscow was deliberately subordinated. For four years US foreign policy focused on the welfare of human beings in other parts of the world -- Latin America, Africa, Asia. Its purpose was long-term -- to build future friends.
By now, with the Reagan administration nearing the end of its second month in office, we can see that there is a new US foreign policy in which Moscow is again the major "other thing" in the world, but with a clear difference from the Kissinger formula.
To Dr. Kissinger, the Soviet Union was a rival power, but also something with which one could negotiate. He tried to balance off its power by his opening to China, but used the advantage he gained from that maneuver as a basis for seeking an accommodation with Moscow. Detente was his proudest achievement.He carried it so far that his Western European allies talked anxiously of the danger of a USA-USSR "condominium" ruling the world. There were overtones of just that.
There is little of that part of the Kissinger approach to the Soviet Union in the new Reagan-Haig approach. Moscow is enormously important, but as the archrival, the adversary whose politics must be confounded and whose knavish tricks must be frustrated. The object is to contain and reduce the range of Soviet power.
For the long run, there is some talk of negotiating after building strength. There is also talk of wanting from the Soviets a "code of conduct" that would, presumably, some day rule out the flow of weapons to left-wing rebel groups that the Soviets call "national liberation movements." But this is massively different from Dr. Kissinger's consistent and determined search for an accommodation with Moscow that could (in theory) stabilize the world and wipe away any real danger of a nuclear war between the two superpowers.
Since the emphasis is on frustrating the Soviets rather than on building long-term associations with peoples, the Reagan-Haig approach includes forgetting about the misdeeds of past dictatorships that call themselves anticommunist. It also shows less regard for small and poor countries.
The list of deeds done to carry out the new policy include the following items:
1. The "line" against communist expansion has been drawn in El Salvador. Weapons and about 50 military advisers have been flown in to help prop up the ruling junta.
2. Sanctions have been lifted against Gen. Augusto Pinochet Urgate's military dictatorship in Chile. The Carter administration's ban on Export-Import Bank loans to Chile has been lifted. Chile's Navy has been invited to join in naval maneuvers in the South Atlantic this year. It was excluded last year. Chile's Air Force commander, Gen. Fernando Matthei, has been in Washington as a guest of Gen. Lew Allen Jr., US Air Force chief of staff.
Sanctions on Chile had been imposed after the Chilean government arranged the execution of Orlando Letelier in the streets of Washington, D.C. A US court found agents of the Chilean government guilty. Extradition was demanded, and refused.
3. A delegation from Argentina has been invited to Washington. Argentina refused to join the wheat embargo against the Soviets over Afghanistan and refused to sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. At present it is denied any US military aid by act of Congress.This was done after the Inter- American Human Rights Commission documented the disappearance of over 6,000 persons after arrest or abduction by security forces.
4. US relations with Brazil are apparently about to be refurbished. Brazil terminated military cooperation with the US and declined further US military aid after the State Department, in 1977, published a report on human rights violations in Brazil. a Brazilian military delegation has been in Washington discussing the revival of active US-Brazilian naval cooperation.
5. In a highly visible gesture, Mr. Reagan welcomed as his first foreign leader South Korea's President Chum.
6. President Reagan, in a TV interview with Walter Cronkite on March 3, referred to South Africa as "a friendly nation" that "has stood beside us in every war" and whose minerals "are strategically essential to a free world." These are two points that South Africa has long been using to counter pressure on it from the West to modify its "apartheid" policy toward its black majority.
During the Carter years, South Africa had been moving toward more consideration for the welfare of its blacks. It was also supposed to be moving toward giving up its control over neighboring South-West Africa, known as Namibia.
South African Prime Minister P. W. Botha called Mr. Reagan's words "realistic." Leaders and newspapers supporting the white government of South Africa took the Reagan words to mean that Washington is abandoning the pro-black attitude of the Carter administration. One white newspaper, Die Vaderland, said the Reagan attitude "is even more friendly than the policy of Richard Nixon."
The United States abstained from the vote in the United Nations on March 6 on sanctions against South Africa. The vote in favor of sanctions, intended to push South Africa toward granting independence to Namibia, was 114 to 0. The Reagan administration had been expected to vote against sanctions, but this would have split it off from its West European allies -- Britain, France, and West Germany. Those were willing to abstain but not to vote against sanctions. The US then voted to abstain, thus keeping in line with its allies.
7. On March 7, without any advance warning, the top seven members of the US delegation to the Law of the Sea conference were dismissed. All were career specialists. The dismissals came just before the opening of what would otherwise have been the conclusive sessions on the treaty.
Work had been started in 1974. The treaty was considered nearly complete and was regarded as important to the welfare of a number of less-developed third-world countries. The abrupt brushing aside of the nearly finished treaty is in contrast to the careful treatment of third-world countries during the period when Andrew Young was US delegate to the United Nations.
8. The new Reagan budget reduced appropriations for economic help for poor and less-developed countries, but guns will be plentiful.
These events mark a hard turn away from the Carter administration's focus on "human rights," from its efforts to improve US relations with the people of the "third world," and from its patience with the creaking machinery of the United Nations. There was a distinct North-South flow during the Carter years, with a minimum amount of traffic over the old East-West lines of the Kissinger years.
Now the active traffic in world power affairs is again East-West. But it is an adversary rather than an exploratory traffic. North-South traffic has slowed almost to a halt so far as reaching out toward the poorer and less powerful. The Reagan administration is reaching out to governments and political movements that call themselves anticommunist.
Such drastic changes in foreign policy seldom last long without modification. The new Reagan policies already are running into important opposition.
On March 5, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington, D.C., James A. Hickey, went on record for himself and for the entire hierarchy of his church in the United States, in opposition to US military intervention in El Salvador. He said that sending more US military advisers there would be "risky to the point of being reckless." He urged a dialogue between the contending forces and economic, rather than military, aid.
Also the black countries of Africa, which include Nigeria, America's second-most-important source of foreign oil, are protesting against the tilt toward the white regime in South Africa.
Either the new hard line will be modified in the direction of the center -- or there will be a lot of sparks flying both at home and abroad, and a considerable loss, or at least reshuffle of friends.