There is no graver question in international politics than this: whether the Soviet Union and its more servile satellites, such as Cuba, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia, have the right, or can be prevented from exercising an alleged right, to use military force against any country having a communist government which wishes, or feels itself obliged, to modify its internal policies in ways the Soviet Union believes threaten its imperial control. In other words, the question is whether the Brezhnev doctrine has any more legitimacy in the modern world than the postwar attempts of France, Holland, and Portugal to hold parts of theirm colonial empires by force, which of course they have long since abandoned.
There is no international treaty of which I am aware which draws any distinction between military invasion of an all or adherent to a common political doctrine than invasion of any other country. The one is just as much a violation of the United Nations Charter's prohibition of breaches of the peace and acts of aggression as the other is. The Helsinki agreement draws no line between intervention in the internal affairs of friendly or hostile sovereign states, and would be as grossly violated by the one as by the other. The fact that the Soviet Union has been able to stage-manage "invitations" from a small minority group of hardliners, desperate to retain their cushy jobs, as they were in Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, no more validates the aggression than would an invitation to the US from a group of Soviet dissidents to invade the Soviet Union.
The immediate relevance of this debate is not only the threat to Poland but "the threat to international peace and security," in the words of the UN Charter , which a Soviet invasion of Poland would clearly raise. It is no doubt the agonizing Soviet recognition of the extremely disagreeable political consequences of intervention, inside Poland and vis-a-vis the rest of the world, which has caused the Kremlin to hesitate for eight months and to try to accomplish its purposes by intimidation rather than by overt invasion.
Mr. Brezhnev's ambivalent speech in Prague earlier this month suggests that the yo-yo is still spinning indecisively and that the Polish communist leadership is to be accorded a little more time to get its house in order, that is, to control Solidarity and suppress the more radical dissidents.
The next critical point may well occur during coming weeks while the Polish communist party conducts by secret ballotm elections for delegates to its forthcoming party congress. If the Kremlin should judge that a majority of reformers, committed to major changes in the Polish social system, is likely to be elected, it might decide that the loss of the party on top of the loss of the working class would be intolerable. Without the party under its thumb, covert indirect control might no longer be a viable alternative to overt armed intervention. It was at a comparable point -- while Czech party elections were being prepared -- that the Soviets moved into Czechoslovakia.
We need not rehearse all the arguments pro and con over which the Politburo must obviously be cudgelling its collective brain. Three points do, however, seem worth making.
The first is that the security argument, which is almost certainly paramount in their minds, is double-edged. Certainly a loss of control of Poland, which is in a sense the kingpin in the Warsaw Pact, essential to their line of communications to East Germany, and perhaps to their whole position in Central and Eastern Europe, is very difficult to swallow. On the other hand, if the Kremlin has any understanding of the Polish temperament, it must understand that military invasion of Poland would inevitably lead to bloodshed on a scale impossible to predict and to such hatred of the Soviets as would make the Polish Army no longer a viable component of the Warsaw Pact forces and would ensure that the line of communications in case of war would run through hostile territory. It is to be hoped the Kremlin might conclude that even diluted political control of the Polish scene was preferable to control that had to rest exclusively on bayonets.
The second point is that the US and other Western powers should continue to hammer home privately to the Soviets the undeniable fact that an invasion of Poland would put Soviet-Western relations, including economic relations, into cold storage for an indefinite time. However, this does not mean that it is useful to raise political temperatures every few days by advertising increased Soviet military preparations. This sort of campaign merely contributes to Soviet intimidation of the Poles. There would seem, on the other hand, to be every reason why we should, privately andm publicly, intimate to the Soviets that they cannot have their cake and eat it too, that they cannot expect to retain the implied recognition by the US and the West of the postwar status quo in Central and Eastern Europe, to which they attach such importance, if they are at the same time violating that status quo in the most outrageous fashion.
Finally, it should not be forgotten that the Kremlin has applied the Brezhnev doctrine not only in Europe vis-a-vis its allies but elsewhere, and linked it to its long-standing support of "wars of national liberation," arrogating to itself the right to decide if and when it shall militarily intervene in third-world countries, directly or by proxy, in support of governments of factions, which are "socialist" in name only.
If the Brezhnev doctrine is to be curbed or "redefined," which I believe is essential to the reestablishment of constructive relations between the two superpowers, in regard to arms control or anything else, it must be done not only in Europe but worldwide. Far better that it be done by the Kremlin itself, recognizing the changed circumstances which it is now encountering, than by a series of dangerous US-Soviet military buildups, confrontations, and face-downs in many of the trouble spots around the globe.