The big choice in US foreign policy

President Carter's foreign policy makers clashed over whether the Russians were to be resisted or appeased. Afghanistan and the American electorate resolved the issue. Now the Reagan administration is struggling over the next question: not whether but how to oppose the Russians, and with whom? Should we go it alone with whoever chooses to follow our lead or should we seek a "strategic consensus," a marriage of convenience with ideological incompatibles?

The go-it-alone line is strongest among the White House staff, sensitive to the political clout of Jesse Helms and the new right. For the latter it is all red and white. Fight "communism" at home, "totalitarianism" abroad. Foreign assistance, Exim bank credits, and international regulations (from sea mining to baby formula) are "state interferences." South Africa, Taiwan, Israel, South Korea, and Latin American generals are old reliables. The third-worlders who scold us in internationals forums merit only contempt.

For the State Department, now clearly in the foreign policy driver's seat, this is excess ideological baggage for a strategically weakened America in need of time and allies. "Old reliables" must be balanced against the urgency of new ones: South Africa against black Africa's desires for a namibian settlement, the West bank against a "strategic consensus of Arab and Jew." Recently a high State Department official disclosed that we shall now "treat China as a friendly non-aligned less- developed country and no longer as a member of the international communist conspiracy." That is to say, as a third-world of "southern" country, not an "eastern" one.

This refinement of the original stark East- West approach to the Soviet danger is in part the product of a developing consensus with Europe. Secretary Haig last month signed the Rome communique of NATO foreign ministers which asserted that genuine nonalignment is an important factor for stability in the world. Haig's friend, German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, has been arguing that genuine nonalignment now favors the West, not the East. The new French foreign minister, Claude Cheysson, in town recently for talks with Haig, proposes, to consume Euroneutralism in a burning Western commitment to third-world equity and development.

Such a strategic line would have been unthinkable a few years ago when the US was running amok in Vietnam, Iran, Chile, and Santo domingo. But most third-world countries today feel more threatened by the new Soviet colonialism. That self-advertised "natural ally" of national liberation now supplies forces which suppress liberation movements in Ethiopia, partition Chad, occupy Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Angola, and menace Poland. The national liberation movements par excellencem of our time are directed against Soviet imperialism.

That such movements survive and flourish, against all odds and forecasts, is testimony to the fact that Soviet expansionism has aroused the most potent force in modern history, peoples struggling for their independence. These movements march under miscellaneous banners -- Islam, Roman Catholic, African Socialist, even Marxist-Leninist -- but it is they and not the anticommunists in Washington who are giving the Soviets fits right now. Our most potent contribution to the anti-Soviet struggle is political and military assistance to nonaligned movements and countries in the line of fire. The only winning combination against Soviet power will be such joint resistance.

In the Rome NATO communique supporting non-alignment there was a quiet omission. That document advocated "political settlements" in the third world, specifying "sensitive areas" such as the Middle East, Southeast and Southwest Asia, and southern Africa. Unmentioned was Central America, certainly not because it did not qualify as a "sensitive area," but because there the US is at odds with Europe and the nonaligned, who have been jointly promoting a negotiated political settlement in El Salvador. Recently the administration has become more appreciative of the roles which the Europeans, Venezuelans, and Mexicans play in the region. Their participation has been solicited for a "mini- Marshall plan." But most of them will not be satisfied by a program offering no political settlement in El Salvador or with Nicaragua.

Certain not to be satisfied is our recent visitor from the nonaligned third world.Jose Lopez Portillo. The Mexican President believes that the Central American President revolutions are the birth pangs of friendly less-developed countries and not part of "an international communist conspiracy."

President Reagan knows as well as anyone that consensus comes about through give- and-take. Thus the capacity patiently to listen and to learn, carefully to distinguish common interests, justly to differentiate friend from enemy, is now at a premium. Independent friends have their own views and ways. How genuine is the administration's support for genuine nonalignment? El Salvador (and Namibia) will test the administration's commitment to strategic consensus.

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