Last Sunday on "Face The Nation" Secretary of State Haig was asked when the deterioration in US relations with the Soviet Union began. He replied: "Well, I think the basic problem started, perhaps, as early as Angola, 1976. This has transgressed through Ethiopia, southern Yemen, northern Yemen, the two phases of Afghanistan which finds 80,000 Soviet forces occupying that country today, the invasion of Kampuchea by a Soviet proxy, North Vietnam. . . ."
The secretary's statement suggests that he may see these issues as the centerpiece of any future discussions with the Soviet Union. The establishment of Soviet influence in these countries is clearly adverse to the strategic interests of the United States. To make the resolution of these third-world problems a condition to other agreements with the Soviets, however, raises some serious questions.
Unless much work has been done in the last few months, it is unlikely that there exists anywhere in the US planning structure a realistic approach that would induce the Soviets to reduce their involvement in these areas apart from a resolution of the conditions that brought them there. It is not likely that they will simply "walk out."
If the experience of the past administration is any guide, the Soviets would refuse to discuss their relations with other countries in a bilateral US-Soviet session.
If a form of pressure were found to force such a discussion, the Soviets would be likely to raise questions of US security assistance programs to nations such as Pakistan and Thailand. The US could refuse to do so, but the result could be a stalemate.
The situations listed by the secretary, except for Afghanistan, do not represent a simple pattern of Soviet conquest. Other countries and sovereignties are involved which may not be prepared easily to accept Soviet dictates. The origins of Soviet influence are varied and often complex.Finally, solutions to a number of the issues are already being addressed.
The Afghan situation clearly requires a Soviet troop withdrawal. It also requires an understanding with the Afghans, the Soviets, and the neighboring states regarding the regime that will follow. Continued support for the Islamic nations in their refusal to accept the present situation offers the best path to a solution.
The Cuban forces in Angola are the result of many factors: America's initial coolness and Soviet support for the principal Angolan liberation movements; the unresolved political situation in the country; Namibia; and the South African raids. These are being addressed in the effort to find a Namibian solution.
The Cuban troops in Ethiopia re tolerated, if not welcomed, by neighboring African states, including pro-West Kenya, which share Ethiopia's fear of Somali incursions. That difficult area is best addressed as a regional, not a Soviet-US problem.
The leftist government in southern Yemen is a product of peninsula intrigue and a British decision to favor leftist labor leaders over pro-Nasser forces at the time of independence. As the United States learned in 1978, Saudi Arabia's ambivalent attitude toward both Yemens makes the resolution of political circumstances in these countries more complicated than a simple strategic explanation would suggest.
The Kampuchean issue is as tangled as any. Its roots lie not only in Soviet activities, but in age-old enmity between the Kampuchean and Vietnamese peoples. The US has already agreed to support efforts of the ASEAN countries to hold an international conference.
Certainly, in discussions with the Soviets, the US must make clear that continued Soviet activities in these third-world areas make the climate unfavorable for the acceptance of new agreements by the US public. The US may also want to urge Soviet support for the international efforts to resolve the issues.
Presumably America's primary objective -- and that of its allies -- in talks with the Soviets will be to address the larger issue of the buildup of Soviet strategic arms. The hope for a satisfactory outcome of such discussions would be diminished if the US holds them formally hostage to the resolution of complicated regiona l issues in Asia and Africa.