Moscow's 'bad neighbor policy'

Marvelously, as though by order of the Court Chamberlain, there was no more killing in Lebanon or Israel to mar or divert attention from the pageantry of the royal wedding in London.

Nor was there the same tension in and around Poland which has for months kept the diplomatic world in an anguish of concern. Soviet troops around Poland had stood down, gone back to barracks, resumed a peacetime routine.

Of course, the abatement of tension and danger in the Middle East and Poland was in no way connected with events in London, nor indeed was it marvelous.

It took strenuous efforts by many people to induce Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to suspend his military offensive against the Palestinians in southern Lebanon. And vastly more effort by more people was involved in the fact that Moscow has apparently decided, at least for now, to spare Poland what it had previously done to Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

And there were plenty of other difficulties around the world that failed to dissolve for the day of the royal wedding. In Belfast IRA prison inmates continued to starve themselves. Unemployment continued to cause unrest in the slums of Britain's depressed industrial cities. Soviet, soldiers still fought Afghan rebels. The Iraq-Iran war fumbled along while Iranian politicians in office continued executing Iranian politicians wishing they were in office.

But Mr. Begin had been induced (by arguments not yet disclosed) to halt his offensive against the Palestinians. And this reopened the possibility of a new beginning in the old effort to build a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arabs.

More remarkable because less predictable is the current behavior of the Soviet state. Soviet armies invaded Afghanistan on Dec. 24, 1979. That is now a little over a year and a half ago. During that space of time Moscow has not opened a single new venture of the type that upsets the rest of the world by implying Soviet expansionism.

There are still Soviet holding operations in places like Angola, which has not yet slipped out from under Soviet tutelage backed by Cuban troops. There are still Soviet advisers as well as Cuban troops in Ethiopia. Moscow still sustains the economy of Vietnam and still underwrites the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia.

But not one of these operations has expanded since the invasion of Afghanistan. And no new venture has been undertaken. Why?

At the Yalta conference which came just at the end of World War II (and close to the end of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's life), Mr. Roosevelt took Soviet Prime Minister Joseph Stalin aside and gave him a long, earnest talk about the virtues of practicing "the good neighbor policy."

The American President recounted United States experience with its Latin neighbors to the south. He explained how US relations with its neighbors had improved since Washington had given up interference in the internal affairs of the neighbors, brought home the Marines, and allowed those neighbors to go their own natural political ways.

Mr. Roosevelt's hope was that Stalin would apply that lesson to the Soviet Union's own neighbors in the postwar era.

It was a pious hope. If Stalin listened, he certainly did not let the Roosevelt lesson interfere with his own plans and operations. He imposed governments trained in Moscow on all the countries "liberated" by Soviet armies as the German tide receded. He looted German and Chinese factories. He took what he pleased wherever his armies went.

Now is the time of harvest. Has Moscow made friends of any of its neighbors? None.

The peoples of East Europe are all striving, each after their fashion, for such independence as they can achieve without risking the Soviet Army crashing down on them as it once did in Hungary, and again in Czechoslovakia. This means that if Moscow had used its soldiers in Poland, it would by so doing have increased anxiety everywhere else around the periphery of its empire.

Moscow's heavy hand has made a bitter enemy of communist China, even to the point that the Chinese have allowed Americans to monitor Soviet nuclear weaponry from Chinese territory. Moscow's heavy-handed operation in Afghanistan has caused the still-free countries of southern Asia and the Gulf area to draw farther away.

Moscow commands enormous military power. One feature of the past 30 years has been Moscow's theoretical capability of invading Western Europe from East Germany. Does that capability still exist? Could Moscow trust Poland to be a loyal ally if Soviet tanks pushed westward?

On every front there seems now to be a question of actual as opposed to theoretical Soviet military capability. Might Soviet troops invade Pakistan? If they did, they would have untamed Afghans astride the supply lines to the troops on the far side.

Might the Soviets invade Iran? If they did, they would run into the world's worst case of fundamentalist Islamic fanaticism. Washington would be happy to explain what that can mean.

Over this past week the Soviets did nothing to upset everyone's enjoyment of the romantic spectacle in London. There was a reason. Not the wedding itself, but 30 years of being a bad neighbor to one's neighbors. Note to readers In Thursday's editions a story on Iran's former President Bani-Sadr started on Page 1 but, due to a mistake on deadline, was not completed inside the paper. Similarly, a "Pattern of Diplomacy" column by Joseph C. Harsch lost its front-page section. The Bani-Sadr story is repeated in full here and the Harsch column appears on Page 22. The Monitor regrets the error. m

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