Reagan muscle-flexing: policy or posture?
Whether it is "foreign policy" is a question that has the experts arguing and baffled. Some prefer to call it a bristling posture. But be it posture or policy, the Reagan administration is doing a lot of things in a lot of parts of the world that are stirring things up.
"It" all began on Wednesday, Aug. 19, when United States jets went into air space claimed (contrary to traditional international law) by Libyan plane sent up to drive the Americans away.
A week later, on Aug. 26, a US reconnaissance plane entered offshore air space claimed (again contrary to traditional international law) by North Korea. The North Koreans sent up a surface-to-air missile. Washington warned that if there is any repetition of such interference with its reconnaissance flights, "It will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the safety of our planes and pilots."
On Monday, Aug. 31, American diplomacy startled friends and allies, and apparently delighted Moscow, by vetoing a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning South Africa for its substantial invasion of Angola during the previous week.
Meanwhile, the administration sent 21 American "military advisers" to Honduras, proposed sending military support to Guatemala, and talked of sending more military support to the regime in El Salvador. This last move came as France and Mexico recognized the "insurgency" of the opposition forces in El Salvador.
Add to the list of new Washington initiatives toward Central America a proposal by Jeane Kirkpatrick, US ambassador at the United Nations, that the US train the police in Costa Rica against "communist subversion." Leaders of the Costa Rican government and opposition denied any serious danger and objected to the idea of US training for their police. Costa Rica is the most politically stable country in its area.
Friends and allied had no particular objection to the US assertion of "rights" in "international air space" near either the Libyan or North Korean coast, although they wondered whether it was really necessary. But the veto of the resolution against South Korea marked a sharp American break away from a policy that US itself, with the West European allies, had been pursuing for four years.
The former policy toward southern Africa was aimed at getting Soviet and Cuban troops out of Angola by first settling the question of Namibia. The idea was that if South Africa could be pushed, prodded, and persuaded into allowing a genuine black government to be set up in Namibia, as South Africa has long since promised, there would be an end to South African raids into Angola.
Then there would be less need by Angola for Soviet and Cuban troops.The raids have been going on for five years now in a bush war between South African troops and the Namibian guerrilla forces of SWAPO (South West Africa People's Organization), who operate from southern Angola.
In this bush war the SWAPO forces have been aided by the government of Angola , which is supported by Soviet and Cuban troops. The latest South African invasion of Angola was apparently intended to knock out missile batteries and radar stations recently moved into SWAPO terrority by Angola forces with Soviet and Cuban help.The South Africans have given help to the rebel Angolan forces of Jonas Savimbi.
The American veto in the Security Council represented a friendly gesture toward South Africa with overtones of approval of South African military pressure on Angola. It was in line with the idea that has been bouncing around inside the Reagan administration of joining South Africa in aid to the UNITA forces of Jonas Savimbi.
The net effect of tacit support for South Africa is to increase the Angolan government's dependence on Soviet and Cuban troops. According to current diplomtic thinking in London, Paris, and Bonn, any encouragement to South Africa merely prolongs the stay of Soviet and Cuban forces in Angola.
In missile weaponry the Reagan administration decision to proceed with the assembly of neutron bombs was taken without sufficient concern for the political problems of the Western allies, who are having to cope as best they can with a wave of emotional "antibomb" sentiment.
One net effect of all these examples of muscle flexing and independent actions by Washington is to put new strains on the NATO alliance. Another is to improve opportunities for Soviet operations in Central America and southern Africa. Any increase in South African pressure on Angola increases the dependence of Angola on Soviet and Cuban troops. Aid to the older and more conservative regimes in places like El Salvador increases the dependence of the opposition parties on Soviet or Cuban weapons.
When France and Mexico openly recognize the insurgency of the guerrilla opposition in El Salvador, they have disassociated themselves in a spectacular way from the new Reagan "hard line" toward Central America.
It seems doubtful that this accumulation of US initiatives reflects considered long-term foreign policy. It happened mostly while President Reagan himself was at his ranch in California and preoccupied with the disclosure of serious problems with his economic program.
Attention around the summer White House there was devoted to a strenuous and as-yet-incomplete search for ways of making further substantial cuts in the 1982 budget. It seems doubtful that anyone around the President was giving much careful thought to foreign policy.
A serious foreign policy would be, let us say, to work for the greater unity and strength of the NATO alliance. Current Reagan actions toward Central America and southern Africa seem to have the opposite effect. This must give satisfaction in Moscow.