Selling (out) to the Soviets

Lenin predicted more than 60 years ago that when the time came to hang the last capitalist, the businessmen would sell the communists the rope.

I doubt even Lenin suspected we would also lend them the money to buy the rope.

Americans are tightening their belts in the face of an unprecedented budget crisis, a crisis aggravated by our need to spend billions of additional dollars on defense in order to counter the enormous Soviet military buildup.

Our economic troubles would not be so severe if we weren't financing two military budgets: our own and a significant portion of the Soviets'.

It is hard to put a price on the burden heaped on our taxpayers by our reckless trade policies with the Soviet Union. But if it weren't for these policies, we probably wouldn't need the MX missile or the B-1 bomber to counter Soviet weapons we provided the wherewithal to build.

In just the last ten years the US and other Western nations have sold the Soviet Union and its satellites more than $50 billion worth of sophisticated technical equipment that the communists could not produce themselves. This equipment has been used to produce nuclear missiles, tanks and armored cars, spy satellites and air defense radars.

In addition, the Soviets have been able to purchase entire factories, designed and built by Western engineers and financed in large part by American and European banks. Much of the production of these factories is devoted to the manufacture of military transport, ammunition, and other logistical items for the Soviet war machine.

It is hard to overestimate the extent to which the West has contributed to the military threat that endangers its very existence. Consider:

* In the mid-1970s, the Soviets began unveiling a new generation of ICBMs which were ten times more accurate than their predecessors, and which, for the first time, were capable of carrying multiple warheads. These missiles could not have been built if American firms hadn't sold the Soviets the precision grinding equipment, miniaturized electronics, and sophisticated computers essential to construction of their guidance systems.

* The Soviets are buying array processors from a firm in Houston. They are supposed to be used to detect pools of oil beneath the ocean floor but can also be used to detect our submarines. We have evidence the Soviets are mounting them on their antisubmarine warfare ships.

* The Soviets would have great difficulty maintaining their forces in Afghanistan or in posing a threat to the Persian Gulf if American and other West European firms hadn't built for them three huge truck plants -- Kama River, Zil, and Gorki -- at which virtually all Soviet military trucks are built. These plants, designed by Western engineers and run by American computers, also manufacture mobile missile launchers, engines for armored personnel carriers, and components of the new Soviet tank, the T-72.

Part of the blame for this sorry state of affairs rests with companies who value private profit above preservation of the free society that makes private profit possible. But the real blame rests with a false notion we have had about the allegedly civilizing and pacifying value of trade and cultural ties with the Soviets. We have believed that the more we traded with them, the more inclined they would become to peaceful cooperation.

But that has never been the Soviet view. Soviet Communist Party boss Leonid Brezhnev told Warsaw Pact leaders in Prague in 1972 that detente was a means of lulling the West into a false sense of security that would make possible Soviet military domination of the world by the mid-1980s.

The Soviet military buildup has not happened in spite of detente. It has happened because of it.

In the original French, detente means: ''relaxation of tension, as in a rope.'' The Soviets see it as the rope with which they intend to hang us. And we're already more than halfway up the scaffold.

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