Two words have become part of the lexicon of United States statements on relations with the Soviet Union: ''behavior'' and ''restraint.'' In Secretary Shultz's recent presentation to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he said that a peaceful world requires ''that Moscow's behavior be subject to the restraint appropriate to living together on this planet in the nuclear age.''
Such words were common in the Carter administration as well. Whatever their origin, they suggest a misleading vision of both the circumstances and the solutions of our problems with the Russians.
''Behavior'' has a judgmental ring. It implies that we are going beyond the acknowledgment that the Soviet Union, by its actions, has damaged what we consider to be our global and security interests. We are suggesting that the Soviet Union, by its pursuit of its interests, is violating some widely accepted code of international conduct.
Except where agreements exist between us, no such fully applicable code exists. That which we consider aggression the Russians may regard as a response to requests from friends. The Soviet Union, being the serious power that it is, is less likely to adjust its actions if it believes that, by so doing, it is acknowledging guilt through departure from some imprecise international norms.
''Restraint'' implies that the Soviet Union, in all of the cases the US has put on the agenda, including Poland, Afghanistan, Cambodia, southern Africa, and Central America, is likely to cease or curtail actions involving other parties because of its apprehension over America's rising power and condemnation of its ''behavior.'' This premises as realistic circumstances in which the Soviet Union unilaterally ignores opportunities, turns its back on traditional allies, withdraws support from liberation movements, and gives up the political and foreign exchange benefits of its vast arms sales.
Secretary Shultz listed four areas where ''restraint'' is sought: the quest for military superiority, Soviet involvement in ''unstable'' areas of the developing world, efforts to impose a Soviet model on Soviet clients, and the ''stretching of treaties and agreements to the brink of violation and beyond.'' He acknowledged at the same time that the US cannot influence all the factors that determine Soviet behavior. Implied in this and other similar statements, whether intended or not, is the position that the US cannot proceed to serious negotiations with the Soviets on matters of major importance unless there is some prior demonstration of ''restraint.''
One problem with this approach is that there is no apparent ordering of priorities. Clearly the Soviet capacity to change its policies is greater in those areas totally within its control. The requirement for restraint will be easier to fulfill in theory where there are no obligations to third parties. In the use of these terms and in the listing of the evidences of adverse behavior, however, is the suggestion that, even if the US negotiates on significant bilateral issues, they cannot be brought to a conclusion or presented for ratification until there are marked changes in the perceived Soviet patterns in the developing world. This raises the vision of an arms control agreement held hostage to the still unresolved and tangled problems, for example, of southern Africa. The two are not of equal magnitude on the scale of threats to American security and well-being.
A second problem is the very real possibility that, if the US presses for Soviet restraint as it perceives it, the Soviets will have their own list of US ''behavior.'' As with the Jupiter missiles in the Cuban missile talks and the many issues raised in the abortive Indian Ocean talks with the Soviets a few years ago, the US will find itself talking with the Soviets about its friends and its ''behavior'' in the developing areas of the world. In some areas, such as the Middle East, the Russians' actions are due in part to their feeling of exclusion from decisons in an area of vital interest to them. Urging restraint upon them in this area is almost certain to be followed by proposals from them that they be a party to broad talks about the future of the region. Are we prepared for that?
It is in the American character to see the world in simple terms. When we are not viewing it as a cowboy movie, we view it as an ordered society in which others are expected to adhere to a code of conduct of our devising. Not even our allies accept that picture; they have been too long immersed in the shifting contests for power that have marked centuries of European history.
The Soviet Union and the United States are two major powers with very different views of their interests and of the world. The nuclear age requires that we find patterns of existence, through an understanding of how the Soviets think and work, and through continuing efforts to adjust our basic differences. This will not be accomplished by linking the very basic problems of existence to complicated peripheral issues involving other parties or by waiting for a hard and ruthless power to behave with restraint according to our code.
Evidence of such restraint will undoubtedly be necessary before serious agreements with the Soviets are accepted by the American public and the Congress , but it is unrealistic to demand such evidence before we sit down to explore a more stable relationship.