This year saw the US extend its military onto four continents

World affairs in 1983 saw the United States on the military offensive on four continents, the Soviet Union mostly on the defensive, China quietly working toward a middle position between the two, and Israel, for the first time in its history, overextended and trying to get back to safe ground. NATO held together in spite of the strain of new missile deployment.

Most of the year's spectacular headlines were about US armed forces on the move. More were used on missions outside the US than in any previous year since the last Americans left Saigon.

US marines were in Lebanon at the beginning of the year on a "peacekeeping" mission. By the end of the year they were backed by a US naval armada offshore and taking and returning fire almost daily. During the year other US forces conducted extended "training missions" in Honduras next door to Nicaragua, and in Egypt, where the Rapid Deployment Force came into being.

Also during the year, a sudden US combat landing cleared Cuban and other Soviet-bloc people out of Grenada. Earlier, a US air mission hurried to Sudan to bolster the defenses of Chad.

And 1983 was also the year when the first of the new generation of intermediate-range US missiles arrived in Europe. NATO governments in West Europe had been bracing for the event. Moscow propaganda worked overtime during the year to whip up antideployment sentiment. But the first US cruise missiles arrived in England on Nov. 14 to be followed shortly by others there and in Sicily. Meanwhile, the first of the Pershing II missiles landed in West Germany.

Protesters stirred up all possible political opposition. But the deployment went off as scheduled. The NATO alliance survived the storm.

The fabric was strained by the ordeal. There was damage. The West German Social Democratic Party, which until this year had backed the alliance and supported the new missile deployment, went over into the opposition on the deployment issue.

There was doubt at year's end about the condition of the NATO alliance. The big question was: Could the NATO governments convince their people that the new US missiles increased, rather than decreased, their security? If not, that immediate "victory" of successful deployment could rapidly turn to a long-term political liability.

Western Europe remains structurally and contractually allied to the US. But plainly the European members were determined to say more about the alliance's leadership and guidance. France became more active in alliance affairs during the year, but more by strengthening its direct ties to West Germany than by greater closeness to Washington.

It would be fair to say that by the end of the year the allies in Western Europe had declined to follow the US away from "detente." That condition, dating from the Nixon-Kissinger era, had long since become a bad word in Washington. It was being cultivated during 1983 most openly by West Germany, but also by all the Europeans. The sea change that has marked the relationship between Washington and the West European capitals during the year was paralleled by China. US Secretary of State George Shultz went to Peking in early February to try to explain away the fact that Washington is still delivering a steady supply of modern weapons to Taiwan. He agreed to resume "high-level" military talks with the Chinese and was vigorous in proclaiming US acceptance of the government in Peking as being the only government of China.

But a Soviet delegation was quietly received in Peking during the summer. Its chief delegate was given a conducted tour of the show places of China by a Chinese deputy foreign minister, an unusual courtesy these days. A communique issued when the Soviets departed on Oct. 29 announced that, although differences remained between the two countries, they would "expand" exchanged and trade.

In other words, China is beginning to "normalize" its relations with Moscow after years of a "cold war" that had broken out on several occasions into actual border fighting. Peking is obviously working itself quietly and gently into a middle or almost buffer position between the US and the Soviet Union.

The change in China's posture between the two found expression late in the year in maneuvering over high-level visits. It had been arranged that China's prime minister would visit Washington in January and President Reagan would go to Peking in April. So far as Washington is concerned, the exchange is still on. But Peking kept raising questions about it in public. Washington is more eager for the visits than is Peking.

Moscow during 1983 was busy trying to hang on to its Eastern European satellites, trying to head off if possible the deployment of the new American weapons in Europe, and trying to consolidate its grip on Afghanistan.

The fourth year of Soviet military intrusion into Afghanistan brought no change there. The Afghans themselves were just as active as ever in resisting the Soviet occupation. Pacification is far away.

The most spectacular event in East-West relations during the year was the Soviet shooting down of a Korean airliner which had strayed into Soviet airspace. A spasm of fear and anger swept the West. President Reagan used strong language in his condemnation and assumed the deed had been done deliberately in knowledge that the plane was a civilian airliner.

But Mr. Reagan did not cancel the new five-year US grain deal with the Soviets that had been signed on Aug. 25. Nor did he reapply the sanctions that had been used over the natural gas pipeline affair of the previous year and lifted along with the grain deal.

At the end of the year the Soviets had broken off all talks with the US about arms limitations nd control. However, it was generally assumed that Washington and Moscow were reviewing their arms control positions preparatory to a new start sometime in 1984.

One of the biggest changes during 1983 was in the condition of Israel. It had invaded Lebanon the year before, hoping to win a friendly neighbor and trading partner on its north and decimate the Palestine Liberation Organization. During the year, mounting costs and public opinion -- both internal and external -- forced it to pull back from the edge of Beirut itself to a zone south of the Awali River. By year's end it began to seem doubtful that it could hold on to any part of Lebanon.

Menachem Begin had resigned in midsummer as his policies and his health appeared to crumble. Public opinion at home and vital support from the Jewish community in the US had fallen away from him.

The end of 1983 finds Israel even thinking of reviving the Reagan Mideast peace plan of 1982, and President Reagan under mounting pressure to take the US marines out of Lebanon. The Middle East was proving as intractable to Washington wishes as Vietnam once was.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.