On Reagan, war, and peace

While the internatinoal sitiuation today does not warrant a sterling appraisal of the Reagan record, a fully matured Ragan foreign policy might cause him to be ranked . . . at the forefront of American presidents.

Ronald Reagan modeled his campaign on the Kennedy 1960 effort. Alleging the existence of a "window of vulnerability," the Republican nominee criticized the SALT process and said we must build up dramatically our nuclear capabilites before we can seriously consider negotiating arms restraints with the Soviet Union. The fact that we had more nuclear warheads in our arsenal and possessed a far superior sea- and air-based second-strike capacity than the Soviets was lost on a body politic grown weary of Carteresque indecision.

Now, even the head of the President's Commission on Strategic Forces, Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, has admitted the fallacy of the "window of vulnerability." When we have the capacity to destroy the Soviet Union, if not the globe, many times over, ther is no such notion as strategic force inferiority. . .

In terms of record, the 1,000 days of the Kennedy and Reagan administrations contain many parallels, some reflecting better on one, some the other. In voilation of internanal law and military logic, Kennedy sent Hessian-like forces on a fruitless foray at the Bay of Pigs. Also underestimating the power of 20 th-century nationalism, the Reagan administration has funded a covert war of terror against the Scandinista revolutionaries in Nicaragua.

Perhaps the greatest blemish on the Kennedy record is Vietnam. In an effort to put behind what right-wing strategists term the Vietnam syndrome -- the alleged paralysis of leadership on issues of use of force abroad -- the Reagan adminstration has sent advisers to El Salvador, a "peacekeeping" force to Beirut , and overturned a Cuban-sympathizing insurrection in Grenada.

While the viability of great power interventionism in the las half of the 20 th century is in increasing doubt, the Reagan administraton at least has not fallen prey to the domino theory of decisionmaking that caused the Kennedy-Johnson-Nixon administrations to seek antidotes for failed policies in doubling of the ante.

Fifty American soldiers in El Salvador, while profoundly counterporductive, is far better than the 550,000 that once served in Vietnam.

The intervention in Grenada appears likely to be a footnote to the history of the region, similar to Lyndon Johnson's dispersal of troops to the Dominican Republic. So, it is hoped, will the Beirut involvement, but in an area of millennialong conflict, the reminder is omnipresent that World War I was sparked by a terrorist act in a rather obscure part of Europe. The conflict in Lebanon is sui generis,m but analogies to the Balkans are great enough for the utmost caution to be urged on all parties, especially the super powers. . .

In strategic terms the first blink in the nuclear age occurred with the Cuban missile crisis. Because, in partial measure at least, there was no missile gap, Khrushchiv backed down. Now, and for the forseeable future, effective United Soviet-Soviet nuclear parity is likely to be the norm. No matter how much we devote to defense spnding, we can never return to a wishful would where US forces are invulnerable to nuclear countermeasures. The prospects of one side or the other winning eyeball-to-eyeball showdowns is thus minuscule. Mutuality of inerest rather than displays of coercive will is the sine qua non of arms control as well as of effective conflict resolution. Brinkmanship of the type that occurred over Cuban in 1962 is unlikely to be repeated again. Accordingly, the escalation in the arms race implied in the decision of the administration to accelerate rather than decelerate deployment of the Pershing IIs and ground-launced cruise missiles in Europe appears unprecedented in its potential madness.

The full implictions of the Soviet walkout of the INF talks may be unclear because the prospect for reasoned compromise is still real. But the question must be asked: Why the hurry to deploy? The Soviets. . . are surely not as eager as their rhetoric might imply to install new forward-based missile systems in satelite countrie, the long-term loyalty of which remain in doubt.

The problem is that Soviet authorities have been backed into a corner rather than allowed than to march in step with the United States to a meeting of the minds. While they do not want NATO to deploy new systems, particularly in West Germnay, they do not want to be perceived as blinking again. Hence their warning that new NATO deployments wold be matched by Warsaw Pact countermeasures , including a closer-range encirclement of the US, presumably for submarines and new missile installations in eastern Siberia.

The Russians should not be asked to blink but, on a respectful basis, to shake hands. On the merits of the issue, compromises would appear possible on both sides. but the rhetoric must be reframed.

Reagan's problems with the Senate, in one regard at least, are not likely to be the same as his immediate predecessor's. As has been noted often, he has the confidence of that sector of american public opinion which has historically beenskeptical of arms control agreements.Having opposed at one time or another all arms accords that have been signed with the Soviet Union, including Kennedy's limited test ban and the strikingly modest approach contaned in Carter's SALT II, President Reagan would seem well positioned to argue he is not about to give away the store. Any agreement he deems worthy of signing would almost certainly receive the two-thirds vote necessary for Senate ratification. Like Nixion going to China, Reagn can go to leningrad and initiate a new era in East-West relations.

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.