WE are all familiar with the reasons the United States and the Soviet Union dislike and distrust each other and hence find themselves engaged in a rivalry of the kind that too often in times past has led to war. In the interest of proportion and perspective, let us for a moment dwell on some of the other factors that might help the two superpowers climb out of the trough of tension and mutual recrimination which has caused so much trouble and is dangerous to the peace of the world.
First, the two great superpowers live on separate continents. While their territorial frontiers come close on the opposite sides of the Bering Strait, few people live up there on the Arctic Circle. The overwhelming mass of their peoples live far away from each other.
Second, there is no common frontier, hence no frontier in dispute. Neither has any territorial claim on the other. Nor are they in the way of each other's natural path of expansion. US expansion has been westward. Russian expansion has been eastward. Between them is the Pacific Ocean and the mass of China, which acts as a deep buffer between them.
Third, the US and USSR are the two most self-sufficient countries in the world in terms of raw materials and territory. Both could be, and should be, self-sufficient in all food products. By accident, their few lacks are identical. Neither has natural rubber, tin, or quinine. Hence neither could acquire what it lacks by conquering the other.
Throughout history the main reasons for wars have been territory and raw materials. Many an empire, particularly the British and Japanese, reflected a reach for access to raw materials lacking in the home country. Neither Britain or Japan can feed itself from its own territory. The US has always been a food-exporting country. Russia once was, and could be again. The Soviets export oil. The US once did, and is now importing less oil.
The US dislikes the way the Soviet government treats minority populations in general and political dissenters in particular. But Russian governments have used slave labor camps since early czarist times. They populated Siberia that way. And they have always (by Western standards) mistreated political dissenters. This was no barrier to cooperative relations in times past when the two had common interests.
The US dislikes communism, which is the new authorized and established religion of the Soviet Union. But Russia in czarist times had its own special religion, the Russian Orthodox branch of the Christian Church. Religious differences can cause wars, but do not necessarily do so. The US coexists peacefully with many Muslim, Buddhist, and other dissimilar cultures.
The US dislikes the way the Soviets treat their smaller neighbors, particularly the Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, and other peoples of Eastern Europe who live under indirect Soviet rule.
The US has traditionally disliked the way the British have treated the Irish, but that has not prevented Britain from becoming the closest American ally.
The main cause of friction between the two superpowers is the fact that there are only the two of the kind. The absence of other powers of similar size and strength makes the two hyper conscious of each other and of the dissimilarities in their cultures and customs.
This leads to the second cause of friction. Being nearly equal in size, potential wealth, and actual military power, each automatically seeks the advantages that would give it a larger sense of security from the other. Thus they are rivals for recruits to their imperial systems.
The reasonable conclusion from the above is that there exist between the United States and the Soviet Union few of the classic reasons which in times past have led to wars. The only real reason is rivalry for allies and clients. Statesmanship should be able to surmount this problem. Respect by each for the security of the other could produce a mutually tolerable condition of coexistence.