Strategy for countering the Soviet threat

Game Plan: How to Manage the US-Soviet Contest, by Zbigniew Brzezinski. Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press. 230 pp. $17.95. ``During the last two decades, the Soviet Union has been defeated in ideological and in economic competition with the United States. Consequently, the remaining task for America is not to lose in the military competition and then to prevail in the geopolitical one.'' It is on the basis of the import of this statement that the author has written ``Game Plan.''

In a striking phrase, Brzezinski -- whose view of the present situation is shared by an increasing number of Western experts -- describes the Soviet Union as ``a giant with steel hands but rotten innards. It can crush in its grip weaker opponents but a spreading corrosion is eating away at its system.''

The hard facts in support of this devastating judgment are legion. Virtually everywhere, except in the least developed of countries (Ethiopia, Nicaragua, South Yemen, etc.), the Soviet political and economic example has lost and continues to lose influence. There is deep and growing discontent within the USSR's Eastern European empire, and even local communist regimes are showing increasing restiveness.

In 1970, the Soviet Communist Party officially promised to soon pass the US in economic achievement; yet in the mid-1980s, North America, with only two-thirds the population of the Soviet Union and its European dependencies, had a gross national product that was a crushing 43 percent higher. In bald terms, except in military power, the USSR remains primarily a third-world nation.

It is Brzezinski's conclusion that, with intelligent, steadfast, long-range planning, the US can almost certainly prevail in any long-term competition with the USSR in the military as well as in the ideological competition around the globe. Unfortunately, such planning is exactly what neither the US nor the West has yet been able to evolve. The former perennial Soviet foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko, spoke a sad truth when he said of his democratic adversaries that ``the absence of a solid, coherent, and consistent policy is their big flaw.''

To accomplish the task of prevailing over an opponent that remains insatiably acquisitive where other nations' territories and rights are concerned, the US, in Brzezinski's opinion, should take four major steps. The executive and legislative branches of the government must join in mutually agreed-upon, long-range planning. The executive branch must stop countering the Soviet threat with mere tactical moves and evolve strategic responses. The US must become far more perceptive in regard to what can and cannot be done to contain Soviet expansionism. And a most important step is to further encourage ``the emergence of a more self-reliant Europe'' and similar development in areas such as southwest Asia and the Far East. All the while, it is crucial for the United States to maintain its great, countervailing military might.

This is a persuasive study based on Brzezinski's long experience with Soviet-American relations as a scholar and as President Carter's national security adviser. It is at once encouraging and sobering, depending upon how intelligently we believe America will respond to the continuing Soviet challenge.

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