SOMETIME within the next month, President Bush will issue a proclamation, required by law, designating the third week of July as ``Captive Nations Week'' and ``inviting the people of the United States to observe such week with appropriate ceremonies and activities.'' The law requiring this was passed by Congress with a whoop and a holler in the summer of 1959. The captive nations in question are listed as Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, Latvia, Estonia, White Ruthenia, Rumania (sic), mainland China (sic), Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, North Korea, Albania, Idel-Ural, Tibet, Cossackia, Turkestan, North Vietnam, ``and others.''
It is doubtful that any member of Congress knew then, or knows now, where all of these places are; but that did not stop Congress from asserting that ``the imperialistic policies of Communist Russia have led, through direct and indirect aggression, to the subjugation of [their] national independence.''
Even the Johnson administration found this proclamation such an embarrassment that Secretary of State Dean Rusk made informal (and unsuccessful) approaches to Congress to get it repealed. How much more awkward it is now.
The captive nations resolution illustrates two difficulties of current American foreign policy, one substantive and one procedural. The substantive difficulty has to do with the detritus left by the cold war. There is a large body of legislation and regulations designed for an age that is past and which get in the way of dealing with the present age.
The captive nations resolution was adopted when our interest would have been served by a breakup of the Soviet empire. It continues in force at a time when such a breakup would not be in our interest.
This is not to say that our interest requires the preservation of the present borders of the Soviet Union into the indefinite future. It is only to say that at this particular time of turmoil, our interest is better served by stability than by instability. The day may well come when we would want to see some changes, particularly in the Baltic states. Even Moscow might come to see such changes as in its interests. But not in this summer of 1990.
There is other detritus. The Foreign Assistance Act still lists 18 ``communist countries'' that are ineligible for American foreign aid. Several of these have recently overthrown their communist governments, and Congress is rushing to send aid to at least two of them, Poland and Hungary.
The Export Administration Act is up for renewal this year. Among other things, it sets up the mechanism and provides the criteria for controlling the export of strategic and critical materials to communist countries. As the legislation for its extension wends its way through Congress, with the Commerce Department leading the administration's lobbying effort, you would never know that most of the law is now at best irrelevant and at worst contrary to American concerns.
Other examples could be cited. One Washington lawyer has estimated that there are 600 pages of laws and regulations that were written to deal with the cold war and that now urgently need to be reviewed and, in many cases, repealed. Some of these are simply untidy; others could be serious impediments to improved superpower relations.
The procedural difficulty illustrated by the captive nations resolution is the increasing propensity of Congress to pander to ideological and ethnic special interests. The trouble is that as you placate one group, you offend another. Congress generally does not have to live with the offended group, but American diplomats do and American interests are involved.
In the face of a surprising filibuster over such an issue, earlier this year the Senate finally laid aside a resolution, offensive to the Turks, deploring the genocide of the Armenians in 1915.
Congress showed no such restraint in resolving that the capital of Israel should be Jerusalem, a position contrary to well-settled American policy, as well as the stand of the United Nations, for more than 20 years. This made Israelis and American Jews feel good, but it inflamed the Arabs and even the Iranians. (It would be hard to argue against irritating the Iranians except that they may hold the keys to the release of American hostages in Lebanon.)
With appropriate Soviet-bashing rhetoric, Congress proclaimed June 14, 1988, to be Baltic Freedom Day. Congress has also unburdened itself on religious freedom in the Ukraine, emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union, and the independence of such disparate countries as Finland, Cambodia, and Greece.
Some of these pronouncements are harmless; some are not. None deals with a problem that can be solved by legislation.
On a trip to the Middle East earlier this year, Senate minority leader Robert Dole was so taken aback by Arab reaction to the resolution acknowledging Jerusalem as the capital of Israel that he returned to Washington saying the resolution had been a mistake. Senator Dole is in a better position than most members of Congress to keep such a mistake from being repeated. If he does, his trip to the Middle East will provide the best argument in years for encouraging more congressional travel, despite the bad image of junkets.