FORMER President Richard Nixon has now joined a list of distinguished Americans calling for massive aid to the former Soviet Union (FSU), lest it fall into chaos and again threaten the democratic West. Historical reference is often made to the generous Marshall Plan, by which the United States saved postwar Europe from communism by well-timed assistance of about $12 billion - more than $60 billion in today's prices.
However noble the objective of avoiding the return of totalitarianism is, though, the means to do so are not available to America. We should therefore not hold out to our Russian and Ukrainian friends the promise of salvation coming from over the Western horizon, as Secretary of State James Baker III has done. They will have to do the job themselves, for the most part, and more slowly than we would wish.
No one, even the Harvard professors calling for $12 billion to $15 billion in Western aid, really knows how to establish democratic order and prosperity in the FSU.
The amounts mentioned could be raised, contrary to President Bush's pathetic response to Mr. Nixon: "I have no blank check." But even $15 billion would be pitifully inadequate for providing resources to feed, reequip, or even stabilize these countries.
An industrialized area of 280 million inhabitants would need about $600 billion per year to replace domestic production lost because of the supply-side depression of the last two years. Even replacing food stocks would be an enormous task and would destroy a historic Ukrainian export industry. To add one percentage point to the FSU investment rate would cost more than $30 billion.
Even if the money could be obtained from Western democracies acting together, there is unfortunately no assurance that economic aid to the former Soviet republics would be used effectively. Billions in gold and foreign currency have disappeared, and now industrial and even military assets are being appropriated by managers and former nomenklatura officials for private profit. Billions in German money paid to ransom former East Germany from Soviet bondage have likewise gone to no visible effect. Putting m oney into the grasp of former communists, even if they have been elected, may not earn us the future gratitude of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples.
RECOGNIZING this disorder, Nixon and others advise sending thousands of technicians and business people, too. Unfortunately, a "free-enterprise corps" for the FSU is not likely to make more than a symbolic difference. Unlike the idealistic volunteers of the Peace Corps, experienced technicians and business advisers would almost all need translators, modern accommodations, and considerable time to learn about local conditions.
While Western scholars have no convincing short-run strategy for avoiding chaos, further declines in production, and even authoritarianism in the FSU, we can use limited resources to avoid danger to ourselves and our friends from that chaos. We can push ahead vigorously in purchasing and disposing of nuclear weapons still in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. Money to dispose of or convert the means of war, and reemploy a few thousand scientists and army officers, can be taken from our $290 billion defense
budget with ease and obvious justification.
Ex-Soviet officers could be offered a kind of GI Bill to make them into the managers of the new Russian and Ukrainian future - as our own servicemen became after World War II. But we should insist on strict adherence to nuclear nonproliferation, full conversion of nuclear-weapons plants, and a ban on exports of all weapons to third-world customers. In this way we would defuse the social dynamite of unemployed and resentful veterans - the very class that Adolf Hitler led to violence and war 50 years ago. Then there would be no need for a Marshall Plan.