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President Reagan's decision to adopt a more conciliatory policy in American-Soviet relations tacitly confirms what has long been clear: after a decade of growing influence, the vaunted "hard-line" approach to the Soviet Union has failed completely.

Ever since 1974, when bipartisan hard-liners scored their first antidetente victories in Congress, they have insisted that a strategy of ideological warfare, military buildup and economic and related sanctions would achieve two purposes. It would enhance American security by forcing the Soviet Union to capitulate on disputed international issues. More ambitiously, it would impose destabilizing political and economic strains on a crisis-prone Soviet system, thereby compelling the leadership to introduce fundamental reforms at home.

In practice, those ideas, which became sporadic policy during the Carter Administration and a strategic crusade under President Reagan, have produced the opposite result in both areas. Since the 1970s, the Soviet leadership has responded with its own unyielding policies in world affairs, broadening its war in Afghanistan, boycotting the Los Angeles Olympics, showing even less toleration of change in Eastern Europe and countering the U.S. military buildup and missile deployments. Instead of more national security, the American hard line has given us more international insecurity.

Its consequences inside the Soviet Union have been equally baneful, even where hard-liners promised tangible results. In 1974, more than 20,000 Soviet Jews were allowed to emigrate; a liberal dissident movement was still tolerated in Moscow; and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was deported rather than imprisoned. In 1984, fewer than 1,000 Jews have been permitted to leave; liberal dissent has been crushed, as reflected in the fate of Andrei Sakharov; and Western-sponsored martyrs such as Anatoly Shcharansky have been left to languish in labor camps. Instead of internal Soviet reform, the hard line has contributed to political reaction.

Such American policies are inherently counterproductive because they ignore basic truths about the Soviet Union today. Whatever else may be characteristic of Soviet leaders, they are intensely proud of their country's great-power status, achieved only in their lifetime and at enormous cost, and thus they are profoundly resentful of any perceived challenge to its international prestige.

Confronted with assertions of American superiority, preachments about their own "illegitimacy" and "evil" and ultimatums designed to "punish" them, Soviet leaders will always resort to an uncompromising line, regardless of the hardships involved. Despite their longstanding need for an arms control agreement, for example, they walked out of the talks on European missiles last year. And since that visceral reaction to American bombast is widespread among officials and ordinary citizens alike, it strengthens, rather than weakens, the leadership's position at home.

The hard-line goal of reforming the Soviet system through relentless cold war, including an uncontrolled arms race, is even more ill-conceived. We may wish for a liberalized outcome, but the United States does not have the wisdom, the power or the right to intervene in internal Soviet politics. Attempts to do so will always cause more harm than good.

Such efforts are doomed partly because they are predicated on wildly exaggerated conceptions of Soviet domestic problems. In reality, the Soviet Union is not in economic crisis; nor is it politically unstable. Moreover, any economic burdens inflicted by our hard-line measures fall directly on ordinary Soviet citizens, not on the governing elite, and are therefore morally unsuitable as American policy.

Above all, ever American campaign to impose liberalizing change on the Soviet system actually sabotages that cause by undermining advocates of reform inside the establishment. It discredits their proposals by associating them with foreign sponsorship or diktat, thereby redoubling already powerful conservative and often xenophobic opposition. No less important, it contributes to a growing international climate of cold war, whereas Soviet reformers desperately need detente in order to offset conservative anxieties about the political dangers and economic costs of internal change.

Indeed, the conjunction of rising East-West tensions and the defeat of reformers by despotic or conservative groups in the leadership is a recurrent tragedy in Soviet history. At those historical turning points, the result has often been fateful--Draconian domestic policies in 1918; the brutal collectivization of the peasantry in 1929; Stalin's great terror in 1936; the return to terroristic practices after World War II; and the end of official de-Stalinization in the 1960s. On the other hand, on the two occasions when official liberalization did prevail, under Lenin in the 1920s and under Khrushchev in the 1950s, detente-like relations were developing between the Soviet Union and the West.

Our hard-liners, typified by the Committee on the Present Danger, remain stubbornly indifferent to those lessons of history, including the ones taught by their own failed policies since the 1970s. Many of them, inside and outside the Reagan Administration, still clamor for extreme cold war measures. They are deaf even to the present-day appeals of reformers in Communist systems from East Berlin to Moscow. As a Hungarian proponent of liberalization recently warned: "Reforms are needed, and first of all within the Soviet Union. If there is a new cold war, it is acting against any kind of reform."

But the most direct answer to American hard-liners comes from a Soviet reformer, a retired army colonel now working as an official analyst, who gave an anonymous interview to the British journal Detente. Asked to comment on the way Western cold-warriors emphasize Soviet domestic problems, he replied: "This is really tragic, because we do have internal problems. We need an economic reform. We need to expand human rights in our country and further to develop Soviet democracy. And we can only make headway in tackling our problems under conditions of prolonged detente. We need detente, lots and lots of detente."
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Title Annotation:how the hard liners policy toward the Soviet Union has backfired
Author:Cohen, Stephen F.
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:column
Date:Dec 15, 1984
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