THE CONTENT of this book is better expressed by its subtitle than by the title, which appears to be a cryptic reference to the notorious French 18th-century novel, Les Liaisons dangereuses. Essentially it is a continuation of the author's well-known study of Soviet foreign policy, Expansion and Coexistence, first published in 1968. While showing himself well aware of the world political scene, and providing appropriate brief explanations of problems as they arise, Adam Ulam concentrates on a narrative of the direct relations between the two superpowers. His story may be briefly summarized as follows.

Various pressures on each superpower --in particular, Soviet dislike of the prospects of American-Chinese cooperation symbolized by Nixon's February 1972 visit to Peking, and American desire for Soviet help in getting out of the Vietnam mess--increased the desire on both sides for a "relaxation of tension" (d,etente). These pressures led to the summit meeting between Nixon and Brezhnev in Moscow in May 1972. This event was not so much the beginning as the culmination of d,etente: from then onwards everything began to go wrong. There was Watergate, which the Soviet leaders simply could not understand, despite relatively sophisticated guidance from the Party's America- watcher George Arbatov and his team, and whose result, most displeasing to the Kremlin oligarchs, was an apparent vacuum of power in Washington.

The temptation to intervene in South Yemen and Angola proved irresistible; and as they observed the humiliation of the final American withdrawal from Vietnam, the Soviet leaders could not forbear to gloat. In the Middle East the 1973 war brought no Soviet gains, due largely to the indefatigable diplomatic efforts of Henry Kissinger; but the refusal of Congress to give Ford and Kissinger any financial backing in Southeast Asia or Africa gave the Soviet-Cuban bulldozer the green light.

With the accession of Carter to the presidency the Soviets could hope that there would be a more intelligible American foreign policy. Not so: the contradictions between the president's advisers, and his own boundless unpredictability, were no improvement on post-Watergate confusion. Carter's rhetorical espousal of human rights infuriated them, and the continued improvement in American- Chinese relations--the one positive achievement of the Carter era--seriously alarmed them. However, the exchange of Somalia for Ethiopia as Moscow's favorite African vassal seemed a good bargain: and the shambles in Iran, though not directly promoting Soviet interests, was a chance for more gloating. The blow to international law and to principles of civilized intercourse between governments seemed only a minor worry: with undisguised pleasure, Moscow watched the cemeteries of Asia fill up with those who had put their trust in the United States. Meanwhile, Carter's fluctuations filled his Soviet colleagues with rage: in Ulam's view no president had ever been so hated in Moscow. Reagan's victory was welcomed, but meanwhile trouble had arisen nearer home in the revolution in Poland, of which Ulam--exceptionally well qualified to discuss this complex of problems --gives a brief but penetrating analysis. His narrative comes to an end with General Jaruzelski's coup in December 1981.

The Polish events were one more proof of the fact that the peoples of Eastern Europe remain unreconciled to the Soviet domination imposed on them by force more than 30 years ago. As long as these peoples know that in Western Europe free institutions and independent national cultures exist and are respected, they will remain convinced that there is another way, and the Soviet Union will have to accept the continuing high cost in manpower and resources needed to keep them down. Soviet authority could be firmly established only if Western Europe could be separated from the United States, its governments divided against each other, resistance to Soviet policies replaced by neutrality, public criticism of the Soviet regime gradually eliminated, and Western democratic liberties finally eroded.

First Finlandization, then Czechoslovakization of the West. This today happily seems a remote prospect, but it is probably top priority for Soviet foreign policy makers, and is being pursued with relentless patience. The means is not military invasion, but systematic exploitation of Western Europe's economic difficulties, anti-nuclear hysteria and frictions between individual Western countries. As Ulam writes in his conclusion, "The failure of the great industrial democracies to synchronize their policies both invited and worsened the effects of the OPEC blow. And these and other self-inflicted wounds of the West have made it much easier for the Soviet leaders to seek answers to their pressing political and other problems not through domestic and intra-bloc reforms, but in foreign expansion and piling up of arms."

I would add to that only that it is essential that the Western public, and especially those who possess influence in business and cultural life, should understand what sort of regime and what sort of political minds it is with which they have to deal. Few Western democrats seem to understand the attitude of Soviet leaders to the international agreements which they make from time to time with Western governments. The Western democratic mind sees pacts or treaties as the products of a process of bargaining in which each side makes concessions, a compromise emerges, and this is accepted by both sides as a solution of the dispute. Soviet thinking utterly rejects compromise. Agreements, in the Soviet view, are halts, or if need be, retreats, in an unending unrelenting march. This march need not be hurried, when necessary one can wait, but Bolsheviks never give up. After the unavoidable pause, the march is resumed.

The aim of the march is the transformation of the "correlation of forces" in the world to the point of overwhelming Soviet predominance. Arguments as to whether the underlying motivation is the spread of communist revolution, or aggressive Russian imperialism, or defensive search for security from hostile encirclement, are pointless semantic exercises. In a world of intercontinental missiles there can be no certain security short of world government or world domination by one power, neither of which are practical prospects. The best that Soviet leaders can do is to push their domination as far forward as possible from the Soviet core lands; to acquire an increasing number of strategic positions close to the enemy's core lands; and to exploit and aggravate all internal weaknesses in the political and social structure of the enemy and his allies, to the point of completely undermining them. Afghanistan is a recent example of the first of these processes, Angola of the second, and the manipulation of the self-styled "peace movement" of the third. Successes in any of these three directions can be interpreted with equal plausibility as promoting Soviet security, Soviet expansion or the advance of socialism. "Socialism," be it noted, simply means whatever the Soviet leaders call "socialism."

These processes the Soviet leaders have been systematically using, to undermine and destroy "capitalist" societies, ever since 1917, at first very ineffectually but since the 1960s with considerable success. The West has not been and is not systematically undermining the Soviet Union, occasional outpourings of indignant rhetoric by Western spokesmen notwithstanding. Western foreign policies have been and are limited and fluctuating: they have no long march in view.

The Soviet leaders are in no hurry, and unlike the fascist dictators of the 1930s they have no romantic preference for war. They have accepted reverses when they have had to, substantial in Egypt and still bigger in China. They are not starry-eyed revolutionaries planning some apocalyptic upheaval, nor world- conquerors in the mold of Genghis Khan. They are a very conservative group of elderly bureaucrats concerned for their privileges and power, and they are served not only by able generals and admirals who are professionals of a conventional type, but also by skilled diplomats capable of operating on the same intellectual wavelength as Western diplomats with no less subtlety and charm. But none of this changes the direction of the march or the will to pursue it.

Western politicians, the media and the public need to accept these facts, but they need not be frightened by them. It is prefectly possible to live in the same world with an implacable enemy without going to war with him and without nuclear holocausts. But for persons steeped in the ethos of Western mass democracy it is not easy. Western minds discount old truths, and look for exciting novelties and meretriciously plausible "solutions." The drab monotony of Soviet hostility bores them. But Soviet policy-makers never allow boredom to distract them from their aims. Western democrats are often either-orists. Either negotiate with the Soviets or aim at (largely rhetorical) confrontation. But Soviet leaders know that negotiation, hostile propaganda and subversion are not alternatives: they pursue all three simultaneously, through different personnel and with different targets. Western governments are bound to negotiate constantly, but need not for that reason be unaware of unchanging Soviet hostility.

All this is of course well understood by many specialists, in government service and outside, but the pressure of public illusions and clamor for quick results make it very hard for them to do their job--in Britain, France and Germany just as much as in the United States. Yet peace and freedom can be preserved only if Western statesmen are as persistent as Soviet, and if Western peoples can be induced to face reality. Ulam's admirable survey of recent history can be a source of wisdom for all who labor to bring about these two results.