THIS IS THE SORT of book that gives me an acute case of dyspepsia. Not because of its content, for as former Senator J. William Fulbright points out in his introduction, the interviews with Georgi Arbatov--director of the Institute of U.S.A. and Canadian Studies in Moscow --accurately reflect the official Soviet point of view, but because the book provides the sort of effective propaganda platform for our Soviet adversary in this country that is consistently denied us in the Soviet Union. Most of us who have dealt professionally with the Soviet Union have long envied the access to American media and academe freely accorded to Arbatov and other Soviet spokesmen who masquerade as "independent" but who in fact are fierce protagonists and apologists for official Soviet policies and behavior.
I personally would give my eyeteeth for an opportunity to respond to questions by a friendly interlocutor, have them recorded in book form in the Russian language, and then have the book freely and widely distributed throughout the Soviet Union with ringing endorsements by, say, Supreme Soviet deputy Boris Ponomarev and Georgi Arbatov himself as required reading for every thinking Russian. Such a format would be roughly parallel with the opportunity given Arbatov with The Soviet Viewpoint, which bears a warm introduction from Senator Fulbright and even an accolade from George Kennan.
The book takes the form of answers by Arbatov to some 150 basic questions principally about the U.S.- Soviet relationship framed and put to him by Dutch journalist Willem Oltmans in the course of a series of visits to Moscow from 1979 to 1981. The questions and answers are grouped under the following headings: the Ordeal of D,etente and the Value of Accurate Perceptions; the History of Soviet-American Relations; Peace and War, the Arms Race and Arms Control; Issues of Ideology, Human Rights and Dissidents; the Two Giants and the World. This all-encompassing potpourri of official Soviet opinions--again I remind the reader that despite his disclaimer Arbatov speaks for the Soviet government--on everything that affects U.S. relations with Moscow is topped off by "a few words about the future," reflecting, for the most part, Arbatov's current pessimistic view that unless President Reagan drastically changes his policies and attitudes or unless he departs the American political scene after one term, time will run out for all of us.
The above remarks will be interpreted by some as a reflection of personal animus toward Arbatov. I would regard such a reaction as unfair. I respect Arbatov as an astute, albeit subjective, observer of the American scene and an accurate purveyor of the official Soviet line, but I have never ceased to be amazed at the man's consummate arrogance and gall; and I have long been disturbed by his one-sided assessment of the world scene and the impact of this on Soviet leaders, with many of whom Arbatov is well-connected. These traits and the characteristics of Arbatov's approach are amply revealed in many of his answers to Oltmans' questions, and it is clear that Arbatov has changed little since my stewardship in Moscow (1976-1979), when I knew him well.
A few examples: in speaking of the 1980 presidential campaign, which he labels "a real international disaster," Arbatov says he had hoped the election would have served "as a means of political education, as an instrument for initiating corrections in government policies." What he recommends for us, he, of course, does not counsel for his own people--who would risk losing his place in Soviet society, if not more, by publicly castigating his government's policies in the farce that passes for an election in the Soviet Union: the endorsement of the party's choice of deputies to the Supreme Court?
Arbatov has never been shy about commenting on American ineptitudes and shortcomings as a people and he remains perfectly unrestrained in his answers to Oltmans' queries, many of which are by no means unbiased. Reacting to Oltmans' rather snide observation about Americans' egocentrism, Arbatov says, "I've observed many times how difficult it is for Americans to put themselves in other people's shoes, or even to imagine the consequences of American actions for others. Sometimes I think that it is not only the dubious intentions and vested interest of some Americans that cause some of the problems that are of foremost importance today, but also their inability to look at life through the eyes of the other side. We have already discussed, for instance, how the United States, in evaluating Soviet military power, ignores the real threats faced by the Soviet Union and then shouts about the 'Soviet threat.' I don't think the United States fully understands its allies either"; and finally "American ignorance about the Third World is even greater."
Arbatov's remarks on what he regards as U.S. betrayal of the Roosevelt-Litvinov understanding connected with the formal American recognition of the Soviet Union in 1933 are clear evidence of the double standard he applies in assessing American and Soviet behavior. After condemning U.S. sponsorship of Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe, Arbatov says, "The United States has been engaged in a whole range of covert or semi-covert operations against the Soviet Union in violation of that bilateral agreement of recognition between our two states." And in denying similar Soviet misbehavior, he has the gall to say: "In full accordance with the provisions of the 1933 document I mentioned, we do not encourage any acts, overt or covert, liable in any way whatsoever to injure the tranquility, property, order or security of the United States."
A final testament to Arbatov's "even-handed" approach is his treatment of the Cold War for which the United States and Great Britain are held fully and exclusively accountable. There is not the slightest indication of willingness on Arbatov's part to recognize at least some measure of Soviet guilt as a result of Russian behavior in Poland, Iran and Czechoslovakia or as reflected by Stalin's February 9, 1946, speech in which he prefaced a resurgence of Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy in domestic affairs, emphasized the Leninist thesis that the uneven development of capitalism leads to war, and blamed the West for the outbreak of World War II. Such blatant distortions of history are discouraging to those of us who down through the years long for some place of objectivity, fair-mindedness on the part of the Soviet leadership.
While, as these examples dramatically illustrate, there is a heavy propagandistic slant to Arbatov's views, I agree with Senator Fulbright that Arbatov's observations should be the subject of serious study and evaluation by the Congress, the administration and the public and that "to understand the Russians, their purposes and their abilities and decide how to treat them is the most critical problem facing the nations of the West."
I conclude on the theme I enunciated in the opening paragraphs of this review. In my opinion, it is equally essential to stability and lasting peace for the Soviets to have a clear understanding of our purposes, our abilities, and concerns--and for this, access by our spokesman to the Soviet people, as Arbatov has to us through this book, is essential.