A GRAND STRATEGY FOR THE WEST The Anachronism of National Strategies in an Interdependent World. By Helmut Schmidt. Yale University Press. 159 pp. $12.95.
JUST WHEN you wondered whether there was such a thing as an intelligent liberal foreign policy, Helmut Schmidt has come along with a mercifully short and readable tract that makes sharp sense and provides a framework in which to understand everything else.
Socialist Schmidt has, yet, his lesser days when he seems bored by mere mortals. Otherwise he is nothing less than the wisest man of the center-left in the West, no tired has-been pursuing the lost paradise of power lost but someone who, drawing on unparalleled experience as defense minister, economics and finance minister and (1974-82) chancellor of West Germany, is more worth listening to tn anyone else.
Schmidt is above the daily battle but he is aware not only of the stresses bearing on those still in the trenches but also the larger purposes that politics must serve. He is not, in this book, into recrimination or self-serving, polemicists' slogans or survivors' platitudes. He is into cogent strategic advice, strategy meaning fitting together the economic, diplomatic and military parts that the West must master in order to prosper, remain free and be true to its best self.
In current American/Western circumstances, most such appeals are not much more than calls for higher military spending and greater resolve, evoking a litany of pleasant myths about our power and glory and our duty to lead.
Schmidt appeals rather for policies that take into account the tightening links of Western economies, and of Third World economies with Western economies; the networks of compromise and confidence that must be built, again and again, among the allies; the requirement for a certain cooperation with the Soviet Union, which requires in turn a certain modesty of ambition and lowering of voice in the West.
You have heard many of his ideas before -- on the horrors of the American deficit, the centrality of conventional defense, the West's moral responsibility for alleviating Third World poverty and easing Third World disputes.
WHAT YOU HAVE not enjoyed is the benefit of their assembly into a package that, for being rational and coherent, appears the more attractive and the more attainable too. For instance, arms control does come nearer simply because Helmut Schmidt pronounces it a good thing. But it becomes more logical, less utopian, more connected to other things that are worth striving for when he in fact connects it to a stable balance, changes in conventional forces to permit a no-first-use nuclear doctrine, a NATO affirmation of strength and openness to negotiation, a fresh commitment to American-European-Japanese security collaboration, and drawing France into the forward defense of Europe.
The contribution of Helmut Schmidt is to see the forest, to rise above technical solutions to the political challenges, and to describe responses that political leadership could adopt and achieve.
Leadership: Schmidt, without getting personal or partisan, is plainly not Ronald Reagan's biggest fan. But speaking last June -- the book issued from lectures given then at Yale -- he anticipated some arms control progress. And he has a gracious appreciation of "America's leadership potential," based on size, vitality, generosity and optimism, "which sometimes strikes us rather skeptical Europeans as naive and embarrassing but obviously helps Americans."
That there is now no coherent strategy in the West Schmidt attributes to a shortfall of leadership on both sides of the Atlantic. But it hurts more in the United States because of its natural primacy. The difficulty, as he sees it, is that "isolationist, America-centered, hegemonial" tendencies vie in Washington with "internationalist" ones. "Hegemonial" -- a word with a funny and off-putting ring to many Americans? Schmidt means things like keeping the dollar high and misunderstanding Europe's need to treat the Soviet Union not just as the expansionist threat it is but as a neighbor that one must get along with on a certain level too.
Schmidt will get an argument on much of what he says. But he has the high ground: respect for the values of the West, knowledge of the ways of national and international policy-making and an elevated but feasible vision of the way things could be. The next Democratic president of the United States will have a dog-eared copy of this book close by.