There are specifics that amplify the danger of the parallel operations of the Soviets and the United States protecting international shipping in the Persian Gulf. The situation establishes an opportunity for the Soviets and an extreme danger to our long-term national interests.
The following points must be incorporated in any analysis of the budding confrontation between locals and the two superpowers in this region:
1) The Soviet Union now receives two-thirds of its foreign exchange from oil exports. This source of money is crucial to their economy.
2) Soviet oil production is beginning a steep decline due to poor production practices. Their efforts to increase reserves and production through exploration and more drilling have failed. They cannot maintain current volumes of oil exports from domestic sources without unacceptable internal conservation.
3) The Soviets want control of a southern warm water port.
In light of the preceding, capture of Iranian oil would more than meet U.S.S.R. foreign-exchange problems. Further, a full-scale invasion of Iran would satisfy strategic needs for port facilities on the Indian Ocean.
Should a Soviet vessel be attacked (real or claimed -- remember Tonkin Gulf and The Maine) or precipitate further incidents by Iran, it could justify a Soviet declaration of war and a military invasion and takeover of Iran. The Iranian patrol boat attack on the Ivan Koroteyev May 6 provides justification likely to be repeated.
The question should thus be raised as to how the United States would respond if such an invasion took place. Would the American public accept the risks of opening hostilities against the Soviet Union in apparent support of the Iranian regime? Would our European allies, who depend on steady access to this Middle Eastern oil, support intervention with us? Would we dare to go it alone in this theater of confrontation?
For all the claims of resolve, we might well bag it and let the Soviet Union have all or part of Iran. To save face we might negotiate an apparent compensating Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, claim to have resolved the Iran-Iraq conflict and give the ayatollah what he and his people deserve.
The Persian Gulf waters are too crowded for U.S. and Soviet navies to be shotgun protectors of the peace. The public deserves an open discussion of the contingencies and alternatives of our proposed policy of regional naval intervention. The subject should be addressed before an incident forces a confrontation both with the Soviet Union and within our NATO alliance.
PETER S. HUNT Alexandria