Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, with a few low-keyed phrases, officially has jettisoned Henry A. Kissinger's basic strategy of total diplomatic barter with the Soviet Union.
To strategists it was known as "linkage," Kissinger, Vance's predecessor often described it to laymen as "carrot and stick" diplomacy, or a strategy of "rewards and penalities."
In practice it meant that the United States would try to use its grain, other trade, credits or technology that the Soviet Union wanted as tradeoffs for what the United States wanted from the Soviet Union: for example, help in resolving the Vietnam war, Soviet restraint in the Middle East, freer emigration of Soviet Jews and, notably, mutually beneficial under arms control.
Sometimes the "linkage" worked; often it did not. It failed most glaringly in early attempts to end the Vietnam war, to avert the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, and in Kissinger's efforts last year to checkmate Soviet "adventurism" in Angola. But throughout the Nixon and Ford administrations, "linkage" was the core of American strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union.
Vance, on Thursday, in an interview with news agencies, officially abandoned "linkage," with what appeared to be almost a casual dismissal of the concept.
"No, there is no linkage," Vance replied. "I think each of these subjects is an important subject and each should be discussed on its own footing."
Reporters for the Associated Press and United Press International were surprised that Vance appeared to be dismissing so sweepingly what had been enshrined as basic American policy.
Vance was asked if Soviet actions in one area of relations with the United States, such as greater respect for humanrights, "would not . . . improve the general climate and make a SALT (strategic arms limitation talks) treaty for example, a little more easy to get?"
"It would certainly improve the climate," Vance replied, "but I think there has been an over-emphasis on linkage."
For those with long memories, Vance's position recalled how former Secretary of State William P. Rogers, like Vance, also a lawyer, had taken an almost identical stand at the outset of the Nixon administration. But Rogers was figuratively shot down in flames by Kissinger, Nixon's national security adviser; Kissinger later took over Rogers' job also. Nixon had completely backed Kissinger on "linkage."
As a consequence, the question was put yesterday at the White House and the State Department: Do President Carter, and his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, agree with Vance that the linkage concept is dead?
"What's linkage?" replied White House press secretary Jody Powell. The term is little known to non-specialists. When the news agency accounts were read to him, Powell said he had not had an opportunity to discuss the subject with the President.
State Department spokesman Frederick Z. Brown, forewarned that the question was coming, had raised it with Vance, and replied, "The secretary is expressing an adminixtration-wide position.
Vance's reply to the linkage question, Brown said, was not improvised: "It was completely thought out and the secretary is speaking for the administration on this matter."
The disclaimer of linkage as a concept for U.S. strategy is dead? The odds are that although the terminology may be dead, along with the automatic application of diplomatic tradeoffs, some link between Soviet behavior and Soviet wishes an inevitable elements of U.S. policy.
Brzezinski, when he was appointed by Carter, said U.S.-Soviet "detente, to be enduring, to be accepted by the American people, has to be a detente which is reciprocal and which progressively becomes more comprehensive."
This approach, "reciprocity," seems likely to be the Carter administration pattern.
"Linkage" sometimes rebounded against Kissinger. It was pushed by others to limits which, he protested, undermined his diplomacy. Congress in 1974, through the Jackson Vanik amendment, required the Soviet Union to permit freer emigration of Soviet Jews, as a condition for reducing U.S. trade barriers. The Soviet Union angrily rejected that, and similar conditions on U.S. trade credits, and curtailed Jewish emigration.
A spokesman said yesterday that the State Department is studying the stand the Carter administration will take on this U.S.-Soviet obstacle. It is expected to be among the topics Vance will explore when he visits Moscow next month.
Unlike the Nixon administration, which deliberately held up action for months on the nuclear SALT strategy and linkage, the Carter administration has moved quickly to open nuclear talks with the Soviet Union.
President Carter with Soviet Ambassador Anatolity F. Dobrynin on Tuesday, began to explore possible routes to overcomeing the SALT deadlock passed on to the Carter administration. It was Dobrynin, in 1969, who balked furiously at the American "linkage" strategy, which the Soviet Union regarded as extortion or blackmail.
"Reciprocity" would be a kindlier term, with a quid pro quo still attached, even though less formal or grating.