Countless conversations with Russians over a period of nearly three years reveal no credible hint that a cataclysmic confrontation with the West, particulary the United States, is sought or expected here.
It is a cliche of every visitor's experience in this country that peace is what Russians everywhere say they want above all.
No authoritative Soviet spokesman now rattles a saber publicly the way Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev did regularly. Even rhetorical calls for Soviet stategic superiority that used to be a staple of Soviet military journals have lagely disappeared.
Rather than raising the specter of danger in a land where a popular sense of siege was long encouraged, the Kremlin today portrays the international scene as improving on the whole.
Middle East and Southern African flash points are presented as serious but residual, while scores of recent agreements with the United States and other western states are endlessly praised as contributions to "razryadki naprezhonisti" - the relaxation of tensions, the Soviet term for detente.
The core element of party doctrine is not - as it was in the final years of Stalin's tyranny - that conflagration with the capitalist powers is inevitable. On the contrary, Russians are ceaselessly told that the growing influence of the socialist camp his contained imperialism's aggressive goals of conquest.The Soviet leader, Leonid I. Brezhnev, said last month:
"What is most importatn, comrades, the danger of a big new war has been pushed back. People have drawn an easier breath and begin to look into the future with greater hope. That is what the relaxation of tensions means and such are its evident results."
Soviet citizens are told virtually nothing about the country's military position, beyond assurances that they are adequate to deal with any aggressor. Details of defense development and plans simply are not discussed. The only detailed analysis in the military literature is devoted to western armaments.
Beginning in 1972, around the time of the first strategic arms limitation agreement with the United States, the term "approximate equality" has been used in the Soviet press to describe the balance of U.S.-Soviet forces. Astute readers can easily deduce therefore the general picture from articles about the American side. Yet for all the effort to make Russians proud of their military power, almost none of the information is provided that might make them prideful.
The vigilance demanded of Russians nowadays is presented more as a matter of protection from the ideological invasion of Westenr ideas and styles than any military attack. The increasingly elaborate civil defense program which some western specialists consider so ominous is officially explained here in large measure as a hedge against natural disasters - and certainly nothing more than the United States.
While Soviet generals and party leaders doubtless study every contingency, the sort of frightening scenarios of Red Army troops reaching the Rhine in 48 hours that appear periodically in the West, attributed to NATO or the Pentagon, have no real public counterpart here.