Signs from the Kremlin suggest the hawks are not having it all their own way in the major reassessment of East-West relations now being made by the Soviet leadership.
When Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin left Washington last month for consultations in Moscow, the outlook seemed grim. President Carter had just made the most belligerent foreign-policy speech since he took office, and the Kremlin promptly responded in kind, accusing him in a short, sharp Tass release of shifting the emphasis from detente to the building up of tension.
But after Dobrynin returned to Moscow, loaded with position papers and proposals on a whole range of East-West issues that were given to him by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, the Kremlin appeared to be having second thoughts. The more considred, detailed reply to Carter in Pravda was held up for 11 days while Dobrynin was working hard to persuade the Kremlin leadership that its first response was unnecessarily pugnacious. When the Pravda reply to Carter did appear, under the name of Georgi Arbatov, the Kremlin's expert on the United States who usually takes the dovish line in Soviet foreign-policy disputes, it seemed addressed as much to Soviet hawks as to Washington.
One clue to the Kremlin debate is to be found in a Moscow television program that replied last month to letters from viewers who had challenged by implication Pary Secretary Leonid Brezhnev's policy of patient negotiations with the United States. "The talks with the United States have continued for a long time with no results," said one letter. "Talks cannot produce peace," said another. The facts of international life, it argued, had shown in recent years "that it is impossible to achieve a stable peace through political talks or diplomatic maneuvers." The television commentator who quoted those letters from viewers replied by citing the benefits of detente and by praising Brezhnev's contribution to it.
Experience suggests that when an implied challenge and response of that kind is allowed to come out into the open in Moscow, a far more explicit debate on the same issues is usually proceeding behind the closed doors of the Kremlin. But other clues are necessary to sustain a Kremlinological analysis of the issues in dispute, and a number of them have appeared between the lines of the Soviet press lately.
Sometimes such clues are provided by Soviet press articles on historical themes - which is precisely what Pravda did the day after the letters critical of Brezhnev's policy were quoted on Moscow television. The article was ostensibly concerned with the Seventh Party Congress in 1918, which witnessed a struggled between Lenin, who was prepared to make far-reaching concessions to secure peace with Germany, and his opponents, who wanted to continue the war. The Soviet leadership struggle of that time over the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty has provided the code terms for a number of subsequent Kremlin debates between those who wanted to make concessions in order to reach a compromises in order to reach a compromise with the West, and those who wanted to follow a hard line.
The Seventh Party Congress supported Lenin's policy of compromise and defeated his opponents. Pravda's recollection of that struggle now means that Brezhnev is appealing for support for his own policy of compromise, and for the defeat of his opponents. Skeptics might argue that to say that is to read too much into a purely historical article. But they would have to contend with Pravda's own reminder that the Seventh Congress decisions "serve as an example" of the party's tactics in the conduct of foreign policy.
But is this, perhaps, only a general statement of principle, rather than a specific reference to the present? Pravda insists that "today, too," the party solves the tactical problems of foreign policy by "strictly" following Lenin's instructions on combining its devotion to communism "with the ability to make practical compromises." Indeed, it cites Soviet agreements with the West on such things as arms control as an example of that policy - which means that it is defending Brezhnev against charges that he is making too many concessions in the agreements.
Finally, it brings the Brest-Litovsk struggle fully up to date by quoting from one of Brezhnev's own speeches, which was obviously addressed to his critics: "If we have made compromises, those compromises are justified . . . ." All these quotations have an immediate, practical relevance. Do they mean that Moscow should make further concessions now, in the talks on strategic arms limitation, which will determine, in the Kremlin's view, the relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States for a long time to come?
In February an authoritative, angry Pravda article made it clear that Moscow had made all the concessions that could be expected of it, and that it was now Washington's turn. On the day Carter made his speech, Pravda added ominously that the Soviet Union's patience "is not without limits." But then Dobrynin came back, and Arbatov was given space in Pravda to tell the Soviet hawks about the need for "the mutual concessions that one must make in order to reach a mutually acceptable compromise."
The Soviet hawks had been stressing Washington's unremitting hostility to the Soviet Union. Arbatov, on the other hand, argued that the political situation in the United States "is complex, not simple," and pointed to the U.S. doves who favored a compromise. The Soviet hawks had been stressing the rising opposition to detente in the United States, but Arbatov argued that "this is only one side of the picture." He took them that "one must not overlook the fact" that it is in the U.S. national interest too to prevent war and divert money from the arms race.
Arbatov's article was certainly an appeal to Washington to make the concessions necessary for an agreement. But it was also an appeal to Soviet hawks to allow Brezhnev to make his own concessions to that end. The extent to which Brezhnev is allowed to make them will depend on the concessions Vance takes with him to Moscow later this month.