Last weekend's harsh Soviet attack on the Carter administration's foreign policy raised several basic points of conflict between the two superpowers that have been responsible for the drastic worsening of Soviet-American relations.
The Soviet statement presented a predictably one-sided view of those issues, but it does more to define and explain the new tension in Soviet-American relations than any comparable statement from the American side, including President Carter's recent Annapolis speech. It was the Annapolis speech that provoked the authoritative Soviet declaration published in Moscow newspapers Saturday.
The Soviets appear to see these issues as problems for the American side to deal with. But none of them is likely to be resolved by unilateral American action, which probably means the recent deterioration of Soviet-American relations will not be reversed soon.
These are among the factors raised by the Kremlin, directly or indirectly, that have contributed to the new tensions between the superpowers:
Zbigniew Brzezinski. Besides President Carter, Brzezinski in the only person mentioned in the new Soviet statement. He is accused of grossly and clumsily . . . exacerbating in every way the elements of rivalry and belitting the importance of cooperation in Soviet-American relations."
Another passage in the Soviet statement obviously directed at Brzezinski refers to "certain leaders who hold high posts in Washington" who are "overwhelmed by anti-Soviet emotions," and are therefore willing to risk all forms of cooperation with the Soviet Union to "play the Chinese card" by appearing to align American and Chinese policies against Moscow.
Soviet officials and journalists who have spoken privately with Americans in recent weeks have repeatedly attacked Brzezinski in bitter terms. Two ranking Soviets told anecdotes to American reporters during the last month purportedly based on personal experiences with Brzezinski which - they said - proved beyond doubt that he harbors the deepest hostility for the Soviet Union.
Brzezinski was a target of fierce Soviet attacks long before he joined the Carter administration as national security adviser to the president. His personal origins as a member of the prewar Polish bourgeoisie are cited by Soviets repeatedly as a basis for his alleged anti-Soviet views.
"You know the Poles," one member of the present-day Soviet elite said yesterday. "They hate the Russians.They hate almost everybody."
Some American commentators have also adopted the ethnic explanation of Brzezinski's views, unfair as this may be. "The Polish-born Brzezinski" has become a stock character in news-magazine prose here.
The importance of all this in the Hremlin is difficult to describe precisely, but it must be substantial. Soviet leaders are used to dealing with Americans who have anti-communist reputations - Richard Nixon is the best example - but they also distinguish between Americans who oppose them and Americans who they feel - rightly or wrongly - detest them emotionally, and refuse to give them any credit for what they see as their accomplishments.
The Soviets appear now to put Brzezinski in this last category - unlike, for example, Nixon or Henry Kissinger, whom the Soviets came to view as respectable opponents. Privately and now publicly, Soviet officials have raised the question of whether an administration in which Brzezinski is such an important figure really recognizes the benefits of superpower cooperation. To the extend the men in the Kremlin doubt America's interest in cooperation, superpower relations are likely to suffer, whatever the justice of those doubts.
The human rights conundrum. President Carter unleashed an unplanned but powerful human rights "offensive" during his first months in office. He spoke up on behalf of several Soviet dissidents and wrote a personal letter to Andrei D. Sakharov, their symbolic leader.
Polls and other political reaction suggested that Carter's human rights campaign was extremely popular in this country. The president insisted repeatedly that it need not poison foroal Soviet-American relations or on-going negotiations, but the old men in the Kremlin must have seen it differently.
Americans have trouble accepting how dangerous the tiny band of dissidents seems to the Soviet leadership. By the standards of relatively strong, elected western governments, the dissidents are little more than a fringe group, a petty harassment.
But they are the only "opposition" in a society that does not tolerate opposition. Soviet leaders have always reacted harsly to dissent, probably because they are genuinely afraid of the spectacle of well-educated Soviet citizens defying the norms of that society and speaking out for more freedom. The Soviet leaders were not elected, and they are not so confident about their leadership status.
The new Soviet statement referred to the Carter administration's human rights statements as "particularly disastrous for mutual confidence," and said they are intended to "undermine the socialist system" - i.e., the autocratic power of the Soviet leadership.
Politically and, it appears, personally, Carter would find it virtually impossible to abandon his human rights rhetoric, though he has toned it down. But as long as it continues, those in the Soviet leadership who harbor the darkest suspicions about the Carter administration's intentions will cite the human rights campaign as confirmatory evidence that Carter is not really interested in cooperation.
Conflicting definitions of "superpower equality." The United States has granted the Soviet Union equal status as a strategic power - that is the basis of the first strategic arms limitation agreements. However, the Carter administration and a broad spectrum of American political leaders do not grant the Soviets the right to insert their power in volatile political situations far from the traditional Soviet sphere of influence.
From the American point of view, this may be prudent and justified. From the Soviet point of view it is a double standard. For the entire history of the Cold War, the United States has periodically intervened, directly and with the help of allies, in numerous crises all over the globe. Now the United States says the Soviets have no right to do something similar in Africa.
The United States has also reacted with alarm at the prospect of a continuing buildup of Soviet armaments that could - if continued unchecked, and unmatched by the United States - lead to clear Soviet superiority.
The Soviet leaders have presided over a strengthening of the Soviet military establishment which has finally brought Soviet power to the level of U.S. and West European power. Now, they charge in their new statement:
"It is not these concocted dangers [of future Soviet superiority] that the U.S. really gears, but precisely equally, parity."
The United States has never had to live with overall equality, and the prospect of it obviously discomfits many American leaders. Carter has skirted this problem by pledging that the United States will be "second to none." The Soviets expect him to accept also that America will be superior to all but one - the U.S.S.R.
The African dilemma. Demonstrations of Soviet-Cuban ability to intervene in African countries is the most important source of concern in Washington over the course of East-West relations.
The Soviets argue once again in their new statement that their involvement in Africa has been perfectly legal, designed to support legitimate African governments who invited them in. Many African leaders have made the same point.
On that basis, the Soviets argue, the United States has no grounds for complaint, let alone for threats that the strategic arms talks could fail because of those African involvements.
Privately, Soviets contend that the Americans are only concerned about African developments because they demonstrate that the Soviets now can act like a real superpower. They note that the Soviets have not directly challenged U.S. interests in Africa (by threatening oil shipments through the Red Sea, say, or interfering with the Gulf Oil Corp. concession in Angola), and claim Moscow has no intention of doing so.
U.S. officials say privately that their real concern is Rhodesia, and perhaps South Africa in the future. Soviet-Cuban involvement in civil wars in either of those countries, administration officials fear, could provoke a superpower confrontation at worst, and seriously stain all Soviet-American relations at best.
The Soviets counter that those are hypothetical concerns, not justified by any events to date.
The politics of SALT. President Carter has argued - in his Annapolis speech and earlier - that events in Africa will make it more difficult to complete a SALT agreement and sell it to the Senate.
The latest Soviet statement responds asking why the administration has not been selling the new SALT agreement all along, preparing the public and the Senate for its final completition.
Senators including Gary Hart (D-Colo.) and John Culver (D-Iowa) have made the same point. Press reports beginning last fall noted the strong Senate opposition to SALT, but the President and his associates have chosen not to begin campaigning for the agreement until it is completed.
Again, elements in the Soviet leadership who doubt the Carter administration's real interest in SALT may feel this is further grounds for their doubts.
To list these problems is no substitute for solving them, and the fact is they may be insoluble. Carter does not now have the option of firing Brzezinski, dropping his human rights rhetoric, accepting superpower equality and the Soviet-Cuban role in Africa and suddenly taking up the political cudgels for SALT.
Nor is there any good reason to believe that if he did all those things, Soviet-American relations would suddenly become rosy. The "objective realities," as the Soviets themselves might put it, point in another direction
The real import of the president's Annapolis speech and the Soviets' reply to it may be that the sort of "detente" that Nixon and Kissinger first produced cannot be sustained. If that is so, then the challenge to both superpowers is whether they can find a way to continue cooperation in what both regard as the crucial area - arms limitation - without that detente.
Outsiders may be fascinated by speculation over which country is responsible for the deterioration of Soviet-American relations, but the significant fact is that the deterioration has occurred. As this list of problems suggests, repairing the damage cannot be a quick or easy job.