THE AWARD for stand-up comic of the week must go to Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet Union's top banana. He was on stage in New Delhi, having been graciously booked by a leading Third World impresario, Indira Gandhi, notwithstanding the fact that the Soviet Union is still struggling to subdue the neighbor it mugged last December even while it contemplates mugging a second neighbor now. What does Leonid Ilyich do for his big number? He advances, naturally, a "doctrine of peace and security" by which the Soviet Union and other outsiders would agree to keep hands off the Persian Gulf. No foreign bases, no nukes, no threats of force, no internal interference, no obstacles to trade or the transit of oil, no membership in blocs: the works.
Actually, the proposal is not a joke but a joker. Plenty of people in India are already prepared to let the Soviet Union off the hook for Afghanistan and Poland, and plenty of other Third Worlders are ready to resume propaganda-as-usual against the wicked imperialists.The Persian Gulf countries that have chosen to associate themselves with this country for security purposes will recognize at once that the Brezhnev initiative would have the effect of moving American power out of the area and leaving the area even more vulnerable than it already is to Soviet grace. But the Kremlin is likely to get a good deal of mileage out of the brezhnev proposal all the same.
There is a larger fact, one made painfully evident a year ago by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviet Union is increasingly able and disposed to play a major role in the Persian Gulf region. It has always had the proximity and now it has the power. In this stage, and as the outsider and the new boy, its role is negative. It contributes not to security but to insecurity. That is why in the last year or so -- and only, note, in the last year or so -- the United States has been drawn directly, even reluctantly, into security arrangements in a region "at a distance of many thousands of kilometers," in Mr. Brezhnev's words. Washington is there by invitation of countries that fear most the depredations committed or sponsored or made possible by Soviet power. It is up to them to determine the worth of a Kremlin proposal whose core -- a respect for the sovereignty of weaker countries -- was under relentless Soviet assault in Afghanistan and Poland even as Mr. Brezhnev spoke.