From the National Security Council comes a pronouncement on "The Soviet Union in Crisis" that spells out just what appears to be tantalizing Ronald Reagan -- and misleading him -- about the current world scene. It is a speech (his Washington swan song) by Richard Pipes, the NSC's Soviet specialist, who heads back to Harvard soon. Cleared and touted by National Security Adviser William P. Clark, the speech was delivered in West Germany this week.
To judge by the speech, what tantalizes Reagan is the notion that the Soviet Union is in the grip of a multi-faceted systemic crisis, one evident not only in the usual economic and social indicators but also in Moscow's inability to deliver on its numerous strategic and economic commitments: that's the reason the Kremlin has been passive in Lebanon, Pipes suggests.
What is Moscow's way out? A violent collapse of the Soviet regime is unlikely, he offers. A reversion to Stalinism (without the terror) is feasible but unrealistic. A more rational option is liberal economic reform on the Hungarian model of "goulash communism," a model designed to increase productivity by the offering of incentives but to keep the Communist party's power or perks intact. The Soviet Union's dynamic and illegal "second economy" in food and housing, existing outside the first, planned economy, may already be taking the country that way. Liberal reform could produce a turn inward, away from expansionism, toward domestic concerns.
Interesting, even tantalizing, right? Now comes the suspect part. Pipes skewers the school of d,etentist thought holding, as he puts it, that Soviet reform can best be encouraged "by making life easier for the Soviet authorities: by showering them and their clients with cheap credits, by enabling them, again on credit, to earn large sums of hard currency, by limiting one's reactions to their global ventures to verbal chastisement, and by responding to the Soviet military challenges with a minimal deterrent."
Pipes goes on: "Now no responsible persons can have any illusions that it is in the power of the West to alter the Soviet system or to 'bring the Soviet economy to its knees.' These are spurious objectives. What one can and ought to strive for is compelling the Soviet regime to bear the consequences of its own priorities. We should not make it easier for the (ruling apparatus) to have its cake and eat it: to maintain an inefficient system . . . and build up an aggressive military force and expand globally. Any attempt to help the Soviet Union out of its economic predicament both eases the pressure for internal reform and reduces the need for global retrenchment."
So shut down the Soviet natural gas pipeline, he concludes.
There is logic to Pipes' thesis: why should we make it easier for the Kremlin to compete with us? But it is logic in a political vacuum. It utterly disregards the difficulties of bringing along the European allies, whose total annual trade with the Soviet bloc is something like a dozen times ours, and whose politics are not rigged to allow any European government, even if it were so minded, to apply a Reagan-like squeeze. (Let us leave aside, for considerations of delicacy, the giant American grain sales to Moscow on which the allies cannot help but gag.)
Pipes' line, seconded strongly in the Pentagon, is dominant in the White House today. It explains why the United States has an East-West policy that is convulsing the allies and giving the Soviets a free ride toward their traditional goal of sapping Europe's Atlantic ties. The good sense and moderation with which Secretary of State George Shultz is widely credited has not yet made a detectable mark in this area of policy.
All this means, moreover, that the truly vital question of Atlantic policy that is coming due in 1983 -- will the Europeans stick to their resolve to install new missiles if arms control talks stall? -- will have to be treated in the worst possible conditions of an atmosphere drenched by the European reaction to Reagan's pipeline push.
One sees just where the president is coming from on the pipeline: Pipes' tune must be sweet music to someone with his long-held views on communism and Soviet power. But where is he going to? possible conditions of an atmosphere drenched by the European reaction to Reagan's pipeline push.
One sees just where the president is coming from on the pipeline: Pipes' tune must be sweet music to someone with his long-held views on communism and Soviet power. But where is he going to?