31 JANUARY 1976, Page 2

The limits of detente

It has been clear for some time that whatever measures he took to resist deliberate and considered Russian expansion at various points around the world, Dr Kissinger was unwilling to put at risk such progress as has been made in the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks. It was not until the Secretary of State's recent visit to Moscow, however, that the separation of exchanges about nuclear weapons from the more conventional aspects of détente negotiations was erected into a principle`of diplomacy. As such it has yet to receive the attention it deserves.

Hitherto Dr Kissinger has been the most ardent exponent in the diplomatic world of what he himself has called "linkage" — that is the view that all the elements, whether geographical, military or diplomatic in international relations are linked together, and that movement, victory or defeat in any one area automatically alters the placing and weight of all the other counters on the board. He is thus, as most American Secretaries of State have been, a system-builder, and he has claimed that his personal assessment of each of his initiatives in foreign policy is governed not merely by its local effect, but by its more general impact on world politics. Whereas the European tradition in diplomacy has generally concerned itself either with the assertion of a single national interest, or with a correct reading of and adaptation to ungovernable factors in the international situation — the activities of Dr Kissinger's hero, Metternich, notwithstanding — the American has, historically, attempted to create new orders in international affairs not only in the American but in, as they have seen it, the general interest.

This view Dr Kissinger has now abandoned: he has chosen to continue with such moves as he can still make on the SALT front, regardless of, say, Russian intervention in Angola, or the unwillingness of either Congress or his allies to support him in resisting Soviet aggression in Africa. Now, it is generally understood in the West that what the Russians have been doing in Somalia, Syria, the Lebanon, Angola and India, and on the high seas, is deeply inimical to Western interests: Senator Henry Jackson has been asserting as much in the United States for a long time, and Mrs Thatcher's recent speech — which elicited so powerful a Russian reaction — has merely been the most hard-hitting and wide-ranging of a series of warnings by leading Western politicians. However, the Western Powers have shown themselves unwilling to become involved in direct confrontation with the agents of Russian imperialism in the Third World. Dr Kissinger's new thesis is that the SALT talks are so crucial in themselves, so vital to the prospects for world peace and war, that even extremely important conventional interests must be set aside so that they can be pursued. Thus, even in the European theatre the system of linkage —between SALT, the Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction negotiations in Vienna and the détente exchanges — which, until a couple of years ago was central to the Western posture vis-ti-vis the Soviet Union (and especially heavily emphasised when Lord Home was British Foreign SecretarY) is being allowed to collapse. The grand question to be asked of Dr Kissinger now is, of course, whether it has all been worth it. It is extremely difficult to calculate exactly what the strategic balance between the two super-powers is. But, if we take the crude figures for weapon megatonnage — the destructive capacity of the two nuclear arsenals — then there can be no doubt that the balance has shifted decisively in favour of the USSR since the opening of the era of détente. It . is probable, however, that American delivery systems are superior; and that American MIRVs — Multiple and Independently Targeted Reentry Vehicles — are more dangerous than anything the Russians possess, There is no support in the history of the negotiations for Dr Kissinger's view that such de-escalation of the nuclear arms race as there has been has either been produced by a deep desire on both sides for peace or has served the Western interest generally or the American in particular. This, at any rate, was the view strongly held by the former Secretary of Defence Dr James Schlesinger; and it was his advocacy of it against Dr Kissinger that led to his dismissal. Dr Kissinger, of course, has hea.vy personal investment in SALT, since the opening of the negotiations were his and President Nixon's great initiative in relations with the USSR: he can scarcely afford to let it be seen that they have yielded little that is of tangible benefit. It seems increasingly obvious — and there are indications that President Ford is beginning to understand this — that the US commitment to SALT is seriously and unnecessarily damaging world-wide Western interests: and if this becomes generally believed it will be evident that Dr Kissinger has served his purpose as Secretary of State.