18 JANUARY 1975, Page 8

West realigns, East reassesses

Gerald Segal

The West has refound its basic unity. This seems to be the plainest message decodable from the series of meetings, some at summit level, others at foreign minister and defence minister levels, some held within NATO and the EEC, others on a bilateral basis, which took place within the western world during December.

The pressure to achieve a realignment of western policies apparently derives from an awareness of a double challenge: the possibility that the détente period may be at an end and the knowledge that another oil embargo could so damage western economies as to make them fundamentally unstable — a condition easily exploitable by the Societ Union as the "final crisis of capitalism." The story can be written largely as an account of how France, the main obstacle to the unity of the western world, was persuaded that she had really no choice but to realign her policies with those of her partners in the EEC and in NATO. This involved — within the EEC: accepting the view of the Seven that every effort should be made to make continuing British membership possible; within NATO: accepting common positions with other members on fundamental East-West issues; and, on energy policy, meeting the positions of both fellow EEC members and the US.

The overall result is the emergence of an "Atlantic Europe" and achieving it did not prove to be very difficult. The first blow to the French came at the EEC summit meeting in Paris on December 9-10. They found themselves and not the British isolated and far from being able, as seems to have been their aim, to impose terms on the Wilson administration which the British people were absolutely certain to reject, they were compelled to accept a position which made it conceivable that the British people in the end would vote yes. (Thus Britain will get something from the agreed regional policy arrangements and the communiqué agreed that unfair burdens should not be imposed on members.) And on energy, the French President, Giscard d'Estaing, far from being able to persuade his fellow heads of state to follow France in a policy independent of the United States, became in the end the emissary of the EEC on a mission aimed at reconciling the French and American positions, at a meeting with US President Gerald Ford at Martinique.

But before that meeting took place the western powers under the aegis of NATO had virtually reformulated the nature of their relationship with the communist bloc; and the French accepted that reformulation although in some respects, particularly in regard to the Geneva European Security Conference, it contradicted their previously stated positions.

A hint of the changes to be expected was given in a talk at the Belgian Royal Institute on 'Détente and Security' by Dr Leslie Brown, the Director of the Office of International Security Policy and Planning in the US State Department, which I take that to be Kissinger's own private 'think tank.' "Détente," he informed his audience which included high ranking officials of the communist bloc embassies who were scribbling furiously, is not a state of political equilibrium, it does not prescribe anything concrete." Détente's real objective is to "reinsure whatever means of stability we now enjoy by establishing rules which may hopefully give us more security at lower cost." He then went on to caution that, "so long as there is equal benefit for all we can negotiate technical agreements or any political agree

ment" and pointing out that the US-USSR relationship was one of adversaries he warned that "the US will compete unilaterally in anything, even strategic arms, if we have to." And just in case the Communist bloc leadership should draw the wrong conclusion from the current western economic crisis he several times emphasised that "the current US arms bill is equivalent to the amount Americans spend annually on cigarettes" — nothing more than that.

The conclusion I drew from listening to and later arguing with Dr Brown was that the Americans were concerned lest the Russians misconstrue the American understanding of détente and venture to seek some military and thereafter political advantage. The communiqué of the NATO defence ministers seems to support this view, for in paragraph 2 they allege that "the USSR is determined to seek military superiority over the West" and that Soviet military power is far in excess of that needed for self-defence. The defence ministers were in effect accusing the Russians of being at least potentially aggressive.

In such a situation the obvious question is what becomes of détente. The NATO foreign ministers later the same week signalled to the Russians that further progress depended upon them. The communiqué talks about "progress albeit uneven towards détente over the past six months" (in other words we are not actually living in a period of détente) and links the future of détente policy with Berlin (effectually Western access to the city) and the Vienna Mutual Balanced Force Reduction negotiations (which have achieved nothing so far).

This same tougher western attitude was reflected in the statement on the Geneva Security conference negotiations. The previous week, just prior to the EEC Summit, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev had been to Paris for discussions with the French president and the French had agreed that the conditions had already been created for the speedy conclusion of the Geneva conference at a summit meeting of heads of state. This means that there was no need for further Soviet concessions on the issue of free exchange of information and people. At the NATO council, however, French foreign minister Jean Sauvanargues denied that the French had agreed to anything of the kind and insisted that the original communique text contained various reservations. Henry Kissinger later remarked somewhat sarcastically, "There are subleties in the French language difficult to translate into English."

The upshot was that the NATO communiqué accepted by the French emphasised that "important questions remain to be solved" and made no commitment to a summit closure of the Geneva conference.

This leads to a further question: why did Dr Kissinger take a tough line on the Geneva conference at this meeting, whereas six months before it was he who had sought to persuade the Dutch and the Canadians not to make a sticking point of the free exchange principle, arguing, by analogy, that the free passage of news and people into Hitler's Germany had not affected the regime in any way? Had he changed his mind because he was disappointed by the outcome of the Brezhnev-Ford Vladivostock summit?

The scene then changed to Martinique — where instead of Kissinger and Sauvanargues duelling alone they were joined by their respective presidents — and there agreement was reached on what was called a compromise of the French and American positions on energy, although it was virtually a French surrender to the American position. Logically, the overall trend should denote the end of French Gaullist geopolitics which may not be unwelcome to Giscard d'Estaing who is rumoured to be an Atlanticist manqué, and may equally have got a little worried after Brezhnev cancelled a luncheon engagement with him, retired to the Soviet Embassy and summoned French Communist Party leader Georges Marchais for talks instead.

It is a pity that discussion and speculation about current Soviet policies has become caught up in the question of whether or not Brezhnev is suffering from an incurable illness and the consequences which may or may not follow from this. There is, however, a good deal of evidence to show that Brezhnev, irrespective of the true state of his health, is politically vulnerable.

It is clear from the recent report by chief planner Nikolai Baibakov that the original ninth five-year plan targets (1971-1975) will not be achieved and there is indeed doubt whether the reduced targets — for example, the reduction of planned electric power generated from 1065 to 1035 milliard kwt/hours — will be reached. Soviet agriculture, which Brezhnev made his own particular province after taking over the leadership from Nikita Khrushchev in October 1964, and to which he allocated enormous investment, has failed to yield the output he forecast and he has taken to the silly deception of quoting 'gross' figures of farm production rather than the net yield, and even they are lower than the targets.

Neither has Brezhnev succeeded in introducing an efficient management system into the economy. On the contrary, having presided over the abandonment of the economic reform of the mid-'sixties which aimed at raising efficiency by using such market criteria as profit, profitability and flexible pricing, and having substituted the political passions and appeals of the Communist Party network in its place, he was reduced last year to admitting that the next (the tenth) five-year plan would have to have as its keynote, efficiency. But he failed to offer a coherent management organisational structure with appropriate criteria which could secure it.

There are other issues relating to foreign policy. Last October 6 he left Moscow for Berlin for what appeared, judging from the picture which appeared of him in the newspaper lzvestiya, to be a triumphal visit to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic. There he stood in the centre of the picture, coat flamboyantly unbuttoned, surrounded by smiling colleagues, a bouquet of flowers in his hand. For the next three days all the reports, including his receipt of the Order of Karl Marx, seemed to testify to his triumph. Yet the photograph of him on his return to Moscow revealed him in disgrace—to the left of the picture, severe, buttoned up and no flowers, his own normal position taken by the leading ideologist, Mikhail Suslov. The reason seems to be (it is implied in the Pravda editorial of the same day) that, in his major speech in Berlin, Brezhnev had said that "the experience of the GDR in building socialism in an industrially developed country has substantially enriched Marxist-Leninist thought and will serve as a good example for our class brothers in the capitalist countries." The extraordinary thing is not that a Leninist ideologist like Suslov and others of Brezhnev's colleagues should object to such a statement but that Brezhnev should have made it. For he was in effect asserting that the GDR and its Communist Party (the Socialist Unity Party) and not the USSR and its Communist Party, which Lenin himself had founded, constituted the model to be followed by the Communists of the western world.

It is an incident that may hint at a difference • of view as between Brezhnev and some of his colleagues, led by Suslov, on the nature of the

International Communist Movement and the role of the Soviet Union and Soviet Communist Party within it, Brezhnev taking a softer line.

And the issue may also extend to the question of relations between the Western communist and socialist parties. Thus, at the French Communist Party congress in December 1972, Suslov, as the fraternal Soviet delegate at a time when the French communists were busy cementing their alliance with Fran gois Mitterand's Socialist Party, insisted that in the final analysis no Communist Party could surrender its independent and vanguard role as the leader of the working class. Soviet-Romanian relations may constitute a further example. A few months ago when there were rumours of an impending Soviet attack, Romanian government sources spread a report among western correspondents in Bucharest that Soviet agents were responsible for a recent series of incendiary activities in Romanian industrial plant. The Soviet authorities issued a denial and the matter was dropped. Nevertheless, Dr Kissinger thought it worthwhile to visit Romania and Yugoslavia—visits which were interpreted as gestures of support to both countries in face of Soviet pressure. There is no doubt that Romanian 'indepen dence, as manifested by that country's refusal to allow Warsaw Pact manoeuvres to be held on its territory, to allow passage of Soviet troops through the country in the event of another Middle East crisis and to accept the latest Soviet proposals for Comecon supranationalism in the form of joint planning and socialist multinationals, does stick in the throat Of the Soviet military leadership and presumably sections of the political leadership.

But what of Leonid Brezhnev? There was an Odd incident on August 21, 1971, the third anniversary of the invasion of Czechoslovakia which Romania had objected to, when — having resisted the more far-reaching of Soviet proposals, the Romanians secured in June a fairly mild Comecon integration document, and there was again talk of Soviet demands for Warsaw pact manoeuvres on Romanian soil and Romanian resistance _ Pravda splashed over its front page a Central Committee decree attacking the economic performance of the Gorky region and in particular its automobile and chemical industries. Was it, in fact a typically Soviet-style Byzantine attack on Brezhnev, who had made the Gorky region his own fief, promoting the former automobile Plant's party secretary Katushev to be the „ _regional secretary, then bringing him to !..v,loscow and making him a Secretary of the Central Committee with responsibility for relations between the Soviet Communist Party and the parties of the communist bloc and who Was at that moment negotiating with the

ornanians? Brezhnev survived, Romania was not attacked and about three months later Gorky 9elebrated its 300th anniversary and the official letter of congratulations dismissed in a few Words the vicious attack to which the area had .Oeen subjected. But the issue of Romania and the route to the Middle East still remains. On the basis of this analysis Brezhnev would

appear to be a moderating influence, which is not to say he favours détente as the West understands the term. It does mean that he and IS supporters might be more conciliatory in ocertain areas and might seek to avoid the kind t confrontation which others — believing, as has frequently been asserted in recent Soviet publications, that the world balance of power tl_a,s shifted in favour of the Communist camp — might be tempted to try. A communist coup in Portugal is one Pssibility. Another is the rapid development of w.o Id espread communist-led strike movements itthe kind which shook Western Europe in the e'forties.

Segal has contributed regularly to The _Pectotor from Brussels, and is a specialist in fast-West affairs