Commentary Magazine


Western Strategy and Economic Revolution:
Direct or Delaying Action?

As the United States enters upon what promises to be one of the most protracted and confused election campaigns in history, the definition of foreign policy issues is more than customarily murky. The cold war and coexistence continue to be the dominant realities. Both terms are unclear—both slightly shop worn. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly apparent that neither word describes adequately a situation in which mutual distrust and preparation for war remain nearly unaltered, while the respite gained at Geneva last summer from the immediate fear of a major conflict has opened up sweeping vistas of economic and psychological courting among the still uncommitted nations of the globe. To say that in this latter competition the Soviet Union is doing better than the Western powers is simply to underline the rather obvious fact that the Communist leaders are in a position to combine unity and flexibility of maneuver in a fashion that is totally out of the question for the Western coalition.

Faced with this situation, the Republicans can scarcely be expected to discuss the country’s foreign policy with complete candor. It is only on its right wing that the party’s leaders are indelicate enough to declare that we are “losing the cold war.” Senator Know-land and his fellows run no particular risk in speaking thus bluntly. In fact it may be the only course open to them—since their sole avenue to power may lie through arousing a bemused public to the conviction that “creeping socialism” at home is being paralleled by “creeping defeat” abroad. For the Eisenhower administration, however, a cautious approach is imperative. About all that Secretary Dulles, Mr. Stassen, and the rest can offer is an assurance that the national father-image knows best, that things are not as bad as they seem, and that the party that is both the party of peace and the party of uncompromising hostility to Communism at home and abroad is still by far the safer one to which to entrust the nation’s fortunes.

With the Republicans firmly—if slightly illogically—sitting on both the peace and the anti-Communist stools, the Democrats are suffering from dissimilar but equally painful embarrassments. The more responsible party leaders are acutely aware of the dangers of the present situation. They recall with nostalgia the half decade from 1947 to 1952 when the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, the Atlantic alliance, and the Korean war seemed to fit together into a coherent policy of economic and military containment. Most of them are convinced that the current and planned military appropriations are perilously inadequate. Yet to insist too strongly on this point would be to expose themselves once again to the charge of being a war party. The independent voter’s distaste for the Korean war that the election of 1952 revealed has remained a traumatic memory. Similarly, the Democratic leadership is obliged to take account of the peace sentiment within its own ranks: the gentler forms of internationalism have traditionally been more at home among the Democrats than among the Republicans, and hundreds of thousands of erring souls who eight years ago followed Henry Wallace in his melancholy pilgrimage for peace are now safely back in the Democratic fraternity.

Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that neither party feels particularly inclined to discuss foreign policy in realistic terms. Similarly it is in everybody’s interest—again with the exception of the Republican right wing—to obscure the misunderstandings between our own country and its European allies. For the Eisenhower administration, it obviously forms part of the general strategy of keeping calm when official spokesmen assure the public that the Secretary of State is respected (if not precisely beloved) across the Atlantic. At the same time the Democrats are not in a position to exploit to full advantage Mr. Dulles’s inconsistencies and frequent diplomatic gaffes. During the Congressional elections of 1954 Democratic speakers could profitably enlarge on the extent to which two years of Republican rule had disjointed the structure of alliances built up during the Truman administration, and the harm that Senator McCarthy’s exploits—and the President’s protracted toleration of them—had done to American prestige abroad. But now Mc-Carthyism has ceased to be a major public issue, and the President has cut the ground from under his Europe-minded critics by going to meet the Soviet leaders at Geneva. The almost unanimous approval with which this gesture was greeted even by fairly skeptical Europeans suggested that our partners in the Atlantic alliance were not so militant about the anti-Soviet struggle as the Democratic leadership had supposed, and that a simple resuscitation of the Truman-Acheson policy might no longer correspond to the aspirations of Europeans who had been breathing more easily ever since the death of Stalin had seemed to open the way to a return to old-style diplomacy and compromise.

Yet the Geneva meeting merely plastered over the yawning gap between American and European attitudes. The Europeans—and more particularly the British—are more than ever convinced that the Americans are basically ignorant of the international facts of life. They believe that our leaders are too eager for quick solutions—at first infatuated with the slogan of “massive retaliation,” then naively surprised when the abrupt about-face to conciliation at Geneva failed to produce more substantial results. The average European statesman remains persuaded that the world struggle against Communism will not be won tomorrow, indeed that the prospects for the West may of necessity grow much worse before they show any visible improvement. He is prepared to accept diplomatic defeat in his own time provided that the withdrawal is made in good order and more vital positions are reasonably well preserved. He looks to a distant future and a slow reorientation of Communist attitudes to vindicate a policy that on a short-term basis may appear indefensibly timid.

Against this background, one may welcome a book on foreign affairs that clarifies more often than it exhorts—a book European in orientation yet free of anti-American insularity. Written by a man of Continental origin and of British allegiance, G. L. Arnold’s The Pattern of World Conflict has the range and sureness of perception that come from knowledge long pondered. It might well figure as required reading on the ill-furnished shelves of American political leaders warming up for nine months of battle.

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In the opening paragraph of what he describes as an “addition to the growing volume of literature on current affairs,” Mr. Arnold apologizes for discussing once again such familiar topics as “East-West relations, the cold war, and the prospect of ‘peaceful coexistence.’” His justification is rather more convincing than those usually proposed in similar circumstances. The standpoint, he tells us, is uncompromisingly “Atlantic.” His study “attempts a synthesis of views common to liberal and socialist, American and European, supporters of planning. . . . In addition, an effort has been made to combine the analysis of political trends . . . with a brief consideration of long-term processes released by the collapse of the nineteenth-century system of world trade.” To these arguments, a reviewer can join a further justification that the author was obviously not in a position to advance himself—that Mr. Arnold brings to bear on familiar material an inordinately acute, balanced, and well-trained mind and a talent for juxtaposing the old elements of our discontents in new and exciting relationships.

Thus the central argument of the whole work combines a provincial toughness of outlook with an unexpected freedom from what the anthropologists have taught us to regard as the unforgivable sin of being “culture-bound.” Mr. Arnold writes as a self-confident defender of Western or “Atlantic” society: he sees no reason to examine or to apologize for this fundamental loyalty. At the same time he is well aware that the fate of the world no longer rests exclusively in the hands of Europeans or North Americans: the decisive battles, ideological and economic, are being fought for the allegiance of Asia and other “backward” areas. As conventionally presented, the latter argument usually includes some element of apology or self-denigration, some sense of shame for the past misdeeds of colonial powers and for the continuing disparity in living standards that separates the Atlantic community from the rest of the world. It frequently presupposes a bias in favor of alien cultures and an unfavorable comparison between the materialistic society to which the author himself belongs and the spiritual values for which the non-Western sector of humanity is presumed to stand. With all such sentimental and quasi-mystical arguments, Mr. Arnold is frankly impatient. His is rather a thoroughly pragmatic line: one can rescue the Atlantic community only if one rescues the rest of the world in the process.

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Briefly the argument runs as follows. The end of the 19th century saw the breakdown of the world market and of the Pax Britannica associated with it. The First World War merely accelerated a process that was already far advanced. In the inter-war years the expansionist policies of Germany and Japan represented the efforts of medium-sized powers to adjust to a situation in which there existed neither a true international balance nor the hegemony of a single power. It was only at the end of the Second World War that a certain clarity returned to international relations with the emergence of a world dominated by two super-powers. After the confusions and uncertainties of the immediate postwar period, the facts of the new situation gradually gained general recognition. But it has taken longer to arrive at an understanding of exactly what the cold war was about. To explain this is the purpose of Mr. Arnold’s book.

We should be mistaken, he says, to view the present conflict simply as a struggle between freedom and compulsion—economic, political, or moral. The real problem of Communism is far more puzzling than that For Communism represents one answer—a partial and perverted and immensely costly answer, it is true—to the demand for modernization and industrialization that has become nearly universal in the economically retrograde areas of the world. It has long been a stock argument of Stalinist (and even anti-Stalinist) polemics to claim that the Soviet Union has devised a highly contagious method for leaping directly from “feudalism” into a “socialist” society. This contention, Mr. Arnold maintains, like so much in Marxist apologetics, clothes a kernel of validity in an outdated and inappropriate vocabulary. The real struggle, he tells us, is not between socialism and capitalism: under modern conditions of state planning both of these terms have become almost meaningless. It is a question, rather, of what sort of group will direct the economic and social revolution that is currently in progress among three-quarters of the world’s population—a handful of professional revolutionaries drawn from the intellectual and managerial strata to whose drives for power and self-dedication Communism offers an appealing ideological synthesis, or a somewhat less ruthless elite that will look to the West for economic and moral encouragement.

The tasks that face the Western coalition, then, are: first, to strengthen its own defenses by reorganizing what is now simply a military alliance into a true Atlantic federation; second, to seize from the Communists the leadership in the revolution which is in full flood in Asia, and in its incipient stages in Africa, the Near East, and Latin America. It is incumbent on the Western powers, and more particularly the United States, to support “nationalist regimes with a strong socialist flavoring” in a “program that effectively links capital accumulation to wider economic and social aims.” The time for such a transfer of initiative may be short, but it exists. Neither side would at present derive any sure advantage from breaking the military deadlock. Wars are still likely to occur, but there is a good chance that they will be “confined to areas where no fundamental issues are involved. . . . Is it not . . . probable that we are moving into a twilight zone of ‘neither peace nor war,’ in which the ‘cold war’ and ‘coexistence’ will increasingly appear to be merely two sides of the same medal?”

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It is impossible in so schematic a summary to give an adequate idea of the polemical vigor, the subtlety of argumentation, and the freedom from the usual ideological blinders that characterize Mr. Arnold’s book. It is a powerful, sensible, realistic work. That it may not be totally original is no particular count against it: the influences it shows are of the highest intellectual merit—among them Ambassador George Kennan and the late Professor Joseph Schumpeter. Mr. Arnold occasionally lets himself be carried away by his own rhetoric; the polemic against the “neoliberal Utopia” of 1945-46 with which he launches his main arguments takes too much at face value the illusions of the immediate postwar era. Even here, however, he rescues his position by concentrating his attention not, as is customary, on the Yalta conference—which essentially ratified a fait accompli in Eastern Europe and a fait about to be accompli in China—but on Potsdam, where the Western powers in fact had some room for maneuver, and whose decisions in a “casual manner . . . canceled ten centuries of European history.”

Elsewhere Mr. Arnold flails about him with a sure sense for intellectual weakness and political claptrap. In a few deft sentences he demolishes the pieties with which discussion of the United Nations is usually surrounded. He is no less merciless toward the “inanities” of American politics in general and of the Republican right wing in particular. The shibboleths of free enterprise similarly find no favor with him. At this point, having left his American readers gasping, he turns on his own countrymen, the British, with a spirited assault on the sentimental Arabophilia that has made the Near East the “favorite playground of politically minded orientalists, historians anxious for a role in the cold war, and people who prefer horse-drawn vehicles to motor traffic.” The Mediterranean is, in fact, the area about which Mr. Arnold has the greatest number of original things to say and where he displays to best advantage his analytical and polemical talents.

To the customary division between Eastern and Western Europe he suggests that we add a new category of Southern Europe to include the whole Mediterranean arc extending from Portugal to Turkey. This area, he argues, represents the fatally weak flank of the Atlantic community. Here again sentimentality and a love of the picturesque have obscured the economic and social realities. Few English or Americans realize that the South is the most backward part of the Continent and lags notably behind Eastern Europe in industrial activity. Even a comparatively well-informed reader may be surprised to learn that Poland has already outstripped Italy and is approaching the French level of per capita production. (Living standards are a different matter, since, on the Soviet model, the Eastern European countries have sacrificed consumption to capital investment, but in the long pull it is productivity that counts.)

This documented indictment of Mediterranean stagnation—and of American complacence in such countries as Greece and Spain—suggests a number of corollaries. More particularly, it provides a pragmatic justification for the contention that of America’s eccentric friends it is Tito who is in some sense preferable to Franco. Usually this argument is advanced on emotional grounds—with youthful memories of the Spanish Civil War somewhere in the background. For Mr. Arnold it is simply a question of an economy that is rapidly modernizing itself against an economy that is “so seriously unbalanced that some of the main branches of industry have still not recovered their 1929 level,” and in which “between 1940 and 1950 there was no advance whatever in farm output, while simultaneously the rural population rose by ten per cent.”

With the alternatives lined up as “conservative militarists” and “elderly bedridden intriguers” on the one hand, and dynamic variants of the Soviet experiment on the other, the latter choice obviously holds no terrors for Mr. Arnold. Indeed, he would positively welcome the growth of heretical Communist movements. “The Yugoslav miracle,” he argues, “was an un-covenanted piece of luck, for which Western policy-makers have not ceased to apologize, as though it were something to be ashamed of.” Tito may be an uncertain friend, but he may also point the way out of the current international impasse. What Mr. Arnold apparently has in mind for the less developed nations of the earth is a kind of synthesis of Yugoslav and Turkish experience—elitist regimes devoted to state planning, which might be democratic in aspiration, but in the short run would not shrink from dictatorial or even totalitarian procedures.

In brief, to win the world struggle we must beat the Communists at their own game. This is the recipe that Mr. Arnold finally offers us. He makes no secret of the fact that a great deal of Marx has gone into it, that in the Communist “mixture of fact and fancy, shrewd theorizing and illogical extrapolation,” there is much that corresponds to the realities of our current situation. In the abstract, such a recognition of indebtedness is not particularly alarming; on the contrary, it offers a wholesome change from the tendency of American publicists to crib from Marx and Lenin without acknowledgment. In concrete terms, however, the implications of this line of reasoning are disquieting indeed.

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Mr. Arnold is no more tender with pessimism and historical fatalism than he is with liberal or agrarian sentimentality. He has a robust scorn for defeatism of all sorts, and he manages to work into his analysis the sideswipe at Toynbee that has become virtually de rigueur in recent years. Yet, realistically considered, his own program could well encourage a defeatist mentality. “The least that can be done in this situation,” he argues, “is to recognize it for what it is. At bottom it is a question of controlling and directing the revolution that is now lifting the bulk of mankind to a new technological level.” But is this a likely prospect? Is there any present indication that the leading Western statesmen have the remotest intention of pouring the money and effort into the undeveloped areas of the world that such a policy would require? If in the heyday of the Truman administration Point Four remained the inadequate statement of good intentions that Mr. Arnold recognizes it to have been, would an expanded program run any better chance in the present atmosphere of intensified national egoism on both sides of the Atlantic?

Thus Mr. Arnold falls into the trap that awaits so many clear-sighted proponents of astringent remedies. By stating his alternatives in too bleak a form, he runs the risk that his readers will settle for the choice that he intended them to reject. If things are really so bad as Mr. Arnold says, the weary citizen of the West may conclude that there is little to be done about it—that India and the rest will sooner or later “go Communist”—and that the Atlantic community (which sheer necessity will doubtless drive into the federation that Mr. Arnold proposes) will eventually be obliged to stand off the united assault of the vast majority of mankind.

This may well be the case, and it would be intellectually frivolous to dismiss such a prospect as simply too depressing. But I venture to suggest that there is another possibility of salvation—a modest one to which Mr. Arnold gives only passing attention—that has long been the unstated major premise of Britain’s foreign policy. It is that the Atlantic powers are forced by circumstances to fight what is little more than a delaying action, that the battles that have been lost—China, Indo-China, and the rest-are simply the first of a series of probable defeats that will end only when the Communist world has become so vastly extended as to prove unmanageable, or until some notable change of heart takes place within the Communist governing class. Under these circumstances, the British have tried to play a weak hand with some sort of style—to put a good face on concessions that they have resisted up to the last possible moment; to accept diplomatic humiliation in return for a window or two on the East; and to work quietly and tirelessly to widen every possible crevice in the apparently monolithic international alignment confronting them. This Fabian policy has certainly been inglorious. To date it has received only the accidental vindication of the Titoist defection from the Communist camp. Yet without assuming some such basic premise, it is impossible to understand the ostensible equanimity with which the British have regarded the victory of Mao Tse-tung in China and the ideological tergiversations of Nehru in India.

This is not to say that the British have been particularly pleased by what has happened in Asia during the past decade. But the comparatively elegant fashion in which they departed from India and the sudden enhancement of their standing among Asians that resulted from it have endowed them with a serenity in regarding Far Eastern problems that is in marked contrast to the more harassed attitude of the French and Americans. The Indo-Chinese war is a case in point. The tragic confusion in its conduct and the Franco-American misunderstandings that punctuated it arose from the fact that it simultaneously formed part of the worldwide struggle against Communist expansion, and represented a thoroughly anachronistic effort to hold on to the last important European colony in Asia. Up to the very end, these two elements were never properly disentangled. Apparently the British realized this all along: enlightened by their experience in India, they suspected that the Indo-Chinese war could never be brought to a satisfactory conclusion. Similarly, their current attitude of detachment with regard to Burma and Indonesia suggests a conviction that the Western powers can do little to influence the internal evolution of these countries. A corresponding skepticism extends to the efforts of American policy-makers to build up an Asian anti-Communist front out of what, to the British, seem little more than bits and pieces—Pakistan, Thailand, the Philippines, and Formosa. The British attitude has the virtues and the weaknesses of the wisdom of the disabused.

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Nothing could be further from the conventional American insistence on positive solutions. Yet for a brief moment last summer the President of the United States seemed to have subscribed to the British world-view. Mr. Arnold’s book was completed only a few weeks before the Geneva conference opened. But nothing that hap pened there altered in any fundamental sense what he had written. In fact, Mr. Arnold’s statement about the present unlikelihood of large-scale nuclear warfare was only confirmed by the tacit pledges given at Geneva, which represented the single substantial achievement of that gathering. And the whole argument of his book suggests how foolish it was to have expected any more of the “Geneva spirit.” If American statesmen have subsequently voiced their disappointment at Soviet behavior, it shows either that they were perilously naive last summer, or that they were willing to close their eyes to reality in order to obtain a brief flurry of popularity at home and abroad on bargain terms.

It is almost inconceivable that the President and his advisers did not know what they were doing at Geneva—that they were inaugurating a period of international détente from which the Communist powers would reap nearly all the obvious advantages. That they were willing to do so suggests that their ultimate judgment of the international situation was nearly as pessimistic as that of the British. Their line of action at Geneva makes sense only in terms of a grave doubt as to their desire or ability to persuade the American public to accept the drastic economic sacrifices that Mr. Arnold’s program would entail.

At the time of the Geneva meeting, the American election campaign was only on the horizon. Half a year later, electoral considerations have become of acute importance in calculating budget figures on foreign aid. President Eisenhower and his advisers have displayed notable courage in proposing to increase these figures. But the controversy that the administration’s proposals have aroused—not only among Republicans but among certain influential Congressional Democrats—underlines the electoral explosiveness of the whole issue. It suggests once again the limits to public acceptance of an expensive and truly revolutionary program for economic expansion abroad.

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If this is indeed the case, then certain minor concomitants of the Geneva meeting deserve closer attention than they have to date received. The beginnings of cultural exchange and the relaxation of passport and visa restrictions on both sides have in general been assumed to be more beneficial to the Soviet Union than to the West. But is this necessarily true? Perhaps we have been guilty of underestimating our own powers of persuasion. The techniques of Communist subversion in the West are well known and long ago reached a point of diminishing returns. The potentialities of Western “subversion” of the Soviet world are as yet untried. The new opportunities for personal contact that resulted from the Geneva conference for the first time offer an avenue of approach to the Communist managerial class. And the longing on the part of this social stratum for some relaxation of the intolerable tension under which they are currently forced to live represents the most serious psychological problem confronting the Communist regimes.

In his less expansive moments, Mr. Arnold advances a similar thesis in somewhat more tentative terms. “The only stratum in Soviet society that can at present be appealed to by the West is the managerial one, and the only program that fits its needs is one which takes the hierarchical structure of Soviet society for granted and merely seeks to rid it of the monstrosities accumulated during the Stalinist epoch.” Eventually, such an appeal may bring about a substantial revision of Stalinist concepts among the Communist governing class. “Having taken the first step on the road to sanity it is not inconceivable that they will in time shed enough of their mental apparatus to make coexistence genuinely workable. Yet to say this is merely to express a hope, not to risk a prediction.” On this note of cautious expectation, which Mr. Arnold offers simply as a corollary to his more positive argument, the author and the present writer can part in harmony.

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