TFR 15 – An Overview of East-West Relations


East-West relations have been characterized over the last 30 years by long-term conflict, intermingled with elements of cooperation. The duration and potential danger of this conflict stem from the combination of a power competition between the two superpowers of our time with a broader "ideological conflict" between rival political, economic and social systems based on fundamentally different values. However, the participants' awareness of a series of common interests, above all in survival, has led them to engage in a number of negotiations and agreements leading to a period which has come to be known as a phase of relaxation of international tension, or "detente." We define "detente" as a term which sums up necessary and useful efforts to limit the forms and range, the risks and burdens of a continuing conflict by negotiation and partial cooperation.

This mixed relationship between East and West is developing in a world characterized by rapid, multiple and often unforeseen changes. Such changes conform neither to the Communist illusion of inevitable transformation as predetermined by the "laws of history" nor to the Western illusion of a stable world order. In such a changing world, it is obvious that the East-West agreements negotiated in the framework of detente cannot guarantee long-term stability; indeed, a number of destabilizing developments have taken place in recent years e.g., the oil crisis and changes in the Middle Eastern balance; developments in Southern Africa; heightened "North-South" tension; advances in arms technology; the advent of democratic regimes in Greece, Portugal and Spain; and the emergence from isolation of some large Communist parties in Western Europe, possibly participating in future governments of NATO members. Taken together, these and other developments have led to increased uncertainty and distrust in both East and West and put a number of difficult issues on the agenda of their relations.

The report discusses the evolution of the Soviet Union and China in the coming years (Chapter II). It analyzes changes in "contested areas" Europe, East Asia, the Middle East and Southern Africa (Chapter III) and shifts in the military balance, at the superpower level and at the regional level in Europe, East Asia and elsewhere (Chapter IV). The conclusions from these analyses are then used in the final chapters addressing the tasks in East-West relations (Chapter V) and problems of intra-Western coordination (Chapter VI).

A stable world order is not a realistic objective for the West in a fundamentally unstable world. The only kind of peaceful world order that we can realistically envisage is one of maximum flexibility for peaceful change. As a basic guideline for its long-term relationship with Communist powers, the West should seek to influence the natural processes of change worldwide in a direction that is favorable to its fundamental values. This does not mean seeking a breakdown of the Communist regimes; but rather, given the difficult economic and political choices which keep facing them (Chapter II), particularly at a time of impending generation change in the Soviet Union, seeking to influence the kind of choices that are possible and necessary within their given basic structure. Through negotiations, in the framework of detente, on the limitation of armaments and of international violence, on terms for economic cooperation and communication across frontiers, the West can shape the alternatives facing its negotiating partners in such a way as to make some choices more rewarding to them than others.

Several major groups of policy goals emerge for the trilateral countries from the analysis in the report:

* Credible Deterrence and Arms Limitations. The credibility of American nuclear deterrence depends considerably on the long-term presence of substantial American forces in Europe and in East Asia; but this alone will not preserve effective deterrence over time without adequate conventional efforts by the allies of the United States. On such a basis, arms limitations may be sought on three levels in SALT, in the MBFR talks, and on intermediate range weapons not yet under negotiation aimed at preserving effective deterrence at the lowest possible levels. In the MBFR case, a conditional NATO willingness to renounce the deployment of the "neutron bomb" could prove a serious inducement to the Warsaw Pact to renounce its tank superiority in exchange.

* Limiting Violence in Crisis Areas. In the absence of general "ground rules" to avoid violence in crisis areas, the use of force as a means of expanding Soviet power and ideological influence can only be prevented by means tailored to specific crises by timely forestalling action before the outbreak of the crisis (not taken by Western governments in the case of Southern Africa); by negotiations for a constructive solution (now being tried in Southern Africa); or by military deterrence through various forms of support. An effort to limit the arms exports of the industrialized powers, East and West, may be the most likely area to seek some rules.

* Management of Economic Interdependence. The growing economic interdependence between groups of states involved in a lasting political conflict requires careful management. The principle should be that no single Western country become dependent on the East for too large a share of vital resources or too large a share of the markets for its vital branches of production, or tie down in the East dangerous amounts of its long-term credits. Effective coordination in this area among trilateral countries is improbable through hard and fast rules. It should be possible to create a permanent organ of mutual, intra-Western information exchange and consultation on questions of economic cooperation with the East, perhaps in the OECD framework. Progress is all the more urgent as, in the absence of common criteria agreed upon by the Western governments for their economic relations with the East, the legitimate Western desire to partially link East-West economic cooperation and EastWest security negotiations is unlikely to become effective. If there are no fruits of detente to be gathered by the West in the field of security, then the Soviets should not be able to count indefinitely on those fruits in economic areas for which they care most.

* Human Rights and Freedom of Communication. Specific improvements can be achieved through East-West diplomatic contacts, provided that they can be shown to be necessary or advantageous for East-West communication and tolerable at the time to the Eastern regimes concerned. This applies in particular to the stipulations on freer movement of people, ideas and literature across frontiers, contained in "Basket III" of the Helsinki Final Act. On those matters that do not touch directly the sensitive issue of the average citizen's right to criticize the regime, the inherent linkage between economic cooperation and East-West communication may enable the West to make some continuing progress.

* Relations with China. The present degree of Sino-Soviet hostility, making relations along the Soviet-Chinese side of the global power triangle distinctly less normal than along the Soviet-American or Chinese-American sides, tends to benefit the West; and the West should help ensure that the present situation continues to be worthwhile for China. In particular, it is clearly in the interest of the West to grant China favorable conditions in economic relations. However, there is no guarantee that this favorable asymmetry will persist indefinitely. A Chinese return to expansionist policies is possible as China gets stronger or if its relations with the USSR are normalized. The trilateral countries have both a political and an economic interest in the stability and independence of the states of Southeast Asia and must welcome and support the efforts of their governments to ensure stability by internal reform and to check violent subversion.

* West European Cohesion and "Eurocommunism." The entry of the French and/or Italian Communists into coalition governments in those countries in which they would not be the major partner is less likely to endanger the democratic system of government than sometimes claimed in Western discussion but might constitute a real danger to the political cohesion of Western Europe and the Atlantic alliance. The best chance to make Communist participation less likely is the success of a government without such participation in overcoming the economic recession; and any international policy that effectively promotes the recovery of Western Europe in general, and these countries in particular, will reduce the probability of Communist government participation. On the other hand, it is not in the power of other Western nations to prevent Communist government participation by external pressure, threats or support for anti-democratic forces. An attempt to isolate or "destabilize" a government with such participation would, from all the lessons of experience, lead to its radicalization and to a strengthening of the very internal conflicts within the West that constitute the main danger of the situation. A constructive policy of continuing to promote the economic stability of these countries would give the "Eurocommunists" a growing common interest with the West. The effort so far made by both the Soviets and the "Eurocommunist" parties to avoid a formal break would be increasingly difficult to sustain.


Jeremy R. Azrael, Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago
Richard Löwenthal, Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Free University of Berlin
Tohru Nakagawa, Former Ambassador of Japan to the Soviet Union

Table of Contents

Summary of Report
I. Introduction
A. Controlling a Long-Term Conflict
B. Detente in an Unstable World
II. The Evolution of the Major Communist Power
A. The Soviet Union
- Between Growth and Rigidity
- Expansion and Tension or Reform and Relaxation?
B. The Chinese People's Republic
- China's Domestic New Course
- The Prospect for Sino-Soviet Relations
- China and the Non-Communist World
III. Changes in the Contested Areas
A. Europe
- Western Europe: Strength and Weakness
- The Eastern Mediterranean
- The Future of Yugoslavia
- Eastern Europe: A Doubtful Soviet Asset?
B. East Asia
- Japan, Russia and China
- Changes in Southeast Asia
- Korea A Focus of Tension
C. The Middle East
- Soviet and Western Dilemmas
- The Problem of International Terrorism
D. Southern and Eastern Africa
E. The Impact of the North-South Problem
IV. Shifts in the Military Balance
A. The Superpowers
- The Broad Picture
- The Question of Strategic Superiority
B. The Regional Balance in Europe
C. The Regional Balance in East and Southeast Asia
- USSR-China
- USSR-Japan
- China-Taiwan
- North Korea-South Korea
- Vietnam and Southeast Asia
V. The Tasks in East-West Relations
A. Our Basis Objectives
B. Some Concrete Policy Goals
- Credible Deterrence and Arms Limitation
- Violence in Crisis Areas
- Economic Interdependence
- Human Rights and Freedom of Communication
C. The Question of "Linkages"
- Security and Economics
- Cooperation and Communication
D. Relations with China
- Preserving Triangular Asymmetry
- A Chinese Return to Expansionism?
VI. Problems of Intra-Western Coordination
A. Force Levels and Their Control
B. Consulting on Economic East-West Cooperation
C. West European Cohesion and "Eurocommunism"
VII. Conclusion: Surviving the Challenge of Coexistence

  • Topics: Economics, Trade, Security, Multilateral Cooperation
  • Region:  North America, Europe, Middle East, Pacific Asia
  • Publisher:  The Trilateral Commission
  • Publication Date:  © 1978
  • ISBN:  0-930503-42-2
  • Pages:  70
  • Complete Text: Click here to download