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'Our Faith in Treaties'

June 06, 1986

Kirkpatrick advises us to beware of agreements with Communist governments because of their failure in the past to honor their treaty commitments.

She offers the World War II Yalta pact as "the prime example" of Communist bad faith. Kirkpatrick's example is unfortunate and unpersuasive because the Western powers were guilty of an equally gross violation at precisely the same time.

The Yalta pact was signed in February of 1945, the same month when the Varkiza pact was signed in Athens after Greek Resistance fighters had been driven out by Winston Churchill's imperial forces. Just as Yalta provided that the East European peoples should have "free elections" and governments "responsive" to their will, so Varkiza provided that the Greek people should have political and civil liberties that were spelled out in detail.

Many Americans know that Yalta was violated, but almost none know that Varkiza also was violated, and just as brutally. The grisly details are available in reports sent by American correspondents at the time, and also in diplomatic dispatches now being made public.

The basic issue we face is not whether governments can be trusted to honor treaties they have signed, because the record shows that no governments will comply with obligations contrary to what they deem to be to their interests.

Israel's Abba Eban revealed recently that France in 1957 pledged to support Israel if Egypt blockaded the Straits of Tiran. Egypt did blockade the waterway in 1967, and Eban went to Paris to "collect" the promised French support. When Charles de Gaulle refused, Eban asked, "What has changed since your assurance was given 10 years ago?" De Gaulle replied, "The date has changed. Guarantees are not absolute. Things evolve."

Eban's conclusion from this experience is that "Escape clauses are maintained in even the most resolute commitment, and even if the clauses are not written, they should be assumed."

Kirkpatrick's basic assumption of a morality differential among states is an illusion. The key question is not whether Government A is more or less trustworthy than Government B. Rather it is whether projected agreements with Nicaragua or Angola or Afghanistan correspond with the interests of the signatories. If they do, the agreements will be respected. If they do not, they will be violated. Consequently the prerequisite for any meaningful settlement of current world disputes is the negotiation of treaties genuinely respectful of the interests of all the concerned parties.

Kirkpatrick does not seem to have such treaties in mind when she insists that the Sandinistas first must "dismantle their dictatorship." Kirkpatrick's primary objective appears to be not treaty compliance, as she states in her article, but prior hara-kiri by the other side. It would be nice if they complied, but should we be surprised or accusatory if they don't?


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