YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Game Plan: HOW TO CONDUCT THE U.S.-SOVIET CONTEST by Zbigniew Brzezinski (Atlantic Monthly: $17.95; 288 pp.) : The Soviet Paradox: EXPANSION, INTERNAL DECLINE by Seweryn Bialer (Knopf: $21.95; 372 pp.)

September 28, 1986|Dean Mills | Mills, professor of communications at Cal State Fullerton, is a former Washington and foreign correspondent who has covered both the Soviet Union and the State Department. and

It is easy to understand why "Game Plan" is a must-read these days in the White House and the Pentagon. The sanitized, metaphorical language of this guide to outsmarting the Russians makes a nuclear attack or two sound like fun--just one move in an elaborate Yuppie board game. What's better, Americans are assured that this is a game they can't lose, provided they play with the requisite machismo.

It is regrettable but probably inevitable that "The Soviet Paradox," a less flashy but much wiser book by Seweryn Bialer, will not be as widely read, either in Washington or around the country. Bialer is no admirer of the Soviet Union, either. But he deals with Russians as they are, rather than as the alternately doltish and demonic caricatures.

Both writers are professors at Columbia University. But Brzezinski's approach owes more to his days as national security adviser to Jimmy Carter than to the scholarly tradition. He prefers calls to action to the tedium of thoughtful analysis. He even provides a 16-page executive summary for the reader too busy to bother with the book.

Brzezinski's central thesis is that the United States and the Soviet Union are engaged in a historic struggle for control of the globe. To win, the United States must develop a "geostrategic" approach that subordinates all policies, including especially arms control policies, to the long-range goal of keeping the Soviet Union out of key pieces of contested real estate.

Each side has its peculiar strengths and weaknesses. The Soviet Union is a "one-dimensional rival" whose claims to economic and ideological superiority lie in shambles for the world to see, and whose only hope for preeminence is based on its military power. The United States is so much more advanced technologically, economically, and ideologically that, in order to prevail, it needs only not to lose militarily.

In the Brzezinski assessment, both powers are about even--for now--in military strength. But democracy's short attention span and fondness for simple, bipolar choices give the Soviets an enormous strategic advantage. The good guy-bad guy swings in our perceptions of the Soviets virtually insure a changing, ineffective, policy.

Soviet leaders do not have to react to erratic changes in public opinion, nor to the yes-or-no questions for the night's network news. They can afford the luxury of planning for the long haul.

Brzezinski is a perceptive and precise diagnostician. He draws his map of present and future flashpoints with the accuracy and thoroughness one would expect of a former national security adviser. (The real prize is, as it has always been, the Eurasian land mass. The critical countries are Poland and West Germany in Europe, South Korea and the Philippines in the Far East, and Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan in Southwest Asia.)

But his prescriptions sometimes border on the loony. On the question of arms control, for example, he argues that the Americans could guarantee more security for the Soviets as well as themselves by forgetting all bilateral attempts to limit strategic arms. He insists the United States could unilaterally insure both sides security through a modified version of the Reagan Administration's proposed Strategic Defense Initiative.

Space-based defensive weapons would not aim to give the U.S. population complete protection against incoming Soviet missiles (an objective that all but President Reagan and his most infatuated supporters concede is technologically impossible anyhow). Instead they would be "deployed in numbers deliberately contrived not to pose a threat of first-strike systems."

In other words, the Americans would deploy strategic weapons so as to protect a reserve of devastating second-strike missiles even after a first-strike by the Soviets. But the Soviets would be assured that the American weapons were not themselves capable of destroying Soviet second-strike capability.

It is difficult to believe that Brzezinski has played any real game but solitaire. Why does he keep forgetting that, in any real game, there are real human opponents, with their own ideas? Would the Soviets really be content with an American explanation that Star Wars is only a defense, not a shield for other weapons whose real purpose is a first strike? In a game of seven-card stud, do you believe me when I assure you my two cards down are a deuce and a tray?

Bialer deals with flesh-and-blood Russians, not the cardboard cut-outs that Brzezinski seems to have set up at the other side of his game table. And he understands the psychological flaw in all American proposals to seek security in new technology: "The assumption is that no American President would ever order a strategic first strike against the Soviet Union. The Soviet leaders are not convinced of this. One superpower's strategic buildup will once again be repeated by the other superpower."

Los Angeles Times Articles