Diplomacy for a Crowded World: An American Foreign Policy.
by George W. Ball.
Atlantic-Little, Brown. 356 pp. $12.95.

George Ball, who was Undersecretary of State under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and is currently a partner in Lehman Brothers, brings what might be called a liberal businessman’s perspective to the problems of foreign affairs. A staunch “Europeanist” (and former protege of Jean Monnet), Ball feels that the industrial countries should strengthen their ties and concentrate on the really important matters—like expanding trade and promoting foreign investment—avoiding entanglement in the world’s messier problems.

This point of view, though more characteristic of Republicans than of Democrats, is very much in the American grain, and it was intelligently presented by Ball in an earlier book, The Discipline of Power. But today the United States appears to be a country desperately in search of a moral purpose, and in his latest book Ball unfortunately has chosen to play the unlikely role of the enraged moralist. He is eloquent in his denunciation of our Vietnam policy, caustic in his analysis of our Middle East policy, and tough-minded in his discussion of détente. Upon closer, examination, however, it turns out that for all his indignation, Ball’s views are not all that different from those of former President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger, his two targets of criticism, and his polemical thrusts are often more revealing for what they leave out than for what they include.

To be sure, Ball’s position on detente would seem to be very different from the Nixon-Kissinger position. He argues that under détente the Soviet Union has somewhat improved its manners but has altered neither its ideology nor its politics. He challenges the prevailing idea that the Politburo is split between hawks like the late Marshal Grechko and doves like General Secretary Brezhnev, and points out that, in the past, every alleged breakthrough in Soviet-American relations has been abruptly followed by a period of Soviet intransigence. To the Soviet Union, Ball explains, détente is a maneuver to lull the West into a mood of euphoria. The Soviet hope is that both the United States and Western Europe will significantly reduce their defense budgets, and that American troops will be induced to withdraw from the continent. Ball is sharply critical of Kissinger’s “incessant talk of détente [which] has done far more to weaken Western will and solidarity than the Ostpolitik.”

Yet given his acute analysis of détente, Ball’s advice to the United States on rearranging its relations with the Soviet Union is not only startling but almost inexplicable. “What is now called for,” says Ball, “is a period of polite neglect—neither benign nor malign—while we urgently strengthen our relations with like-minded nations.” In other words, although détente is simply a Soviet ploy to “undermine the West’s concerted resistance to Soviet ideas and Soviet influence,” even so we should “neglect” our Soviet adversary for the time being and rearrange our diplomatic priorities. Presumably, Ball would feel that the growing American alarm over the unprecedented Soviet arms buildup (which he does not discuss) and over the Soviet Union’s increasingly adventurous foreign policy is also obsessive, an unwarranted relic of the cold war. One is thus left with the uneasy suspicion that the main reason Ball is against détente is that Nixon and Kissinger were for it.

In contrast to his discussion of détente, Ball’s analysis of the Arab-Israeli conflict seems almost disingenuous. Thus, although it might seem impossible to discuss the origins of the Six-Day War of 1967 without mentioning Nasser’s blockade of the Straits of Tiran—an action which, according to international law, constituted an act of war—Ball accomplishes the seemingly impossible. “With Nasser inviting a swelling number of Soviet ‘advisers’ with tanks, planes, ships, and rockets into Egypt,” he writes, “Israel struck out in what she claimed to be a necessary protective action that extended her territorial hold all the way across the Sinai, over the Golan Heights, and into Old Jerusalem and the West Bank of the Jordan—where she dug in.” Ball has his chronology wrong. The influx of huge numbers of Soviet “advisers” into Egypt came after the Six-Day War. Israel moved against Egypt because Nasser blockaded her southern port and swore her extinction, not because of a growing Soviet presence in Egypt. Ball’s chronology is in the service of a tactic, however. By ignoring the initial Egyptian aggression, he can proceed to make the totally misleading claim that Israel’s “continued occupation of territories taken by force” is contrary to “accepted principles of international law and the United Nations Charter. . . .”

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According to Ball, it is Israel’s occupation of Arab territory that constitutes the fundamental obstacle to an Arab-Israeli settlement. “Experience in other situations has clearly shown,” he writes, “that so long as the Israelis continued to hold the occupied territories, there could be no lasting peace in the Middle East. . . . Israel will be compelled to remain a garrison state so long as she continues to be an occupying power.” But the relevant question here, surely, is whether Israel will not be compelled to remain a “garrison state” even after it has ceased to be an occupying power. In 1967, in 1956, and in 1948 Israel was not occupying Arab territory, but this did not prevent the Arab blockade of the Straits of Tiran, the Arab use of the Sinai and the Gaza Strip as springboards for murderous terror-raids against the Israeli people, or the invasion of the fledgling Israeli state by five Arab armies; in light of these considerations it should be obvious that it is the Arabs’ rejection of the legitimacy of the state of Israel, and not Israel’s occupation of Arab territory, that lies at the heart of the dispute.

Since Ball believes that the fundamental issue is territorial, his advice is very simple: get Israel to withdraw from occupied Arab territory, and all will be well. He chastises the Johnson and Nixon administrations for eschewing “the tough initiatives required for progress,” and he calls on the United States to declare itself in favor of Israel’s withdrawal “to substantially the borders existing prior to the 1967 war.” This is a simple reaffirmation of the Rogers plan, which was first broached in December 1969, yet, curiously, Ball refrains from even mentioning the Rogers plan, leaving the reader with the impression that he has advanced a daring and startling initiative. In fact, since the United States has never renounced the Rogers plan, Ball’s bold proposal amounts to little more than a suggestion that the government reaffirm the principles it already adheres to.

Ball is a strong critic of Secretary of State Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East. He argues that the disengagement agreements achieved by Kissinger are “the work of a tactician, not a strategist,” and he claims that Kissinger, unlike himself, has no overall concept of an Arab-Israeli settlement. This is simply not so. Like Ball, Kissinger subscribes to the fundamental tenets of the Rogers plan. Kissinger, however, also recognizes that the Israelis cannot simply be stampeded into going back to the 1967 armistice lines, but must be gradually cajoled, step by step.

There is one aspect of Ball’s peace plan that might lay claim to a certain measure of originality. He calls on the United States and the Soviet Union jointly to impose a settlement on the Arabs and Israelis. Indeed, the desire to work alongside the Soviet Union in the Middle East appears to be an idée fixe with Ball. As early as 1969, he writes, it was “my fundamental conviction that a permanent peace was possible only by common action of the United States and the Soviet Union. The immediate parties to the conflict were, in my view, too consumed by suspicion, fear, passion, and too imprisoned by history to be able, by themselves, ever to reach an enduring agreement.”

Ironically, one of the most cogent refutations of the whole idea of trying to solve large international problems through bilateral Soviet-American understandings was provided by none other than George Ball himself. Writing about the prospects of a general European settlement in The Discipline of Power, Ball noted that among some people, “particularly among the young and impatient,” the idea of “a purely bilateral Soviet-American agreement, negotiated over the heads of the Europeans,” seemed the most sensible way of ending the tangled legacy of World War II. But such an agreement, he warned, “could do little more than freeze the status quo, leaving the German question inflamed and unresolved, while creating resentment and instability throughout Europe at the insufferable arrogance of a European settlement ‘dictated’ by non-European powers.” Similarly, a bilateral Soviet-American agreement negotiated over the heads of the Arabs and Israelis would do little more than restore the status quo ante helium, which was itself highly unstable, would leave the whole question of Israel’s legitimacy unsettled, and would create resentment and instability throughout the area at the “arrogance of a . . . settlement ‘dictated’ by” non-Middle Eastern powers. The peoples of the Middle East, no less than the peoples of Europe, can only solve their own problems among themselves.

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Finally, in view of Ball’s evident hostility to Nixon and Kissinger, it is surprising that he has nothing to say about their failure to develop an effective policy vis-à-vis OPEC Pointing to our increasing dependence on Arab oil, Ball might well have asked whatever happened to “Project Independence,” our grand design for energy self-sufficiency. His failure to do so is all the more striking since it is impossible to discuss intelligently the problems either of Western Europe or of Japan, as Ball tries to do, without considering OPEC policies. Ball does, however, berate Henry Kissinger for “maintaining a policy of confrontation toward the OPEC countries, denying them the chance to contribute to amelioration of financial distortions created by higher oil prices.” Whatever he may mean by this—like the Western Europeans, Ball seems to favor a policy of appeasement toward OPEC—it does not make up for his neglect of the most alarming and potentially disastrous failure of the Nixon-Kissinger years.

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