SOVIET OBJECTIVES AND TACTICS AT THE BELGRADE CONFERENCE

Created: 5/1/1977

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Soviet Objectives and Tactics at the Belgrade Conference

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Soviet Objectives and Tactics at the Belgrade Conference

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Summary

Moscow is on the defensive as preparations for the Belgrade follow-up conference to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) gel under way.

Tlic Soviets misjudged the impact of the human rights provisions of the Helsinki agreement in Eastern Europe and ut home, where they credit the Helsinki agreement with contributing to their recent difficulties with dissident*.

The Soviets arc anxious to prevent further Western exploitation of Iheir weakness In the area of human rights.

Moscow is seeking to headenewal of the Western human rights campaign at Belgrade with preemptive diplomatic efforts employing both persuasion and pressure.

If these efforts fall, the Soviets will he prepared to defend their record on human rights) al Belgrade and lo atlack the Western record on implementation, focusing on MCM such as racial discrimination and unemployment in the West.

The Soviets can also be expected to arrive preparedull set of proposal* in the general area of detente and security Basket I) and economic, scientific, and technological cooperation.

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Soviet Objectives and Tactics at the Belgrade Conference

Onepresentatives of ihe slates that took part in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) will gather in Belgrade to prepare for the first follow-up meeting to the Helsinki conference. The Belgrade scsston-which is expected to last about six weeks-will determine the opening date, duration, agenda, and other modalities for the full meeting, which will take place in the fall.

Moscow is clearly on the defensive as preparations for the full Belgrade meeting get underway. Signs of this defensiveness are visible in the USSR's repeated warnings that the meeting must not be turnedribunal, and in earlier diplomatic hints lhat Moscow might move to postpone the conference.

Results of the Helsinki Conference

The present Soviet mood is markedly different from lhat wilh which the USSR entered the negotiations Icjding up lo the CSCE summithe Helsinki meeting represented the successful culminationong Soviet diplomalic offensive. The immediate origins of this campaign can be (raced to Soviel Gcncrat Secretary Brezhnev's proposaluropean security conference at Ihe Karlovy Vary conference of European Communist parties inn its inspiration, however, it is even older, deriving from various Sovici proposals for an all-European collective security agreement current in.

Moscow had high cxpcclalions for the conference. Il was intended tourrogateuropean peaceocument which would contain full and binding Western recognition of Ihc postwar borders in Europe and of the territorial and ideological dividing lines between Easl and West. Beyond this, the Soviets Intended lo use the conference to win acceptance of the idea that the Soviet Unionegitimate right to participate In Ihe resolution of "all-European" issuis-thatight to be heard in Ihc councils of Western Europe as well as those of ihc East. Finally. Moscow hoped to use the conference loattern of bilateral ond multilateral economic and technological cooperation which wouldhc USSR's access to the coveted technology of tho West.

The Final Act of Hie CSCE satisfied all these objectives, at least in part. The sigtulor> stoics pledged lo recognize the existing borders as Inviolable and lo refrain from Interference in the Internal affairs of any other signatory slate. The accordengthy list of recommendations Intended to

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promote economic and technological cooperation of the sort desired by the Soviets. Finally, although tho Final Act'did not provide for the permanent institutional structure that tho Soviets had originally wanted, lt did provideeries of follow-up conferences that the Soviets could hope to use to make their voice heard in Western Europe.

Moscow has no such expectations for the Belgrade meeting. To the contraryt It finds itself on the defensive. Itituation in which It can at best reap only modest gains, but at the risk ofevere propaganda beating, and in the process further souring East-West relations.

The conference will bo held In tho now Belgrade Congrtm Center, ihown hare at an architectural model.

Sources of Moscow's Present Difficulties

Moscow's present difficulties stem from its failure to assess accurately the significance of the concessions it made to attain its ends at Helsinki, The Soviets gave ground on two fronts: inumber of measures pro-ddta" for prior notification and observation of major militaryso-called confidence building measures (CBMs)-and in accepting the various human rights guarantees contained in Basket III andf the Final Act. !

It Is the concessions In the (attor area which have proved most troubling for Moscow. In Pilncipleho Communist states pledged themselves to "respect human rights and fundamentalncluding the freedoms of thought, conscience, religion, and belief. Moreover, they promised to "promote and encourage" the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural freedoms essential for "the free and full development" of tho Individual. In Basket III, they expressed their "Intention" to facilitate specific forms of

Against the expectations of many Wcstcrn-and presumably Soviet-observers, these pledges have not proved toead letter in Eastern Europe. They have been seized upon by dissident individuals and groups throughout Eastern Europe-particularly In Poland, East Germany, Qxchostovakia-and in the Soviet Union itself. These groups have differing objectives which reflect local circumstances, but theyillingness to demand that their governments live up to the obligations that they assumed at Helsinki. At the same time, the ability of these governments to repress dissidence through coercive means is hampered by the spotlight of publicity thrown on their actions by the Helsinki accord and by their knowledge that draconian actions could undorminc Western support for detente.

Moreover, there Is evidence that, at least in Moscow, the unrestthe Helsinki accords have contributed is viewed as much more thanirritant.dition to Indications of concern over the situationEurope-particularly inthat in

February (he Soviet leadership was worried aboul the implications ofrights" issue for the Soviet Union. Accordinghe

Soviets feared that any relaxation of the restrictions upon dissidents could give riseave of criticism which could create an explosive almosphcre in the USSR.

lt is undoubtedly this perception of vulnerability to pressure from with in-however much it may exaggerate the reality of the thrcal-which underlies Moscow's sensitivity to criticism from without, lt is this sensitivity. In turn, which Is responsible for the strikingly defensive cast of Soviet diplomacy as Ihc June IS opening of the preliminary phase of the Belgrade conference draws closer.

Soviets Hope to Defuse Human Rights Issue

Moscow's main objective at Belgrade will be to forestall or limit criticism of its failure to Implement Ihc human righis clauses of the Helsinki accord und lo prevent any expansion of the Final Act's provisions for facilitating the exchange of people and Ideas in Europe. This objective takes precedence over any hope for gain which Ihcay entertain through the consideration of proposals for political or economic cooperation which they find more to their liking.

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The present emphasis is revealed by tho Tact that Soviet diplomatic elYorts to date havo been devoted to telling Western Interlocutors whit thc Belgrade meeting should not consider, rather than what it should do. Soviet diplomats making the rounds of Western capitals In the past few weeks have all carried essentially the same message: the Belgrade meeting must not be turnedtribunal" which would pass judgment on how the signatories have carried out the provisions of the Ftari Act. To do so. they warn, would riskconfrontation" which would frustrate thc purposes of thc conference, and could even revive thc tensions of thc Cold War.

The Soviets have pitched their message to suit different audiences.warned some-liketheir unwillingness lo tolerate

mlcrfcrcncc" In their internal guars at Belgrade. Others-like [

been cautioned against permitting thc Amcricans'-TO-'

"dictate" the shape of the conference and obscure thc "real" issues with others of "secondary" importance.

In still other instances, they apparently have resorted to threatsto make their point.

Austriuns have been repeatedly reminded of how mumu 'i is mi wuiiriJ to maintain good relations with the Communist countries, and warned that Ihc adoptionncjutrvc" stance on issues of interest to thc Soviel Union -particularly human rights-wouldetrimental cITecl on these relations.

Moscow's efforts arc aimed at heading off criticism of thc Soviet performance in implementation of (he Final Act before Ihc convening of the Belgrade meeting. Even if they cannot realistically expect to block all such criticism. Ihey can hope to promo' divisions between Western governments over how far to press the human rights issue.

Thc Soviets can be expected to accompany their diplomatic campaign with efforts to cripple the dissident movement before the beginning of the Belgrade meeting. The approach of the meeting at least partly accounts for thc campaign of Intensified arrests, harassment, and exile of leading dissidents which has virtually decapitated the Soviel human rights movement since the beginning or the year.

There arc also unconfirmed reports that thc Soviets in receni meetings have prcwd their Eastern European allies to stifle their own dissidents. Thc Soviet* presumably favor carefully graduated measures which would minimize the rrskopular backlash and unfavorable Western press attention.

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This line will be difficult to apply, however, particularly in Poland. An active dissident movement exists there in an unusually volatile political atmosphere. Any effort at repression stringent enough to seriously damage the Polish dissident movement would risk touching off an explosion that could destroy both Eastern and Western plans for the Belgrade meeting. The dangers involved are not lost on the Polish Government, which hos launched no major action against Its dissidents, despite reported Czechoslovak and Soviet expressions of unhappiness about the internal situation in Poland.

It Is unlikely that the Soviets assume their efforts will fully defuse the human rights issue before the Belgrade session opens onhey can therefore be expected to come to the preparatory meeting armed with organizational proposals that will help protect Moscow from attack on these points.

Organizational Objectives

The Soviets have already signaled their organizational objectives. Almost certainly they will pusheeting of limited duration and one confined laigely to generalities. They have insisted that the Belgrade meeting cannot entertain any proposals that would modify the Helsinki accord in any way. They arc especially intent on heading off Western efforts to expand upon the human rights guarantees contained in the Helsinki agreement. Accordingly, their preference will behort agenda, and one emphasizing principles above specifics.

In their preliminary diplomatic spadework, the Soviets have stressed the importance of arriving in Belgradepositive politicalhey have not spelled out what they have in mind, but presumably they arc thinkingeneralized reaffirmation of detente and East-West cooperation. They would no doubt be quite satisfied if the principal achievement of the Belgrade meetingeneral agreement to settle for this.

If they cannoteview of implementation, ihey will push for closcd-door sessions and for strict limitations on discussion. Their record is wanting both in regard to the human rights and informational questions covcied in Basket III. and in facilitating the commercial procedures and exchanges of scientific, technical, and economic information provided for in Basket II. They will resist being held to account on these points, and have made clear their opposition to any "line-bydlne" review of implementation.

They will continue to insist that Basket III cannot be singled out for attention, and that all parts of the Helsinki accord must be treatedeyond this, the Soviets will insist that the conferees should look forward rather than backward.

Soviets Prepared To Counterattack

If all their efforts to shunt aside Basket III issues prove unavailing, the Soviets will be prepared to defend their record in implementation and attack those of their critics. To accomplish this, they presumably will rely on the statistical data they have already developed to defend their record. These statistics arc heavily weighted in favor of such categories as number of book titles translated und published, films imported, and so on. These are all categories in which tho Soviets have an undeniable advantage over the West, where the tastes of the consumeristinct limitation on the ability of the market to absorb the products of Soviet culture.

If pressed into an exchange, they probably would concentrate on such Western policies as the West German bars lo employment of Communists in government and American visa and immigration restrictions.

They may arrive in Belgrade prepared to attack the US record on race relationsiolation of the Helsinki agreement. Criticism of racism in the US has become an Increasingly popular theme in Soviet propaganda. Cases such as the "Wilmingtonroup convicted of arson in North Carolina-have been specifically mentioned ond may be brought up in Belgrade.

It Is also likely that they will argue that the West has failed to live up to the economic provisions of Basket II, citing such omissions as the American failure to grant most favored nation treatment to the USSR and alleged restrictions on the establishment of Soviet commercial establishments in the West. They can also be expected to dwell on those "social rights"-such as the right to education and employmcnt-which they charge ore neglected In the West but guaranteed under their system.

Nevertheless, the Soviets would prefer to avoid such exchanges-in which they ore likely to come out second-best-by diverting the attention of the confe.-ecs to the consideration of more "positive" matters. By this they mean proposals that fit loosely Into the categories ofnd II, which the Soviets sec js being In their Interest. These include measures designed to promote political and military detente tn Europe, as well as

measures designed Io facilitate economic, technical, and scientific cooperation. Thc Soviets haveengthv list of suggestions in both categories, and may corno up with still more before the June meeting.

Possibleroposals

Among the likely Soviet security proposals are thc proposals for agreements to refrain from the first use of nuclear weaponsuropean conflict and to prohibit tho admission of new members to NATO und thc Wursaw Pact. Both were put forward at thc Warsaw Pact summit In Bucharest in6 und were communicated to the Western signatories of tho Helsinki agreement. Both arc heavily weighted to the Soviet advantage. Thc former would nullify the edge in tactical nuclear weapons which the West enjoys in Europe, and thc latter would bar Spanish accession to NATO.

Both were rejected at thc NATO foreign ministers' meeting in December, hut the Soviets huve persisted In bringing up thc non-first-use proposal. They huvc repeatedly urged Western capitals to reconsider thc proposal on the grounds thai their initial rejection was hasty and ill-considered. It seems likely that the proposal will appear before the Bclgrudo conference in some form.

There arc other possibilities. Thc Finns, who in thc past have been well attuned to Soviet thinking on CSCE, have suggested that mutual force reductions will probably be raised at Belgrade in some form. Thereossibility thut the Soviets may choose to permit lhe East Europeans to introduce tills subject. Thc Romanians have broached thc idea-percent cut In military forces stationed In Europe. This is an idea which they claim as their own and which Ihey contend would not affect thc force reduction negotiations in Vienna because thc cuts involved arc too "small" to be significant. However, it closely resembles the basic Soviet position, which is to push for reductions that would preserve the existing balance-one that is favorable for Moscow. Moreover, the culs involved would be more than symbolic.

The Soviets may also propose thut the conferees at Belgrade address themselves Io the Cyprus problem. The ideaesolution of this problem is essential lo reduce European tensions hus surfaced sporadically in the remarks of Soviel officials. Foreign Minister Gromyko told the Turkish foreign minister in March, for example, that the decisions of the CSCE made it "obligatory" to tuke steps toward resolving the Cyprus problem.

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Moscow and Basket II

The Soviets will also be well prepared to talk about Basket II issues. The proposalsI-European conlerciccs on energy, transportation, and the environment advanced by Brezhnev at the Polish Party Congress in5 are likely lo be reiterated. Even though ihe Soviets acquiesced to the Western demand that these topics be conside.cd by the United Nations Economic Commission Tor Europe at its mid-April meeting rather than be the subject of special conferences, It seems highly unlikely thut they would refrain from bringing them up at Belgrade. This is all the more probable us the proposalonference on tne environment has aroused some interest in Western Europe. Another possible subject of Soviet attention at Belgrade will be the proposal made in6 by the Council for Economic and Mutual Assistance lo establish formal relations with ihe European Community.

Beyond Ihis, Ihe Soviets are likely toumber of proposals aimed at eliminating alleged economic discrimination against them in Western Europe and the US. The Finns have Indicated lhal the Eust Euroncuns are unhappy about continuing vestiges of "economic discrimination" and the lack of any progress of extending most favored nation treatment. In better times. Moscow probably would have considered progress on some or all of these proposals as sulTicieni justification for Ihe conference. The climate has changed, however, und Moscow now sees these proposals primarilyeans of deflect inf the conference from consideration of Basket HI issues.

Other Possibilities

Soviet attempts lo shift the focus uwuy from Basket III arc reflected in Moscow's hints lhat it might consider Impiovcments in areas in which it previously had no interest. The most conspicuous example of this apparent change in Moscow's diplomatic posture -if not in Its actual attitudes-concerns confidence building measures. Although Ihe Soviets resolutely opposed such measures at Helsinki, they now have hinted at luusi once that they might be prepared to consider some improvements in procedures for the notification of military maneuvers. Similarly, the Soviets have indicated interest in Ihe Swiss proposal for ihe peaceful arbitration of disputes In Europe, which failed In arouse their enthusiasm when it was originally advanced at Helsinki.

There isood possibility that the Soviets may attempt to disurm Western critics byan on "inflammatory" propaganda-ln all likelihood focusing on Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe. If so. they

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would no doubl cite Ihc Final Act's prohibition of intervention, "direct or Indirect,'* in Ihe affairs of other signatory slates. Moscow has repeatedly made clear thai It regards foreign criticism of its handling of internal matters as impermissible Interference and an incitement lo subversion.

As matters now stand, the Soviets are unlikely, at least initially, lo introduce any of these proposals fo' Ihe direct consideration of Ihe conferees al Belgrade. To do so would open Ihc way for Western counterproposals on Basket HI, and this is something which ihey are most anxious lo avoid. They have firmly insisted that new proposals arc completely oul of order at Belgrade. Presumably they would prefer ro suggest other means of handling these questions, such as the establishment of specialized working groups to consider these questions after the conference.

After Belgrade?

Thc Soviets have been deliberately vague on the questionollow-up to the fall conference. They have stated that they will dcielop their position on the basis of Ihe results and atmosphere at Belgrade. There seems little reason to question their reluctance to submit themselves to the uncertainties of another open-ended conference if their situation remains as difficult as it is now. There is always ihe possibility, however, (hit Ihey may succeed in mastering dissidence within iho bloc, or that significant differences may develop in the Western camp, in which case ihcir attitudes could change.

ll must be emphasized that this analysis is necessarily short range. Moscow's strategy and tactics arc largely reactive. As such. Ihey are subject to quick shifts lo meet significant changes in the underlying situation. For example, serious disturbances inEurope wor'd force Ihe Soviets lo reconsider their attendance al Belgrade. Soviet officials raised the possibility of postponement earlier this year when their anxiety aboul developments in Eastern Europe was apparently greater lhan it is now and while they were reacting lo the criticism of Ihe new administration lu Washington.

Even without such major developments, the Soviet delegation at Belgrade will inevitably find Itself having to react to Wesiern strategy and UCtlea. Since the US delegation will be emphasizing the need to reviewourse most distasteful to Moscow-lhe odds are thai theelegation anticipates rough going during ils stay in Belgrade.

Seo/ot

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