Those familiar with the style and substance of Richard Barnet’s other works, Global Reach (with Ron Müller), The Roots of War, the The Economy of Death, and Intervention and Revolution, may be somewhat disappointed by this latest book. The Giants: Russia and America possesses none of the trenchant criticism of United States foreign policy that distinguishes these other works. The dominant tone of this work can only be described as sober and subdued. Not that Richard Barnet has suddenly converted to orthodoxy and shed his role as a revisionist critic of U.S. foreign policy; the ideas expressed in The Giants are perfectly consistent with the author’s previous positions taken over the years. It is simply that the tone of this latest book is much more moderate and balanced than one would have expected from an analysis of Barnet’s other works. No doubt part of the reason for this balanced judgment is due to the fact that when it comes to parceling out blame for continuing the arms race, there is plenty of criticism to go around on both sides. The foreign policy elites of both superpowers have generally operated under the assumption of the worst possible case.
What does Barnet attempt to do in The Giants? First, he briefly describes the changes that have taken place over the past sixty years of peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union. What Barnet finds unique about the present age is not that all the Cold War stereotypes have disappeared, but that both sides are getting to know their counterparts better. Representatives of the Soviet and American governments have met each other numerous times across the negotiating table. These contacts have been useful in gaining a more realistic perspective of the opposition. While there is some danger that these contacts may lead to new misconceptions of the opposition, this situation is certainly preferable to the one which prevailed during the height of the Cold War when neither side talked directly to the other.
Second, Barnet describes how détente came about, focusing mainly on that “correlation of forces,” as Kissinger used to call it, which was responsible for the change of policy toward the U.S.S.R. Barnet leaves the impression, however, that détente began with the election of Richard Nixon to the White House in 1968. While the process of détente was certainly strengthened by the Nixon-Kissinger Administration, the roots stretch back much further. From the Soviet perspective, Malenkov’s speech before the Supreme Soviet in August, 1953, can be considered a turning point in U.S.-Soviet relations. It was in this speech that Malenkov enunciated the doctrine of peaceful coexistence with the capitalist West which forms the basis of the Soviet view of détente.
Barnet next attempts to define what détente means in the contemporary environment, and he identifies it with the series of wide-ranging agreements that have been negotiated between the United States and the U.S.S.R. The most important of these agreements include SALT, the Berlin accords, and a 1972 agreement negotiated between Nixon and Brezhnev in which the parties pledged themselves to consult with each other concerning “the development of situations capable of causing a dangerous exacerbation of their relations.” As part of this agreement, the two nations recognized “a special responsibility . . . to do everything in their power so that conflicts or situations will not arise which would serve to increase international tension.” As Barnet correctly points out, it is this latter agreement that has engendered so much controversy in the West. The Giants leaves several important questions unanswered. For example, under the rubric of détente, does the United States have the right to expect that the Soviet Union and her allies such as Cuba will not encourage and support revolutionary movements in...
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