Reagan From Abroad


WHEN AN INTRUDER sneaks into Queen Elizabeth's bedroom in Buckingham Palace and holds the monarch at bay for 15 minutes with a broken glass ashtray, nothing the United States could do--short of attacking the Cliffs of Dover--would distract the British people from their chagrin and outrage.

For President Reagan, the Palace scandal, compounded by the revelation that the queen's former bodyguard is gay, has provided a respite from the repeated denunciations of his foreign policy made by the British press and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, acting as pointperson for Western European leaders.

Fresh from her victorious Falkland Islands tussle, the "Iron Lady" has used newly acquired stature to voice the displeasure of the Allies over the way Reagan has dealt with Europe. What upsets the Europeans most is the President's blunt anti-Soviet policies, and in particular, the recent imposition of sanctions on the trans-Siberian pipeline. What European heads-of-state have forcefully argued is this: Reagan's top priority in Europe may be saber-rattling, but the Allies' chief concern is running their respective governments and repairing battered economies. They add that if Reagan wants a free hand in trying to revive the U.S. economy, then Europeans should also be able to implement economic recovery plans as they see fit.


The President and his right-wing unilateralist foreign policy advisors make some cogent points. The Russians are short of currency and have been desperately selling gold and diamond reserves. The pipeline would annually provide an estimated $10 million in hard currency once the gas began flowing west. Much of that will be used to prop up repressive satellites like Cuba and Vietnam and to purchase military hardware for ventures such as the Afghanistan takeover. A pipeline, Reagan argues correctly, would not only send badly needed currency to Moscow, but would also increase Western European energy dependence on the Soviets. Plans call for the pipeline to provide up to 30 percent of total French and West German natural gas by 1990.

But the Europeans do not view every foreign policy question in a neat East-West framework. Ideology is overshadowed by economic pragmatism when a project, such as the pipeline, offers jobs and less costly energy to a continent with an unemployment rate of approximately 10 percent and no natural gas reserves. Reagan himself does not offer a very good example, having bowed last year to economic and political pressure in lifting the embargo on wheat purchases by the Soviet Union imposed by Jimmy Carter. Thus the narrow-minded logic of the U.S. pipeline policy is rejected as inadequate--even by those who generally endorse Reagan's tough stance toward Soviet communism.


REAGAN has made his economic initiatives paramount to all others, even to his anti-Soviet strategies, as the resumption of the wheat sales attest. European leaders ask how Reagan dares ask them to cancel the pipeline, a central element of their economic recovery plans, when he has shown different priorities back home.

Here in London, most government leaders agree with Reagan that in sum, the pipeline and the energy dependency that goes with it are not strategically beneficial for NATO. But they further argue that the Europeans not only share a continent with the Eastern Bloc, but also conduct 7.5 percent of their trade with the Soviets. Only 1 percent of their trade is conducted with the U.S. And finally, the Europeans lack the domestic gas resources of this country. The Europeans feel the pipeline was a necessary compromise, and they resent U.S. interference, especially after Washington gave implicit support for the project during its early planning stages. Thatcher has demonstrated the extent of her anger by publicly advising the British-based John Brown Engineering that it should defy the prohibition on U.S. subsidiaries from working on the pipeline. France and Italy have announced official plans to ignore the sanctions.

The pipeline issue is not one that threatens to split the Alliance apart permanently as some commentators on both sides of the Atlantic have suggested. Instead, it is important in pointing out most clearly how the Reagan administration lets the ideology debated at the Heritage Foundation become U.S. foreign policy. Rhetoric 15 fine in it think-tank but once is practice, there must be a healthy portion of pragmatic diplomacy added. The U.S. cannot orchestrate a foreign policy without regard for the needs of its Allies. It cannot blindly decide that what is good for the U.S. is necessarily good for Europe. It was the message of how the other half of the Alliance lives that Alexander Haig and his deputy Robert Hormats were trying to convey to the President before they were squeezed out.

If Reagan would accept that the pipeline will be built regardless of America cooperation, he could make a deal with the Allies: In return for lifting the sanctions, the President could ask for tighter restrictions on trade credits for an already debt-ridden Eastern Bloc, which will still salvage something from his original plan of economic warfare. If that happened, it would indicate that Reagan has learned, after two years of foreign policy cramming, to go beyond the briefing books and become a diplomat. If however, Reagan sticks to his guns, it will demonstrate that the President's education still has a couple of semesters to go.

Crimson reporter John Solomon is working for the British government in London this summer.