Recently, our attention to events beyond our borders has been confined largely to the Iraqi aggression in the Persian Gulf. Our preoccupation with Iraq has been magnified by the debate that was triggered by President Bush's announcement of new U.S. military deployments to the region.
However, three other ominous foreign policy problems - serious energy shortfalls in Eastern Europe; severe food shortages in the Soviet Union and the chronic ills of the Middle East beyond the gulf crisis - lurk just over the horizon. They lack the immediacy of the gulf crisis but if left unaddressed could spawn crises of even greater magnitude.While the countries of Eastern Europe, including Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland, face potentially crippling energy shortfalls, their traditional supplier, the Soviet Union, is suffering its own oil production and energy problems.
In addition, Moscow says it will soon shift to world prices and hard currency in its trade with former client states, which could mean billions in additional fuel costs for Eastern Europe. These countries had planned to receive Iraqi oil in payment for past sales of Eastern European arms and other exports to Iraq.
For the United States, Japan and Western Europe, the U.N. embargo means we will not buy oil from Iraq. For Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland, the embargo means these countries will not receive the oil Iraq already owes them.
As for the likelihood of serious food shortages in the Soviet Union, here is how a leading Soviet economic expert describes the present domestic economic situation: "The market has collapsed, the budget deficit is dreadful . . . monetary circulation and the financial system are on the brink of complete disaster."
Against this gloomy backdrop, much of the fall harvest has been lost because of bad weather, poor transportation and inadequate storage and processing facilities.
Moreover, because the ruble has become virtually worthless, the farmers are refusing to sell their output to the central government.
Should we help the Soviet people overcome a potential crisis of food supply as they struggle to move from a command to a market economy, from dictatorial one-party rule to representative democracy? The answer is yes: Chaos in a nation that possesses 10,000 nuclear weapons is not in our national security interests.
The United States should supply food in exchange for the Soviet Union's energy resources. To make this happen, we need to clear away outmoded legal and bureaucratic obstacles that handicap our businessmen and farmers and needlessly complicate such logical, mutually beneficial deals.
The third problem is the stability of the Middle East after the gulf crisis. There are four factors that predate the current crisis and exist independently from it, but which make it more complex and dangerous: the wide gap between the have and have-not Arab states; the Arab population boom throughout the region; the lack of democracy in Arab states as well as a lack of regional economic cooperation among the Arab countries; and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Taken together, the problems make difficult the possibility of peaceful economic and political development within and among Arab states. The per capita gross national product in the region varies from more than $10,000 in the richest countries to under $1,000 in the poorest, with the bulk of the population living in the poorer countries.
Despite the obvious differences between postwar Europe and today's Middle East, the Arab countries need to think in terms of a similar area-wide approach, financed primarily by the region's oil-exporting countries.
Regional cooperation should help to ease population pressures and vast economic disparities among Arab states, which taken together with the absence of democratic government contain the seeds of desperation and confrontation.
The United States and other democracies should work with the countries of the Middle East to assist their transition to genuinely representative government.
The goal of quiet and creative U.S. diplomacy should be to facilitate renewal and success of the peace process, in the light of changing Middle East realities. Benign neglect is not an acceptable option.