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In all spheres but the military-strategic, it is entirely possible that the states of the old Soviet Union will present more costly and dangerous challenges to American policy than the USSR did after the 1960s.

We may wish to disengage ourselves from the region somewhat and respond only to major threats, but to make even that discrimination we shall have to maintain the relevant capabilities and avoid some pitfalls that are already visible.We should turn a mostly deaf ear to the dreams and schemes of those who now fill the hotels in Moscow and other former Soviet cities and who proceed from the half-truth that all has changed to the proposition that the Soviet area can now be dealt with as one would, say, India or Venezuela.

Some of these people are innocent idealists; others are not. Most are being misled or exploited by local counterparts.

The condition of any successful policy in the former Soviet Union lies in energetic efforts to achieve arms reduction - not only nuclear, but conventional, which is probably the more urgent.

Of course, we must press ahead with agreements - and compliance with agreements - on nuclear arms and be watchful about proliferation.

But far more disruptive is the almost uncontrolled trade in small and medium arms - from Kalashnikovs to tanks - now accumulating in the hands of any number of political organizations (and bands of ordinary mercenaries).

It is crucial to world order that we and our closest partners assist the former Soviet Union to survive the consequences of the collapse of the Muscovite empire.

A part of this task, determined more by prudence than by preference, is probably to assist certain old imperial elites in maintaining some semblance of order.

But the first efforts of the outgoing administration to do so have already revealed what we should not do:

- We should not spend large amounts of money on junkets, conferences and institutes for the study of democracy or market economies.

Russian and other politicians and managers are not so lacking in understanding of Western ways as one might think; what they lack for the moment is the requisite political will and general stability.

- We should not spend any significant amount on the teaching of English, which is widely known and well taught locally.

- We should see to it that aid is administered in such a way as to find its way to the most needy and not be skimmed by official or nonofficial local in-ter-me-di-ar-ies.

Aid programs should be devised and administered by professional assistance workers within the U.S. government, the United Nations and international non-governmental organizations.

These groups have the requisite experience to assess needs and confound the avarice of local elites.

Our aid should concentrate on basic nutrition, public health, rural development and redevelopment, urban infrastructure and the like.

People in the former Soviet Union need syringes and potable water, not ATMs and pizza parlors.