Adam B. Ulam
The Anatomy of Soviet Policy Making
CONTEMPLATING THE vast quantity of Kremlinology produced in this country since World War II, a layman might well paraphrase Marx’s famous thesis on Feuerbach and complain that various experts have only interpreted the Soviet Union in different ways, while the urgent need is to find out how its policies can be changed. There have been many prescriptions as to how this country might influence the USSR through its own policies to alter what for most Americans has been a most disquieting pattern of Soviet behavior on the world scene.
But before trying to formulate such prescriptions, we must first of all try to understand the process of Soviet policy making. To repeat what this author wrote in another study, “The student of Soviet affairs has as his first task to be neither hopeful nor pessimistic, but simply to state the facts and tendencies of Russian politics. It is when he begins to see in certain political trends the inevitabilities of the future and when he superimposes upon them his own conclusions about the desirable policies of America towards the USSR that he is courting trouble.”1 American policy making ought to profit by, but cannot be a substitute for, a dispassionate analysis of Soviet motivations and actions.
Having identified the fulcrum of the Soviet political system, the twenty-odd full and alternate members of the Politburo and those Central Committee secretaries who are outside it, we still need to know more about how this group operates and about its relationship to the wider Soviet political elite and to the people at large. For our purposes, it is especially important to establish some analytical guidelines about how the inner ruling group arrives at its decisions on foreign policy and to what extent it is susceptible to changes in the international environment.
Elitist and secretive as the process of Soviet decision making is in general, it is especially so when it comes to foreign policy. One may find occasionally in the Soviet press and in the utterances of lower officials fairly far-reaching criticisms, e.g., of the country’s economic system and performance. It is almost inconceivable for such public discussion to take place in connection with any major aspect of the Soviet stand on international affairs. This taboo is also observed concerning past foreign policies of the USSR.
Those who see the Soviet system moving toward pluralism or who hypothesize about the growing influence of the military in decision making thus disregard the exclusive prerogative of decision making to which the inner ruling group, especially in the Brezhnev era, has held with such tenacity. Even Khrushchev, who intermittently attempted to enlarge his political base by using the Central Committee to curb his fellow oligarchs, jealously guarded the party’s monopoly of power. He could speak slightingly in the presence of foreigners about Andrei Gromyko, then “only” minister of foreign affairs, but not yet a member of the charmed circle; and he dismissed Marshal Zhukov largely because the marshal had helped him in his 1957 scrap with the Molotov faction, and it was intolerable that in the future a professional soldier should be allowed to interfere in settling disputes on the Soviet Olympus.
In their turn, Brezhnev and his colleagues have been especially insistent not only on preserving the party’s role as the only source of political power, but on recouping the narrower oligarchy’s prerogative of being the final arbiter in policy making. There is a Soviet equivalent of our National Security Council, but it is presided over ex officio by the General Secretary, and nothing entitles us to believe that it is more than an advisory body to the Politburo. Since 1964 the Central Committee has been relegated again to a forum where deci-sions of the top leadership are announced and perhaps explained in greater detail than they are to the public at large, but not debated. Emperor Paul I once told a foreign ambassador that the only important public figures in Russia were those to whom he talked, and even their influence disappeared once they were no longer in conversation with the sovereign. The only participants in the decision-making process in the USSR, outside the twenty-odd members of the inner circle, are those whom it chooses to consult, and only while it does so. Unless he is simultaneously a member of the Politburo, the status of the head of an important government branch—the armed forces, security, foreign ministry, or economic planning—is similar to that of a high civil servant in the West, rather than a minister and policy maker.
Because of its very rigidity, and in view of the average age of the ruling oligarchy, the pattern we just sketched is likely to become exposed to increasing strains in the future and might break down, at least temporarily, during a succession struggle or a situation like that in 1956-57 and the early 1960s. Then the inner group split into hostile factions and, especially on the latter occasion, the leader found himself increasingly out of tune with his senior colleagues.
For the present and immediate future we must assume, however, that the USSR will continue to be governed under a system where policy options and moves are freely discussed by and fully known only to some twenty-five people, and the ultimate decisions are made by an even smaller group—the thirteen or fifteen full members of the Politburo.
This being so, we have little reason to expect basic changes in the Soviet philosophy of foreign relations. The present leaders and their prospective successors have seen the Soviet Union develop from the backward, militarily and industrially weak state of the early 1920s to one of the two superpowers of the post-1945 world. They have been brought up in the belief that the Soviet Union’s connection with the worldwide Communist movement has been a source of strength to their country, and only recently have they had occasion to have doubts on that score. Their formative years witnessed the Soviet system’s survival of the ravages of terror and the tremendous human and material losses of World War II. As rising bureaucrats in the immediate postwar period,the people of the Politburo could observe how Soviet diplomacy managed to offset the Soviet Union’s industrial and military inferiority vis-à-vis the principal capitalist state. Even when the country’s resources had to be devoted mainly to the task of recovery from the war, the USSR still managed to advance its power and influence in the world at large.
In brief, very little in their experience or in the international picture as it has evolved during the past twenty years or so could have persuaded the Kremlin that its basic guidelines for dealing with the outside world need drastic revision. It has increasingly been the external power and influence of the USSR that has been used by propaganda addressed at the home front to demonstrate the viability and dynamism of the Soviet system and its historical legitimacy. Granted the essentially conservative approach of the present Soviet leadership toward international affairs, one could hardly imagine it responding to a specific internal emergency by contriving a dangerous international crisis. But the Kremlin still persists in seeking to impress upon its people the paradoxical dichotomy of world politics: the imperialist threat remains as great as ever, and yet the USSR is steadily growing more powerful. Both beliefs are seen as essential in preserving the cohesion of Soviet society. The average citizen is never to be dissuaded from seeing the capitalist world and especially its main power as a source of potential danger to his country and its allies. By the same token, he must not lose faith in the ability of his government and its armed forces to repel this threat and to ensure even in this nuclear age the security and greatness of the USSR and of the entire “socialist camp.” It would take an extraordinary combination of domestic political, social, and economic pressures to form a critical mass capable of impelling the regime to change its outlook on world politics.
It is virtually impossible to conceive of the Soviet system’s survival in its present form were its rulers to abandon explicitly, or even implicitly, the main premises behind their foreign policy. Practically every feature of Russian authoritarianism is ultimately rationalized in terms of the alleged foreign danger inherent in the existence of the “two struggling camps,” one headed by the USSR and the other, the capitalist one, by America. Writing at the most hopeful period of detente and painting a very rosy picture of the future of Soviet- American relations, Georgi Arbatov still had to add the caveat, “There can be no question as to whether the struggle between the two systems would or would not continue. That struggle is historically unavoidable.”2 If the struggle continues, the Soviet citizen must be made to believe that his side is steadily forging ahead on the world stage. Otherwise, what can compensate him psychologically for his perception—increasingly unsuppressible—that life is freer and materially more abundant in the West?
To be sure, this official rationale of Soviet foreign policy becomes vulnerable in cases where its ideological premises cannot be readily reconciled with the nationalist ones, and it is mainly on that count that one can foresee the possibility of popular reactions at home affecting the course of foreign policy. Tito’s apostasy could be dismissed by the Kremlin as being in itself not of great significance. The burdens inherent in standing armed guard over East Europe or in suppressing the Afghan insurgency have been explained in the official media by the necessity of warding off the class enemy and, less explicitly, in terms of Russia’s historical mission and interests antedating the Revolution. All these developments could be interpreted as still not disproving the thesis that Communism is a natural ally and an obedient servant of the Soviet national interest.
However, the Sino-Soviet conflict has struck at the very heart of the ideology-national interest Weltanschauung of Soviet foreign policy. In his Letter to the Soviet Leaders, Solzhenitsyn formulated very cogently the essential dilemma that has confronted the Kremlin in public since the eruption of the dispute, in fact since Mao’s forces conquered the mainland. It is another Communist state—and precisely because it is Communist, writes Solzhenitsyn—which has posed the greatest threat to Russia’s future. Thus, even when it comes to the outside world, he charges, one can readily see how this false ideology has had disastrous consequences for the true interests and security of the Russian people and threatens it eventually with having to fight for survival. This is not the isolated opinion of a writer and dissident who abhors every aspect of Communism. Fear of China on account of its enormous size, vast industrial-military potential, and the nature of its regime and ruling philosophy is probably the most visceral reaction of the average Russian insofar as his outlook on world affairs is concerned. No other aspect of the regime’s policy has had as wide approval among the Soviet population at large as its efforts to contain and isolate the other great Communist state.
It is important to note that even this problem has not been al-lowed to affect the official rationale of Soviet foreign policy. This rationale is still couched in terms inherited from the era when the world Communist movement was monolithic in its subservience to Moscow. When it first erupted in public, the Sino-Soviet dispute might have prompted a foreign observer to prophesy that its implications were bound to change not only the Kremlin’s actual policies, but its whole approach to international situations. The confrontation between ideology and reality inherent in the clash ought to have led to a thorough reevaluation of the former, not merely as a justification, but also as an operating principle for foreign policies. The USSR should have abandoned even the pretense that what it was doing in Africa, the Near East, and other areas was in the furtherance of socialism.
Yet, in fact, such secularization of Soviet foreign policy has not taken place. One might object that the USSR has tried to cope with the Chinese problem without any ideological inhibitions. It has attempted to enlist the United States in a joint effort to stop or delay China’s nuclear development. It has encouraged India to attack and fragment China’s only major ally in Asia. The Kremlin viewed with equanimity the massacre of the pro-Beijing Indonesian Communist party, and it encouraged and helped Vietnam in its open defiance of its huge neighbor. Ideological kinship has not restrained the Soviet Union from hinting at times that it might have to resort to a preemptive strike against China.
Yet, for all such unsentimental measures and attitudes, the Soviet leadership has refused to draw what an outsider would consider the logical deductions of its predicament with China. The doctrine of the two camps is still as stoutly maintained as when the two great Commu nist powers were linked “by unshakeable friendship” and alliance against a potential capitalist aggressor. China’s departure from the straight and narrow path of “proletarian internationalism” has been explained in official Soviet rhetoric as a temporary lapse, while even at the most hopeful periods of peaceful coexistence, the conflict with the capitalist world has been presented as an unavoidable and permanent feature of world politics. There have been fairly serious armed clashes along the Sino-Soviet border, and a sizable proportion of the Soviet armed forces is deployed along the frontier. However, those Russian military manuals accessible to the public discuss at length the dangers and various scenarios of conventional and nuclear warfare between the USSR and the capitalist powers, without even alluding to the possibility of war with another Communist power.
This bizarre pattern of behavior cannot be ascribed solely to the Soviet leaders’ cynicism and ability to divorce their actions entirely from their words. Nor can it be attributed to some lingering ideological scruples. Given a truth serum, a Soviet statesman would readily confess that barring something very unexpected, the danger of unprovoked capitalist aggression against the USSR is virtually nil, while the possibility of China’s some day advancing territorial and other claims on his country is very real indeed. The “immobilisme” of Soviet foreign policy doctrine finds its roots in the nature of the political system as a whole. The thirteen or so men at the apex of the Soviet power structure have to think of themselves not only as rulers of a national state, but also as high priests of a world cult, which in turn is the source of legitimacy for the system as a whole and for their own power in particular. Could that legitimacy and with it the present political structure of the Soviet Union endure, were its rulers to renounce one of the most basic operating tenets of Communist political philosophy?
To a Westerner it might appear that the regime could greatly strengthen itself by curtailing its expansionist policies abroad and by concentrating on raising the living standards of the Soviet people. It would gain in popularity, the argument would continue, by being more explicit about the real dimension of the problem the USSR faces in relation to China and putting in proper perspective the alleged threat from the West. But it is most unlikely that the present generation of leaders would or feels it could afford to heed such arguments. They remember how even Nikita Khrushchev’s modest and clumsy attempts at domestic liberalization and at relieving the siege mentality of his countrymen had most unsettling effects on the party and society. Without a continuing sense of danger from abroad, economic improvement at home, far from being an effective remedy for political dissent, is in fact likely to make it more widespread. For the diehards within the elite, even some of the side effects of detente, such as increased contacts with and knowledge of the West, must have appeared potentially harmful, because they brought in their wake ideological pollution and threatened the stability and cohesion of Soviet society.
History has played an unkind trick on the masters of the USSR. Probably no other ruling oligarchy in modern times has been as prag-matically minded and power-oriented as the current Soviet one. (Compared to them, even Nikita Khrushchev, who joined the party in 1918 during the Civil War, showed some characteristics of a true believer.) Ironically, it is precisely because of power considerations that the rulers cannot disregard ideological constraints on their policies.
A superficial view of Soviet politics would lead us to believe that a Soviet statesman enjoys much greater freedom of action, especially in foreign affairs, than his Western counterpart. He can order and direct rather than having to plead or campaign for his program. If he has to persuade others, it is a small group rather than an unruly electorate or a partisan legislature. The Politburo’s decisions are not hammered out in the full glare of publicity or subjected to immediate public debate and criticisms. Whatever the fears, hesitations, and divisions among the rulers, they seldom become known outside the precincts of the Kremlin. Hence how can a democracy avoid finding itself at a disadvantage when negotiating with the Kremlin? Neither budgetary constraints nor fear of public opinion can deflect Andropov and Company from a weapons policy or an action abroad which they believe necessary for their purposes and for the prestige and power of the USSR.
This picture, while correct in several details, is greatly misleading overall. The structure of the decision-making process in the USSR enables the Kremlin to be free from many constraints under which nonauthoritarian governments must operate. Yet the nature of the Soviet political system creates its own imperatives that the leaders must heed and that may make their choice among foreign policy options more difficult and cumbersome than is the case in a democracy. Superbly equipped as it is for moving rapidly and effectively on several fronts, the Soviet political mechanism has not shown equal capacity during the last twenty years for effectively braking the momentum of its policies once launched. Whether the Soviet political mechanism can develop such braking devices must be of special interest to any student or practitioner of international affairs.
The immediate background of Soviet policies in the 1980s lies in the series of agreements and understandings reached between the USSR and the United States, as well as other states of the Western bloc, which set up the foundations of what has come to be known as detente. It would be a gross oversimplification on our part to view detente simply as an attempt by the Kremlin to deceive the West or, conversely, as a definitive change in Moscow’s philosophy of international affairs. Soviet leaders sought a temporary accommodation with the West and a consequent lowering of international tension for reasons inherent in their interpretation of the world scene as of 1970.
Even if undertaken solely as a tactical maneuver, detente was not cost-free for the Soviets. Domestically it gave more resonance to the voices of dissent and placed the government under the obligation of relaxing restrictions on Jewish emigration, a concession that would have been unthinkable a few years earlier. Abroad, it was bound to raise doubts and suspicions in the minds of Soviet clients and friends. Only a few weeks after the Nixon-Brezhnev summit, Anwar Sadat ordered some 20,000 Soviet military personnel out of Egypt, a step largely motivated by his conviction that his country’s foreign policy now had to be more balanced between the two superpowers.
The Soviet policy makers’ usual skill at having their cake and eating it too was thus put to a severe test. The 1972—73 period offers a convincing example of the Soviet Union’s sensitivity to its antagonists’ policies and of the importance it places on its perception of the overall condition of the noncommunist world. In 1972 the economy of the West as a whole was still flourishing and expanding. Political stability appeared to be returning to the United States. With his recent successes in the international field, Nixon was virtually sure of reelection. This political and economic strength of the West, as well as several other international developments, added up to compelling reasons for the Soviets to pull in their horns.
How long this restraint would have prevailed in the councils of the Kremlin and whether there was any possibility of a more fundamental alteration in Soviet foreign policy is something we shall never know. Within a year and a half of the inauguration of detente, the premises on which the Soviets’ restraint had been based began to crumble. By the end of 1974 Moscow was bound to conclude that the West was not nearly so stable and strong politically or economically as it had appeared in 1972.
Beginning in 1974, the USSR became much less concerned about American reactions to its policies abroad, even those openly directed at undermining the influence and interests of the United States and its friends. Unlike the case of the 1973 Middle Eastern conflict, Soviet actions in Angola, Ethiopia, and South Yemen betrayed little hesitation or fear that they might bring effective American countermeasures, or even seriously damage overall Soviet-U.S. relations, thus bringing an end to the benefits the USSR was deriving from detente. To be sure, the Soviets have always been aware of how sensitive the United States is to what happens in the Middle East, and in comparison the average American knows little and cares less about Angola or South Yemen. However, what should have been the cause of alarm to American policy makers was not so much the targets but the character of Soviet activities in Africa.
Such activities were not merely another example of Soviet skill at scavenging amidst the debris of Western colonialism, and through ideological appeal or an alliance with the local dictator or oligarchy, wresting yet another country from its nonaligned or pro-Western position. Angola was the testing ground for a new technique of Soviet imperial expansion. The experiment was allowed to succeed and thus became a precedent for further employment of this technique. Nonnative, up to now Cuban, troops would be used to establish Soviet presence in the country and to maintain the pro-Soviet regime in power. Thus, wars of “national liberation” could be carried out and won by the pro-Soviet faction, because it was helped not only by Soviet arms and advisers, but also by massive infusion of Communist bloc troops! Had the general international situation remained similar to that of 1972—73, it is unlikely that the conservative-minded Brezhnev regime would have attempted such a daring innovation as projecting Soviet power into areas thousands of miles away from the USSR.
The reasons for the Kremlin’s confidence that this innovative form of international mischief-making was not unduly risky were probably very similar to those that persuaded North Vietnam about the same time to launch a massive invasion and to occupy the south. A North Vietnamese general spelled out candidly the rationale of his government’s actions and why it was certain the United States would not interfere. “The internal contradictions within the U.S. administration and among U.S. political parties had intensified. The Watergate scandal had seriously affected the entire United States…. It faced economic recession, mounting inflation, serious unemployment and an oil crisis.”3
This revealing statement illustrates well the hard-boiled pragma-tism of the Soviets and their disciples and how free they can be of the dogmas of their ideology in their socioeconomic evaluations of a given situation. According to classical Marxist-Leninist doctrine, an internal crisis impels the capitalists to act more aggressively and to seek a remedy for economic troubles, as well as to distract the attention of the masses through imperialist adventures. Here we had quite a realistic analysis of the reasons for this country’s acquiescence in North Vietnam’s flagrant violation of the agreement it had signed only two years before, and of the debilitating effects of domestic crises on a democratic country’s foreign policies. The statement demonstrates once again how in their calculus of potential risks and gains in world politics, the Soviets tend to go beyond the arithmetic of nuclear missiles, tanks, and ships and pay even closer attention to the psychopolitical ingredients of a given situation. It did require a degree of sensitivity to U.S. politics to perceive how seriously American foreign policy was harmed by reopening the wounds of Vietnam and by pitting Congress against the Executive. The Watergate affair had crippled America’s capacity to act effectively abroad, especially when it came to meeting the Soviet and/or Communist challenge in the Third World.
It was less remarkable for the Kremlin to draw the proper lesson from the energy crisis which gripped the West’s economy. If the world’s leading industrial nations were incapable of synchronizing their policies to counteract or soften the OPEC blow, more serious in its implications to the West than anything done by the Soviet Union since World War II, how could they be expected to mount concerted action to deal with Soviet expansion in Africa or outright invasion of a neighboring country?
The effect of the Soviets’ redefinition of detente in light of the economic crisis in the West weakened American leadership, and the fissiparous tendencies within the Atlantic alliance could be observed at the 1979 Vienna Brezhnev-Carter summit. Anxious as the Soviets were to seal SALT II and to prevent relations between the two countries from deteriorating, there was little at Vienna of that studied courting of the Americans that had characterized the 1972 Moscow conference. This time there were no grandiloquent declarations about both countries’ scrupulously respecting each other’s broad policy interests throughout the world. Instead, Brezhnev chose to lecture Carter and his entourage in public on the impermissibility and uselessness of trying to link the fate of SALT II and detente to Soviet restraint in foreign policy. “Attempts also continue to portray social processes taking place in one or another country or the struggles of the peoples for liberation as ‘Moscow’s plots or intrigues.’ Naturally, the Soviet people are in sympathy with the liberation struggle of various nations…. We believe that every people has the right to determine its own destiny. Why then pin on the Soviet Union the responsibility for the objective course of history, or what is more, use this as a pretext for worsening our relations?”4 With the worldwide configuration of forces much more in their favor than it had been in 1972, it was probably genuinely incomprehensible to the Soviet leaders that anyone could expect them to abide by the same obligations and cautions they had pledged to observe on the earlier occasion.
Choices and Projections
Their actions in the recent past and present offer a suggestive guide to the Soviet leaders’ choices and decisions in the future. While it is of little use to try to divide the Kremlin decision makers into “hawks” and “doves” or to try to divine who might represent the “hard” or “soft” factions, there is a considerable division of opinion within the Politburo and its affiliates when it comes to foreign policy. These differences, however, are not found in any permanent groupings or factions, but in the fluctuation between two main tendencies present in the mind of the leadership as a whole.
One such approach might be likened to that of the rentier. This view holds that the USSR can afford to be patient and circumspect in its foreign policies, eschew risky ventures abroad, and continue to collect the dividends of its past successes and the inherent and worsening afflictions of the capitalist world. The rentier’s attitude is based not so much on the policies and certitudes of Marxism as on deductions from the historical experiences of the Soviet state, especially since World War II, when the United States has been its only real rival for worldwide power and influence. The Americans have been unable to oppose effectively the Soviets’ advance, and they are unlikely to do so in the future. The cumbersome procedure of American foreign policy making and the unruly democratic setting in which it operates will always place the United States at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the flexible and unconstrained apparatus of Soviet diplomacy. Hence, it is unwise to provoke the Americans and risk a confrontation when the U.S. position is bound to grow weaker and that of the USSR stronger in the natural course of events.
The rentier puts the “imperialist danger” in a pragmatic perspec-tive. It does exist as a general tendency within the capitalist world, but with proper caution on Moscow’s part, it will not assume the form of a concrete menace. The United States was not able to threaten the USSR at the time of greatest American superiority. It is not likely to do so now, when there is general awareness in the West of what a nuclear war might mean. The Reagan administration’s early rhetoric has already been blunted by the realization that the Soviet Union cannot be intimidated and that both economic realities and those of European politics will not permit the United States to regain superiority in strategic weapons or to match quantitatively those of the USSR.
The rentier then would urge that the Soviets moderate the pace of their nuclear arms buildup and be prepared to offer timely concessions in the course of negotiations. The USSR has already gained great political advantages from having surpassed the United States in several categories of these weapons and would compound the gains by making what the world at large (if not the Pentagon) would hail as a magnanimous gesture, say, stopping the production of the Backfire bomber. Piling up arms eventually becomes politically counterproductive. The goal is to disarm the West psychologically and prevent it from regaining the momentum toward political integration; Soviet military intimidation, if kept up for too long, is bound to have the opposite effect.
The same reasoning would apply to the general guidelines of Soviet policies throughout the world. Having established bridgeheads in Africa and the Caribbean, the Soviet Union would err by trying to expand them too blatantly. The problems facing the United States in those areas are essentially intractable, and it is much better for Moscow to wait upon events in the Third World than to attempt to give history a push, for example, in South Africa. The USSR must refrain from any action likely to touch on a raw nerve of American politics, such as identifying itself with the extreme Arab position on Israel, or reaching too obviously for control of the oil routes. In most of these areas of contention, time is essentially working for the Soviet Union, and precipitate actions by the Soviets might tend to reverse the trend.
The rentier’s case on this last point becomes most debatable when Politburo discussions turn to East Europe and China. But even there, the rentier instinct would plead for a conservative approach. Soviet bloc countries can always be handled, though preferably not by military means. In China, it is true, time does not seem to work in the Soviets’ favor. But for the balance of the 1980s and probably considerably beyond that, China can be contained, provided that the West and Japan do not launch a massive effort to help Beijing modernize its economy and become a major industrial, and hence military power. Therefore, the need to contain China makes it all the more important to exercise restraint and blend firmness with conciliatory gestures in their approach toward the West.
The other side of the Soviet leadership’s split personality might be called that of the speculator. For him the “imperialist danger” is not merely a doctrinal or propaganda phrase. It is not that he believes any more than the rentier that the United States is about to attack the USSR or engineer a revolution in East Germany or Poland. But only the constant growth in power by the Soviet Union and its avowed readiness to contemplate nuclear war have kept the West off balance and have prevented it from more explicit attempts to undermine the socialist camp. The USSR, therefore, must not desist from active and aggressive exploitation of the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the world capitalist system, even where it involves the possibility of a major clash with the United States. Such “brinksmanship” becomes especially important for the immediate future, because any lessening in the Soviets’ militancy would be read by Washington as a vindication of tough American rhetoric, would encourage the United States to play the China card to the hilt, and could embolden the West Europeans to heed American pleas to join in applying economic pressures upon the Soviet Union.
The speculator would not desist from trying to enhance and exploit whatever military advantages the USSR has already secured over the United States. To give up any of those advantages would be a grave mistake politically even more than militarily. Awe of Soviet military might has kept the United States from interfering in the Czechoslovak and Polish crises, made the Europeans fearful about offending Moscow by imposing effective economic sanctions, and in fact makes them ever more eager to propitiate the Soviet colossus with trade and credits. Any slackening in the arms buildup would thus be taken in the West as confirmation of the thesis that internal economic and other problems have made the USSR more malleable on defense and international issues and that consequently one can pressure the Soviets to alter not only their military and foreign policies, but also the domestic ones. One has to negotiate with the United States and NATO on tactical and strategic nuclear arms, but to offer any onesided concessions, even if not substantive, would be most damaging for the USSR’s image and bargaining position.
The speculator would not only stress the necessity of militancy from the angle of relations with the West. In the years ahead some Third World leaders might well be tempted to imitate Sadat’s gambit and exploit the USSR for their own purposes, only to switch to the other side once the Soviet connection had been fully exploited. In retrospect it may have been a mistake to make Egypt the fulcrum of Soviet policies in the Middle East and to pour so much money and effort into buttressing its regime without obtaining a firmer grasp on its internal politics. Future Soviet ventures in the Third World must not only lead to a temporary discomfiture for the West but also result in firm Soviet ideological and military control over the new client.
Analysts in the West and even some figures within the Soviet establishment keep pointing to Afghanistan as an illustration of the dangers of overt and precipitate Russian aggression. In fact Afghanistan, for all its troublesome aspects, served as a salutary lesson to those of Moscow’s protégés who might contemplate following Egypt’s example and try to reap the benefits of Soviet political and economic support while maneuvering between the two camps. For all the initial indignation, the Afghanistan coup served to strengthen the respect or fear in which the USSR is held in the Moslem world. When a mob tried to attack the Soviet embassy in Tehran, it was (unlike the embassy of another power) protected by the forces of that very fundamentalist Moslem regime. Direct Soviet military intervention is not something to be used too often, but once in a long while it serves as a useful reminder that the USSR is not to be trifled with.
Similar considerations indicate that the Soviet Union cannot af-ford to be a passive observer or just assist occasionally and indirectly in the erosion of U.S. influence in Latin America or that of the West in general in Africa. In fact it is doubtful whether this process can continue to benefit the Soviet Union’s interests, unless the latter promotes it energetically with more than just rhetoric and military supplies. All radical and liberation movements are inherently unstable and volatile in their political allegiance. If rebuffed in their pleas for more active Soviet help, they may turn to others or tend to disintegrate. It would thus be a mistake for Moscow to stand apart, if and when armed struggle erupts in South Africa, or in the case of a violent confrontation between the forces of left and right in a major Latin American country.
Our speculator tends to question, not explicitly of course, the thesis that “the objective course of history” must favor the Soviet cause. Where would the USSR be today if it had allowed “objective factors” to determine the fate of East Europe? In Latin America, Africa, and Asia one ought not to confuse the emotional residue of anticolonialism and local radicalism with a secular tendency toward Communism or with automatic gravitation of the new and developing societies toward the Soviet model. Anticapitalism and perhaps antiWestern sentiments may be the common denominator of most radical and liberation movements in the non-Western world. But once in power, if they feel they can afford it, such movements tend to seek freedom from any foreign tutelage. Their leaders have grown sophisticated enough to understand the complexities of the international scene and, if left to themselves, would prefer to be genuinely nonaligned and able to play one side against the other.
It is not by patiently waiting upon events but by bold coups that Soviet power and influence have been projected into all areas of the globe, and it is not the “inherent logic of economic and social development” but the greatly expanded naval and airlift capabilities that have maintained and enlarged those enclaves of influence. And so for the balance of the 1980s, “the objective course of history” must continue to be carved out by strenuous Soviet efforts including, when necessary, the use of military force.
Political and economic stability is a natural ally of the capitalist world. The USSR, therefore, can have no interest, except in special cases, in a general U.S.-Soviet understanding that would lessen the intensity of political ferment in the troubled areas of the world or reduce appreciably the present level of international tension. The speculator rejects the practicality or desirability of any long-term ac commodation between the USSR and America. Even if it pursues the most peaceful policies, the United States will always represent a standing danger to the Soviet system and the socialist camp simply by what it is. Close relations with the democracies lead inevitably to ideological pollution at home and to weakening that combination of political vigilance and social discipline that is the sine qua non of a Communist regime.
The rentier and the speculator would disagree most violently concerning the degree of urgency of the Chinese problem. The activist rejects emphatically the notion that the USSR can afford to sit and watch while China’s economy is modernized and its stockpile of nuclear weapons grows. Some efficacious solution of the problem must be found during the next few years. Perhaps the intra-faction struggle which has been going on in China since the Cultural Revolution might assume the proportions of a civil war. Barring that rather slim hope, the USSR would have to take some measures beyond just trying to contain China. Perhaps Beijing could still be enticed to paper over its dispute with the Russians and be pushed again into a collision course with the United States. Conversely, a moment might come when the Soviets will have sufficiently intimidated the West to compel it to leave them a free hand for even the most drastic resolution of their Chinese dilemma. Ever since the heating up of the Sino-Soviet dispute, and even when relations between Washington and Beijing were at their worst, America’s nuclear power has been a key factor in restraining the Soviets from trying to resolve the conflict by force.
Neither of the two impulses currently coexisting in the minds of the Politburo is likely to achieve complete mastery during the balance of the decade. Ascendancy of the rentier mentality would clearly make the Soviet Union much less of a destabilizing force in the world arena and in the long run could open up prospects of a major change in the Soviet philosophy of international relations. The speculator motif, if dominant, would greatly increase the danger of an all-out war. For the immediate future the Soviet leaders can be expected to seek a middle course between the two approaches, the benefits and risks of either weighed in their minds by their perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of the noncommunist world.
Areas of Opportunity
That rather imprecise and misleading term, “The Third World,” or its equally unsatisfactory and nearly synonymous phrase, “under-developed countries,” still assumes a fairly concrete meaning within the conceptual framework of Soviet foreign policy. For Lenin and his generation of Soviet leaders, the colonial and semicolonial dependen-cies of the West appeared the crucial future battlegrounds of the struggle between the worlds of socialism and capitalism. The current, much less doctrinal leadership of the Soviet Union continues to stress its historical mission in the same areas and affirms the natural affinity of interests and goals between the Fatherland of Socialism and the nations of the Third World. As Brezhnev said, “We know very well, and we shall not forget, that the nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America form, together with those of the socialist camp, a mighty detachment of the forces for peace in international relations. Working together we have already accomplished quite a lot. And we are firmly convinced that in the future, too, our paths will not diverge.”5
Among Third World areas, Africa was the last to engage active Soviet interest. From the practical point of view, until the post—World War II period, the USSR had neither power nor other effective means of projecting its influence to a continent then almost entirely dominated by the Western countries. Ideologically, the difficulties of propagating Communism were equally insuperable. Sub-Saharan Africa was almost completely devoid of the industrial proletariat and of the “national bourgeoisie,” the two traditional targets of Leninist tactics. South Africa was the only partial exception in the generally unpromising socioeconomic and political picture of the region. Even there, while the seeds of Communism could be implanted, racial divisions in the country condemned militant Marxism to virtual insignificance as a revolutionary or anti-imperialist force. When Lenin and Trotsky spoke of anti-imperialism’s becoming the catalyst of the world revolution, they had before their eyes Shanghai and Calcutta, not Johannesburg or Lagos. The Communist parties of the colonial powers had to carry on the missionary work for what then seemed the very distant day of revolutionary struggle in Africa, and they did so mainly by recruiting converts among the few Africans studying or settled in West.
This bleak picture was transformed drastically by the postwar “winds of change,” which within two decades overturned the major colonial systems in Africa and led to creation of a multitude of inde-pendent states. Only the weakest of the colonial powers, Portugal, clung ever more precariously to its African possessions. In Rhodesia, a tiny white majority began its foredoomed experiment in preserving a quasi-colonial system. South Africa remained the only strong enclave of white domination in the whole vast area, but it was increasingly isolated internationally and subjected to mounting pressures internally.
The Soviet and/or Communist contribution to this initial, most decisive phase of decolonization was virtually nil. It is more than an exaggeration for a Soviet author to assert that “The alliance between world socialism and the national-liberation forces … has played a key role in bringing about the collapse of the colonial empires.”6 Insofar as Africa was concerned, it was precisely and ironically the collapse of Western imperialism that enabled the USSR to influence the course of politics on the continent and to adopt the posture of supporter of national liberation movements after national liberation had already been accomplished in most cases.
Superficially, numerous factors should have favored the spread of Soviet influence in the new states, such as lingering anti-Western feelings among the population and the radical, often Marxist, leanings of the new ruling elites. Also, the “Soviet model of development” was attractive for many Africans of all political persuasions, who shared the misconception (not unknown in the West) that it was under and because of Communism that backward Russia had grown into the second greatest industrial power in the world.
On the other hand, the very instability and volatility of the political situation in the wake of rapid decolonization often frustrated Soviet efforts to win a firm political foothold in the new nations. Political leaders or parties they cultivated would fall prey to the usually turbulent political climate or would suddenly be compelled to shift their political orientation. In helping the new states economically, the USSR could not as yet compete with the West. Knowledge of local conditions among Soviet diplomats and technical advisers (whether the real ones or those combining their technical qualifications with KGB membership) was often rudimentary.
The Soviets’ greatest asset in competing with the West has been their unsqueamish attitude about the hard facts of politics in lands which had little or no tradition of representative institutions or political pluralism, not to speak of democracy. Recipients of American economic aid and other forms of assistance could expect intermittent admonitions from the U.S. government or from visiting Congressional delegations about the inadmissability of putting aid to uses other than economic development and raising the standard of living, about the wickedness of political repression, and, conversely, about the virtues of parliamentary institutions and an independent judiciary. Free from such scruples, the Soviets could court unabashedly and gain political leverage with local leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana and Sékou Touré in Guinea.
However, this influence could seldom be translated into a solid basis for Soviet presence in the given country. The local leader would be overthrown, as in Nkrumah’s case, or grow suspicious and disenchanted with the Soviets, as has happened intermittently in Ghana and Mali. In the former British and especially the French colonies, the Soviets had to deal with ruling elites that had imbibed cultural and political traditions of their former imperial masters and were therefore resistant to Soviet blandishments. In brief, for all their theoretical advantages over the West in recruiting clients among African elites and rulers, the Soviets were usually bested in that competition until well into the 1970s.
The first major Soviet foray to achieve a political hold over an African country came in the former Belgian Congo, today’s Zaire. Unlike the British and the French in most of their colonies, the Belgians had neglected laying down even rudimentary foundations for the territory’s future self-rule. The resultant chaos following the proclamation of independence in 1960 enabled Moscow to make a serious bid for dominant influence by establishing close links to Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and helping him fight a secessionist movement in the Katanga province. After his overthrow, the Soviets sponsored a number of insurrectionary forces claiming to be legatees of the martyred Lumumba.
Failure of this initial major effort at securing a foothold in the heart of Africa gave the Soviets some lessons they undoubtedly re-membered when readjusting their African policies in recent years. First, the influence of the Western nations within the United Nations proved still strong enough to make the latter take effective steps to preserve Zaire’s territorial integrity and to hold at bay Soviet- supported forces. Second, the Soviet efforts in Zaire had to be improvised: there had been no opportunity before independence to groom a pro-Soviet faction to bid for power when the Belgians left. Third, and most fundamentally, the Soviets still lacked adequate logistic capabilities to project power thousands of miles away from their borders, nor would they have used surrogate troops to secure victory for their side in an African civil war, even if they had had them available at that time.
Some of the lessons drawn by the Soviets from their first serious immersion in African politics were reflected in Khrushchev’s founding of the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow, intended to train pro-Soviet cadres among the future intelligentsia of African and other Third World nations.7 He also paid an unwitting tribute to the United Nations’ effectiveness in having kept the Congo from complete anarchy by pressing that the Secretary General’s functions be divided among three people, one to be chosen from the Communist bloc. Such a proposal would have made the world organization virtually impotent to stave off future Soviet attempts to exploit similar crises.
How drastically the situation in Africa changed in the Soviets’ favor and to the West’s disadvantage within the next decade! The U.N. had become so enfeebled that it could not intervene in crises such as that following the collapse of the Portuguese empire. It has proved incapable of preventing territorial disputes between African states from erupting into wars, as in the Somali-Ethiopian struggle over Ogaden in 1977—78. One of the main assumptions of those in the West, especially in the United States, who urged speedy emancipation of colonial areas, even those ill-prepared for self-rule, had been that the United Nations would smooth the new nations’ path to political stability and seal them off from the East-West conflict. This not entirely altruistic hope (for it implied the persistence of Western influence) foundered upon the realities of African politics in the 1970s. Nor has any other supranational entity such as the Organization of African Unity (OAU) been able to prevent growing political fragmentation and instability both within the individual states and in the region as a whole.
In some countries a charismatic leader such as Kenya’s Kenyatta or Senegal’s Senghor has been able to assure a degree of political continuity and national unity. Several Francophone African countries have maintained close links with France. In Kenya and Tanzania, the imprint of British political and administrative institutions and traditions has not yet been entirely eroded. But as the first postindependence generation passes from the scene, even those enclaves of relative political calm are becoming subject to the same pressures and ailments that afflict the majority of African states. Coups d’etat, periods of military rule, and internal struggle between ethnic and tribal factions, at times assuming the proportions of a civil war, have become increasingly frequent on the African scene.
Against the background of political troubles lie the stark facts of the African economy. The majority of countries in the area are among the poorest and least economically developed in the world. Only three or four black sub-Saharan states currently have a major industrial capacity. In 1979 the gross national income per capita for twenty-eight countries was $350 or less; for another twelve, the figure was between $350 and $700. Only seven states in the area had a per capita income over $700.8 In the white-dominated areas, South Africa, Namibia, and, until recently, Rhodesia-Zimbabwe, there has been a great disparity between the standard of living of the dominant race and that of the black majority.
Rudimentary modernization has tended in general to compound rather than to ameliorate the distressing economic conditions. Indeed such modernization, unless accompanied by vigorous industrial and agricultural development, contributes to the stagnation or actual lowering of the average standard of living. Thus, Nigeria, with its great oil earnings, should have one of the highest GNPs per capita, but given its over eighty million people, the actual figure for per capita income was but $330. More than half the sub-Saharan states had a per capita GNP growth rate during 1970-77 of less than 2 percent, with seventeen registering no growth or an actual decline.9 By building upon their mineral resources and nationalizing their agriculture, individual states may achieve a much higher growth rate, and/or develop effective population control programs. But as a whole, subSaharan Africa is unlikely to improve significantly its economic position during the balance of the decade. Only massive foreign aid, on a scale that does not seem realistic to expect, could alter this bleak prospect.
Ostensibly, Africa might appear an area of limitless opportunity and of almost irresistible temptation for the spread of Soviet influence. By the same token, the West’s opportunity to maneuver successfully in the morass of African politics is subject to severe limitations. The usual instruments of Western influence and thereby of countering the Soviet one—parliamentary institutions, a middle class imbued with liberal values, a strong sense of nationhood—are either missing or weak and vulnerable. The persistence of white domination in South Africa and, for the immediate future, in Namibia and of the economically privileged position of European minorities in Zimbabwe, Kenya, as well as of smaller groups of such expatriates in other states, is yet another element of fundamental importance in the Western dilemma in Africa. The complexity of the racial problem inherent in the survival of the white-dominated regimes and the virtual impossibility of a both democratic and nonviolent solution not only affect Western policies on the continent but also find their reverberations in domestic politics in the United States and Great Britain. Add to it the considerable economic and strategic stake of the democratic world in Africa, e.g., U.S. dependence on a number of important minerals found mainly in the southern part of Africa, and one begins to realize the full extent of the West’s predicament and of the Soviet Union’s opportunity.
On the face of it, in no other major area of the world could the USSR expect to score such substantial successes with so little effort and risk as in Africa. In urging the wisdom of waiting upon events rather than advancing Soviet goals by precipitate actions, the rentier argument would appear most persuasive when pointing to predictable tendencies within African politics. The racial tension in South Africa is bound to heat up, provoking civil disobedience, possibly mass violence, even civil war by the end of the decade. Any position taken by the West in that struggle is likely to be deleterious to its interests, to antagonize both sides, and to have profound and negative effects on the United States and its allies. The USSR can watch this struggle, whatever character it assumes, with equanimity. Uninhibited by the prospects of bloodshed, the Kremlin does not have to assume an overt role in the crisis or its resolution to see South Africa lapsing into complete chaos or becoming fragmented. Its anti-imperialist rhetoric and covert help to one of the contending factions are likely to be sufficient to keep the situation from cooling off and to prevent the West from advancing a compromise solution acceptable to both sides.
The same attitude of patiently waiting for fresh crises to fall in the Soviets’ lap seems sensible almost everywhere else on the continent. Superficially, Zaire might appear a solid bastion of Western influence in the area, and the intermittent forays from Angola (sanctioned if not sponsored by Moscow) by forces opposed to the Zaire regime have to date been frustrated. Yet, in the very nature of things, the Mobutu regime will sooner or later fall of its own weight. The usual Western panacea for securing political stability—economic development, assisted by large credits from the International Monetary Fund and Western banks—has worked no better in Zaire than in most other African countries. For inefficient and corrupt regimes such as Mobutu’s, foreign economic aid, unless its use is strictly monitored, tends to aggravate the country’s economic and social problems, as the Soviets themselves have learned in Indonesia and, most recently, in Poland. Instead of leading to the development of a middle class with appropriate (i.e., Western) values, U.S. and European economic assistance to shaky Third World regimes is expended on spectacular development projects having little relevance to the most pressing problems of the local economy or leads to proliferation of parasitic bureaucracies and enrichment of the ruling clique. Frustrated, “the revolution of rising expectations” then gives rise to real revolutionary strivings among an educated class already predisposed to think in quasi—Marxist-Leninist terms.
It is unlikely that the West can continue indefinitely to prop up the Mobutu regime. Its army has been barely adequate for the purpose of internal repression and was unable on its own to repulse the secessionist movements in 1977 and 1978, even though they were poorly led and armed. With the collapse of the regime, the country may again fragment along tribal-provincial lines. Or, if a central authority does emerge, it might decide to eschew undue dependence on the West in view of its predecessor’s fate. Either case would open interesting possibilities for the USSR, which then might have recourse to friendly forces across the Angolan border.
If such pleasing prospects can be anticipated in a large African state that the United States and its allies have been especially solicitous to preserve and build into a mainstay of influence, the Soviets have even rosier expectations elsewhere. The temper and attention span of democratic politics acts against the American or the French govern-ments’ being able to monitor continuously and to react instantaneously to political crises in some forty-seven African states, most of them remote from the average citizen’s awareness. Will the French, increasingly weary of what remains of their formal imperial role, send their paratroops to little, oil-rich Gabon in case of a pro-Soviet insurgency there, as they sent them to Zaire in 1978? Could American public opinion tolerate any administration’s embarking on a policy of the El Salvador type in a little-known African state? Even to ask such questions makes one realize how the cards in the African game appear stacked in the Soviet Union’s favor.
On the other hand, there are cogent reasons to believe that the problems facing the USSR in Africa are much more complex and difficult than hitherto implied.
We first encounter the natural reluctance of African leaders to exchange one form of foreign tutelage for another, a reluctance all the stronger because of their awareness of the fragility of their countries’ political and social fabric. African intellectuals’ and politicians’ original attraction to Moscow was based mainly on their scanty knowledge of Soviet politics and life. The actual Soviet presence in Africa, the exposure of many thousands of blacks to the conditions of Soviet society, so different from what they had been led to expect from propaganda tracts, and the thinly veiled undertones of xenophobia and racism in the Soviets’ attitude have contributed to considerable disenchantment with the Soviet “model of development” and even with the image of the USSR as staunch enemy of imperialism and as advocate of the cause of all oppressed peoples.
The politicians have had ample opportunities to observe the manipulative quality of the Soviets’ approach to Africa’s problems and the superficiality of their professions of disinterested and genuine engagement in the cause of national liberation. Even in a tract designed for propaganda use, a Soviet author cannot avoid a tone of condescension when speaking of “liberation” and similar movements that Moscow usually exalts and courts so strenuously: “A typical feature of most of the ideological concepts used by the revolutionary democrats is that they do not possess a well developed theoretical basis…. They are largely inconsistent and contradictory.”10
One may then question whether further radicalization of African politics must automatically rebound to the Soviets’ advantage. Quite a few African radical movements and regimes have tended to profess greater affinity with China than with the senior Communist power. In terms of material support to the revolutionary forces and self- proclaimed revolutionary regimes, Beijing has until now been in no position to compete with Moscow. This has been vividly demonstrated during the civil wars in Nigeria and Angola. But even the very fact of China’s appearance on the scene must have produced very choleric reactions within the Kremlin. Beijing’s involvement in African politics definitely ended the USSR’s monopoly as the only alleged external champion of anti-imperialism and racial oppression. China’s influence was significant in the resolution of the Rhodesia-Zimbabwe conflict, where the Soviets backed what until now has been the wrong horse, the Joshua Nkomo faction among the guerrilla forces. This backing might explain the Mugabe government’s initial hesitation to enter upon full-fledged diplomatic relations with the USSR.
But if stymied or bested in their struggle for “men’s hearts and minds,” the Soviets do not and will not scorn more direct methods of achieving their goals. There are few governments in the area that a few thousand well-trained soldiers could not overthrow or, conversely, maintain in power in the face of widespread popular discontent. In that sense, the Cuban gambit in Angola was both a fundamental innovation in Soviet methods of political penetration and a probe of both Western and African reactions to this new way of furthering the cause of “national liberation.” On both counts the test proved highly successful. The OAU, after some internal dispute, finally decided to recognize the regime installed with the help of the Cubans, allegedly because a competing faction had sought South African aid, but also in all probability because of the feeling that it seemed unwise to provoke the USSR, a power that can conjure up thousands of troops to assist its friends in other African countries. How far the Soviet-Cuban arrangement has now been accepted as a fact of African political life can be judged from the fact that one argument used in the West to urge a speedy settlement of the Zimbabwe question was that unless the conflict was brought to a close, that country too might experience a large-scale Cuban military intervention.
Having once established their political grip on a given state, it is more than problematic that the Soviets would relinquish it and pull out the surrogate troops, even if the pretext for military intervention had passed. It is sometimes argued that the MPLA regime in Angola would be eager to get rid of its Cuban guests once the internal situation stabilized and Namibia became independent, thus eliminating the danger of South African intrusions. But the Soviets may feel that the Luanda government would need the comforting presence of their foreign helpers for a long time. Even if Namibia became independent, the Cubans would be needed to help “build socialism” in Angola and to protect it from its internal enemies. It would be logical to lend Cubans to Namibia too, to fend off South African designs on its independence and to advance the “national liberation” struggle in South Africa proper.
Similar considerations would make Moscow extremely unwilling to lift its military presence from Ethiopia. There the surrogate troops’ technique received a further twist with Soviet officers’ assuming command over joint Cuban-Ethiopian operations, both in fighting local insurrections and in the war against Somalia. The USSR must feel that it has made considerable sacrifices to enable the bloodstained Mengistu regime to hold on to power and to prevent Ethiopia’s territorial disintegration. In addition to its generous help with arms and experts and to the expense incurred in transporting and arming the Cubans, the USSR had also to give up, at least temporarily, its friendship with Somalia and, what is more important, its naval and air facilities in that country.
It is inconceivable that after Ethiopia had received so much Soviet “selfless help,” Moscow would heed a suggestion by Mengistu or a successor that Soviet benevolence, or at least its military presence in his country, is no longer needed. The Soviets presumably have learned a lesson from their bitter experience with Egypt. If they can help it, they will not let it be repeated in a country that they must consider much easier to handle in a no-nonsense fashion than Egypt or Afghanistan.
This last point raises again the question of whether the volatile flux of African politics can be dammed and harnessed to Soviet goals. Soviet policies have traditionally fed upon racial, ethnic, and national conflicts, yet the multiplicity and complexity of such conflicts in Africa tend to create situations that the Kremlin finds difficult to handle to its advantage or lead to successes in one area having unfavorable repercussions for Soviet influence and interests in another. No African leader could have missed this object lesson of Soviet Machiavellianism when, with the bigger prize of Ethiopia in sight, Moscow suddenly and unceremoniously dropped its support not only for Somalia but also for the Eritrean rebels and hastened to provide the Addis Ababa regime the means for defeating and repressing the USSR’s erstwhile friends.
Conscious of such inherent difficulties, the USSR has tried and will undoubtedly intensify such efforts in the future to build more solid foundations for its bridgeheads on the continent. In both Angola and Ethiopia, it has urged the local regimes to transform the rather amorphous movements that brought them into power into something closer to the Marxist-Leninist model of a political party. The USSR would like to see both countries integrated ideologically and economically into the Soviet bloc. It remains to be seen whether and to what extent such experiments can succeed and whether they will justify Moscow’s hopes or help create varieties of African Titoism.
In any case, Africa is bound to remain one of the principal targets of Soviet efforts at expansion and at gaining advantages over the West. How intensive these efforts will be and how much the USSR will be willing to risk would depend, however, on political developments outside the continent. It was not only the Kremlin’s assessment of the Angolan political scene in 1974—75 but also the strange consequences of a janitor’s discovery in a Washington apartment complex some years before that emboldened the Soviets to embark on a new tech-nique of expansion in Africa. As before and as elsewhere, what the Soviets try to do in Africa will depend heavily on their reading of the West.
The Eastern Areas of the Moslem World
Unlike those of Africa, problems associated with the world of Islam have been of long-standing and direct importance to the USSR internally, as well as in the international field. Historically, the Russian state was forged in an almost constant struggle with the Moslem states and tribes south and east of its nucleus. The absorption of its former Mongol and Turkic conquerors was followed in the nineteenth century by the conquest of Central Asia and subjugation of the Moslem tribes of North Caucasus. Russian expansion at the expense of the Moslem world has had a long tradition. Only the rivalry with the British empire prevented the tsars from wresting further territories from the Ottoman and Persian empires and allowed Afghanistan to preserve its very shaky independence.
Communist Russia abjured officially its imperial predecessor’s policy toward the Moslem world, and indeed Moscow attempted to employ both the religious and the nationalist dynamism of the awakening Islamic world for undermining the still surviving colonial systems, principally the British. The religious motif, rather theatrically presented at the Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East in 1920, could not long be sustained by a power that in its own territory proceeded to wage war upon all religious institutions and beliefs, Islam included. Still, Leninist tactics in the 1920s were a preview of those followed by the USSR once it became a world power and could promote its interests in the Moslem areas by more than anti-imperialist rhetoric. It sought special ties with those oriental countries that had entered or tried to enter the path of modernization, such as Ataturk’s Turkey and Amanullah’s Afghanistan. In these cases, the interests of local Communism or other radical movements were already considered secondary to those of the Soviet state. There were also abortive attempts at promoting outright pro-Soviet regimes when conditions for such developments were judged favorable, as in Northern Persia.
The post-World War II scene found the Soviets’ attention still focused on the traditional targets of Russian imperial expansion: Turkey and Iran. Stalin pressed for Soviet naval bases on Turkish territory, and Soviet territorial demands on Ankara kept relations between the two countries at a high level of tension until 1953. There were more overt attempts to carve out Russian satellite states from Iran by prolonging Soviet military occupation of its northern part beyond the time limit agreed upon in 1943 at the Big Three Tehran conference, but they collapsed because of determined American- British opposition. The USSR did not yet feel strong enough to challenge the Western powers in an area of secondary importance, compared with East Europe and the Far East. Stalin was a man with a firm set of priorities, and even the clear signs of forthcoming turbulence in the Arab world were not allowed to divert the attention of the Kremlin away from Berlin and Prague and toward Cairo or Algiers.
With the collapse of the British and French presence in the Middle East coming much sooner than they had expected, the Soviets were still prompt to adjust their policies toward this new area of Western vulnerability and hence of fresh opportunities for the USSR. In 1948 they supported the foundation of the Israeli state and were the first to recognize it de jure. Moscow realized that this new element in Middle Eastern politics would raise almost insuperable difficulties to any lasting accommodation between the Arab world and the West. It could already be foreseen that with Britain and France bound to surrender the enclaves of their power in the region, the United States would have to try to be the balancing factor in Middle East politics. This task, in view of America’s special relationship with Israel, was bound to incur difficulties and costs that would immeasurably increase the burden of this country’s foreign policy.
Again the Soviets may have originally intended to draw only indirect benefits from the West’s travails in liquidating another part of its imperial legacy. America’s self-proclaimed mission as champion of the colonial peoples’ independence was likely to appear unconvincing to the Arabs in view of the special American relationship with Britain and France, as well as with Israel. At the same time, Washington’s pressure on London and Paris to emancipate their colonies and liquidate their special rights in the Arab lands more expeditiously lest the latter turn toward the Communist world was bound to throw a spoke in the wheels of the Atlantic alliance.11 The Soviets, therefore, could afford a certain detachment from the conflicts in the Middle East. Diplomatic relations with Israel, which were broken off in 1952 more because of Stalin’s anti-Jewish obsession than of foreign policy considerations, were quickly restored by his successors, who also proceeded to mend Soviet-Turkish relations. The first stages of the Algerian rebellion did not find vociferous support on the part of the USSR. Until 1956, Soviet policies in the Middle East were attuned to the priority of their European goals, which were to weaken NATO, prevent West European political intergration, and secure formal rec-ognition of the division of Germany.
Khrushchev’s adventurist itch, the first indication of the Chinese bid to lead militant forces in the Third World, and the almost irresistible temptation to exploit the ill-fated Suez affair combined to impart to Soviet policy in the Middle East that activist bent it has exhibited ever since 1956.
Paradoxically, this direct and intense engagement of the Soviet Union in the politics of the area has for the most part contributed to weakening the appeal and influence of the Communist parties in most Arab countries. The Soviets’ ostensible posture became one of cham-pioning Arab nationalism in its struggle against the remnants of Western imperialism and Israel. The USSR has had to soft-pedal the ideological motif and watch with equanimity when the Arab regimes it befriended dealt unceremoniously with local Communists. Occasionally this inherent conflict within Soviet policies between their ideological and realpolitik elements would surface and provide a preview of the Kremlim’s future troubles. The overthrow of the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq in 1958 brought to power the regime of General Kassim, in which initially the Communists played an important role. This aroused considerable anxiety on the part of Moscow’s recent protégé, Colonel Nasser. The Egyptian leader became vociferous about the danger of Communism in the Arab world and dealt severely with its adherents in what was then the United Arab Republic. Central as Egypt had already become to the Soviets, Khrushchev could not suppress entirely his Marxist-Leninist side. He tactlessly chided Nasser as a “hot-headed young man” and demonstratively praised the new regime in Iraq for pursuing the kind of progressive policies that the other Arab states should emulate. Kassim’s flirtation with the Communists was not to last long, and his own rule and life came to a violent end not much later. The USSR and Egypt reverted to that close though occasionally troubled friendship that was to characterize their relations until Nasser’s death.12
The initial premise of Kremlin strategy in the Middle East and the Mediterranean area was that the Soviets should build most effectively upon exploitation of the anti-Western and anti-Israeli sentiments of already existing regimes and “liberation movements,” rather than by trying to create enclaves of direct Soviet domination. Eventually, Nasser might grow into a facsimile of Castro, and “Arab socialism,” finding itself unable to cope with the multifarious social and economic problems of the region, would have to give way to the real, scientific one. To begin, however, by trying to create a Middle Eastern “People’s Republic” would harm, perhaps fatally, the image of the USSR as a disinterested champion of the Arab cause.
Yet, as always, the Soviets have not been able to resist the temptation to hedge their bets. While maintaining an official and decorous liaison with the powers that be in Egypt, Syria, or Iraq, Moscow has not desisted from exploring the possibilities and preparing the ground for a more intimate relationship with those who might offer an alternative. This dialectical or duplicitous pattern of Soviet policies has perhaps been more evident in the Middle East than in other major areas of conflict. It has on occasion created serious embarrassments for the USSR and in one case rendered a serious blow to its position in the region as a whole, with reverberations that are likely to affect increasingly the general trend of Soviet policies in the entire Third World.
The abortive Communist coup in the Sudan in 1971 was followed within a few months by President Sadat’s purge of the Sabri faction from the Egyptian regime. The Soviet Union’s reaction to both developments reflected the relative weight of the two countries in the Kremlin’s calculations. The Egyptian leader had good reasons to suspect that Sabri’s machinations were foreign-inspired. His group consisted of “all those senior Egyptian officials whom the Russians had come to know best, and so to regard as their friends.”13 But such friends were expendable when it came to the Soviets’ retaining close links with the key country of the Arab world. Sadat, the USSR believed, was propitiated by the Kremlin’s agreeing to a formal treaty of alliance signed in the same year.
In the case of the Sudan, Moscow reacted sharply to the regime’s mass execution of the Communist plotters and their associates and broke off diplomatic relations. It is unlikely that this action was dictated by purely ideological or sentimental considerations. To act otherwise, especially toward a country that was not of great importance in the Soviet scheme of things, would have damaged even further the already low morale of Arab Communists.14
The 1971 contretemps in Cairo and the Sudan crisis were no doubt instrumental in persuading Sadat to take the first steps on the road to Jerusalem and Camp David and in making Egypt the most important and spectacular case of Soviet failure in the Third World. No conceivable modification of the late president’s stand on international issues by his successors is likely to erase the far-reaching significance and implications of this defeat for Soviet diplomacy in a country that has been the object of Moscow’s courtship more than any other in the Third World. Soviet leaders may have convinced themselves that at least on two occasions they had risked for Egypt’s sake a direct confrontation with the United States and thus saved the ungrateful country from utter disaster. As a reward the perfidious Egyptians, having fully exploited the USSR, proceeded to switch to the U.S. camp.
Sadat’s “betrayal” has undercut much of the Soviets’ efforts, pursued strenuously for over a quarter of a century, to keep the Middle East in that state of turmoil judged essential by Moscow for securing a Soviet presence in the area. It is not surprising that upon announcing his intention of seeking a settlement with Israel, the Egyptian statesman was subjected to a barrage of personal vituperation such as, with the possible exception of Mao, has never before been released by the Soviet press against the head of a state with which the USSR has continued to maintain diplomatic relations.
The Soviets’ experience in Egypt goes to the very heart of the speculator/rentier argument about the future direction of Soviet policies, and not only in the Moslem world. The rentier would argue that the character and extent of Soviet involvement with the Egyptians and the willingness to give carte blanche to Egypt’s rulers from the beginning had been unreasonable and excessive. The basic aims of the Soviet Union in the area could have been served by a less close relationship, not only with Cairo, but also with other “progressive” Arab regimes. In fact, by the early 1960s the USSR had already drawn the maximum possible benefits from its active advocacy of the Arab cause. Western domination had ended, and U.S. influence was being eroded, with the Eisenhower doctrine a thing of the past. The Israeli- Palestinian question has made it impossible for the United States to fill the vacuum the crumbling of the British and French imperial position caused. This question can be depended upon to continue to poison American-Arab relations and thus render superfluous a too-active Soviet involvement in the Middle Eastern conflict, an involvement that someday might lead, even accidentally, to an armed clash between the two superpowers.
Who in fact struck the greatest blow at the interests of the United States and its allies, not only regionally but on a worldwide scale? This blow, the rentier would point out, came not as a consequence of anything done by pampered “progressive” Arab regimes into which the USSR had poured billions in military aid and other forms of assistance. It came as the result of OPEC’s actions in 1973-74, even though most of the members were conservative Moslem regimes, de-pendent on the West in many ways.
OPEC’s exactions are a principal cause of the most serious eco-nomic crisis the capitalist world has experienced since World War II, with all that crisis has meant for the political stability of the West and for its willingness and/or ability to maintain a high level of military expenditures. How could the benefits secured by the USSR through the actions of such unwitting helpers as the Saudi princes, the late Shah, and petty sheikhs be compared to those meager dividends accrued through the expensive and risk-laden sponsorship of rulers like Nasser and Kassim?
Iran, the rentier’s case continues, provides another conclusive example of how much to be preferred, how much more prudent, it is to wait patiently upon what the “objective course of history” will bring, rather than to try to give history a push. It would be a mistake to hint at the possibility of Soviet military action in Iran or blatantly encourage the separatist and radical elements in that country. In fact one ought to discourage any premature attempt by the left to seize power in Tehran.
Similar cautions, so this argument would continue, should be observed in regard to such other non-Arab Moslem states as Turkey and Pakistan. There, too, the general trend of social and political development works against the West, and the military regimes cannot indefinitely contain radicalism, whether of the political or religious variety. Turkey’s ties with the West have already been strained by skillful Soviet exploitation of the Cyprus problem, and it is by further cultivation of the opportunities offered to it by the Turkish-Greek dispute that Moscow can work most effectively to detach both countries from NATO. Similarly, friendship with India offers the most effective leverage for dealing with Pakistan and for discouraging active support for the Afghani rebels or its seeking to draw close to Beijing.
The more activist-minded members of the Politburo would quar-rel not so much with the rentier’s conclusion as with his premises. All developments in the Moslem world that have been favorable to the Soviet Union and harmful to Western interests have not come of themselves. The USSR has been the catalyst of this new Arab revolution that has attenuated Western power and influence throughout the region and that has enabled the Moslem world to persist in its opposition to Israel and its support of the Palestinian cause. It is naive to think that without the USSR’s playing an active role in the area, without fear of Soviet action always present in the minds of Washington policy makers, the capitalists would have reacted so meekly to OPEC’s economic blackmail or would not have taken some vigorous measures to prevent the collapse of the Shah’s regime in Iran. As elsewhere, any precipitate slackening of Soviet interest in the area would embolden the United States to try to contain and even to roll back Soviet power in the Moslem world and to encourage other “hard line” Arab regimes to follow the example of Egypt.
The Soviets must have concluded that it was a mistake to have their position in Egypt based on nothing more substantial than its rulers’ goodwill and the assumption that the Israeli-Palestinian problem would always keep them apart from the United States. What to the rentier is an illustration of the dangers of Soviet overcommitment on behalf of a Moslem country is from the opposite point of view a reason for urging that the USSR should seek a firmer grip on the internal politics of its allies. The Soviets’ motives in licensing and then protecting the 1978 Communist coup in Afghanistan and their prompt and drastic action in South Yemen, when its government in the same year showed signs of trying to emancipate itself from them, both followed and were influenced by their experience with Sadat. Cuban, or in an extreme case, Soviet soldiers, plus the appropriate ideological bent of the given regime, are more efficacious safeguards of its continued reliability than mere treaties of alliance or mutual interest in combating neo-imperialism and Zionism.
On the other hand the Soviets’ Afghan venture could hardly be qualified as a resounding success. The 1979 military intervention in Afghanistan, which most Western observers have viewed as a grave miscalculation on the Kremlin’s part, was probably considered by even the most cautious Politburo member as a practical necessity: having once authorized a Communist coup and put their seal of approval on the revolutionary regime, the Soviets could not afford to let it disintegrate or be overthrown by a popular revolt. Some Soviet leaders must have felt instead that their error had been in authorizing the 1978 experiment in the first place, the old Kabul regime having been quite amenable to Moscow’s wishes.
In any case, Afghanistan cannot serve any more than Egypt as a promising model for future Soviet efforts at making and retaining friends and expanding their influence in the Moslem world. Nor is it reasonable to see recent Soviet moves as part of a deliberate long-run strategy to secure direct control over the oil-producing countries of the area or to cut off the oil supply routes to the West and Japan. Not even the most insistent proponent of the speculator approach within the Soviet leadership could endorse such strategies, unless prepared to accept an all-out war with the United States. If ever such an argument might be made, it would not be in the context of the Middle Eastern situation, or because of the depletion of the Soviets’ own energy sources.
The Kremlin is aware that in the Middle East, more than in any other area of the world outside the Soviet bloc, it has allowed its prestige to be engaged to the point that it has almost lost control over the situation on several occasions. Occasionally, actions by a client state threatened to draw the Soviet Union into a conflict it did not seek. A Soviet analyst undoubtedly had this region principally in mind when he wrote, “In a world where international tension is the rule, where there exist smouldering military conflicts in many places, states may be drawn quite unintentionally into a sequence of events where eventually they lose control over the situation and it becomes impossible to prevent a catastrophe.”15
But have Soviet calculations about the area and the Moslem world in general reached the point where a marginal gain in Western discomfiture is not worth the increment of risk involved for the USSR? We run again into the split personality of the Soviet foreign policy-making establishment. No blueprint in some Kremlin safe contains detailed plans for the USSR’s achieving mastery of the Mediterranean’s southern littoral or of the. Persian Gulf. On the other hand, if the Politburo were to state its true goals for the whole vast region, it would most likely echo an American labor union leader’s definition of what his constituents wanted: more. Even that would not be a complete answer, for on occasion the Soviets have sought to undermine the interests of the West even in a situation where such actions were not likely to bring concrete benefits for themselves. Both the competitive impulse of the Soviets’ foreign policy and their lack of experience in techniques of retrenchment make it almost inconceivable that the present generation of leaders should seek to moderate Soviet imperial expansion in a region full of opportunities.
There is, on the other hand, a dawning realization that recent developments in the Moslem world might make a degree of Soviet disengagement from its problems and conflicts not only prudent but necessary. Moscow greeted the Khomeini revolution in Iran with obvious and understandable satisfaction. Many a Soviet Oriental expert, as well as those who still take their Marxism seriously, must have winced at the official appraisal of the social implications of this outburst of religious fanaticism: “The peculiarity of the Iranian situation consists in the fact that the majority of the population there is under the influence of the Shiite branch of Islam, whose slogans under the given circumstances have a progressive character.”16 But under most circumstances Moslem fundamentalism cannot be a friend of the Soviet cause. Unlike Khaddafi, Khomeini and his followers have not exempted the Soviets from their bitterly hostile attitude toward anything that smacks of modernization and European influence.
The present politico-religious ferment in the Islamic world is bound to assume forms and lead to situations that impinge not only on Western, but also Soviet interests. This has already been demonstrated in Afghanistan, and what is happening in that country, as well as stirrings of religious fanaticism elsewhere in the Orient, could find reverberations among the Soviet Union’s Moslem population, especially in Central Asia. A time may come when the Soviets find it impractical to try to manipulate the political and social turmoil of the Moslem world and impossible to steer it into a “safe,” e.g., predominantly anti-Western, direction.
As much as it runs against the grain, the Soviets then might seek to establish a pattern of cooperation with the West in order to keep this turmoil from leading to a situation threatening both sides. It may be an oversimplification to assert that “the Soviets have consistently acted as though they preferred a U.S.-USSR general agreement that extended to the Moslem world over a hazardous confrontation there.”17For the most part, as we have seen, Moscow has been confident that it could both poach on American interests there and avoid “a hazardous confrontation.” In a crisis situation, it has usually communicated rather than cooperated with Washington, as in urging the latter to restrain its friends, usually Israel, in return for Soviet intimations, not always truthful, that it has tried to exert a moderating influence on its own protégés.
How likely is it that this pattern of trying to prevent fires from turning into conflagrations rather than mounting joint efforts to eliminate the combustible materials could change in the years to come?
Much of the answer will depend on the policies of Israel. “The reach of Israeli power in the early 1980s was breathtaking, and the consequences of its uninhibited display (the raids on Lebanon, the strike against the Iraqi reactor, and the overflights of Saudi territory) quite stunning from a regional perspective…. Further, Israeli power threatened to be an important catalyst for fundamental alteration in the character of at least Lebanon, quite possibly Syria, and perhaps Jordan.”18 The events of June 1982, with Israeli armies surging to the outskirts of Beirut, add poignancy to the above passage.
The Soviet Union could not abandon its support for the PLO, its vociferous advocacy of Palestinians’ rights, and its association with and military assistance to the hard-line Arab states without virtually terminating its role in Middle Eastern politics and incurring grave damage to its prestige and influence throughout the rest of the Moslem world. But the continued credibility of Moscow’s position on all those points will henceforth depend on more than just rhetoric and supplying friends with arms. The Soviet Union’s reliability as an ally and protector will be judged increasingly by the Arabs according to its readiness and ability to curb the explosion of Israeli power.
Somewhat ironically, then, the focus of Soviet maneuvers in the Middle East may shift to efforts to impress the United States with the urgent need of curbing Israel, possibly coupling the plea with more or less explicit warnings that continued Israeli forays would make it necessary for the USSR to introduce its own land- and air-combat forces into the area.
This picture warrants the conclusion that if the USSR intends to preserve major influence on the course of events, it would have to accept military commitments going considerably beyond those it undertook in 1969-70, when it helped to protect Egypt from Israeli air raids with some 12,000 Soviet troops manning Egyptian missile sites and Soviet pilots flying combat missions. Except for a probable bluff during the 1973 conflict, the USSR has eschewed such commitments since then, and it must be remembered that the Soviet combat role in the Egypt-Israeli air duel over the Suez Canal took place before detente and during the most burdensome phase of America’s involvement in Southeast Asia.
Alternatively, Moscow may decide to cut its losses in the Middle East, yet save its prestige with the Arabs by securing for them some tangible gains through strenuous diplomatic efforts. Officially it has always clung to the position that a lasting settlement of the Arab- Israeli dispute must include guarantees of the sovereignty and security of all concerned states and that Israel return to its pre-1967 borders. Despite Soviet propaganda on the theme of sinister Zionist influences determining Washington’s policies, the Kremlin must have noted that Israeli policies on the occupied territories have been the subject of mounting criticism in some circles in the United States and even more so in Western Europe. The Camp David process having come at least temporarily to a halt, the Soviets may count on eventual American assistance to procure Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders. The USSR then could pose as the godfather of the Palestinian state, comprising the West Bank and Gaza. If that happened, or even if the Soviets could point to tangible progress in achieving such a solution, they could look with confidence, even if with somewhat diminished expectations, to their future standing in the Middle East. The Palestinian state, they could claim, was brought into being mainly through their unremitting efforts in the face of Israel’s opposition and America’s obstruction.
There would still remain a number of thorny questions, such as the exact boundaries of the new state, the status of Jerusalem, the nature of guarantees for Israel, and even the problem of the latter’s Arab minority, that would intermittently heat up the situation and allow the USSR to play a new hand. For the foreseeable future it would take a miracle for real peace to come to the unfortunate nations of the area, and the Soviets do not believe in miracles.
Traditionally the USSR has reacted to its policies’ being thwarted in one area by making more vigorous attempts to penetrate and increase its influence in another. Were the Israeli-Arab conflict alleviated, the Kremlin would look more intently elsewhere in the Arab world and employ other techniques in order to make friends and establish its presence. If logic were an infallible guide to political behavior, one might hope that the Moslem politicians have learned the lesson of what happens when they allow themselves to be ensnared in great powers’ rivalries, especially when they respond too eagerly to Moscow’s blandishments. But recent history does not offer many examples of such lessons’ having always been effective.
The USSR has many strings to its bow, and in the future it may stress one it has hitherto muted: ideology. The wave of Moslem fun-damentalism may eventually recede, leaving behind soil favorable to the growth of radical movements of the secular variety. Few outside observers would credit regimes such as those of Morocco or Tunisia with the ability to repress political dissent and social ferment in their countries indefinitely. Much as they find it convenient to maintain a kind of liaison with Libya, the Soviets can have no illusions about the durability of its present eccentric ruler and would not be sorry to have a more reliable partner. The Soviets’ Mediterranean fleet does not cruise just to show the flag. Today, with the United States expanding its bases in the area and developing a rapid deployment force, it is unlikely that the Soviets would use their naval force to assist a coup aimed at the overthrow of an existing Moslem regime or to protect one friendly to them from being toppled. But such an intervention, especially under the latter conditions, is not inconceivable. The Soviets must be wondering, not just out of curiosity, how long the feudal structure of the Arab Peninsula states can withstand the pressures of modernity, and whether those expensive military baubles that the Saudis have been accumulating can help prolong the survival of the antiquated social and political structure of their society.
If the United States ever finds itself constrained to prop up a conservative Moslem regime by more direct means than it employed in the case of Iran, that would give the USSR a fresh opportunity to fan anti-Western sentiments in the Arab world and recoup much of the credit lost through the setbacks and frustrations it has experienced by attuning its policies primarily to the Arab-Israeli struggle. Moscow then would presumably try to infuse new life into the rather comatose body of Arab Communism and shift its emphasis from the nationalist to the ideological motif as the main instrument for undermining Western interests and promoting its own in the Moslem world.
Were Lenin resurrected and apprised of present Soviet policies in various areas of the world, there is little doubt that he would feel most comfortable with those currently pursued in Latin America. In principle, he could not oppose those temporary alliances with local dictators, anti-Western military regimes, etc., that Moscow has entered upon in Asia and Africa, nor even perhaps its courtship of the “progressive” mullahs in Iran. But it is in Latin America that the ideological ingredient of Soviet policies has been most in evidence, and more here than elsewhere (except perhaps in the Far East, and with what sad results!) the Soviets have based their bid for global power on the purported ideological mission of the Soviet state. The revolutionary struggle fomented or assisted by the USSR in the Western hemisphere has been closely related to the real economic and social blights of Latin American countries, and it is not a mere propaganda phrase to describe what is going on in some of them as the class war. And since he had always been more of a revolutionary than a Marxist, Vladimir Ilich would also have been gratified that the advance of Communist influence in Latin America is being pursued more through armed insurrections than through diplomatic maneuvers, arms deals with various local potentates, certifying tribal uprisings as bona fide movements of “national liberation,” or wooing such dubious characters as Idi Amin, Khaddafi, or Mengistu.
Also, Lenin would note with approval the fact that, largely on account of Latin America’s cultural roots and links with the West, one finds there real Marxist-Leninists, not some ideological illiterates ad-vertising their questionable wares as “African” or “Arab” socialism. True, the main hero of the Latin American revolutionary movement has been a rather late adherent to Communism who is reputed to have confessed that he had never gotten beyond page 300 of Marx’s Capital. But in many ways, Castro could be described as an instinctive Marxist-Leninist, and he has imparted militant tone and revolutionary impatience to a movement that had been stagnating until his appearance on the scene.
However, the current Soviet leadership has not been invariably happy with Castro, nor quite convinced of the desirability of revolutionary and political tactics associated with Castroism. Something bohemian and unprofessional about the man himself tends to make him a bit suspect to people of Andropov and Co.’s age and temper. Even now, after all the services he has rendered to the USSR, Castro must appear an outsider to Moscow, compared with a Zhivkov or a Husak (heads, respectively, of the Bulgarian and Czechoslovak Communist parties). In the past he and “Che” Guevara (who as late as 1960 had the impudence to visit Beijing) were thought not immune to the Chinese disease, their itch to set up guerrilla activities all over the continent, whatever the local conditions, making them suspect as carriers of “left-wing sectarianism” and “dogmatism.” Such adventurist policies were frequently out of tune with Moscow’s overall aims. The Kremlin’s displeasure and suspicions about certain features of Castroism have been reflected in what old-line Latin Communist party leaders had occasionally said about him while in the Soviet Union. At the Twenty-third Party Congress in 1966, Argentina’s Victorio Codavilla was unmistakably referring to Castro when he complained that some Communists in the hemisphere would take the path of adventurism rather than concentrating on building a mass base for the revolutionary party: “We oppose the anti-Leninist views of certain bourgeois ideologists who attempt to reject or minimize the role of the Party.”19
The passage of time has soothed such concerns, and Castro has regularized his relations with Communism, removed those party old- timers who tried (conceivably with some very discreet encouragement from the Soviets) to create trouble for him, and been careful to observe proper reverence for the Fatherland of Socialism. His attitude toward China and his public pronouncements on Soviet military intervention in Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan could not be faulted. After the initial fiasco in 1962, Soviet investments in Cuba have begun to pay dividends in Africa, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. What may have been considered Khrushchev’s folly by his more cautious colleagues has apparently turned into one of the most solid bastions of the worldwide system of Soviet domination and influence.
Still, one senses a certain ambivalence in the Kremlin’s evaluation of Castro and his policies. The Soviet leadership does not feel at ease in dealing with another Communist country it cannot fully control and whose politics is so much dominated by one man and his “cult of personality.” Until Castro plopped in their laps, the Soviets’ policy visa-vis Latin America was one of restraint. They recognized that the region’s chronic political instability and the social and political problems many of its countries faced offered great opportunities for revolutionary actions. At the same time, one had to weigh such opportunities against the risk of trying to exploit them too overtly. Latin America was within the U.S. sphere of influence, and American public and governmental opinion was very sensitive to political developments there. It would have been incautious on the part of the USSR and harmful to its interests elsewhere to goad the United States by trying to establish a bridgehead in the Western hemisphere. Latin America was a U.S. preserve, and the dangers of poaching there were incommensurate with any potential gains for the USSR. The Guatemalan episode in the 1950s seemed to confirm that Washington would not tolerate anything smacking of Communism or Moscow’s influence on the continent.
It was undoubtedly the coincidence of several factors—the calm-ing of the winds of the Cold War, the widespread belief in the alleged missile gap, but mostly Washington’s initial uncertainty about the political orientation of the Cuban rebels’ movement (connected perhaps with its leader’s initial confusion on the subject)—that contributed to U.S. acquiescence in Castro’s victory. Only after the first steps in the rapprochement between Fidelismo and Moscow did the United States government initiate that series of clumsy, clandestine opera-tions that culminated in the Bay of Pigs.
Castro’s victory broke the charm. Latin America would no longer be a backwater insofar as Soviet foreign policy was concerned. At both the official and the unofficial level the Soviet Union’s contacts with the area have multiplied prodigiously. “The Soviet Union had only three embassies in Latin America and the Caribbean in 1960…. By the end of the 1970s it had diplomatic relations with nineteen countries in the region. Soviet trade with Latin America and the Caribbean, aside from Cuba, has multiplied fifteen-fold since 1960, from $70 million in that year to over $1 billion in 1980; trade with Latin America has not only grown, but diversified; trade with Argentina and Brazil had accounted for 94 percent of Soviet exports to Latin America, that figure was down to 60 percent by 1969. Soviet bloc credits to Latin America also grew importantly during the 1960s and 1970s, from 5 percent of total Soviet bloc credits to developing countries in 1968 to above 15 percent in the late 1970s. Cultural exchange has also multiplied; by 1980, 5,010 Latin American and Caribbean students were studying in Soviet bloc countries, up from virtually zero before 1960.”20
This opening and widening of communications between the USSR and Latin America has coincided with a polarization of politics in many of its countries. It would be a gross oversimplification to see any direct connection between the two. Many factors have combined to bring about the downfall or weakening of democratic institutions and political pluralism existing, or on the point of emerging, in several countries some twenty years ago. Only one element, by no means the most important one, has been Cuba, both as an example and as a propagator of revolution.
Latin America has been first of all a victim of that “cultural revo-lution” which struck the entire Western world in the 1960s. The revo-lution’s most prominent features have been the weakening of most traditional institutions and conventions, radicalization of the intel-ligentsia, especially the young, and growing skepticism about the durability and universal applicability of liberal values. In the United States and Western Europe, where those values had been more firmly- rooted, this revolution has receded, at least in terms of its direct impact on politics. In Latin America, which has always suffered from political instability and endemic poverty, and where the West’s usual repository of liberal values—the middle class—was almost nonexistent or weak, this revolution has continued in full force.
No amount of economic or sociological data could in themselves fully explain why Chile and Argentina, with all the objective conditions for becoming highly prosperous and politically stable societies on the continent, have in fact fallen prey to a continuous economic crisis, terrorism from both extremes of the political spectrum, and a particularly inept and adventurist kind of authoritarianism. Nor could such data explain why Argentina, for so long the region’s model of orderly political and economic development, should first come close to emulating the Cuban example and then fall prey to military coup and junta rule. Military rule in several underdeveloped countries has served as temporary cure for political extremism and at times has been a catalyst for social and economic reform. This has not been so in Latin America, except in Peru. Elsewhere, rule by the armed forces has contributed to political polarization and fragmentation and has aggravated rather than improved the socioeconomic situation.
Revolution has not prevailed, but democracy has suffered a severe setback over most of Latin America. Thus, in practically every country on the continent a leftist coalition similar to that of Allende’s in Chile could become a viable contender for power, following the overthrow or resignation of the current regime.
The sociopolitical condition of the vast area represents a serious burden for the United States and will continue to offer potential advantages to the USSR in the worldwide superpower rivalry. America’s inability to transplant or strengthen democratic institutions in the countries with which it has been linked by geography and many other ties has been seen by much of the world and of Latin America itself as reflecting Washington’s failure to practice what it preaches. In a sense, the U.S. plight might be compared to that faced by the USSR in Eastern Europe, the major difference being that Washington cannot impose its values and institutions on the states to the south, though much of the world refuses to believe it cannot.
The United States has placed itself in an equivocal position through its relations with quasi-fascist regimes and extreme rightwing forces in Latin America and in a tragicomic one by its constant quest for a political force or regime combining just the right proportions of anti-Communism and social reformism. This produces the unenviable predicament of having to support some rather unsavory regimes as a lesser evil to what the alternative might be, while at the same time undermining and antagonizing the very same government by intermittent criticisms of its repressive policies and constant pressure to mend its ways.
In an interview he gave to Harold Stassen in 1947, Stalin, among other musings on the world situation, suggested that America was fortunate in having as its neighbors such “weak” states as Canada and Mexico, “so you need not be afraid of them.”21 The late despot would undoubtedly be amused by the problems this country has encountered in recent years in dealing with those allegedly docile neighbors: Canada’s economic nationalism, effects of the Mexican population explosion on the demographic problems in the United States, etc. But Mexico is a good example of how a Latin American government genuinely sympathetic to the main goals of United States foreign policies and quite alert to the danger of Communist subversion at home still feels it necessary to put a certain distance between its own stand and that of the United States on important issues of hemispheric politics. Mexico has found it expedient to strike a posture of cordiality toward Castro’s Cuba, and it has disagreed emphatically with Washington’s policies in Central America.
Few among the most pro-U.S. circles in Latin America would refrain from placing much of the onus for their countries’ political and economic troubles on the United States’ past and present sins of omission and commission. Even such spectacular concessions by the United States as relinquishing the Canal Zone to Panama are seen by much of Latin America as belated and insufficient attempts to undo the harm done by this country’s past hegemonist practices. Though the United States is often held to be entirely alien to the mainstream of Latin American political culture and problems, at the same time Latin America expects the United States to act in an exemplary PanAmerican fashion, indeed as a kind of imperial protector of the area, whenever the interests of its states appear to be threatened by an outside power. Not only in Argentina did the Falkland conflict give rise to the accusation that the United States has betrayed its hemispheric obligations and has ranged itself on the side of a colonial power against a sister American nation, in line with its past imperialist practices.
In surveying the Latin American scene, the Soviets must note with satisfaction the profusion and variety of forces and influences creating an environment favorable both for revolutionary activism and for further erosion of American interests there.
The authors of a Soviet compendium on Latin American politics have good words to say about Peru’s military regime: “The attempt of the military leaders to link the influence of general revolutionary thought with the ideology of the Peruvian revolution and with the concept of ‘Western civilization’ offers firm evidence of their [the military leaders] having been influenced by the ideas of scientific socialism.”22 Similar praise is bestowed on the left Catholics, increasingly an important feature of the region’s political landscape: “The nationalism of the left Catholics … is considerably different from all other varieties of Christian-nationalist reformism. It stands out among them in virtue of its revolutionary elan, its emphasis on the struggle against capitalism and for the liquidation of all forms of oppression, the creation of a just, classless society.”23
As seen by the Soviets, virtually all major radical and nationalist movements in the area are actual and potential allies of revolution and Communism. Argentina’s Communists have for long courted and maintained contacts with the left wing of the Peronist movement. It remains to be seen whether such an alliance could be fully consummated and whether it would become a serious contender in the struggle for power if the junta eventually collapses.
Perhaps to a greater degree than in other Third World areas, the Soviets’ criteria in assessing a Latin American regime or political movement depend on its attitude toward the United States. One would expect a Soviet publication to be ultracritical of a movement whose ideology bears a clear imprint of “leftist sectarianism and dogmatism,” which is critical of the USSR for its alleged “refusal to propagate revolution through violent means,” and which condemns detente as a deal between two “rich” nations at the expense of the revolutionary interests of the Third World. Yet while chiding the organization in question for its ideological errors, the Soviet author approves of “the positive character of its stand against the domination by the United States, as well as the uncompromising thrust of its social protest.”24 Being anti-American excuses many sins, including, in this case, a basic revolutionary philosophy derived from the ideas of the late Mao and Lin Biao rather than the preachments of Suslov or Ponomarev.
One might conclude that Latin America will become of even more intense interest to the Kremlin and that the latter would try to expand its active role in penetrating the region’s affairs. The first part of such a prognosis is quite justified, the latter much less so. Here is one area concerning which the rentier and the speculator in the Soviet leaders’ mind would probably come closest to agreeing on what actual Soviet policies should be. Precisely because the region is so fertile with revolutionary situations and opportunities and because here, above all, the “objective course of history” seems to point in a direction promising further troubles for the United States and its allies, the USSR should eschew direct or ostentadous intervention in Latin American politics.
Such direct attempts would be both risky and counterproductive, especially given the plain evidence that it has been by indirect help, by its links with and protection of Cuba, that the USSR has been able to assist most effectively in the development of the Latin American revolution. By allowing Castro and his friends not only to receive the credit for but also to run the Latin American revolutionary show to a large extent the USSR eschews direct responsibility for its troubles and potential setbacks and can deny the imputations that events in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and elsewhere are yet another manifestation of Soviet imperial expansion.
Furthermore, anything that puts in question the purely native roots, dynamics, and directions of the Latin American revolution weakens the appeal of that revolution and undercuts the potential of Castro’s Cuba as the Communist piedmont of Latin America. The USSR will go as far as standing by its Cuban coreligionists or occasionally supplying arms and sympathy to those who are or will be fighting for social justice in Central America and elsewhere, but beyond that an identification of the revolutionary cause with the policies of the Soviet Union would harm the interests of both.
We might then expect to see the USSR persist in its posture of sympathetic observer of the Latin American scene, ready to discharge its obligations to support the forces fighting for social justice morally and occasionally with more tangible assistance, but willing to be friends with regimes of all political complexions. Special circumstances, as the case of Chile, may call for exceptions to this latitudinar- ian attitude on the Soviets’ part. However, they have had no scruples in preserving very correct relations with the Argentine regime, though its ruling junta could hardly be thought preferable to its Chilean counterpart, whether on ideological or humanitarian grounds. Such broadmindedness has already been rewarded by the Argentine generals’ increasing substantially their wheat sales to the USSR and thus helping offset the effects of the grain embargo imposed by the United States after the invasion of Afghanistan. If the consequences of the Falklands crisis should warrant, the Kremlin would undoubtedly be prepared for much closer Soviet-Argentine relations.
The Kremlin’s Latin American game must be expected to continue to emphasize adding to U.S. burdens and troubles in the hemisphere, rather than securing new clients for the USSR and thus incurring direct commitments. Marxist and quasi-Marxist regimes that embarrass the United States but do not openly profess loyalty to the USSR would serve the Soviet Union’s purposes much better than a Latin American Bulgaria or Ethiopia. The advantages of this approach can best be illustrated by the case of El Salvador. The civil war in that tiny country has not only absorbed an inordinate amount of attention and effort from the current U.S. administration, but also brought it criticism from the more progressive countries of the region and from America’s European allies as well. Insofar as its divisive influence on U.S. domestic politics has been concerned, El Salvador has become a sort of miniature replica of the Vietnam issue. Why should the USSR seek more direct means of combating America’s influence and power in the hemisphere when the El Salvador ap proach serves it so well? This is a classic example of the Soviet Union tossing out, so to speak, a few matches (and not with its own hands) and making the United States rush in with expensive and cumbersome fire-fighting equipment, thus hampering its capabilities of fighting a serious conflagration elsewhere.
At the same time, the Soviets may flatter themselves that what happened in Cuba and has been happening in Central America offers a gratifying example of the persistent appeal of militant Marxism here. Alas, such examples cannot be duplicated in many other parts of the world. Whatever the Soviet leaders’ inner convictions (and it is unlikely that what they have been reciting for years has not left some residue in the minds of the most cynical), they must treasure such examples of the continued vitality of the Leninist legacy, which is important to them for the purposes of foreign and domestic politics and propaganda.
In that context, Cuba has been of crucial importance, just as it remains the fulcrum of Soviet policies in much more than the Caribbean region. Any future projections of Soviet-Cuban relations must take into account the fact that while Castro has not been a mere puppet, he is not, nor is he likely to become, an entirely free agent. His relations with the USSR are not based merely on common ideological values and a temporary political alliance. As some American analysts have noted, “Cuba’s desire for some degree of autonomy from the USSR might be greater than is generally recognized,”25 but the statement would undoubtedly be true of the majority of leaders of Soviet bloc countries. Castro’s original commitment to the Soviet camp was motivated not only by his strong anti-Yankee sentiments, but also by his ambition to cast a world figure and become a Latin American Lenin. He cannot be pleased that his country has been used as a cat’s-paw of Soviet imperialism in Africa and elsewhere, nor be unmindful of the relative niggardliness of Soviet economic help.
Castro has obviously resented those periods of Soviet-American detente that made Moscow restrain the Cubans’ propagation of revolution in other Latin American countries. The official line that the Angolan venture was undertaken at Havana’s initiative may well be true, insofar as Castro’s initial willingness to help the revolutionary cause there was concerned. But he could hardly have anticipated or wished for what in proportion to Cuba’s population has been massive use of its armed forces in places like Ethiopia. There they have been employed to suppress what by his definition have been revolutionary and “national liberation” movements.
To be sure, the on and off Cuban intimations of establishing better relations with the United States might well be in line with the overall Soviet scheme of things for Latin America and, thus, a testimony to Moscow’s confidence in its hold over Castro rather than evidence of the Cubans’ straining at the leash. Stingy as they are themselves, the Russians would not begrudge Cuba an infusion of economic help from the West, any more than they have in the case of their East European friends. The North Vietnamese have also on occasion suggested that they might deign to accept American economic assistance in order to lessen their dependence on the Kremlin.
The Cubans’ willingness, as indicated to a group of Americans who visited Havana in April 1982, to consider a negotiated settlement in El Salvador may also fit the general pattern of Soviet political strategy for Central America. Washington’s current determination to deny the left a military victory in El Salvador suggests the radical forces should seek a temporary settlement through negotiations and coalition arrangements. Then, after a passage of time, with the United States weary and inattentive to the problems of the area, these forces might well make a bid for total power.
It is in America’s interest to explore every option for a peaceful solution of the Salvadoran mess, to give the Nicaraguan regime the benefit of the doubt, and to keep testing Havana’s flexibility on a number of issues. But such efforts can be productive only if the other side can really be persuaded that it cannot manipulate negotiations to achieve what it had previously pursued through violent means. To secure tangible concessions through negotiations with a regime such as Castro’s requires more tenacity of purpose and patience than either American diplomacy or public opinion have been able to display.
It is not in Moscow’s, or especially Havana’s, interest that the United States should lose its patience in the wrong way. The accretion of American discomfitures and setbacks in Latin America should be gradual, never reaching the proportions that would spark a crisis like that of 1962.
For Castro himself or any likely successor, the difficulties of dis-engaging Cuba from the Soviets’ embrace would be almost insuperable. Almost as much as in the case of Bulgaria or Czechoslovakia, it is the shadow of Soviet power that protects the Communist government in Cuba, not only from a potential external enemy, but from its own people. For all of Castro’s charisma and the revolutionary elan of the ruling elite, it is unlikely that his regime currently holds the loyalty of the majority of Cubans. The statistics of those who have chosen to leave the island within the last two decades tell their own tale. Military ventures abroad could not have improved the Communist government’s image among the masses: “… widespread unhappiness among the Cuban people concerning compulsory military service was equally obvious. Now [in 1975 with the Cubans in Angola] it became clear that even ordinary people found it disagreeable and thought it coercive.”26
Unlikely as it seems that Castro would succeed or even try to sever his links to Moscow, the Soviets, bearing in mind what happened with such zealous revolutionaries as Tito and Mao, are unlikely to leave anything to chance. The size of the Soviets’ military and civilian presence in Cuba and their intermittent efforts (in contravention of the 1962 Soviet-American understanding) to sneak in a naval base can be understood in terms of exploiting fully the strategic and intelligence gathering potential of an area so close to the United States. But such activities serve also as a constant irritant to Washington and stand in the way of any meaningful effort by Castro to reach an accommodation with this country.
Such then is the mosaic of Soviet policies, aims, hopes, and ap-prehensions concerning Latin America. Their sum total, as in the other two areas of the Third World, still does not add up to one of the absolute priorities for the Kremlin in the years immediately ahead. In any of the three it is possible to envisage a situation arising out of U.S.-Soviet rivalry that could escalate into a confrontation and beyond. But in the natural course of events, Soviet policies in these regions should continue to reflect much less the local conditions and whatever they might offer for Russian expansion, and much more what happens in the three focal areas of the Kremlin’s world view: China, Western Europe, and the United States.
Areas of Decision
If one considers the political premises of the two systems and the realities of the international situation, then the Sino-Soviet conflict is not, in the long run, susceptible to a peaceful resolution. But Soviet leaders heed Keynes’s dictum that “in the long run we shall all be dead.” Their concern must be centered on the opportunities, options, and dangers inherent in the Chinese situation within the next few years. It would be too cynical to suggest that this approach is conditioned mainly by the average age of the present Kremlin team. Rather, for all their realpolitik attitudes, they have not entirely lost the belief that ideological miracles, at times, do happen. Perhaps the in-ternational situation of the 1990s would open some unseen new op-portunities that might solve or alleviate this most agonizing dilemma of Soviet foreign relations. What are the factors that make the long- run prospects so unpromising, and how could they be affected by the developments of the next few years?
On the Chinese side, the main answer lies in nationalism and in the Chinese historical experience with Russia, going back long before the Revolution. Shared ideology helped at first to dispel much of the traditional distrust between the two nations, but actual exposure to Soviet policies since the birth of the People’s Republic in 1949 served to revive and even to intensify the bitter suspicion of the past. The Chinese fear the Russians, because they realize that the latter fear them. Since common ideology has not been able to overcome the Russians’ xenophobia and its racist undertones, the nationalist motif in Beijing’s hostility toward the USSR has been strengthened by an ideological one: the Soviets have betrayed and perverted Communism.
Details of China’s ideological indictment of the Kremlin have changed in accordance with the vicissitudes of Chinese domestic politics. At one time the Soviets were seen as having abandoned the egalitarian and populist elements of the cult and having entered upon the path of revisionism, with its bureaucratic and bourgeois excrescences. At another time, Beijing was at pains to present Moscow as standing for a white and developed country’s brand of Communism, and hence scornful of the needs and revolutionary aspirations of the great majority of mankind.
In both cases the Chinese used the ideological argument not only to score debating points against Moscow, but also to pressure it into a more uncompromising posture vis-à-vis the West, thus making it more difficult, if not impossible, for the Soviets to strike a deal at China’s expense with the United States. This eventuality was Beijing’s nightmare in the 1950s and 1960s and has not entirely disappeared from its leaders’ minds up to now.
The paradoxical and ironic situation that prevailed well into the 1970s and may yet recur was that even though the Soviets could see perfectly well through Beijing’s game, China’s vituperation and ac-cusations did affect their foreign policy. Even after the 1960 break, when they no longer had to pretend to be friends with China, the Soviets, because of insolent Chinese kibitzing of their policies, found themselves unable to be more explicit about seeking detente with the United States or about cooling off those revolutionary situations throughout the world that were harmful to Soviet interests. Moscow increasingly saw China’s revolutionary rhetoric and its advocacy of the most militant tactics in the Third World as designed not only to keep the two superpowers apart, but also to embroil them in continuous conflicts, not precluding the possibility of their leading to a nuclear war. Mao’s famous apothegm, “The current international situation is excellent; there is great disorder under heaven,”27 could not be treated by the Kremlin in a jocular vein, since it epitomized the Chinese leaders’ deliberate attempt to throw the international situation into a turmoil that could not be controlled even through joint superpower efforts. It was a variation in the nuclear age of the old Chinese maxim about using one set of barbarians to fight another.
In some ways China’s shift toward accommodation with the United States did have some redeeming features from the Soviet point of view. It cleared the air; “Beijing’s leaders” could now be denounced uninhibitedly, as direct allies of imperialism. China’s prestige among the more militant Communist parties and “liberation movements” declined, and it would no longer be able to cause the USSR major embarrassments on that count. Finally, that undesirable but rational act on the part of the Chinese leaders probably removed the Kremlin’s lurking suspicion that Mao really meant what he said and just might succeed in plunging the world into a nuclear holocaust. The People’s Republic now would try to play the same tricks from the other side, i.e., to set the West against the USSR. But Beijing would discover how hard it is to push the democracies into anything resembling a bellicose stand or to make them choose an alliance with a still weak and backward China over propitiating the military colossus of the USSR. In any case, as practical politicians rather than fanatics, the Chinese would probably be easier to deal with. They would abandon their feigned nonchalance about nuclear war and understand the implicit warning contained in the concentration of Soviet troops on their northern border. They would have to take full measure of the economic mess into which they had plunged their country through various “great leaps” and “cultural revolutions.” In a few years one might begin to talk business with China, with neither side likely to have any illusions about the other, but with the Chinese having lost most of those they had about world Communism and about the benefits of their liaison with the West.
As of 1982 such expectations have failed to materialize, as have some of Moscow’s other hopes of how “their” Chinese problem might be resolved: factional strife after Mao’s death reaching the proportions of a civil war, a miraculous rebirth of proletarian internationalism within the post-Mao leadership, etc. The ideological part of the Chinese Communists’ case against the Soviets has become attenuated but not disappeared. Forced to resort to many policies they once denounced as revisionism, maintaining wide contacts with the capitalist world, and trying to undo the damage done by past fanatical zeal, she Chinese Communists still retain something of the neophytes’ ideological fervor. The present phase in China’s development may yet become something parallel to the Soviet NEP of the 1920s, rather than a definite divorce between ideology and practical politics. It is at east premature to say that “In fact nationalism has triumphed over all else, as was true earlier in the Soviet Union.”28 The People’s Republic s still assailing the USSR for having prostituted the ideals of Communism and for practicing imperialism under the cover of revolutionary slogans.
Yet, in the future ideological elements may prove to be a factor in lessening the tensions between the two Communist powers, but not in the positive sense of restoring the political collaboration and “unshakable friendship of the fraternal peoples” maintained in outward appearances until the late 1950s. Rather it is a negative factor: the residue of revolutionary radicalism in Chinese Communism acting as a barrier against a too close rapprochement between the People’s Republic and the West. The Chinese leadership has not apparently resolved the conflict between those who see Western credits and technology as necessary for the country to get out of its present economic morass and achieve rapid growth and modernization and the more ideological members of the elite, for whom such extensive contacts with the capitalist world spell danger to the socialist ethos. “Especially important in this regard is the radicals’ insistence that although the social and political imperatives of certain moderate policies may be conducive to successful economic development, they actually threaten the long-run objectives of China’s socialist revolution.”29
It is safe to say that intimate ties with the USSR will never be reestablished. But for domestic and foreign considerations, the Beijing government might decide to accept the Soviets’ repeated pleas that the two countries normalize their state-to-state relations, settle their territorial disputes (minor in themselves), and expand trade and cultural links. The People’s Republic would thus be signaling that while emphatically not in the Soviet camp, it proposes also to keep some distance from the capitalist West. Such a posture might have advantages also for those who place economic growth at the top of their priorities: the West would be less inclined to take China’s antiSovietism for granted and therefore more forthcoming with economic aid.
The Soviets wish for a formal rapprochement for exactly the opposite reasons. According to Moscow’s calculations, it should dampen the Americans’ enthusiasm for playing the “China card” and, by the same token, reinforce Washington’s reluctance to disinterest itself completely in the fate of Taiwan. The mere fact of the two Communist powers’ desisting from mutual vituperation and signing a treaty of nonaggression would have a positive result on the Soviet Union’s somewhat strained relations with North Korea and the Japanese Communists, as well as on the morale of Communist parties all over the world.
Yet, when in a more skeptical mood, the Soviets must ponder whether a nonaggression treaty and other cosmetic adjustments would really help, even in the short run. As in the other two main areas of their attention, it is China’s present and future power rather than its actual and prospective policies that are of main concern to the Kremlin. In the 1990s an unfriendly and sullen China but one that is still far from a first-rate industrial and military power would be preferable to a Beijing with the most proper relations with Moscow but a high rate of economic growth, a burgeoning industry, and a respectable stockpile of nuclear and conventional arms. For all their seeming reluctance, perhaps all those wily Dengs, etc., really desire a patching up of Sino-Soviet relations to gain a breathing spell that would enable them to rebuild their shattered economy and erect a modern military establishment. Once they achieve those goals, would they not revert to the incredible brazenness that characterized Mao’s tone when in 1954 he demanded that the USSR acknowledge China’s suzerainty over Mongolia or when in September 1964 he informed the whole world that China had never forgotten or acquiesced in the loss of all those vast territories the Russians had wrested from the Manchu Empire in the nineteenth century? China has never explicitly repudiated the intimations that sometime it might reopen the question of Mongolia and of the legitimacy of those “unequal treaties” that had secured imperial Russia more than a million and a half square kilometers of territory, now an integral part of the USSR. The Soviet leaders must reflect at their low moments that their Chinese counterparts are unlikely to be fooled or deflected from their goals (“They are really like ourselves in that respect,” is a thought that may occur to a member of the Politburo), and so no treaty or papering over of the dispute can relieve the Kremlin from the need for constant vigilance over China and keeping in mind the horrendous possibilities and ramifications of the problem in every area of its foreign relations.
In the Soviet view, Beijing’s potential to cause mischief on a large scale is not precluded even by its current condition of overall indus-trial and military weakness. Here is how a Soviet author fills in the disturbing details: “Chinese leaders spend approximately 40 percent of their budget on military purposes, and have been rapidly developing China’s nuclear, as well as conventional [military] potential. The People’s Republic has through the middle of 1978 carried out twenty-three atmospheric tests. It has accumulated … several hundred warheads (both atomic and hydrogen), has deployed about forty intermediate missile launchers, and tested intercontinental missiles (with up to a 13,000 kilometer range). It has [constructed] a diesel submarine with missile tubes, and begun the development of ballistic missiles with solid fuel.”30 Of course it would be an act of utter, suicidal irrationality for the Chinese to stage a nuclear strike at Soviet territory, and the Kremlin is no longer as nervous on that count as it had appeared during the Cultural Revolution. Still, the Soviets, once frightened, never completely discard their suspicions. The following nightmarish scenario, sketched some years ago by a leading Soviet authority on international affairs, is still very likely in the back of their minds, but with China to be inserted where the author mentions West Germany: “The Federal Republic, having received nuclear weapons, could, while keeping it secret from the United States, equip one of its vessels with a nuclear missile … then it might send it close to the U.S. shores to carry out a nuclear strike against its territory in a manner suggesting that the attack came from a Soviet ship or submarine. The U.S. government, which would have to decide upon retaliation within minutes, might then order a nuclear strike against the USSR. Be it even … a single missile, striking one city … the USSR would have to retaliate. The adventurer’s goal to provoke a major nuclear war would thus have been achieved.”31
China’s as yet modest nuclear arsenal must have already brought a qualitative change in the Kremlin’s thinking of military options visa-vis China. In view of the frightful devastation that even a single nuclear missile can achieve, the USSR would not consider massive use of military force against China unless under extreme circumstances. Border skirmishes are one thing. But even the most speculator- minded member of the Politburo would hesitate to advocate, short of a very unusual situation, a large-scale invasion of Chinese territory or Soviet military intervention in a hypothetical civil war in China. Only a Chinese invasion of the USSR or an outright alliance between the United States and China (probabilities on a par with the introduction of a multiparty system in the Soviet Union) could change that situation.
Yet, the Soviet leadership may well feel there is no reason to feel unduly depressed in the immediate future by the repercussions of the Chinese problem. There are encouraging signs that the People’s Republic’s internal problems, which stem mainly from economic trouble but inevitably affect the political and social picture, will increasingly preoccupy the leadership’s attention and substantially decrease its ability to promote and encourage anti-Soviet mischief throughout the world. In retrospect, that “left-wing sectarianism and dogmatism” that the Kremlin had so strenuously denounced in the Chinese comrades have turned out to have been of great indirect help to the USSR. The attempt to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, their rigid egalitarianism and other doctrinaire policies, compounded by the ultimate folly of the Cultural Revolution, have cost the Chinese dearly. It has set the country back by a whole generation insofar as its economic growth and modernization are concerned. The ambitious plan of the post-Mao leadership to make China a first-rate industrial and military power by the end of the century through the “Four Modernizations” (in industry, agriculture, science, and the military complex) would obviously have to give way to much more modest goals and expectations. Beijing’s initial confidence that modernization and socialism could be achieved through its own efforts has given way to the recognition that even modest progress requires foreign, i.e., capitalist, help. “By early 1978, however, the Chinese were negotiating for large-scale syndicated loans from Western and Japanese banking groups….[A government official] explicitly stated that China would accept foreign government loans.”32
A similar retreat from Communist fundamentalism has taken place in agriculture. Once proud of having gone far beyond the Soviets insofar as the communal organization of rural life was concerned, the Chinese have been constrained to reintroduce material incentives and stress the role of the individual farmer in order to cope with the desperate problem of feeding a population of one billion that keeps increasing (despite all drastic population control measures) at a rate of something like 2 percent per year.
Domestic problems of a Communist regime, rather than setting constraints on its foreign policies, often tend to make it more adventurous and expansion-minded in its activities on the international scene. But in the case of the People’s Republic, its socioeconomic problems are of a magnitude that would seem to set limits to playing an ambitious international role. The regime has of late been constrained to reduce its expenditures on the military (even after the Chinese army’s lamentable performance in the brief war with Vietnam) and to invest more in light industry. For the time being, progress toward industrialization, the key condition of modernization and of becoming a military power, has slowed down. Even according to official statistics, heavy industry’s output actually decreased during the first half of 1981 by 8.2 percent, and the state enterprise’s profits during the same period had fallen by 12.3 percent.33 It would require simply enormous investments over the next decade to speed up significantly the pace of China’s industrialization, estimates ranging from $250 to $600 billion. It is beyond the People’s Republic’s internal resources to generate anything approaching such amounts or to pay for credits of similar magnitude with its export earnings.
Such statistics must be read with grim satisfaction by the Soviet “China hands.” Those with a sense of humor might reflect that perhaps it was not such a monumental folly for the USSR to help the Chinese Communists conquer all of the mainland. What if the Kuomintang had prevailed and all of China had emulated the pattern of development in Taiwan? On a more serious level, mere statistics cannot assuage completely the Soviets’ fears. Their own economic troubles, though not nearly so serious, have not kept them from cutting quite a figure in world affairs. There is an unpleasant possibility that the West might embark on a massive Marshall Plan-type aid program to enable China to overcome current difficulties and become a more effective potential threat to the USSR. The USSR has hinted that it might consider such a plan of assistance to China a hostile act directed against Soviet interests. “The Beijing leaders aim to transform China by the end of the twentieth century into a ‘superpower,’ and above all through expanding and modernizing its military potential. They count on active assistance of the imperialist powers…. It is difficult to exaggerate the dangerous character of such maneuvers: the Beijing leaders continually repeat that a new world war is ‘inevitable,’ advance territorial demands on the neighboring states, provoke border conflicts and indulge in aggressive raids…,”34
As for direct Soviet attempts to influence the course of domestic Chinese politics, they would appear to be doomed to failure. In his paper on China in the 1980s Gerrit Gong has drawn attention to some possible pro-Soviet or at least anti-Western stirrings within the Chinese military. A clandestine radio station, “Eight-one,” evidently located on Soviet territory, has been broadcasting messages and programs aimed at those within the Chinese military establishment who have resented Deng’s recent policies, especially rapprochement with the United States and the reduction of military expenditures: “The radio broadcasts show great sophistication and detailed ‘inside’ knowledge of the workings of the People’s Liberation Army.”35 It must be remembered that Lin Biao, once Mao’s designated successor, was alleged to have met his death while fleeing in a plane to the USSR.
It is quite likely that there should be considerable disaffection within military circles after the less than brilliant showing of the People’s Liberation Army in the clash with Vietnam, a fiasco probably blamed on the regime’s political leadership. It would also be surprising if the Soviets had not succeeded in planting Soviet agents and sympathizers within the officer corps and scientific and administrative apparatus of the People’s Republic during the period of close USSR- China collaboration. Still, given the fierce nationalism of the Chinese Communists and people in general, the notion of a sizable pro- Moscow faction within the military or political establishment appears unrealistic. There are obviously influential groups both in the army and elsewhere who would like the country’s international stand to be less explicitly anti-Soviet than it has been for almost a generation. Some might wish to exploit the “Soviet card” to press the United States harder on Taiwan and to secure more American aid. But short of a complete fragmentation of Chinese politics, it is almost inconceivable that a pro-Soviet faction might play a significant role in the struggle for power. Everything is possible in the strange world of contemporary international politics, but a Beijing regime ready to discard its distrust and to seek again close ties with the USSR would be perhaps the most amazing eventuality of all.
One cannot develop an entirely convincing pattern of prognosti-cation about China’s domestic development and especially about the course of Sino-Soviet relations during the next few years. In view of the Chinese experience with Vietnam, who would have predicted that the PRC would cut down on military expenditures and put defense in last place among the “Four Modernizations”? And again, what on the face of it ought to be reassuring to the Soviets is, in view of their mentality, very likely to lead to increased apprehensions about China’s long-term goals. Beijing has evidently decided that the voluntaristic approach does not work any better in the defense sector than in other policy areas. It is impossible to have an efficient, modern defense establishment without first developing a firm industrial base for the country as a whole.
What at first might seem a sign of Beijing’s moderation appears on second thought an indication to the Soviets that it proposes to pursue its old goals, but in a more rational and deliberate manner. Far from reassuring the Soviets, such modernization is likely to increase apprehensions about China’s long-term goals. The Chinese have given up the childish idea of “punishing” Vietnam by relying mostly on their vast manpower, but they are obviously biding their time until ready to administer such lessons to Soviet friends in a more professional and convincing manner. If China’s economy and hence military capabilities should, against all the odds, show some spectacular gains by the end of the decade, might not Vietnam decide to hedge its bets and once again seek friendship with a Communist power to which it had once felt much closer than it did to Moscow? The logic of the geographic situation makes Mongolia undoubtedly the most genuinely loyal of the Soviet Union’s satellites at the present time. But would it remain so when and if China becomes much stronger?
In trying to dissuade China from developing its own nuclear deterrent, Khrushchev expostulated with Beijing that it should devote its efforts “to the development of the national economy … improving the well-being of the Chinese people rather than wasting money on such expensive baubles.”36 The USSR was protecting China with its own nuclear might, so what purpose could be served by the People’s Republic acquiring its own necessarily modest stockpile of atomic weapons? The argument was specious, and the Chinese disdainfully made an appropriate retort. But in the future, a variant of Khrushchev’s argument may well be convincing to Beijing and a source of anxiety to the Kremlin. Some in China’s highest councils probably feel that the United States is protecting it from a preemptive Soviet strike. Therefore, now that national pride has been satisfied by demonstrations that the People’s Republic is capable of developing the hydrogen bomb and the intercontinental ballistic missile, it would be counterproductive to continue a race in which China could not hope to catch up with the superpowers for decades. Why not concen-trate instead on developing and modernizing conventional forces, thus exploiting China’s unmatched manpower asset?
At present the condition of these forces is lamentable. “The list of China’s needs for conventional military equipment is long. The PRC still does not have an all-weather fighter, advanced airborne radar, modern bombers or helicopters. It lacks anti-tank missiles, air-to-air missiles, and modern naval and airborne guns. Its battle tanks possess limited fire power. Its air transport capabilities are very inadequate.”37 The Vietnamese war also demonstrated the obsolescence of the People’s Army’s tactics and logistics, which were essentially the same as those it followed thirty years before in the Korean war.
Unlike its backwardness in nuclear weapons, China’s conven-tional arms and technology could be considerably modernized within a relatively short time. There are no legal barriers, such as those imposed by the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which would prevent the United States, Britain, or France from furnishing the People’s Republic with modern conventional weapons and technology. One of the highest priorities of Soviet diplomacy is to try to interdict such Western aid to China.
Even a relatively modest improvement in China’s conventional military capabilities would open up some rather alarming perspectives for Moscow. In a few years Beijing’s leaders might conclude that their own nuclear weapons provide a sufficient deterrent against a Soviet invasion, while the uncertainty of what America might do would inhibit the Kremlin from a more drastic nuclear attack upon China. There would be then a considerable temptation for the leadership of the People’s Republic to engage in more active forms of curbing the Soviet Union’s hegemonism. Is it entirely inconceivable to visualize Chinese soldiers fighting alongside the rebels in Afghanistan?
Even to envisage such a possibility leads to appreciation of another facet of the Kremlin’s worries. China may and probably will eschew such “brinksmanship” in the immediate years ahead. But the mere fact of the People’s Republic’s growing strength could translate into the gradual erosion of Soviet influence in Asia: the USSR’s allies and protégés could no longer be sure that it would be ready to protect them against the Chinese colossus should the need arise. Even the past China-Vietnam clash, though it ended in virtual defeat for the PRC, was hardly a victory for the Soviet Union. Though its ally had been attacked, Moscow confined itself mostly to ominous warnings, and many Asians must have wondered what, if anything, the Soviets would have done had Chinese troops penetrated deep into Vietnam.
Alongside of other actual or tentative attempts to deal with the Chinese problem, the Kremlin has intermittently employed tactics bearing a marked resemblance to U.S. policies in the immediate postWorld War II period for trying to cope with what America perceived as the Soviet threat. George Kennan in his celebrated essay defined one element of containment as requiring the West “to confront the Russians with unalterable counterforce at every point where they show signs of encroaching upon the interests of a peaceful and stable world.”38 With a few appropriate alterations this phrase could be a description of what the Soviet Union has been trying to do to contain China through a system of alliances and understandings with the latter’s neighbors, and by its own impressive array of military power along the Sino-Soviet border: thus, any threat to the interests of the Soviets or their allies could be met with “unalterable counterforce.”
The Soviet version of containment does not promise to prove any more effective than its American prototype had been. Even under Khrushchev the Kremlin gave serious thought to the possibility of India’s becoming a counterweight to China in Asian politics. The 1971 Soviet-Indian treaty of friendship and cooperation gave New Delhi a green light to embark on something it had hitherto not dared, largely because of its fear of possible Chinese reactions—a full-scale war against Pakistan in order to enable the Bengali nationalists to obtain independence. The whole affair was undoubtedly a severe blow to Beijing’s prestige in Asia. It remained on the sidelines while India, to the Soviets’ plaudits, defeated and dismembered Pakistan, until then China’s staunchest friend among the noncommunist nations. However, it seems unlikely that any New Delhi regime, even one as friendly to the USSR as Indira Gandhi’s, would wish to transgress certain bounds of caution in its attitude toward the People’s Republic for the immediate future. It would require a very unusual set of circumstances for India to join an anti-Beijing coalition on any issue not touching directly on the affairs of the subcontinent or of such neighbors as Burma and Nepal. Mao’s successors have been careful to emphasize that their country has no territorial claims on its smaller neighbors who are not directly linked with the Soviet bloc. They have also become much less strident in their support of national liberation movements and Communist parties in the neighboring areas.
In Indochina the USSR has indeed gone beyond containment and has assisted and applauded Vietnam’s “rollback” of Chinese influence. However, other Southeastern Asian countries, whatever their apprehensions about China’s ultimate aims and about tensions from their own sizable Chinese communities, have been reassured for the immediate future by Beijing’s change of course in its foreign policies and its friendly relations with the West. For some years the Kremlin has propagated the idea of an Asian security pact. While understand-ably vague on details, the Soviet goal has been obviously to erect some kind of cordon sanitaire around China. Yet the idea has found few takers among Asia’s statesmen. Though still apprehensive of China, most of them may be even more afraid of any kind of Soviet protec-tion or “guarantees.”
The most conspicuous case of Soviet diplomatic failure in Asia has been in its relations with Japan. Apart from much else this gross error has cost the USSR, it has condemned to futility any Kremlin dreams of isolating China within the Asian community, at least for the present. Instead, the Soviet leadership must live with a nightmare: China’s vast manpower and natural resources becoming linked to Japan’s prodigious industrial power and technology. It is as if history were repeating itself, not as tragedy turning into comedy, but as a slogan for conquest becoming a signpost for peaceful cooperation. The possibility of an “East Asian co-prosperity sphere” might materialize as a genuine description of relations between the two Far Eastern powers.
Although eager to draw Japan out of the American orbit and to enlist its capital and industrial skills in developing Siberia (thus inci-dentally erecting another barrier against Beijing’s possible future claims on the Soviet Far East), the USSR has still balked at returning to Tokyo the four southernmost Kurile Islands Moscow seized with other territorial loot in 1945. This insistence on retaining perhaps the least important Soviet territorial acquisition in World War II has offended Japanese public opinion and prevented a Soviet-Japanese treaty, by now a formality but of great psychological importance for Moscow-Tokyo relations. Perhaps the real reason for this fundamental blunder in the Kremlin’s usually pragmatic and skillful diplomacy is in itself connected with the Soviets’ visceral reaction to their Chinese predicament: any territorial concession in Asia might embolden Beijing’s leaders to become more strident about “unequal treaties” and more brazen about reclaiming some of the territories Russia had wrested from China.
In any case Moscow’s hard line with Japan, epitomized by Brezh-nev’s statement at the Twenty-fifth Party Congress, played directly into Beijing’s hands. The Soviet leader said revealingly: “There are people in Japan, obviously inspired by some outsiders, who in connection with the peace settlement are trying to make completely groundless and illegal claims upon the USSR.”39 Those “outsiders” have profited by the Soviets’ unwillingness to part with a few fishing villages. The Sino-Japanese Peace and Friendship Treaty was concluded despite Moscow’s warnings to Tokyo. Both signatories joined in condemning “hegemonism,” a code word that now stands for Soviet imperialism to much of the world.
Moscow may yet try to undo its error in relation to Japan. Con-versely, it might attempt to use more forceful arguments to dissuade Tokyo from underwriting China’s industrial development. But should it go too far in pressuring the Japanese, they might in turn abandon their hitherto frugal approach to defense and proceed to build a military establishment more compatible with their industrial might.
The Chinese problem thus does not yield itself easily to any single ingenious stratagem, or even a combination of them. Some of the Soviets’ efforts to probe for possible solutions have verged on the ludicrous, like the occasional hints of possible collusion with Taiwan. There have even been occasional hints in Soviet literature about the disaffection among China’s minorities, especially those in the northern region, who are ethnically and culturally close to their kinsmen across the Soviet border. Such hints only remind the Chinese of the humiliation they must have felt during negotiations with Stalin’s Russia in 1949-50, when the Soviet press stressed that Moscow was hosting special representatives of the Manchurian and Sinkiang regional regimes, along with the delegation of the People’s Republic headed by Mao.
There are factors mitigating the Soviets’ immediate concerns on account of China. Perhaps some in the Politburo may hope against hope that when and if China emerges from its present disarray, the USSR will be in a worldwide position so strong that the danger coming from that quarter will become quite distant. But in his more sober moments, whether leaning toward the rentier or the speculator position, a Soviet leader must feel a bit like the sorcerer’s apprentice in the famous fable: there is as yet no formula capable of propitiating the Chinese colossus or making him heed the Kremlin’s wishes. For the rest of the decade the Kremlin will anxiously search for such a formula, and this quest will affect all areas of its foreign and perhaps its domestic policies.
If China’s unity and the determined if erratic strivings of its leaders to build their country into a great power fill the Kremlin with forebodings, then it can view Western Europe’s condition as of 1982 with a certain equanimity. It is still politically fragmented; the political leadership, heads of states that dominated the world stage not so long ago, have apparently foresworn any ambition for a European role analogous to that of the United States or the USSR.
The momentum for European political integration had spent itself by the mid-1960s. Even before, one could note the melancholy fact, possibly unique in modern history, that the region’s economic flowering and industrial growth, which was on a scale that no one in 1945 would have dared to predict, had not been accompanied by a corresponding increase in its political power. On the contrary, as the GNP indices of West Germany, France, Britain, etc., rose at a rapid pace, their relative importance in world affairs steadily declined. Throwing off the incubus of colonialism might have been expected to strengthen the West; it has certainly given the lie to the Leninist doctrine that the workers’ high standard of living in industrial nations is dependent on their countries’ domination of the Third World. But casting off the imperial burden had not enabled Western Europe to become more of an arbiter of its own fate.
For all the enormous agglomeration of industrial and potential military strength that the European community represents, its influence on world affairs has been much smaller than that of the United States or the USSR, and even the security of the continent itself depends more on decisions made in Moscow and Washington than those made in Paris or Bonn. In 1980 the European community’s share of the world Gross National Product stood at 22.6 percent, against that of 22.1 for the United States and 11.5 for the USSR. The combined population of the community equaled that of the Soviet Union and surpassed the United States’.40 Because all that strength is not being translated into adequate political and military power, Europe’s security against Soviet aggression, whether carried out with conventional or other weapons, depends ultimately (so at least the official NATO view has held ever since its inception) on America’s readiness to defend its allies and on the Kremlin’s realization of such readiness.
The reasons for this paradoxical situation are not merely of his-torical interest. The West’s past attitudes and policies concerning the defense of Europe have left their imprint on the Soviets, and they will continue to influence the Kremlin’s own strategy and tactics in dealing with Western Europe.
Thus, a Soviet analyst (and a future historian might well agree) could make a convincing case that the Marshall Plan aid fulfilled its purpose either too well or not well enough. It led to a generation of unprecedented economic prosperity, but that very prosperity made the individual European states lose sight of one of the main premises of the Plan—the need for political integration of the West. Europe’s consumer- and social welfare-oriented societies have failed to realize that economic strength and even military alliances cannot be effective substitutes for political unity in an age of superpowers and nuclear weapons. Unless Europe becomes a superpower in its own right, it cannot by itself resist Soviet pressures, not to mention an actual invasion, and it cannot even protect its interests and values in other parts of the world.
Another major sin of omission in the West’s overall strategy vis-àvis the Soviets has been the almost invariably bad timing of its policies. When NATO was being formed in 1949 it appeared imperative (although in fact it was not so) that the United States maintain sizable land and air forces in Europe. It was widely believed that the USSR might at any moment unleash its army upon the West and that Soviet troops could be at the Channel before America’s SAC could be put effectively into play. NATO’s European members were still recovering from the effects of the war, and they could not be expected to match the Soviets man-for-man and tank-for-tank. The U.S. military presence in Europe was supposed to act as a tripwire activating America’s strategic force in the case of a Russian attack. The USSR could not hope to make a bid for conquest without realizing that it would bring nuclear retaliation against their own territory.
Whatever the soundness of the original premise (and it is most doubtful that the Soviet Union, itself recovering from the ravages of war, would have attacked had there been no NATO in 1949), it had lost its validity by the 1960s. By then the European members of NATO (fortified by the accession of West Germany and Italy) should have been in a position to match the Warsaw Pact’s conventional forces in both manpower and economic strength. There was no reason to persist in the assumption that NATO would not be able on its own to discourage a Soviet land invasion and that the security of Europe against such an attack must still be found ultimately in America’s nuclear power. Yet, no adjustment of the Atlantic Alliance’s strategy took place. The United States was preoccupied by the Vietnam conflict, and the Europeans had grown used to the idea that the U.S. nuclear umbrella rather than more troops and tanks must ultimately guarantee their security.
It was a rude awakening for Europe when it realized that the USSR was catching up with America in the nuclear race and that the “nuclear umbrella” was becoming increasingly porous.
Instead of strengthening their common defense, the Europeans responded to the new situation with a variety of separate approaches, including individual states’ efforts to reach an accommodation with the USSR. There was the mirage of De Gaulle’s “Europe from the Channel to the Urals,” while simultaneously France proceeded to build its own force de frappe. Bonn embarked on its Ostpolitik, thus formally acquiescing in the division of Germany and in Poland’s western borders as set at Potsdam, and renounced its nuclear pretensions by adhering to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. What Stalin had not been able to obtain through the Berlin blockade and Khrushchev through his madcap ultimata and threats was now achieved at no expense and risk through the Soviets’ patient diplomacy of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The SALT I agreement seriously undermined the Europeans’ faith in the viability of the nuclear deterrent insofar as their own security was concerned. SALT II, though not ratified, has in fact had the same effect. To an expert the quantitative elements of SALT I did not appear too significant in view of the U.S. lead in nuclear weapon technology. But the average German could be excused for worrying: the U.S. now had many fewer ICBMs than the USSR; should Soviet tanks roll into Hamburg, would the United States really stand by its obligations and use its nuclear weapons on the USSR in full knowledge of what fearful retaliation it might expect?
It is in Western Europe that the USSR has drawn the greatest benefits from detente. The average European’s (and to some extent his government’s) reaction to detente was relief, since it signified that the Soviets were really bent upon peaceful coexistence, extensive trade, and cultural intercourse with the West. Perhaps the USSR might even loosen its reins on Eastern Europe, an especially important point for the Germans in view of their hopes concerning the GDR. At the same time, a German or Dutchman was bound to feel that should the Soviets be provoked or change their attitude, Europe would be in a much more exposed and dangerous position than before detente, because the Soviets were much stronger, the Americans now weaker, and U.S. readiness to come to Europe’s aid had become at least problematic if it meant risking a Soviet nuclear strike against American territory.
Detente’s psychological impact on the Europeans was far from unwelcome from the Soviet point of view. Observing the Kremlin’s policies over the last decade, one gets a strong impression that they have been attuned to the perpetuation and strengthening of that dichotomous image of the USSR: peaceable and desirous of all forms of cooperation, yet extremely dangerous should Western Europe allow itself to be pushed into policies that seriously threaten the Soviets’ interests. The Soviet Union has already declared that one such policy could be the installation of intermediate nuclear weapons and cruise missiles proposed by the NATO council in December 1979. In the future the list of such policies considered as hostile to the USSR and pregnant with dangerous consequences for Western Europeans could be greatly enlarged. They might include proposals for massive economic assistance from individual states or the European community as a whole to China or going beyond certain limits in furnishing the People’s Republic with modern weapons and technology.
The USSR does not need to make its threats explicit. In actual polemics it prefers quite astutely to present Western Europe as an unwilling accomplice of the United States, when it comes to policies to which it objects. The Soviets for the most part have relied on the silent persuasiveness of military statistics. “By 1980 NATO had 7000 battle tanks on the Central Front (in Europe) compared to Warsaw Pact’s 20,500, 13,500 of which were Soviet…. Soviet plans for rapid rates of advance, if successful, would overwhelm NATO’s forces more quickly than they could be reinforced.”41 Soviet deployment of SS-20S has also served the same purpose. It is a gross oversimplification to see the Soviets’ maneuvers and arms buildup as a clear indication that they contemplate offensive action against NATO, just as it is naive to wonder why Warsaw Pact forces are being expanded and equipped far beyond the defensive needs of the Soviet bloc. The Soviets hope all these arms and troops will continue to provide them with solid political dividends.
There are economic dividends as well. Quite apart from the ac-tual benefits of expanded trade with the USSR during a recession, the Europeans see such trade as a psychological reassurance against the possibility of Soviet aggression. Surely the Soviet Union would not be negotiating and concluding various long-term joint economic ventures with Western Europe if the Kremlin were preparing to pounce upon it or even if it proposed to revert to old threats and harassments, such as another blockade of West Berlin, etc.? Furthermore, by bolstering the faltering Soviet economy (as well as those of the Soviet bloc) with technology transfers and credits at a low rate of interest, many in European political and business circles feel that they are domesticating the Soviets and reinforcing those within the Kremlin leadership who urge that it is more profitable to cooperate with the capitalists than to pursue goals of conquest and expansion at their expense. Thus, it would be unwise to yield to America’s pleas and respond with drastic sanctions each time the USSR misbehaves, e.g., in Afghanistan. Nor should Europe follow Washington’s hints and encourage centrifugal tendencies within the Soviet bloc. On the contrary, the democracies’ real interests lie in preserving a degree of stability in the Soviet bloc, even though many in the United States obstinately refuse to recognize this. Dramatic challenges to the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, such as the one inherent in the Polish crisis, may drive them into a corner and thus make them really dangerous. One key to European security lies in gradual evolution toward liberalization within the individual Communist states and toward greater autonomy in their relations with the Soviet Union, an evolution that can be advanced best by maintaining commercial and cultural links with them rather than by treating them as mere satrapies of Moscow.
It would be unfair to describe such attitudes as dominant in the thinking of either governments or people at large within the European community. Yet, it is this kind of attitude that Soviet policies are likely to try to foster in order to loosen ties between the United States and its European allies on the one hand and in order to keep the European community from achieving a degree of meaningful political unity on the other.
In her paper on Western Europe, Dr. Angela Stent has identified five major areas of interest for the USSR insofar as Europe is concerned: (1) the determination that Germany must never again become a military threat and the resolve to maintain the current division of that country; (2) the encouragement and deepening of fissures within the Atlantic Alliance, especially those between West Germany and the United States; (3) the maintenance of a fragmented Western Europe, since once united it could resist Soviet pressures much more effectively and could exert unhealthy influence on the Soviets’ satellites in the East; (4) the Soviets’ links with West European Communism; (5) Moscow’s continuing and growing economic interest in Western Europe, trade that the USSR hopes will prop up the Soviets’ own faltering economy and earn it hard currency for exports of Soviet raw materials.42
For the balance of the decade we might safely scratch number four from that list of top Soviet priorities. From being an obedient tool of Soviet foreign policy before 1953 and a staunch pro-Soviet lobby in their respective countries for quite a while thereafter, the West’s Communist parties have recently become something of an embarrassment to the USSR. The current leadership of the Italian and Spanish Communists is a source of irritation and an ideological burden to the Kremlin. Their general anti-U.S. orientation does not compensate for the harm done, for example, by the Italian party’s criticisms of Soviet policies in Poland or Afghanistan or even of the Kremlin’s domestic practices. Such criticisms damage the Soviet Union’s anti-imperialist and pro-national liberation image in the Third World, find occasional reverberations within the Soviet bloc, and provide further evidence of the growing incompatibility between Russia’s national interest (as currently interpreted by the Kremlin) and that of the worldwide movement to which it has given birth.
At the same time the fragrance of Moscow still clings to even the most independently minded Communist party, and that by itself com-plicates the Soviet game of exploiting French, German, or Italian nationalism against U.S. influence in those countries. Though unim-portant and generally servile to the USSR the French Communist party still gets in the way of those closer relations the Kremlin would like to establish with Paris. In the last French presidential elections the Soviets obviously preferred Giscard d’Estaing to the candidate of the Socialist-Communist bloc, and their relations with the Mitterand regime have been notably cooler than those with its predecessor.
The Kremlin has not entirely given up on Western European Communism. The Berlinguers and Carillos may eventually give way to people more in sympathy with “proletarian internationalism” and more tolerant of the Soviet Union’s foreign and domestic peccadilloes. Western Communism remains a potentially valuable resource for the USSR, and as such it will neither be left to its own devices nor disappear entirely from Moscow’s calculations.
Points two and three on Stent’s list present something of a di-lemma to the Soviet policy makers. Would they really wish the fissures in the Atlantic Alliance to become so serious that the United States withdraws or greatly reduces its land forces under NATO? The shock of America’s partial (it could never be complete) disengagement from European defense might prove strong enough to revive the impetus for European unity or to make the Federal Republic reconsider its renunciation of nuclear weapons, or have other unpleasant conse-quences.
The present not very harmonious state of U.S.-Western Europe relations offers certain benefits to the USSR. America’s European allies, especially West Germany, act as a moderating influence on Washington’s anti-Soviet attitudes and initiatives, especially with an administration such as the current one. It is largely because of European pressures that the Reagan administration has felt constrained to reopen the nuclear arms limitation talks with the USSR. Europe’s reluctance, or more bluntly, Germany’s and France’s refusal to cut down on their trade with the Eastern bloc, makes it more difficult for the United States to withhold its high technology, not to speak of grain, from the USSR and its clients. Insofar as the Soviet Union is concerned, the most desirable pattern of relations between this country and Europe for the immediate future would be that of a less than happy marriage, with both partners continuously squabbling rather than deciding on a trial separation. Such a separation might well make each strive to be more self-dependent vis-à-vis the third party or end up by bringing them together in a much firmer alliance than before.
U.S.-West European squabbles have greatly helped the USSR to enhance its military superiority in Europe, with all the consequent political and even economic advantages for Moscow. Given the incredible tenacity with which Moscow holds on to a position of advantage, the Soviets would fight tooth and nail to retain that superiority and to block the deployment of 108 Pershing II IRBMs and 464 ground-launched cruise missiles proposed by NATO in 1979. Even in their deepest apprehensions the Soviets could not envisage NATO as likely to provoke a war. But anything that makes Western Europe feel more secure and removes the specter of nuclear war on its territory deprives the USSR of its most potent means of psychological pressure on the West. Therefore, in a remarkable tour de force, Soviet propa-ganda has apparently convinced many in Europe and in this country that the present imbalance in tactical nuclear weapons between the U.S. and USSR is conducive to peace and that any attempt to right this balance threatens war. Careless rhetoric in Washington, coupled with the constant (sometimes justified) refrain that the Americans do not understand the Russians, has given the Soviets an opening to exploit European fears. Opening the campaign for a nuclear freeze, Brezhnev said at the Twenty-sixth Party Congress: “A ‘limited war,’ say in Europe, would mean in its very beginning the absolute end of European civilization.” And then: “We propose an immediate moratorium on the deployment by NATO and the USSR of new missiles of intermediate range; that is, a freeze both quantitative and qualitative on such weapons.”43
The mills of Soviet propaganda will grind relentlessly in the years to come, preventing Western Europe from achieving a position of military preparedness that would strengthen its defenses and hence make it less anxious to propitiate the Russians. There are so many disparate elements upon which the “peace” movement, the nuclear freeze initiative, and anti-Americanism can feed: the Green party and the left wing of the SPD in Germany, the unilateral disarmament sentiments within the British Labor party, the skepticism of countries such as the Netherlands and Norway as to whether the whole military game makes much sense for small states like themselves. One could not place more than even odds on the NATO 1979 decision’s being put into effect. Even a partial success on that score is very likely to make the Soviets more obdurate in any strategic arms negotiations, the sum total of such developments being Western Europe’s continued feeling of insecurity and inferiority when dealing with Moscow and of irritation over its relations with the United States.
In many ways Western Europe remains the decisive area of world politics. The current situation there provides perhaps the strongest case for the rentier type of argument within the Politburo. What possible Soviet gain elsewhere can compensate for the potential damage done to the Soviets’ interests by Western Europe becoming stronger and/or more united? There are a number of issues on which the Europeans remain indifferent or divided. They are unlikely to become unduly perturbed by the spread of Castro-like regimes in Latin America. Europe remains largely critical and fearful of what it regards as America’s excessive support of Israeli policies, hence somewhat oblivious of the danger inherent in the Soviet connection with hard-line Arab states. But a threat to its oil supplies or a too overt Soviet intrusion in any future struggle in South Africa would be a signal for West Europeans to close ranks and become more responsive to Washington’s urgings.
The rentier would wonder also whether the Soviet venture in Afghanistan has been worth the damage it has done to detente. Wouldn’t another Afghanistan or a military intervention in Poland play directly into the hands of Washington “hawks” by causing Western Europe to lose its delusions about detente and pushing it to translate its economic strength into political and military power?
The speculator would counter such arguments by pointing out that Europe’s present disarray and somewhat ambivalent position in the Soviet-American duel is based not so much on appreciation of the Soviet Union’s peaceful intentions as on a shrewd suspicion that the USSR may not be so peacefully inclined after all. It is desirable to do everything possible to make the Europeans more friendly toward Moscow, provided they do not lose entirely that salutary fear of Soviet power. It is an intricate but necessary game the USSR has to play in Europe of balancing friendly assurances with intimidation. For example, wasn’t the initial West German reaction to the Polish crisis colored by fear that the USSR in its wrath over Poland might do something unpleasant to the West, e.g., making trouble over Berlin? But suppose the USSR had let the scandalous state of affairs in Poland continue. Would not the West Germans have acquired some dangerous notions of what might happen in the GDR and become more tough-minded in their dealings with the East Germans and even the Russians? It would be a mistake to tip the balance of the Soviets’ European policy too much in favor of conciliation. The best policy is to keep the Europeans apprehensive but not panicky. The USSR must continue to emphasize that the real danger to Europe comes from the United States. If America continues to provoke Moscow and keeps trying to regain nuclear superiority, then the consequences of such malevolence might have to be suffered also by Europe.
The original Western concept of detente was premised on the carrot-and-stick simile, among others. As things have developed, especially insofar as Europe is concerned, one sees the Soviets munching the carrots vigorously, with the Western stick nowhere in sight. The West Europeans’ somewhat shamefaced arguments in justification of this are the well-known refrains: “Economic sanctions never work,” “trade has helped to liberalize East European regimes,” etc. With much greater justification, Bonn or Paris could ask why they should be called upon to make economic sacrifices when the United States, for all the tough rhetoric of the Reagan administration, has hastened to lift the grain embargo.
West-East trade has flourished, that of West Germany with the USSR having increased eightfold from 1969 to 1981.44 Afghanistan and the proclamation of martial law in Poland did not slacken the flow. The Mitterand regime has indulged in some strong anti-Soviet rhetoric; but it joined in the consortium for the construction of the West Siberian natural gas pipeline, and in February 1981, barely a month and a half after the Polish coup, it extended $140 million in credit to the USSR. The pipeline project indeed opens up the prospect of the USSR’s obtaining the carrots and to some extent being able to wield its own stick over Europe. Once the pipeline is completed, Germany and France will depend on the Soviet Union for one-third of their natural gas consumption,45 with eight other European nations also importing substantial amounts of Soviet natural gas. The USSR also would appreciably increase its hard currency earnings.
It is often argued that despite the increase of Soviet trade with the West, it still does not loom very large against the size of the Soviet GNP, and one should not exaggerate the benefits Moscow has derived from it. Yet in view of the parlous state of the Soviet economy, of the worse plight of several other Eastern bloc countries, and of the crucial technological importance of many items acquired by the USSR and its client states, one must conclude that the West has relieved the Soviet Union of some burdens of its imperialist policies. Total indebtedness of the Soviet bloc to the West by the end of 1980 passed $70 billion.
The case of Poland illustrates the danger inherent in a Communist regime’s becoming addicted to capitalist largesse, something that Stalin was mindful of when he spurned the Marshall Plan and told the Czechs and the Poles to beware of capitalists bearing grants and low interest loans. Despite the lessons of virtual bankruptcy in Poland and Romania, Western, especially European, willingness to lend to the Communists has not entirely abated. The Soviet Union’s credit rating is still good, and Western bankers have thus far been willing to keep rescheduling Poland’s debts. Some people in Western government and business circles have even greeted the imposition of martial law by the Warsaw regime with a degree of relief. For all the sympathy felt for the Polish people in their tragic predicament, many European politicians would be secretly pleased to see Gen. Jaruzelski and his fellow satraps succeed in restoring the Communist version of law and order in Poland. The Russian bear must not become incensed, for the consequences of its wrath might spill far beyond Poland’s borders.
Much of the West European ambivalence can be traced to West Germany and its crucial role within both the European community and the Atlantic Alliance. More sensitive to the Soviet threat than any other European state (Helmut Schmidt’s government stoutly supported the NATO decision to deploy intermediate missiles), the Federal Republic has been at the same time the most reluctant to antagonize the USSR on trade, East European politics, or other issues. Psychologically this ambivalence is quite understandable: detente has meant for Bonn the hope (which it has been reluctant to admit has increasingly turned into a mirage) of German reunification. West Berlin, for all the Soviets’ 1972 pledges and guarantees, continues to remain a hostage within the Communist camp. It would take a dramatic development in West Germany’s attitudes and political climate to change that current immobilism of Western Europe in world politics: allied with the United States yet unwilling to synchronize its policies with the United States except on issues that affect directly Europe’s military security, conscious of the damage done to Europe’s interests through its fragmentation yet unable to move toward effective political unity.
The Soviet Union’s immediate objectives in the area must be aimed at preserving that immobilism. Beyond that, the Kremlin would be pleased to see Western Europe move toward what has been dubbed “Finlandization.” But the Soviets realize that their foreign policy in Europe must be more finely tuned than anywhere else. In areas like Africa or the Moslem world, the USSR could suffer reverses and decide to cut its losses without too much damage to its overall world position. China represents a clear but not yet present danger. But any Soviet move that might unwittingly become the catalyst of Europe’s unity could overnight transform the entire international scene. Nor could the USSR look with equanimity on any American initiatives that would restore the momentum toward unity of the Atlantic community as a whole. Keeping Europe divided must remain the cardinal objective of the Kremlin’s policies.
The United States
We have already discussed various themes in the Soviets’ thinking about the United States. The most obvious touches on America’s role as the main capitalist power that must always be viewed as a constant rival and a direct military threat to the USSR.
At the other extreme of the analytical spectrum, within the Politburo’s image of the United States there is a tendency to downgrade it, whether as a direct threat or a worldwide rival. At times the Soviets act on the unspoken premise that by itself the U.S. cannot compete effectively with the Soviet Union. Its political structure makes its foreign policy unwieldy and incapable of matching Moscow’s moves. At the time of their greatest military and industrial power, when they had complete monopoly and later crushing superiority in nuclear weapons, the Americans were still unable to check Soviet expansion or threaten the Soviet system and empire, then so fragile, especially in the first years after Stalin’s death. No matter what those sinister voices in the Pentagon and elsewhere might urge, the political ethos of American society makes it virtually impossible for the United States to initiate an all-out war against the USSR.
While accepting much of the historical validity of the preceding argument, a variant Soviet view would still point out the danger of such a complacent view of the United States. Whatever the natural inclinations of the Americans and the structure of the political system that makes it difficult for the country to play a world role, let alone aim at a world empire, the United States has always been and will continue to be a threat to the USSR through its power and resources. In the past, Americans, while by themselves little inclined to adopt a menacing stand vis-à-vis Moscow, have often been pushed in that direction by outsiders. The Churchills and Adenauers succeeded in stirring American democracy into a course leading to direct confrontations with the Soviets. In the future Beijing might well attempt a similar role. While the mutual threats and military alerts over the 1973 Arab-Israeli war were largely theatrics, someday a similar crisis, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere, might escalate to the point of a horrifying clash.
Even if one admits privately that the American people and even for the most part their rulers are peacefully inclined, one still cannot ignore the dangerously volatile nature of American reactions to foreign affairs, those extreme and seemingly irrational swings of the pendulum in public opinion about the USSR. Thus American democracy’s usual mood of weariness with foreign affairs and of subdued irritation with the Soviets’ behavior is intermittently punctuated by violent spasms of anxiety and anger at some developments that are far from extraordinary by Moscow’s standards. Having desisted from any serious attempt to overthrow Castro after the Bay of Pigs, Americans became dangerously overexcited over what should have been viewed as a logical sequence of the Soviet-Cuban liaison. Compare the excitement over the missiles in Cuba with the fact that the Russians had for some time lived with the knowledge of American bases in Turkey without making much fuss. If it is Soviet expansionism that Americans really mind, why was Washington calm over the 1978 Communist coup in Afghanistan, only to go into convulsions when the Russians felt it necessary to straighten out a few troubles in what was already their satellite?
By the Kremlin’s lights, this irrationality of the Americans’ ap-proach to foreign policy makes it very difficult to deal in a businesslike fashion with Washington, whether over the differences separating the two powers or over an issue where both sides could profit by mutual understanding and cooperation. The United States at one time had a strong interest in containing China. Most Americans have forgotten that the massive U.S. involvement in Vietnam was mainly prompted by the desire to teach China, then considered the more bellicose and dangerous of the two Communist powers, that the wars of “national liberation” could not succeed. The prospect of Beijing’s acquiring nuclear weapons caused more apprehension in Washington in the 1950s and early 1960s than the Soviet Union’s already quite extensive stockpile. Yet Khrushchev’s attempts to raise the problem of China with the United States were either misunderstood or categorically rebuffed by American officials.
The same obtuseness, the Kremlin probably believes, has charac-terized Washington’s current attitude on China. Of what use has the “China card” been so far for the United States? The Americans simply cannot understand that Beijing is playing its own game, and that game is ultimately as dangerous for the United States as for the Soviet Union. Any lessening of United States-Soviet tension and hence a more peaceful atmosphere in the world has been and will be opposed by the Chinese Communist leaders. Yet one could not approach the United States with any suggestion of a sensible way of coping with the problem, one that would be really in the interests of both powers and that might lead to their fruitful collaboration in other areas. The Americans would treat such a Soviet approach (just as in the past they had treated mere hints on the subject) as an indication of Moscow’s alarm and a vindication of their present policy on China. Furthermore, they would trumpet the Soviets’ confidences to the whole world, discretion not being an outstanding characteristic of American policy makers.
Another difficulty in dealing with these exasperating people is the legalistic quality of the American political mind. Many in the United States have somehow failed to grasp the fact that Brezhnev’s signature on the Helsinki Final Act, with all its “baskets,” could not have meant that the general secretary and the Politburo of the Communist party had given their assent to the dissolution of the Soviet system or to its gradual transformation into a pluralistic society. For their own part, the Soviet leaders must feel that they have made a considerable sacrifice and incurred political risks in letting some dissidents and thousands of Jews and ethnic Germans leave the USSR. Such steps are not cost-free insofar as they erode some of that awe of the regime and of the average citizen’s political passivity on which the security of the Soviet system ultimately rests. Why didn’t the United States, then infinitely more powerful, address pleas concerning human rights to Stalin? How illogical to make a big fuss about what happens to Dissident X or the case of Refusenik Y when it has not objected too vigorously to entire nations’ being subjugated by the USSR and has been notably silent when it comes to human rights in China?
At times, one gets the strong impression that the Soviets would feel less disturbed about the human rights issue if they considered it a purely contrived propaganda effort on the part of the United States. It is the illogical premise of the whole campaign (as they see it) and the undoubted blow to the amour propre of the leadership that makes the West’s admonitions on the subject a source of anxiety and irritation to Moscow.
The leadership must feel a certain sense of exasperation about the possibility of ever reaching an accommodation with people who never cease sticking their nose in the USSR’s domestic affairs. It must enhance the Kremlin’s suspicion that the West by its very being constitutes a standing threat to the Soviet Union, to its internal cohesion and that of the Soviet bloc as a whole. No agreement on outstanding world issues could eliminate the insidious danger of Western ideas, values, and “lifestyles” permeating Soviet society. What is described by the leadership as the “impermissibility of ideological coexistence” has little to do with the fear of alien ideologies undermining the average Soviets’ alleged devotion to the ideals of Marxism-Leninism. The phrase reflects the Kremlin’s sense of insecurity about the whole framework of official mythology, propaganda, and coercion that constitutes the foundation of the system. In many ways the Soviets must feel it would be easier to deal with an authoritarian America than with the kind of rambunctious democracy it represents.
To impute to the Soviets hurt amour propre is not to see them as endowed with excessive delicacy. But the present generation of Soviet leaders would not be human if they did not feel pride in having been able to abolish the most horrendous features of Stalinism. It probably credits itself with great generosity toward the dissenters and those ethnic groups that do not appreciate the blessings of life in the Fatherland of Socialism. It deeply offends the Kremlin’s sense of propriety that foreign government officials presume to criticize Soviet domestic politics instead of appreciating such generosity. No other American political leader, not even the late Mr. Dulles, had ever been subjected by the Soviet press to such venomous vituperation as was Mr. Carter after his outburst about the invasion of Afghanistan, largely because of his previous outspokenness in connection with human rights. Moscow’s animosity toward Mr. Carter did not abate even when the Republican right-wing candidate emerged as his chief rival and prospective president. For all of Mr. Reagan’s anti-Soviet rhetoric, his victory was greeted by the Soviet press with an equanimity bordering on satisfaction.
Mr. Carter epitomized for the Kremlin that besetting sin of American politics, one that makes it so difficult for it to gauge and cope with Washington’s policies—unpredictability. As Pravda put it: “It is not without reason that the term ‘unpredictable’ has been ap-pearing in the newspapers more and more when U.S. policy is discussed…. And isn’t ‘unpredictability’ in the actions of the head of a state like the U.S. too dangerous in the age of nuclear missiles?”46
These attitudes are not irrelevant or incidental to current and future Soviet policies. Insofar as we can judge, they pervade the thinking of that small group of men whose image of America influences their decisions on the size of the Soviet defense budget or the risks inherent in a fresh Soviet move in Africa or a military intervention in Poland. It is largely by gauging what element in that composite picture is currently dominant or likely to become so that the Politburo will shape its tactics in arms control negotiations and decide how far the USSR may go in trying to interdict intermediate nuclear missiles for NATO.
The recent past must guide the Politburo in trying to answer the fundamental question for the immediate future: does the Reagan administration’s stand mark the beginning of a long-term shift in U.S. policies toward the USSR? Is this another Washington administration beginning its term of office by producing a magic formula of “how to deal with the Russians,” only to have time, budgetary stringencies, and the allies’ pleas rob the prescription of magic and novelty and push U.S. policy back to its hesitant and vacillating course?
In the last two decades American concerns about the USSR cen-tered mainly on its strategic nuclear force and the question of whether the Kremlin considers all-out war a viable political option. In human terms, such an approach is only too understandable. No danger, no fear can equal that of nuclear devastation. No task, no policy can come close to the urgency of offering credible deterrence to a Soviet nuclear strike and in a broader sense precluding or minimizing the possibility of all-out war between the superpowers. Yet in pursuing the elusive goal of credible deterrence, a democracy finds itself at a fearful disadvantage when dealing with a political system like the Soviet one. American fears, hopes, and calculations concerning nuclear weapons and their use must become public knowledge. Discussion of the issue arouses such deep emotions that at times a rational dialogue concerning national policy on nuclear arms in relation to overall priorities in foreign policies is virtually impossible.
The mere existence of nuclear weapons tends inexorably to con-fer an automatic advantage on an authoritarian power over a democratic state whenever they grapple in the international arena and whatever the issue. One might make a plausible case that the USSR was a beneficiary of the atom bomb even before it acquired a single one of its own: the knowledge that the Soviet Union would someday acquire the weapon inhibited American policies toward the USSR more than America’s actual possession of the bomb did those of the Soviets. Stalin could very effectively feign complete indifference to the bomb as a factor in international politics. Though Khrushchev’s attitude on the subject was much less nonchalant, he tried to exploit his limited nuclear arsenal in ways that the United States with its much greater power simply could not match. The average Russian is undoubtedly as terrified of the prospect of nuclear war as an American, and it is unlikely that official Soviet propaganda or civil defense preparations do much to relieve that fear. But as on other foreign policy issues, Soviet society is anesthetized. Whatever the Soviets’ real hopes, fears, and calculations concerning nuclear policies options, they are discussed and decided within a small circle of Kremlin policy makers, and it is unlikely that any but the highest members of the Soviet military and scientific establishment have a voice in the deliberations.
While the Soviet psychological advantage because of the exis-tence of nuclear weapons can never be entirely eliminated, it has been within the power of the United States to reduce it considerably. In the first place, the technical aspect of nuclear weaponry should never have obscured its political significance. One hopes nuclear war will never be fought, but it is obvious that international conflicts could and would be decided by nuclear weapons, even though not a single atomic bomb or missile is used. For a democracy the quantitative aspect of the strategic weapons question could never be considered secondary. A technically superior American strategic force, though inferior in numbers and megatonnage, might be an adequate deterrent against a possible Soviet attack upon this country. But to allow the USSR to get ahead in numbers risked a political defeat and, to paraphrase Churchill, opened up a possibility for the Soviet Union to gather the fruits of wars without having to fight for them.
In fact America’s strategic arms doctrine has long appeared ob-livious to the political dimension of the problem. The United States has traditionally considered nuclear arms the ultimate defensive weapons and never a bargaining chip. When it comes to actual threats of using the weapon, one could argue with some difficulty that it was implicit in the American stand in the Cuban missile crisis. We have obscure hints in some presidential memoirs and recollections that their writers did issue more or less explicit warnings, but one must respectfully question the accuracy of such recollections.
Between 1968 (when the SALT talks were supposed to start) and 1979, the U.S. approach to the damnable weapons became somewhat bifurcated. Military experts continued to rivet their attention on the technical security aspect of the strategic balance to ensure that the Soviets should have no illusions about crippling America’s retaliatory power with a Soviet first strike. Superior American technology would take care of that and more than compensate for the Soviets’ superiority in ICBMs and in overall megatonnage. Reassured on the military side, American statesmen sought to take the curse off the problem and appease growing popular anxiety by negotiating strategic arms limitations pacts with the USSR. In this country and at first in Western Europe, these agreements had a profoundly soothing effect; any agreement between the two powers made the specter of a nuclear holocaust recede further from one’s consciousness. It was a somewhat illogical, if understandable feeling. Unless set within the framework of a general political agreement between the two superpowers, however, no conceivable SALT or START treaty could make the possibility of a nuclear war between the two powers appreciably smaller or greater. No one in this country loses much sleep over the fact that Britain’s nuclear force, puny as it is compared to ours or the Soviets’, could cause millions of casualties if released against America. It is the political character of the East-West conflict that threatens us all with a nuclear calamity, and it would even if the nuclear arsenals on both sides were reduced to a fraction of their present numbers.
It is clear why the Soviets have followed the dual policy of trying to exploit to the fullest their quantitative advantage in several categories of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons while remaining eager to keep the SALT process going. The first provides them with solid political and economic advantages in Western Europe. The second, the Soviets hope, acts as a tranquilizer on the West and permits the Kremlin to control the level of international tension. Moscow hopes to navigate between the Scylla and the Charybdis of international situations: the West must never entirely lose its fear of the Soviets’ intentions nor become so alarmed about them as to put up impregnable barriers against Soviet expansion.
Has Mr. Reagan’s proposed arms buildup shaken Moscow’s confidence on both points? The USSR still remains to be convinced that the vagaries of American politics, budget stringencies, etc., will allow the program to go through. Many of the rationales for Mr. Reagan’s defense policies have come from the belated American reaction to SALT I, the “discovery” that the American ICBMs have become vulnerable to a hypothetical Soviet strike, the fear of the celebrated “window of vulnerability” opening up some time in the 1980s, and the conclusion by some analysts that the Soviets believe that they could carry out and win a nuclear war.47 The debate must have created mixed feelings in Moscow. From the psychopolitical point of view it was desirable that the Americans should compound their initial errors by emphasizing and exaggerating the importance of the quantitative factor in the overall nuclear picture. On the other hand, the Americans might react to that discovery in a typically irrational and dangerous way.
When it comes to America, the speculator motif in the thinking of the Politburo translates into considerable equanimity about what the Americans might actually do, while the rentier viewpoint ex presses itself in the apprehension that they would do something quite dangerous. The first would draw attention to the fact that for all of the Reagan administration’s warnings, its grandiose weapons projections, etc., it has not done anything in contravention of SALT II provisions, and it has considerably toned down its rhetoric on the USSR in two years in office. The nuclear freeze movement in the United States is doing quite well. What is usually a nuisance in dealing with the United States might on the arms issue prove to be beneficial to Moscow: presidential elections are held every four years, and preparatory politicking is just around the corner. In many ways the current administration has been as inconsistent in its suggestions on how to meet the alleged Soviet challenge as was its predecessor. It has already broached the subject of a summit and has sought to ease general apprehension over the enhanced Soviet-American tension its own careless rhetoric had stirred up. In any case, any new weapons and systems would not become operational before the 1990s, so by their own admission the Americans are not likely to feel too secure and cocky vis-à-vis the USSR for quite a few years to come.
There is no imperative reason for the Soviets to make any sub-stantive and one-sided concessions on strategic arms or any other major area of the dispute. In any such negotiations the pressure is inevitably on the party that must negotiate with all its cards on the table and to the cacophony of public opinion. It would be prudent to avoid for the foreseeable future anything that might give Washington hardliners an argument for breaking off the negotiations. But by the mere fact of engaging in them, Washington has already signified its “forgiveness” of Moscow for Afghanistan and martial law in Poland, so it would be ludicrous to display any signs of contrition over what the USSR has been doing.
The rentier would criticize the above argument as greatly over-simplifying the problem of Soviet-American relations during the coming years. Much more than just the nuclear arms balance and related problems is at issue. One may be confronted with a basic shift in American thinking about the Soviet Union on the scale of the advent of the Cold War and the later acceptance of detente. The Americans are again viewing the Soviet Union not merely as their rival in world politics, but as a force determined to destroy any remaining vestiges of the international order. As Reagan’s speech to the British Parliament suggested, this feeling is compounded by a much more acute perception of the Soviet Union’s internal weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Even so, the administration’s policies are criticized in some influential American circles as having been “soft on the Russians.” Hence it behooves the USSR to do everything possible before some dangerous tendencies crystalize into actual policies, and a new version of the Cold War and containment takes over in Washington. A hard position vis-à-vis the United States and refusal to meet it halfway on strategic arms and NATO’s tactical weapons in Europe would be dangerous and threaten the long-run interests of the USSR and its allies.
One can perceive neither attitude as currently dominant in the Kremlin’s councils. This is perhaps natural in view of the leadership change and of the insufficient evidence on how long Washington will persevere in its “hard” stance. Do Soviet fears extend to the possibility of actual war being initiated by some action on the “imperialists’” part? Recent attitudes reflect the realization that the Soviets may have overdone their act of appearing ready to chance a nuclear exchange, which in turn led to changes in the American strategic doctrine that pose real dangers. The Schlesinger Doctrine, PD 59, etc., have quite disturbing implications, and some Soviet political leaders must use them as examples of what happens when you let your marshals and civil defense specialists shoot off their mouths.
Therefore, the Kremlin will spare no effort in promoting its current “war is hell and we know it” line, as opposed to its former feigned confidence that it could sustain and win a nuclear shootout. At the same time the Soviets are political hypochondriacs. The Americans are prone to change their minds when it comes to policies, but once a technical idea or contrivance gets hold of their imagination, they often carry it out. The “open skies” notion and the U-2 are ancient history, but suppose some scientists achieve a breakthrough in laser technology? “War-mongering circles” in Washington might become emboldened to the point of actually threatening the USSR over a new crisis in Eastern Europe or some other contingency. Although the Soviets generally feel reassured that the other superpower happens to be a disorderly democracy, the Kremlin must occasionally experience pangs of anxiety on that count: how dangerous in this age to have great issues of world policy influenced by sudden gusts of popular emotion, rather than decided entirely according to the rational criteria of a small and experienced group of men the way it is done in the USSR.
The variety and volatility of current American policy trends are likely to continue disturbing the Kremlin, even though in the past it has often taken advantage of what it perceived as the unsteadiness of purpose behind U.S. policies. Kremlin leaders lack that confidence in being able to gauge American reactions that characterized Stalin, and, until 1962, Khrushchev. For the present they appear to feel that the main priority must be to lower the present level of tension between the two superpowers, hence Brezhnev’s declaration that the USSR would not be first to use nuclear weapons. Aside from its propaganda element, the late Soviet leader’s statement is good evidence of what the Soviets consider the most crucial area of American foreign policy. It is not what Washington says and does in direct relations with the USSR that is Moscow’s main concern (except for the extreme and horrible possibilities). Barring a war, the most important factor in world politics during the next few years will be the success or failure of U.S. policies in Western Europe.
In a recent article, four distinguished American public figures made a cogent argument that “the time has come for careful study of ways and means of moving to a new Alliance policy and doctrine: that nuclear weapons will not be used unless an aggressor should use them first.”48 We shall not examine their argument, except to note that if indeed accepted formally by NATO, the policy they recommend might lead, after the initial reaction of relief, to a greater feeling of insecurity on the part of the West Europeans. It is U.S. policy on Western Europe that the USSR will watch with the greatest attention. In his celebrated essay, Mr. Kennan argued that desirable changes in Soviet foreign policy would come only if the USSR became convinced of the strength and durability of the democratic world. “For no mystical Messianic movement, and particularly not that of the Kremlin, can face frustration indefinitely without adjusting itself in one way or another to the logic of that state of affairs.”49 On the basis of the thirty-five years since the essay was written, one might envisage a Soviet official arguing that Mr. Kennan got his parties and adjectives wrong. It has been the United States, impelled by a Messianic impulse, that sought to promote democracy and a free market economy throughout the world, while the USSR has followed realistic and pragmatic policies to aggrandize its power. As of now, America has still not adjusted itself to “the logic of that state of affairs.” But there is one form of adjustment that would render this country’s strivings more realistic. Building even the rudiments of a new world order is clearly beyond the resources of a single power, and people stopped talking about the “American century” long ago. America’s present posture is predicated upon the assumption that because of internal and/or external factors, the USSR will turn toward cultivating its own garden and stop reaching for those belonging to others. But such a change is unlikely to occur under the present conditions. Even if by some miracle the USSR turned most of its attention to domestic affairs, that in itself would not cure the anarchy of current international relations. Such a cure or a dramatic change in the configuration of world forces could come only as the result of the emergence of Western Europe as a superpower in its own right, and it is only then that the Kremlin will be constrained to rethink the basic premises of its foreign policy.
1. Henry L. Stimson and McGeorge Bundy, On Active Service in War and Peace (New York: Octagon, 1947), p. 644.
2. Georgi Arbatov, “Soviet-American Relations,” in The Communist (Moscow: February, 1973), p. 110.
3. Fox Butterfield, “Hanoi General Was Surprised at Speed of Saigon’s Collapse,” New York Times, April 26, 1976.
4. Quoted in State Department Bulletin, no. 2028 (Washington, D.C.: USGPO, July 1979), p. 51.
5. Quoted in Pravda, August 30, 1973.
6. K. Brutents, The Present Stage of the Liberation Struggle of the Asian and African Peoples and Revolutionary Democracy (Moscow, 1977), p. 6.
7. Though it remains debatable whether a prolonged exposure to Russian life is an equally effective way of fostering pro-Soviet sentiments in those young men and women as their being subjected to Marxist influence in some Western academic milieu.
8. These statistics are drawn from David Albright, “Sub-Saharan Africa and Soviet Foreign Policy in the 1980s,” an unpublished paper prepared for this project, p. 8.
9. Data from Colin Legum et al., Africa in the 1980s (New York: McGraw- Hill, 1979), pp. 75-79.
10. Brutents, Present Stage of the Liberation Struggle, p. 64.
11. Indeed, though it was de Gaulle himself who presided eventually over the liquidation of the French Empire, undoubtedly the memory of the American importunities on that count contributed to his estrangement from the United States and the “Anglo-Saxons” in general. (He also remembered bit-terly how the British had pushed the French out of Syria during the latter phase of his rule.)
12. Adam B. Ulam, Expansion and Coexistence: History of Soviet Foreign Policy, 1917-73 (New York: Praeger, 1974), p. 622.
13. Mohamed Heikal, Sphinx and Commissar (London: Collins, 1978), p. 225.
14. Is it not just possible, though on the face of it it may seem incongruous, that the rebirth and intensity of Islamic fundamentalism have profited from the political and psychological plight of Communism over so much of the Moslem world? Compromised by the Soviets’ apparent indifference to the fortunes of their coreligionists and by Moscow’s own transparently imperialist actions, Communism has become less attractive as a vehicle for the social and anti-imperialist protest, those sentiments, especially among the young, now being channelled not into a political, but a more traditional variety of faith.
15. Arbatov, “Soviet-American Relations,” p. 110.
16. Pravda, January 24, 1979.
17. Quoted from Raymond Baker, “The Soviet Union and the Moslem World,” an unpublished paper prepared for this project, p. 2.
18. Ibid., p. 23.
19. Twenty-third Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Stenographic Report (Moscow, 1966), p. 315.
20. The Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Intra-State Relations in Latin America, ed. A. N. Glinkin (Moscow, 1977), p. 6.
21. From Abraham F. Lowenthal, “Latin America in the 1980s: Opportu-nities for Expanding Soviet Influence,” an unpublished paper prepared for this project, p. 8.
22. Nationalism in Latin America: Political and Ideological Currents, ed. A. F. Shulgovski (Moscow, 1976), p. 7.
23. Ibid., p.219.
24. Ibid., p. 170.
25. Ibid., p. 175.
26. Seweryn Bialer and Alfred Stepon, “Cuba, the U.S. and the Central American Mess,” in New York Review of Books, May 27, 1982.
27. Allen S. Whiting and Robert F. Dernberger, Chirm’s Future (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978), p. 40.
28. Robert Scalapino, “Chinese Foreign Policy in 1979,” in China Briefing, 1980, ed. Robert B. Oxnam and Richard C. Bush (Boulder, Colo.:Westview Press, 1980, p. 84.
29. Whiting and Dernberger, China’s Future, p. 185.
30. The Global Strategy of the United States Under the Conditions of the Scientific and Technological Revolution, eds. Georgi Arbatov et al. (Moscow, 1979), p. 75. In China’s Future, Whiting and Dernberger offer a more modest estimate of China’s nuclear arsenal (p. 55), but their book was published in 1978.
31. H. A. Trofimenko, The Strategy of Global War (Moscow, 1968), p. 229. My Italics.
32. A. Doak Barnett, China’s Economy in Global Perspective (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1981), p. 144.
33. Kazuo Yamanouchi, “The Chinese Economy, 1981,” in China Newsletter, no. 37, March-April 1982, p. 2.
34. Arbatov et al., eds., Global Strategy, p. 76.
35. From Gerrit W. Gong, “China in the 1980s,” an unpublished paper prepared for this project.
36. Quoted in William E. Griffith, The Sino-Soviet Rift (Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 1964), p. 351.
37. From Rebecca V. Strode, “External Factors Affecting Soviet Policy for the 1980s: The Military Dimension,” an unpublished paper prepared for this project, p. 28.
38. George F. Kennan, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” in American Diplomacy, 1900-1950 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), p. 121.
39. Quoted in L. I. Brezhnev, Following in Lenin’s Path (Moscow, 1976), p. 471.
40. CIA, National Foreign Assessment Center, Handbook of Economic Statistics, 1981 (Washington, D.C.: USGPO, 1982), p. 1.
41. Strode, “External Factors Affecting Soviet Foreign Policy,” p. 19.
42. From Angela Stent, “The USSR and Western Europe in the 1980s,” an unpublished paper prepared for this project, pp. 1-6.
43. The Twenty-sixth Congress of the Communist Party (Moscow, 1981), pp. 38-39.
44. Stent, “USSR and Western Europe,” p. 10.
45. Ibid., p. 54.
46. Yuli Yakhontov, Pravda, April 27, 1980.
47. The classical argument in support of this thesis is developed in Richard Pipes, “Why the Soviet Union Thinks It Could Win a Nuclear War,” US-Soviet Relations in the Era of Detente (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1981), pp. 135— 68.
48. McGeorge Bundy et al., “Nuclear Weapons and the Atlantic Alliance,” Foreign Affairs, Spring 1982.
49. Kennan, American Diplomacy, p. 13.
I should like to express my appreciation to David E. Albright, Raymond W. Baker, Gerrit Gong, Angela Stent, and Rebecca Strode.