Soviet Strategy In The Third World

Before the middle of 1980s the Soviet strategy in the Third World was based on a number of unshakable postulates that were rooted in the concept of "the world revolutionary process". A pattern was formed that no politician or diplomat could change. It seemed that this pattern perfectly suited the official ideology and gave sufficiently good explanations to the processes in the Third World or, as it was customary to say, "on the periphery of the world capitalist economy".

If asked - what offices in the Kremlin, the Central Committee of the CPSU directed the development of the Soviet foreign policy strategy in the 1950s-80s, we find it hard to answer the question. Most often this work, that should have been highly creative, was done on the eve of every Congress of the CPSU by a group of appointed "thinkers", several leading officials from the Central Committee of the CPSU, representatives of other foreign policy agencies apt to "theoretical quest". For example, Academicians Nikolai Inozemtsev and Georgy Arbatov were invited to prepare materials for every party Congress.

Heads of other scientific foreign policy centres regularly submitted recommendations on the world revolutionary process to the Central Committee. Proposals coming from this collective "intellectual machine" were rarely marked by novelty. At best they constructed a more modern theory of "mature socialism".

To a considerable extent the concept of "the world revolutionary process" was a transformation of the idea of a "world-wide socialist revolution". After 1917 Vladimir Lenin expected its speedy beginning but soon realized that it was utopia. Stalin proved himself more as a pragmatist, than theorist. He plunged into constructing socialism "in one separate country". By the mid-1930s, his thoughts and actions transformed him from a revolutionary into a dictator whose actions undermined socialism. In these conditions the idea of separating evolution from revolution in the development of humanity disappeared from Soviet science.

In private conversations experts often spoke of the flatness of old approaches and the variety in the development of the world community. The Marxist theory of the world revolutionary process was leading us to mistakes in evaluating the international situation. One can argue about the usefulness or harmfulness of fantasies in personal life, but they are absolutely out of place in politics.

The old approach claimed, for example, that after World War II the transition from capitalism to socialism became the main content of the epoch. It was said that the transition was marked by the competition of two social systems: socialism and capitalism. It was stated that the latter was going through a general crisis. If everything had been that simple!

It was at that time in Moscow, when a considerable positive change occurred in the evaluation of "the laws of world development". Intellectuals spoke of the possibilities for the working class to win power by peaceful means. The struggle for peace was declared the most important task of Communists and Socialists disregarding ideological differences. In the context of the present day broad cooperation on the international arena one might find these changes "insignificant", a mere trifle, but we should judge the situation in terms of the times. In the Soviet Union the whole Stalinist epoch was going down into history. Thinking in the vein of the Communist International was questioned and even altered.

After the purifying 20th CPSU Congress in 1956, where Nikita Khrushchev exposed Stalin's crimes, everything seemed possible. Everyone expected that the Soviet society would develop fast and effectively. Many people hoped that ideological stereotypes would be dropped from the Soviet foreign policy. It seemed that the process had begun. However, the weight of the old ideology turned out greater than it had seemed.

In the second half of the 1950s the question aroused, how the Soviet Union should regard the possibilities of a political and social development when violence would not become the main instrument for achieving the hegemony of the working class in a revolution. 

It seemed that the 1959 visit of Nikita Khrushchev to the United States at the invitation of President Eisenhower could break the backbone of the Cold War. Alas, the frosts grew harsher. At that time Anatoli Gromyko in a conversation with his farther asked him whether ideological differences should not prevent the USSR and the USA from maintaining their relations in the spirit of compromise. "Opposing ideologies, - Andrei Gromyko said, - always hindered and will hinder relations between states. Their influence on international affairs is inevitable. The task of the diplomacy is to circumvent this obstacle." 

Khrushchev's visit to the USA did not produce tangible positive results. Khrushchev, for example, was indignant with the impudence the US special services violated the Soviet air space and organized the flight of the U-2 spy plane over the Soviet territory. President Eisenhower's refusal to apologize to the Soviet government foiled the Paris summit conference. 

Many other events took place on the international arena. Only in one year, 1960, 17 new states appeared in Africa. Independent Africa became a pronounced political force. Many actions of the new African governments ran counter to the interests of former colonial powers. For example, on February 15, 1960, Morocco annulled the French-Moroccan diplomatic convention of 1956 and recalled its ambassador from Paris in protest against the explosion of a French nuclear bomb in Sahara on February 13. On March 30 and April 1, 29 African and Asian countries, shocked by repressions and killings of the native population in South Africa, demanded the meeting of the UN Security Council to urge Pretoria to renounce apartheid and discrimination. African countries became more active in their efforts to guarantee regional peace and security. The national-liberation struggle gained momentum. The people of Algeria waged an armed struggle for independence against French colonialists. Ghana was declared a republic and its Prime-Minister Kwame Nkrumah was elected the first president of the country. Nikita Khrushchev had great faith in Nkrumah, considered him a true patriot.

It seemed that the capitalist West was entering a stage of acute clashes with the East, Africa in particular, which was breaking off its colonial chains. The world at that time needed new thinking and new policies that would take into account all the key threats looming over humanity, rather than ideological battles. There were at least three global threats: the danger of a nuclear war, the great economic backwardness of the Third World and the degradation of the Earth's environment. 

In the late 1960s the Soviet Union reached the peak of its post-war might on the international arena. The Soviet Union had many friends and allies in the Third World (Cuba, Vietnam, etc.). It seemed that the world Communist and Worker's movement was uniting around Moscow. Its leaders experienced ideological euphoria, similar to the one in the early 1920s. 

One can imagine how difficult it was to take realistic steps in international politics, which is not at all equal to ideology. Ideological restrictions constantly appeared in the way of the effective Soviet foreign policy in the 1960s and 1970s. Like fluorescent road signs on a highway, they showed Soviet politicians and diplomats where to drive and turn in international politics. It was almost unthinkable to disregard the "signs". Such were the times.

However, as it usually happens, life is more complicated than any ideological patterns. In practice ideological internationalist requirements often clashed with national interests. Though at that time the term "Soviet national interests" was barely used, in the daily effort to conduct the foreign policy it could not be overlooked. Moreover, one may be surprised by the way Soviet diplomats managed to make rational, often ingenious, decisions in the sea of ideological voluntarism.

One can recall that after the resignation of Molotov new foreign ministers up to 1973 did not belong to the top Soviet party leadership. This led to the domination of ideological considerations and forced the Foreign ministry to explain to Politburo many of its steps to strengthen national security in terms of the world revolutionary process. 

The Soviet strategy in the Third World was influenced most of all by a concept of socialist orientation and the geopolitical factor. Regional conflicts also became its component. The concept of socialist orientation reflected new trends in the Third World, as well as numerous illusions. Those illusions cherished hopes that national liberation revolutions would soon grow into socialist revolutions. "The transitional period of development from capitalism to socialism" acquired its practical realization in "socialist orientation". Often it was a wishful thinking. A certain contradiction appeared between the real state of affairs and an idea of a "successful" spread of socialism. 

Regional conflicts were, perhaps, the most serious negative factor the Soviet Union encountered in Africa. The watershed was the international crisis in November 1956 - the "Suez crisis". In response to aggression against Egypt Khrushchev sent a message to Paris, London and Tel-Aviv with a demand to cease military actions against Cairo. The three capitals were quick to fulfill that demand. The first hot clash ended successfully for Moscow.

In the political and ideological sphere the Soviet Union rendered extensive aid to the countries of socialist orientation. Moscow was generous in the military sphere because almost all socialist-oriented countries were subjected to armed aggression.

The assessment of the Soviet economic aid is more complex. Was it sufficient for a successful transition from socialist orientation to socialist development, bypassing capitalism? No one had ever determined whether the scale of such aid was within the USSR's power. However, Moscow, motivated by its international duty, for decades provided ideological allies, including those in the Third World, with substantial economic aid. 

The general volume of long-term debts of socialist and developing countries to the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s comprised 85.8 billion rubles; 42 billion rubles fell on the developing countries. Out of that sum the lion's share (in billion rubles) fell on Cuba (15.5), Mongolia (9.5), Vietnam (9.1), Poland (4.9) and Democratic Republic of Korea (2.2). This aid was in a form of credits. The Soviet Union helped many of its recipients to hold out in difficult times.

The ideological character of the Soviet aid was expressed in its distribution. The aid received by socialist-oriented countries (in billion rubles) was as follows: Afghanistan (3.0), Ethiopia (2.8), Algeria (2.5), Angola (2.0), the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (1.8) and Egypt (1.7). In million rubles: Nicaragua (917), Tanzania (310), Mali (285), Somalia (260), Zambia (205), Congo (199), Madagascar (100), Guinea-Bissau (66) and Benin (31).

The aid in credits, received by the developing countries, was considerably less in size. There were countries of non-socialist orientation, which also received substantial credits (in billion of rubles): India (8.9) and Syria (6.7). These countries were singled out because of their geopolitical status: India as a counterbalance to China, and Syria as a staunch opponent to the supremacy of Israel in the Middle East.

The deeper the problem of socialist orientation was analyzed, the more questions appeared. They seemed to be endless. Heated discussions took place. Some scholars repudiated socialist orientation completely. Others insisted that if viable economy was founded, if mutually profitable economic ties with the countries of both socialism and capitalism developed, if the unbalanced development of the state sector rejected - socialist orientation would at least have no worse chances to succeed than any other model of development.

The lack of faith in socialist orientation reflected the crisis of the entire model of socialist development, the inability of perestroika to raise living standards of the Soviet people. It was not only the people, but also many proponents of socialism and socialist orientation who went in opposite direction - the complete lack of faith in socialism.

One more thing was also clear. The countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, which had embarked on the road of development towards socialism, would not receive any tangible economic aid from the Soviet Union because of the state of the Soviet economy under Gorbachev. 

In the 1960s and 1970s the dissemination of "scientific communism" ideas, the appearance of numerous socialist-orientation countries, was interpreted in the USA and Western Europe as Moscow's desire to oust the West from the Third World. Washington, London and Paris did not give much thought to whether the Soviets could achieve such an aim.

Once at a conference held in West Germany Anatoli Gromyko explained the Soviet foreign policy in Africa. During a coffee break he sat next to a senior officer of the Bundeswehr. "It probably seems strange to you, - he suddenly addressed him, - that your arguments are not apprehended by many. In the first place, the USA is our ally and it is not in our traditions to criticize them. Secondly, believe me, we can understand the reasons of you deploying a strong army to the east of our borders. But we cannot understand what the Soviets need Africa for, why have they set up Marxist regimes and keep thousands of soldiers there." Anatoli Gromyko explained that not a single African government was formed in Moscow and that neither in Africa, nor in the Soviet Union were there "communist societies". He mentioned the doctrine of "the encirclement of the USSR" with NATO's military basis, by surface and underwater navies. The German replied: the USA is a naval power, whilst the Soviet Union is a land power. Their might is on water, and yours - on land. In the military field you dominate in Europe and Asia, the regions of significance to the USA are scattered all over the world. These land and naval centres counterbalance one another. "We should not try to change this geopolitical status", - he said.

In 1965, the next year after Brezhnev took power from Khrushchev, Anatoli Kovalev, a prominent Soviet diplomat and later First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, in a private conversation said: "I would determine the essence of the moment with the words of Chancellor Gorchakov - "Russia is concentrating" (Gorchakov was in charge of the Russian foreign policy in the middle of the XIX century).

Indeed, as far back as 1960s, Moscow faced a dilemma: either to concentrate on intensive internal development or continue global activities on the same scale. It looked like almost everyone in the Ministry of foreign affairs was for the first variant, for urgently putting an end to the Cold war, starting profound economic reforms. That was not a choice of the Party leaders. The over-stretching of the Soviet economic and military capacity in 1960s - 1980s contributed to the cource of events at the end of 80s. Isn't a similar process going on with the only one super-power nowadays?

With best regards,
Anatoli and Alexey Gromyko