Jonathan Steele, Soviet Power: The Kremlin’s Foreign Policy — Brezhnev to Andropov (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983).
This is the sixth book on international events from one of Britain’s most senior and experienced journalists. His previous works on the USSR and Eastern Europe have shown him to be a sensitive and sympathetic observer of the Soviet scene. Steele starts from the premise that an emphasis on the USSR’s military capabilities alone is likely to produce an over-estimation of Moscow’s ability to intervene or expand its influence abroad. Steele’s aim is to examine the totality of Soviet military preparations, policy statements and political actions to produce a more complete and reliable calculus of Soviet power today.
The combined weight of this evidence suggests to Steele that “Soviet policy is less adventurous, energetic, and threatening than conventional Western wisdom proclaims.” He sees Soviet external actions as inevitably constrained and even distorted, the product of a regime which is “tired,” overburdened by bureaucratic waste and beset by foreign and domestic problems. In addition, while the USSR’s military might increased throughout the last decade, its political influence declined, particularly in the Third World.
In the Middle East, Steele observes rightly that the Soviet presence, once strong in the 1960s, has been virtually eliminated from the central axis, the Arab-Israeli conflict. Steele’s conclusions, correct at the time of writing, could not take into account the massive influx of Soviet weapons into Syria and the subsequent, if not consequent, defeat of American power in Lebanon by a mixture of Syrian force and bravado (and Lebanese resistance). Steele is right to perceive a downturn in Soviet influence in the Middle East in the decade following the October War. What he and many observers need to take into account more fully is that, while the Soviet Union may not always be strong enough to obtain its aims, in the Middle East at least the Soviet Union is a power which has arrived and cannot be eliminated by any combination of military operations or wishful thinking.