Fred Halliday, From Kabul to Managua: Soviet-American Relations in the 1980s (Pantheon, 1989).

To give an account, in a mere 163 pages, of Soviet-American competition in the Third World is no mean feat. After all, this rivalry has lasted nearly half a century and its form has varied considerably. Moreover, there are now 120 independent states in the Third World, and there have been over 100 diverse conflicts. There is, to say the least, much to account for. Yet this is precisely what Fred Halliday has done, with lucidity and thoroughness. At times, Halliday’s conclusions are even provocative and unpredictable.

Halliday’s book examines the external factors accelerating the process of Third World revolution and its impact on US-Soviet relations. It also provides a forthright and insightful account of ill-advised policies that have created political opposition and economic dislocation in revolutionary regimes. Halliday then looks at the US offensive against radical regimes in the 1980s and explains the Soviet Union’s disenchantment with radical regimes in the Third World. He goes on to analyze Moscow’s current policy of insulating arms control and Soviet economic development from the fallout of US-Soviet rivalry in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Halliday argues that efforts to bring stability to the Third World through cooperative US-Soviet solutions are bound to fail. Neither superpower is about to disengage from its commitments, he believes, periods of disillusionment notwithstanding. The Third World provides constant opportunities and rationales for intervention. Local conflicts will resist outside solutions jointly crafted by the superpowers. Thus turbulence in the Third World, and the fallout from superpower relations can, at best, be managed, not eliminated.

The real question, though, is not whether East-West concord can end Third World discord. It is whether the intensity, duration and dangerous ramifications of Third World conflicts can be curtailed through cooperative ventures by the superpowers. This possibility, precisely because it involves a much less ambitious goal, is much more realistic. East-West detente provides a propitious setting for exploring concrete undertakings toward this end. The flow of superpower arms to the Third World, the military presence of the US and the Soviet Union in various regions, and the involvement of Moscow and Washington on opposing sides of major regional conflicts means that there is scope for joint action — providing there is the political inclination to engage in it.

Halliday is convincingly critical of American policies of intervention. He believes that Washington’s professed commitments to democracy and against terrorism often rest on self-serving and ahistorical definitions of these concepts. At the same time, Halliday is plainspoken in examining the flaws of Soviet policies. Nor does he gloss over the crass social engineering, utopian economic strategies and statism that have undermined the internal support of radical regimes, thus compounding the challenge posed by American hostility.

How to cite this article:

Rajan Menon "Halliday, From Kabul to Managua," Middle East Report 166 (September/October 1990).

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