Louise L’Estrange Fawcett, Iran and the Cold War: The Azerbaijani Crisis of 1946 (Cambridge, 1992).
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.
Arab progressives tend to view the changes initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika as harmful to the cause of Arab national liberation. One leading pan-Arab statesman privately described the rapprochement between East and West as portending the disintegration of the Communist bloc and the total hegemony of the United States. In his opinion, far from favoring global peace and stability, this situation threatens new global conflagration and cataclysms in the Third World.
Gabriel Kolko, Confronting the Third World: United States Foreign Policy, 1945-1980 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988).
Gabriel Kolko has been a master guide of modern US history for countless students seeking to go beyond official versions and conformist interpretations. From The Triumph of Conservatism (1963) to Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the United States and the Modern Historical Experience (1986), Kolko’s methodic investigation of US domestic and international politics and foreign policy in the twentieth century has changed our understanding of the foundations of capitalism and the meaning of containment and counterrevolution.
On May 20, 1989, a top-of-the-line Soviet MiG-29 fighter evaded pursuing Soviet interceptors and landed at Trabzon airport in northern Turkey. An apparent intelligence bonanza had literally landed in NATO’s lap. Though a regular exhibit at Western air shows and sold to India, Iraq, Yugoslavia and other countries, the MiG-29 had never been closely inspected by the US. Within 36 hours, however, the plane and its weaponry were on their way back to the Soviet Union, despite a personal entreaty from Adm. William Crowe, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to General Necip Torumtay, his Turkish counterpart.
As President-elect George Bush sits down to lunch with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in early December 1988 to discuss the modalities of Detente II, we wonder what the prospects are for any similar sort of US rapprochement with the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It took 16 years, from 1917 to 1933, for the United States to come to diplomatic terms with the Bolshevik Revolution, and the half-century since then has been marked by periods of deep hostility, none more pronounced than the first half of the Reagan-Bush administration.
To what extent can agreements on nuclear disarmament between the superpowers contribute to the reduction of tensions in regional conflicts, particularly in the Middle East?
Despite its reputation for having inflexible ideological positions on all foreign policy issues, the Reagan administration actually came to office in January 1981 without a coherent policy for dealing with Iran. At first the new administration was content to let Iran fade from the spotlight of national media attention that it had held during the last 14 months of the Carter administration. The hostage crisis had been resolved, fatefully on the very day Reagan was inaugurated. The administration contributed rhetorically to the Iran-bashing mood of the country, but since Iraq still seemed to have the upper hand in the war that it had begun a few months earlier in September 1980, there was a general perception that Iran was contained and could be ignored.
From the Soviet point of view, Iraq under the Baath Party has been a troubling enigma, in terms of its place in the Third World generally and its political position in Middle East diplomacy. In the first respect, Iraq during the 1970s did not manage to consolidate itself as one of the USSR’s dependable allies, which official Soviet parlance refers to as “states of socialist orientation.” Most Soviet scholars sooner or later reached the conclusion that Iraq has really been on the capitalist path of development, although neither Moscow nor Baghdad could state this openly.
In January 1986, a major crisis broke out within the leadership of the Yemeni Socialist Party, the ruling party in the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. In two weeks of fighting many thousands of people lost their lives, and afterward between 30,000 and 70,000 fled to neighboring North Yemen.
The Middle East, the Persian Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean are of particular strategic concern to Moscow because of their proximity to the Soviet Union. In addition, the Soviets view the Middle East in the second half of the 20th century as akin to the Balkans at the turn of the century: they consider the area to be the most likely source of a world war. Since 1979, moreover, the Soviets have confronted the concrete possibility of a major military conflict with the United States in the area north of the Persian Gulf. This prospect has brought the dangers of political turbulence in the Middle East into sharper focus, and altered Soviet perceptions of the immediate strategic significance of various countries in the Middle East.
The new US-Soviet agreement banning intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) in Europe appears to signal a new period of dialogue and cooperation between the two superpowers. It seems that the intense hostilities of the early Reagan era have given way to a more relaxed and constructive relationship between Washington and Moscow, with leaders of both countries calling for negotiated solutions to a wide range of previously divisive issues.
The December 1987 Reagan-Gorbachev summit raised once again the issue of linkage between Third World conflicts and East-West relations. Two broad questions are involved. First, how does the nuclear arms race intersect with social and political upheaval in the Third World? The second question involves the character of the East-West conflict as it affects the Third World, and the degree to which great power involvement can cause, exacerbate or potentially resolve conflicts in Asia, Africa and Latin America. A central maxim of much recent writing on East-West relations holds that the nuclear arms race is a means of regulating Third World conflict and impeding escalation to the point of war between the outside powers.
The adversarial relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union, the two great powers of this era, is key to understanding Washington’s and Moscow’s policies in the Middle East. In the Persian Gulf, for instance, Washington’s secret arms sales to Iran and subsequent naval buildup were both prompted by the Reagan administration’s fear of Soviet political advances in the region. And Washington’s strategic interest in the Middle East goes beyond oil and markets, as successive administrations have used war and turmoil there to construct a base structure capable of supporting US military operations in and around the southern part of the Soviet Union.
In his February 1986 Message to the Congress on Foreign Policy, Ronald Reagan announced his support for “growing resistance movements now [challenging] communist regimes installed or maintained by the military power of the Soviet Union and its colonial agents — in Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Ethiopia and Nicaragua.” In four of Reagan’s five regional hot spots, an avowed anti-communist contra-style force maintains a field presence against a regime allied with the Soviet Union.
Famine takes root when farmers lose their means of production. In Africa, drought and war have forced huge numbers of peasants to sell off their animals and tools and abandon the land on which they depend, thus bringing local economies to a standstill. Grain yields in Africa declined by one-third per hectare over the last decade; food production is down by 15 percent since 1981. One out of every five Africans now depends on food aid. Interest payments on international loans now consume $15 billion per year. The continent’s industrial base is functioning at only one-third of capacity. The incidence of famine among Africa’s rural producers has in turn brought national economies to a halt.
A decade ago, the Horn of Africa was the scene of one of the most spectacular geopolitical realignments in Cold War history. A devastating famine helped trigger the ouster of Ethiopia’s strongly pro-US emperor Haile Selassie in 1974. A military junta seized power in Addis Ababa and pledged to place the strife-torn empire on the road to “socialism.” Three years later, the US and the Soviet Union switched positions in Ethiopia and Somalia and the entire region rippled with the aftershocks.
The US food aid program originated in 1954 as a means of disposing of costly domestic agricultural surpluses. In that year, Congress passed the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act, known as Public Law 480. PL 480 enables food-deficit “friendly countries” to purchase US agricultural commodities with local currency, thus saving foreign exchange reserves and relieving US grain surpluses.
The US Navy calls it “violent peace.” One of its foremost academic boosters says it means “to fight without appearing to fight.” They are talking about low-intensity conflict. This is the term the US government uses to describe a strategy of fighting small, relatively cheap wars. Few US troops are involved, so there are few American casualties and there is no need for a draft. The US people may not even be aware of — let alone oppose — US involvement. The goal is to destabilize or overthrow “undesirable” Third World governments or to underpin the stability of “friendly” governments. As Col. John D.
In the summer of 1984, Newsweek published the results of a Gallup poll of hundreds of top-ranking American military officers. Among the questions was this: where did they see the greatest threat of a conflict situation which might escalate to nuclear war? The majority responded clearly: the Middle East.