by Jonathan Steele ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 11, 1983
Now Chief Foreign Correspondent of the Guardian (London), Steele has previously served that paper in Eastern Europe and Washington--and has a good feel for the world-views of both sides of the superpower confrontation. US exclamations over the growth of Soviet power form the backdrop to this study; Soviet perceptions of the world form its content; and Steele's conclusion--that the USSR is stronger militarily than it was when Brezhnev took over, but weaker politically--is carefully and convincingly constructed. The build-up of Soviet forces, says Steele, has been a reaction to a sense of vulnerability on different fronts: in nuclear weapons, vulnerability to an American first strike; in naval power, a sense that it was unable to safeguard its own expanding merchant fleet or even make a token challenge to American sea power. While the new Soviet navy is capable of new missions of transport and support for ground troops (though still no match for the US Navy), Soviet nuclear forces are unusable, Steele argues: they have been deployed in a manner that virtually assures an escalating nuclear conflict, should they be used. Still, the evidence of Soviet military might is obvious, and it has been attained, he says, because a national consensus exists for a strong defense, despite the toll it has taken on the domestic economy. It is that consensus--plus less well-defined attributes of ""national character"" allegedly responsive to strong state power (which mar an otherwise sober appraisal)--which Steele sees as a safeguard to domestic political turmoil in the Soviet Union, however shaky the economic and political processes might be. Abroad, however, Soviet power has done little for the Kremlin's foreign policy objectives. The one case where it did, Afghanistan, was not an action aimed at keeping its own Muslim population in line or one that was a part of a grand design for the Persian Gulf; it was a conservative move aimed at maintaining Afghanistan's foreign-policy position. The Kremlin has decided not to escalate the conflict, says Steele, but to settle in and look for a diplomatic success centered on Pakistan (which could deny the Afghan rebels their needed sanctuary). Elsewhere, Soviet policy is in bad shape: in the Middle East, where it has been shut out of the diplomatic game; in Latin America, where its one strong ally is still Cuba; in Western Europe, where it supports the status quo; in Africa, where it has failed to make the inroads it might have made (had it supported Mugabe in Zimbabwe or the South African liberation movement); and in Asia, where it has made no diplomatic inroads since the Vietnam War ended. In Eastern Europe, the lesson of Solidarity is that Soviet power cannot be used indiscriminately; its non-use hinges on Western European support, undermined by Washington's hardline policies. Steele thinks that Andropov, and a new generation of foreign policy specialists who are not part of the old and ideological Foreign Ministry, can chart a new course. The other part of a new Soviet foreign policy establishment is the military, which supported Andropov's succession, and which also takes a pragmatic approach. Steele's message is that emphasizing military power plays into the Soviet's oldest and strongest hand, and a more realistic appraisal of Soviet weakness, coupled with less belligerent talk, could strengthen the new, more moderate foreign policy elite. A judicious and informative assessment--good company for David Holloway's The Soviet Union and the Arms Race, in particular.
Pub Date: Nov. 11, 1983
Page Count: -
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1983
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