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Non-Soviet Warsaw Pact Countries in the Third World

With Eastern Europe in a relatively quiescent phase, the Soviet Union began to build an informal alliance system in the Third World during the 1970s. In this undertaking the Soviets drew on their experiences in developing allies in Eastern Europe after 1945. Reflecting this continuity, the Soviet Union called its new Third World allies "people's democracies" and their armed forces "national liberation armies." The Soviets also drew on their East European resources directly by enlisting the Warsaw Pact allies as proxies to "enhance the role of socialism in world affairs," that is, to support Soviet interests in the Middle East and Africa. Since the late 1970s, the NSWP countries had been active mainly in Soviet-allied Angola, Congo, Ethiopia, Libya, Mozambique, the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen), and Syria.

The Soviet Union employed its Warsaw Pact allies as surrogates primarily because their activities would minimize the need for direct Soviet involvement and obviate possible international criticism of Soviet actions in the Third World. Avowedly independent East European actions would be unlikely to precipitate or justify a response by the United States. The Soviet Union also counted on closer East European economic ties with Third World countries to alleviate some of Eastern Europe's financial problems. From the East European perspective, involvement in the Third World offered an opportunity for reduced reliance on the Soviet Union and for semiautonomous relations with other countries.

In the 1970s, the East European allies followed the lead of Soviet diplomacy and signed treaties of friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance with most of the important Soviet Third World allies. These treaties established a "socialist division of labor" among the East European countries, in which each specialized in the provision of certain aspects of military or economic assistance to different Soviet Third World allies. The most important part of the treaties concerned military cooperation; the Soviets have openly acknowledged the important role of the East European allies in providing weapons to the "national armies of countries with socialist orientation."

In the 1970s and 1980s, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany were the principal Soviet proxies for arms transfers to the Third World. These NSWP countries supplied Soviet-manufactured equipment, spare parts, and training personnel to various Third World armies. The Soviet Union used these countries to transship weapons to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) in the early 1970s, Soviet-backed forces in the 1975 Angolan civil war, and Nicaragua in the 1980s. The Soviet Union also relied on East German advisers to set up armed militias, paramilitary police forces, and internal security and intelligence organizations for selected Third World allies. The Soviets considered this task especially important because an efficient security apparatus would be essential for suppressing opposition forces and keeping a ruling regime, allied to the Soviet Union, in power. In addition to on-site activities, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and particularly East Germany trained Third World military and security personnel in Eastern Europe during the 1980s. During this period, the Soviet Union also relied on its East European allies to provide the bulk of Soviet bloc economic aid and credits to the countries of the Third World. Perhaps revealing their hesitancy about military activities outside the Warsaw Pact's European operational area, Hungary and Poland have confined their Third World involvement to commercial assistance. Both countries sent economic and administrative advisers to assist in the management of state-directed industrial enterprises in the Third World as part of a Soviet campaign to demonstrate the advantages of the "socialist path of development" to potential Third World allies.

The Warsaw Pact has added no new member states in the more than thirty years of its existence. Even at the height of its Third World activities in the mid- to late 1970s, the Soviet Union did not offer Warsaw Pact membership to any of its important Third World allies. In 1986, after the United States bombed Libya in retaliation for its support of international terrorism, the Soviet Union was reported to have strongly discouraged Libyan interest in Warsaw Pact membership, expressed through one or more NSWP countries, and limited its support of Libya to bilateral consultations after the raid. Having continually accused the United States of attempting to extend NATO's sphere of activity beyond Europe, the Soviets did not want to open themselves to charges of broadening the Warsaw Pact. In any event, the Soviet Union would be unlikely to accept a noncommunist, non-European state into the Warsaw Pact. Moreover, the Soviets have already had considerable success in establishing strong allies throughout the world, outside their formal military alliance.

Beginning in the late 1970s, mounting economic problems sharply curtailed the contribution of the East European allies to Soviet Third World activities. In the early 1980s, when turmoil in Poland reminded the Soviet Union that Eastern Europe remained its most valuable asset, the Third World became a somewhat less important object of Soviet attention.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:45:00 ZULU