Find a Security Clearance Job!


Soviet Objectives in Afghanistan

Soviet military, economic and technical specialists have been working in Afghanistan since the 1950s, with their help modernization of the armed forces, construction of hydroelectric power plants, factories and other industrial facilities were carried out. After the socialist government came to power, the USSR sharply increased the number of its representatives in Afghanistan. In April-September 1979, the leadership of the DRA repeatedly appealed to the leadership of the USSR asking to send a large military contingent to the republic to "assist in repelling external aggression."

By the end of 1979, the situation in the country became so complicated that there was a threat of the fall of the PDPA regime. This could lead to an increase in the influence of Western countries at the southern borders of the USSR and created a threat of destabilization of the Central Asian Soviet republics. Besides, The leadership of the USSR regarded the change of the head of Afghanistan as a necessary measure, as Hafizullah Amin suspected of having links with the US Central Intelligence Agency. Moscow has bet on one of the opponents of Amin, the former ambassador of Afghanistan to Czechoslovakia, Babrak Karmal.

Although there is general agreement over the immediate causes of the invasion, the assessment of Moscow's long term goals and strategies is more controversial. One school of thought explains the invasion primarily (sometimes solely) in terms of a short term preoccupation with rescuing a friendly and dependent socialist regime from external attack and internal disintegration. Troops were deployed to manage an emergency and then depart, similar perhaps to United States military intervention in Lebanon in 1958 or in the Dominican Republic in 1965. The quick fix did not work. In December 19$5 Soviet troops had been in the country six years; Moscow was caught in the Afghan "'quagmire:"

A "strategic" school of thought, often drawing on the determinism of early twentieth century geopolitics, depicts the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan as the inevitable march of a "heartland" power to the sea. In 1904 the British geographer Halford Mackinder published a highly influential article, "The Geographical Pivot of History," arguing that Central Asia (the "pivot" later known, as the "heartland"), being immune to nave power, was an impregnable base from which a state (Russia; could assert world domination: Other theorists (particularly A T. Mahan, a proponent of naval power) argued that Russia needed access to warm water ports because its vast land area precluded easy communication between European Russia and Siberia: The Russo Japanese War of 1904-05 seemed to vindicate this view. The Trans Siberian Railway could not fern supplies in sufficient volume to support the tsar's land armies in Manchuria. The Russian Baltic Fleet sailed eight months after being denied access to the Suez Canal by the British, to reach East Asian waters. Low on supplies and with mutinous crews, it sailed unto the Strait of Tsushima in May 1905 and was decimated by a Japanese fleet. A supply and refueling base was needed in the Indian Ocean. Observers predicted that Russia would seek to carve a corridor, through western Afghanistan or Iran, to the Arabian Sea: In an age of strategic bombers an intercontinental ballistic missiles, the dynamic of geopolitic seems obsolete.

Afghanistan seemed at the time to be a decisive step in Soviet Russia's march to the Indian Ocean. Moscow's strategy of cultivating friendly relations with Indian Ocean states, such as India, Madagascar, ax South Yemen, and the buildup of a Soviet naval presence in the area during the 1960s arid 1970s seemed to justify such conclusion. Once in firm possession of Afghanistan the reasoning goes the Soviets could extend their influence and control southward to Pakistan, an unstable and ethnically divided state on the Indian Ocean's rim. One respected analyst has suggested that by the early twenty first century the Soviets either would have retreated back across the Amu Darya or, will be the dominant military and political force in South Asia and the Middle East.

It was widely believed in the US at the time that the Soviet forces moved into Afghanistan in 1979 with the ultimate motive of capturing oil of the Persian Gulf. The economic realities of the second half of the 20th century [ie, oil] had added a new dimension to Russia's age old quest for a warm water port in the gulf. More than half of the oil involved in international trade comes from the region. In the words of former Secretary of State Edmund Muskie, "the consequences of a cutoff of Persian Gulf oil, for us in the west, are too catastrophic to ignore". A Soviet naval base in Iranian Chah Bahar or Pakistani Gwadar would carry a message of its own to the entire Indian Ocean littoral. It would give the Soviets the means to lean particularly hard of those states that supply strategicminerals to the West and Japan. This could give Moscow the potential for coercing Western Europe and Japan into trading oil for advanced technology. Keeping in view the large differential in their relative dependence on Gulf oil, such a policy could beused to drive a wedge between the United States and her closest allies. By this reckoning the politico-economic stakes in the Gulf were nothing less than global in nature.

It is impossible at the time to know, for certain whether the occupation was forced by circumstances or was part of a long-range plan. The weight of the evidence suggests the former. The strategic advantages to maintaining a military presence several kilometers closer to the Persian Gulf ale dubious. Enhanced Soviet military capabilities (long range aircraft and a fleet in the Indian Ocean) make installations south of the Amu Darya less essential. Nevertheless, the invasion brings certain dividends. A generation of Soviet officers is gaining experience in guerrilla warfare and "ticket punches" for rapid promotion. New weapon systems are being tested in actual combat. The country is rich in minerals, especially natural gas, and these can be exploited more easily than they could when Afghanistan was an independent country. But these advantages do not outweigh the costs, especially the enmity of Western and third World nations.

One perspective draws on both the emergency and the strategic schools of thought. It suggests that although the Soviets, for both ideological and strategic reasons, were determined to expand their, sphere of influence and control, they are acutely aware of their limitations. Thus, the decision to intervene was taken reluctantly and only after careful consideration. A useful analogy can, be made with the history of the British Empire in the mid and late nineteenth century. British expansionism on the fringes of the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere was defensive in the sense that policymakers were less concerned with building new empires than with protecting existing interests. Expeditions into Afghanistan in 1837 42 and 1878 79, for example, were undertaken not for conquest but to protect British territory in India. A closer analogy to the Soviet case is possibly the British annexation of Upper Burma in 1885. The weakness of the Burmese state under King Thibaw promoted anarchy that threatened British commercial interests. There was, moreover a perceived threat of French intervention in Upper Burma, an area the British regarded as exclusively in their sphere of influence. When King Thibaw and his ministers proved unable or unwilling to restore order, protect privileges given the British by treaty, and expel the French, troops were ordered in.

Few Western observers in the mid 1980s believed that there would be an early end to the Soviet occupation. It appeared that the Soviets planned to stay in Afghanistan for at least 10 to 15 years for the same reason they invaded: to preserve a friendly regime that could not survive without substantial armed assistance. The military costs to Moscow were relatively modest. The number of Soviet troops in the country estimated by different sources as between 105,000 and 150,000 but most often given as about 118,000 was sufficient to maintain the status quo but not enough to decisively crush the resistance. (It was substantially less, for example than the 500,000 United States troops stationed in South South Vietnam in the late 1960s and early 1970s.) This limited commitment would give the Soviets time to achieve several important goals: creation of strong party and state organizations, education of a new generation of Afghans loyal to the Soviet Union and the development of close cultural, social, and economic ties between Afghanistan and the Soviet socialist republic north of the Amu Darya. The long range perspective was most evident in Moscow's policy of sending Afghan children, particularly war orphans, to the Soviet Union for education. In 1984 a new program was initiated that involved the sending of thousands of children between the ages of seven and 10 to Soviet schools for a 10 year period. A contingent of 870 children was sent in November 1984.

Join the mailing list

Unconventional Threat podcast - Threats Foreign and Domestic: 'In Episode One of Unconventional Threat, we identify and examine a range of threats, both foreign and domestic, that are endangering the integrity of our democracy'

Page last modified: 15-02-2019 12:29:22 ZULU