Soviet Union (former) Military Presence in the Third World
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
The Soviet Union has sought to restructure international relations and to achieve a world socialist system largely through political influence; however, it has not reneged on the promise of military aid for revolutionary movements in the Third World under the principle of "proletarian internationalism" (see Glossary). Soviet leaders reaffirmed this principle in the l986 party program (see Glossary) of the CPSU. Yet the Soviet Union has also sought to advance Soviet state interests by gaining a military foothold in strategically important areas of the Third World.
Because of the dual and often contradictory nature of Soviet objectives in the Third World, the Soviet military has had successes and failures in its dealings with it. Two large-scale, successful Soviet-supported interventions took place, in Angola in l975 and in Ethiopia in l977. In both places the Soviet Union provided arms and military advisers and used Cuban troops to help pro-Soviet elements consolidate power. By contrast, in 1976 the Soviet Union suffered a reversal in Egypt where, after years of massive military assistance, the Egyptian government asked Soviet advisers to leave, canceled access for the Soviet Naval Forces, and abrogated the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union. Similarly, Somalia, once the most important Soviet client in sub-Saharan Africa, abrogated its friendship treaty in l977 because of the Soviet tilt toward Ethiopia and denied use of naval facilities at Berbera to the Soviet Naval Forces. In the 1980s, combating "counterrevolution" in the Third World was not an unqualified success for the Soviet military, which, for political reasons, had shunned direct intervention in countries far from Soviet borders. In the 1980s, Soviet military aid to allied regimes in Nicaragua, Angola, Mozambique, and Cambodia was unable to rid these beleaguered Marxist regimes of "counterrevolutionary" resistance forces.
The Soviet Union has long been the world's major supplier of military advisory assistance. According to the United States government, in 1986 about 21,000 Soviet and East European military advisers (most of whom were Soviet advisers) were stationed in Third World countries, including about 8,000 in Africa, almost 6,000 in the Middle East, and about 3,000 in Afghanistan. The Soviet Union has also used military "proxies," or allied forces, to substitute for or buttress Soviet military advisers serving in Third World countries. Advisers and combatants from Cuba, Vietnam, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen), and Eastern Europe--particularly the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and Bulgaria--have been used in various Third World countries, such as Ethiopia, Angola, and Mozambique.
Despite ideological setbacks, the Soviet Union has derived considerable military-strategic advantage by establishing bases and naval access in the Third World. In the l980s, facilities were available to the Soviet Union at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, Aden and the island of Socotra in South Yemen, Massawa and the island of Dahlak in Ethiopia, Luanda in Angola, and Maputo in Mozambique. Part of a worldwide Soviet military support structure, such installations increased Soviet influence in the Third World. American analyst Alex Alexiev has argued that Soviet arms deliveries to certain countries have actually been attempts to preposition war matériel in case of global war. Alexiev believed such pre-positioning to have taken place in Libya, where Soviet deliveries increased the number of tanks and armored personnel carriers from 175 in 1971 to 4,400 in l983. Similarly, South Yemen had 50 tanks and no armored personnel carriers in l975, while in 1982, after Soviet shipments, it had 450 modern tanks and 300 armored personnel carriers.
In l989 Soviet global military initiative appeared to be on hold. On the one hand, Gorbachev declared his "solidarity with the forces of national liberation and social emancipation" throughout the globe. On the other hand, his "new thinking" in foreign and military policy deemphasized "military-technical solutions" to the world's problems and seemed to promise fewer Soviet military forays into the Third World and less interference in the internal affairs of socialist allies. Many Western observers believed that Gorbachev wanted to replace emphasis on Soviet military power with an approach that combined economic, political, and military instruments of power.
Data as of May 1989
NOTE: The information regarding Soviet Union (former) on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Soviet Union (former) Military Presence in the Third World information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Soviet Union (former) Military Presence in the Third World should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.