The Soviet Union has invaded Afghanistan and installed a puppet regime which is completely dependent on Soviet military power. Why have they done this? What does it signify for the United States? What if anything should we do about it?
The coup of April, 1978, in Afghanistan which brought to power a pro-Soviet, Marxist regime, was warmly welcomed by Moscow. Although the coup came about largely as a result of the mistakes of the previous government, once it had taken place it became clear that the Soviets would do the necessary to keep a pro-Soviet regime in power. They hoped this could be achieved at minimal cost, either in terms of their direct intervention or of their relations with the United States and Afghanistan's neighbors. But they also made it plain that they were prepared to act brutally if necessary.
Soviet advisers were involved in the ruthless attack on the abductors of US Ambassador Dubs last February, which resulted in the Ambassador's death. They also attempted to help President Taraki get rid of his deputy, Hafizullah Amin, this past fall, an attempt which backfired with the death of Taraki and Amin's succession to power.
Now they have used their own military force to oust Amin and replace him with Babrak Karmal, a long-time leader of a pro-Soviet Marxist faction in Afghanistan who they believe will be more pliable than Amin. There is every reason to believe that the Soviets have decided that the risks of this action are worth taking. The risks include the inevitability of continued guerrilla warfare in Afghanistan, as the anti-Soviet insurgents will regard the new regime as even more anti-national than Amin's. The Soviets have also risked worsening relations with the rest of the Islamic world and with the United States. Why have they taken these risks?
They unquestionably see history in that part of the world moving in their direction. The year 1979 saw the United States ousted from Iran, an increasingly unstable Pakistan, the development of Soviet client states in South Yemen and Ethiopia, and more recently Soviet military aid to North Yemen. In short, the Soviets are making hay all around the Arabian peninsula. They are tightening their grip around the oil-filled jugular vein of the United States, Western Europe, and Japan.
Their action in AFghanistan is designed to give history a shove, to convince the remaining friends of the West in that part of the world that they should start accommodating to the interests of the USSR. If they can consolidate their position in Afghanistan, they will have new opportunities for penetrating Iran and Pakistan through overlapping tribal groups. The anarchical situation in Iran gives them opportunities for subversion there. Saudi disenchantment with Camp David and growing tensions between OPEC and the US open up opportunities for the Soviets to estrange the US from its remaining friends in the region.
These are exceptionally serious developments for us and and for our European and Japanese allies. They are also serious developments for the Islamic regime in Iran, although it may be too much to hope that Khomeini will come to his senses and perceive that the only real threat to Iranian independence comes from Soviet imperialism. It certainly behooves us to join with like-minded countries to condemn the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the United Nations.
We should also act promptly to restore good relations with Pakistan. We will have to decide whether the present policy of cutting off aid to Pakistan because we suspect the Pakistanis are building a nuclear weapon (they will proceed despite the cutoff in order to counter the Indians' bomb) should take precedence over the protection of our vital security interests in the area. We should strengthen our military presence in the area. We should weigh the advantages of removing our embassy from Afghanistan on the basis that it is no longer an independent state. The removal of our embassy and the improvement of our ties with Pakistan must precede a more active support, financial and military, of the Afghan rebels.
Finally, we should deep six the SALT II treaty at least as long as Soviet combat forces remain in Afghanistan. The fact that the treaty has been before the Senate has been used long enough by the Soviets to mute the American response to their activities in the third world.
Above all, the United States and its allies need, first, to restore the confidence of their friends in western Asia and, second, to reduce their dependence on oil from that part of the world. Otherwise we are in for more and greater shocks in 1980 than we suffered in 1979.