Kremlin watch: military muscle expands frontiers

This being the third week since Moscow surprised many (more than should have been surprised) by invading Afghanistan, it is time to try to put the matter in perspective. What, in fact, has happened, and is likely to happen?

What has happened is relatively simple. Moscow has added a province to its empire.

Having built up a massive invading force this past year, it has gone into the mountains of Afghanistan with convincing and decisive force. And it was not a case of sending a boy to do a man's job.

When the Soviets decide to do something like this, they reinsure. If their experts say it calls for 50,000 men, they make it 100,000 to be on the safe side. Latest Washington estimates put the number available for this operation at up to 100,000.

Probably, the Soviets will not now, if ever, incorporate their newest conquest into the formal structure of the Soviet state. It is more likely that they will govern Afghanistan through an agent, as they do with Outer Mongolia, which is still nominally independent. Mongolia is even allowed to have its own diplomatic corps, but is firmly controlled by Soviet troops.

There is little that the outside world is ready, willing, and able to do to prevent this conquest, or its consolidation.President Carter has declared that "the world cannot stand by and permit the Soviet Union to commit this act with impunity." But there isn't much effective "punity" at hand.

The President can, and has, decided to cut off further grain shipments (beyond the contract amount). SALT II is deferred.High-technology shipments to the Soviets are banned. Detente is officially on ice. Washington hopes that others will join in these and similar measures.

But this is light punishment for the first important extension of Moscow's military frontiers since 1945. It is evidence of general disapproval. It will not prevent consolidation of the conquest.

The important thing is whether the deed will rouse the outside world to such measures as might stabilize Moscow's frontiers in Asia at their new extent. Will it be possible for the Soviets to use Afghanistan as a launching pad for further advance toward the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf?

The United States is committed under the Truman Doctrine of 1947 and the Nixon Doctrine of 1969 to help those who are threatened by aggression, particularly of the communist variety. If all countries and people in the path of further Soviet advance from Afghanistan would get together, plan their defense, and ask Washington for help, undoubtedly the President and the Congress of the United States would agree to back them up with guns and funds.

The country most directly in danger is Pakistan. China saw this invasion of Afghanistan coming a year ago, with resulting danger to Pakistan. In January 1979, Peking sent Deputy Prime Minister Li Xiannian to Islamabad to talk to the Pakistanis about their defense. On Jan. 22, he issued a formal declaration from there promising that the Chinese government would support Pakistan against any "foreign aggression."

China has a common frontier with Pakistan. The Chinese have built a military road linking the two countries. It is physically possible for China to send help to Pakistan along this road, or by air and sea.

But mobilizing collective action in support of Pakistan is going to present difficulties. India is again under the leadership of Indira Gandhi, who, during her previous prime ministry, practiced a consistent tilt toward Moscow and against Pakistan, against China, and against the United States. It is unlikely that India would join eagerly or impressively in any community plan for stabilizing the new status quo.

Iran is the next most endangered country. It is to be hoped that somehow, someone will manage to drain the hostility out of present US-Iranian relations. But right now that relationship is so inflamed by the twin matters of the hostages and the Shah that Iran is hardly likely to ask Washington for help in fending off Moscow.

Ideally, Iran, Pakistan, India, and China would form a grouping of nations interested in holding the Soviets within their new military frontiers. And it would be easy for the outside world to support such a grouping. Washington would be delighted to do so.

But no such grouping is at present conceivable.

Some changes that could have a restraining influence on Moscow are likely to take place. Washington will probably increase its military presence in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf. Washington will be ready to give support to those countries in the area that are ready to ask for and to receive such help. There is likely to be a more active US presence in the area and more positive US diplomacy.

But nothing in sight now is likely to disturb Moscow in enjoyment of its new conquest. More than likely, Afghanistan will have to live inside the military frontiers of the Soviet empire for some time now -- probably until such time as some major world upheaval unsettles those frontiers.

All of which will have repercussions inside the US itself. Republicans will hope to make some gains out of the "loss" of Afghanistan, which they will, of course, blame on President Carter, as they once blamed President Truman for allegedly "losing China." But they will have to be careful, since there is no convincing evidence that the American people are in a mood to risk another war.

However, the Soviet deed has startled and worried a remarkable combination of countries. Only the fully controlled Soviet satellites (East Germany is a prime example) have spoken out in approval. Most Communist parties in the outside world have been either lukewarm or silent. Naked imperial conquest obviously is considered to be bad manners by almost everyone free to have an opinion.

Also, the deed has the effect of countering to some extent the estrangement that has been developing between the United States and the Muslim countries of the third world.The priority task is to find a bridge to tolerable relations with Iran.

The general world reaction has been so disapproving that Moscow is likely to be cautious about further moves beyond Afghanistan.

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