There is little agreement among Soviet foreign affairs specialists on the role of the developing countries in international politics.
Only the conservative, tradition-bound ideologues in the Soviet Union hold the views which most Americans believe guide Soviet thinking about the third world - namely, that third-world grievances and animosities toward the West serve Soviet interests. They maintain that Lenin's thesis on the natural alliance between Soviet Russia and the oppressed colonial peoples against the imperialist powers operates as well today as it did when first stated 65 years ago.
These ideologues are rarely starry-eyed Marxists who hold that international solidarity obliges the socialist states to support the political and economic liberation of the less-developed countries (LDCs). But they do believe that manipulation of the third world's complaints and demands well serves Soviet rivalry with the United States.
At the opposite extreme are the forward-looking globalists. Unlike the entrenched ideologues who have held stage center since the start of Soviet involvement in the third world during the mid-1950s, this group has become vocal only in the past two years. They do not regard the problems of the developing countries as a useful lever for tilting the balance of forces in favor of the USSR but as threats to international equilibrium and peace.
The globalists argue that the growing gap between the LDCs and the advanced industrial states has created a sense of alienation which has transformed the nationalism directed against the West into a third-world chauvinism. That superheated nationalism is deemed hostile to all industrialized nations, regardless of whether they are socialist or capitalist.
In addition, the globalists see the increasing poverty of these areas as causing political and social unrest, which in turn leads to civil and interstate strife that can bring great-power involvement. What aggravates the situation is the steep rise in the military spending of the third-world regimes. Their policy diverts scarce resources from pressing domestic needs and retards development, there-by contributing to further destabilization and fanning local and larger confla-grations.
The globalists have not explicitly proposed an international code of conduct to reduce the likelihood of great-power confrontation on third world-related issues. But they concede that the socialist (i.e., communist) bloc does not have all the answers. They urge broad, constructive cooperation of all the advanced countries in solving the problems that create unrest in the LDCs - overpopulation, food shortages, and backwardness. Moreover, they consider access to raw materials another destabilizing factor and advocate global regulations to assure the legitimate interests not only of the producing LDCs but also of all the consuming industrial states.
Between these polar positions are the skeptical realists who have been arguing since 1977-78 that, in effect, the LDCs behave like the proverbial calves that are suckled by two cows. Accordingly, they hold that too close an identification of Soviet interests with those of the third world is counterproductive and far too expensive. It sours Russia's relations with the West, and it costs too much in economic aid.
In order to create a safer distance between the USSR and the third world that would enable Moscow to conduct a policy based on careful cost-benefit analyses rather than on outdated ideology, the realists seek to puncture the doctrinaire claims of the conser-vatives. They point out that the colonial stage of imperialism is over. Instead of being helpless victims of exploitation who automatically gravitate toward the communist bloc, the LDCs have become independent actors in international relations and on the world market. The policy implication is that the third world can well take care of its own interests and does not need Soviet support.
Granted, Soviet experts - even those who work on the research staff of the Central Committee - do not formulate Soviet foreign policy. Nevertheless, their controversies help shape the mental climate in which decisions are made.
American policymakers and the public should be better acquainted with the range of opinions in the USSR. This is crucial at present when the time seems auspicious for reassessing Soviet-American difficulties and perhaps making progress on some hard issues. An awareness of the discernment and nuances in Soviet views about the price of instability in the third world could help in arriving at some common understanding on the ground rules that should govern and contain the Soviet-American competition.