The year 1982: the events that count
In world affairs in 1982 the most headline news arose out of the efforts by the Soviet Union to hang on to the territories it holds and by Israel to extend the range of its influence beyond its recognized pre-1967 frontiers.Skip to next paragraph
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Behind these surface features were two subtler changes in the relations of the world's nations - with long-term implications. Both Western Europe and China put distance between themselves and Washington. They did not move into, but certainly took steps toward, a neutral position between the two superpowers, the United States and the USSR.
More spectacular, but of less wide-ranging implication and application, was the quick and decisive repulse by Britain of the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands.
There were interesting but inconclusive diplomatic negotiations going on all year over Cuban troops in Angola, and South African troops in Namibia.
Also, President Ronald Reagan changed secretaries of state on June 25 when Alexander Haig resigned and was replaced by George Shultz. The tones and overtones of American foreign policy softened with the change.
And on Nov. 10 the Soviets got a new leader in Yuri Andropov with an appearance of some similar softening in Soviet tone and posture.
But the major surface events of 1982 were the attempts by Moscow to keep its empire intact and by Israel to push out farther its effective range of influence over surrounding Arab territory.
The year opened with Moscow in trouble both along its military forefield in Eastern Europe and its relatively new outpost in Afghanistan. The Afghans continued the fight through all of the third year. Poland during the previous year had attempted to throw off the Soviet yoke. The chosen instrument was Solidarity. Moscow in turn chose the Polish Army as the instrument for trying to bring Poland back under effective control.
The attempt at resubjugation of Poland began just before the turn of last year. The battle over suppression of Solidarity lasted through the year. By the end of the year the Polish government had won the battle. The Polish Army had remained loyal to the government. Solidarity was unable to arouse and organize the Polish nation into an underground resistance movement comparable to the one that plagued the German armies in Poland throughout World War II.
But can the Polish government build a long-term future for Poland on its short-term victory over Solidarity? The reach of the Poles for independence through Solidarity underlined the restlessness throughout Eastern Europe which forces the Soviet Union to use its military power to hold its imperial conquests in line. The whole structure could have fallen apart had Poland made good its escape. The Soviet empire is back together now, but only because of decisive Soviet military power in the area.
The Polish affair also disclosed a structural weakness in the Soviet system. An important reason for the popularity of Solidarity in Poland was the sheer incompetence of the Communist Party there. Since to most Poles communism means Soviet domination, the good Poles decline service in and for the party. So the party is made up largely of social misfits and bureaucrats who would lose out in a free job market. They go into the party for jobs, power, and access to privileges. They cannot plan intelligently or operate efficiently.
Washington fumbled at trying to bring help both to Afghans and Poles by using economic sanctions. The effort had no visible effect on Soviet behavior. It did damage US ties with its European allies who refused to support the sanctions.