Insurgencies shift from left to right
A dramatic but scarcely noticed turnabout has occurred over the past decade. Today, nearly half of the major insurgencies around the world are inspired by the political right - some of them directly sponsored by Western powers. Back in the early 1970s, most such guerrilla wars were of leftist origins - many of them sponsored by the Soviets or their allies.Skip to next paragraph
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The change reflects in part an increase in Western readiness to challenge the Soviet bloc in exploiting some of the globe's more unstable areas. The East, in turn, finds itself more on the defensive. It no longer has a near monopoly on regional subversion.
The fact that both sides take advantage of local turmoil presents a dilemma to policy planners. They are forced to recognize that exploiting such regional political ferment is a two-edged sword.
For instance, Soviet reversals in the past decade in the Middle East and Africa may have caused disillusion in Moscow about the ease of attaining permanent victories outside Eastern Europe. This in turn seems to have induced a sense of caution regarding new adventures, although it is not at all clear how long this will last.
But the Soviets have not grown permanently less aggressive in the third world. They continue to war in Afghanistan. They vigorously encouraged the recent conversion of Ethiopia's only legal political organization into a communist party. And massive military support to Syria continues.
But whereas in the early 1970s seven of the world's nine major insurgencies were leftist (see accompanying chart), today only four out of 14 are leftist. Except in El Salvador and perhaps the Philippines, none of the current such conflicts appears to be supported directly by the Soviets or their allies. And six of the 14 are rightist in orientation, several of them directly backed by the West and its allies.
All this probably does not mean that a permanent wave of anticom-munism has replaced the anti-Westernism of the previous decade. Nor does the turnabout imply profoundly greater assertiveness in major Western powers.
The West is indeed conspicuously supporting some ongoing guerrilla wars. But domestic political reaction resulting from such involvements - perhaps most noticeable in the current reluctance of the United States Congress to fund further support for the contra rebels fighting the Nicaraguan government - may force a retrenchment. Western democracies have traditionally been fickle when it comes to sustaining a policy of aggressive action beyond their own borders.
A few trends are discernible, however:
* In some areas, local warring forces are so evenly balanced that conflict seems endemic. Given sufficient external support, conflict continues despite temporary victories or defeats of one side or other. Angola, Mozambique, and Nicaragua experienced successful leftist insurgencies in the 1970s. They are now in the throes of rightist counterrevolutions.
* Some pro-Western states in the third world are extremely assertive in matters of ''forward defense'' beyond their borders. South Africa and Israel are the prime examples. The former's support to insurgents in Angola and Mozambique typifies this assertiveness. These states are generally unresponsive to pressures from larger Western states to abandon policies they regard as essential to their security.
* Religion, particularly Islam, has asserted itself as a militant force. Conflicts in Afghanistan, Lebanon, and the Philippines are partially Islamic in inspiration. Iran, Libya, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia have all supported foreign insurrections that represent their respective brands of Islam.