Soviet's third-world recipe has worked so far, but isn't foolproof

Machine guns, tanks, and rockets. Anti-Western, anti-colonialist rhetoric.

Ultra-cheap university courses in Moscow.

The ``technology of regime survival'' -- keeping friends in power.

These are the four main elements of what the Gorbachev Kremlin has to offer the rulers of the third world.

In the view of Western analysts contacted in Washington, New York, and London, the Soviet recipe has not only proved effective in a number of third-world countries, but will continue to do so.

Yet the analysts also point out that the Soviet effort to pull third-world states away from the United States' and Europe's orbits is now suffering from some inherent limitations.

The question that arises: How long can the Soviet Union continue to widen the influence it has had in the third world?

In part, this depends on the ability of the West to present its own ideas and influence. Soviet allures work best where US and allied influence is weak, or weakening. The Soviets are seen as counterpunchers, constantly looking for Western weaknesses.

``But look at what the Soviets can't offer,'' says Elizabeth Valkenier, resident scholar at the W. Averell Harriman Institute for the Advanced Study of the Soviet Union at New York's Columbia University. At a time when Mikhail Gorbachev is consolidating his hold on power in the Kremlin and newspapers are filled with reports on the struggles in the third world, Dr. Valkenier ticked off Soviet shortcomings.

Economic: Moscow is no longer the kind of industrial model that poor countries can or want to emulate. The Soviet economy, itself in so much trouble, hardly inspires confidence.

The Soviets don't have the food to give away to hungry Africans that the West has. US government officials estimate that the Soviet bloc provided 5 percent of all emergency famine aid to Ethiopia in 1985, even though Ethiopia has a pro-Soviet self-styled Marxist government. The other 95 percent came from the West.

Moscow lacks shiny consumer goods and a convertible currency to provide hard-currency markets for third-world exports. It has oil, but it needs to sell it to earn currency.

Ideological: Many poorer countries are interested more in long-term development than in ideology. Third-world countries often vote for Soviet positions at the United Nations -- in a calculated effort to force concessions from the West.

The Soviets pay only lip service to the New International Economic Order's call for developed countries to give a larger share of world trade to poorer ones.

Military: Yes, massive arms shipments do win some friends and influence some people (Libya, Syria, South Yemen, Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Cuba, Mongolia.) The US also gives arms to its friends, from Israel to Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, and Greece.

Yet the Kremlin is finding that such shipments over a long period can skew the economic growth of a poor, undeveloped country. It can also divert resources from economic reforms and growth, and prop up pro-Soviet dictators -- without necessarily guaranteeing internal stability (South Yemen, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Mozambique, Nicaragua.)

``The Soviets won't stop selling arms,'' says Valkenier. ``But they also want relations with big, important states, such as Brazil and Mexico -- the very countries likely to object to wholesale arming of pro-Moscow regimes.''

``Soviet aid to the third world is very one-dimensional,'' says Robert Litwak, senior associate at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington. ``The dimension is arms. The Soviets also try to keep their friends in power. . . .''

``The USSR is short of the requirements of a large-scale foreign aid program -- hard currency, food, consumer goods,'' says Fred Halliday of the London School of Economics. ``Since the early '70s, the difficulties experienced in their social and economic development by radical third-world states -- and the factionalism of many of their ruling parties -- has made Soviet officials much less keen to predict transitions to socialism,'' he adds.

Most Soviet aid goes to states ruled by pro-Soviet leaders: Cuba, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Mongolia, Laos, and Cambodia.

Dr. Halliday believes that overall, the Soviets remain in an inferior position to the West, but that Mr. Gorbachev is ``actively seeking to consolidate what he has . . . and to open diplomatic doors.''

Halliday also presents a widely-held European left-of-center view that the Soviets know they are not alone in experiencing third-world difficulties. Lebanon showed, he says, that US public opinion is ``reluctant to incur combat deaths in the third world . . . in the Philippines and South Africa. . . . The position of the West is under serious threat. Nicaragua is bleeding, but has not surrendered.''

Gorbachev's tactics today, as the analysts see them:

Concentrating attention not only on Cuba and Vietnam but on avoiding defeat in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Cambodia, Angola, and Mozambique.

Trying to build ``vanguard'' Communist Party structures in these countries as well as South Yemen.

Trying to pull off a complex balancing act that spreads Marxist ideas, yet doesn't offend third-world states that are already through their first stage of revolution into breaking off or refusing full diplomatic relations. Moscow wants these ties for three main reasons: as a way of inserting diplomats for espionage, as public recognition of its own status and prestige, and for strategic geopolitical advantage. Last of three-part series. Previous stories appeared Feb. 18 and 19.

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