British Parliament's watchdog committee "explains" Afghan invasion

When Soviet troops moved into Afghanistan last December, there was no "grand design" in the Kremlin to harm the West by putting pressure on Gulf oil supplies. Instead, the Russians were securing their own southeastern flank against the emergence of a hostile Muslim regime in Kabul.

This is a key conclusion of a British House of Commons select committee report on the Soviet invasion. The report is the product of a new system of parliamentary scrutiny of government actions, and it promises to spark controversy in Whitehall, where it is assumed that the Russians invaded Afghanistan to embarrass the West and prepare the way for further political adventures in the Middle East.

The system of select committees now operating at Westminster seems to be edging the british governmental system more toward American congressional watchdog methods.

The 11-member Foreign Affairs Committee, reflecting the balance of strength of the main political parties, used its powers to quiz government ministers, including Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington as well as a wide range of academics and journalists.

The effect of their six-month study has been to provide critics of official assessments of the Afghanistan invasion with detailed and well-argued evidence to support their views.

A good example of how the system operates was provided by Prof. John Erickson , head of the Department of Defense Studies at Edinburgh University. He impressed the committee with his knowledge of Soviet troop positions on the Afghanistan border months before the invasion.

Dr. Erickson's grasp of the situation prompted the committee to ask the Foreign Office whether it was satisfied with its own methods of assessing Soviet military actions.

Chief recommendations in the report, which the Foreign Office has undertaken to study in detail, are:

* The Western alliance should learn from the Soviet action to consult more fully on foreign and defense policy and present a united front against further possible agression.

* NATO should not extend its area of activity beyond existing limits, but its members should improve their capacity to take military action beyond Europe if necessary.

* Western nations should keep up pressure on the Soviet Union to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, but in a spirit of vigilant detente.

* The temptation to deny the Soviets modern oil-extraction technology for use in their own oil fields should be resisted, lest such a policy tempt Moscow into military adventures in the Gulf.

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