President Reagan has urged joint United States-Soviet negotiations to resolve conflicts in Afghanistan, Angola, Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Nicaragua. These conflicts have a number of things in common -- primarily the fact that a communist or near-communist regime is in power and that an anti-government insurgency linked to the West is in progress.
Put another way, the communists represent the status quo in these areas.
More often than not, those desiring to upset the status quo and create a new order stand to benefit by negotiations. The very fact that negotiations are agreed to by an existing government gives a degree of recognition to their opponents -- or at least tacit acknowledgment that their power cannot be ignored.
The President conspicuously did not call for jointly-sponsored negotiations on the Philippines or El Salvador -- both with pro-Western regimes beset by leftist insurgents.
Meanwhile, Mr. Reagan has promised that ``America's moral and material support for struggling resistance forces must not and shall not cease.''
But what are these ``struggling'' forces, and just how pro-Western are they? The answer is a very mixed bag.
Ideologically, each insurgency has within it major elements which are motivated by allegiances other than democratic, pro-Western sentiment:
Angola's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) has evolved in a moderate direction since its anticolonial, ``Maoist'' line of the early 1970s. It has also tried, with modest success, to broaden its political base beyond the tribal origins of its leader, Jonas Savimbi. Should UNITA attain victory, spokesman Jeremias Chitunda foresees a coalition government that would include the present Marxist ruling party. No US assistance currently reaches UNITA, but proposed legislation would provide $27 million in nonlethal aid.
While varying in intensity from group to group, the essential driving force behind the Afghan mujahideen (a term meaning ``holy warriors'') is Islam -- and in the case of certain organizations, fundamentalist Islam. While undoubtedly anticommunist, a future mujahideen-dominated government would be both fractious and Islamic in character. The US reportedly earmarks $250 million yearly for the mujahideen, to be supplemented by an extra $300 million over the next two y ears.
The half-dozen or so Eritrean and Tigrean insurgent groups fighting Ethiopia's Marxist government are primarily motivated by separatist, ethnic considerations. Ironically, several are themselves Marxist in political ideology. Should autonomy be wrested from the central Marxist government, a power struggle would undoubtedly ensue -- with uncertain results. No US assistance to Ethiopia's insurgencies has been reported.
In Cambodia, two noncommunist insurgent groups are linked in a loose coalition with the communist Khmer Rouge. The latter organization, responsible for killing up to three million persons while ruling the country between 1975 and 1979, is the most militarily effective of the coalition partners. Clearly, an ouster of the Vietnamese-supported regime by the rebel coalition would result in internecine strife over the nature of a new ruling structure. The US has reportedly supplied $5 million in yearly cov ert aid to the noncommunist factions, and this year Congress has moved to provide an additional $5 million in overt aid.
The ``contras'' in Nicaragua also provide a varied political mix. The officer corps of the Nicaraguan Democratic Force is laced with right-wing followers of former Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle. Two Miskito Indian groups are led by ex-Sandinistas who are motivated primarily by ethnic considerations. The Democratic Revolutionary Alliance, led by ex-Sandinista Ed'en Pastora G'omez, retains a vaguely leftist orientation. US nonlethal aid of $27 million to the contras has been authorized fo r the current fiscal year.
Realistically, some governments resulting from some ``pro-Western'' insurgent victories would be a far cry from democracy as we know it. In short, the major antileftist insurgencies around the world do not unanimously share Western political values.
But in the game called international strategy, this fact does not lessen the value of countering communist advances. The enemy of an enemy is often a friend.
The writer was a government official for two decades before becoming a consultant on international affairs.