Amid the acrimonious debate on providing assistance to antileftist revolutionaries in Nicaragua and Angola, four third-world countries, heavily dependent on Soviet military equipment, are quietly growing closer to the West. In Algeria, India, Iraq, and North Yemen, this process is an outgrowth of either economic necessity, political change, or disillusionment with Moscow.
To date, the West has done relatively little to hasten the process. Rigid adherence by these four states to anti-Western rhetoric and socialist doctrines slows Western interest in wooing them.
Including the four mentioned above, 12 countries in the third world each received more than $1 billion in Soviet arms between 1979 and 1983. Except for Algeria, India, Iraq, and North Yemen, however, none of the 12 show a potential for altering the quality or scope of their Soviet linkages. But the political and economic dynamics of the these four indicate opportunities and reasons for stronger Western ties. Algeria:
Algeria, population 20.7 million, obtained 86 percent of $3.7 billion in total arms purchases between 1979 and 1983 from the Soviet Union. Some 2,000 Soviet and East European military advisers are assigned to the country.
By contrast, more than 85 percent of Algeria's trade is with industrialized Western states. Its cultural links are strongest with France. And a consistent evolution from doctrinaire revolutionary socialism to the current pragmatic socialist regime of Chadli Benjadid has characterized Algerian politics during the past decade.
No inherent barrier to closer Algerian-Western ties exists. Frictions with pro-Western Morocco over the Western Sahara, Algeria'a rigid support of the Palestinians, and its undiscriminating sympathies for most third-world revolutionaries are outweighed by mutual Western-Algerian core interests in the oil and natural gas trade and in development of agriculture and light industry in Algeria.
An independent, moderate Algeria would deny Soviet access to military facilities in its portion of the southern Mediterranean shore, and ensure long-term Western access to Algerian petroleum and natural gas deposits. India
With 731 million people and 1.1 million men under arms, India is the world's largest democracy. Seventy-two percent of its arms obtained between 1979 and 1983 came from the Soviet Union, though attempts to diversify are being made.
Despite little ideological compatability, India has found the Soviet Union a reliable partner on its key concerns: relatively inexpensive advanced arms; support in the Indo-Pakistan dispute; and as a counterweight to periodically hostile China.
The US, by contrast, is closely tied to both Pakistan and China and has not offered appealing arms packages; the US has been stingy with its technology; and the US tends to refute India's pretensions at regional dominance.
Yet, actual Soviet influence on Indian society is surprisingly limited.
And despite its currently dominant trading position, Moscow cannot satisfy India's increasing need for sophisticated technology. A recent $500 million contract with Control Data Corporation is a prime example of India turning to the US for that which the Soviet Union cannot provide. And some of the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's knee-jerk animosity toward the US is refreshingly absent in her son and successor, Rajiv Gandhi.
External events could strain India's nonalignment. Soviet expansion into Pakistan, an attack on Iran, or a Sino-Soviet rapprochement would encourage a Westward tilt. Chinese nibbling in the border regions, or a clear Pakistani nuclear-weapons capability, would do the opposite. Iraq
Iraq, population 14.5 million, has a half million men under arms. Its prolonged war with Iran has required the Iraqis to obtain a gigantic $17.6 billion in arms between 1979 and 1983. Forty-one percent of these armaments came from the Soviet Union, 22 percent from France, and 9 percent from China.
But Moscow has proved a sometimes-fickle supporter. Supported logistically by Jordan, and dependent financially on conservative Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states, Iraq no longer aligns itself predominantly with the communist bloc. Diplomatic relations with the US have been renewed, and Western commercial contacts have intensified markedly.
Iraq's military dominance in the Persian Gulf, long-run Middle East political influence, large petroleum reserves, and skillful population render its susceptibility to western influence of strategic importance. North Yemen
North Yemen, population 8 million -- with 1.4 million expatriate workers -- received 50 percent of its $2.4 billion in cumulative arms purchases between 1979 and 1983 from the Soviet Union.
Yet the country's economic links and earnings are overwhelmingly with conservative Arab petroleum states, predominantly Saudi Arabia. Its authoritarian government and partly tribal society have little in common with communist ideology.
North Yemen itself has few resources but it occupies a strategic location on the Red Sea, sandwiched between Saudi Arabia and turbulent, communist South Yemen.
North Yemen's independence from the East is a factor in its denying the Soviets an enlarged presence in the southern Arabian Peninsula and on Red Sea shipping lanes.
In summary, four vastly dissimilar states share an anomalous situation: a dominant military relationship with the Soviets, but natural economic, political, and cultural ties with the West or its third-world allies.
In each of these states, a gradual diminution of the dominant Soviet military position is thinkable, were the West to offer appropriate options and conditions.
The writer was a government official for two decades before becoming a consultant on international affairs.