International developments have been unfolding with such rapidity in the second half of the present century that any attempt to survey them is in danger of being outdated between the time of its writing and its presentation to the reader.
This is particularly true of the Third World in which phenomenal changes have been taking place before our very eyes. The volume under review suffers from a further handicap in so far as the Chinese influence in the world outside can hardly be examined in isolation from the happenings at home which during the last five years have been subjected in a very large measure to the overpowering personalized politics around the father figure of Mao Tse-tung. The last phase of the Great Helmsman’s colourful career lacked that clear direction which was so perceptible in the earlier periods, of the Chinese Revolution.
Rubinstein in opening the discussion has warned that ‘there is clearly no Rosetta stone for deciphering influence’ and has brought out the difficulties in measuring any country’s influence over another. However, adherence to certain broad criteria has helped the contributors to the volume to reach certain significant as well as interesting conclusions: for instance, the appraisal of Soviet influence in India by William Barnds makes it clear that while it is difficult to describe Soviet goals ‘and especially their priorities’,
Moscow’s success in this direction is due to the fact that Soviet and Indian interests were similar rather than because Moscow influenced New Delhi. Barnds makes an extensive assessment covering diplomatic (with special reference to Tashkent), political, commercial, economic and military spheres. Inevitably he discusses the Soviet concept of a collective security system for Asia. He comes to the significant conclusion that ‘the major impact of Soviet efforts in India has been to enable New Delhi to pursue more effectively policies it wanted to follow in any case’—a rather surprising rebuff to those in India and abroad who have denounced the Indo-Soviet Treaty as having mortgaged Indian interests to Moscow, a rebuff administered by one who has served the CIA for fourteen years, as Barnds’s record shows.
Unfortunately, none of the contributions takes up a parallel study of Peking’s influence in India. However, Rubinstein himself makes an observation which is worth quoting: ‘In the early 1960s Peking embarked on what appeared to be a major effort to challenge Soviet inroads, but it withdrew into almost total isolation during the hectic period of the Cultural Revolution (1966-69) as domestic turmoil eclipsed influence-building abroad.’ Rubinstein thinks that since 1970, Peking has been trying ‘to establish a selective presence for itself in the years ahead in key areas’—an exercise which has conspicuously come to a halt with the post-Mao struggle for succession.
A very detailed study has been made by Justus M. Van der Kroef on Soviet and Chinese influence in Indonesia. Although it tends to be mechanical in its quest for a ‘theoretical model’, there is plenty of data in this article which will be found useful by those who may reach a different set of conclusions basing on the very same data.
In contrast, Andres Suarez’s appraisal of Soviet influence on the internal politics of Cuba has a Victor Zorza touch, depending largely on hypotheses bereft of factual foundations. George Ginsburg’s article on the Soviet view of Chinese influence in Africa and Latin America is well documented, though there are lapses in it, of reading too much between the lines and occasional mixing up of secondary with primary sources.
The article on Soviet and Chinese influence on the Palestinian Guerilla movement by Moshe Ma’oz has touched on many important facets of the PLO movement. Shorn of some of the loose generalizations, it is a useful article. In 1967 the intense debate inside the PLO leadership underlined the duality of its policy. Shafiq al-Hut, one of its leaders, made the formulation that while Peking unreservedly but theoretically supports the right of the Arabs to take back Palestine, it is Moscow that has the capability of turning support into politically significant action—a fact which has been reinforced by developments in the last nine years since it was stated.
The chapter on Soviet influence on Egypt by Malcolm Kerr almost makes out that the rupture between Cairo and Moscow would be permanent, while the latest trends in Egypt particularly with the realization of Kissinger’s impending ouster after the Democratic Party victory, show concern at over-dependence on US support and consequent moves for a rapport with Moscow.
Robert Legvold’s comparison between Soviet and Chinese influence in Black Africa needs very drastic revision after the Angolan experience which has helped Moscow regain the initiative which was lost in the Congo crisis, while Peking’s discredit has been very pronounced in supporting the wrong side in the Angolan civil war.
Rubinstein’s observations in the concluding chapter concede that the western study on this complex subject is still ‘in its infancy’ because of lack of any in-depth analysis of Soviet-Chinese and Third World interactions. What is rather extraordinary is that in a scholarly study of the Third World’s relations with the two biggest Communist countries there is no reference to the countries in the Pacific zone, ranging from Indo-China to Philippines. Is it because of the inability of American scholarship to recover from the traumatic experience of the US debacle in Vietnam?
Nikhil Charavartty is Editor, Mainstream.