Soviet Sea Power

Hervé Coutau-Bégarie 

 

Chapter III - Political Missions

 

Beginning with the end of the 1950's, the Soviets undertook to build a powerful navy for themselves. But they realized the logic and the potentials behind sea power only gradually. Following the Cuban missile crisis, they realized that the absence of a naval force had been the decisive ele­ment in their defeat and that a fleet could be a valuable instrument of foreign policy whose role was summarized as follows by Admiral Gorshkov: “Demonstrating economic and military power beyond the borders; showing your readi­ness for action, deterring potential enemies and supporting your friends; surprising probable enemies through the per­fection of equipment displayed and influencing their morale; finally, suggesting to them the uselessness of combat in ad­vance something which often made it possible to attain po­litical objectives without having to resort to military opera­tions through the mere threat of opening hostilities” [1].

The debate on this program, was very fast: Accord­ing to Michael Mac Gwire [2] (the decision to use the navy for political purposes was made during the 23rd Congress of the CPSU in 1966 [3]: The Six‑Day war brought its first appli­cation.

The aggravation of the situation in Egypt then led to a direct commitment expressed by the massive presence of Soviet soldiers on Egyptian territory. In 1971, the 24th Con­gress ratified this policy but Sadat's decision to expel these advisers – who behaved in a neocolonialist manner – jeop­ardized it starting the next year. A compromise seems to have been worked out in 1973: The Soviet commitment was thereafter confined to diplomatic and logistic support, while the dispatch of advisers was assigned to satellite countries, such as Cuba and, to a lesser degree, East Germany [4]. This re‑evaluation did not bring about a decline in the navy's activities as an instrument of foreign policy [5]. On the con­trary, in 1974, Marshal Grechko for the first time empha­sized that the mission of the Soviet armed forces was not only the historical mission of defending the socialist fa­therland but hereafter would take on new forms, including assistance to countries “fighting for their independence” [6]. As a part of this new orientation, the navy had to play an essential role. Soviet naval presence during all crises clearly points up the importance which Moscow assigns to the political functions of its fleet, which one can arrange in two categories: The political function, by the mere fact of its existence, and the active function, due to its employment as a foreign policy instrument.

 

Symbolic Function

The symbolic function is the first among the political functions of the Soviet navy, the most general and the most evident one: The presence of its ships on all oceans attests to the fact that the USSR has become a world power, capa­ble of intervening anywhere on earth. It is no longer a spec­tator, forced to stand by and watch. The first Polaris sub­marine entered the Mediterranean in April 1963. Starting on 20 May, following, the USSR demanded that the Medi­terranean be denuclearized. The next year it supported a Cingalese [sic] motion for the denuclearization of the Indian Ocean, again to hinder the deployment of the Polaris sub­marines. In 1965, during the war between India and Paki­stan, when president Johnson ordered the carrier Enter­prise to enter the Gulf of Bengal, the Kremlin had to be con­tent with assuring India of its support. In April 1967, the conference of European communist parties in Karlovy‑Variy demanded the departure of the Sixth Fleet from the Medi­terranean. These were as many manifestations of Lower­lessness: “On the one hand, a total military power, the power of the United States; on the other hand, a power con­demned to operating in a narrow space” [7]. But that was to change: In 1971, when the Enterprise came back into the Gulf of Bengal on the occasion of another war between In­dia and Pakistan, Moscow opposed it with a group of ships that had come from the Pacific. The same scenario was re­peated in 198?, when President Carter dispatched two car­rier groups into the Sea of Oman. Moscow displayed its support for Iran by dispatching two groups of missile cruis­ers to the area. The response was quite different in 1971 and 198? from 1965.

The first consequence of this expansion on the sea is the achievement of the worldwide spread of the interna­tional system. Achieved a long time ago on the diplomatic and economic levels, it now exists also on the military level: The Soviet Union has moved beyond its continental frame­work to challenge American power everywhere. A general war would be fought not only in Europe and along the Asian borders of the USSR but would spread to all oceans. And already in time of peace or in time of no war, the USSR is no longer absent from crises; it has really become a world power: “The maritime positions are, for the USSR, the in­dispensable conditions for rising from the rank of a regional power to the rank of a world power” [8].

This worldwide spread had another consequence: Parity between the United States and the Soviet Union. Too often we look at the recognition of this parity only in terms of the strategic nuclear level due to its absolutely clear con­secration, as it were, in the SALT agreements. But in real­ity, the Soviet Union obtained parity on all levels – even though this was not formalized by an accord – and it owes most of that to its navy: “In its relations with the West and especially with the United States, the USSR derives, from this naval power, which assures it of a possible presence throughout the world, an equality which the accumulation of weapons would not be enough to prove” [9]. Until the mid­dle of the 1960'3, the United States had control of the seas; this was the reign of peace American ­style and the USSR appeared only as a challenger ensconced behind his ap­proaches in the face of the ruling power. Today, “the Soviet Union has not only achieved equality in nuclear matters but, on top of the superiority of its ground forces on the Old Con­tinent, it has now added a modern fleet which keeps getting stronger year after year” [10] and which, by virtue of its mere existence, put an end to the United States control of the sea. The United States is adjusting to this new situation rather badly. The Soviets reply to their critics with an ar­gument which in the end is not without logics “If American ships are stationed permanently thousands of miles from the United States, close to Soviet borders, then the Americans always consider this as something normal. But when Soviet warships penetrate into the Mediterranean, which touches on Soviet borders, far from the United States, this is viewed as a threat without equivalent and constitutes a violation of the lawful order of things” [11].

The impact of this change was enormous in the Third World and enhanced the prestige of the USSR much more so than the SALT agreements; here is why: While the African or Asian countries do not see any missiles in the ground or at the bottom of the sea, they can find that American ships are no longer the only ones to cruise off their coasts and to put into their ports. Having become visi­ble, the USSR is becoming increasingly credible: Its aid is no longer confined to exporting Marxism‑Leninism and a technology that is unsuitable and insufficient in terms of volume; it is there to support its clients against Western pressures. “This is a complete change in the capacity of the USSR to make itself understood by the countries of the Third World in relation to the situation during the preced­ing decade, when it was agreed that, in the final analysis, the United States was able almost everywhere to impose its will” [12]. The increase in its action resources thus quite logi­cally brought about a drop in the effectiveness of the adver­sary's means. Michael Klare noted this quite clearly: “By achieving a new visibility in parts of the world which tradi­tionally were in the Western sphere of influence (to use the terms employed by Admiral Rectanus), Moscow challenged the invulnera­bility of the Western fleets and therefore their usefulness as an instrument of coercion and influence” [13]. The happy time of interven­tion in Lebanon in 1958 is over; to­day, the American task forces are neutralized by groups of Soviet surface vessels. For Hadley Bull, “the highest ex­pression of American naval ascendancy – stopping a big power on the sea during the Cuban missile crisis – could not be repeated” [14]. Michael Mac Gwire refuted this asser­tion which “overlooks the comparative capacities of both maritime forces, the vulnerable nature of all Soviet deploy­ments in remote waters, and the relative degrees of power under these circumstances” [15]. The discussion is partly based by the fact that it takes into account only the ratio of naval forces whereas the ratio of nuclear forces is also involved here. As Arnold Horelick put its “The United States as a matter of fact retains superiority on both planes and brought it to bear at the same time during the crisis: The action of one of them boosted the effectiveness of the action of the other” [16]. Today, the nuclear parity achieved by the Soviet Union is strengthened by the existence of a fleet, independ­ently of its military value and its employment conditions. These two factors are combined to restrict the American freedom of movement during crises. Due to its symbolic function, the Soviet fleet is a real force, without any rela­tion as to its potential force in case of conflict.

But, while the Soviets' becoming a sea power adds a new dimension to the confrontation with the United States, it contributes at the same time to the widening of the mar­gin of common interest. Like the United States, the Soviet Union must defend its interests as a big sea power and this leads to a modification of the discourses. In 1958, at Ge­neva, it posed as the protector of the Third World against the United States, it supported the extension of territorial waters to 12 miles and it proposed the doctrine of regional seas (the Baltic, the Black Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk) in which the rights of the non riparian states would be lim­ited [17]. Today, at the third United Nations conference on the law of the sea, it is, together with the United States, the most stubborn defender of freedom of navigation; it de­mands free passage in the straits (instead of harmless pas­sage, a more restrictive and traditionally recognized notion) and it has totally discarded the idea of regional seas, having realized in the meantime the consequences which could result from that in the Mediterranean or in the Indian Ocean. (On the other hand, the USSR has not dropped the theory of interior or historic waters which it applies in the Bay of Vladivostok and along its Arctic frontier, such as the Kara and Laptev seas and the eastern part of the Barents Sea, and it still wants to measure its territorial waters and its economic zone from the outside limit of these historical waters.) China has not failed to denounce its aspirations “for worldwide maritime hegemony” [18]. The needs of its fleet make its behavior appear pretty close to that of the classical sea powers. According to Helena Carrere d'Encausse, its “claim to represent the national interests of its allies and anti‑imperialism obviously prevent it from getting real mili­tary bases wherever that may be” [19]. But this is less and less true: This ideological attitude has yielded to a frantic search for bases in Vietnam, in Ethiopia, in Angola, in the Congo, etc. The needs of the sea power are now in the fore­ground.

One last consequence of this achievement of sea power status is the weakening of the traditional discourse in favor of naval disarmament, starting in the 1970's. The last major offensive along these lines was Brezhnev's June 1971 proposal to limit naval armaments in the Mediterra­nean and in the Indian Ocean. The negotiations, which were then opened on the Indian Ocean were motivated above all by the desire to make a gesture toward the ripar­ian countries that wanted to stop the growing militariza­tion of this region. Neither the Soviets, nor the Americans really wanted to win on that issue. Since the end of 1978, conver­sations have been interrupted and it seems doubtful that they will be resumed any time soon [20]. There seems to be, on the other hand, continued Soviet interest in a limitation on naval armaments in the Mediterranean; the 1971 proposal was repeated in 1974, by Breshnev in July in Warsaw and then by Podgorniy in September at Sofia. But, whereas the limitation in 1971 concerned all forces, in 1974 it was aimed only at ships carrying nuclear weapons, that is to say, in fact, the aircraft carriers of the Sixth Fleet, which the Sovi­ets consider as advanced strategic systems. For Moscow, naval dis­armament is no longer on the agenda; its fleet is a power instrument of the first rank.

The symbolic function is essentially passive; it suf­fices for the fleet to exist and to show itself. But its effec­tiveness is boosted when it is employed as a full‑scale in­strument of foreign policy. This active political function is called naval diplomacy.

 

Naval Diplomacy

The active use of the Soviet fleet as a support for penetration into the Third World or as an instrument of pressure during crises demonstrated that naval diplomacy is not dead, contrary to what certain strategists asserted at the start of the decade. While the American fleet is going through a certain decline in its political functions, its young Soviet rival is practicing varied forms of naval diplomacy with intensity [21], even though not always with success.

Before going into Soviet naval diplomacy, we must alert the reader to a contradiction, which we encounter fre­quently. The fleet is in the service of Soviet policy and not the other way around. The search for sea power is a means and not an end. To be sure, the acquisition of bases is one of the objectives of this policy, as witnessed, for example, by recent efforts on the part of Soviet diplomacy to get naval bases at Pointe‑Noire in the Congo and at Massawa in Ethiopia; in both cases, the insistence of the Soviets on this problem was very strong [22]. But this is only one objective among many whose precise importance within Soviet dip­lomatic ­strategic conduct is difficult to evaluate. For Stra­tegic Survey, the Soviet leaders did not hesitate to pursue policies that were capable of leading to the loss of bases acquired at high cost, regardless of whether this involved Albania in 1961, Egypt in 1972, North Yemen in 1975, or Somalia in 1977 [23]. But these examples are challenged by Helene Carrère d'Encausse who thinks that it is the al­lies of the USSR who took the initiative in this rupture; in 1973, Egypt squarely pulled out of the Soviet orbit and turned toward the United States. The Soviet Union owes it to Egypt to have been driven out of the region. The same story was repeated with Somalia which began to slip out of the Soviet orbit, the moment it had the means to do so, the moment Saudi Arabia suggested to it that it would make up for the loss of Soviet help [24]. Albania and North Yemen also broke away on their own so that there is no example that could be used in supporting the thesis advanced by Strate­gic Survey. As a matter of fact, this is not so because the interpretation proposed by Helene Carrère d'Encausse as to the rupture between Somalia and the Soviet Union must be taken with a grain of salt; starting in 1974, Moscow had made advances to the new Ethiopian regime and in 1976 it began to ship arms to it. When be expelled the Soviet mili­tary advisers and terminated the alliance, President Siad Barre was only drawing the proper conclusions from the Soviet switch [25]. There is therefore at least one case in which the Soviet government accepted the risk of losing a naval base, moreover, the most important ever installed outside its borders, in order to ally itself with a country whose po­litical interest appeared to it to be more important in the long run. In a similar manner, the assignment of the Kiev to the Arctic Fleet, and then the assignment of the Minsk to the Pacific Fleet reveals the weight of political constraints; it would have appeared quite normal, from a strategic viewpoint, to keep at least one of them in the Mediterra­nean. Their dispatch to other theaters of operations may be explained by the concern with not bothering the riparian countries through an entirely too obvious strengthening of the Eskadra at the moment Soviet diplomacy was trying to regain a foothold in the Middle East through Syria.

To this interpretation, one could add the opposite example of the Southern Kurile Islands. Previously Japa­nese, they were occupied by the Soviets in 1945. The Japa­nese quickly reclaimed them, but Moscow rejected any dis­cussion on this subject and displayed a stubborn attitude, imprisoning the Japanese fishermen who entered this area and constantly boosting its military position on the islands over the last several years [26]. The political price of this clash is extremely high because this dispute is poisoning So­viet‑Japanese relations and the deadlock resulting from this certainly helped persuade Tokyo to move closer to Bei­jing. But the strategic importance of the Southern Kurile Islands is considerable; they can block the Sea of Okhotsk and they constitute an advanced base in the immediate vi­cinity of Japan. Here we thus have a specific case where the strategic imperative prevails over all of the other political considerations.

This example is not convincing. The disproportion between the military advantage represented by the South­ern Kurile Islands and the political price which the Soviets must pay to stay there is such that it is obvious that there is another factor behind this Soviet stubbornness: “The key to this enigma is domestic; it has to do with the internal het­erogeneity of the USSR and the problem of territorial claims which hover over it on all sides; under these conditions, al­lowing a challenge to its authority on a single piece of terri­tory would be allowing challenges to the entire Soviet terri­tory. In calculating the risks and benefits deriving from the opera­tion of ceding territory to Japan, the internal risks definitely prevailed over the international benefits that might be derived from this” [27]. The military benefit, worth­while though it may seem, is only secondary.

 

Typology of Forms of Naval Diplomacy

Soviet naval diplomacy was studied very carefully by Bradford Dismukes and James Mac Connell [28]. These au­thors go back to the distinction between cooperative diplo­macy and coercitive diplomacy. The former boils down to diplomatic visits by ships or to the supply of humanitarian or technical aid, whereas in the case of the latter “the naval forces are used to threaten or to inflict violent sanctions” [29]. Thus conceived, the distinction is not very operational be­cause the diplomacy of coercion covers everything that is not based on protocol or that is not humanitarian. We will therefore pick another concept based on the nature of what the goal of naval diplomacy happens to be. Cooperative di­plomacy will be the diplomacy whose objective it is to dem­onstrate the support of the Soviet Union to allied or friendly countries, whereas coercitive diplomacy is designed to dem­onstrate the power of the USSR to its potential adversaries or to countries from which concessions are expected.


Cooperative Diplomacy

Cooperative diplomacy is directed at the countries of the Third World. The socialist countries, all of which are situated along the periphery of the USSR, are not con­cerned here, with the exception of Vietnam, Cuba, and An­gola, which are also a part of that rather ill‑defined mass which we call the Third World. As for the Western coun­tries, the only cooperative diplomacy practiced with them boils down to protocol visits. Some of them had real political value because they constitute good‑will signals addressed to the West; thus, the participation of the cruisers Sverdlov in the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953 pointed to the softening of the Kremlin after the death of Stalin; the visit of two destroyers to Boston in 1975 was a tangible manifes­tation of detente.

Courtesy visits constitute the simplest and most fre­quent form of coopera­tive diplomacy. The first Soviet mani­festation goes back to 1957 when a cruiser and a destroyer stopped off at Latakia in Syria. The impressive reception given them persuaded the Soviets to step up this kind of visit starting in the middle of the 1960's. Between 1953 and 1966, Soviet ships paid 21 visits to developed countries and 16 visits to underdeveloped countries, including five to Yugoslavia and three to Albania; the corresponding figures for the decade of 1967‑1976 are 30 and 140 [30]. The effort in­volved the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and especially the Indian Ocean which gets special attention; the success of the first visits to Madras and Bombay in March‑April 1968 persuaded the Soviets to organize a bigger cruise which finally resulted in a rather minor but permanent presence [31]. The only area beyond this penetration, the Pacific, aban­doned after the failure of the attempt to get a base in Indo­nesia during that period of time yielded only one visit to Cambodia in 1969 and another one to the Fiji Islands. But, following the conquest of Indochina by Vietnam, Southeast Asia became a busy area again, marked especially by sev­eral visits to Vietnam and an attempt at visiting several countries of Southeast Asia in 1979, which we will discuss again later.

Technical cooperation is an easy way to try to get to be on good terms with a country of the Third World under the cover of selfless aid and in that way one can also get publicity among the neighboring countries. In 1972, the USSR offered Bangladesh its services in sweeping and clearing the ports of Dacca and Chittagong which had been obstructed during the war between India and Pakistan, thus contrasting its generosity against the lack of concern on the part of the Westerners who were in no hurry to con­clude the discussions on this subject. In 1974, on the other hand, the Soviets were less skillful in clearing the Suez Ca­nal of mines; as a condition, they demanded reimbursement of the costs incurred in the form of deductions from future tolls. Sadat refused and turned to the U.S. Navy which hur­ried to accept the offer. Before the American‑Egyptian rap­prochement, Moscow realized its mistake and agreed to participate free of charge in the mine‑sweeping effort but had to be content with the region in the Strait of Gubal, at the exit of the Gulf of Suez, less worthwhile in terms of in­ternational visibility. The operation was carried out be­tween May and November but the publicity objective failed in part in spite of the dispatch of the helicopter carrier Len­ingrad, something which was difficult to justify for techni­cal reasons.

But the visits and mine‑sweeping operations are only a rather secondary aspect of Soviet naval diplomacy. Much more important are the deployments aimed at sup­porting a client state. James Mac Connell listed the differ­ent cases of intervention [32]. His classification is repeated here with some additional headings to allow for recent de­velopments and for naval diplomacy not aimed at the Third World.

 

Protection of Maritime Shipments

In both cases, the Soviet fleet escorted troop trans­ports of friendly countries; in 1973, when Moroccan troops were sent to Syria during the Yom Kippur War and during that same year when the South Yemeni troops were trans­ported to the eastern part of the country, near Dhofar. On three occasions, it protected its own lines of communication: To Syria during the Yom Kippur War in 1973; between Cuba and Angola in 1975‑1976; and between Aden and Ethiopia in November‑December 1977 [33]. These deployments were revenge for Cuba; in 1962, the U.S. Navy was only facing unarmed merchant vessels but in 1973, the 96 ships of the Eskadra barred the Sixth Fleet from contemplating a similar undertaking. In January 1976, the same scenario was repeated with an additional refinement: Soviet diplo­macy anticipated the awaited American movement which then did not take place in the end.

 

Support for Friendly Government Against Domes­tic Enemies

In the beginning, these were only publicity visits. Apart from Yemen (1967) and the Sudan (1970), which in­volved air support and not naval support, the beneficiaries were the Somali government of Siad Barre in 1969 and 1970, when his hold was still weak; the government of President Stevens in Sierra Leone in 1971; and Guinea; in the case of the latter, the visit came after an attempt to overthrow Sekou Touré in November 1970 by Portuguese mercenaries with a view to prevent a possible relapse; this situation continued for several years because of the con­tinuing difficulties of the Guinean regime. (Mac Connell adds another heading here, “support for a state threatened by outlaws”. But according to the nationality of the latter, one might include the case under the headings “support against domestic enemies” or “support against a client state of the West”. In the Guinean affair, the mercenaries were under Portuguese command (second assumption). In this same category one might include support for the Angolan MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) although it was not a legal government which persuaded Mac Connell to establish a special category for it: Support for a faction during an interregnum because the principle of intervention is the same: Supporting or estab­lishing a friendly power. The Angolan affair introduces a new dimen­sion because this is no longer a symbolic presence but an active commitment by Soviet ships which on several occa­sions supported ground operations. The same scenario was repeated in Ethiopia in 1977‑1978: The Soviet units present in Massawa used their artillery against Eritrean guerrillas besieging the port. This new type of intervention obviously did not exclude the more conventional demonstrations: On several occasions, Soviet vessels put into port at the Sey­chelles on request of President Rene who was threatened (or who thought he was threatened) by attempts at a coup d'Etat supported by South Africa.

 

Support for Client or Friendly State Against Western Client or Friendly State

The days are gone when the 1957 visit to Latakia, at the very height of tension between Turkey and Syria, was called adventurist by certain leaders in the Kremlin. From then on, the USSR did not hesitate to mani­fest its support quite loudly. The example that comes to mind quite natu­rally is the example of the support given to Egypt and to Syria against Israel between 1967 and 1973. Combined ex­ercises had taken place on several occasions between 1968 and 1972 and the presence of Soviet units in the anchorage of Port‑Siad and Alexandria between 1967 and 1971 and in Latakia in 1974 naturally kept the Israelis from bombing those ports. One might mention other cases: The visit by several units to Berbera in April 1970 when the new Somali military regime was afraid of a counter‑coup d'Etat sup­ported by Ethiopia; the visit by a group of ships to Umm‑Kasr in 1973 at the moment of intensive border inci­dents triggered by Iraq against Kuwait; the constant sup­port given to South Yemen which is still threatened by the internal rebellion and the Saudi intrigues ­as in the case of Somalia and today in the case of the Seychelles, this case could also be placed in the preceding group; in 1979, the aircraft carrier Minsk, en route to the Pacific, stopped at length in Yemeni waters and conducted exercises with a maximum of publicity; the visit of three ships to Maputo early in 1981 after a South African raid in the interior of the territory of Mozambique and support for Syria against Israel in 1977, during the Lebanese crisis, and in 1981; this latter manifestation, coming right after the Israeli raid on the Iraqi nuclear power plant in Tambuz in June and at a moment when the Lebanese crisis began to heat up again, was particularly spectacular; in addition to visits to Syrian ports, Soviet vessels conducted a series of exercises reach­ing their high point between 5 and 10 July with combined maneuvers with the Syrian navy during which Soviet ma­rines were landed on the shores of Syria. This operation was doubly symbolic: In the worst sense of the term, since the number of men involved, 800 men, was ridiculous and, in a positive sense, since this was the first time that Soviet soldiers officially moved out of the zone of the Warsaw Pact (the Afghan exception in the eyes of the Soviets does not figure here because they maintain that this particular country had joined the socialist camp following the 1978 coup d'Etat with a view to a show of force.

 

Support for Client or Friend Against Big Western Power

After 1967, every time the United States engaged in a naval demonstration to exert pressure on any country, the Soviet Union replied by sending a group charged with neu­tralizing the American task force. This kind of operation thus sprang both from cooperative diplomacy – support for a threatened country – and from coercive diplomacy – against the American fleet; we will come back to this second aspect. The beneficiaries were North Korea is 1968, with the affair of the Pueblo, and is 1969, with the affair of the EC121 aircraft downed by North Korean defenses; Syria is 1970, during the Jordanian crisis; India during its war with Pakistan is 1971; Vietnam during the mining of the port of Haiphong in 1972; Syria and Egypt on the occasion of the Yom Kippur War; once again Syria in June 1976 on the oc­casion of the Lebanese crisis; Iran in 1980 during the American hostage affair; and again Syria, in 1981, during the crisis of the SAM missiles installed in Lebanon; in view of the concentra­tion of units of the Sixth Fleet is the east­ern Mediterranean, a Soviet naval division in May was cruising off the coast of Syria. To that one might add a sup­plementary beneficiary: Libya in 1969 [illegible] on the oc­casion of the coup d'Etat of Colonel Qadhdhafi. There was reason to fear an American intervention similar to the one that had taken place in Lebanon in 1958. But Soviet move­ments turned out to be useless; the Sixth Fleet did not stir. Besides, if the Americans had wanted to intervene, they already had soldiers in place, at the big base of Wheelus Field.

 

Support for Client or Friend Against China

Thin heading is basically identical to the preceding one but the adversary here is Chinese and not Western. In June 1978, following border incidents between China and Vietnam, a group made up of two cruisers and two destroy­ers (a big high‑seas force according to Soviet criteria) en­gaged is exercises in the Strait of Bashi between Taiwan and the Philippines. In January‑February 1979, a cruiser and a destroyer appeased is the South China Sea to demon­strate Soviet support for Vietnam which China had under­taken to punish. They were joined by other units to form a combined force is March which numbered as many as 30 vessels and which continued its stay until April.

 

Support for Neutral or Even Hostile Country Against a Big Western Power

The purpose of such interventions is to accentuate the flaws is Western solidarity on the occasion of local con­flicts. The Soviet Union resorted to that three timers The first deployment came in the Mediterranean (after the break with Albania) in 1964 and was tied in with the Cyp­riot crisis; Moscow was trying to exploit the tension that prevailed at that time in relations between Turkey and the United States. In May 1973, it offered its support to Iceland during the cod war with Great Britain in the form of an exercise that was unusual because of its scope (ten surface vessels and as many submarines) although the big annual exercise in the Sea of Norway had already taken place; in July 1974, during the invasion of Cyprus by the Turkish army, the Eskadra was reinforced and a group comprising cruisers and destroyers was positioned close to Cyprus. This was a move obviously intended to back the Turks while Washington seemed to be siding with Athens.

 

Coercive Diplomacy

We must not conclude from the above that Soviet naval diplomacy aimed at the Third World only has a coop­erative purpose. It can also be coercive, is four cases.

 

Pressure on country threatening Soviet property or citizens

Here we can give two examples: A cruise was staged off Ghana in 1969 to obtain the release of the crew members of two fishing boats captured in Ghanaian waters. Usually, this affair is settled more discretely. Michael Mac Gwire ties this unusual brutality in with the diplomatic offensive aimed at Guinea; at the time when it was trying to get a foot­hold in a neighboring country, the Soviet Union could not leave its sailors in prison without arousing doubts as to the credibility of its protection [34]. More recently, a group patrolled the boundaries of Moroccan territorial waters in December 1986 and in January 1981 after the Moroccan navy bad seized two Soviet spyships that were supplying informa­tion to the Polisario Popular Front for the Libera­tion of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro on the movements of Rabat's troops.

 

Pressure on country to secure or maintain ad­vantages

Mac Connell oddly enough is not contemplating this assumption, which never­theless is the most conventional illustration of gunboat diplomacy. There is at least one ob­vious example: The moment they entered the Indian Ocean, Soviet ships patrolled around the Island of Mauritius which had just achieved independence until the island's govern­ment in August 1969 granted anchorage rights at Port‑Louis for 15 fishing boats per year. Then, thinking that this initial result was insufficient, the Soviets came back and in 1971 they obtained stopover rights for 100 fis­hing boats per year at Mahebourg. The conduct of exercises and moorings at the boundary of territorial waters in cer­tain cases can resemble this kind of coercive diplomacy; this is how we can interpret the exercise carried out by units of the Eskadra along the boundary of Egyptian territorial wa­ters is 1972 during the eviction of Soviet military advisers by Sadat. Maintaining a mooring facility in the Gulf of Sollum until June 1975 at least partly sprang fry this same intention.

 

Warning to a client or friend of the West

This is the coercive aspect of heading n°3 of coopera­tive diplomacy: Support for a client or friend against a Western client state or friend. The manifestations of sup­port for Egypt and Syria constituted as many warnings to Israel. But this may also involve related warnings, not re­garding the attitude of Western clients toward a Soviet cli­ent, but concerning their general policy toward Moscow; is January 1971, during the conference of heads of govern­ment of the Commonwealth held is Singapore, a group made up of a cruiser and a destroyer sailed through the Strait of Malacca, heading for the Indian Ocean. The de­termination to intimidate was obvious. Next, 10 years later, during the establish­ment of the Gulf Cooperation Council at Abu‑Dhabi in May 1981, consisting of all of the monarchies on the Arab side of the Persian Gulf, for the purpose of op­posing the advance of communism into the region, Soviet vessels put into port at Aden.

 

Warning to a Client or Friend of China

Here the mechanism is the same as in the preceding case. At the end of October 1980, when the Thai prime minister was on an official visit to China, the aircraft car­rier Minsk, which had been is Vietnamese waters for sev­eral weeks, sailed into the Gulf of Siam and advanced to within 170 km of the Thai naval base at Sattahip.

But the usual addressees of this coercive diplomacy are Western countries and China. This is the only form of naval diplomacy, which the Soviets address to them, with only two exceptions, as we saw. This dimension of Soviet naval diplomacy is generally eclipsed by naval diplomacy aimed at the Third World. (This was brought out vary clearly in the book by Bradford Dismukes and James Mac Connell who devote only an appendix to naval diplomacy not aimed at the Third World.) Nevertheless, the deploy­ments against the American navy or around Europe, Japan, and China generally are in line with both political and mili­tary motives. This coercive diplomacy involves five main forms.

 

Confrontation with Western Navies During Lo­cal Crises

This is the coercive aspect of support for client or friendly states. When it was practiced for the first time, Busing the Six‑Day War, this confronta­tion had an exclu­sively symbolic meaning: The USSR was asserting its pres­ence but the military potential which it put on the line was zero. Likewise, during the Pueblo affair in 1968, the 16 ships – half of which were supply vassals – deployed in the Sea of Japan were usable seriously to threaten the Ameri­can fleet made up of three aircraft carriers, three cruisers, and 26 destroyers. In 1971, during the war between India and Pakistan, the confrontation took on a different dimen­sion: This time, the Soviet groups had a real antisurface capacity and seriously threatened the American and British forces. A new step was taken 2 years later: The rise of the Eskadra enabled it simultaneously to face four American groups and above all, for the first time, the Soviet fleet can try to influence not only the behavior of the Americans but also the development of the crisis itself because it is capa­ble, simultaneously, to block the movement of American reinforcements by sea and to protect the dispatch of Soviet troops. In spits of the reinforcement of the Eskadra, the Black Sea Fleet had considerable resources (especially heli­copter carriers and Kara cruisers) which made such as op­eration possible. We know, by the way, that this was not a simple classroom assumption and that the Soviets had ac­tually contemplated intervention is case Syria should have collapsed completely. Just 2 years later, they took another step in the Angolan affair: No longer satisfied with re­sponding, the Soviet units took the initiative. Likewise, af­ter the coup in Kabul, we saw a noticeable increase in the activities of the Indian Ocean detach­ment.

We are thus witnessing here growing refinement and audacity. But Soviet naval diplomacy nevertheless in still cautious; its vessels follow the American units, they never try to interpose themselves, although the rather awkward zeal of some captains might cause incidents or even colli­sions. The Soviet fleet intervened in order to counter American deployments following the seizure of the Pueblo only when it became clear that President Johnson had no intention of launching an air attack on Korea [35] and Kim‑il‑Sung did not fail to Set annoyed over that. This was again discovered during the Iranien affair: In the face of Western determination, “not only was the Soviet fleet in the Indian Ocean not reinforced but it was moved further south, thus ruling out any chances of a possible confrontation” [36]. There vas a written basic for that in the form of the 25 May 1972 accord on the prevention of accidents at sea, signed during the SALT I summit, which forbade interfering with the move­ments of enemy vessels or taking them as targets during maneuvers. It must however be noted that Soviet good‑will has its limits and that the agree­ment's stipula­tions have not always been complied with. Soviet violations of the rules of navigation are numerous; on several occa­sions during crises, they followed Western ships around and an East Germen ship even dared try to ram a Danish unit that vas observing Warsaw Pact maneuvers off Bornholm Island in the Baltic.

 

Spatial Pressure Signifying a Warning

This kind of warning comes in case of very intensive tension. It takes the form of an exercise unusual by virtue of its date or its importance. The signal vas particularly clear in July 1968 when the Northern Fleet conducted the Sever exercise, immediately after the invasion of Czecho­slovakia, with forces never displayed before that. Similar warnings were addressed on several occasions to Japan to warn the country against an excessively strong approach to China. Advances – proposals to share the development of Siberia – ­alternated with threats. During the Okean II ex­ercise in 1975, four groups sailed around Japan, including two that sailed on Japan's main sea lanes. In June 1978, more exercises were held is the Sea of Japan on the eve of the signing of the Chinese‑Japanese treaty and Japanese authorities did not fail to denounce this gunboat diplomacy. In 1979, following the signing of the Chinese‑Japanese treaty, military installations on the Kurile Islands were reinforced and some of the Soviet navy's most beautiful ships – the Minsk, two cruisers of the Kara class, the big landing ship Ivan Rogov (in 1979, eight vessels totalling 81 450 t rejoined the Pacific Fleet and after that the Ivan Rogov returned to the Baltic) – were assigned to the Pacific Fleet whose activity level was stepped up considerably; movements in danger zones during exercises increased, in the Sea of Okhotsk, from two in 1976 to eight in 1977, 16 in 1978, and 39 is 1979 and from two in 1978 to 15 the fol­lowing year off the Kurile Islands. A further step was taken is 1981 with gunnery practice, without prior notification, is the Sea of Japan and the extension of the danger zones; all the way to the coastline, they now extend vary far into the Pacific, up to a point northeast of Midway, 2 500 km from the tip of Kamchatka. Tokyo's considerable worry over this increase shows that the signal was perfectly well under­stood.

 

Special Pressure Outside Crises

This particular case is tied to the visits by subma­rines to Cuba, between 1969 and 1975, whose interpreta­tion is difficult. Beyond the demonstra­tion of friendship to the Cuban regime, intended this time to prove, in contrast to 1962, that the USSR could really support Cuba, it may have had two coercive purposes.

A first assumption ties these visits is with strategic arms limitations. Bradford Dismukes and Abram Shulsky visualised two possibilities: The pur­pose of these visits could have been either to create bargaining chips with a view to negotiating their withdrawal against the with­drawal of the Polaris and Poseidon submarines from the Mediterranean; or, in the more general context of the SALT negotiations, they might have constituted an embryo of a forward base system likewise with a view to being used as bargaining chips for the inclusion of these systems (that is to say, the American FB‑111 and the medium‑range tactical missiles based in Europe) [37]. But, is the first case, the bar­gaining chip proposed was too weak ­and could not be essen­tially increased without risking a violent reaction from the United States – and, is the second case, the visit of a Golf sub­marine at the end of April 1972 came too late to influ­ence the outcome of the negotiations [38]. The main reason instead seams to have been the determination to challenge the 1962 accord barring the Soviets from putting offensive systems into Cuba. The operation was conducted with great subtlety, with the successive appearance of conventional attack submarines, followed by nuclear attack submarines and logistic supply vessels, and finally strategic missile submarines of the Golf class, the oldest one. The project calling for the establishment of a base is the Bay of Cien­fuegos – which was to have been the only Soviet support base is the North Atlantic – had to be abandoned, starting is 1970, in the face of the very strong American reaction. One important result had been achieved nevertheless: The United States at least implicitly recognized that visiting submarines did not constitute offensive systems prohibited wader the 1962 accord. The Caribbean thus ceased to be a zone barred to the Soviets. Only a vestige is now left over from the missile crisis – the ban on permanent installations – which can be undermined slowly through the presence of military advisers and the progressive extension of facilities granted for visiting vessels.

 

Pressure to obtain advantages

This is gunboat diplomacy applied to countries that do not belong to the Third World. This is a marginal case and we can mention only a single country thus involved, that is, Norway: In 1975, during negotiations with Oslo on the delimitation of economic zones is the Barents Sea, were deadlocked and Moscow deployed a naval group in the por­tion demanded by Norway on the occasion of a missile test. In 1978, Moscow unsuccessfully engaged in large‑scale na­val and air demonstrations around Hopes Island (in Spits­bergen) with a view to recovering the equipment of a TU‑126 spy plane that had crashed there.

Permanent Pressure

That which is customary is no longer noticed, as the saying goes. Indeed, nobody is any longer concerned with the Soviet fleet outside special environments when it en­gages in unusual deployments. But routine activi­ties are just as interesting; they reveal the major thrust of their efforts. A glance at a map inevitably suggests the idea of two encircle­ment movements.

The first one is taking shape around Europe, as re­ported by Wolfgang Nopker in 1970: “The basic doctrine of the Grand General Staff of the Red Army consists is out­flanking Europe along its maritime flanks. The decline of tension is Central Europe, where the Soviet Union is today trying to extend its control up to the point of legalizing its rights to the Elbe into an international right, automatically increased Soviet pressure against Europe's northern and southern flanks. By shifting its pressure from the relatively stable central region to the above‑mentioned flanks; Moscow thinks it has found the most effective way to get out of the deadlock which has developed in Central Europe in spite of the imbalance in conventional forces in favor of the Warsaw Pact” [39].

The two branches are in place: The southern branch, with the Eskadra which is permanently stationed is the Mediterranean, and the northern branch, with the Arctic Fleet which engages in annual exercises in the Sea of Nor­way and which is deployed against the Western Arctic Ex­press maneuvers. So far, these two branches have been un­able to link up; NATO defenses in the North Atlantic are strong and the Soviets cannot maintain a permanent pres­ence of surface vessels without bases and without air sup­port here. But pressure on Europe's flanks is already an important element which the countries concerned, espe­cially Norway, are taking very seriously. And the departure of many powerful ships, equipped with a strong survival capacity, plus the strengthening of the naval air arm by the Backfire bombers, could lead to a more intensive deploy­ment into the North Atlantic where for the time being there is no permanent surface presence.

In addition to its military dimension, this encircle­ment has a psychological objective: “If the Europeans real­ize that the Soviet navy, in spite of its heteroclite character, is able to cut maritime communications between Europe and the United States and to intervene anywhere on earth, then Europe will not fail to fall under Soviet influence ac­cording to a progressive phenomenon of Finlandization” [40]. This diagnosis is correct but incomplete. As emphasized by General Huitfeldt, this process touches not only those who would have to be aided, especially the Scandinavian countries, but can also affect the rear‑area countries: “In the United States, the feeling that these reinforce­ments could not be shipped to the zone of conflict except at a very high price in human lives and ships could influence atti­tudes and decisions whey it comes to sending those rein­forcements”[41]. For the forward countries, the danger is repre­sented by the temptation of pacifism while for the rear‑area countries there is the danger of isolationism. One must however not exaggerate the importance of this dan­ger; the rise of neutralism in Europe and the challenge to the American commitment in Europe is certain American circles have causes other than the Soviet naval presence is the Atlantic, which in medium‑range terms will remain a secondary factor from thin viewpoint for some time to come.

The second encirclement is around China. We know that the USSR tried to surround China with a buffer belt called the Asian security pact. The unification of Indochina under Vietnamese rule represented a major success for it, which it is trying to exploit by completing the encirclement by sea. The Chinese very quickly worried about that threat, as demonstrated by the swift operation leading to the con­quest of the Paracelsua Islands in 1974. The Chinese attack on Vietnam in January 1979 speeded up the deployment of Soviet forces; in March 1979, for the first time, three Soviet vessels, followed in May by a submarine, penetrated into the Vietnamese Bay of Cam‑Raah, destined to become a major piece in the encirclement setup, and long‑range re­connaissance aircraft were based on Da‑Nang starting in September. The year 1980 was marked by the visit of the aircraft carrier Minsk and by the permanent presence, starting in May, of the Echo and Charlie nuclear subma­rines in the South China Sea. The Soviet naval presence on the high seas in the Western Pacific thus grew from 6 900 ship‑days in 1979 to 10 400 the next year and 11 800 in 1981. Beijing and Tokyo did not fail to spot these rein­forcements and to be alarmed by them [42]. Japan is also the target, as shown clearly by the map of Pacific Fleet exer­cises and deployments around the island group.

Regular exercises outside periods of tension have boosted this permanent pressure. The Okean exercise in 1970 was still confined to European waters whereas Okean II, in 1975, took place on a worldwide scale. They have a triple function: Domestic political, they come just prior to the party congress; military, they make it possible to check the operational aptitudes of the fleet; end foreign, they demonstrate the power of the Soviet fleet. Their impact is enhanced by the very low level of Soviet fleet presence and activities on the high seas during normal periods which confers a spectacular character on them. Maneuvers of op­portunity may also take place when there is as opportunity to exploit disagreements between Western countries, such as support for Iceland during the cod war in 1973.

We must finally report one assumption which is not at all theoretical: Pressure against a recalcitrant socialist country. This form of naval diplomacy is very old since it was employed against Yugoslavia is 1949 and against Po­land is 1956. More recently it was used at several occasions: Against independence stirrings in Romania, the Black Sea Fleet participated in pressure exerted is August 1968 and June 1971. Its most spectacular manifestation was very recent: Between 4 and 12 September 1981, very large ma­neuvers ware hold is the Baltic with units drawn from all fleets (this is quite an achievement and shows the progress that has been made); they ended in a large‑scale landing on the coast of Lithuania near the Polish border. The warning could not have been clearer.

The decade of 1970 saw the Soviets make great pro­gress and used their fleet with flexibility for political pur­poses in highly varied situations. But the effectiveness of this naval diplomacy remains far from obvious.  

Effectiveness of Naval Diplomacy

According to Western criteria, the effectiveness of Soviet naval diplomacy appeare to be rather weak. But we must not stop at looking at the imme­diate benefits. Soviet naval diplomacy must also be contemplated on a higher level in the long run.

Cooperative diplomacy addressed to the Third World certainly facilitated Soviet undertakings but did not seem to have played a decisive role. As recalled by Eric Morris, Soviet influence in the Third World is due more to arms sales agreements – among which cessions of warships often took an important place, especially with Indonesia, Egypt, and India – than to the presence of the fleet [43]. It is neverthe­less certain that the latter, is showing the Soviet flag, greatly facilitated this policy based on armament con­tracts. Helene Carrère d'Encausse demonstrated this for the Middle tests The USSR got a foothold in 1955 through a contract in­volving the sale of Czech arms to Egypt [44]. But the visit by a cruiser…


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notes de bas de page :

(44) Hélène Carrère d'Encausse, "Soviet Policy is the Middle East, 1955‑1975”, op. cit., p. 91.

(45) James Cable, Gunboat diplomacy. Political application of limited naval forces, Chatto and Wiadus, London, 1970, p. 147.

(46) Geoffrey Jukes, “Soviet policy in the Indian Ocean”, in Mi­chael Mac Gwire, Ken Booth and John Mac Donnell, Soviet naval policy, op. cit., pp 312 ff.

(47) Acne M. Kelly, “The Soviet naval presence during the Iraq‑Kuwait border dispute”, Michael Mac Gwire, Ken Booth and John Mac Donnell, Soviet naval policy, op. cit., pp. 290‑293.


… Kuwait, it strengthened the defiance of the re­gion's countries, and it accentuated its imperialist image [45]. It furthermore seemed to have been aware of this because its behavior during the crisis ran toward moderation and because it did not exert any diplomatic pressure on Kuwait. But that was not enough to dispel the negative effect de­riving from this visit.

This negative image had a tendency to grow stronger during recent years. The USSR nevertheless tried to tone it down by displaying flexibility whenever a country broke its links with it: “Rather than rub other countries the wrong way, the USSR preferred to yield and to show therefore that one could arrive at an understanding with it and grant it facilities without having to renounce independence” [46]. Thin assertion must be takes with a bit of caution because the Soviets – as recalled by Michael Mac Gwire [47] – just the same twice incited their supporters – in Albania and in Egypt – to attempt a coup d'Etat. But they never resorted to force to maintain their positions outside the socialist camp. But that is not enough to reassure the Third World com­pletely; after all, the borders of the socialist camp can be enlarged and Afghanistan found that out for itself.

Besides, the very same countries that found the American presence to be an invasion, in the past, some­times recoil before Soviet advances. During the early 1970's, after having accepted Soviet military assistance, the government of Sri Lanka, directed by Sirimavo Banda­ranaike, took umbrage at the permanent presence of the Soviet detachment in the Indian Ocean and the strength­ening of bonds between Moscow and New Delhi after the war with Pakistan. It stopped its criticisms of the American naval presence and accepted economic and military aid from the United States. In September 1979, several coun­tries in Southeast Asia refused to receive the visit of two ships from the Pacific Fleet. Reputedly friendly govern­ments, such as those of Cape Verde, the Congo, or Mada­gascar, refused to grant bases. Even among clients who seem to be most reliable, local nationalism comes out against a presence that is resented as a manifestation of imperialism; Nasser reacted violently to the demand for bases presented by Podgorniy [48]. In 1971, Sekou Touré re­fused the Soviets an opportunity to establish a permanent facility on Tamara Island off Conakry. In December 1978, Vietnam itself reasserted its determination not to allow the USSR to use its territory as base [49]. The Soviets obtained satis­faction only from weak countries that absolutely need their aid: Egypt after the Six‑Day War, Vietnam after the Chinese invasion, Ethiopia, and Angola. But even among the latter, reluctance persists and often leads to difficulties, the moment they thick they can get out from under thin thumb; Sadat based himself on this hostility in order to throw the Soviet advisers out. Similar difficulties could arise with Ethiopia, which is practically the only country in black Africa to have had a very old tradition as a state. Even the Angolan Agosthiao Neto – although being the most extreme example of dependence – sometimes ex­pressed reservations against this symbol of colonialism; in 1977, he had to face an attempt at a coup d'Etat conducted by Nito Alves, an unconditional supporter of the Soviets. It does not seem that the Soviets were behind this coup but they certainly would not have viewed its success unfavora­bly and Neto was able to cope with this only thanks to as­sistance from Cuban troops [50].

The results of Soviet naval diplomacy toward the Third World thus are very fragile. But they only reflect the precariousness of Soviet influence; as noted by Helene Carrère d'Encausse, the deployment of Soviet sea power can improve the image of the Soviet Union with the gov­ernment concerned but Moscow most often remains power­less when it comes to “moving on from good‑neighborly rela­tions to a more effective alliance” [51]. Breshnev's blueprint for an Asian security pact was as a matter of fact directed against China and then ran into the refusal of all of the countries approached (except for Afghanistan which does not have any outlet to the sea). Libya hailed the positive role played by the Eskadra in 1969 but then rejected any visit by Soviet ships. It changed its opinion only at the end of 1981 when it had to strengthen its relations with the USSR at a moment when its petroleum revenues were dropping dangerously. This frailty can also be found in countries that are consid­ered sure clients; in spite of the supply of large quantities of modern arms and technical support, Iraq and Syria did not hesitate to oppose Moscow when their vital interests were at stake” [52]. This instability results from the rejection of alle­giance of the countries of the Third World, as well as the insufficiencies and mistakes of the Soviets [53]; they furnish only insufficient aid and they purchase almost nothing; their cooperants have a very colonialist attitude; the abrupt dropping of long‑standing allies, such as Somalia and Iraq, does not exactly create an atmosphere of confidence in the Soviets. The fleet's pres­ence is not enough to make others forget these defects and thus to give Soviet influence a solid base. But, shaky though it may be, it does exist nevertheless: Ethiopia and Angola became countries “with a socialist orientation” fol­lowing a direct Soviet commitment in which the navy played an essential role. Moreover, contrary to what is often believed, these interventions have had a rather positive effect on the image of the USSR in Africa; in Angola it stopped South Africa; in Ethiopia it prevented the country's breakup and thus saved the system of borders deriving from decolonization, which the African states had accepted. The gains are thus real and it is not the navy's fault if they are compromised by the insufficiency of Soviet economic aid or by the bad publicity deriving from the coup in Kabul. This confirms the remark made by Raymond Aron: “With military power, you cannot do everything; but without it, you cannot do anything” [54].

The results of cooperative diplomacy toward the neu­tral or even hostile countries appear to be absolutely nil. The first cod war between the United Kingdom and Iceland in 1973 was studied by Robert Weinland. The unusual level of its presence clearly indicated that the USSR was offering its support to Iceland with a goal that was not diffi­cult to guess: In return, to secure a challenge to the Ameri­can presence in Keflavik. But Weinland did not find any indications suggesting that the behavior of the two pro­tagonists could, at any moment during the crisis, have been influenced by this presence [55]. The Soviet Union thus gained nothing and this – much more so than the absence of avail­able resources or the concentration on Angola [56] – explains why it did not stir 2 years later during the second cod war. Moscow's wick in the direction toward Ankara, during the Cypriot crisis, did not ears it anything either; Turkey is still a ember of NATO and, although American bases in Turkey were temporarily closed down, responsibility for that must be placed on the embargo ordered by the United States Congress and not upon Soviet diplomacy.

Does coercive diplomacy have a more favorable im­pact? It does not seem so because, so far, we cannot mention a single example that would enable us to assert with cer­tainty or even simply with strong probability that it had any major effect on the behavior of a country, except when the latter is extremely weak and has no alliances, as in the case of Mauritius Island. Some people mention the case of Norway which always refused to have NATO troops sta­tioned on its territory. But this refusal came prior to the appearance of Soviet vessels is the Sea of Norway and is more due to the territorial proximity of the USSR. And na­val pressers on Japan, although it did worry Tokyo, did not keep that country from signing the peace treaty with China. Did it at least bring about a diminution is the effectiveness of the naval diplomacy of its adversary? Undeniably, the presence of Soviet vessels during crises does modify the behavior of the other actors. But the real impact is difficult to gauge. The hesitations and eves the contradictions of Michael Mac Gwire are highly revealing in this respect. While admitting that the introduction of Soviet vessels does complicate the task of the American staffs, he thinks that “it did not make America drop the idea of active naval inter­vention, as we saw during the Jordanian crisis is 1970, with the deployments is the Indian Ocean in 1971 and 1973, dur­ing the two Israeli‑Arab wars, and during the Vietnam war”. And he concludes: “Considering the opportunities, Soviet gains turned out to be remarkably few in number” [57]. But a little further on, in that same article, concerning the spotting of aircraft carriers and the amphibious force of the Sixth Fleet by missile boats, he thinks that “this might have helped dissuade the United States from engaging land forces in battle” [58]. But, as the author himself admitted, the explana­tion may also be found in the development of the war. Uncer­tainty remains and Soviet naval diplomacy is only one element among many others in the course that crises might take. Even if it does counter­balance the Ameri­can naval presence, the latter: effectiveness decline comes above all from other factors having to do with the disap­pearance of the colonial system and the emergence of a more complex international system in which military inter­vention by big powers can lead to positive results only if the political envi­ronment is favorable [59].

We must also take into account the negative impact of certain Soviet naval activities. The espionage, which So­viet vessels engage in while stopping off is Western military ports, is hardly discrete (one can see passenger vessels studded with antennas) and the NATO navies are espe­cially irritated by that since the Soviets very strictly limit their movements whenever they put into Soviet ports. Ma­neuvers along the boundaries of the territorial waters of European countries and especially the Scandinavian coun­tries provoke the same exasperation. The echo sometimes reaches public opinion when as unidentified submarine is caught in a fjord; the most spectacular example is evidently the Whisky submarine which on 27 October 1981 ran aground along the coast of Sweden near the Karlskrona base. The consequences of this affair were very serious for the USSR; its projects for the denuclearisation or the de­militarisation of Scandinavia lost all credibility and the pacifist movement in Sweden and Norway suffered a lasting setback. The submarine's captain had to pay a high price for his mistake; he was sentenced to 3 years in a labor camp. This affair is also blamed for the reassignment of the Soviet navy's chief of naval operations, Admiral Yegerov, but that is not certain; his new assignment as head of the very powerful DOSAAF (a volunteer organization to assist the army, air force, and navy, with 98 million members) does not really look like a demotion. (It must be noted that this is the first time a sailor got this post which points to the slow but continuous rise of the navy in the Soviet mili­tary establishment.)

The effectiveness of Soviet naval diplomacy thus ap­pears to be very feeble in terms of immediate benefits. Should we conclude from this that the bottom line is zero or eves negative? This is the thesis advocated by George Hudson. According to him, the gains the Soviets obtained with the help of their fleet are largely compensated for by the perverse effects caused by it: The most obvious result of Soviet expansion on the seas was that it provoked the con­struction of the Trident submarines, the Nimits‑class air­craft carriers, and the Diego Garcia base [60]. In summary, far from intimidating the adversary, the rise of Soviet naval strength seems to have provoked an American reaction. The anticipated benefit thus turned into the exact opposite thing; the cancellation of Okean III in 1980 might indicate that the Soviets have become aware of this.

This line of argument can be criticized on two scores. First of all, from the technical viewpoint. It boils the arms race down to a simple action­-reaction phenomenon, whereas is reality this is a very much more complicated process [61]. On the other hand, just because the Americans built a base at Diego Garcia this does not mean that they, by the same token, wiped out the affects of Soviet presence is the Indian Ocean. The threat to tanker traffic is still there and, to meet that threat, the United States had to take units from other theaters of operations, thus weakening them danger­ously. The military balance sheet is thus positive for the Soviets, on two points. And politically speaking, the USSR is asserting its presence with its allies and friends at little cost whereas the Diego Garcia base makes the Americans appear responsible for the militarization of the region.

But above all, Hudson's thesis results from a pro­found misreading of the Soviet Union's power structure, characterized by the primacy of the military. As Michel Tatu said, “the Kremlin has already lost the race for the liv­ing standard, for scientific and technological innovation which it launched under Khrushchev, its ideological and cultural attraction is on the way toward liquidation in the West, and it is seriously obstructed in the Third World. The only card it has left to play and which it can play with vigor is the card represented by the military instrument” [62]. Within that instrument, the navy is acquiring an Increasingly im­portant place because it is the only service that can be pro­jected on a worldwide scale and above all because it is the service whose political price is the least heavy; large‑scale land maneuvers of the kinds that were carried out is the Ukraine in 1967 – with 7,000 tanks crossing the Dniepr River – ­cause such concert in Western public opinion that they can produce the opposite effect in terms of the West becoming aware of the threat, thus leading to countermea­sures (although, for the past several years, this awareness seems to have had the effect of strengthening the pacifist current). The Soviets have dropped that practice, but naval maneuvers have advantageously replaced this procedure; they produce hardly any echo in public opinion. It is there­fore possible to send a message to opposing governments and general staffs without risking the opposite effect; all the rulers have to do is to draw the proper conclusions from their powerless­ness to make it clear to their own public opinion that an increased defense effort is necessary. The Okean exercises constitute the best illustration of this di­plomacy of intimidation. Okean I, in 1970, was covered with un­usual publicity by the Soviet press [63]. Just 5 years later, to be sure that the message was well understood, the Sovi­ets did not hesitate to send messages is the clear during Okean II.

This policy is all the more effective since it produces as amplifying effect among the American hawks. That be­gan is 1967 with the Six‑Day War; the Soviet fleet came out, as emphasised by Michael Mac Gwire starting in 1969, with a well‑established international reputation, is spite of the modesty of its presence, thanks to the “considerable aid given by Western commentators” [64] whereas the Soviet lead­ers had hardly expected such an impact. The Yom Kippur War gave rise to a wave of alarmism whose high point was reached with the bewildering statements made by Admiral Zumwalt in testifying before the Senate, stating that the Sixth Fleet would certainly have been destroyed by the Eskadra in case of a clash. The effect of this behavior wan disastrous; it boosted the idea of the American decline, es­pecially among countries of the Third World which were persuaded to conclude that the American umbrella was no longer reliable and that they had better come to an under­standing with the Soviet Union or at least somehow get along with it. The strategic catastrophism propo­nents, thus succeeded in doing what Soviet propaganda had been un­able to do; they are the most resolute enemies of the USSR but they are also its best propagandists. The Soviets know how to exploit them.

But they also know how to avoid going too far and exposing themselves to the opposite effect during a presi­dential campaign or a major international crisis when American public opinion becomes more sensitive to the argu­ments of the hawks. A Soviet diplomat stationed is the Seychelles declared that the new presence of fighting ships in the Indian Ocean wan a motive for the desire not to pro­vide a pretext for American reinforce­ments (this is appar­ently not quite correct because the United States decided to set up the Rapid Deployment Force). The cancellation of Okean III is 1980 might be explained in the light of this fact.

We must therefore not misjudge the effectiveness of Soviet naval diplomacy. It is not because we cannot meas­ure its influence during local crises that we should conclude that it has no influence. The simple fact is that it is placed on a more general level of the perception of Soviet power by the West. The basic purpose of Soviet naval diplomacy, as underscored by James Mac Connell, above all is to main­tain the status quo [65]. That status is certainly not static: We might look into a penetration into regions that do not clearly belong to recognized spheres of influence, especially is Africa, as pointed out by Helene Carrère d'Encausse [66] which however is followed by a withdrawal when the West­ern reaction is too strong or when the objective is too ambi­tious, as in the case of Cuba in 1970. But that is not the essential point; the thing that counts is the maintenance of world‑power status and parity with the United States. We ougt therefore above all not conclude that the military or diplomatic functions are secondary; on the contrary, the fleet is now a key element of the Soviet armed forces and an indispensable instrument is local crises (Angola and Ethio­pia would not have been possible without the navy). But, in the final analysis, it is the symbolic dimension that is the most important: Regardless of its military value and the degree of effectiveness of its naval diplomacy, the fleet is above all a means for asserting power and in that respect it bas gained a privileged place is the Soviet power structure, a place which could only grow over the next several years [67].



[1] Admiral Gorshkov cited in Jean Labayle‑Couhat, Les flottes de combat 1980, Editions maritimes et d'outre‑mer, Paris, 1980, p. 567.

[2] Michael Mac Gwire, “Soviet naval doctrine”, Centre for Foreign Policy Studies, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1978, unpublished, p. 251.

[3] The fleet had certainly been used for political purposes before 1966 but these activities developed on a very small scale. In 1947, a small naval force seized the Island of Haiyang in the Sea of Korea. A ship participated in the intimidation maneuvers against Yugoslavia in 1949; two ships were sent against Poland in 1953. In 1952, after the signing of the peace treaty between Japan and the United States, naval maneuvers were held off the Kurile Islands with very limited forces and without leaving coastal waters. In September-October 1957, during the tension between Turkey and Syria, two ships made a 10 day visit and the Black Sea Fleet conducted exercises near the coast of Turkey, but without venturing into the Mediterranean. In May June 1958, Soviet reaction to the reinforcement of the [illegible] Fleet was confined to sailing through the Danish straits with several ships from the Baltic Fleet during an exercise. Egyptian propaganda announced that the purpose of this movement was to counter the American fleet but nobody in the west took that seriously. In Cuba, in 1962, the Soviet navy once again very clearly demonstrated its inadequacies. Soviet naval diplomacy did not become really credible until the Six Day War.

[4] Michael Mac Gwire, "The overseas role of a Soviet military presence”, in Michael Mac Gwire and John Mac Donnell (eds), Soviet naval influence. Domestic and foreign dimensions, Praeger, New York, 1977, pp. 31‑48.

[5] One can only be surprised to read the following from the pen of Michael Mac Gwire who is usually better inspired: “The Soviet Union does sot seem to attach the same importance as does the West to the usefulness of military force as an instrument of foreign policy”. “The Soviet navy in the seventies”, in Michael Mac Gwire and John Mac Donnell (eds), Soviet naval influence. Domestic and foreign dimensions, op. cit., p. 642. The many examples of naval diplomacy mentioned here show that the opposite is true. This error is all the more surprising since the strengthening of the Soviet fleet's political functions was underscored on many occasions and even by Mac Gwire himself, for example, is “Changing naval operations and military intervention”, Naval War College Review, Spring 1977, p 18.

[6] Cf. Harriet Fast Scott, The armed forces of the USSR, second edition, Westviaw Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1981, p. XVIII.

[7] Helene Carrère d'Encauase, “The USSR and Africa from detente to cold war”, Politique internationals, autumn 1978, n° 1, p. 110.

[8] Helene Carrère d'Eacauase, “The USSR and Africa from detente to cold war”, article cited, p. 112.

[9] Helene Carrère d'Encausse, “The USSR and Africa from detests to cold war”, article cited, pp. 111‑112.

[10] Raymond Aron, Republique imperiale / Imperial Republic, Calmann Levy, Paris, 1972, p. 148.

[11] Professor Arbatov, director of the Institute on the United States and Canada, quoted is Roger Hamburg, “Soviet perspectives on military interven­tion”, in Ellen P. Stern, The limits of military intervention, Sage Publications, Beverly Hills, London, 1977, p. 50.

[12] Helena Carrère d'Eacausse, “The USSR and Africa – from detente to cold war”, article cited, p. 111.

[13] Michael T. Klare, “Superpower rivalry at sea”, Foreign Policy, No 1, Winter, 1975‑1976, p. 167.

[14] Hadley Bull, "Sea power and political influence," in Power at sea. I. The new environment, Adelphi Papers, n° 122, p. 7.

[15] Michael Mac Gwire, "Maritime strategy and the superpowers”, in Power at sea. II. Superpowers and navies, Adelphi Papers, n° 123, p. 18.

[16] Arnold L. Horelick, “The Cuban Missile Crisis”, in Bernard Brodie (ed), La guerre nucléaire / Nuclear War, Stock, Paris, 1965, p. 321.

[17] On the attitude of the Soviets regarding the law of the sea, cf. Elisabeth Young and Viktor Sebek, "Red seas and blue seas: Soviet uses of ocean law," Survival, November‑December 1978, pp. 255‑262.

[18] See the remarks by the Soviet and Chinese delegates at the 23 April 1976 conference, published in Ernest Labrousse, “The Law of the Sea‑­Economic and Strategic Problems”, Cahiers de la Fondation pour les études de défense nationale, Paris, 1977, pp. 139‑142.

[19] Helens Carrère d'Encausse, “The USSR and Africa – from Detente to cold war”, article cited.

[20] For these negotiations, cf. Henri Labrousse, "Strategic Problems”, Annuaire des pays de 1'Ocean Indien 1979 / Yearbook of the Countries of the Indian Ocean.

[21] While the political role of the U.S. Navy seemed to decline at the same time. This reversal was noted starting during the early 1970's. See, for example, Andrew Pierre, “America down, Russia up: the changing political sole of military power”, Foreign Policy, Autumn 1971.

[22] Cf. Le Monde, 14 May 1981, for the Congo and, for Ethiopia, “The United States and the Horn of Africa – a new policy”, Défense nationale, June 1981, pp. 105‑106.

[23] International Institute of Strategic Studies, The 1979 World Strategic Situation, Berger-Levrault, Paris, 1980, p. 56.

[24] Helene Carrère d'Encausse, “Soviet Penetration into the Middle East”, in The Communist System – a World is Expansion, EHESS In conference, under the direction of Pierre Kende, Dominique Moisi, and Illios Yannakakis, collection Travaux et recherches de l'IFRI / LIFRI Works and Research, Economica, Paris, 1982, pp. 195-196.

[25] See also Robert O. Freedman, “The Soviet Reaction to the Camp David Accords”, The Soviet Union in International Relations, conference of the comparative political analysis center, published by Francis Conte and Jean‑Louis Martres, Economica Paris, 1982, p. 472.

[26] On the Kuriles affair, see also David Rees, “Japan's northern territories”, Asia Pacific Community, Winter 1980, n° 7.

[27] Helene Carrère d'Encauase, “Moscow's Targets and Possibilities in Asia”, Défense nationale, November 1979, p 23. This demonstration is convincing but must nevertheless be looked at closely; until 1973, the Soviets seemed to have been thinking of the return of Shikotan and the Habomai Islands, at the southern tip of the Kuriles, which had previously bees connected with Hokkaido. See also the above‑mentioned article by David Ross, “Japan's northern territories”. The abrupt change is attitude after that date is also partly due to a miscalculation; the Soviets quite wrongly believed that a stubborn attitude, supported by military pressure, would be the best way to prevent Tokyo from continuing its approach to Beijing. But today, now that the mistake has become quite flagrant, the USSR can no longer go back without risking the flood described by Hélène Carrère d'Encausse.

[28] Bradford Diamukes and James Mac Connell, Soviet naval diplomacy, Pergamon Press, New York, 1979. This work as a matter of fact studies only naval diplomacy aimed at the Third World between 1967 and 1976.

[29] Bradford Dismukes and James Mac Connell, Soviet naval diplomacy, op. cit., p. XIII.

[30] According to Charles C. Petersea, "Showing the flag," in Bradford Dikmudes and James Mac Connell, Soviet naval diplomacy, op. cit., pp. 89‑90. Anne M. Kelly estimates that 80% of the visits are in keeping with opera­tional seeds while the remaining 20% have political objectives. Anne M. Kelly, “Port visits and the internationalist mission of the Soviet navy”, in Michael Mac Gwire and John Mac Donnell (eds), Soviet naval influence. Domestic and foreign dimensions, op. cit., p. 514.

[31] Michael Mac Gwire, “The evolution of Soviet naval policy 1960‑1974”, Michael Mac Gwire, Ken Booth and John Mac Donnell (ads), Soviet naval policy. Objectives and constraints, Praeger, New York, 1975, p. 527.

[32] James Mac Connell, “The rules of game”, chapter 7, in the above-­mentioned book by Bradford Dismukes and James Mac Connell, Soviet naval diplomacy, pp. 240‑280.

[33] Contrary to what Eric Morris says, The Soviet navy. Myth and reality, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1977, most of the supplies and equip­ment were shipped by sea and not by the airlift.

[34] Michael Mac Gwire, “The evolution of Soviet naval policy 1960‑1974”, article cited, p. 529.

[35] Stephen S. Kaplan, Diplomacy of power. Soviet armed forces as a political instrument, Brookings, Washington, 1981, p. 680.

[36] Michel Tatu, "East‑West – Managing the Tensions," Politique étrangère / Foreign Policy, n°2, 1981, p. 294.

[37] Bradford Dismukes and Abram N. Shulsky, “Submarine deployments to Cuba”, in Bradford Dismukes and James Mac Connell, Soviet naval diplomacy, op. cit., pp. 354‑355.

[38] Barry M. Blechman and Stephanie S. Levinson “Soviet submarine visits to Cuba”, in Michael Mac Gwire and John Mac Donnell (eds), Soviet naval influence. Domestic and foreign dimensions, op. cit., p. 434.

[39] Wolfgang Hopker, “Soviet Maritime Strategy”, Nouvelles de 1'OTAN / NATO News, 1970.

[40] Anonymous author, cited is Jean Labayle‑Couhat, “The Soviet and American Navies”, Nouvelle revue maritime / New Maritime Review, February, 1980, p. 43.

[41] Tonne Huitfeldt, “The maritime environment is the North Atlantic”, Power at sea. III., Adelphi Papers, n°123, p. 20.

[42] Cf. Claude Delmas, “From Vladivostok to Diego Garcia – Tensions in Asian Waters”, Politique internationale, n°5, p. 187.

[43] Eric Morris, The Soviet navy: myth and reality, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1977, p. 83. Sukarno's Indonesia had received one Sverdlov cruiser (today stricken from the register), two Whisky submarines and light vessels. India acquired three Kashin destroyers, eight Foxtrot submarines, and 12 Petya frigates, as well as many light vessels. Nasser's Egypt received 12 Romeo and Whisky submarines, four Skory destroyers, and light vessels. One might also mention here Algeria which purchased three corvettes in 1980; Libya to which four Foxtrot had been delivered and which might soon receive corvettes. Cuba has [illegible] Foxtrot, patrol craft, and picket boats.

[44] Hélène Carrère d'Encausse, “Soviet Policy is the Middle East, 1955‑1975”, Cahiers de la Fondation nationale des sciences politiques, Paris, 1975, pp. 29‑32.

[45] In the very general sense, selected by Raymond Aron in Paix et guerres entre les nations / Peace and War Between Nations, Calmann‑Levy, Paris, 1966, “Policy aimed at the formation of an empire”.

[46] Hélène Carrère d'Encausse, “Soviet Policy is the Middle East, 1955‑1975”, Cahiers de la Fondation nationale des sciences politiques, Paris, 1975, pp. 29‑32., “The USSR and Africa – from detente to cold was”, article cited, p. 113.

[47] Michael Mac Gwire, “The rationale for the development of Soviet sea power”, US Naval Institute Proceedings, May 1960, p. 172. Three times today because it seems certain that the USSR tried to engineer the over­throw of the Somali regime of Siad Barre after his break in 1977.

[48] Cf. Ken Booth, Navies and foreign policy, Csoom Helm, London, 1977, p. 38.

[49] Philippe Leymarie, Ocean Indien nouveau coeur du monde  / The Indian Ocean as the New Heart of the World, Karthala, Paris, 1981, p. 148.

[50] Cf. Arthur J. Kleinghoffer, “Soviet policy towards Africa: impact of the Angolan war”, W. Raymond Duncan, Soviet policy is the Third World, Pergamon, New York, 1980, p. 208.

[51] Hélène Carrère d'Encausse, “Soviet Policy is the Middle East, 1955‑1975”, Cahiers de la Fondation nationale des sciences politiques, Paris, 1975, pp. 29‑32., “The Soviets in Afghanistan – a Now Cuba”, Politique iaternationale, Winter 1979‑1980, n°6, p. 24.

[52] Roger F. Pajak, “Soviet arms transfers as an instrument of influence”, Survival, July‑August 1981, pp. 171‑172.

[53] See also the excellent analysis by Daniel Pineye, “The limits of the Soviet approach to the Third World”, in “The Poorest Countries – What Kind of Cooperation for What Kind of Development?” under the direction of Gabriel Mignot, collection entitled Travaux et recherches de 1'IFRI, Paris, 1981, pp. 169‑186.

[54] During a conference at the U.S. Naval Institute is 1972.

[55] Robert G. Weinland, “”The state and future of Soviet navy is the North Atlantic”, in Christoph Bertram and Johan J. Holst, New Strategic factors is the North Atlantic, Oslo, 1977, pp. 69‑70.

[56] Reasons given by Bradford Diamukes and Abram Shulsky, “Non‑Third World cases of Soviet naval diplomacy”, in Bradford Dismukes and James Mac Connell (eds), Soviet naval diplomacy, op, cit., p. 356.

[57] Michael Mac Gwire, “Changing naval operations and military interventions”, Naval War College Review, printemps 1977, p. 11.

[58] Michael Mac Gwire, “Changing naval operations and military interventions”, article p.19.

[59] Michael Mac Gwire, Changing naval operations and military interventions article p.4.

[60] George E. Hudson, "Soviet naval doctrine and Soviet politics 1953‑197”, World Politics, 1976, XXIX, n°1, pp. 111‑113.

[61] See Note 12 is the introduction.

[62] Michel Tatu, “East‑West: Managing the Tensions”, article cited, pp. 291‑292.

[63] Charles C. Peterson, “Showing the flag”, article p. 103.

[64] Michael Mac Gwire, Soviet naval development: capability and context, Praeger, New York, 1973, introduction, p. 3.

[65] James Mac Connell “The rules of the game”, article p. 276.

[66] Hélène Carrère d'Encausse, “Soviet Policy is the Middle East, 1955‑1975”, Cahiers de la Fondation nationale des sciences politiques, Paris, 1975, pp. 29‑32., "The USSR and Africa – from detente to cold war," article cited, pp. 116‑117.

[67] George E. Hudson, (“Soviet naval doctrine and Soviet politics 1953­1976”, article cited, p. 113) said in 1975 that the golden age of the Soviet navy was coming to an end. At the time at which he was writing, the slowdown observed in naval shipbuilding did support his idea. But after that, shipbuilding activities picked up again at a steady rate. And, as noted by Michael Mac Gwire (“A new‑trend in Soviet naval develop­ment”, Naval War College Review, July‑August 1980, p. 3), “the new classes of surface vessels, which are beginning to be delivered to the Soviet navy at the beginning of the 1980's, show the strong increase in money allocations for naval shipbuilding”. In 1981 we certainly did note a slight decline in these allocations but it would be unwise to draw dis­quieting conclusions from that as regards the navy's future. It is probable that this was only a pause after the massive effort of recent years.

 

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