Letter from Baku

Soviet Azerbaijan in the 1980s

by Fred Halliday , Maxine Molyneux
published in MER138

Baku, the capital of Soviet Azerbaijan, lying on the west coast of the Caspian, embodies many suggestive contrasts with other areas of the Soviet Union and with the neighboring countries of Iran and Turkey. On the esplanade running along the seashore, restaurants sell kebabs, local pancakes (kutab) and Azerbaijani sweets; there are the colored lights, smells and sounds of outdoor eating places further south. The mustachioed young men, the gestures of greeting, the pace of the crowd suggest other Middle Eastern cities. In the icheri sheher, the inner city, glass-paned balconies lean over the first floors of the houses, as they do in Turkey. Three centuries of Persian rule have also left their mark on the literature and art of this region.

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Low-Intensity Warfare

Key Strategy for the Third World Theater

by Jochen Hippler
published in MER144

The US Navy calls it “violent peace.” One of its foremost academic boosters says it means “to fight without appearing to fight.” They are talking about low-intensity conflict. This is the term the US government uses to describe a strategy of fighting small, relatively cheap wars. Few US troops are involved, so there are few American casualties and there is no need for a draft. The US people may not even be aware of -- let alone oppose -- US involvement. The goal is to destabilize or overthrow “undesirable” Third World governments or to underpin the stability of “friendly” governments. As Col. John D.

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Nuclear Summits and the Middle East

by Mohamed Sid-Ahmed
published in MER151

To what extent can agreements on nuclear disarmament between the superpowers contribute to the reduction of tensions in regional conflicts, particularly in the Middle East?

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Reagan's Iran

Factions Behind US Policy in the Gulf

by Eric Hooglund
published in MER151

Despite its reputation for having inflexible ideological positions on all foreign policy issues, the Reagan administration actually came to office in January 1981 without a coherent policy for dealing with Iran. At first the new administration was content to let Iran fade from the spotlight of national media attention that it had held during the last 14 months of the Carter administration. The hostage crisis had been resolved, fatefully on the very day Reagan was inaugurated. The administration contributed rhetorically to the Iran-bashing mood of the country, but since Iraq still seemed to have the upper hand in the war that it had begun a few months earlier in September 1980, there was a general perception that Iran was contained and could be ignored.

Soviet Perceptions of Iraq

by Roderic Pitty
published in MER151

From the Soviet point of view, Iraq under the Baath Party has been a troubling enigma, in terms of its place in the Third World generally and its political position in Middle East diplomacy. In the first respect, Iraq during the 1970s did not manage to consolidate itself as one of the USSR’s dependable allies, which official Soviet parlance refers to as “states of socialist orientation.” Most Soviet scholars sooner or later reached the conclusion that Iraq has really been on the capitalist path of development, although neither Moscow nor Baghdad could state this openly.

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Moscow's Crisis Management

The Case of South Yemen

by Fred Halliday
published in MER151

In January 1986, a major crisis broke out within the leadership of the Yemeni Socialist Party, the ruling party in the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. In two weeks of fighting many thousands of people lost their lives, and afterward between 30,000 and 70,000 fled to neighboring North Yemen.

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The Middle East and Soviet Military Strategy

by Michael MccGuire
published in MER151

The Middle East, the Persian Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean are of particular strategic concern to Moscow because of their proximity to the Soviet Union. In addition, the Soviets view the Middle East in the second half of the 20th century as akin to the Balkans at the turn of the century: they consider the area to be the most likely source of a world war. Since 1979, moreover, the Soviets have confronted the concrete possibility of a major military conflict with the United States in the area north of the Persian Gulf. This prospect has brought the dangers of political turbulence in the Middle East into sharper focus, and altered Soviet perceptions of the immediate strategic significance of various countries in the Middle East.

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North-South vs. East-West

The Shifting Focus of US Military Power

by Michael Klare
published in MER151

The new US-Soviet agreement banning intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) in Europe appears to signal a new period of dialogue and cooperation between the two superpowers. It seems that the intense hostilities of the early Reagan era have given way to a more relaxed and constructive relationship between Washington and Moscow, with leaders of both countries calling for negotiated solutions to a wide range of previously divisive issues.

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The Great Powers and the Middle East

by Fred Halliday
published in MER151

The December 1987 Reagan-Gorbachev summit raised once again the issue of linkage between Third World conflicts and East-West relations. Two broad questions are involved. First, how does the nuclear arms race intersect with social and political upheaval in the Third World? The second question involves the character of the East-West conflict as it affects the Third World, and the degree to which great power involvement can cause, exacerbate or potentially resolve conflicts in Asia, Africa and Latin America. A central maxim of much recent writing on East-West relations holds that the nuclear arms race is a means of regulating Third World conflict and impeding escalation to the point of war between the outside powers.

From the Editors

by The Editors
published in MER151

The adversarial relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union, the two great powers of this era, is key to understanding Washington’s and Moscow’s policies in the Middle East. In the Persian Gulf, for instance, Washington’s secret arms sales to Iran and subsequent naval buildup were both prompted by the Reagan administration’s fear of Soviet political advances in the region. And Washington’s strategic interest in the Middle East goes beyond oil and markets, as successive administrations have used war and turmoil there to construct a base structure capable of supporting US military operations in and around the southern part of the Soviet Union.