The Cold War & the Third World

The Cold War & the Third World

The Cold War is demonstrating greater longevity as an idea than as a political fact. Despite radical changes in the landscape of international politics, it remains a seductively comfortable concept that dominates both learned and popular discourse. The belief persists that the struggle goes on, though in a muted form and with little threat of a nuclear showdown, to control the political destiny of the world. Persons of otherwise diverse opinions and ideological leanings share the convention of seeing all international events through the optic of an East-West confrontation universal in its proportions. Yet if anything definite has been settled by the contest it is that neither side can win the war for “the hearts and minds” of mankind (the only war that the balance of terror permits) . For all the competition for the allegiance of the developing world, the political future of the new nations is largely beyond the control and the struggle of the Great Powers and marginal to their interests. In support of this contention, I offer four propositions intended to summarize a “revisionist” view of the contemporary Cold War.

1. Neither major Communist power can control the location, timing, or ultimate success of a revolutionary nationalist movement (i.e., war of national liberation) . Guerrilla insurrections, espousing some variety of Communist ideology, are not characteristically plotted from without and instigated by foreign elements. Wherever such movements have achieved a modicum of success they have been undertaken by groups indigenous to the country of operation. In Vietnam, the Philippines, Cuba, and in China a Communist-inspired leadership has sought to cultivate newly evoked nationalist sentiments and to link them to popular social discontents to create a revolutionary movement on a mass base. In each of these cases the leadership has been local, the organization largely independent of external forces, and the fighting forces have been nearly self-reliant in terms of arms and munitions (in Vietnam large-scale Soviet and Chinese material aid was required only after the introduction of American troops had altered the character of the war). It is the foremost principle of revolutionary guerrilla warfare that the popular forces must mobilize mass support, tapping it for manpower and supplies. They must also distinguish themselves carefully from the alien forces, real or doctrinally presumed, who together with “reactionary” local elements are stigmatized as enemies of national self-realization. Chances for success of an insurrection undertaken along these lines is in inverse proportion to the existing regime’s ability to satisfy nationalist aspirations, meet social and economic grievances, and assert its administrative control over the country.

Certainly, the organizational acumen of the carefully conceived and rigorously trained political apparatus usually, but not always, ...

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