A Mounting Soviet Threat to the Northern Tier

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A Mounting Soviet Threat to the Northern Tier

July 1, 1983 23 min read Download Report
Senior Research Fellow, The Heritage Foundation
James Phillips is a senior research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at The Heritage Foundation.

(Archived document, may contain errors)

274 July 1, 1983 A MOUNTING SOVIET THR EAT TO THE NORTHERN TIER INTRODUCTION The.Northern'Tier, thrust into the geopolitical limelight in 1979 by the Iranian revolution and the So.viet invasion of Afghan istan, is likely to remain a volatile source of tension between the superpowers for years t o come. This strategic swath of ter ritory in West Asia--comprising Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan-is the chief barrier shielding the vital oilfields of the Persian Gulf from direct Soviet pressure. For several centuries it served as a buffer zone between the Russian and British empires in Asia.

During the Cold War, it became an integral part of America's con tainment policy-a cordon sanitaire blocking Soviet expansion to the south for over three decades. Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan I alarmed by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalini s territorial demands after World War 11, sought American support to deter Soviet ag gression In 1955 the three states, together with Iraq and the United Kingdom, formed the'Baghdad Pact, an alliance that was renamed the Central Treaty Org a nization (CENTO in 1959 after the Iraqi revolution led Baghdad to withdraw through intimidation, Moscow persistently attempted to undermine it. Harsh propaganda attacks on the local regimes were replaced by peaceful overtures; military threats gave way to economic blandishments. Soviet influence was greatly enhanced by chronic friction in America's bilateral relations with Turkey and Pakistan.

Both powers resented what they perceived to be Washington's insen volving their interests in Cyprus and Kashmir. B y 1979, when the Iranian revolution sounded the death knell for CENTO, American relations with Turkey and Pakistan had deteriorated to an alarming degree Unable to prevent the formation of the Northern Tier alliance sitivity and unreliability in respondin g to regional crises in I 2 I Although Washington has worked hard in recent years to repair its ties to these strategic nations, the prevailing geopolitical trends in the region remain disquieting. Iran, once a pro-Western bulwark restraining Soviet and ra d ical Arab adventurism, has be come a virulently anti-Western revolutionary state bent on export ing its explosive Islamic ideology--and hence instability--to its Gulf neighb0rs.l Turkey, beset by crippling economic problems narrowly averted a civil war in 1980 and faces the delicate task of transferring power from military to civilian hands this fall.

Pakistan, once Americats itmost allied allyft in Asia, has drifted into nonalignment, mistrusts the U.S and is seeking to cope with the threat of Soviet troo ps installed on its doorstep in Afghanistan without relying excessively on the United States.2 The one formerly nonaligned Southwest Asian nation--Afghanistan fell under Soviet influence in April 1978 and under Soviet military occupation in December 1979.

Afghanistan is a pivotal geopolitical event that threatens the internal and external security of both Pakistan and Iran.3 Northern Tier. Soviet goals are to erode Western influence; dis solve security ties with the U.S. and replace them with a Pax Sovieti ca; detach Northern Tier countries from the Western camp and draw them into the Soviet satellite empire; encircle China develop a land-bridge to the Persian Gulf; gain assured access to Persian Gulf oil for its oil-thirsty satellites, if not for itself an d position itself to become the arbiter of Persian Gulf oilflows.

By transforming the Northern Tier into a pro-Soviet ItSouthern Tier,"

Moscow would also consolidate its control over Afghanistan and insulate its fast-growing Muslim population from anti-co mmunist Islamic ideology The Soviet seizure of Moscow could harvest an enormous geopolitical bounty in the The West'has a'vital strategic stake in maintaining the in Soviet dependence and stability of the Northern Tier countries domination of the Northern Tier, particularly Iran, would be tantamount to Soviet domination of the Persian Gulf--the center of gravity of world oil production. Once astride the Gulf, the Soviets would be able to deny oil to the West by means short of war. This would give Moscow th e leverage to weaken the Western alliance by prying energy-poor European and Far Eastern allies away from the United States. In the long run, the collapse of CENT0 could prove to be the first step leading to the dissolution of NATO See James Phillips, "The Iranian Revolution: Long Term Implications I The Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 89, June 15, 1979.

See James Phillips, "Pakistan: The Rising 'Soviet Threat and Declining U.S. Credibility The Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 122, June 4 1980 See James Phillips The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan The Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 108, January 9 , 1980. 3 THE RUSSIAN DRIVE TO THE SOUTH Long before the Bolshevik revolution or the discovery of oil in the Middle East, Russia was pushing its frontiers southward.

For several centuries, successive Tsars persistently expanded the Russian empire at the ex pense of the crumbling Persian and Ottoman empires. Russia seized Georgia, parts of Armenia and of Azerbaijan from.its weak southern neighbors in the early part of the 19th century. It gained hegemony over northern Iran by the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813 a n d attempted.to make further inroads in the Ottoman Empire before it was thwarted by an Anglo-French army in the Crimean War (1853-1860). Rebuffed in Turkey, Russia turned its attention to Central Asia, mounted a series of military expe ditions, and annexe d territories. Prince Alexander Gorchakov Tsar Alexander 11's minister of foreign affairs from the late 1850s to the late 1870s, argued that the need for secure frontiers dictated further southern expansion and warned that Itthe greatest difficulty is know ing when to stop.f14 Russia absorbed the Central Asian Muslim Khanates of Khiva, Bokhara, and Samarkand, advancing to the borders of Iran and Afghanistan by the 1880s.

The Bolshevik revolution added ideological fervor to the Soviet drive south. Communist d octrine held that the capitalist world could be decisively defeated by depriving it of its !Ire servesIf--Europe1 s colonial empires. Leon Trotsky wrote that !'The road to Paris and London leads through the towns of Afghanistan the Punjab and Bengal.II5 C o mmunist theoreticians speculated that a revolution in Persia might become Whe key to revolution in the whole East.Ilg In 1920, the Red Army invaded Iran's Caspian Sea coast. of the Red Army. Soviet troops were withdrawn in late 1921, only when the Kremlin extracted the one-sided "Treaty of Friendship from Iran. Article VI of the 1921 treaty gives Moscow the right to intervene if Iran is occupied by a third party or if Iranian territory is used as a base for IIanti-Soviet aggression.Il Al though a subsequen t exchange of letters specified that Article VI referred only to anti-Bolshevik Russian forces, the Soviets have constantly tried to widen the interpretation of the treaty to give themselves a pretext for intervention as well as to restrict the military ac t ivities of any foreign power in Iran has unilaterally abrogated the treaty, but Moscow insists that it remains in force A Soviet Republic of Gilan was set up under the protection Teheran Quoted in Arthur Swinton, Northwest Frontier: People and Events, 183 9-1947 London: Hutchinson, 1967 p. 142 the Direction of the Persian Gulf. The Soviet Union and the Persian Gulf (London: Frank Cass, 1977 p. 29.

Alvin Rubinstein, Soviet Policy Toward Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan (New Jan Mayer, ed The Trotsky Papers 1912-1.922, Vol. 1 (London, 1964 p. 625.

A. Yodfat and M. Abir, In the Direction of the Persian Gulf. The Soviet Union and the Persian Gulf (London: Frank Cass, 1977 p. 29 solicy Toward Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan (New York: Praeeer. 1982 D. 61. 182 D. 61 4 I n 1921, Moscow also signed treaties of friendship with Turkey and Afghanistan, which ushered in a ''period of armed truce" along the Soviet Union's southern borders.8 Moscow was preoccupied with consolidating the gains of the'revolution and later with cou ntering the growing threat of Nazi Germany.

Soviet-Nazi cooperation, marked by the nonaggression pact, Foreign Minister V. M. Molotov signed a secret 1940 protocol pledging that The area south of Batum and Baku in the general direction of the Persian Gulf is...the center of the aspirations of the Soviet Union If 9 Then, during the period of In August 1941, Moscow invoked the 1921 Treaty of Friendship with Iran to justify occupying the northern half of the country while the British occupied the southern hal f vention was aimed at keeping German influence out of Iran and maintaining a warm-water supply line for the transport of sorely needed military hardware from the Western powers to the Soviet Union. Both powers pledged to evacuate their forces from Iran si x months after the end of the war. The Soviet Union, however failed to honor its obligations and installed pro-Soviet regimes in territories under its control. In December 1945, the Tudeh Iranian Communist Party) established the "Autonomous Republic of Aze r baijan If and in January 1946, the pro-Soviet Democratic Party of Kurdistan proclaimed Kurdish autonomy take advantage of postwar British weakness by establishing domina tion over Iran. He backed off only when confronted,by strong American diplomatic resi s tance The joint inter Stalin was trying to THE SOVIET THREAT TO TTJRKEY Turks have fought Russians in fourteen wars over the last four centuries, a rate of almost one war per generation. At the height of the Ottoman Empire, Turkish rule extended into Sout h ern Russia, the Balkans, and the Caucasus. In the 18th century, the tide turned against the Turks, and the Russians began their re lentless southern expansion. In the 19th century, the so-called Eastern Question, the problem of how the territories of the e n feebled Ottoman Empire would be carved up by rival empires, became a major issue in European politics. The British, determined to prevent Russia's securing a Mediterranean naval base and threaten ing their communications to India, fought a century-long holding action against Russian encroachments.

The Bolshevik revolution initially eased Russian pressures on Turkey. The Soviets and the Turks shared a common desire to George Lenczowski, Soviet Advances in the Middle East (Washington, D.C American Enterprise Institute, 1972 p. 25.

Raymond Sontag and James Beddie, Nazi-Soviet Relations 1939-1941 Docu ments from the Archives of the German Foreign Office (Washington, D.C Department of State, 1948), p. 259. 5 revise the status quo established at the Treaty of Versailles, a common suspicion of the Western powers, and a common interest in dismantling the newly proclaimed Republic of Armenia.

Treaty of Friendship between the two revolutionary regimes was the first major international treaty for each. The Soviets, eager to wipe the slate clean and cultivate Ataturk's regime, returned the provinces of Kars and Ardahan, which Russia had annexed in 1878 The'1921 Emboldened by its new position of strength after World War 11 Moscow in 1945 demanded the return of Kars a n d Ardahan, the estab lishment of Soviet bases on the Bosporous, the revision itl its favor of the 1936 Montreux Straits Convention, which regulated the passage of warships through the Dardanelles, and the revision of the Thracian boundary in Bulgaria's fa vor. When Turkey refused Stalin unleased a vitriolic propaganda campaign against the Turks and massed troops on. the border.1 As it had in the 19th century Turkey turned to the West for protection against Russia.

United States responded by dispatching a na val force to the eastern Mediterranean in support of the Turks, and in March 1947 President Truman asked Congress for the means to safeguard Turkey and Greece as well as other states threatened by international Communism. This IfTruman Doctrine" signaled that the United States was assuming Britain's historical role of opposing Russian expan sion in.the Northern Tier The Turkish-Soviet relations remained frigid throughout the 1950s.

Turkey sent troops to Korea to oppose communist aggression, joined NATO in 1951, joined the Baghdad Pact in 1955, and signed a mutual security agreement with the U.S in 19

59. Turkish-Soviet rela tions improvea gradually in the 1960s and 1970s because llM had learned that it could be more effective with a smile rather than a sna rl.If1l The Soviets wooed Turkey with steadily increas ing amounts of economic aid and tried to exploit tensions between Ankara and Washington.

Frictions in Turkish-American relations first surfaced in 1963, when President John Kennedy ordered U.S. Jupite r missiles withdrawn from Turkey without fully consulting the Turkish govern ment. Ankara had viewed the missiles as an important demonstra tion of Washington's commitment to Turkish independence this action came only three months after the Cuban crisis, t he Turks suspected a superpower deal at the expense of Turkish security Because The 1964 Cyprus crisis jolted Ankara into a far more serious reassessment of its heavy dependence on the United States. In June 1964, President Lyndon Johnson sent a stiff not e to the Turks warning them not to intervene in Cyprus and hinting that NATO lo Lenczowski, op. cit p. 46 l1 Rubinstein, op. cit p. 48. 6 would not be obligated to come to Turkey's defense if its action triggered a Soviet attack on Turkey Washington's seem ing insensi.tivity to their regional interests and to Turkish'domestic political repercussions.

Turkish-American relations hit their nadir after the 1974 Turkish occupation of Cyprus. The U.S. Congress terminated mili tary aid to Turkey in February 1975 in an effort to'pressure Turkey to withdraw. Ankara retaliated by closing U.S. military installat ions in Turkey.

Spotting an opening, the Soviets quickly stepped in. They expressed ulunderstandingll for Turkey's position on Cyprus, in contrast to Washington, and proffered a large package of economic credits to off-set Turkey's loss of American aid 197 5, Soviet President Alexei Kosygin had visited Turkey and signed a joint communiqu6 stating that the two countries were working on a "document on friendly relations and cooperation.I' In July 1976 the Turkish government very loosely interpreted the Montre u x Con vention by designating the Soviet aircraft carrier Kiev as an anti-submarine cruiser,Il thus making it the first carrier to transit that strategic waterway Ithe Kremlin couldn't have done it without help from the U.S Congress. Ill2 The Turks were sh o cked by By the end of Observed one Turkish diplomat Turkish-Soviet relations reached a postwar high in the late 1970s. Since then, however, they have been strained by 1 Ankara's growing suspicion that Moscow covertly backed leftist terrorists in the murde rous civil strife of 1977-1980 2) im proved Turkish-American relations; and 3) the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Turkish suspicions about links between Moscow and leftist Turkish terrorists have been fueled by the vast amounts of Soviet made weaponry cap tured in terrorist safehouses;13 the interception of arms shipments from Bulgaria;14 the smuggling of arms into Turkey from two other Soviet client states, Syria and 1raq;lS and the training and logistical support that some terrorist groups received from pro-Soviet elements of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PL0).ls Soviet links to Turkish terrorism had ear lier been confirmed by a KGB defector in the early 197Os.l7 l2 l3 l4 Ibid p. 223 l5 Rubinstein, op. cit p. 47.

Claire Sterling, The Terror Network New York: Berkley, 1981 p. 221 Richal.d Staar, ed Yearbook on International Communist Affairs 1980 Stanford, Calif Hoover Institution, 1980 p 2

16. See also Paul Henze The Long Effort to Destabilize Turkey Wall Street Journal October 7, 1981.

The Kurdish Workers' Party and the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) have extensive links with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP Sterling, op. cit p. 2

26. See also Foreign Report, August 19, 1982.

John Barron, KGB New York: Reader's Digest, 1974 pp. 56, 79, 175-176, 256 Is l7 7 The lifting of the U.S. embargo on aid to Turkey in 1978 led to improved Turkish-American relations and the reopening of U.S intelligence bases in eastern Turkey. These are crucial to the mo n itoring of Soviet missile tests in.Central Asia and the veri fication of Soviet compliance with strategic arms control agree ments. As Washington and Ankara were negotiating the terms for the reopening of the bases, Moscow unleased a furious propaganda ba r rage, warning that if Turkey permitted Americans to return it would 'Ispoi1 relations with its neighbors and in the event of a conflict become a nuclear cemetery.I1l8 Turkey ignored the threats and signed a Five Year Defense Cooperation Agreement in April 1980 enabling the U.S. to regain emergency access to Turkish air,bases and to fill the gap in its intelligence-gathering capabilities that had existed since the abandonment of two facilities in Iran in early 1979.

Most damaging to Turkish-Soviet relations was the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. To Turkey this meant that the Soviets were on the move again in Central Asia week after the invasion, Turkey's military leadership warned Turkish politicians that Turkey's house must be put in order.

This was the first in a series of warnings that presaged the Sep tember 1980 military coup, which effectively ended several years of civil strife Less than a For the foreseeable future, the Soviet threat to Turkey is more likely to take the form of indire ct Soviet support for sub versive and separatist groups than of direct military pressures.

Although it lacks modern equipment, the 470,000-man Turkish Army remains a tough, disciplined fighting force. Given the stalemate in Afghanistan, the Soviets are unlikely to move militarily against Turkey.

Moscow instead will try to erode Turkey's ties to the West and to undermine the central government. Radio broadcasts from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe continue to encourage and play upon the grievances of Tu rkey's Shiites. Of particular concern is the Soviet link to leftist Kurdish separatist groups who pur million Kurds. Eleven Middle Eastern communist parties recently declared their support for the ''Kurdish National Liberation Move- rnent.'ll9 Ankara appe a rs increasingly nervous about external manip ulation of the Kurds In late May 1983, the Turkish Army launched a major offensive agai.nst Kurdish guerrillas inside Iraq.20 port to represent the aspirations of eastern Turkey's 7 to 8 Another Soviet tactic i s the subversion of Turks working elsewhere in Europe about their life in Western host countries and angry that the Many of these two million Turks are bitter P l8 Pravda. Februarv 27. 1980. l9 2o New York Times, May 31, 1983.

The Ectkomist, june'18, 1983, p. 54. a Turkish economy cannot absorb them large pool for recruitment by Turkish leftists. Leaders of the outlawed Turkish Communist Party remain in cold storage in Eastern Europe, should they be called to administer lfliberatedfl.territory They form a p otentially A successful Soviet campaign to "Finlandize" Turkey would damage U.S. interests. Turkish withdrawal from NATO would weaken critically Western defenses in the eastern Mediterranean, remove NATO's second largest standing army, and expose NATO's v u lnerable southern flank. In the event of a conventional military conflict between NATO and the Soviet bloc, Moscow would no longer be forced to take into consideration the almost four million Turkish re servists that could be mobilized. The important NATO air base in Incirlik would be lost along with access to air bases in eastern Turkey that would be indispensable in the event that the U.S. was called upon to blunt a Soviet invasion of western Iran. Loss of Turkish intelligence facilities would deprive th e U.S. of an estimated 30 percent of its intelligence on the Soviet Union.*l Assured Soviet overflight rights over Turkey would reduce Soviet air deployment times tothe Middle East and Persian Gulf, further widening the gap between Soviet and American capa b ilities in these strategic regions. A neutralized Turkey would severely constrain Western military options in future regional crises, while lifting an important restraint on future Soviet behavior THE SOVIET THREAT TO PAKISTAN Pakistan's relations with th e Soviet Union have been cool but correct since Pakistan attained independence in August 19

47. As a strongly anti-communist state, Pakistan was a natural ally of the West in the struggle to contain communism joined CENT0 and the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO in 19

55. Shortly thereafter Nikita Khrushchev visited India and Afghanistan, declaring Soviet support for India's claim to Kashmir and for Afghanistan's claim to Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Prov ince Islamabad Until the late 1970s, the Soviet threat was a distant and indirect one.

Pakistani invective and became the chief arms supplier for India which fought three wars with Pakistan in 1947, 1965, and 1971.

The April 1978 communist coup in Afghan istan, however, brought the Soviet threat much closer. Yet the Carter Administration continued to focus more on Pakistan's nuclear program and human rights situation than on expanding Soviet influence. The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan stripped Paki s tan of its buffer against the Soviet Union, transforming Pakistan into a frontline state The Kremlin spouted a steady stream of anti 21 George Gruen Ambivalence in the Alliance: U.S. Interests in the Middle East and the Evolution of Turkish Foreign Policy ," Orbis, Summer 1980, p 367 9 The invasion dangerously compounded Pakistan's national security problems.22 The Afghan resistance to the Soviet occu pation, for instance, could spill over into Pakistan at any time.

The Russians may be tempted to strike at Afghan 'sanctuaries in the tribal belt of the Northwest Frontier Province in an effort to deny the Afghans aid from friendly tribes across the border.

Moscow publicly has warned the Pakistanis against aiding the Afghan freedom fighters and has dramatized the threat with hundreds of overflights of Pakistani air space. Pakistani 'border osts have been attacked and Pakistani soldiers .have been killed 93 Islamabad's greatest nightmare is of a Soviet-Indian alliance designed to dismember Pakistan by former In d ian Prime Minister Morarji Desai's disclosure that Soviet Prime Minister Kosygin suggested to him after the 1978 Afghan coup that the time was ripe "to put Pakistan in its place A few months later an Afghan communist delegation to New Delhi recommended ca r ving Pakistan into four pieces.24 Such fears have been heightened Until Moscow has consolidated its control over Afghanistan the primary threat to'Pakistani security posed by the Soviet seizure of Afghanistan is subversive. Moscow and its Afghan clients h a ve supported the activities of the Al-Zulfiqar terror ist group, which targets the Pakistani government A more serious threat to Pakistan's internal security is the prospect of Soviet aid to ethnic separatist groups, particularly the Baluchi groups that c laim to speak for the 1.25 million Baluchi tribesmen in southwestern Pakistan.

The Baluch have risen against the central government three times since 1947 and can do so again. During the last round of fighting, from 1973 to 1977, more than 3,000 Pakistani soldiers and at least 5,000 Baluchi guerrillas died, along with hundreds of civilians training Baluchi in the USSR25 and have agents working with Baluchi groups in Afghanistan.26 A Soviet-backed Baluchi uprising would pose grave risks for Pakistan's inter n al security, might spill over into Iran's Baluchi region, and might lead to a full-blown Soviet military intervention if allowed to fester. A pro-Soviet Baluchistan, composed of portions of Pakistan and Iran, would control the northern coast of the Arabia n Sea and pose a potential threat to Western oil shipping lanes There have been reports that the Soviets have been Pakistan has responded to these Soviet threats in several ways 1. It has drawn closer to the United States and signed, in 1981, a five-year $ 3 .2 billion aid agreement with Washington 22 23 Christian Science Monitor, September 26, 1981 24 The Economist, Foreign Report, December 17, 1981 25 Business Week, January 21, 1980 26 News, April 6, 1981 See Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema, "The Afghanistan Crisis an d Pakistan's Security Dilemma," Asian Survey, March 1983 10 2. It has improved its relations with India. In 1981 Presi dent Zia al-Haq travelled to India to meet Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the first time since 1972 that the heads of the two coun tries h a d met 3 izing Moscow. Islamabad has refrained from actively supporting the anti-Soviet Afghan freedom fighters, has not built up its military forces along the Afghan border to avoid provoking Soviet countermoves, and has begun negotiating with the Kabul r e gime to test Moscow's much heralded to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan still distrusts Washington. Like Turkey, Pakistan has been bit terly disappointed by the perceived unreliability of the U.S which embarg.oed arms transfers during its 1965 and'197 1 wars and cut off aid in 1979 due to its nuclear program. Unsure of its unpredictable ally, Pakistan sought to reach an acceptable accom modation with its more predictable enemy tYou cannot live in the sea and [incite the] enmity of whales.

You have to be friendly with them. The Soviet Union is on our doorstep. The United States is ten thousand miles away.1127 Should Moscow successfully intimidate Pakistan or manage to neutralize it through subversion or dismemberment, it will have assured itself of event u al victory in Afghanistan. The Afghan freedom fighters would face the grim prospect of slow strangula tion if their supply lines to friendly tribes across the Pakistani border were severed. Once it had consolidated control of Afghan istan, Moscow would be poised for further advances into Iran or Pakistan's Baluchistan province. Even without further advances Afghan air bases give the Soviets the capability of dominating the Strait of Hormuz with their tactical fighter-bombers and threatening U.S. naval o er a tions in the Arabian Sea with long Pakistan has been going to great lengths to avoid antagon Pakistan is trying to accommodate the Soviets because it Observes President Zia range strategic bombers Ps A cowed Pakistan would be unable to perform its stabili zing functions in the Persian Gulf. It no longer could be entrusted to train Arab armed forces in the Gulf, and its advisers would no longer be able to bolster the internal security of Gulf regimes.

Finally, the neutralization of Pakistan would be a psycho logical blow to the Gulf's pro-Wesgern regimes. They would question again the value of an American tie, as they did in 1979 when the Shah of Iran fell. If the U.S. should prove unable to prevent another ally from drifting into anti-Western nonalignment, i ts credibility in the Gulf would.be severely damaged 27 New York Times, January 16, 1980. 28 Prepared statement of Professor Zalmay Khalilzad, Situation in Afghanistan.

Hearings Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, March 8, 1982, p. 82. 11 I THE SOVIET THREAT TO IRAN After the failure of its 1946 attempt to establish puppet regimes in Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, MOSCOW'S relations with Iran remained chilled by suspicion and mutual recriminations for more than a decade. The growing Soviet presence i n Syria, Egypt, and Iraq after 1958 increased the Shah's sense of vulnerability. It prompted him to mollify the Soviets in 1962 by pledging that Iran would not allow American missiles to be based on its territory.

The Shah was dismayed by the Kennedy Admin istration's flirtation with Egyptian President Gama1 Abdul Nasser and its pressure to reform Iran ment by failing to back up Turkey in the 1964 Cyprus crisis and Pakistan in its 1965 war with India on the U.S., the Shah took out an insurance policy with M o scow by improving bilateral relations. From 1962 until 1978, Soviet Iranian diplomatic, trade, and cultural relations flourished although the Soviets relentlessly criticized the Shah's military buildup, his Western ties, and his interventions on behalf of the governments of Oman and Pakistan against separatist guerrillas The Johnson Administration deepened his disillusion To minimize his dependence The Soviets initially adopted a cautious posture toward the Iranian revolution and did not write off the Shah until late 1978 when it was obvious he was losing control of the country. In mid November, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev warned the U.S. not to intervene in Iran.29 Clandestine radio stations broadcasting from Soviet territory launched an inflammatory pro p aganda campaign to exacerbate anti-American sentiments, and pro-Soviet Iranian exiles returned to Iran across the Soviet-Iranian border.30 The Tudeh joined the anti-Shah coalition and infiltrated recruits into Iran from training camps in Afghani~tan After the fall of the Shah, the Soviet Union posed as the I'protectorll of the revolution and sought to equate anti-Soviet criticism with counter-revolution. Moscow strived to intensify Iran's alienation from the West, deepen its radicalization, and block any n o rmalization of relations with Western countries, par ticularly the United States. The Soviets exploited the American hostage crisis and further ingratiated themselves with the Iranians by using the Tudeh and KGB to infiltrate and betray op position groups , by warning Iran of the impending Iraqi attack in September 1980, and by channeling arms to Iran through Syria Libya, and North Korea.

With the end of Iran's confrontation with the United States over the hostages and after Iranian opposition groups had been 29 Pravda, November 19, 1975. 30 31 Cord Meyer The Kremlin's Work in Iran Washington Star, February 10 1979.

Robert Moss Who is Meddling in Iran The New Republic, December 21 1978. 12 neutralized, Teheran became more critical of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and of Soviet arms shipments to Iraq. Teheran took a number of tough anti-Soviet steps newspaper was closed down; in February 1983, the members of the Tudeh Central Committee were arrested; and in May, the Tudeh was dissolved after its leaders admitted conducting espionage for the Soviet Union in July 1982, the Tudeh Yet Moscow retains several channels of influence in Iran.

Approximately 2,000 technical and economic advisers remain in the country along with a sizable Soviet bloc diplomatic community.

The Soviets have maintained contacts with leftists in Azerbaijan Kurdi~tan~~ and Gilan province and may attempt to orchestrate a repetition of the events of 1920 or 1945-1946.33 Geidar Aliyeu a proteg6 of Soviet leader Yuri Andropov, who was recently ele vated to the Politburo, has told Western visitors that it was his llpersonal" hope that .Iranian Azerbaijan would be united wi t h its Soviet counterpart in the future.34 Moscow also has the option of forging an alliance with underground leftist organizations such as the M~jaheddin-e-Khalq gated the 1921 Friendship Treaty in 1959 and again in 1979, Moscow continues to assert that i t is still in force, an ominous sign that it may be considering an intervention in Iran at some point in the future Although Teheran unilaterally abro Iran is the most vulnerable target of Soviet opportunism in the Northern Tier. It shares a highly permeab le 1,250-mile border with the Soviet Union and a 400-mile border with Soviet-occupied Afghanistan.

Northern Tier because it offers the most direct access to the Persian Gulf which it dominates, and because it'possesses large reserves of oil and gas. Iran i s a less risky target because of its chaotic internal politics, its military weakness, and its relative isolation from the West. Moreover, Moscow is likely to find more local allies within the underground opposition in Iran than in either of its Northern T ier neighbors Iran occupies the most strategic territory in the Once Khomeini dies, the Islamic revolution regime will lose its chief source of legitimacy and popularity. It is likely to be rocked by internal rivalries as well as rising domestic opposi ti o n of the contending factions, perhaps by dispatching %olunteersIl In a situation of flux, Moscow will be tempted to back one 32 There is evidence that Soviet aircraft recently have dropped supplies to Kurdish insurgents. Zalmay Khalilzad Soviet Interests in Iran New York Times, May 12, 1982.

Thomas Hammond Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf," Survey, Spring 1982 pp. 88-89 33 34 Sharam Chubin, "The Soviet Union and Iran Foreign Affairs, p. 933. 35 In.the fall of 1982 Soviet media began to report the Mujaheddin in a favorable light.

Foreign Affairs, Winter 1982-1983, p. 447.

See. Karen Dawishai "The USSR in the Middle East 13 to support its clients in the civil war as it did in Spain in the 1930s. Since the Azerbaijani, Kurdish, and Turkoman ethnic groups str addle the border, Moscow would have thousands of potential sub versives at its disposal.

While the present Islamic regime in Teheran poses significant threats to Western interests in the Gulf region, a Soviet-backed Iran would pose much greater threats. I f Teheran's revolutionary ideology were broadened beyond the narrow base of Shiite funda mentalism, it would have a much greater appeal on the predominantly Sunni Arab side of the Gulf. The Iranian Army, long deprived of assured access to American weapons and spare parts, would become a more formidable fighting force if it were equipped with Soviet weaponry. A Soviet-backed Iran would have a much better chance of installing a Shiite revolutionary regime in Iraq and would be less reluctant to attack U.S.-ba c ked Saudi Arabia. Soviet influ ence in Gulf capitals would increase in direct proportion to its influence over Iran, the chief external threat to all the Gulf states. Such influence would eventually translate into influence over Gulf oil flows, a prospect that threatens the unity and long term strength of the Western alliance.

CONCLUSION Two major geopolitical events=-the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan-have heightened dramatically the Soviet threat to the Northern Tier and, by ex tension, the Persian Gulf. The Iranian revolution greatly eased constraints on Soviet policy by removing a pro-Western regime and replacing it with a violently anti-Western one; it increased Soviet oppor tunities for expanding its influence by transformin g a status quo power.into a revolutionary power at odds with its neighbors. The seizure of Afghanistan was a disturbing strategic coup because of that country's pivotal geopolitical position. Afghanistan is a well-placed fulcrum that gives Moscow strong di p lomatic leverage over both Iran.and Pakistan. It is a valuable forward base for the projection of Soviet military power, a secluded staging area for mounting subversive and separatist operations, and an excellent springboard to the Persian Gulf and Indian subcontinent.

Now that the invasion and prolonged'occupation of Afghanistan has shocked some of the West out of complacency, Moscow is likely to resort to direct military force in the Northern Tier only if and when its position in Afghanistan is consolida ted. It is far more likely to engage in low-cost, indirect, and incremental ac tivities that are difficult to detect and to deter. By covertly supporting separatist and dissident groups, or merely threatening to do so, Moscow can exert great pressure on c e ntral governments bend them to its will, and eventually "Finlandize" if not "Sovietize them. This Mafia-like protection racket gives the Soviet Union a flexible, low-risk instrument of coercion that can be calibrated to exploit the specific internal weakn e sses of various countries. 14 The most troubling issue raised by Soviet policy in the Northern Tier was that identified by Prince Gorchakov in the last century: l'the difficulty of knowing when to stop Stalin boasted of his ability to ascertain the limits of what he could get away with and demonstrated this knack by withdrawing from Iran in 1946 Since then, the Soviet Union has gained strategic nuclear parity if not superiority, and has greatly increased the range and strength of its power projection force s. Given its preponderance of regional military power, it is by,no means clear that the newly installed Andropov regime will Irknow where to stop1' in the future.

James A. Phillips Policy Analyst I


James Phillips

Senior Research Fellow, The Heritage Foundation