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Backgrounder #525 on Russia

July 21, 1986

Moscow's Strategy in Southern Africa: A Country by Country Review


(Archived document, may contain errors)

525 July 21, 1986 MOSCOW'S STRATEGY. IN SOUTHERN .AFRICA A COUNTRY BY COUNTRY REVIEW INTRODUCTION The crisis in southern Africa once again has captu red international attention. Domestic violence in South Africa, anti-communist insurgencies in Angola and Mozambique, a coup in Lesotho, bombings by communist guerrillas in South Africa, diplomatic insults in Zimbabwe, cross-border preemptive strikes by S outh African forces--all vie for the attention of United States policy makers.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin must be delighted. The Soviet drive for control in southern Africa that began in the early 1960s and reached its peak in the mid-1970s-when communist regimes in Angola and Mozambique signed Treaties of Friendship and Cooperation wit h the USSR--once again is underway. Although in the early 1980s Moscow backed off, it recently stepped up support for its client regimes in Angola and Mozambique, and for pro-Soviet insurgents in South Africa and South West Africa. Further, Moscow has been moving closer to the governments of Botswana, Lesotho, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. And, with a strategy that is the key to the entire region, Moscow long has.been working for the destabilization of South Africa.

The stakes for the United States are high. The U. S. defense industry depends on critical strategic minerals imported from southern Africa. Without access to those minerals, the only source for many of them would be the Soviet Union. The Cape of Good Hope shipping route moreover, is one of the West's vit al trade routes: the 25,000 ships that navigate it annually carry 90 percent of Western Europe's oil and 70 percent of its strategic minerals. Clearly, the U.S. cannot afford to allow Moscow to pursue its regional goals unchallenged.

SOVIET OBJECTIVES IN S OUTHERN AFRICA There are two key Soviet goals'in southern Africa. The first was stated by the late Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, when he admitted l'Our'aim is to gain control of the two great treasure houses on which the West depends--the energy treasure house of the Persian Gplf and the mineral treasure house of central and southern Africa The second Soviet interest in southern Africa, as it is in other peripheral areas of the Third World, is to gain a geostrafegic advantage in the region to maximize its global influence.

Specifically, Soviet aims in southern Africa are o To expand Soviet influence while reducing U.S. and Chinese influence o To establish Soviet control over the lIcordonl# states--Mozambique Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South West Africa--to su rround South Africa with pro-Soviet nations o Tomgain access to air and naval facilities in littoral states of southern Africa to enhance Soviet power projection capabilities o To deny Western access to the strategic minerals of South Africa.

Moscow pursu es its objectives by arming its clients with military hardware ranging from fighter aircraft and sophisticated air 'defense systems to heavy tanks and armored personnel carriers. In most cases Soviet advisers man the equipment and train host nation forces in its use. Depending on the particular government and the strength of its ties to the Soviets, security assistance also may include the provision of security experts to establish a Soviet-style state 1. South Africa, for example, holds 86 percent of the w orld's platinum group metals reserves, 64 percent of its vanadium, 83 percent of its chrome ore, and 48 percent of its manganese ore. See Adm. Robert J. Hanks, Southern Africa and Western Securitv Cambridge: Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, 1983), p . 12 2. Cited in Richard Nixon, The Real War (New York: Warner Books, 1980), p. 23 3. See Dr. Peter Vanneman, testimony The,Role of the Soviet Union, Cuba, and East Germany in Fomenting Terrorism in Southern Africa Hearings before the Subcommittee on Secur i ty and Terrorism of the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate, 97th Congress, 2nd Session, March 22, 24, 25, 29, and 31, 1982, Volume 1, pp. 28-49 2security system. In Angola, military assistance even includes Soviet bloc combat forces and command person nel to bolster the regime.

Moscow also uses such political weapons as foreign propaganda international front organizptions, and activities within international and resional orsanizations. Throush these, the Soviets seek to manipuiate public opinion in the &get country and in the international community to create the conditions in which. favorable outcomes are likely.

SOVIET EXPANSION IN SOUTHERN AFRICA: 1983-1986 In mid-1983 the Kremlin began escalating its activities in southern Africa. In South Africa an d South West Africa (or Namibia Moscow has been assisting rebels seeking the overthrow of an established pro-Western government. In Angola and Mozambique, Moscow helps the pro-Soviet regimes struggling against anti-communist national liberation movements. And in non-aligned Zambia, Zimbabwe Botswana, and Lesotho, Moscow is attempting to increase its influence both overtly and covertly.

South Africa The Soviet campaign to destabilize South Africa until recently was a relatively low priority for Kremlin stra tegists. For decades it has depended on the alliance between the South African Communist Party SACP) and the African National Congress (ANC The SACP was one of the first communist parties created by Leninls Comintern As such, it has always been one of the Third Worldls most pro-Moscow communist parties. The ANC, on the other hand, originally was founded in 1912 as a nationalist organization dedicated to the creation of a multiracial government in South Africa. It was not until immediately after World War I 1 thpt the ANC was, for all intents and purposes co-opted by the SACP.

In 1960, the ANC was outlawed by the South African government.

The following year, the organization adopted a strategy of violent revolution and formed a military wing Umkhonto We Sizw e--l!Spear of 4. For a fuller discussion of Soviet political warfare techniques, see Richard Shultz Recent Regional Patterns," in Uri Ra'anan, ct al, Hvdra of Carnage: International Linkages of Terrorism: The Witnesses SDeak (Lexington, Massachusetts: Lex i ngton Books 1986), pp. 95-124 5. See, for example Soviet, East German and Cuban Involvement in Fomenting Terrorism in Southern Africa Report of the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism to the Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate, 97th Congress, 2nd Session, November 1982 3the Nation" in the Zulu language.

Soviet bloc countries for training estimated 5,000 to 10,000 trained ANC guerrillas It began to send its militants to At present, $here are an Since the early 1960s, the ANC's trained guerrillas have been conducting a campaign of terror in South Africa. Its strategy is to make the country ungovernable" by radicalizing the townships ANC targets are, for the most part moderate blacks-especially policemen city council members, and busine s smen-who are deemed "collaborators with the government. By killing enough of them, the ANC hopes to scare away all moderate blacks from any attempt to work with the government for peaceful change formation of a broad opposition front in which communists p ersuade non-communists to jointly oppose a regime. The front in South Africa was formed in August 19

83. Calling itself the United Democratic Front UDF), it chose as its presidents three well-known,ANC supporters Albertina Sisulu, Oscar Mpetha, and Archie Gumede international organizations, attempting to isolate the South African government. The immediate goal of this effort is international economic sanctions One of the key Soviet tactics for political destabilization is Soviet bloc delegates, meanwhile, are active in regional and Thus, the Soviet strategy for South Africa seems well on track.

On the military side, ANC-led mobs are radicalizing the townships and terrorizing moderate blacks. On the political side, internal agitation is being led by a newly created ANC front organization. And on the diplomatic side, the Kremlin has been successful in pushing for international sanctions against South Africa.

South West Africa The South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) is MOSCOW~S chosen instrument for the destabilization of Namibia. Formed in 1960 to challenge Pretoria's control over South West Africa, SWAPO in 1962 6. The low figure comes from a con v ersation with Dr. Jan DuPlessis, a South African authority on the ANC, on May 19, 1986; the higher figure is quoted by Dr. Tom Lodge another South African expert on the ANC, cited in Alan Cowell Wild Card in South Africa Communist Party The New York Times June 26, 1986 7. Joseph Lelyveld Foes of Apartheid Hold Large-Rally The New .York Times August 22 1983, p. All. Though the UDF denies that it is a front for the ANC, its leaders have been unable to point to a single instance in which there has not been a c onvergence of policy views between the ANC and the UDF. Moreover, even the respected British journal The Economist refers to the UDF as the "legal wing" of the ANC. The Economist, May 10 1986, p. 11 4adopted a strategy of revolutionary violence. The guerr i lla wing known as the Namibian People's Liberation Army (PLAN operates in northern Namibia from bases in southern Angola. After the United Nations in 1973 recognized SWAPO as the I'sole legitimate representative of the Namibian people," Moscow stepped up its support for SWAPO, increastng training for SWAPO cadres and deliveries of military hardware.

Since then, Soviet policy on South West Africa has focused on 1 supporting SWAPO in its terrorist campaign to destabilize the country and 2) positioning itself as SWAPO's champion in international organizations I So far, however, the combined operations of the South African Defense Forces (SADF) and the South West Africa Territorial Force SWATF) have kept the SWAPO insurgency in check. The installation of the m ulti-racial Transitional Government of National Unity in Windhoek in June 1985 removed a purported justification for SWAPO violence.

SWAPO cadres are now being used more in support of Soviet, Cuban, and Angolan forces operating against UNITA in southeastern Angola than they are in fomenting violence in South West Africa.

Lesotho The landlocked Kingdom of Lesotho is totally surrounded by South Africa. A pro-Soviet underground communist party was formed there in 1962 and has provided aid for over 20 years to ANC militants on their way into and out of South Africa.

In September 1984 the Soviet campaign to woo Lesotho began in earnest.

Party, led by the party secretary general and Lesotho foreign minister, Vincent Makhele, visited Moscow for talks with Soviet officials with responsibility for just Lesotho. The Soviet embassy staff was enlarged an alnost certain indication that the Soviets have expanded KGB operations cultural and scientific cooperation accord and a technical and A delegation representing Leso t ho's ruling Basotho National In May 1985, Moscow namedOan ambassador for the first time Last December, Makhele again visited Moscow. There he signed a 8. Peter Vanneman, "Soviet Foreign Policy for Namibia: Some Considerations and Developments," Strategic R eview, Institute for Strategic Studies of the University of Pretoria, November 1985, pp. 13-18 9. Previously, the Soviet ambassador to Mozambique had doubled as the envoy to Lesotho 10. Conversations with Western intelligence sources, September 13, Octobe r 2, December 18 1985, and February 26, May 27, 28, and 29, 1986 5economic accord. Jonathan in January 1986 prevented the further consolidation of Soviet-Lesotho ties. This was a serious setback for Soviet aims in Lesotho Only the coup against the governme n t of Chief Lebua Because Botswana is one of. Africa's .few functioning democracies and hence is relatively stable, the opportunities for Soviet influence are limited. Overt Soviet efforts in Botswana therefore concentrate on state-to-state relations. Mosc o w, for example is attempting to increase armsllsales to Botswana and last year made generous offers of military aid At the same time, Moscow seems to be expanding its covert operations in Botswana. Just four days after the new Soviet ambassador was posted to Lesotho last year, a new Soviet ambassador was posted to Botswana. The embassy staff then was enlarged. Of the 53 staff members 8 have been identified as KGB and GRU intelligence officers. Gabarone, the capital, has become such a staging area for ANC g uerrillas that South African commandos struck at ANC facilities twice between June 1985 and May 1986.

Zambia Though most observers believe that Zambia tilts West, it nevertheless is a key to Moscow's strategy for the region. Soviet activity in Zambia consi sts of a major military assistance program efforts to transform the ruling United National Independence Party UNIP) into a vanguard Marxist-Leninist party and support for the ANC which has its headquarters in Lusaka, the Zambian capital.

From 1979-1983, t he Soviet Union delivered $180 million in arms to Zambia. These arms represented almost 70 percent of Zambia's total arms imports, which included MiG-21 fighter aircraft, tanks, armored personnel carriers, SA-3 missiles, and radar equipment. Some 500 11. For the period 1979-1983, the Soviet Union accounted for fully Botswana's arms imports. See U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament 50 percent of Agency, World Militarv ExDenditures and Arms Transfers Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office 1985 p. 1

3 1. These weapons included, among others, armored personnel carriers and SA-7 missiles. See above-cited conversations with Western intelligence sources 12. The KGB is the Soviet national intelligence agency; the GRU is Soviet military intelligence. These f igures come from the above-cited conversations with Western intelligence sources 6Soviet military personnel are in Zambia, training ZBmbian Defense Force troops in use and maintenance of the weapons.

Formal Sovhet Communist Party-UNIP ties were established in Lusaka in 19

81. Since then, Soviet party delegations have visited Lusaka several times to help the UNIP become a vanguard Marxist-Leninist party delegations to Moscow.

Reciprocal trips were made by UNIP Meanwhile, Zambia has been serving as ANC headquarters since early 19

84. It is no coincidence, therefore, that Lusaka houses the largest Soviet embassy staff in the region. Employing 129 officials including at least 25 KGB and GRU officers with diplomatic cover and another 50 without, the Soviets us e Lusaka as the base for covert activities against South Africa. It is here that the military operations of the ANC are conceived and staged, with the help of Soviet military and intelligence personnel.

Soviet strategy in Zambia typifies MOSCOWS short- and long-term considerations. In the short term, Lusaka provides a base for destabilizing South Africa; in the long term, Moscow aims at constructing a Zambian vanguard Marxist-Leninist ruling party, with tight links to the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, a Soviet military assistance program ties the current government of Zambia to the Kremlin.

Z imbabwe Relations between Zimbabwe and the Soviet Union were strained for a few years after the Zimbabwean revolutions victory in 1980.

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Robert Mugabe, who is leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU had been backed during the insurgency by Beijing, while Moscow supported his principal rival, Joshua Nkomo As a self-proclaimed Marxist, h owever, who made no secret of his desire to create a one-party state in Zimbabwe, Mugabe was clearly a potential ally of Moscow.

The Kremlin push to intensify ties to Zimbabwe began in early 19

84. That January, Zimbabwe and the USSR signed a trade and e conomic cooperation agreement. In February 1985 Zimbabwe sent Osvald Ndanga to Moscow as its first ambasssador .to the Soviet Union. At the same 13. See World Militarv ExDenditures and Arms .Transfers, g cit, p. .1

32. Other information comes from above-c ited conversations with Western intelligence sources 14. See CPSU, Zambian Party Sign Plan for Interparty Ties, FBIS-USSR, May 1, 1981, p. 52 15. See above-cited conversations with Western intelligence sources 7time, Soviet diplomatic presence in Harare, Zimbabwels capital, jumped from 48 to 62; among them are 18 KGBleand GRU officers with diplomatic cover and 4 KGB officers without it.

A major breakthrough for Soviet strategy was Mugabels visit to Moscow last December. There he met with Soviet leader Mikh ail Gorbachev, Soviet President Andrei Gromyko, Communist Party International Department chief Boris.Ponomarev and other top officials and a Communist Party-ZANU cooperation agreement believed that he discussed arms purchases with Konstantin Katushev head of the Soviet Unionls office which handles Third World arms sales.

September, Zimbabwe beganlreceiving Soviet heavy weapons with the arrival of 20 T-54 tanks. With the conclusion of an economic and technical cooperation agreement, party-to-party ties, and a military assistance program, the Soviet effort to draw close to Zimbabwe seems to be succeeding He signed an economic and technical cooperation agreement It is widely In fact, Western intelligence experts report that as early as Mozambiuue From 1977 to 1984 Mozambique was one of the twin pillars, along with Angola, undergirding Soviet policy in southern Africa. The communist Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO led by Samora Machel, had won control of the country from Portugal in 1975.

Less t han two years later, Machel signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the USSR that calls for a close political and military relationship. Between 1975 and 1983, the Soviet Union sold Mozambique $978 million worth of arms, accounting $or over 75 percent of Mozambique's total arms imports for the period. In return, it appears, Mozambique gave the Soviets a base of operations for ANC guerrillas operating against South Africa and also port facilities for the Soviet Indian Ocean fleet.

Yet Mozambique also gives Moscow problems. In April 1977 a loose coalition of former FRELIMO militants and disaffected Mozambicans formed the Mozambique National Resistance RENAMO It began fighting the Machel regime for control of Mozambique 16. See above-cited conversa t ions with Western itelligence sources 17. See above-cited conversations with Western intelligence sources. See also "Further Reportage on Mugabe Visit to MOSCOW in FBIS-USSR December 3, 1985, pp. 51-6, "Further Reportage on Mugabe Visit to Moscow," FBIS-U S SR December 4, 1985, pp. 51-7, and "More Reports on Mugabe Visit to MOSCOW," FBIS-USSR December 5, 1985, pp. J1-8 18. See World Militarv ExDenditures and Arms Transfers. 1985, op. cit p. 131 aTo staunch RENAMOIs increasingly threatening activities through out 1984, the Soviets intensified their military aid to Machel.

Between September 1984 and August 1985, 20 T-55 tanks were shipped to Maputo, Mozambiquels capital, bringing the total to 174; 85 armored personnel carriers also were shipped, bringing the total to 4

10. For the first time, heavy BM-24 and BM-21 multiple rocket launchers arrived in Mozambique Despite this new aid from Moscow and troops from Zimbabwe, Machel has failed to suppress RENAMO. Since the start of this year, this national liberation m ovement has turned up its pressure on the Machel regime. This seems to be forcing Moscow to reassess Machel's future prospects and its continued relationship with his government. The future of Soviet-Mozambican ties thus is at a crossroad. The continuing success of RENAMO will play a large part in determining that future.

Anaola Soviet prestige is on the line more in Angola than anywhere else in Africa. It was only the massive Soviet airlift of Cuban troops and Soviet arms that gave the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) control of Luanda in 19

75. Since then, the Soviet Union has sold' Angola approximately $4 billion worth of arms, including MiG-23 jets, MI-24 helicopters, and heavy T-62 tanks. At present over 40,000 Soviet bloc military and security personnel are in Angola keeping the MPLA reg ime in power. These forces include 35,000 Cuban combat troops, 1,500 Soviet military advisers, 3,000 North Korean advisers, and another 1,500 East German security advisers.

From its first day in power, however, the MPLA has been challenged by the freedom f ighters of Jonas Savimbi's National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA When Savimbi began winning important battles in 1983--which since then has given him control of almost half of Angola--the Kremlin upgraded its arms for the MPLA. For th e first time, Mosocw sent T-62 Sanks, MI-24 helicopter gunships and MiG-23 fighter aircraft to Angola.

Moscow-MPLA relations soured briefly in early 1984 when Angola signed the Lusaka Accord with South Africa:The agreement bound South Africa to pull its tr oops out of southern Angola in exchange for an MPLA promise not to allow the SWAP0 insurgents to use Angola as a base for raids into South West Africa. Moscow did not like the deal, and 19. See above-cited conversations with Western intelligence sources 2 0 . See Peter Clement Moscow and Southern Africa in Problems of Communism March-April 1985, p. 34 9made its feelings clear to Angola. As a result of these strained relations MPLA chief Jose Eduardo Dos Santos boycotted the February 1984 funeral of Soviet le ader Yuri Andropov, and he omitted the Soviet Union fgom his itinerary when he visited Eastern Europe that August.

By early 1985, however, relations seemed to be healed, possibly because of UNITA's military gains-which threatened the very-existence of the MPLA regime. Soviet, Cuban, and Angolan consultations were held in Moscow that March. There plans apparently were made for a new offensive against UNITA. Soviet arms continued to flow into Angola so that by last summer, Angolan government forces boasted a total of almost 500 tanks, over 100 fighter aircraft, and over 70 helicopters.

When the MPLA launched its offensive in late July, Soviet involvement was greater than ever. For the first time, Soviet officers took operational control of troops down to the battalion-and possibly even platoon--18vel. Soviet and Cuban pilots flew the ground support combat missions.

The offensive was largely successful in recapturing from UNITA large portions of Angola. But the attack was blunted 120 mkles north of Savimbi's b ush headquarters at Jamba in late September. Since then, new arms have continued to arrive from the Soviet Union, in preparation for an expected offensive later this summer.

A U.S RESPONSE TO THE SOVIET CHALLENGE The West, and particularly the United Stat es, must begin to counter the Soviet drive for southern Africa U.S. policies up to now generally have failed. Angola is still as intransigent as ever regarding whether and when the Cuban troops will withdraw, and the country remains a Soviet client. Mozam b ique, while,eager for Western economic aid, is still aligned with the Soviet Union on every important issue last several years, votes consistently against the U.S. at the United Zimbabwe has moved closer to the Soviets over the 21. Ibid, p. 36 22. See Wil l iam W. Pascoe, 111 Angola Tests the Reagan Doctrine Heritage Foundation Backnrounder No. 470, November 14, 1985, p. 5 24. See Allister Sparks Angolan Forces Fall Back from Site of Heavy Battle The Washinnton Post, October 9, 1985, p. Al 10 Nations, and ev e n publicly insulted the U.S. at this year's Fourth of July party at the U.S. Embassy in Harare. Zambia and Botswana meanwhile, seem to be moving closer to Moscow. U.S. influence with these nations has decreased, while Soviet influence has increased throug hout the region.

What is needed instead is a more creative and direct U.S. policy for the region. In Angola and Mozambique for example, pro-Western national liberation movements threaten the existence of the communist regimes. Until very recently, U.S. pol icy precluded aid to these freedom fighters. Even now, only UNITA in Angola receives U.S assistance-and the aid is purely defensive.

UNITA in Angola and RENAMO in Mozambique could be the deciding factor in ensuring their victories. The withdrawal of Mozam bique and Angola from the Soviet camp not only would benefit the hard-pressed and suffering citizens of those nations but would send a signal to the Third World that Moscow has nothing to offer developing countries Yet U.S. military aid to In Zimbabwe, Mu g abe must be told explicity that he will receive no U.S. economic assistance until he liberalizes his regime by allowing the creation of opposition political parties, freedom of speech and the press, and by ending state control over large sectors of the ec onomy. He also would have to cut his strategic ties to the Soviet Union.

Zambia and Botswana must be reminded of the cost of close ties to the Kremlin.

In Lesotho, the U.S. should work closely with the new leaders to ensure a stable transition to representative government and an end to close ties to Moscow.

In South West Africa, the U.S. should delay no longer in recognizing the Transitional Government of National Unity, and should work closely with it in its move for independence from South Africa.

As f or South Africa, the U.S. must recognize the very serious nature of the Soviet threat. Moscow, not the blacks of South Africa would be the main victor if the African National Congress and its allies in the South African Communist Party came to power in Pr etoria.

For the U.S. and the West to isolate South Africa will radicalize the opposition forces in that country and lead to an increase in violence that heightens the chances of a pro-Soviet government coming to power. Rather than isolating Pretoria, Washington m u st devise a policy that uses the still considerable U.S. leverage to speed up the dismantling of apartheid, which already is underway. The U.S. should insist upon full political, economic, and social rights for all South Africans. At the same time, the U. S . must be aware of those forces in South Africa that serve Soviet ends 11 CONCLUSION The Soviet drive for southern Africa has begun again.' Following a dormant period through the early 1980s, the Kremlin has stepped up its activities in this geostrategica l ly vital area. Moscow has been moving on military, political, and diplomatic fronts, employing a wide range of methods-the establishment of. correct diplomatk relations the creation of communist party-to-communist party ties, the use of proxy forces, prop a ganda, high-level official visits, and the support of revolutionary forces. The prize for Moscow, of course is the control over the vital strategic minerals of southern Africa, the Cape shipping route, and the clear demonstration to the Third World that t he Soviet empire remains capable of expansion.

In South Africa and South West Africa, Soviet support fpr the revolutionary anti-government forces of ANC and SWAP0 enables them to conduct campaigns of destabilization aimed at the overthrow of the establishe d pro-Western governments nations of Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Botswana the Kremlin seeks to bolster its influence through the myriad network of proper state-to-state relations, while employing covert methods in support of its other regional objectiv es. In Angola and Mozambique, its two treaty-bound allies in the region, MOSCOW'S planners provide aid to embattled regimes fighting defensive battles against pro-Western freedom fighters In the so-called non-aligned.

While the Kremlin correctly has perceived the need to bolster its influence throughout the region by acting.in all nations, it clearly has set its priorities. The campaign to destabilize South Africa is at the top of the list serve ' Soviet ends.

Economic sanctions against Pretoria thus The S oviet Union is clear in its goals and strategy for southern Africa. It aims to take effective control of the region by supplying allied communist governments and revolutionary forces the-weapons and advisers they need to take and maintain power. The U.S. and the West must be just as clear and clever in denying Moscow its goal.

William W. Pascoe, 111 Policy Analyst The author wishes to acknowledge valuable research assistance provided by Gerard Alexander in the preparation of this study 12

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