Siegfried Modola / Reuters

The African Crisis

Developments in Africa - and in the capitals of the great powers - made that continent an important testing ground for the foreign policies of the Western nations and the Soviet Union in 1978. While clearly still the dominant foreign influence in Africa, the Western countries were thrown on the defensive and groped for new ways of protecting their interests there. In the open diplomatic confrontation with the Soviet Union and Cuba, the West came off worst in the Horn of Africa but continued to maneuver actively in southern Africa. In neither area were the Western powers able to discourage the Soviet Union and Cuba from intervening militarily in the continent's internal affairs.

More positively, however, the new Western diplomatic approach aimed at developing close ties with African leaders to further common interests in southern African settlements showed definite promise. Whether Western diplomacy could be skillfully orchestrated to offset Soviet military activism was not clear as the year drew to a close. The trend which first began to emerge in 1975 was clearly evident three years later: Africa had become the scene of new Soviet efforts possibly foreshadowing important shifts even in the balance of world power between the West and the Soviets.

This bold Soviet policy coincided with - and benefited from - the strong disinclination in the West to become involved in any new military adventures in the Third World. Early in his Administration, President Carter declared that the United States would not become militarily involved in any foreign conflict simply because the Russians were there. The consistent pursuit of such a policy by the West was intended to foster détente and permit the level of arms shipments to Third World countries to be scaled down, but the evidently lower risk of open military confrontation with the United States also presented opportunities to the Soviets.

A larger question was raised by this conjunction of a lowered Western military role in much of the Third World with the Soviets' efforts to

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