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During the Cold War, the United States (US) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) both used soft power against one another in order to elicit domination across different states. Central to those soft power struggles is the emergence of new states out of their former colonial masters. Both powers sought to capture the support of the new states by influencing them their political systems and ideologies. In return, said bipolar setup enabled divisiveness in political thought across the world. Alignment towards either the Capitalist (US/Western) Bloc or the Soviet (USSR/Eastern) Bloc thus resulted from the divergence, each with its own sets of incentives and punishments. At the same time, the emergence of the Non-Aligned Movement spearheaded by India and joined by other Third-World states called for the rejection of the alignment principle by instilling neutrality from either the US or the USSR.
States abiding by the non-alignment principle took a firm stand on neutrality. Yet, some of those states appeared to be sympathetic towards advocacies and ideals promoted by the USSR. That fact leads to this particularly interesting question: why did some non-aligned (Third World) countries become lenient towards the Soviet Bloc and less tolerant towards the Capitalist Bloc? While the notion of non-alignment initially equated to neutrality, historical facts have presented a counter-intuitive scenario against said principle. Studying the issue at hand would provide wider perspectives on the USSR’s ways of acquiring support to sustain its system – which eventually dissolved in 1991 amidst revolutions indicating discontent and frustration towards ideas propagated by the Soviet Bloc.
Alignment resulted from the simultaneous dominance of both the US and USSR during the Cold War. Under such principle, both powers went through their own ways of peddling influence empowered by their use of soft power. Coinciding with the postcolonial period, in which many colonial territories have become independent states, the alignment principle engaged both the US and the USSR to attract those new states towards their policies. Both promised the new states of assistance in state building. The US took this opportunity to spread their democratic state model while the USSR did the same with their communist-socialist format.1
Both the US and USSR urged states to do the following: (1) grant access to natural resources, (2) foster military bases in strategic areas and (3) express diplomatic allegiance in the United Nations. Both have reciprocated those requirements through the provision of economic, technological and military aid and assistance. At the same time, both the US and USSR punished states aligned to them by pulling out aid and assistance and backing their adversaries. Consequently, aligned states gain better incentives for continuing their support towards either the US or the USSR.2
Not all states during the Cold War wished to subscribe to the alignment principle. In fact, a significant number of states refused to align with either the US or the USSR, asserting that they have the right to be neutral in such affairs. Such led to the emergence of the non-aligned (Third World)3 states, which formed a counter-faction against the Capitalist Bloc and Soviet Bloc called the Non-Aligned Movement.
The non-alignment principle, which gave birth to Third World states, emerged from a simple premise: states assert the right to be neutral towards diverging ideas presented by the US and the USSR. The non-alignment movement became formal through the 1955 establishment of the Organization of Non-Aligned States. India, the main proponent of non-alignment, stood by the belief that new and poor states can only become truly independent if they do not subject themselves to the pressures brought by alignment to either the Capitalist Bloc or the Soviet Bloc. From that notion, states can freely agree or disagree with particular international concerns based on their own interests, not on the interests of either the US or USSR. Stronger independence and robust economic growth could subsequently follow.4
Officially, Third World states are neutral; they do not support either the US or the USSR. Those states have imposed significant impacts in the decision-making processes within the UN. For instance, Third World states have oftentimes outnumbered both the Capitalist Bloc and Soviet Bloc in UN General Assembly deliberations. The sheer influence of the non-aligned states thus attracted the attention of both the US and the USSR. The US highly disfavored non-alignment, but this was partly due to particular conflicts that led to non-aligned states to show preference towards the Soviet Bloc.5
Reasons for Third World Lenience towards the Soviet Bloc
The official neutrality of Third World states to either the US or the USSR did not prevent some of those states to show lenience towards the latter. Most of those states resented the US’ image as a colonial power,6 doubted its promotion of capitalism as a driver of economic development7 and disfavored its stand in going against revolutions happening within revolutionary states.8 In an ideal bipolar setting set during the Cold War, the USSR stood as a viable and attractive option to support over the US, despite the available choice of staying within the bounds of complete neutrality. Several cases of Third World states show that there are varying reasons for their greater tolerance towards the Soviet Bloc, with due consideration of the foregoing general reasons.
1. Doubts on US-Style Capitalism
The US promoted one paradigm to reaching economic development, and that is the use of the capitalist system. The notion of open markets, private ownership of corporations, free domestic and international trade and interdependence across trading countries served as its main appeal. Said system has attracted newly independent states in their rebuilding process, as such triggered the growth of domestic industries foreseen as eventual participants in the world market. Yet, as those states went on in their development course, they encountered challenges in the form of political and economic crises, incompetent regimes and civil wars, among others. Cynicism towards the capitalist system grew, and the non-aligned principle eventually proved to be a favorable standpoint. India, a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, asserted that Third World states could grow beyond the promises set by the Capitalist Bloc if they tread along their own growth objectives without pressure coming from alignment. Interestingly, India’s post-independence Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru expressed his reservations over capitalism championed by the US, rooting from the same stance argued by the non-aligned principle.9 In this wise, India and the rest of the non-aligned states grew doubtful over the incentive-and-punishment-driven thrust of alignment towards the Capitalist Bloc. Yet, such led them to become sympathetic towards the USSR, as they viewed it as one without any experience in colonizing countries – unlike the US, which they saw as one that has the tendency to take advantage of Third World states in terms of international support and resources, among others. Such sympathy even went to the point of ignorance towards the USSR’s eventual occupations of Afghanistan and Czechoslovakia.10
2. Resentment over US Disapproval of Revolutions in Revolutionary States
Third World states, as they emerged out of colonialism, have become prone to revolutionary changes brought about by the peoples’ desire to implement significant changes to the political systems besetting them. The US, due to its various regional interests, has sought to hamper the escalation of revolutions in states of interest. In other words, the US interfered in the domestic affairs of revolutionary states, simply because those movements interfered with their regional interests. Cuba, among a number of Third World cases, saw how the US supported its bourgeoisie at a time when revolution against that group is going on. Seeing that the US is in a stance that is antithetical to their interests, the revolutionaries have become successful in taking their problems out at the international level. In other words, the problem drew out important implications for the international community, as rebels from revolutionary states saw the involvement of the US as a potential threat to their goals. The USSR, with its relative inexperience in colonizing territories unlike that of the US and its sympathetic impression, became an eventual preference of the non-aligned Third World states due to being a natural contender in the then-bipolar world order.11
3. Strong Anticolonial Sentiments
Third World states have struggled for a long period to break free from the control of their colonial masters. Such is the case that triggered those states to hold an attitude of disdain towards any past colonial power. Within the Third World, people receive colonialism negatively, in such a way that they would impress more on its undesirable effects than its convincingly positive effects. The US, being a colonial power during the pre-World War II period, has become the receiving end of adverse reactions coming from some Third World states. For example, India, a proponent of the Non-Aligned Movement, shunned the US in terms of both its capitalist approach and its colonial past. Such naturally led India, despite its non-aligned status, to become sympathetic towards the USSR – a state which they see as devoid of any colonial history and supportive of unperturbed Third World growth absent of any dominant political influence coming from either of the two powerful nations in question.12
4. USSR’s Economic Growth Proves an Attractive Package
The constant grown of the USSR’s economy during the Cold War made it a viable source of economic assistance for Third World states. While those states remained non-aligned to either of the two powers, the USSR emerged as its most feasible partner in terms of economic assistance. Its growing economic strength – underestimated by the US, combined with the fact that it does not have a comprehensive colonial history akin to other states in the West and the US to speak of, proved attractive to the Third World states. While those states remained non-aligned, which means that they are beyond any informal contract imposed by the US or the USSR, the Soviet Bloc gave them a better image in terms of economic assistance provision, which is without any roots on neocolonial interests.13
Third World states did not religiously stick to their non-alignment principle. In fact, their lenience towards the USSR over the US has shown that those states still concern themselves with the bipolar setup of the Cold War, as they seek to pursue development without the need to swear allegiance to either the Capitalist Bloc or the Soviet Bloc. Four reasons stand out why Third World states have become more lenient towards the USSR than the US. Firstly, they doubted capitalism from the US as a development paradigm. Secondly, the US went against revolutionary states due to their self-interests that involve those states’ bourgeoisie. Thirdly, colonialism associated with the US’ colonizing background triggered greater lenience towards the USSR. Fourth, USSR’s economic growth and lack of background as colonizer fascinated those states.
Ganguly, Sumit. “India’s Foreign Policy Grows Up.” World Policy Journal 20, no. 4 (2003/2004): 41-47.
Snyder, Robert S. “The U.S. and Third World Revolutionary States: Understanding the Breakdown in Relation.” International Studies Quarterly 43, no. 2 (1999): 265-290.
Trofimenko, Henry. “The Third World And The U.S.-Soviet Competition: A Soviet View.” Foreign Affairs 59, no. 5 (1981): 1021-1040.
Upshur, Ji-Hwa L., et al. World History: Since 1500 – The Age of Global Integration. Connecticut: Cengage Learning, 2012.