- The Second World's Third World
For historians of Soviet foreign policy, the Third World in the Cold War has long been something of an afterthought—or, in the words of one leading practitioner, "a sideshow to the main drama of the Cold War."1 Indeed, the very term "Cold War" reflects a focus on Europe. First used in reference to the Nazi "phony war" (Sitzkrieg) in 1938, the term described opposing troops facing each other but not exchanging fire.2 That applied well enough to post-World War II Europe, where the war remained "cold" in that no direct military engagements took place. But the term hardly fit the Third World, where many if not most countries found themselves embroiled in genuine military conflict with global implications at some point during the "Cold" War.
When the Third World did come to scholars' attention, it was usually during moments of crisis involving superpower showdown. In these conflicts, Third World leaders seeking help from the USSR were typically considered Soviet puppets, and Third World countries themselves functioned only as a backdrop to Soviet–American confrontation. This view of Soviet–Third World relations in the Cold War could be crudely summed up in an anecdote from June 1950. When reporters asked the State Department spokesman which individual bore responsibility for the North Korean offensive, he blamed Iosif Stalin. He posed the rhetorical question, "Can you imagine Donald Duck going on a rampage without Walt Disney knowing about it?"3 [End Page 183] Third World leaders like Kim Il-Sung, in this construction, were Stalin's puppets or his creations.
This view that Moscow directed all of its allies' actions in the Cold War is no longer sustainable. The declassification of archival materials in the 1990s in Moscow and across the former Soviet bloc rebalanced the "objective correlation of sources" between the superpowers. It revealed opposition to Soviet policies both within and beyond the Soviet leadership. Yet it did little to change the geographical or topical focus of the field.4 Even the best scholars at the leading institutions of the new Cold War history used these newly excavated sources to answer old questions with broader perspective and more sophistication. The history of superpower crises has been greatly enriched by the nuggets harvested from what Mark von Hagen termed the "archival gold rush." These materials showed how Third World clients shaped Soviet foreign-policy decisions through persistence, manipulation, and pleading. Yet scholarship on the Cold War has remained focused on wars and crises in Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam, and primarily on military aid or relationships between communist parties. Now that the gold rush is over, it is time to mine further afield, searching for new documents and new approaches to the study of the USSR in the world.5 In doing so, scholars can build on recent overviews of Soviet foreign policy that devote more attention to Soviet engagements in the Third World.6
Work on East–South relations can become part of a broader effort to study the USSR in transnational context—a trend familiar to readers of this and other journals on Soviet history.7 This essay will make the case for studying [End Page 184] Soviet–Third World contacts in particular.8 By taking better account of the connections with the Third World—whether political, cultural, economic, or diplomatic—historians of the Soviet Union could contribute to multiple scholarly agendas, many of which already relate to their own concerns. More serious attention to East–South relations will help recast the Cold War as a fundamentally multipolar conflict, with the superpowers constantly responding not just to each other but to their allies and adversaries in the Third World. Scholars not centrally concerned with international relations could also benefit from a consideration of the full range of East–South connections; whether interested in the Academy of Sciences or in higher education, studying the physical and intellectual traces of the Third World in the USSR offers excellent insights into ostensibly "domestic" Soviet history. Such a focus on the periphery could, paradoxically, bring the study of Soviet foreign relations closer to the central concerns of the field as a whole...