Syria: Society, Culture, and Polity

By Richard T. Antoun; Donald Quataert | Go to book overview

SEVEN The Nature of the Soviet-Syrian Link under Asad and under Gorbachev

Helena Cobban*

The Hafiz al-Asad regime that has ruled Syria since the end of 1970 has maintained a close relationship with the Soviet Union, albeit one that has often been marked by stormy disagreements. The present study will chart the dynamics of this relationship, which is one in which both sides seem always to be testing the limits of their independence from or influence over the other.

Alvin Rubinstein has defined "influence," in the context of the USSR relations with Third World states, as operating only through nonmilitary means. I would submit, in contrast, that in the context of Soviet-Syrian relations the "influence" of one side over the other can best be determined precisely in those circumstances where major decisions of peace or war are being made, when the primary instruments of influence are vested in the ability of one side--primarily, the Soviets--to offer or withhold military support to the other. 1


Historical Overview

The initial agreement for Syrian purchase of Soviet arms was concluded in 1956, and the supply relationship continued in the years that followed despite Syria's frequent changes of regime and of regional alignment, and

____________________
*
When she wrote this study, the author was an SSRC-MacArthur Fellow in International Security Studies. It should be noted that the bulk of the study was completed in September 1988. Its analysis foreshadowed to a considerable extent the changes in Soviet policy toward Syria that occurred in 1989, references to which were added in early 1990.

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