The Carter Years: Toward a New Global Order

By Richard C. Thornton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Growing Strategic Doubt and Policy Vacillation: 1978

T he Soviet military buildup in Ethiopia precipitated a major reassessment of policy through the spring. The fundamental issue was whether Soviet action constituted a challenge to the United States or was an attempt to exploit targets of opportunity. If a challenge, the basic thrust of American strategy -- which sought an early SALT II agreement followed by the establishment of new collective security arrangements around the Soviet periphery -- would have to be changed, or certainly deferred. The attempt to construct a new geopolitical order could not proceed in the context of a major Soviet challenge to United States positions. If, on the other hand, Soviet policy was simply the exploitation of targets of opportunity and posed no threat to American strategy, then Washington could proceed on its present course. Soviet leaders, perceiving opportunity in the instability created by Washington's new course and bolstered by the belief that their own strategic and intermediate-range missile power would deter any countermove, seemed to be sponsoring a massive, multifaceted, Eurasia-wide thrust which included SS-20 deployments combined with a strengthening of Soviet command, control, and communications capability; client military action in places as widely dispersed as Syria, Ethiopia, and Vietnam; and successful coup attempts in Yemen and Afghanistan. The objective appeared to be to alter the geopolitical balance to advantage all along the vast rim of the Eurasian landmass.

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