Relationships in the Red Sea and
Persian Gulf Regions
THE END OF THE COLD WAR AND THE COLLAPSE OF THE USSR HAD A dynamic effect on domestic and international relationships in the Third World. In countries and regions around the globe, the end of the competition between superpowers for friends and influence forced a new awareness and calculation of regional and internal political and security balances, of national interests, and of intrinsic strengths and weaknesses.
The new calculations led to radically different outcomes in different regions, and nowhere was this truer than in the contrast between developments in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf regions after the mid-1980s. In the Red Sea region, it was demonstrated that the Soviet competition for presence and influence in the 1970s and 1980s had had more to do with cold war zero-sum assumptions, worst-case scenarios, ideologically driven quests for Third World allies, and habitual behavior of strategic denial than with actual geopolitical importance. It is not surprising, then, that when the cold war ended, and particularly when the USSR collapsed, Russia lost interest in the region, and (except for humanitarian spasms) its member-states were left to their own devices.
The Persian Gulf countries, by contrast, have not been left to their own devices. Their reserves of oil and their ability to make major purchases of arms and other high-technology commodities have ensured their status as a region of continuing global importance. There was never any question that the United States would continue to see the Gulf in zero-sum terms; and the experience of the 1980s indicated that Washington would expend considerable efforts to defend American interests there. By the end of the 1980s, the USSR was only a marginal player in the region, although it continued to aspire to a role that was more than nominal. After the