30. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 11–10–71



This Estimate assesses present and prospective Soviet capabilities and intentions with respect to using military forces in areas distant from the USSR. It is concerned with situations short of general war and with the Soviets’ use of these capabilities to enlarge the sphere of their global operations and to expand their influence among the non-aligned countries of the underdeveloped world. Accordingly, North Korea and North Vietnam are largely excluded from the analysis. They are, however, occasionally referenced since the substantial involvement in both has had implications for the subject of this paper. However, it is impossible not to refer to another Communist state, Cuba, because it has been a central factor in the USSR’s unfolding role in Latin America and is an indispensable prop to its naval operations in the Caribbean.

While the Estimate alludes where appropriate to the military implications for the US, NATO, and China of the USSR’s military [Page 96] involvement in the Third World, it does not address Soviet strategic or general purpose forces as such, which are the subjects of other Estimates. And the emphasis is as much on the USSR’s political purposes as on military purposes since it is clear that Soviet forces, advisors and assistance in distant areas serve both purposes, and as often as not the former are more important.

A word of caution is in order concerning the use of some terms. Soviet involvement in Third World areas has different aspects in different cases; a frequent manifestation is military aid, usually accompanied by some training or technical assistance to the recipient country. This form of aid is an important part of the total Soviet effort in the countries concerned; it does not, however, amount to a “military presence” or “distant military capabilities”. The latter terms are reserved for cases where Soviet combat forces or personnel are present or may be deployed in some numbers with some military capability of their own. A military presence, in turn, is not limited to Third World countries; the most extensive military presence in distant areas is on ships at sea.

Summary and Conclusions

Despite setbacks and frustrations, the USSR has made impressive progress in the last decade and a half in developing political influence in the Third World. It clearly assigns great importance to its position in certain parts of the Third World; is prepared to accept high costs and some risks to defend and advance this position; and has significantly increased the size and flexibility of its military forces which are capable of conducting distant operations.
There have been several instances of direct Soviet military intervention in Third World countries (most notably, and currently, in Egypt). But Moscow has generally preferred to use diplomatic instruments and economic and military aid programs to promote its interests. It has, of course, been greatly helped by intense anti-Western sentiments in many areas and by the existence here and there of the kinds of trouble and conflict which create eager customers for Soviet assistance (e.g., Egypt and India).
The Soviets must feel that, over the past 15 years, they have accomplished a great deal in the Third World. They have broken the ring of containment built by the West and opened many areas to their own influence. They have seen a number of states—e.g., Egypt, Syria, and Iraq—become largely or almost totally dependent on Soviet military equipment and support. They have exposed many of the nationals of these countries to Communist ideas and techniques and have developed close relationships with military men who hold or may hold key positions in their countries. They have established the USSR as the most influential great power in most radical Arab states, have gained acceptance [Page 97] of their right to concern themselves closely with the affairs of all the Middle East and South Asia, and have extended their influence into parts of Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Africa.
Still, Soviet activities in remote areas have not met with unqualified success and there are a variety of circumstances which impose constraints on Soviet policies. The USSR has encountered many disappointments—in Cuba in 1962, in the Middle East (e.g., the Arab-Israeli war in 1967), in Africa (Ghana, Sudan), and in Southeast Asia (Indonesia). Aid programs have been expensive—only a quarter of the $5.4 billion of arms aid drawn has been repaid to date. The recipients of aid have often been ungrateful, most of them resist Soviet tutelage, and only Cuba has joined the Soviet camp. And in some areas, Soviet efforts have been complicated by the appearance of the Chinese as alternate sources of aid and as bitter competitors for influence.
As a consequence of frustrations such as these, the Soviets have continuously had to revise their expectations and adjust their tactics in the Third World. They have not, however, lost their ambition. On the contrary, they are now anxious to demonstrate that, as a world power, the USSR has legitimate interests virtually everywhere. And, indeed, Moscow now has the ability to support policies in distant areas and the capability to extend its military presence in one form or another considerably beyond the negligible levels of the 1950s and early 1960s.
Since then, new multipurpose naval ships, better suited to distant operations, have entered the Soviet Navy. Naval infantry and amphibious shipping have doubled in size; the Soviet merchant marine has tripled its tonnage, and now includes nearly 400 ships suited to the needs of military sealift. Soviet military transport forces have been reequipped with new turboprop aircraft with greater capacity and range, and civil aviation has expanded overseas. Command and control capabilities to support distant military operations have also been improved.
Not surprisingly, then, the frequency and extent of Soviet military operations in the Third World have picked up considerably. The expansion of the USSR’s presence in the Mediterranean and the Middle East (including some 50 surface ships and submarines in the Mediterranean Squadron and some 16,000 Soviet military personnel stationed in Egypt) owes much, of course, to the Arab military weaknesses exposed in 1967. But it is also evident that Moscow has for some time had military interests in the Mediterranean (including the US Sixth Fleet) which extend beyond the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Since 1967, these two sets of interests have by-and-large coincided, so that Egypt has been strengthened vis-à-vis Israel and the USSR has not only gained influence in the area at the expense of the West, but has also obtained facilities for its Mediterranean Squadron’s forward deployment in defense of the USSR.
The USSR’s increased visibility in the Indian Ocean includes not only its modest naval presence, but also its civil air routes, arrangements for facilities for the Soviet fishing fleet and increased diplomatic and trade relations. As for the Caribbean, the Soviets are not likely to attempt to use the naval facilities in Cuba for forward basing of their submarine launched ballistic missiles so long as they have reason to anticipate strong US opposition. But they will probably continue to probe US reaction to different levels and types of naval deployment by, for example, deploying other types of submarines as well as missile ships and submarine tenders to Cuba.
The Soviets have substantial ground, air, and naval forces which can be used effectively to establish a presence in distant areas. This capability enables them to support political forces friendly to their policies and influence. It may make it possible in some situations to preempt the actions of others or to deter their intervention. But Soviet capabilities to use force at long range to establish themselves against opposition are limited. Against a submarine or surface ship threat, Soviet naval forces in distant waters could be increased substantially over present levels for short periods, but a sustained augmentation would require additional logistic support and ships to defend that support. The USSR still has only small numbers of naval infantry and amphibious ships, and it lacks long-range tactical aircraft and aircraft carriers. And the Soviets would need to make a substantially greater effort in developing these forces than is now evident if they were bent on establishing substantial capabilities for military action against opposition in countries remote from their borders.
Indeed, the growth in the USSR’s capabilities for distant operations has not followed the course that might have been expected if the Soviets were interested principally in direct military intervention in Third World countries. The expansion of their forces can, in fact, be attributed in large part to other causes. Increasing Soviet naval deployments to distant areas were, in the first instance, in support of potential general war missions; once begun, the USSR found in these activities opportunities to buttress its claim to a world power role equal to that of the US. The growth of the merchant fleet has been in line with the increasing requirements of Soviet foreign trade. Most of the transport aircraft added to military transport aviation are designed to improve airlift capabilities in theater operations. The capabilities of amphibious forces have improved but continue to be oriented primarily toward the support of theater forces on the flanks.
Nevertheless, continued improvement of Soviet capabilities for distant action can be anticipated. Some of this improvement will be a by-product of the expansion of naval, merchant marine, and airlift forces in support of their separate primary missions. Naval programs [Page 99] now underway will, by 1975, bring forth new surface ships and submarines capable of distant operations.
Soviet military requirements for foreign bases are more likely to grow than diminish. Prospects for Soviet antisubmarine warfare and strategic attack forces, as well as the trend in increased out of area operation of general purpose forces, both point in this direction. Soviet bases in the Third World are not easily acquired but the Soviets have been seeking additional facilities ashore and the search can be expected to continue. In general, however, for political and economic reasons as well as military, the USSR is most likely in the next few years to favor a gradualist approach in seeking to expand its influence in the Third World. And Soviet efforts abroad will continue to be aimed more at increasing Soviet influence than at establishing Communist-dominated regimes.
If the Soviets should again involve themselves militarily in a Third World country, as they have in Egypt, it would probably come about as an outgrowth of a Soviet military aid program. But circumstances leading to the establishment of a Soviet military presence in distant areas are unlikely to arise frequently. Virtually all Third World leaders are ardent nationalists and hence little disposed to inviting Soviet forces to be based on their territory. Only in exceptional circumstances, such as a compelling threat, would one of them be disposed to accept that kind of Soviet help. Moscow for its part would have to make its own calculation of risks and advantages before granting it. The record of recent years shows the Soviets are capable of bold decisions when they consider the stakes high enough or their interests and prestige sufficiently involved—as in Egypt.
The Soviets may feel that with their attainment of rough strategic parity with the US, they will in the future have wider options to project their influence in distant parts of the world. Given only a gradual accretion of forces useable in distant areas, there will be more instances in which the Soviets can, if they choose, try to use such forces to exploit opportunities—particularly if one or another government in the Third World should ask Moscow for assistance. The Soviets will be inclined to exercise caution in areas where US interests are deeply engaged, but even in these circumstances the Soviets may calculate that an assertive policy will entail fewer risks to themselves than in the past.

[Omitted here is the body of the estimate, which contained the following sections: “I—Introduction; II—Development of Soviet Interest and Influence in Distant Areas; III—Expansion of Soviet Military Power to Distant Areas; IV—General Posture in Areas of Major Interests; V—Current Soviet Capabilities for Distant Action; VI—Longer Term Outlook: Constraints and Options; and VII—Epilogue.” Also omitted are [Page 100] Annexes A–I, “Soviet on Distant Station General; Pattern of Soviet Naval Port Visits; Indian Ocean Operations; Caribbean and West African Operations; Oversea Base and Facilities Arrangements; Amphibious and Merchant Marine Sealift Capabilities; Capabilities of Military and Civilian Airlift to Support Distant Operations; Soviet Military Aid.”]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Job 79–R01012A, NIC Files. Secret. The Central Intelligence Agency, the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense and the National Security Agency participated in the preparation of this estimate. The Director of Central Intelligence submitted this estimate with the concurrence of all the USIB members except the representatives of the AEC and FBI who abstained because it was outside their jurisdiction.