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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 14, 5 July 1976.

Who's the Best Marxsman? — On Superpower Contention: A Rejoinder to Lane and Mulrennan, Part II

page 15

Who's the Best Marxsman?

On Superpower Contention: A Rejoinder to Lane and Mulrennan, Part II

1. The change in the strategic position of the United States following its defeat in Indochina can be readily seen from a few examples.

If it hadn't been thrashed in Indochina, could we imagine the United States accepting the closure of its bases in Thailand? Could we imagine it failing to intervene directly in Angola, rather than using the South African racists as proxies?

Whereas 10 years ago the US was expanding its armed forces overseas, including the dispatch of more than half a million troops to Vietnam, now it is contracting to new lines. The American presence in East Asia peaked at about 874,000 in 1969. By last year it was down to 180,000 troops in Japan and Okinawa, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines and Guam. And a further fall is expected this year. In contrast, the US had 160,000 troops in East Asia prior to Pearl Harbour.

In mid-1965 the US army numbered 940,000 compared with the Soviet army's 1,800,000 personnel. By mid-1975 the US army had declined to 789,000 personnel, while the Soviet army had grown to 2,500.000.

If we take other factors into account (some of which I listed in my first article) and dismiss the simple-minded appraisal which pervades Lane and Mulrennan's article, we can see that the upperhand lies with the Soviet Union strategically.

2. In an effort to scatter me to the winds with self-righteous rhetoric, Lane and Mulrennan thunder: "What is Auld trying to say? Does he think that the Soviet Union has no right to be there (i.e. in the Indian Ocean)?" They note that the "Auckland Star" doesn't agree with me as it upholds freedom of the seas for all navies.

Really, how can you approach serious political questions in such an infantile way. What is important is not abstract "rights", but what policy best serves the interests of the people in the Indian Ocean area and world peace. Ridding the Indian Ocean of superpower rivalries (i.e. totally excluding great power rivalries and their attendent defence systems) is such a policy.

I support the Indian Ocean peace zone proposal advanced by Sri Lanka and other countries, just as I support the Pacific peace zone proposal. In particular, the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, should get out of the Indian Ocean.

That is also the view of Indian Ocean states. Noting the instabilities in the Indian Ocean area and the exacerbation of superpower rivalry in December 1971 and October 1973, the 1974 UN report on the Indian Ocean stated: "Any attempt to derive advantage from this unstable situation by one great power will inevitably lead to a counter move by the other great power. Moreover, any attempt by one of the the littoral or hinterland states to obtain undue support from one superpower will probably in turn lead to some other state seeking countervailing support from the other. For this reason, all hinterland and littoral states perceive it to be in their common interest to eliminate great power rivalry from the areas."

By way of an aside: I am certain that the Socialist Action League will know more than Indian Ocean states as to what is their best interest, just as they knew better than the three Indochinese peoples as to how best defeat the US aggressors.

It doesn't surprise me that the "Auckland Star" should agree with Lane and Mulrennan that the Soviet navy should have freedom of the seas. The imperialists have always demanded "freedom of the seas" so that they can apply their sea power to the maximum. Just one example: In a discussion of British defence problems, Vice-Admiral Sir Peter Gretton thundered against any extension of the 3 miles limit and stated: 'It is of the greatest importance that this erosion be stopped and liberty of movement at sea fully restored." ("Martime Strategy", 1965).

3. Lane and Mulrennan quote extensively from an article by Owen Wilkes in "Critic". Unfortunately, it is wrong on a number of important details.

First, Berbera is a Soviet base. It has a 15,000 ft runway which, when completed, will be able to handle any type of Soviet aircraft, assembly, storage and handling facilities for cruise and surface-to-air missiles, a long range communications facility, a huge fuel storage depot and barracks to hold 1500 men

When the US delegation of congressmen inspected Berbera last year, the Soviets refused them access to the communications facility and a Soviet ship at anchor. They reported that their inspection confirmed Schlesinger's allegations that Berbera was a Soviet base.

During the OKFAN II global naval exercise Soviet long range reconnaissance aircraft flew from Berbera over Indian Ocean shipping lanes. The "old (1959) Styx ship missiles" in Berbera, referred to by Wilkes, were the very ones responsible for sinking the Israeli destroyer EILAT off the Egyptian coast in October 1967.

Second, the fact that the US entered the Indian Ocean in the early 50s is irrelevant to the question of Soviet naval expansion in the 60s and early 70s. Actually, the US presence in the Indian Ocean was almost nonexistent until the Soviet navy entered it permanently in 1968. The UN study on the Indian Ocean, released on May 11, 1974, stated clearly that the US presence in the area prior to Soviet entry was confined to a task force to two destroyers and a seaplane tender stationed at Bahrein.

Third the Soviet presence in the Indian Ocean has averaged 2 to 3 times that of the US during the present decade. Generally every three months for six weeks at a time the US deploys a task force from its Pacific fleet in the Indian Ocean. Usually it consists of one or two aircraft carriers (with 60 planes each), two or three destroyers, frigates and store ships. In contrast the Soviet presence is continuous. The task force is often one or two subs, three of four guided-missile cruisers and destroyers and auxiliaries.

Superpower rivalry in the Indian Ocean area began in real earnest during India's dismemberment of Pakistan in December 1971. As the Indian seized Dacca, a US task force of 14 ships, led by the carrier Enterprise, was stationed in the Bay of Bengal. The Soviets matched this with a 26 ship force. During the October 1973 war, both of them built up their naval forces again in this area.

Fourth, when it was originally conceived. Diego Garcia was to be an austere communications base for monitoring space and surface ships and submarines to replace that at Asmara in Ethiopia. But following the Soviet move into the Indian Ocean, particularly when Berbera was developed, the US upgraded it to a full naval base. When completed in 1978. Diego Garcia will have a 12,000 foot landing strip and a harbour for aircraft carriers.

Fifth,.Wilkes (and therefore Lane and Mulrennan) assumes that the entrances to the Indian Ocean are controlled by US clients. That may be their view but it doesn't conform with reality. The Soviet Union has free access to the Indian Ocean through the Malacca Straits and the Suez canal. Any of its ships, including its aircraft carriers, can pass through the Suez from the Mediterranean without difficulty. The Horn of Africa (i.e. the area around the Gulf of Aden) is populated with states friendly to the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union is moving rapidly to improve relations with Indonesia and has just granted massive "aid" for three projects there. It can use Singapore freely for ship repairs to its maritime and fishing fleet. This year it has signed contracts worth $26 million dollars with the government-owned Keppel shipyards.

4. Lane and Mulrennan state that Congressman Les Aspin said that the US outspent the Soviet Union two to one for major surface ships in the past 5 years. Even if this is true (CIA estimates for Soviet military spending have been substantially too low in recent years, e.g., the CIA estimated that the Soviet Union spent 6% of GNP whereas it is nearer 10%-15%), it is not relevant. The US has concentrated on big surface ships, whereas the Soviet Union has deliberately built smaller surface ships which are fast and have great striking power. In a surprise attack the Soviet ship-to-ship missiles will create havoc in the American fleet. In addition, the Soviet Union has a powerful submarine fleet which has improved in quality immensely, even though it is smaller than in earlier years.

Since 1958, 722 ships have been delivered to the Soviet navy compared with 377 for the United States. With its bigger ships, the US built 3.3 million tons compared with 2.6 million tons for the Soviet Union.

According to "The Military Balance, 1975-76", published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), the US navy now has 179 major surface combat ships (including 15 aircraft carriers, 27 guided-missile cruisers and 73 guided-missile destroyers) and 65 attack subs. The Soviet navy has 236 major surface combat ships (including 31 guided-millile cruisers and 91 heavily armed destroyers) and 265 attack and cruise missile subs. Its first aircraft carrier will be brought into service this year. Another will soon follow, and a third is reported to be under construction in Leningrad. The Soviet Union has already deployed 12 Delta class subs with SSN-8 MIRV missiles of range 7200k three warheads, with a warhead yield of I to 1.5 megatons.

The May issue of "Strategic Survey", published by the IISS, notes that in naval warfare the advantage has moved in favour of small, fast ships with advanced rocket weapons (a Soviet-style navy) and away from larger vessels such as aircraft carriers (a US-style navy).

5. Lane and Mulrennan appear to think that TV1's Simon Walker discredited Muldoons claims about Soviet naval expansion. By now they are possibly aware that it was Walker, rather than Muldoon, who was wrong on all substantive points.

The cruious thing about Walkers performance was that the allegedly mythical Soviet ships are listed in standard referenc works freely available in New Zealand.

For example, the PETYA III is listed in 'The Military Balance, 1975-76" on page 82. The ROPUCHA tank landing ship is mentioned on page 152 of a book written by the editor of "Jane's Fighting Ships" called "The Soviet Navy Today", published in 1975. (This makes Captain John Moore's alleged ignorance of its existence curious to say the least. He has since pointed out that it will be included with the Soviet fleet this year.) The ROPUCHA was deployed with the Soviet Pacific fleet last year.

Image of a military ship