Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

State of the Union Message: “Carter Doctrine” reflects mounting superpower contention


First Published: Unity, Vol. 3, No. 3, February 1-14, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Some major shifts in U.S. foreign policy are emerging in the wake of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, a move which considerably advanced Moscow’s position in the strategic Persian Gulf.

The invasion showed clearly that the U.S.’s policy of “detente” with the Soviets has not been able to restrain Soviet expansion or protect U.S. imperialism’s interests, and has caused Washington to reevaluate its approach towards the Soviets.

President Carter’s annual State of the Union Message, delivered before Congress on January 23, outlined how the U.S. sees protecting its interests in the Persian Gulf area. Carter called for a number of reactionary measures to bolster U.S. presence in the region.

Most notably, Carter declared the Persian Gulf to be an area of “vital interest” to U.S. “national security,” and stated that the U.S. would use military force to defend those interests. This was a blatant assertion of imperialist sphere of influence over other sovereign nations. Since World War II, only Western Europe, Israel and the Far East have been so explicitly claimed by the U.S.

Carter also reiterated his plans to increase military spending by 5%, with special emphasis on developing a 100,000-man “rapid deployment force” capable of intervention anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice. The U.S. has already beefed up its naval presence in the. Indian Ocean and is shopping for a location to set up a base in the region.

In his speech Carter called on Congress to lift what he called “unnecessary restraints” on the CIA and to restrict Congressional and public access to “sensitive government information.”

Lastly, Carter announced plans to require all men and possibly women aged 18-26 to register with the Selective Service (draft).

These various measures reflect the increased need being felt in U.S. ruling circles that the U.S. should be prepared to use direct military intervention to maintain its interests in the Persian Gulf.

Accompanying this trend is a pro-imperialist and warmongering atmosphere being drummed up throughout the country by politicians and the bourgeois media.

U.S. – declining superpower

The pro-interventionist thrust of Carter’s speech marked a shift from some of the currents in U.S. foreign policy which had developed over the past decade.

During this time, U.S. foreign policy has been shaped by the fact that the U.S. was a declining superpower. The Soviets have risen to challenge the U.S. for world domination; they are surpassing the U.S. in military capacity, and made advances on virtually every continent. At the same time, U.S. strength also has been eroded by the advances of the third world’s struggles for independence and liberation.

Being on the defensive, the U.S. faced a certain dilemma: it did not want to let its empire slip, but at the same time it feared that an aggressive posture would hasten its isolation and result in even greater losses, as happened in Viet Nam. This situation has given rise to confusion and conflict within U.S. ruling circles over how to best maintain U.S. imperialism’s interests. This struggle sharpened in the late 1970’s, and especially with the recent U.S.-Iran crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Failure of “detente”

The U.S. took up the “detente” approach with the Soviets in the 1970’s, hoping that this would quell Soviet ambitions and protect U.S. international interests. The U.S. thought that it could limit Soviet expansion through accommodation and cooperation. Part of “detente” was the view that by dividing the world into superpower spheres of influence, or by developing close trade with the U.S., the Soviets’ attention could be shifted away from attacking U.S. interests. The U.S. also hoped it could use the Soviets to attack the revolutionary forces of the third world such as China or liberation movements in other areas.

Under “detente,” the U.S. actually aided and encouraged Soviet expansion. High technology, industrial and grain exports helped strengthen the Soviet Union. The U.S. sacrificed Angola and Kampuchea by allowing the Soviets and their agents to run amuck.

Over the last year, though, there has been growing awareness in the U.S. ruling class that “detente” was getting the U.S. nowhere in its competition with Moscow. The Soviets had built up their war arsenal and were still expanding their influence around the world. This reality was driven home by the Afghanistan invasion.

U.S. approach to third world

During the 1970’s, the U.S. altered some of its policies to-wards the third world as another way to contend with the Soviets and to minimize its own loss of influence there. While the U.S. still intervened in the third world such as in Chile and Korea, it was also forced to find a policy that would not isolate it or cause it as much conflict as had the policies of aggression, counter-insurgency and intervention that were pursued in the 1940’s, 1950ís and 1960’s.

Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 marked the beginning of this shift; the U.S. was forced to abandon its policy of containment of China, and in the Shanghai Communique the U.S. stated its respect for the sovereignty of other countries and peace in Asia. The massive defeat of the U.S. in Indochina contributed to its difficulties in using military intervention against the third world.

As part of this trend the U.S. agreed to return the Panama Canal to Panama, and has been forced towards reassessing its anti-Palestine, anti-Arab stance in the Middle East.

Third world can utilize U.S. contradictions with Soviets

Because the U.S. is fearful that the destabiiization being provoked by the Soviets is undermining established U.S. interests, the U.S. has in some recent instances a parallel interest with second and third world countries in opposing Soviet aggression. This has become clearer with the recent Soviet moves in the Persian Gulf.

Thus in his speech, Carter outlined steps that could objectively help strengthen the independence of the third world countries and aid their opposition to the Soviets. Carter asked Congress to grant Pakistan military and economic aid, and he stated that the U.S. wanted to “cooperate” with the Moslem countries.

In his speech Carter also reaffirmed the U.S.’s normalization of relations with China. This underscored Defense Secretary Harold Brown’s visit to China in early January which resulted in a U.S. agreement to sell China some military equipment. Similarly, on January 24, Congress approved “favored nation trade” status for China.

But while these measures can be utilized by other countries to oppose the Soviets, Carter’s speech made it clear that U.S. “support” for the third world’s national independence was subordinate to the U.S.’s own superpower interests. The U.S.’s move away from “detente” is aimed at strengthening U.S. imperialism and its ability to contend with Russia. The U.S., for example is more interested in having bases in the Persian Gulf than it is in aiding the Afghan guerrillas.

Carter’s designation of the Persian Gulf as a U.S. sphere of influence was a warning not just to Moscow but to the third world that the U.S. would not hesitate to violate their independence and turn their countries into a superpower battlefield.

Domestic policies also prepare for war

The domestic policies outlined in Carter’s speech were also geared to furthering U.S. war preparations. Carter’s domestic programs call for more sacrifice by the masses of people as the way to deal with the U.S.’s inflation and energy problems, and to strengthen its economic position.

Thus Carter announced he would reduce the federal deficit, a move which will most likely come from cutting social programs since he has already committed a 5% increase in military spending. He will make the masses carry the burden of the imperialist energy crisis and threatened to impose mandatory gasoline rationing. Carter also asked the workers to “restrain” their pay increases in order to fight inflation, and hinted at anti-worker measures to increase productivity and at breaks for big business to enhance investments.

* * *

It still remains to be seen what the U.S. will do. While the U.S. is outlining a more openly interventionist policy, it is still reluctant to have a direct confrontation with Moscow because the Soviets are stronger militarily and the U.S. feels it has more to lose. Also Carter has not totally abandoned “detente” and in his speech he stated that he still supports SALT II.

But what is clear is that the contention between the U.S. and the Soviet Union over who will dominate the world is escalating. It is more urgent than ever for the countries and peoples of the world to unite against both superpowers and their contention, which is leading towards world war; and especially the Soviet Union which is the most aggressive superpower and the most dangerous source of war.