Does the Third World still exist? In its poverty and underdevelopment more than ever; in its “nonalignment” less and less. Most of Asia has already been divided into Soviet, American, and Chinese spheres of influence. The end of the war in Vietnam seems, at least temporarily, to have stabilized ideological frontiers and reinforced within each satellite country the power of the national party leaders. The war, sometimes open and sometimes covert, between Vietnamese and Cambodians is to a considerable extent a bloody translation of the Soviet-Chinese rivalry for domination of Southeast Asia. The great powers have largely abandoned even the pretense of morally justifying their actions: now anything goes that advances their interests at their rivals’ expense. And in this game, any regime, no matter how monstrous, can find a protector. China has its Cambodia, the USSR its Uganda, the United States its Chile. In these conditions Carter’s rather vain and timid efforts to limit the barbarity of the nations in his camp may strike us as a kind of unconscious diplomacy. But they deserve to be encouraged rather than scorned or mocked.
Never has the criminal aspect of relations between states and peoples—an aspect that is magnified by the diffusion of information and is unaffected by ideology—seemed so prevailing a norm. Never has the play of the great powers—the management of alliances and conflicts—been conducted with such cynicism about neutrality and such indifference to the suppression of individuals. “Look out for your hordes and we’ll look out for ours”: the words of the Austrian minister to his Hungarian counterpart in Franz Joseph’s empire continue to apply to the division of the world among the great powers.
Now that Africa has entered the storm zone, its internal political and social conflicts are largely overshadowed by the politics of the great powers. The few years of relative national autonomy that followed decolonization are, for the weaker and more artificial of these new countries, now little more than a memory. The reversal of alliances in Ethiopia and Somalia, and the strange coalitions now being formed, underline the absurdity of trying to apply ideological criteria imported from the West to the countries of Africa. A year ago the revolt of the Eritrean rebels against Ethiopian domination was said to be a “just” cause. Are we now, after a year of shifting alliances, to think it has become “reactionary”?
Still, many in Europe and elsewhere continue to look to the Third World to redeem their lost illusions. The image of the Soviet Union has been so devalued, even in the eyes of European Communists themselves, that it has become a kind of negative example—the incarnation of lies and oppression. But the USSR continues to figure—often understandably—as a model for the progressive nations of Africa. Grappling with the aftermath of colonialism, or with new forms of post-colonial oppression supported by the West, African political movements committed to social or ethnic revolt turn naturally toward the …