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Foreign Adventures

High oil prices also financed an eight-fold increase in military spending under Brezhnev's rule. By 1982, the military budget consumed approximately 15 per cent of the country's GNP. The rise showed the growing power of hardliners in the Brezhnev government, particularly in the KGB, the armed forces, and the defence and foreign ministries, who were committed at all costs to maintaining military superiority over NATO as the foundation of Soviet security.

Ambitions of global power also fuelled the Kremlin's military spending. The hardliners were increasingly directing Soviet arms in support of Third World socialist revolutions and anti-colonial movements.

Their confidence was boosted by the failure of NATO to respond to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia to crush the reformist government of Alexander Dubcek in August 1968 - an invasion that the Soviet Defence Minister, Andrei Grechko, had pledged to carry out 'even if it leads to a third world war'. The Kremlin emerged from the crisis with renewed boldness. 'The new correlation of forces is such that [the West] no longer dares to move against us,' claimed Andrei Gromyko, the Foreign Minister.

Moscow justified its action retroactively with the Brezhnev Doctrine, first outlined in Pravda article on 'Sovereignty and the International Obligations of Socialist Countries' and then boldly stated in a speech by Brezhnev at the Congress of the Polish United Workers' Party on 13 November 1968:

'When forces hostile to socialism try to turn the development of a socialist country towards capitalism, it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern of all socialist countries.'

In practice what this meant was that the USSR reserved for itself the right to intervene in the internal affairs of any Eastern Bloc country if it deemed this necessary for its security interests.

In the 1970s, as Brezhnev's health deteriorated after suffering a major stroke, real power passed to the KGB chief Yuri Andropov, Gromyko and Dmitry Ustinov, the new hawkish Defence Minister, who pursued an even bolder foreign policy. The USSR became involved in Vietnam, where the northern Communists shifted their allegiances from Beijing to Moscow in the early 1970s.

With Communist victories in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, it seemed that the dream of global revolution was not that far away. Military aid flowed to Marxist revolutionaries in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Soviet forces were involved in the Angolan Civil War, the Somalian-Ethiopian conflict and the revolution in Nicaragua, which Moscow saw as a 'second Cuba'.

The last foreign adventure was in Afghanistan, from December 1979, where Soviet forces were sent to support a Communist regime against the Afghan Mujahideen, armed and supported by the USA. The nine-year invasion was a catastrophe: the Mujahideen were impossible to beat in their mountainous strongholds; jihadism spread through Afghanistan and neighbouring Muslim lands; and the US ended its commitment to détente with the election of President Reagan, who pledged to paralyse the Soviet nuclear threat by developing space-based weapons (SDI) which Moscow could not afford. The Soviet empire was overstretched.

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