I AM A SOVIET specialist. Gorbachev and the changes he has unleashed have led to a booming business for us Soviet specialists. You'd think that this would make me happy. But it doesn't.
You see, I happen to be a specialist on Soviet relations with the Third World. Unfortunately for me, Gorbachev chose to disengage the Soviet Union from the Third World. In the process, he has disengaged my career.
Of course, Gorbachev is also pulling out of Eastern Europe. But the study of Soviet-East European relations has a bright future. The Soviets and Eastern Europe are neighbors, and there'll always be enough tension between them to concern America and Western Europe. Even if the Soviet Union breaks up, Russia will still be one of the most important countries in the area.
It's different with the Third World. The U.S.S.R's internal problems are growing so rapidly that Soviet leaders no longer seem to have time, energy or interest to devote to distant countries in Latin America, Africa or even Asia. Moscow has announced that in 1991 it will sharply curtail its already reduced aid to its erstwhile Third World allies.
I kind of sympathize with Castro and the other Third World radical leaders. I feel as if Gorbachev has cut me adrift just as he has them. And just as their future careers look bleak, so does mine.
It wasn't always like this. When I became a graduate student over a decade ago, it seemed like the U.S.S.R. was becoming stronger and the U.S. weaker. Almost everything was going well for Moscow in the Third World while almost nothing was for us. During the 1970s, pro-Soviet Marxist regimes came to power in South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Angola Guinea-Bissau, Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Grenada. The Soviets also had allies in North Vietnam, Cuba, Syria, Libya, Iraq, South Yemen and elsewhere.
The Soviets did have their setbacks. Now and then they were kicked out of places like Egypt and Somalia. But it didn't matter. Moscow was always able to replace lost allies with new ones in short order. It's true that even back in the 1970s, I argued that the Soviet Union was unlikely to succeed in maintaining its influence in the Third World. The Soviets' ambitions outran their capacities. But this argument was only interesting when it was controversial. My adversaries would point out that Moscow was pursuing an expansionist policy in the developing world and meeting with some success. But now that my argument (others made it too) has proven to be correct, no one cares any more.
Iremember my dissertation adviser telling me back in 1979, "Mark, you ought to write something on Soviet-Third World relations. You'd be getting in on the ground floor of a real growth industry."
Well, he was right. The subject was in such demand that since then I have won three pre-doctoral fellowships, three post-doctoral ones and two government research contracts to study it. I published three books (plus two more which I edited that will soon be published) as well as many articles and op-ed pieces. The U.S. Information Agency sent me on several speaking tours to Europe, the Middle East and South Asia to give lectures on this vital topic. I also gave numerous TV, radio and newspaper interviews. I fear that there will be no more grants or lecture tours, and precious few interviews, on this subject in the future.
Just like investors in the stock market in 1929, 1987 or 1990, I never suspected that what my adviser assured me was a boom industry could go bust. My adviser retired not long ago. Unfortunately, I have at least another 30 years to work before I can. What am I supposed to do?
The obvious answer is that I should develop a specialty in some other aspect of Soviet studies. Several other Soviet-Third World specialists have already done this. Indeed, some of them have become experts in other areas virtually overnight. Amazing!
But I don't want to do this. I have several reasons. First, there are already lots of experts on these other areas. Second, I'm lazy. Third, I've already been burned once; I don't want to develop some other specialty just to see it become irrelevant too because the Soviet Union breaks up completely. And fourth, I really am interested in Soviet policy toward the Third World. I am so interested in it that I want to see it actively continue indefinitely (or at least until I retire).
I think that the only way my career can be saved is if Gorbachev is ousted by the communist hardliners, the Cold War is reignited and Moscow resumes its military involvement in the Third World.
Some might ask indignantly, "Why should the Soviet people have to suffer continued communist dictatorship just to save your career?" My response is quite simple: The Soviet people are used to suffering, while I am not. They should do what they're good at and let me do what I'm good at.
Besides, it seems as if the Soviet people are going to suffer no matter what. Why should they drag me down with them?
So hurry up you Soviet hardliners! Get rid of that Gorbachev trouble-maker! Then I can get back to the business of analyzing just why your nefarious plots in the Third World won't succeed!
Mark Katz is an assistant professor of government and politics at George Mason University.