"Global Competition and the Deterioration of U.S.-Soviet Relations, 1977-1980," Fort Lauderdale, FL, 23-26 March 1995

While much of the attention of Washington and Moscow in the late 1970s focused understandably on the critical task of arms control, the superpowers were also engaged in a sometimes fierce competition on a regional level across the globe. From China to the "sands of Ogaden" to the European "central front," that multi-layered conflict -- which assumed ideological, economic and military dimensions -- had enormous implications for the overarching relationship.

The Third World was a key area of struggle. Although the main theaters of earlier wars -- Vietnam and Korea -- had quieted down, they were still hotbeds of contention, not to mention reminders of the complex web of opportunities and risks for the superpower either to exploit or be consumed by. Both Carter and Brezhnev viewed the Third World optimistically at first. Carter was determined to change the basis of U.S. relations with the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, no longer playing the neo-imperialist or seeing things from a narrow Cold War perspective. Brezhnev was confident that the tide of history was on the Soviets' side, which would leave them free to concentrate on expanding detente with Washington while the developing socialist movements around the world would, in his view, naturally join the Soviet bloc without inordinate effort or pressure required on Moscow's part.

But as the conference discussion at Fort Lauderdale (presented here) showed, tensions and eventually conflict erupted across the map, and policy-makers who were initially "bored" by places like Africa, found themselves increasingly beset by fear and abiding mistrust over the intentions of their great power adversary. For the Soviets, the main bone of contention was the Middle East where Moscow felt consistently cut out of the peace process. For many American officials, general concerns about Cuban activism were paramount; for others, it was the fate of specific flashpoints like the Horn of Africa because of their implications for the larger security picture (as they affected the not-so-distant Persian Gulf, for instance).

Add to these hot spots the threats posed by Polish unrest, the Euromissile crisis, and the always tempting "China card," and the sweep and significance of the global competition for the decline of détente become readily apparent.