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East Germany-The National People's Army and the Third World

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East Germany Index

In support of its external security function, the NVA has pursued an increasingly assertive role since the 1950s, promoting both East German and Soviet interests in the Third World. Having gained the Soviets' trust and having assumed the role of the Soviet Union's leading surrogate in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, by 1986 the NVA had come to play a large part in Moscow's Third World strategy.

In Africa, where East Germany has been active since the late 1950s, early efforts were modest, motivated partly by a desire for international recognition and a quest for a stable supply of raw materials. The diplomatic isolation imposed by West Germany's Hallstein Doctrine--which precluded diplomatic relations between West Germany and any state that had such relations with East Germany--ended in 1972, and the coming of détente altered East Germany's international standing. In 1973 the East German regime renewed interest in military aid to Africa, and in the same year East German military advisers were seen in Brazzaville, Congo, for the first time. As involvement continued to diversify and increase, other motivations became pre-eminent. New intentions included a desire to demonstrate the permanence and prestige of the East German republic; a determination to compete in the international arena with West Germany, which the East Germans depicted as the sole heir to German imperialism and colonialism; and an eagerness to prove its value as the front runner for the Soviet Union in endorsing liberation movements and acting on the Leninist tenet that Moscow's road to Europe leads through Africa. In providing assistance in military, security, scientific, technical, and economic spheres, East Germany's goals, both national and international, remained consonant with those of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Estimates of the numbers of East German military advisers in Africa varied widely, as did reports on their location. According to the West German Foreign Office, in the mid-1980s East German military advisers in Africa--members of the NVA as well as the Ministry of State Security--numbered between 2,000 and 4,000, the majority being in Ethiopia, Angola, and Mozambique. Their influence reached far deeper than the numbers suggest, since the East Germans concentrated on establishing internal security organizations and intelligence services, training cadres and guerrilla commanders, and organizing national military systems. In 1982 East Germany acknowledged that it delivered arms and military technology, educated cadres, established plants for defense industries, granted patents for production of defense matériel, and helped organize and train troops in East Germany as well as in their home countries. According to some sources, East Germany was training all categories of African officers except staff officers, who received their training in the Soviet Union. Angolan paratroopers, for example, reportedly participated with an East German paratrooper battalion in joint exercises on Rügen Island in the Baltic Sea.

In the 1980s, East Germany's primary clients in Africa were Ethiopia, Angola, and Mozambique. Others receiving East German military aid included Algeria, Cape Verde, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria, Tanzania, Tunisia, Zaïre, and Zambia, as well as the South-West African People's Organization (SWAPO) and the African National Congress (ANC). East German military exports to Africa generally averaged about US$60 million in the 1980s. This reflected the underdeveloped state of the republic's armaments industry as well as competition within the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon), but the low figure may also have resulted from diversion of arms shipments through a third country, Czechoslovakia being the most likely conduit. Some assistance not labeled as military, but as scientific-technical, had clear potential for military application: port expansion and modernization; construction of hospitals and training of physicians; and development of transportation and telecommunications systems.

Many of the client countries in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen), had East German-trained civil and secret police, border troops, or prison guards. The elite Feliks Dzierzynski Guard Regiment of the Ministry of State Security trained security personnel in Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, and South Yemen, for example.

In addition to training, East Germany also provided "solidarity aid" to a number of African states and Vietnam. In the mid-1980s, disaster relief was provided to Ethiopia during a severe famine. East German civil and military air assets participated with the Soviets in delivering such items as foodstuffs, blankets and clothing, tents, and vitamins and medicines. Shipments of "solidarity goods" were coordinated with other East European states because of Comecon's arrangements for a division of labor (see Appendix B).

In the 1980s, an aspect of East Germany's involvement in the Third World--the republic's increasing identification with world terrorism--posed a significant danger to the West and to United States allies in the Middle East. East Germans allegedly trained terrorists in camps in Libya and South Yemen, and the NVA operated a school for terrorists in Pankow, a northern part of East Berlin. The school had ties with a Palestinian terrorist organization and perhaps with the Soviet Committee of State Security as well.

In response to changes in the political scene, East Germany became more active outside Africa as well. In the 1980s, East Germany gave support to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), South Yemen, Iraq, Vietnam, India, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Afghanistan, and other countries or movements in less-developed countries. For example, it flew wounded Afghan soldiers to East Berlin and supplied medical and other equipment to the Afghan army, while El Salvador and Nicaragua received various forms of military assistance.

Since the mid-1970s, East Germany has been involved indirectly in virtually every large-scale conflict in Africa. In many cases--Angola, Ethiopia, and Mozambique, for instance--East German support was crucial. Despite the financial expense of support for Africa and other Third World countries, East Germany in the mid-1980s was strengthening its existing ties and seeking new ones as part of a policy expressly based on Marxist-Leninist doctrine and proletarian internationalism.

Data as of July 1987

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