On China by Dr Henry Kissinger (2011)
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Appeasement has become an epithet in the aftermath of the conduct of the Western democracies toward Hitler in the 1930s. But confrontation can be safely pursued only if the weaker is in a position to make its defeat costly beyond the tolerance of the stronger. Otherwise, some degree of conciliation is the only prudent course. The democracies unfortunately practiced it when they were militarily stronger. But appeasement is also politically risky and stakes social cohesion. For it requires the public to retain confidence in its leaders even as they appear to yield to the victors demands. Such was Lis dilemma through the decades he sought to navigate China between European, Russian, and Japanese rapaciousness and the intransigent obtuseness of his own court. Later Chinese generations have acknowledged Li Hongzhangs skill but have been ambivalent or hostile about the concessions to which he lent his signature, most notably to Russia and Japan, as well as ceding Taiwan to Japan. Such a policy grated at the dignity of a proud society. Nevertheless, it enabled China to preserve the elements of sovereignty, however attenuated, through a century of colonial expansion in which every other targeted country lost its independence altogether. It transcended humiliation by seeming to adapt to it.
Maos opening to the United States was a major ideological as well as strategic decision. But it did not alter his commitment to the concept of continuous revolution at home. Even in 1972, the year of President Richard Nixons visit to China, he caused to be distributed nationwide a letter he had sent to his wife, Jiang Qing, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution six years earlier: The situation changes from a great upheaval to a great peace once every seven or eight years. Ghosts and monsters jump out by themselves. . . . Our current task is to sweep out the Rightists in all the Party and throughout the country. We shall launch another movement for sweeping up the ghosts and monsters after seven or eight years, and will launch more of this movement later.19 This call to ideological commitment also epitomized Maos dilemma as that of any victorious revolution: once revolutionaries seize power, they are obliged to govern hierarchically if they want to avoid either paralysis or chaos. The more sweeping the overthrow, the more hierarchy has to substitute for the consensus that holds a functioning society together. The more elaborate the hierarchy, the more likely it is to turn into another even more elaborate version of the replaced oppressive Establishment. Thus from the beginning Mao was engaged in a quest whose logical end could only be an attack on Communisms own institutions, even those he had created himself. Where Leninism had asserted that the advent of Communism would solve the contradictions of society, Maos philosophy knew no resting place. It was not enough to industrialize the country as the Soviet Union had done. In the quest for the historic Chinese uniqueness, the social order needed to be in constant flux to prevent the sin of revisionism, of which Mao increasingly accused post-Stalin Russia. A Communist state, according to Mao, must not turn into a bureaucratic society; the motivating force must be ideology rather than hierarchy.
Nixons general design was turned into an opportunity as a result of a clash between Soviet and Chinese forces on Zhenbao (or Damansky) Island in the Ussuri River, where Siberia abuts the Chinese frontier. The clash might not have attracted the White Houses attention so quickly had the Soviet ambassador, Anatoly Dobrynin, not come to my office repeatedly to brief me on the Soviet version of what had happened. It was unheard of in that cold period of the Cold War for the Soviet Union to brief us on an event so remote from our usual dialogueor on any event for that matter. We drew the conclusion that the Soviet Union was the probable aggressor and that the briefing, less than a year after the occupation of Czechoslovakia, hid a larger design. This suspicion was confirmed by a study on the border clashes by Allen Whiting of the RAND Corporation. Whiting concluded that because the incidents took place close to Soviet supply bases and far from Chinese ones, the Soviets were the probable aggressors, and that the next step might well be an attack on Chinas nuclear facilities. If a Sino-Soviet war was imminent, some American governmental position needed to be developed. In my capacity as National Security Advisor, I ordered an interdepartmental review. As it turned out, the analysis of the immediate causes of the clashes was mistaken, at least regarding the Zhenbao incident. It was a case of mistaken analysis leading to a correct judgment.
Recent historical studies have revealed that the Zhenbao incident had in fact been initiated by the Chinese as Dobrynin claimed; they had laid a trap in which a Soviet border patrol suffered heavy casualties.30 But the Chinese purpose was defensive, in keeping with the Chinese concept of deterrence described in the previous chapter. The Chinese planned the particular incident to shock the Soviet leadership into putting an end to a series of clashes along the border, probably initiated by the Soviets, and which in Beijing were treated as Soviet harassment. The offensive deterrence concept involves the use of a preemptive strategy not so much to defeat the adversary militarily as to deal him a psychological blow to cause him to desist. The Chinese action in fact had the opposite effect. The Soviets stepped up harassment all along the frontier, resulting in the wiping out of a Chinese battalion at the Xinjiang border. In this atmosphere, beginning in the summer of 1969, the United States and China began to exchange deniable signals. The United States eased some minor trade restrictions with China. Zhou Enlai released two American yachtsmen who had been detained since straying into Chinese waters. During the summer of 1969, the signals of a possible war between China and the Soviet Union multiplied. Soviet troops along the Chinese border grew to some forty-two divisionsover a million men. Middle-level Soviet officials began to inquire of acquaintances at comparable levels around the world how their governments would react to a Soviet preemptive attack on Chinese nuclear installations. These developments caused the United States government to speed up its consideration of a potential large-scale Soviet attack on China. The very query ran counter to the experience of those who had conducted Cold War foreign policy. For a generation, China had been viewed as the more bellicose of the two Communist giants. That the United States might take sides in a war between them had never been considered; the fact that Chinese policymakers compulsively studied Americas likely attitudes demonstrated the extent to which long isolation had dulled their understanding of the American decision-making process. But Nixon was determined to define policy by geopolitical considerations, and in these terms, any fundamental change in the balance of power had to evoke at least an American attitude, and, if significant, a policy. Even if we decided to stay aloof, it should be by conscious decision, not by default. At a National Security Council meeting in August 1969, Nixon chose an attitude, if not yet a policy. He put forward the then shocking thesis that, in the existing circumstances, the Soviet Union was the more dangerous party and that it would be against American interests if China were smashed in a China-Soviet war.31 What this meant practically was not discussed then. What it should have implied for anyone familiar with Nixons thinking was that, on the issue of China, geopolitics trumped other considerations. In pursuit of this policy, I issued a directive that in case of conflict between the Soviet Union and China the United States would adopt a posture of neutrality but within that framework tilt to the greatest extent possible toward China. 32
The break with Maoist orthodoxy, at the same time, revealed the reformers dilemma. The revolutionary's dilemma is that most revolutions occur in opposition to what is perceived as abuse of power. But the more existing obligations are dismantled, the more force must be used to re-create a sense of obligation. Hence the frequent outcome of revolution is an increase in central power; the more sweeping the revolution, the more this is true. The dilemma of reform is the opposite. The more the scope of choice is expanded, the harder it becomes to compartmentalize it.
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Uprisings generally develop their own momentum as developments slide out of the control of the principal actors, who become characters in a play whose script they no longer know. For Deng, the protests stirred the historical Chinese fear of chaos and memories of the Cultural Revolutionwhatever the stated goals of the demonstrators. The scholar Andrew J. Nathan has summed up the impasse eloquently: The students did not set out to pose a mortal challenge to what they knew was a dangerous regime. Nor did the regime relish the use of force against the students. The two sides shared many goals and much common language. Through miscommunication and misjudgment, they pushed one another into positions in which options for compromise became less and less available. Several times a solution seemed just within reach, only to dissolve at the last moment. The slide to calamity seemed slow at first but then accelerated as divisions deepened on both sides. Knowing the outcome, we read the story with a sense of horror that we receive from true tragedy. 4
There was a time when a Chinese leaders abjuring a crusading role for Communist ideology would have been greeted by the democratic world as proof of a beneficent evolution. Now that the heirs of Mao were arguing that the age of ideology was over and that national interest was the determinant, eminent Americans were insisting that democratic institutions were required to guarantee a compatibility of national interests. That propositionverging on an article of faith for many American analystswould be difficult to demonstrate from historical experience. When World War I started, most governments in Europe (including Britain, France, and Germany) were governed by essentially democratic institutions. Nevertheless, World War Ia catastrophe from which Europe has never fully recoveredwas enthusiastically approved by all elected parliaments. But neither is the calculation of national interest self-evident. National power or national interest may be the most complicated elements of international relations to calculate precisely. Most wars occur as the result of a combination of misjudgment of the power relationships and domestic pressures.
A classic example of a self-propelling international mechanism is European diplomacy prior to World War I, at a time when world policy was European policy because much of the world was in colonial status. By the second half of the nineteenth century, Europe had been without a major war since the Napoleonic period had ended in 1815. The European states were in rough strategic equilibrium; the conflicts between them did not involve their existence. No state considered another an irreconcilable enemy. This made shifting alliances feasible. No state was considered powerful enough to establish hegemony over the others. Any such effort triggered a coalition against it. The unification of Germany in 1871 brought about a structural change. Until that time, Central Europe containedit is hard to imagine todaythirty-nine sovereign states of varying size. Only Prussia and Austria could be considered major powers within the European equilibrium. The multiple small states were organized within Germany in an institution that operated like the United Nations in the contemporary world, the so-called German Confederation. Like the United Nations, the German Confederation found it difficult to take initiatives but occasionally came together for joint action against what was perceived as overwhelming danger. Too divided for aggression, yet sufficiently strong for defense, the German Confederation made a major contribution to the European equilibrium.
Chapter 'Does History Repeat Itself?' Endnote 2: Eyre Crowe, Memorandum on the Present State of British Relations with France and Germany (Foreign Office, January 1, 1907), in G. P. Gooch and Harold Temperley, eds., British Documents on the Origins of the War, vol. 3: The Testing of the Entente (London: H.M. Stationery Office, 1928), 406.
Crowe concluded that it made no difference what goal Germany avowed. Whichever course Germany was pursuing, Germany would clearly be wise to build as powerful a navy as she can afford. And once Germany achieved naval supremacy, Crowe assessed, this in itselfregardless of German intentionswould be an objective threat to Britain, and incompatible with the existence of the British Empire.4 Under those conditions, formal assurances were meaningless. No matter what the German governments professions were, the result would be as formidable a menace to the rest of the world as would be presented by any deliberate conquest of a similar position by malice aforethought.5 Even if moderate German statesmen were to demonstrate their bona fides, moderate German foreign policy could at any stage merge into a conscious scheme for hegemony. Thus structural elements, in Crowes analysis, precluded cooperation or even trust. As Crowe wryly observed: It would not be unjust to say that ambitious designs against ones neighbours are not as a rule openly proclaimed, and that therefore the absence of such proclamation, and even the profession of unlimited and universal political benevolence, are not in themselves conclusive evidence for or against the existence of unpublished intentions.6 And since the stakes were so high, it was not a matter in which England can safely run any risks.7 London was obliged to assume the worst, and act on the basis of its assumptionsat least so long as Germany was building a large and challenging navy. In other words, already in 1907 there was no longer any scope for diplomacy; the issue had become who would back down in a crisis, and whenever that condition was not fulfilled, war was nearly inevitable. It took seven years to reach the point of world war.
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