One of my earliest memories of world events was sitting in a Latin class in high school waiting to see the outcome of the Cuban Missile crisis and the interception of the Soviet ships by the US Navy. Would they turn back?We were resisting Latin irregular verbs on the grounds that we might not have a tomorrow anyway. Fortunately they did turn back.
There were at least three other occasions during the Cold War when nuclear war was only just avoided: Stanislaw Petrov’s prevention in September 1983 of misreading of radar data of incoming missiles, and Exercise Able Archer in November 1983 both at the height of the Second Reagan Era Cold War. There was also the situation in 1969 when the Soviet Union planned a nuclear strike on China as part of a bitter border dispute and US President Nixon warned them off.
So in the words of the Duke of Wellington about Waterloo, the Cold War was a ‘damned close run thing‘. So I thought it would be interesting to post one of our Top Ten Conflict Tips on the lessons of the Cold War for US-China relations to avoid another Cold War, or if we have one, to manage it better than the high risk episodes of the original.
- We need a very fully developed theory of mind of China including a knowledge of its recent and long term history to see the world through their eyes, and encourage them to see the world through our eyes
- We need to understand how the Chinese political system works and what forces of change are at work internally inChina. This is made a lot easier than was the case for theSoviet Union in that it is already a much more open society with a lot of Western Access and interaction at all levels.
- We need to use any opportunity to dialogue with them to check out our theories and make predictions about how they will act in order to test our understanding.
- From an understanding of how they see the world, come to understand their interests and avoid generating any inappropriate paranoia. Try to play a role in shaping how they see their interests, but this requires some trust building
- Using Bill Ury’s distinction, we should be very clear about where our interests conflict, where they are in common and where they merely differ. There are some important trigger points likeTaiwan, which will really test our understanding of their world view and interests as well as our own.
- We should be very clear about their fears and our fears without being naïve about any intentions they may have that are negative to us.
- Recognize that finding ourselves facing a growing super power that may eventually overtake the USA is not going to be comfortable and may produce considerable fear and overreaction on both sides.
- The fact that the Chinese are studying world history for lessons to handle this is hopeful, but not to be depended on. The USA has its own learning to do, some of it from the Cold War history
- We can expect hawks and dove camps to evolve, not necessarily on historical right/left axis.China’s rise is more complicated and implicated in important US business interests. Without being paranoid, we should recognize that companies like Walmart may constitute in some sense a Trojan Horse, as does Rupert Murdoch’s press empire. They may confuse US and their own interests as in the famous: ‘What’s good for General Motors is good for the USA’ does not scan into ‘What’s good for Walmart is good for the USA’.
- In sum, the process of China’s rise needs careful handling and it is not clear that the necessary foresight is being developed, given the more immediate preoccupations for US foreign policy. The War on Terror has been a massive cognitive diversion for US mindsets and strategy.
The Creative Conflict Model of this blog might assist in framing the planning process.
Almost the start of nuclear war: Cuban Missile Crisis 1962: