Top Ten Lessons of the Cold War for Future China/US Relations

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.

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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
  9. 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’.
  10. 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:

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About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in Conflict Processes, Rise of China, Top Ten Conflict Tips from Great Thinkers, Uncategorized, Ways to handle conflict and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Top Ten Lessons of the Cold War for Future China/US Relations

  1. Victor-- says:

    Your models sound like the new EST speak–the Forum etc.

    in reality conflict resolution is all about value these days and mainly money and means lawyers who want to get paid

    Footnote: This comment was edited to remove off topic comments

    • @Victor. I am not posting your remarks on Harvard PON as they don’t make any sense to me, based on what I know and are off topic: they don’t contribute to learning from the Cold War to handle China. Specifically, I have just been through their site and there is nothing close to EST in their course descriptions; just a great diversity of interesting approaches. Also a friend of mine did a post doc there a year back and her detailed debrief made no mention of anything close to it. And she is very anti any sort of cultism.

      Your remarks on the legal case are also off topic. I know more about some aspects of this case than you appear to, and I think you fundamentally misrepresent what happened, and certainly my stance. Some of your postings on the case were very psychologically insightful. But it is a case that has for me lost heuristic value given what happened. It was an avoidable disaster for the interests of all parties. And you have never had a sense of proportion on the case. As the judge in the case commented: proportionality was sorely lacking on all sides. Though I have to say apart from that, his judgement was about Clarence Thomas level of articulacy and the process he was reviewing profoundly flawed.

      Far better you focus on your friend Christopher Hitchens worthy target Henry Kissinger.

      I knew nothing about EST and having briefly read a bit about it, I think you are misjudging what I am trying to do. ‘Promising direction, empowerment and enlightenment, the seminars challenged people to throw away their old belief systems and embrace the beauty of the present moment.’ Hmm…doesn’t sound anything like my approach which is rigorously analytical as well as realistic about emotions, cognitive bias and the findings of neuroscience. It is about as far away from a belief system as it could be, more like Kaisen, and it is at present not a business venture. Just someone trying to improve our conflict handling without snake oil.

      I would be interested if you could explain to me the difference between positional and interest-based bargaining that is central to this blog, given you have been reading it for two years or so. Thinking about it, I realize that we are speaking past each other because I don’t think you understand, or maybe fail to accept the value of, interest-based/non-zero sum/win-win approaches to conflict. They are just not on your radar at all. Like a math problem, you seem to think there is one determinate answer to a problem; not as is usually the case with human problems, multiple possibilities with differing values for each side’s interests.

      On the substance of conflict handling, you therefore seem to me to lack any understanding at the meta level of interest- based negotiation such as I have practiced it for 25 years. You share with many, if not most, people an absolute inability to move beyond your positional thinking to probe the underlying interests involved in a conflict. To you, to probe the interests of the sides is to take sides. You never could understand how I was trying to meet all three sides’ interests, not just the one, presumably because you didn’t like the deal I suggested. Which was maybe quite right; the process was what interested me, not the specific deal.

      Perhaps you would accuse New York’s very successful hostage negotiators of taking sides when they unlock a hostage stand off? You would say they had damaged their brand, if they didn’t let the SWAT team shoot the hostage taker? Neutrality and mediation to you means arbitration: taking one side, based on your sense of moral rectitude. That is not the conflict world I have inhabited for 40 years.

      You make statements like ‘in reality conflict resolution is all about value these days and mainly money and means lawyers who get paid‘ without any supporting data. My own experience here is of a County small claims system that won’t hear any case that hasn’t been mediated for $30 cost.I am sure there are cases where lawyers do just what you say, but I don’t accept such trends fatalistically, or that they are representative. Alternative dispute resolution and interest based non adversarial divorces are far better value for money for most people, and are on the rise in most states in these hard times.

      You have a lot of useful knowledge on the Cold War, and I would prefer you focus your remarks on this topic on this posting. But that is your choice.

  2. Victor says:

    No offense meant–a colleague pointed out that Werner Erhart–EST– claimed to be a consultant and guru to the Harvard project–he claims it on his the web postings and sites.

    The Evan case is a dead duck–he seems very litigious –his right-but a very problematic brand in the consulting biz

    Anyway I do not care

    You, however, continue to put up very insightful posts–well done–keep it up

    • @Victor, none taken. PON like most programs, has its strengths and weaknesses, but Erhart/EST is not one of the weaknesses as I said. As for the case, I don’t think he is litigious by nature; like many behaviors, it was situational. Sleeping dogs can now sleep.

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