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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Sino-Soviet Relations in the Post-Stalin Era: 1956-1969, New Perspectives
4: Sino-Soviet Boarder Collisions: Crisis in 1969 and its Implications
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
American University, United States
The 1969 Sino-Soviet crisis is an especially important moment in history. It is one of only two cases in which two nuclear powers killed each other’s soldiers. Given the rarity of nuclear crises, this event has enormous significance for how we think theoretically about the role of nuclear weapons in world politics. Two key new books on nuclear strategy use this crisis as a critical case upon which to test theories and draw lessons, but they draw on dated secondary source materials.
Recent developments in world affairs mean getting the story of 1969 straight is increasingly important for policymakers too. Practitioners, think tankers, and academics are intensely debating the foundations of the Sino-Russian strategic relationship. The potential role of China in the Trump Administration’s decision to challenge Russia’s violation of the INF Treaty has once again brought questions of “nuclear multipolarity” to the forefront of policy debates.
Certainly, the 1969 crisis has received attention in the past. However, other than the historical, theoretical, and policy-relevant reasons, two other factors make returning to this time crucial. First, the extant literature fails to completely answer key questions and sometimes even neglects certain previously underappreciated features of the conflict, like the role of domestic politics, civil-military relations, and the role of countries other than the USSR, China, and the US. Second, newly available materials from Russia, China, India, and other countries now allow a qualitative jump in our ability to address these issues.