The Soviet Triangle

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 15)

Donald R. Shanor, the Director of the International Division of the Columbia University Graduate School of Education, and a journalist, begins his discussion on foreign policy with the observation that a new triangular pattern is emerging in the world, a Sino-Soviet-American system that includes elements of both alliance and rivalry in the relations of the nations it encompasses. In the relationship which places the Soviet Union and its camp on one side, China and sometimes Japan on another, and the United States and Western Europe on the third, a change in attitude of one toward either or both of the others transforms the triangle.

Combining historical narrative and political analysis, Shanor traces the evolution of China’s policies toward and relations with the Soviet Union, Japan, and the United States. He concludes disparity in power is the key to the emnity between Russia and China and all other reasons—ideological, territorial, and political are subordinate to it. Although his chapters on bilateral relations contain little new information, they effectively illustrate the differences in Peking’s, Russia’s, and the United States’s approach to each of the other’s power and effectively emphasize the origins of the present sharply exacerbated quarrel China has with the Russians.

Shanor covers a wide field in his comparative analysis, perhaps too wide. Not only does he concentrate on Russia, China, and America and Western Europe and their impact on future world relations, but he also analyzes two aspects of détente policy: arms control and trade, and he focuses on the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II), human rights, the reunification of East and West Germany, Eurocommunism, the protection of spheres of influence, and the effect of the Pope on the politics of Eastern Europe. He argues his case with assurance, frequently quoting others in support of his contentions. He does not, however, identify all of his sources, which leaves his reader questioning the validity of some of the points he wishes to make.

He states that China, in spite of its long-standing animosity toward the United States over Taiwan and a number of other issues, has momentarily put aside differences in the face of the Soviet threat to its border. It is the author’s contention that because of the complicated nature of the contemporary world, it cannot be assumed that the movement of China from the Soviet to the American orbit will be permanent; therefore, the new triangle can serve only as an indicator of political behavior, not as a stable pattern of organization of any new block arrangement.

China, at the moment, cannot be considered a power rival, militarily, of either the United States or the Soviet Union, although diplomatically China’s role could become one of importance. According to Shanor, the Soviets view China as their gravest problem in foreign policy and a costly one domestically when the border army and backup missile system is counted.

If the Chinese continue to develop nuclear weapons with the capacity to deliver them, at least in Asia, global power distribution could be altered. For the moment, however, Chinese interests seemingly are regional as opposed to American interests which are global. China’s unique status allows her to exercise some independence against actions of Russia or the United States; however, this does not translate into military or economic power. Since China is responsible for no one else’s security, aside from North Korea’s, it is incumbent upon the United States to see that China does not move from her present position away from the Soviets. Playing the China card (a term the author claims originated in Moscow) is perceived wholly as a matter of intention. Shanor insists the Soviet’s perception of the United States’s intentions must be the ruling factor in determining how America plays its China card.

After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan it was felt in Washington that a “complementary” defense could be established or expanded between the United States and China. Shanor lauds such a move as a demonstration to the Soviets that real cooperation is possible between the United States and a Communist country, but he cautions that if the triangle is to work it is not enough to transfer relationships from the Russians to the Chinese. The United States might wish to move China into a position of détente formerly occupied by the Russians but this may not be entirely wise. Such a move could leave the West with no leverage with the Russians. There would be nothing to embargo, suspend, or chill as a deterrent to future invasions. He asserts that this would make the world an even more unstable place.

The Soviet movement into Afghanistan in the closing days of the decade of the 1970’s and the retaliatory measures taken by the United States in the opening days of the 1980’s altered the triangle somewhat but, according to Shanor, did not basically change it. Russia’s justification for the invasion was based on fear of encirclement. It was presumed, so states a Russian official whom Shanor never identifies, China and the United States would profit from the unrest in the Islamic world and would hit at the U.S.S.R. through turbulent Afghanistan.

The invasion of Afghanistan, Shanor claims, provided President Carter with the excuse he was looking...

(The entire section is 2193 words.)