Thinking About the Unthinkable in Ukraine
What Happens If Putin Goes Nuclear?
INTENSE anti-American propaganda has been a permanent feature of the Chinese Communist scene for the last decade, and it might have been supposed that a point of saturation would by now have been reached in the endeavor to incite the Chinese people to the emotional state desired by their rulers. But the month of June 1960 saw the launching of a campaign of unprecedented vehemence, described as "a new storm of struggle against United States imperialism," culminating in a special "Anti-American Week" organized throughout China from June 21 to 27.
With the Chinese people as a whole being overworked, underfed and ruthlessly coerced, and nature adding its quota of misery through last year's floods and this year's drought, it is no time for the Chinese leaders to encourage a basking in the sunshine of peaceful coexistence and relaxation of international tension. On the contrary, the masses must be persuaded that outside their borders the devilish American imperialists are waiting for the opportunity to invade and subdue their country, that their salvation depends on the speedy transformation of China into a vigilant armed camp, and that every wheelbarrow of earth moved in the struggle for "socialist construction" is a blow in defense of the motherland. But how could such emotions be evoked if there were any doubt about the malevolence of the imperialists or their will to war? Fear and hatred of "the enemy" would lose their force if it came to be believed that the imperialists could resign themselves to perpetual peace and that "different social systems" could live side by side indefinitely without war. The "new storm" in China is designed precisely to persuade the Chinese people that this cannot happen.
So far, indeed, the bark has been worse than the bite, and the absence of actual crises recently in relations with Communist China has led Western opinion largely to ignore the intensity of the anti-Western indoctrination to which the Chinese people are daily being subjected. To the time of writing there has been no renewal of serious Communist attack in the Formosa Straits since 1957; the symbolic bombardment of Quemoy to mark Presiident Eisenhower's visit to Taipeh was a relatively feeble affair. The armistice line in Korea remains unbroken; Hong Kong carries on as usual; even on the Indian border the Chinese have for some time been quiescent.
Such discrepancy between violence of speech and practical inaction was also characteristic of Communist Russia at the beginning of the thirties; this was the so-called "third period" of the Comintern when the democratic Socialist and Labor parties of Europe were denounced as "social fascists," and it was also the time of the Ramzin and Menshevik show trials in Moscow, when the amalgam of internal disaffection and foreign imperialist instigation was first presented to the Soviet public through carefully prepared confessions in court. It was not, however, a period of actual Soviet aggression abroad, for the reason that the short-term effect of Russia's "great leap forward"--as distinct from the long-term effect--was to weaken her as a military power. Far from being in a position to undertake foreign conquests during this time, she had to accept the humiliation of complete passivity while the Japanese army overran her long-established sphere of influence in northern Manchuria; the food shortages and economic confusion rendered it out of the question to risk a major war.
Today, Soviet reasons for not wanting to risk a major war are quite different, but no less compelling. Moreover, with the relaxation of internal tensions, policies of national self-isolation, cultivated xenophobia and predictions of inevitable war no longer appear so expedient as they once did.
In the new Russian mood of incipient prosperity and embourgeoisé self-satisfaction these tactics merely served to cast a chill over the hopefulness which the Party was trying to turn to its advantage, while in the West they created a wall of suspicion and opposition which Soviet diplomacy and publicity could not penetrate. Moreover, they were averse to success in the international movement which showed the greatest promise of aid to the Communist cause--the campaign for "peace" with its various front organizations throughout the world. The theme of universal disarmament made a profound appeal to the peoples of the Western democracies. But how could Communism exploit these powerful emotions in the Western world if it continued to assert that the very existence of the capitalist system made war inevitable? For those whom the Communist "peace" propaganda was designed to persuade--or at least for the more intelligent of them--this doctrine made nonsense of Moscow's appeals. It was therefore of great assistance to all those concerned with the public relations of the Soviet Union, whether as diplomats or as propagandists, when Khrushchev announced at the Twentieth Party Congress that war with the imperialist powers need not be regarded as inevitable.
There was of course a further reason which made such a declaration desirable from the point of view of the Soviet leadership. Soviet publicity for internal consumption and for Communists everywhere was by habit excessively boastful, and it had made the most of Russia's invincible military might as manifested by the victory of Russian arms in the Second World War. It was indeed important to give the utmost credit to the régime for Russia's new power and also to show that Moscow was not afraid of "massive retaliation" or of anything else the West might threaten to do. But privately, no doubt, anyone in the top leadership with knowledge of the facts about the potency of the new weapons and the Western capacity for delivery could hardly fail to take the view that, even if Russia were to emerge victorious from a major war, the damage to her own territory and population would be so great as to threaten the survival of the régime. War therefore was something to be avoided.
On the other hand, such wisdom, in so far as it did affect the top leadership, did not easily penetrate to the middle and lower levels of the Soviet Communist Party. These consisted of men and women who had been brought up to believe that the world-wide victory of Communism was historically inevitable--and the extension of Communism from Russia to Eastern Europe and China after the Second World War appeared to support this idea. They further had been taught that wars imposed by imperialists on the Communist states were historically inevitable--and Hitler's invasion seemed to prove it; and that now Soviet science and technology had provided armaments superior to those of the West in addition to the political and moral superiority which had won the victory over Germany and Japan virtually single-handed. To these minds, therefore, there was no longer any need for caution or restraint in dealings with the capitalist world; the Soviet Government should enforce its will on every disputed issue. The Party expected from its leaders new victories and glorious affirmations of the greatness and power of Russia. But this was very embarrassing for the leaders, whose continual boasting and grandiloquence were all the time building up the state of mind which produced the expectation. They found themselves under pressure to carry on an expansionist foreign policy involving a risk of the war they now had good reason to fear, or else appear to their followers as weak and cowardly--to the prospective intra-party advantage of advocates of bolder policies.
It was at least partly in order to emerge from this dilemma that Khrushchev and his associates from 1956 onwards sought to propagate the view that war with the imperialist states was not inevitable and that Soviet foreign policy could be based on the idea of permanent "peaceful coexistence." Attempts have been made to claim the authority of Lenin for this new outlook, but it has been so obvious that it was not Lenin's view that Khrushchev has had to fall back--even at some danger to the authority of Marxism-Leninism as a sacrosanct doctrine--on the argument that Lenin was out of date in this respect because he lived before the era of nuclear weapons. The propaganda of "peaceful coexistence" has been primarily directed against those within the Soviet Union who, even if they do not desire war, advocate policies which must lead to war. But it not only serves to curb the arrogance and vainglory of the Soviet chauvinist; it also, in so far as it is taken seriously, reduces fear and suspicion of Russia in the Western democracies and increases the scope for diplomatic initiatives by the Kremlin.
By the time of Stalin's death Soviet foreign policy had reached an impasse; it had been successful in consolidating Communist rule in Eastern Europe, but it had dissipated all the assets of good will for Russia which had existed in the West after the joint victory over Hitler, and it had produced the NATO coalition as a counter to Soviet expansion. Stalin's successors deemed it expedient to allay the universal alarm which Soviet postwar policy had aroused. The West, which had not willed the cold war, was looking for signs that the new rulers of the Soviet Union genuinely wished to end it, and despite lingering suspicions in official quarters and the revival of anti-Soviet popular feeling due to the suppression of the revolt in Hungary, was gradually won over to the idea of a negotiated settlement of outstanding issues, by a conference at "summit" level if ordinary diplomatic channels proved inadequate. Khrushchev himself promoted the trend by his personal expeditions abroad culminating in his visit to the United States. He saw a prospect of obtaining by means of peaceful diplomacy, and by allaying the fears that had caused so many nations to combine against him, the three main objectives of his foreign policy: the subjugation of West Berlin, the dissolution of NATO and large-scale disarmament without effective measures of control.
Unfortunately for Khrushchev there was a basic contradiction in his whole approach to world affairs. Churchill once remarked that the rulers of Russia "do not want war, but they want the fruits of war." What he meant was that the fundamental idea of Communist diplomacy is always to get something for nothing, to gain without paying a price the kind of advantage which is normally only to be obtained at the point of a gun. This attitude is in fact inherent in the Communist outlook. In a system of ordinary international relations among states which, however sharp may be the conflicts between them, regard other governments as having the same right to existence as themselves, there is a tacit assumption that negotiations which are not directly subject to duress can produce results only through a process of mutual give and take. The ideal diplomatic agreement is a trade between a willing buyer and a willing seller, to the advantage of both sides. But the fundamental Communist attitude is that all non-Communist governments are only interim authorities; they are representatives of the class enemy, historically doomed to destruction sooner or later. They cannot in any circumstances be right in a dispute with a Communist state and they cannot have points of view for which a true believer should feel any sympathy. Communist diplomacy, to accord with the processes of history, should always be on the offensive against them; the task of the Communist statesman is to make them yield to his demands, and if he cannot do that, to manifest a proper hostility towards them. Only under pressure of dire need should he ever make concessions to them; if he is in a position of strength there can be no justification for compromises with the enemy. Talk about peaceful coexistence does not alter this attitude; as Khrushchev has himself explained, it means only that military conflict is ruled out, while ideological, political and economic struggle continues.
What Khrushchev, however, seems not to have understood at the outset and what has brought him disappointment in his foreign policy is the fact that it is not possible to attain peacefully and without paying a price political objectives which deeply encroach on the interests and security of other nations. Peaceful coexistence requires the aims of policy to be brought into harmony with it, or at least a willingness to pay an adequate price for their attainment. Paradoxically, the more the West has come to believe that Khrushchev means what he says when he claims that all-out war would be suicidal for all concerned, the more remote has become the prospect of his getting what he wants. Confidence in Khrushchev's intention to keep the peace has indeed reduced the tension caused by the overshadowing fear of war and has to that extent made it easier for Moscow to negotiate on friendly terms with the West, but at the same time it has made the West less ready to yield to Soviet demands without concessions in return. In the Western view, peaceful coexistence should mean a diplomacy of normal negotiations on a give and take basis. But an examination of the record of the last two years shows that this is just what Khrushchev has never been prepared to contemplate. At no point has he had anything to offer in return for acceptance of his demands about Berlin and Germany except reduction of the danger of war--a danger which Soviet policy had created but which the preaching of the impossibility of a major war rendered less and less convincing.
In fact, the whole of Khrushchev's diplomatic offensive from the autumn of 1958 onwards was based on a threat of war. His demand for an alteration of the status of West Berlin, contrary to existing agreements and originally in the form of a six months' ultimatum, followed the Soviet sputnik successes and the consequent alarm in the West at the discovery of the "missile gap." Each subsequent major occasion of Soviet political action--the arrival of Khrushchev in America and the summit conference--was marked by a spectacular new manifestation of Soviet rocketry in outer space, and the intention was clearly not only to impress the world with Soviet zeal and skill in the pursuit of astronomical science, but also to scare everybody with the Soviet capacity to hit distant targets with nuclear warheads. Unfortunately, from Khrushchev's point of view, the effect he thus produced by frightening people was cancelled by the effect he produced by preaching the doctrine that war had become too terrible to resort to it.
During the months before the summit conference the West came round more and more to the conviction that Khrushchev was not going to risk war over Berlin, and as the fear of war receded, so grew the West's determination to resist Soviet demands. After all, the Russians had no legal or moral right to change the status of West Berlin unilaterally and they had nothing to offer which might serve as the basis for an agreed settlement. What reason was there then to submit to their dictation? It is clear that the Western attitude on Berlin hardened in the period between the Camp David talks and the summit conference. Khrushchev thus found himself frustrated; it was probably only after his visit to President de Gaulle, who is said to have done some plain speaking, that he realized he was not going to get his way on Berlin at the conference. Since he could not come back from such a conference without a great diplomatic success and since he had lost his earlier expectation of achieving one, there was nothing for him to do except to wreck the conference at the outset on an extraneous issue--for which the U-2 episode provided a stratospheresent opportunity. If he could not get Berlin, at least as a good Communist, he could show he was tough. He showed himself tough again at the disarmament conference; it had become evident that the West was not going to give him what he wanted without sufficient guarantees of inspection and control, so here too a walkout was the solution most conducive to the prestige of Khrushchev as a Communist leader.
There has been much speculation in the West about the possible domestic pressures on Khrushchev and some observers have claimed to detect an organized faction compelling him to change the previous direction of his policy. But there is no need to attribute the pressure to a particular group of persons; Khrushchev appears still to have a firm grip on the Party apparatus and to be able to prevent the emergence of a dangerous rival for leadership. He is nevertheless the prisoner of the Party in the sense that he must act in the way that all right-thinking Communists expect him to act; if he fails to do so, he will lose the prestige essential to his position as leader. The kind of diplomatic agreement which would be regarded as a success for a Western foreign minister is of no use to a Soviet First Secretary in 1960; if he cannot get what he wants in his foreign policy on his own terms, he can save face only by smashing up the shop--which at the stage short of military violence means wrecking conferences. But the comrades may expect him to go further than wrecking conferences. Have they not been informed that Russia has the best rocketry in the world? So after the breakdown of his summit diplomacy Khrushchev more than ever had to try to persuade his followers that war must be ruled out. One can abuse the imperialists and make faces at them, but one must try to avoid a shooting war with them because hydrogen bombs are not things to be taken lightly.
Khrushchev has not, therefore, succeeded by his doctrine of peaceful coexistence in escaping from the dilemma between a bellicosity which involves the risk of a real war and a really peaceful diplomacy which falls short of what is expected of a Communist leader. He must intimidate nations and aggravate tension in order to acquire the fruits of an aggressive foreign policy, but at the same time he must explain to everybody--to reassure the West and to restrain his own supporters--that war is out of the question, with the result that his threats lose their force and the tension becomes a cause of annoyance rather than fear. When the intimidation thus fails and his demands are not conceded, he flies into a rage, tells the world's assembled journalists how he used to treat cats when he was a boy, and talks about protecting Cuba with Soviet rockets. But at the same time he lashes out at those in the Communist world who suggest that war with the imperialists is after all inevitable and says he will "not retreat an inch" from the policy of peaceful coexistence. In practice, he simply keeps on jumping from one horn of the dilemma to the other. The only way to get clear from it would be for him to accept the principle that in a system of sovereign states from which war is excluded the only alternative is to seek agreements on a basis of mutual benefit and compromise. But this is what his position as leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and his own background as a militant Communist make it impossible for him to do.
In such a situation the part played by China becomes an increasingly important one. It should not be exaggerated or described in terms of Russian versus Chinese, because it is the Russian Party itself that is the main source of the pressure on Khrushchev to pursue objectives that are unattainable without victorious war. But just because the assumptions and sentiments implied in this pressure are so much more explicit and uninhibited in contemporary China, the Chinese influence has an important effect in reinforcing and strengthening the trends in Russia towards international intransigence. Conditions in China and in Russia are not indeed the same, for the strain of the industrialization drive in China provides a reason for cultivating fear of imminent foreign aggression such as no longer exists in Russia. But since Russia is unwilling to make a settlement with the West on any terms but those of complete diplomatic victory, Western-Soviet tension continues and the posture of Russia in relation to the West, in spite of all Khrushchev's speeches and state visits abroad, tends to be indistinguishable from that of China. It is the Chinese who can say "I told you so!" when the highly publicized diplomacy of Camp David ends in diatribes against President Eisenhower as a false friend and a tool of imperialism. The Chinese Communists kept on warning that it would end in failure. In this the wish indeed was father to the thought, for there can be no doubt that there is nothing they feared so much as a real Soviet-American rapprochement leading to a fulfillment of Soviet ambitions in Europe, but with no pickings for China in the Far East. They had not sufficient confidence in Khrushchev to believe that if he saw a prospect of achieving Soviet aims in agreement with Washington on condition of dropping support for the claims of Peking he would hesitate for a moment in accepting the bargain. A Soviet-American deal, if it could have been attained on Khrushchev's terms, would necessarily have been at the expense of Western Europe, but it would also have been at the expense of Communist China. The Chinese, therefore, hoped that the Soviet-American negotiations would fail, and long before Khrushchev's buoyant self-confidence was deflated they became convinced that the event would be as their interests required. They explained in their press that the nature of American imperialism was unchanged and that it was useless to try to come to an agreement with it. When therefore the summit conference collapsed, they were able to claim that it was just what they expected to happen.
With regard to nuclear weapons, the Chinese Communist leaders do not have to make excuses to the Party for not using them, since they do not as yet possess them. They can preach the inevitability of war and launch a "new storm of appeal" against American imperialism without anyone asking why they do not launch against American cities the missiles that they have not got. At the same time, so that their own people may not be intimidated by awareness that the enemy does possess the weapons which China still lacks, their domestic propaganda minimizes the effectiveness of nuclear weapons, and this can be extended to reproach "revisionists" for overestimating them. To be "afraid of war" and to "dream of begging peace from the imperialists" are now high among the mortal sins of the Chinese Communist code, and it is broadly hinted that persons more important than Tito have been guilty of such cowardly defection from their Communist duty; hence the vigor of the official Soviet counter-attack, which claims that "it is not sufficient to repeat the old truth that imperialism is aggressive" and that the task today is "to make full use of the factors making for peace in order to save humanity from the catastrophe of another war."
It may well be that Mao Tse-tung really is less daunted by the prospect of a nuclear war because of the vast numbers of the Chinese population and the dispersal of the Chinese economy. As an old guerrilla fighter he is no doubt inclined to be unimpressed by massive armaments. But at any rate he has no need to make any decisions about launching an atomic war since he has not the power to do it. He can be as warlike as he pleases inside China and stage "anti-American weeks" as often as he will, but it does not cause a world crisis because the ultimate weapons are not his. But since Khrushchev does possess them, he can only make warlike gestures by threatening to use them; and since a general belief that he was going to use them would rapidly raise international tension to the point at which they might be launched, he must continually counter his own threats by reaffirming his resolve to avoid war. As a consequence of this situation the contemporary Soviet attitude is far less consistent than the Chinese. Communist China is coherently truculent. But Khrushchev keeps on rattling the nuclear equivalent of a sabre in support of an aggressive diplomacy while assuring everyone that he will never draw it except in self-defense. The danger for the world is that confusion about his intentions may exist not only among foreign observers who try to interpret his policy but also in the mind of Khrushchev himself.