182. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 11–9–71

[Omitted here are a cover sheet and the table of contents.]


Principal Observations

The roots of the conflict between the Soviet Union and China have grown strong and deep. There will certainly be changes in the intensity of the struggle—even, as now, periods of relative calm and modestly improving state relations. But differences between the two states—contending national interests, warring ideologies, and antipathetic cultures—are simply too basic and too vital to permit a durable resolution of the dispute.
Soviet policies toward China have been fairly restrained since the tense spring and summer of 1969. In effect, the Soviets are trying to buy time; time in which to contain Chinese power in Asia and elsewhere; time in which to improve their already impressive military position along the Sino-Soviet border; and time in which somehow to convince the men who will one day succeed Mao that their future must lie in closer, or at least less troublesome, relations with the USSR.
The Soviet leaders seem to be at least mildly satisfied with the results of their moderation. China, though still antagonistic, is behaving with much greater circumspection than it once did and has ceased altogether its efforts to aggravate tensions along the border. Thus, assuming that Peking does not itself revert to a more actively hostile policy, the Soviets are likely to try to maintain their restrained approach, at least for the next few years.
But whatever their plans and hopes, the Soviet leaders remember the bitter past and must also allow for some grim possibilities in the future. They are apprehensive that Chinese political and economic power will grow at more impressive rates; that Chinese foreign policy will become increasingly vigorous and effective; and that China [Page 526] will further damage Soviet interests in East and South Asia and will in general undermine the USSR’s role as a world power. And they are fearful that by the mid-1970s China’s offensive strategic strength will be sufficient to pose a major threat to important targets in the USSR.
This serious concern about long-term Chinese military capabilities, together with anxieties about Mao’s intentions, particularly along the Sino-Soviet border, has led the Soviets to ponder the use of force against China. The continued strengthening of their forces along the border certainly suggests that the Soviets have decided to keep this option open. But they seem also to have concluded, at least for the time being, that the disadvantages of this alternative—including certain military risks and possibly severe political costs—would outweigh the rather uncertain net advantages in any situation short of imminent threat or extreme provocations from China. And if the Soviets should decide that military action were necessary, they would be more likely to engage in cross-border operations, limited in both time and scope, than to undertake more ambitious and risky efforts to neutralize China’s strategic potential or to occupy large portions of Chinese territory.2
The problem of China—especially the problems of trying to contain Chinese power and influence—has come to be seen in Moscow as central to Soviet policies throughout most of Asia. But concern about China is not the only major motive force behind these policies. Efforts to undermine US and Western positions is also an important common theme, one which, moreover, would (and did) exist independently of Soviet troubles with China. And much of Soviet policy in Asia is, of course, formed by and tailored to the particular—and perhaps unique—problems and opportunities presented by the individual Asian states. (A discussion of these may be found in paragraphs 39 through 61.)
The Soviets face a formidable problem in seeking to assess the overall correlation of forces in Asia in the decade ahead. They face, in fact, a series of crucial imponderables: the policies and strengths of post-Mao China; the scope and intensity of US interests in Asia; the impact of Japan’s growing strength; and, in general, the effects of the emerging quadrilateral balance of forces in Asia, i.e., the consequences of the interaction between the four major powers on the scene.
The growing complexity and uncertainty of international politics in Asia is not likely of itself to diminish the USSR’s interests or lessen its opportunities in the area. On the contrary, Moscow may over time find itself forced and in some cases encouraged to devote more and more of its energies to its position in Asia. There could be new crises vis-à-vis China, arising either from renewed troubles along the border or from conflicts elsewhere in Asia. But aside from its relations with China, the USSR is not likely deliberately to press its interests to the point of confrontation, and, in general, the more complicated the circumstances, and the more perplexed the Soviets are about the likely shape of the future in Asia, the more Moscow will be inclined to react rather than to initiate, to play it warily and by ear, rather than incautiously by some sort of pan-Asian grand design.3

[Omitted here is the Discussion section of the Estimate, including paragraphs on historical background, Soviet policy toward China, Soviet policies elsewhere in Asia, and Soviet perceptions of Asia in the 1970s.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, NIC Files, Job 79–R01012A. Secret. According to a note on the cover sheet, the Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense, and the National Security Agency participated in the preparation of this estimate. The Director of Central Intelligence submitted this estimate with the concurrence of all members of the United States Intelligence Board, except the representatives of the Atomic Energy Commission and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who abstained on the grounds that it was outside their jurisdiction. This estimate supersedes NIE 11/13–69, “The USSR and China,” August 12, 1969; see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVII, China, 1969–1972, Document 24.
  2. Lt. Gen. Donald V. Bennett, the Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, does not agree with this paragraph. Brig. Gen. David E. Ott, for the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Department of the Army, and Brig. Gen. Edward Ratkovich, for the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, join him in this dissent. All three believe that the thrust of this and the foregoing conclusions concerning the Soviet policy toward China imply that the Soviets have decided to live with the Chinese threat and hope for the best in the post-Mao period. They believe it more likely that the Soviet leadership has not yet decided among basic policy options toward China and is probably not content with the results of its current moderate tactics. In particular, they believe that the question of military action against China is still under active consideration in the Kremlin. This is indicated by the continuing buildup of military capabilities opposite China which are already more than adequate for defensive needs. If the Soviets should choose to attempt a military solution, whatever course of action they adopt would probably include a strike against Chinese nuclear weapons production and delivery facilities. For a more complete treatment of this view, see footnote to Part II, page 12. [Footnote is in the original.]
  3. Lt. Gen. Donald V. Bennett, the Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, does not agree with this paragraph. Brig. Gen. David E. Ott, for the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Department of the Army, joins him in this dissent. They believe that these longer range predictions tend essentially to rule out the possibility of a Sino-Soviet military clash. This possibility does not appear to be foreclosed either in Moscow or in Peking. Should a major military conflict occur by design, miscalculation or accident, the Soviet perceptions described in this section would be drastically affected, as would the interrelationships of countries world-wide, especially those in Asia. [Footnote is in the original.]