72. Statement by the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Lord)1

The Triangular Relationship of the United States, the U.S.S.R., and the People’s Republic of China

I appreciate this opportunity to participate in your committee’s examination of one of the most critical subjects in foreign policy: the triangular relationship of the United States, the Soviet Union, and the People’s Republic of China. Our relations with the world’s largest country and with the world’s most populous country are cardinal elements in our pursuit of a more secure and moderate international system.

The Soviet Union possesses great industrial prowess and military strength. It is directed by leaders dedicated to developing Soviet power and enhancing Soviet influence. Aside from ourselves, only the U.S.S.R. has strategic capabilities and conventional forces with a global reach. It is thus at once our principal rival in a geopolitical contest and an inevitable partner if we are to help shape a more positive globe. There can be no higher imperative than insuring that the vast nuclear arsenals we each hold are never used—for the ensuing holocaust could engulf not only our two countries but civilization itself. Our own security and global stability hinge fundamentally upon the success of our endeavors to manage this relationship.

China as well is a vast nation, with one-quarter of the world’s population, a long and rich history, impressive economic potential, a growing nuclear capability, and substantial political influence. There can be no lasting equilibrium in Asia, and ultimately in the world, without China’s constructive participation. Building a positive and durable relationship with that nation is at the heart of our international policy.

U.S. Policy Toward the U.S.S.R.

The relationship with the Soviet Union has been a central challenge for America for three decades. The power of the U.S.S.R. is continuing to grow. The United States could not have prevented the Soviet Union’s rise to the stature of a superpower, nor can we make its power disappear. Our objective is to create inhibitions against the Soviets [Page 395] using their strength in ways that jeopardize our interests or those of our friends and, over time, to channel their energies in more positive directions. This is no simple task, for the conditions are unprecedented: we have competing national interests; our ideologies and values clash; we each possess arsenals of awesome destructiveness; and each of us can project its influence throughout the world.

President Ford and Secretary Kissinger have recently set forth our approach toward the Soviet Union in considerable detail. Let me, therefore, just briefly review the highlights.

We must pursue a complex dual policy. On the one hand, we need to demonstrate strength and resolve. We and our allies must maintain levels of military capability sufficient to dissuade the Soviet Union from seeking to further its positions by force. And we must firmly oppose adventurism.

On the other hand, we must seek to shape more constructive bilateral relations and global patterns of restraint and cooperation. We must work for reliable agreements to limit strategic arms on both sides. We must be prepared to resolve political disputes through negotiation. Developing bilateral ties in commercial and many other areas on the basis of reciprocal benefits is an important part of this process; it can help encourage Soviet interests in improved relations and moderate international conduct.

In short, we need both to maintain penalties for irresponsible Soviet behavior and to develop incentives for Moscow to pursue a more constructive course.

There have been positive accomplishments. We concluded one major agreement on strategic arms; and we are working toward a comprehensive second accord which—for the first time—would place a ceiling on the strategic arms race, thus reducing the threat of nuclear war and enabling us to avoid expenditures on forces that would have only marginal military or political utility. We have eased tensions and negotiated solutions on a number of problems; for example, the four-power agreement on Berlin defused one of the traditional crisis areas. We have expanded our relations with the U.S.S.R. in commerce, technology, and many other fields on the basis of mutual benefit; for example, last year’s grain agreement, while helping to meet Soviet requirements, assured profits to our farmers, alleviated pressures on our prices, and protected our traditional foreign customers against unrestricted Soviet forays into our market during future periods of short supply.

If we have made significant progress on some fronts, problems remain on others. Most serious is the imperative of preventing expansionism and the exacerbation of regional conflicts. In Angola, the Soviet Union and a Cuban expeditionary force intervened to impose a solu[Page 396]tion on a turbulent local struggle. To allow such a pattern to develop without opposition would create a dangerous destabilizing trend in world affairs. Leaders of nations in Africa and elsewhere would tailor their perceptions and decisions accordingly. Continued American passivity would send misleading signals to the Soviet Union, and China as well. We might well face harder choices and higher risks in the future.

We have made clear to Soviet leaders that persistent attempts to gain unilateral advantage could not help but damage the state of our relations and thereby undermine global stability.

Thus we face the long-term challenge of maintaining a stable balance and striving to go beyond this to build a peaceful and secure world. While Americans can reasonably disagree on the tactical details of our policy toward Moscow, I believe that for the foreseeable future any Administration will need to follow this two-track approach.

Let me now turn to our relations with the other major Communist state.

U.S. Policy Toward China

Mutual concerns and incentives prompted the United States and the People’s Republic of China to launch a new beginning together after two decades of hostility and isolation. Our shared interests provide the foundation for a durable and growing relationship.

Positive relations with the People’s Republic of China offer us a variety of benefits: improved prospects for preserving global equilibrium; reduced dangers of conflict in Asia, an area where the interests of all the world’s major powers intersect; the growth of mutually beneficial bilateral ties, including cultural and educational exchanges, and commercial opportunities; and possibilities for cooperation or compatible action on global issues.

The Chinese also derive advantages from this relationship: a hedge against Soviet diplomatic and military pressures, broader access to the international community, opportunities for trade and technology, and the prospect of progress on the Taiwan question.

We and the Chinese share common concerns that the world remain free from domination by military force or blackmail—“hegemony,” as we have described it in our various communiqués. We have also agreed to pursue the normalization of our relations. We remain dedicated to these objectives as set forth in the Shanghai communiqué.

There has been significant progress. Extensive and wide-ranging talks between our two leaderships have deepened mutual perceptions—reducing the risks of miscalculations where we disagree and increasing the chances for parallel actions where we agree. Our respective approaches to various regions and problems often reinforce one [Page 397] another. We have established liaison offices in each other’s capitals. We have increased trade and promoted scientific and cultural exchanges.

The Taiwan question presents some difficult issues. We have acknowledged that Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait maintain that there is but one China, of which Taiwan is a part; and we do not challenge that position. We have affirmed our own interest in a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue by the Chinese themselves. And with that prospect in mind we have reduced our forces on Taiwan—10,000 at the time the Shanghai communiqué was signed, less than 2,500 now. This process will continue.

There is understanding on both sides about the pace at which our relations have evolved. At the same time we cannot afford to be complacent. We see important national interests served by a consolidation of this relationship. We see no evidence thus far that foreign policy is a significant issue in the current campaign with the P.R.C., although, as in any country, there is a necessary relationship between domestic politics and the pursuit of foreign policy objectives. The Chinese, in a variety of ways, continue to signal to us their continuing interest in sustaining and developing Sino-American relations. In any event, the crucial factor for the Chinese will be their perception of the strength, steadiness, and vision of the United States on the world scene.

The basic decisions on how we will complete the normalization process have not yet been made, but the direction of our policy is clear. We are confident that with mutual efforts we will move ahead progressively to strengthen our ties.

The Sino-Soviet Dispute

The Sino-Soviet dispute remains a fundamental feature of the contemporary global setting.

The roots of this rivalry run deep. There are numerous and longstanding territorial and political disputes. These are compounded by perceptions of ideological heresy, racial tension, memories of past betrayals, and the convictions of political leaders on both sides. The relationship is also marked by the classic characteristics of rivalry between two powerful neighbors. Mutual suspicions are reinforced by military buildups in the border areas and intense competitive maneuvering for positions in Asia and beyond.

While war is by no means unimaginable, it seems improbable when both sides possess impressive deterrent capabilities. The more likely prospect is continued confrontation and geopolitical competition. The basic conflicts of interests, the clash of ideologies, the readiness of forces deployed on the borders, the intensity of mutual suspicions—all suggest that the present pattern will continue.

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Nevertheless, we must not regard the Sino-Soviet confrontation as an immutable condition. While renewal of a tight Sino-Soviet alliance is difficult to conceive, at least a limited improvement in relations cannot be ruled out. It is possible that the Russians and Chinese may come to see incentives for moderating their bilateral relations—their desire for greater diplomatic flexibility in their dealings with us and with others, the lessening of at least border tensions, the openings caused by leadership successions in both countries.

We have no crystal ball. Rather than speculate on the future course of Sino-Soviet relations, let me specify more precisely the U.S. perspective:

—We did not create the dispute. It springs from sources independent of our will or our policy. To attempt to manipulate the rivalry, to meddle in it, or to take sides would be dangerous, indeed self-defeating.

—At the same time, in a triangular relationship it is undeniably advantageous for us to have better relations with each of the other two actors than they have with one another. But it does not follow that we would want to see this rivalry escalate into conflict. As history abundantly attests, large-scale clashes among major powers are exceedingly difficult to contain. In addition to tragic loss of life in the region, there would loom great dangers for global stability.

—Neither can we genuinely wish to see the two major Communist powers locked once again in close alliance. Clearly this would pose fresh dangers in the world. A limited thaw in Sino-Soviet relations, however, would not automatically redound to our disadvantage, provided it was not based on shared opposition to the United States.

—Our interests compel us to pursue our well-established policies of seeking improved relations with both the U.S.S.R. and China. Both courses are essential for maintaining a global equilibrium and shaping a more peaceful and positive international structure. The record to date suggests that improvement in our ties with one does not harm our ties with the other. Indeed, our relations with both countries were perhaps most active and positive during the same period, in 1972–73.

—We therefore do not intend to be instructed by either party on the course we should adopt toward its rival. Our policies must be dictated by our interests, not by others’ injunctions. At the same time, we will make clear that we are not colluding with, or accommodating, one at the expense of the other.

—With both the Soviets and Chinese we have deep differences in national interests and purposes. We also have ideologies and values that clash, including our approach to human rights and individual freedom. We will not maintain any illusions or attempt to hide our differences. But in the thermonuclear age, we have an obligation to our [Page 399] people and the world to moderate our relationships. We must seek to move not only from confrontation to coexistence but onward to cooperation.

—Our success in managing our relations with both nations depends fundamentally on the strength and vitality of our alliances with Western Europe and Japan. We must preserve the integrity of those bonds if we are to deal effectively with potential adversaries, and we must harmonize our policies with our allies lest differential approaches generate competition among friends. Our partnerships with the industrial democracies come first in our diplomacy; they will not be jeopardized in the pursuit of other objectives.

—Finally, the progress of our policies toward both the Soviets and the Chinese requires a solid domestic foundation: our material strength, our unity of purpose, our appreciation of the realities around us. Neither Moscow nor Peking will respect us if we do not act with determination and vision in the world. Thus our first priority in this aspect of our foreign policy, as in all others, is to heal our divisions at home and act once again as a confident, purposeful international power.

This is a complex policy, but it is dictated by the objective conditions of international relations today. In the past Americans have had the luxury of emphasizing one strand of policy at a time—either resistance to adventurism or cooperation with others for mutual benefit. The challenge of our era—in a world of competing values, nuclear weapons, and interdependence—is to pursue both at the same time.

The issues at stake run far deeper than questions of any one faction or party or Administration. The imperatives of shaping stable relations with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China will be with us for as far ahead as we can see. This long-range challenge, indeed all that we do in the world, will crucially require the cohesion of the American people and cooperation between the executive and legislative branches.

I remain confident that, after a turbulent decade, we will demonstrate our resiliency and once again achieve peace at home so that we can better promote peace in the world.

  1. Source: Department of State Bulletin, April 19, 1976, pp. 514–518. Lord made the statement before the Subcommittee on Future Foreign Policy Research and Development of the House Committee on International Relations.