284. Memorandum from the Director of Net Assessment, Department of Defense (Marshall) to Secretary of Defense Brown 1


  • Chinese Perceptions of the US-Soviet Balance

Attached is a study that you may find useful in preparing for your trip to China.2 In any case, it provides an interesting view of Chinese ways of thinking. Pillsbury points out that the Chinese approach to deterring war places emphasis on the ability to psychologically influ-ence the emotions of the opponent, whereas the Western notion of deterrence is based more on influencing the opponents’ rational, nonemotional calculations of the military balance or the consequences of attacking.3

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Pillsbury highlights some of the specific ways in which Chinese assessments focus on areas that we do not normally pay much attention to; pages 26 to 43 are the most useful to read, along with the summary, pages 5 through 10.4

A.W. Marshall 5
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–82–0205, China (Reds), Oct–Dec, 1979. No classification marking. There is no indication that Brown saw this memorandum.
  2. Attached but not printed. Michael Pillsbury wrote the report, entitled “Chinese Perceptions of the Soviet-American Military Balance” and dated December 1979, as a contractor for the System Planning Corporation hired by the Office of Net Assessment. In 1980, the System Planning Corporation published a declassified report by Pillsbury with the same title.
  3. Pillsbury argued, “The Chinese at times seem to be suggesting a fundamentally different model of man than has informed Western thinking about deterrence and defense. The frequent use of animal metaphors by the Chinese to describe international life suggested that a review of new findings in biology might shed light on this implied Chinese model of man. Recent research did indeed suggest that a number of phenomena to which the Chinese leaders devote more attention than their Western counterparts may be at work in the area of strategic perceptions. Other recent findings in brain research also suggest that human brains may well function in a fashion closer to the Chinese version of strategic reality than conventional Western notions.” (pp. 9–10)
  4. Pages 26 to 43 examine Chinese views of deterrence and other issues, such as who would survive a Third World War, how such a war would be fought, and how to assess the U.S.–USSR military balance of power. The introduction and summary argue, “Since 1968, the Chinese government has put forward an interpretation of the Soviet-American worldwide competition which seems to have no counterpart in the United States or elsewhere in the world.” The main components of this view were: “(1) the two superpowers, the United States and Soviet Union, are each seeking military superiority over the other, (2) neither is able to attain this military superiority, (3) a stable balance of power is therefore not possible, (4) an arms race is under way which cannot be controlled, (5) the Soviet Union is the main source of a world war for which it is now preparing, (6) this coming world war may be postponed, perhaps indefinitely, by a number of measures aimed at restraining the Soviet Union, (7) if these measures fail, the inevitable world war will arouse the world’s people to rise in revolution with the result that the United States and the Soviet Union will suffer ‘inevitable doom,’ followed by a ‘worldwide victory for socialism.’” Pillsbury argued that these views, although seen as bizarre by many foreign observers, deserved to be taken seriously.
  5. Marshall signed “Andy” above this typed signature.