312. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 11/13–80


Key Judgments

The probabilities over the next three to five years strongly favor continuity over change in the Sino-Soviet relationship. There is latent dynamism in the relationship but changes, if they come, are likely to be marginal. Nevertheless, there is a possibility—perhaps one chance in 10—of larger changes toward either armed conflict or significant improvement in the relationship.

The future course of the relationship is likely to be influenced more by an evolution in Chinese perceptions and initiatives than by movement on the part of the Soviet Union. The incentives keeping China on its current course are powerful, but the consensus support for present policies, although widespread, does not appear to be universal. Significant changes in Chinese attitudes toward the USSR, if they occur, would likely be a byproduct of a Chinese reassessment of geopolitical factors, particularly the international role of the United States.

The present Soviet leadership, although interested in some amelioration of relations with China, is unlikely to pay an important political price to accomplish this. A successor leadership is likely to take the same view. The Chinese, in turn, also want to limit tensions, but also are unlikely to moderate their very high demands on the USSR. Minor progress in the economic sphere, however, is possible even in the absence of movement on the intractable border issue.

Steady increases in as well as modernization of the Soviet forces opposite China are likely to continue over the next several years, but Moscow does not appear to have either the desire or intention to attack China, and probably would not do so unless severely provoked. The nature of what constitutes provocation in the Soviet mind, however, may be in flux, and this could be a complicating factor in China’s assessments of its options.

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The situation in Indochina, and in particular current Soviet ties to Hanoi, has added a new dimension to the Sino-Soviet competition and is a further obstacle to resolution of the conflict. The Chinese appear to wish to avoid renewed hostilities on their southern border but have not renounced this option; a situation in which China posed a military threat to Hanoi or to the survival of the Vietnamese regime would be the most plausible trigger for direct Sino-Soviet hostilities.

The United States is a central factor in the calculations of both Beijing and Moscow. The Chinese view the United States as a source of help in the Four Modernizations, as a facilitator in their increasing intimacy with Japan and Western Europe, and as at least an ambiguous deterrent in Soviet military calculations about China. Thus, both Sino-US economic ties and especially the overall US posture in the international arena are likely to affect Beijing’s estimate of its ability to fend off Moscow.

The USSR fears the possibility of growth in the Sino-US security relationship, but Moscow is not likely to offer Washington major inducements to prevent such growth. The Chinese are probably prepared to accommodate a considerable range of US attitudes on the direct security relationship so long as Washington does not significantly compromise important Chinese interests in its dealings with the Soviet Union.

[Omitted here is the body of the estimate.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Center for the Study of Intelligence, Master File. Secret; [handling restriction not declassified]. According to notes on the title page, the CIA, DIA, NSA, and the intelligence organizations of the Department of State, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Marine Corps participated in the preparation of this estimate. The Director of Central Intelligence issued the estimate with the concurrence of the National Foreign Intelligence Board. Information available as of June 5 was used in its preparation.