China, the United States, and the Soviet Union: Tripolarity and Policy Making in the Cold War

By Robert S. Ross | Go to book overview

1 Introduction

Robert S. Ross and
Herbert J. Ellison

The chapters in this volume analyze the international and domestic sources of foreign policy making for the superpowers and China during the critical cold war years of the 1970s and 1980s. This was a period characterized by dramatic and fundamental changes in international relations. It witnessed first the blossoming and then the collapse of U.S.-Soviet détente; the depths of Sino-Soviet conflict, including a war and a Soviet nuclear threat against China, and the fulfillment of Sino-Soviet rapprochement in the midst of the Beijing democracy movement; and the drama of U.S.-Chinese rapprochement, the development of U.S.-Chinese economic and cultural ties, and the ultimate demise of U.S.- Chinese cooperation in the bloodied streets of Beijing. All of these developments occurred while war raged in Indochina between Americans and Vietnamese and then among Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Chinese. They also occurred against the backdrop of dramatic domestic developments within these countries--the resignation of Richard Nixon, the reign and death of Mao Zedong and the rise of Deng Xiaoping, and the succession to Leonid Brezhnev and the emergence of Mikhail Gorbachev. The era came to a dramatic conclusion when relations among Washington, Moscow, and Beijing again transformed. By 1989 the cold war had ended and the Communist world had collapsed, and China was estranged from both the Soviet Union and the United States.

Great power relations among the United States, the Soviet Union, and China during this critical period of the cold war were distinguished by a significant degree of strategic interdependence. The security of each state was significantly shaped by the nature of the relationship between the other two. This state of affairs has been characterized by a number of terms, including tripolarity, trian

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