Sino-Soviet Border Conflict: Deterrence, Escalation, and the Threat of Nuclear War in 1969   [open pdf - 1MB]

"In 2009, the Advanced Systems and Concepts Office of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA/ASCO) asked CNA [Center for Naval Analyses] to conduct a series of case studies on Cold War crises involving nuclear weapons. The objective is to analyze past cases in which nuclear weapons played a role in order to better understand whether, when, and how nuclear weapons affect political and military decision-making and crisis outcomes, and to glean new lessons for current and future nuclear challenges. Given the limited amount of data on nuclear interactions, and given the methodological challenges of 'proving' deterrence, fresh analysis of the historical record provides an important empirical foundation for designing and implementing effective U.S. nuclear policies. A key element of this research is the emphasis on historical cases that have not been well examined in the existing policy and academic literature. In addition, we focus on cases in which new primary and secondary source materials are available that can shed new light on the role of nuclear weapons in decision-making. By selecting previously under-developed cases and relying on new source materials, this project seeks to advance our understanding of nuclear interactions and add new empirical evidence to the bank of knowledge that is used to inform U.S. nuclear policy decisions in peacetime and especially in crises. The 1969 Sino-Soviet border conflict, the first case we examine in this series, serves as a crucial 'test case' for this line of research. [...] This study constructs an interpretive, chronological narrative of the decisions and events surrounding the 1969 Sino-Soviet border conflict. Although the main fighting between Chinese and Russian forces occurred in March 1969, the nuclear dimensions of the conflict took shape in the following months. After developing the narrative, the study extrapolates key insights and lessons from this case that can be useful for current and future nuclear challenges. The goal is not to develop and promulgate concrete and universal propositions about future nuclear interactions; rather, we use the empirical record to raise a number of possibilities, issues, and considerations that should be taken into account when developing and implementing U.S. strategies for future nuclear contingencies. Since much of today's thinking about nuclear deterrence and nuclear crisis management is based on untested theories and general guiding principles, the examination of this and other case studies can refine -- and perhaps challenge -- long-held views and assumptions about nuclear deterrence and crisis behavior." Note: This document has been added to the Homeland Security Digital Library in agreement with the Project on Advanced Systems and Concepts for Countering WMD (PASCC) as part of the PASCC collection. Permission to download and/or retrieve this resource has been obtained through PASCC.

Report Number:
Advanced Systems and Concepts Office, Report Number 2010 027
Public Domain. Downloaded or retrieved via external web link as part of the PASCC collection.
Retrieved From:
ASCO/PASCC Archives via NPS Center on Contemporary Conflict
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