Brothers in Arms: The Rise and Fall of the Sino-Soviet Alliance, 1945-1963



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Book Review

Brothers in Arms:
The Rise and Fall of the Sino-Soviet Alliance, 1945-1963




Odd Arne Westad, ed., Brothers in Arms: The Rise and Fall of the Sino-Soviet Alliance, 1945-1963. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1998. xxii + 404 pp.

Brothers in Arms, the first title in a new series from the Cold War International History Project, brings together American, Russian, and Chinese scholars who have done path-breaking archival research. This edited volume sheds new light on the role of Soviet and Chinese domestic politics in the Sino-Soviet alliance.

Far from ushering in a new era of cooperation, Josif Stalin's high-handed approach to China, described in Niu Jun's chapter, left a legacy of distrust. Kathryn Weathersby's insightful account of Sino-Soviet differences in the Korean armistice negotiations shows how China's willingness to fight Stalin's proxy war in Korea complicated efforts to draw the conflict to a close. According to Weathersby's evidence, Mao Zedong initially held out for a favorable outcome on the battlefield, while Stalin was alarmed by U.S. intervention. But by mid-1951, after the Chinese volunteers successfully turned back the U.S. advance into North Korea, it was Stalin who urged the Chinese to keep fighting despite Mao's increased desire for an armistice as the stalemate on the ground persisted. In Weathersby's view, Stalin's death provided a new opportunity for the Soviet Union and China to bring the war to an end (p. 109).

Nikita Khrushchev generally has been remembered for his part in the Sino-Soviet ideological polemics of the early 1960s, but Constanine Pleshakov provides a more complex interpretation of post-Stalin China policy. Although Khrushchev may not have earned Mao's respect for his leadership of the Communist movement, he was able to end Soviet colonialist policies in Xinjiang and Manchuria and institute large-scale economic cooperation.

Two of the authors find new material contradicting the established Soviet portrayal of the 1950s as a time when the USSR selflessly provided crucial economic assistance to China. Deborah Kaple's chapter on the Soviet advisers sent to China during this period debunks many myths about the priorities and effectiveness of the Soviet economic program. Fear of continued Soviet efforts to control China prompted Mao to reject outright the incorporation of his country into the socialist economic system, as Shu Guang Zhang demonstrates.

The evidence gathered by the authors shows why the stabilization of the Sino-Soviet alliance in the mid-1950s proved short-lived. Chen Jian and Yang Kuisong provide an interesting analysis of the domestic sources of Mao's Soviet policy during this [End Page 128] period. They note that the ". . . escalating crisis in the Sino-Soviet alliance coincided with the intensification of tensions within the CCP leadership in the wake of the Great Leap" (p. 272). Mao's supporters blamed internal dissension on Soviet machinations, and Defense Minister Peng Dehuai was accused of being a "Soviet agent" (p. 273) when he criticized the Great Leap at the Lushan Plenum in July 1959, not long after meeting with Khrushchev.

What happened in Sino-Soviet relations that led Mao and Khrushchev to open ideological polemics? Several of the authors explore the conflicts of interest that accompanied increasing ideological divergence. Many of the contributors discuss Sino-Soviet differences over military cooperation in the late 1950s. Khrushchev continued Stalin's policy of viewing China as a strategic asset. In particular, Khrushchev regarded China's coast as a key asset for the Soviet Union's Pacific fleet. He proposed the establishment of a radio communications station on Chinese territory and the development of a joint fleet. As Pleshakov and Shu Guang Zhang explain, Mao rejected these proposals out of hand in 1958, viewing them as renewed attempts to subject China to Soviet domination (pp. 207, 235). Sergei Goncharenko discusses how the widening gap between the Soviet Union and China over international security issues in 1959 (and the role of nuclear weapons in resolving them) induced Khrushchev to retract earlier pledges to support China's nuclear bomb program. Yet, as Westad notes, some military cooperation continued until 1963 (p. 27). Indeed, one of the most important contributions of the volume is to demonstrate that, although the Soviet Union and China were not "brothers forever," their alliance remained effective longer than previously believed.

Above all, this volume shows that greater access to archival materials has not put an end to disagreements about the history of Sino-Soviet relations. James Hershberg, the series editor, warns the reader that the selections contain a multiplicity of viewpoints and that no attempt has been made to harmonize them. The variety of perspectives on the Sino-Soviet alliance enriches our knowledge of a complex relationship, but it would help in future volumes if greater effort were made to avoid reexamination of identical material. For example, three of the chapters in this volume provide similar (in some cases the same) accounts of China's objection to the joint naval force (pp. 208, 236, and 269), drawing from a conversation on 22 July 1958 between Mao and the Soviet ambassador to China, Pavel Yudin, even though a lengthy excerpt from the document is included in the useful annotated appendix.

If the new documentary evidence has not enabled the authors to reach definitive conclusions about the rise and fall of the Sino-Soviet alliance, this should hardly be surprising. Kaple helpfully reminds us of the limitations of the use of archival sources as evidence. By reflecting institutional biases and omitting politically damaging material (p. 118), newly released documents are as likely to stimulate further debates as they are to answer our many questions about Cold War history.



Elizabeth Wishnick
Barnard College, Columbia University


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