Geopolitical Developments: Vietnam, Sino-Soviet Split, Middle East

Sino-Soviet Split

  • Mao developed Marxist ideology to suit Chinese social and economic conditions, i.e., based on the revolutionary potential of the rural peasantry. This differed from Marxist-Leninist thought in the USSR which put the urban proletariat as the revolutionary vanguard.
  • Mao openly criticised Khrushchev’s peaceful co-existence which revised the principles of revolutionary communist expansion by rejecting war as a means of national policy.
  • Mao launched two major internal movements to maintain ideological purity within the Chinese Communist Party: the “Great Leap Forward” (1958-9) and the “Cultural Revolution” (1966-9). The Cultural Revolution was partly prompted by distrust of Soviet intentions in Asia. The Soviet Union had begun building up its troops on the Chinese border from 1965. In 1966, as part of the Cultural Revolution, there were anti-Soviet riots in Beijing and expulsion of foreign troops.
  • Brezhnev Doctrine (1968) - the right to intervene in Communist countries - was seen as a threat to China. China had been attempting to position itself as the leader of Communist movements in the Third World.
  • There was competition between China and the Soviet Union in their support of North Vietnam and different views on the strategy of the war. North Vietnam showed it was leaning towards the Soviet Union leaving China isolated.
  • Combined impact of Cultural Revolution, Brezhnev Doctrine, North Vietnam and Soviet border conflict led China into talks with the West.

Border War

  • 2 March 1969 to August - related to Chinese security concerns. Limited military action - no desire for full-scale conflict. Military posturing to discredit the other side and allow for closer ties with the USA.
  • June 1969, World Communist Conference - failed to secure condemnation of China. 75 Communist parties attended, though it was boycotted by 5 of the 14 ruling Communist parties. Showed fragmentation of Communist world.
  • 28 Aug (in Pravda) Soviets made nuclear threat against China (posturing). 16 Sept (also in Pravda) Brezhnev Doctrine reaffirmed in relation to China (again public posturing).
  • Sept/Oct - Chou En-Lai began negotiations to resolve differences on border and diplomatic relations restored in 1970.

US and China’s Rapprochement

  • Growing Soviet strength brought China and the US to negotiating table.
  • China’s concerns had shifted from being leader of Communism in the Third World to its own regional security against the USSR.
  • America’s concerns were economic: weakening economy from late 1960s led to first ever trade deficit in 1971; weakening US dollar floated; tariffs placed on Japanese imports.
  • Apr 1971 - US table team visited China.
  • 9 July 1971 - Kissinger made secret visit to Beijing to meet Chou. Secrecy was to test the water to see if Chinese were sincere; but also to avoid public criticism from right-wing Republicans and Taiwan supported in Congress at delicate stage of negotiations. Nixon was invited to China.
  • 15 July 1971 - Nixon announced he would visit China.
  • 2 Aug 1971 - People’s Republic of China was recognised as official Chinese representative in UN.
  • 21 Feb 1972 - Nixon went to China. A warm meeting. “Shanghai communiqué”: Soviet dominance in South-east Asia was not acceptable; desire for China and USA to normalise relations.


  • Boosted prestige of US
  • Changed balance of power
  • Acknowledged multi-polar world
  • Showed US could negotiate with rather than just condemn Communist countries
  • Ensured Taiwanese security as China would not want to threaten its relationship with the USA

The Middle East

The Suez Crisis 1956 (pp. 45-7)

1952 King Farouk overthrown in Egypt. Replaced by General Gamal Abdul Nasser. British and French interests controlled the Suez Canal (neutral since 1888, but with a British military base). Egypt banned Israeli ships after the 1948 war.

Dulles negotiated a deal - Egypt would respect neutrality of canal if British remove military base. Nasser needed $2b. for Aswan dam. Brokered deal with World Bank, US and Britain, but after it was found that he had attempted to source cheaper finance from the Soviets, the US and Britain pulled out of their deal. Nasser, in response, nationalised the canal. Negotiation (and even bribery) were used to try to get Nasser to reconsider but failed.

Israel, with British and French support, invaded Egypt on 29 Oct 1956 and reached the canal within four days. Khrushchev supported Egypt and threatened Britain, France and Israel. Nasser sank ships to close the canal. The US also condemned the action (it had been done without consultation and adversely affected their relationship with the Arab world.

Ceasefire, 6 Nov.

  • Strengthened Soviet relations with the Arab world and raised the prestige of the Soviet Union.
  • Israel denied access to the canal. Egypt remained in control of the canal.
  • Showed the decline of the British and French as world powers.

Eisenhower Doctrine

5 Jan 1957 - in response to the Suez Crisis - US would use military force for containment in the Middle East. Extension of Truman Doctrine to the Middle East.

Came into operation in 1958 when military force was used to save Lebanon and Jordan from destabilisation by Nasser.

1967 – Six-Day War

5-10 June 1967. Israel launched a surprise attack on its neighbours and, in a short, successful campaign, took and occupied the West Bank, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. Accusations were made of active involvement of US air force for Israel and Soviet navy for Arab states.

The on-going occupation of these territories created lasting resentment and prompted the next conflict.

1973 – Yom Kippur War (pp. 91-3)

  • 6 Oct 1973 Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. 4th conflict since 1948. Lasted three weeks.
  • Since 1967 conflict, Israel had occupied Sinai Peninsula. 1971, Sadat had offered peace on condition of Israeli withdrawal.
  • Soviet Union had supported Israel militarily since 1955. US had supported Israel since its creation in 1948.
  • The conflict severely strained détente. The Soviets had destabilised relations by: encouraging escalation of the Middle East conflict; giving military Egypt and Syria; hindering ceasefire negotiations; supporting oil embargo; encouraging withdrawal of Arab money from Western banks.
  • The threat of the Soviet Union and USA to send troops into the conflict brought about possibility of direct confrontation for fist time since 1962.
  • Oil embargo had large economic impact on the West.
  • After the ceasefire, the Soviets resented being excluded from subsequent peace negotiations.
  • The US, through long-term aid to Egypt, successfully poached an Arab state from Soviet influence.

Camp David Accords 1978 – high point of Carter’s Presidency - peace between Egypt and Israel; Egypt recognised Israel’s right to exist. Preceded by Israeli military withdrawal from Sinai Peninsula and Egypt allowing Israeli shipping to use Suez Canal.

Middle East – Iran – Jan 1979 - Islamic Revolution in Iran - Shah overthrown - Ayatollah Khomeini leader of Islamic fundamentalists. US embassy became focus of Iranian protests. Stormed embassy on November 4 and took hostages. Hostage crisis lasted 444 days. Failed rescue attempt April 1980. Hostages released when Reagan was inaugurated.

The crisis killed Carter’s presidency and severely restricted his ability to deal with the Soviets.