THE SINO-SOIVET RELATIONSHIP: THE MILITARY ASPECTS (NIE 11-13-73)

Created: 9/20/1973

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THE SINO-SOVIET RELATIONSHIP;

THE MILITARY ASPECTS

CONTENTS

NOTE

PRECIS

TME ESTIMATE

I. THE MILITARY BUILDUP

II THE LIKELIHOOD AND POSSIBLE FORMS OF

III. FUTURE FORCE RELATIONSHIPS

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THE SINO-SOVIET RELATIONSHIP: THE MILITARY ASPECTS'

NOTE

This Estimate focuses on (he military aspects of the Sino-Soviet relationship. It assesses the policy decisions behind the buildup along the Sino-Soviet border, describes current capabilities for various types of military action, identifies and discusser various factors bearing on the chances of Sino-Soviet armed conflict, and arrives at an estimate of the likelihood of such conflict. More general aspects of theand the possible alternative lines of development in the future will be presented in the forthcomingPossible Changes in the Sino-Soviet Relationship."

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PRECIS

The recent intensification in the exchange of recrimination,and insult between Moscow and Peking demonstrates thetension and hostility in Sino-Sovieteywhether this situation will persist, changeoreor change toward the extremes of genuine

The chances are remote that the Chinese would deliberately take actions leading to war. There arc, however, some considerations which argue for the possibilityoviel military initiative againsl China:

The Soviet buildup in ihe vicinity of the border5 exceeds by considerable measure the capability required to stop any attack the Chinese might mount, particularly since the bulk of Chinese forces in the border regions remain several hundred miles back from the frontier.

Soviet strategic capabilities aic overwhelming and astrike against the still infant Chinese strategic capability could appeal to some Soviet leaders as an effective means of dealing with this threat before it is too late.

Arguments against large-scale Soviet military actions include:

The very large manpower and materiel requirements for launching and sustaining major ground actions against thestubborn resistance of the Chinese and the uncertainties surrounding the outcomear which could very well become protracted and lead to the use of nuclear weapons. ,'

Soviet concern tliat,isarming nuclear strike, some Chinese missiles would survive and could destroy some Soviet cities in retaliation.

Soviet concern over the political, economic, and strategiccalculable and foreseeable and somewould atteud any major military involvement with China.

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Our judgment, based on weighing all these and other considerations, is that the chancesremeditated large-scale Soviet attack oncertainly still such as to demandquite low. say on the orderhite Moscow is prepared to punish the Chinese at any point on the frontier where tho Chinese might act forcibly to assert territorial claims, the main Soviet policy to counter China is centered on diplomatic efforts and on activities within the Communist movement These efforts will not cause the USSR's "China problem" to go away, and military action, particularly anuclear strike, may continue toertain appeal to some Soviet leaders. But when considered in light of the calculable, and incalculable risks of military action, argumentsore measured course which holds open the possibility of some accommodation and even reconciliation over the longer term are far more likely to prevail within the top Soviet leadership.

Most participants in this Estimate feel that the judgment above applies toarge-scale Soviet invasionisarming nuclear strike. While the latter course probably rates more seriousby Soviet planners, the chances still seem low thatourse would actually be approved and implemented. DIA, however, would differentiatearge-scale invasionisarming strike, rating the likelihoodisarming strike as markedly greater than that of an invasion.

A continuation of tensions at present levels would have the following implications for Sino-Soviet force postures:

It appears that the Soviets are now close to being satisfied, in terms of peacetime requirements, with the number of divisions presently deployed in the vicinity of the border; filling out of these units and the addition of support units will continue. The effort to maintain these forces will not impingcr significantly on forces opposite NATO or on the Soviet position In mutual force reduction talks.

The Chinese have been improving their defenses against possible attack from the north, but not at the expense ofa balanced capability to defend against attacks from all directions. With US forces withdrawing from Southeast Asia.

northeru defenses niay receive more preferential treatment, but no rapid shift in dispositions is likely except in the event of clear-cut Soviet preparations to invade, in part because of Chinese concern not to alarm the Soviets unduly.

Soviet and Chinese perceptions of each other's capabilities arc likely to remain basically realistic; perceptions of intentions are more likely to be colored by emotional factors, hut not to the degree leading to gross miscalculations.

During, improvements in China's general purpose forces will do little to overcome the qualitative superiority of Soviet forces, and the USSR will also remain far ahead in the strategic balance. Nonetheless. Chinese force developments will have the effect of increasing the deterrent to Soviet military action.

An increase in tensions between the two powers would cause both sides to intensify their military preparations along the border. It would influence the Soviet negotiating position in the strategic armstalks and might cause the USSR to develop and deploy Urgeof regional weapons systems. The Chinese would probably push the deployment of their regional deterrent more rapidly, improve air defenscs, and establish underground shelters and defenses in even greater numbers.

ituation of lessened tension it is possible that the USSR would reduce its forces along the border, though not to the levels existinguch more likely would be the maintenance of the current forces at lower levels of readiness.

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THE ESTIMATE

Whatever prospects it may once have had for long-term "fraternallie Sino-Soviet relationship is now plainly ono of adversaries. Tho key source of con-ten (ion is no longer, as it was during the.ispute over China's reUhoo ship with tho Soviet Union and its proper role within tlie socialist community. The struggle has now expandedlash of conflicting national interests and ambitions, in which each side perceives its physicalas well as its international position to be threatened by the other.1

I. THE MILITARY BUILDUP

he most dramatic and convincingof the deep distrust and hostility in the Sino-Soviet relationship Is found In thepreparations, particularly on the Soviet side of the common border. Starting withivuloiu near the border and tjuon

'Fw an ertended disunion andiiuet *ik! implication* of the Sino-Sflvict eoalucl, see ft, "Soviet Policy ioatedDOWeeV more in the Siberian Military Districthe Soviets now haveotal ofombat divisions in positions which indicate that Ihey would be used in (he early stages of any major conflict with China. Of these, someivisions are stationed near the border. During (he same period Sovielair strength has grown from lessircraft toircraft,ightM-bombers.ight bombers, and

a It is dear that Soviet forces in the border region exceed by considerable measure that capability required to stop any attack the Cliinese might mount, given the present capabilities and disposition of Chinese forces. But it does not follow automatically from this that the USSlt harbors specific plans foroffensive actions. It has long been Soviet practice to over-insure against military threats, and Soviet defense programs haverequent tendency to reflectystematic pursuit of narrowly-defined ob-

'See map, page 7.

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rom the Soviet point of viewbe uncertainties concerning future Chinese threat* and other contingencies were many. Given the developing Soviet distrust ol tbeather large buildup was required simply to provide for Ihe physical integrity of the lengthy frontierile Sino-MongolianMore importantly, the narrowness of tbe band of habitable Soviet territory along the frontier and the proximity of the vital Trans-Siberian Railroad to the Manchurian bordei both required that the buildup betn area* closehe bolder so that the Soviets couldhinese attack and push Chinese foices back before the railroad could be cut.

hile the pace of (be Soviet buildup was relativelypeak levels, new divisions win- being formedate of six perit appeared toong-range plan lor methodical growth. While some experienced personnel and some air units were drawn from the western USSR, no ground fore* units opposite the NATO central region were used in tbe buildup. Tbe net additional costs of the forces opposite China are estimated to have reached some seven percent of annual expenditures for all Soviet military forces* These costs are by no moans inconsequential, bul we have not been able to identify any serious Impact on (he Soviet economy or on the Soviet forces opposite NATO resulting from this buildup

Finally, it should be noted that Soviet deployment of new ground forco divisions and air units Hppears to have tapered off. Fleshing out of the units in place continues, as docs the buildup of support units. The forces In place dearly give theotent offensive capability. Brought quickly to full strength through local nwbiliubon. (hey might be able to occupy northern Sin-kiang and penetrate into Manchuria. But it is the opinion of US military planners that their Soviet counterparts would not favor the initiation of large-scale militarydesigned to seize and hold anyslices of Chinese territory without firstobilization that would lead to the creationorce of at leastivisions in Soviet Asia.

Although the Chinese became aware of the Soviet buildup shortly after it began, Peking made no effort to concentratetroops of Its own close to the border. While the Chinese maintainfround troops in the four military regions that border the- USSR and Mongolia, most of these troops arciles from the closest border points. The deployment of air and air defense forcesimilar pattern; Chinafactical and air defense fighters deployed in tbe four nqrthem military regions, but moil of diese arc based well away from the border.

decision not to move itsto the border in tbe face of thecan be explained in terms of theof Chinese politics, MaoistPeking's view of dm threats to

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basic military capabilities, and the lack of defensible terrain ncax (be border., Mao was iutcnt on use of the PLA in the Cultural Revolution, and In fad, some Chinese units were moved southward out of Manchuria during that period for domestic security and political reasons. Peking was also concerned with (be threat posed by US forces in Indochina. haracteristic Chinnse Communist caution and taking account of China's relative militaryboth general purpose and strategictook care to offer no serious provocatioo to either adversary. Rather, the strategy with respect in the USSR was to hold forces well back from the border In order to avoid the danger of being cut off by the superiorand firepower of the Soviets and to maintain balanced dispositions protecting the vital centers of the country against allthreats-

those rnoasures taken by thewhich are clearly anti-Soviet, such asof fortified areas and dieof early warning radars Inborder regions, aroand do notuildupforces dose to the border.seems less fearful thanimminent Soviet attack, and there haschange in the basic pattern of theof its military forces.

apparent increase In Chinesehas been duo fn part tointo the UN,ew image of respectabilityin the West, and mostits cordial relations with the US.measure (his confidence alsoprogress in the deployment ofEven with the present limitedof operational MRBMs and IRllMs,the beginningsredible second-strikehe missiles are deployed in modes designed to make litem hard to find and hard

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hese modest Chinese advances inweapons have, of course, done nothinglter tho vast and growing strategicof the USSR. The Soviets have stepped up strategic reconnaissance against China, limit ballistic missile early warning radars oriented toward China, and enhanced (heir ICBM capabilities by deploying several hundred SS-lls so that China is in their target sectors.

II. THE LIKELIHOOD AND POSSIBLE FORMS OF MILITARY CONFLICT

n view of Soviet military superiority generally, as well as in the border urea itself, it is extremely unlikely that China would take the initiative to attack Soviet forces or iosul-latkons across the border. Even Chinesein the disputed border areas is likely to he relatively cautious because of theSoviet capacity and demonstratedto respondore powerful level (as at Damanskiy Island io. The Cliincsc. having learned tho virtues of restraint from their experiences along the border Ineem likdy to resist any temptation to teat Moscow's patience and tolerance. In both domestic and foreign policies since that time tlie Chinese have shown tiiat they take (ho Soviet threat seriously. They have adopted publicly the posturehreatened state, and

ABMs-homsal. Not ill of tbffle aw within range of Soviet tuews. Chinese muiiles are not deployed lo gain maxmran covmge Woo* the USSR. Tho patten, oldemonstrates concernrovideall around (be penphery ol China.

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while they have not changed iheir basicpositions or territorial claims because of the Soviet threat, they have restrained their actions along tbe border.

hus, ifere to develop, it would be more likely lo resultoviet initiative. At the lower levels of possibleSoviet action might be motivated by the simple desire to Inflict local punishrnent and humiliation on Chinese border forces in response to Chinese patrolling in disputed territory. In this case, Soviet military action might be limited to heavy artillery barrages with no involvement of Soviet troops interritory. If the provocation were more serious, however, Soviel forces might cross the border lo inflict reprisals and toSoviet resolve. But the decision to do this would almost certainly be reserved to Moscow.

action of this soilbe ruled out over the next fewMoscow has shown an interest inbolder tensions and would notget embroilednwn-oul seriesexplosive border exchangeslead to deeper involvement in aSimply put, neither side hasgain by limited military initiativesborder to justify the larger risks,of putting in jeopardy ihe momentumrespective policies of detente andrelations with the US.

motivations are conceivableSoviel military actions against(he highly improbable event thatborder harussments in the faceSoviet reprisals, the Soviets mightthe border in considerable strengtheffort to halt these pi ovocations onceall Limited objective militaryManchuria and Sinkiang could beto exert prcssurn ou the ChineseDeeper penetrations, involvingof additional Soviet forces, would have the basic purpose of solving the more basic "Chinan opportunity for such action might occur in the contingencyhina sharply divided by an internal struggle for power. Is this case, the Soviets might intervene with the aim of supporting ora faction more favorably disposed to cooperation with Ihe USSR.

his and other possible pretexts forInvasion^

I are feasible

from the military planners' point of view in termsigh assurance of initialui allumber of serious questions in terms of possible risks, snowballingbroader implications, and endAs the Soviets tliemselves have stressed, toar is easy, ending it is much more difficult.

hatever the circumstancesoviet invasion, Soviet pobbcaJ leaders would almost certainly expect Chinese resistance to develop ami to be stubborn. They would have nothat the war could be brought to an end on their terms and that they would not get bogged downrotracted and costly struggle. Moscow might foresee beingeventuallyhoice betweenor the use of nuclear weapons In an effort toecisive end to the conflict. The latter action, even if it were successful, could have many and far-reaching adverse repercussions for the USSIt's position in the world.

IS The growing Chinese nuclear strike capability would be givenoviet decision to attack China.it is probable that the Soviets have alreadyisarming nuclear strike against that growingfrom any groundit Is the most dramatic and potentially effective military aspect of tho Chinese chuUengo lo the USSR as the dominantsia. But theprobably believe they could not now completely eliminate the threathinese second strike against Soviet Asian population centers, particularly from missile launchers they may nol liave located, and theirwould incline them toward worst-case assumptions.n tly. they now face tlie prospect that several of Chinas missiles could destroy military targets or cities inAsia evenoviet first strike.

he Soviet leadership could, of course, simply disrcgaid the possibility of Chinese retaliation and proceedisarmingattack on the assumption that thewould follow the rational course and refrain from retaliating with tbctr fewact of pure vengeance which would only guarantee (hat they would sustain even greater damage In retribution. The Soviets could scarcely count on suchrestraint, however, and would boto jeopardize some of their major cities unless they came to believe that inaction car-tiwl greater risks than proceeding with the attack. To date the manifold uncertainties and risks In any military action against China have

dearly outweighed any possible advantages, and the gjowth of tho Chinese deterrent will

continuencrease the risks.

he military risks are not'the only coo-sidcrations whichajor Soviet attack on China, whether by nudcar strike or on the ground. Choke of the military coursewould intensify and solidify Chinese ln'.tiiiiy foi years to come; it would greatly lessen whatever chance may existew generation of Chinese leaders. Moscow's general policy of detente with the Wesl. and most importantly its effort to roster economic ties, especially withnoed Western countries, would also beThe Soviet attempt to portray the USSRorce for peacerotector of the poor, the weak, and the non-white would be undermined, especially in the Third World. So long as the Soviets were militarily involved wnl. China, they would be concerned about possible ways that other powers, especially (ho US, might seek to take advantage of thcir rcduced influence in other areas of the world. They would also have to consider thethat the US wouldew aggressiveness or instability in Soviet policy and alter its policies toward the USSR,even taking steps to improve Its strategic weapons program. In addition, (lie Soviets would surely be concerned that their first use of nuclear weapons, even if militarilymight lumUmentalry alter world opinion against the USSR.

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political, strategic, andboos, when takenicmedktatedattack on China. Whilo Moscow Isto punish the Chinese at any pointfrontier where the Chinese mightto assert territorial claims, thepolicy to counter China is centeredefforts and on activities withinmovement. Tlmse efforts willthe USSR's "China problem" to gomilitary action, particularly astrike, may continue to have ato some Soviet leaden. But whenin light of the calculable andrisks of military act loo, thea more measured course which holdspossibility ol some accommodationreconciliation over the longer termmore likely to prevail within the topleadership. Thus, while (he possibilityconflict will continue to exist,ofonflict appear to besay on tlio orderostin this Estimate feci that thisapplies toargo-scaleisarming nuclear strike.latter course probably rates moreby Soviet planners, thoseem low thatourse wouldbe approved and implementedwould differentiate between ainvasionisarming strike,likelihoodisarming strike asgreater than that of an invasion.

HL FUTURE FORCE RELATIONSHIPS

at the prospective generalbetween the USSR und China is oneconfrontation and contest,no major military conflict, so theloice rcUtiottship is one inside maintains its forces oppositebutevel which does not disrupt or distort its total military commitments Planned Soviet divisional deployments along the Sino-Soviet border appearlose to being realized; there is thus little prospect that future border requirements will impinge noticeably on force requirements in Europe and mutual force reduction talks. Thebuildup of support forces will also Im undertoken with little effect on forcesNATO.

To the present time, the guiding strategy of the Chinese mihlary leadership has been to maintain China's capahiliiy lo defend against attacks from all directions, and not to give preferential treatment to defense againstattack from the north to the detriment of China's defense posture elsewhere. Now that US forces aie withdrawing fromAsia, it is possible that the issue will again arise as to whether the limited Chinese forces and resources should be concentratedreater degree against the USSR. To date, however, there is no evidenceasicol Chinese forces is under way. and any rapid Urge scale shift seems unlikely, in part because of Chinese concern not to alarm tbe Soviets unduly. China's likely course is to continue the construction of strongpositions well back from the border while proceeding with its km foundingto iTrodcrnize its armed forces.

It b, of course, possible that if Sino-Soviet tensions grow in the fulure, both sides will intensify their military preparations. If the Soviets intend toorce along the border designed for major groundagainst China, they would probablyby settingtructureivc-/ronr force andheaterhinese reaction to increased tension and evidenceurther Soviet buildup would probably take the form of an tncroased effort

to strengthen its northern defenses. Chinese ground forces, if they were to be prepared to undertake olfenslve operations away from their bases, would need enlarged logistics support and additional ground supportAlthough Chinese forces will improve over the next few years, there is little chance that the improvement would be so great as toapability to undertake ma foragainst the USSR.

eightened tension would also have an influence on the strategic weapons postures of Iho two powers. It might cause tho USSR to be more reluctant to sign an offensive armswith the US- it would certainly make the USSR more determined to negotiate anthat would permit it to keep what il regarded as an adequate deterrent against both China and then the eventS-Soviet agreement limiting ICDMs and Intel continental bombers, the Soviets might feel the need to develop and deploy larger numbers of regional weapon systems to cope with the still growing Chinese strategicusing resources freed by the US-Soviet agreement to do this. As for theheightened tensions would probably cause them, among other things, to push the deployment of their regional deterrent more rapidly, to improve air defenses againstfrom tho north and west, and tounderground shelters and defenses in even gi eater numbers.imited technological capabilities and high development coststouccessful effort toan ABM in the next decade, although ballistic missile early warning radars would probably be deployed.

'The effect ol the crowingi!-inn Soviet coociUkhis ole-piim CDaOnuini analysiiomplei mil ol factors. No new and useful (ratio c* aretreatment lo the, paper.

ituation of lessened tension, it is possibke that the USSR would reduce its forces along the border, though probably not to the love-Is existingui evenondition of general detente, the maintenance of current force levels at lower levels ofwould be more likely than any substantial reductions in those force levels. The Soviets, havingubstantial in vestment In equipment and facilities in Soviot Asia, would piobably bo inclined to allow unit personnel strength levels to decline, rather than to close bases and remove equipment.

ssuming neither greatly hefghtcued nor greatly lessened tension, the anticipated gradual growth in the firepower and mobility of Chinas general purpose forces will do little to overcome Soviet superiority within the next lew years. Nonetheless, these improvements will tend to increase the deterrent capability of Chinese forces in Soviet eyes.

uring the period of, theUnion will also remain far ahead of China in the strategic balance. Soviet strategicforces are growing in flexibility andagainst China. The new Backfire bomber will be able to cover all of China un-rcfueled from Far East bases, an option not open to the Badger. The new multiple-war headhich Is probably being retrofitted to silos In Soviet Asia, willuch broader target sector than lite oldernd will probably thus include China in Its target sector, whereas many older SS-lls did not Finally, theill be able to target all of Chinalass home ports, an option not open to older Soviet ballistic missile submarines.

heseoviet weapons will add to an already overwhelming strategic

pi bill (y, but will not nuke for anychange in the balance. Our ptofeetlOM of Chinese missile foices, however, indicate that China will be able in theo target several hundred Soviet targets. Soviet projections almost certainly 'worst case" this development. Relatively speaking, therefore, the small growth in the Chinese retaliatory capability will cany more significance in the strategic relationship between the twothan the mote extensive Soviet growth.

orce developments oo the border and in the strategic forces thus Indicate that the optimal time has passed for the Soviets to use military force to disarm China or to coerce Peking, and that likely future Chinese force developments will further reduce Sovietoptionsis China.

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