Argument

'Face' and Something 'Delicious'

What Mao and Stalin’s first awkward meeting tells us about Xi Jinping’s confident trip to see Vladimir Putin.

In December 1949, Mao Zedong traveled to Moscow, for his first trip abroad. Three months earlier, perched high above a crowd of thousands in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, Mao had announced the founding of the People's Republic of China. The nascent country was yet unformed, and Mao thought it important to ensure that New China would stand on the right side of history: the Communist side. In this, Mao needed Joseph Stalin's blessing and Soviet help.

Back then, China was in ruins after years of war, first with Japan, then with itself: it had little industry and infrastructure, even less science and technology; it had no navy, no air force but unspeakable poverty and rampant disease. Russia, though still recovering from wartime losses, had a modern industry, atomic weapons, and the ambitions of a superpower.

Mao wanted a treaty of alliance that would give China "face" on the international stage but also provide security guarantees against the United States, economic aid to rebuild and modernize the ruined Chinese economy, and military assistance to "liberate" Taiwan. According to Mao's interpreter, present at the meeting, he told Stalin he wanted something that "looked good but also tasted delicious." Stalin was non-committal. He feared that closer relations with Mao could jeopardize Moscow's postwar gains in the Far East and quite possibly lead to a U.S. intervention.

After the opening of the Russian archives in the early 1990s, the Cold War International History Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (CWIHP) obtained declassified documents on the meetings between Mao and Stalin, publishing them in translation, with scholarly commentary, in successive issues of the CWIHP Bulletin to shed light, for the first time, on the making of the Sino-Soviet Alliance. Not all documents were declassified, and key evidence remains locked away in inaccessible archival vaults in Moscow as well as Beijing. This week, CWIHP has published additional documents on the Mao-Stalin cat-and-mouse game, and on the ups and downs of Sino-Soviet relations in the following years. These documents offer an interesting look behind the curtains of foreign policy decision making in China and Russia and provide clues for understanding where the Sino-Russian relationship is headed today.

After their first meeting at the Kremlin, Stalin refused to see Mao for days, leaving the Chinese chairman to vent his rage, privately, at a dacha outside Moscow. Mao had few options, but he did hint to the Soviets that if they did not want an alliance, he would look for friends elsewhere, perhaps in the West. Stalin relented at last and signed the treaty, though with quasi-colonial secret add-ons that guaranteed Soviet interests in Manchuria. Years later, Mao would complain about the "bitter fruits" he was forced to eat in Moscow.

Despite the bad taste left in Mao's mouth, the signing of the Sino-Soviet treaty inaugurated technology transfer, and economic and military aid from the USSR to China on an unprecedented scale. Thousands of Soviet scientists and engineers came to China in the 1950s to help build up its industry, and tens of thousands of Chinese students (including future leaders Jiang Zemin and Li Peng) went to the Soviet Union to learn to forge steel and split the atom.

There are echoes of this historic meeting today: Like Mao, Xi Jinping, China's new leader, also chose Russia as his first overseas destination after officially taking power in mid-March, though under dramatically different circumstances. China's GDP easily dwarfs Russia's, its industry is the workshop of the world, and its infrastructure makes Russia look like a Third World country. Now it is Xi who, this weekend, gave Vladimir Putin "face," praising Russia's economic progress, Russian literature (of which he claimed to be an avid reader, contrary to Mao who preferred Chinese classics), and even Putin himself, with whom, Xi said, he shared character traits.

And this time it was Putin who wanted something "delicious" from this visit. He was only partially successful. Among the 35 agreements signed in Moscow on March 22-24 are deals to supply Russian oil, gas, coal, and electricity to China. This "energy dialogue" has helped boost bilateral trade to $88 billion in 2012 but has also made Russia an appendage of China's industrial machine. In the meantime, Sino-Russian military cooperation has become a subject of serious controversy amid fears in Moscow that, due to China's copying of Russian defense technology, such a program may lead to the loss of Russia's preeminence in the one area it still enjoys a leading edge.

Efforts to go beyond energy and weapons made little progress. For instance, China and Russia agreed to protect migratory birds and cooperate in rabbit husbandry but this only serves to emphasize that, in economic terms, they still need the West much more than they need each other.

Putin and Xi have inherited a complicated relationship. The latest installment of documents released by the CWIHP highlights two legacies that continue to haunt the Sino-Russian relationship: the resentment of domination of one party by the other, and the pervasive presence of the third player at the table -- the United States. "Do not tease the United States too much," Stalin's personal envoy Anastas Mikoyan advised Mao in 1949, a piece of advice Putin and Xi would do well to remember.

And yet the relationship between China and Russia is closer than it has been at any time since the mid-1950s. The two countries coordinate on key international problems like Syria, Iran, and North Korea, and work closely in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization -- a regional forum long thought to be a paper tiger in the West but one that has proven surprisingly robust. Like in the 1950s, when the Soviet Union and China worked together in the hope of steering the Third World onto the socialist path, now Xi and Putin have sought to set the tone for the BRICS summit in South Africa (where they have gone after Moscow) in the spirit of subtly anti-American multi-polarity.

In June 1949, Mao famously announced that China would "lean to one side" in the Cold War -- the Soviet side. Xi is nowhere near so unequivocal today. Marxist-Leninist solidarity is absent from the present-day relationship, and fortunately so, because divergent interpretations of Marxism contributed to the Sino-Soviet split in the 1960s. But it would be wrong to overlook the ideological element that remains in today's relationship between Beijing and Moscow. Just as in the 1950s, desire for more global influence at America's expense and resentment against perceived U.S. meddling in domestic affairs of China and Russia is a cornerstone of the relationship.

This shared worldview is a product of different historical processes. The Communist Party's claim to domestic legitimacy under Xi, no less than under Mao, rests on the promised deliverance of China from the shame of its "100 years of humiliation" -- the period stretching from China's 1842 defeat at the hands of the West in the First Opium War, to its struggles against the Japanese in World War II. Russia's humiliation is more recent: born of defeat in the Cold War, it has produced a deeply felt resentment of the West. As brothers-in-humiliation -- and, as leaders whose political legitimacy depends on the continued maintenance of the victim discourse -- Xi and Putin need each other's support in rejecting increasingly loud domestic calls for political reform, as well as the Western criticism of the two countries' human rights records. If there is any substance to the Sino-Russian strategic partnership today, it is this. 

When Mao met with Stalin in December 1949 to negotiate the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Alliance, he hardly had an inkling of what was in store: in 10 years' time, this great alliance would be visibly crumbling; in another 10 years' time, China and the Soviet Union would be fighting an undeclared border war. In the 1970s, the two countries built up massive military forces along their shared border. Both sought security in a better relationship with the United States, Mao with better results than the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev -- whose efforts to convince U.S. President Richard Nixon of Beijing's "exceptional perfidiousness" fell on deaf ears.

Then, the Soviets feared Sino-American cooperation but took comfort in the hope that, as the leading Soviet China hand Mikhail Kapitsa put it in 1982 (in newly released documents), "the Chinese never befriend anyone for a long time." In the early 1980s, Moscow was helped by Deng Xiaoping's growing frustration with American weapons sales to Taiwan and restrictions on the export of U.S. technologies to the mainland -- but the road to rapprochement between Moscow and Beijing was long and arduous.

When, in 1989, Deng Xiaoping met Mikhail Gorbachev to finally normalize relations, the new archive materials note that he told the Soviet president that the split between their two countries arose because "the Soviet Union incorrectly perceived China's place in the world.... The essence of all problems was that we were unequal, that we were subjected to coercion and pressure."

The problem with the Sino-Russian relationship today is that it is still unequal, though now it is China that has the upper hand. China's interest in Russian technology has diminished significantly, and Beijing now sets the terms of trade -- as Moscow has found out in painful bargaining over the price of gas, a matter Xi's visit left unresolved. But China's deference to Russia on grand strategic concepts like multipolarity (and even its readiness to follow Moscow's lead in forums like the U.N. Security Council) has lent the Sino-Russian strategic partnership a greater degree of cohesion than would otherwise be the case.

In one of his talks in Moscow during the latest visit, Xi Jinping announced that the "Chinese dream and the Russian dream coincide." Recently, Xi has had a lot to say about this dream of the "great renaissance of the Chinese nation." He has talked about creating a "prosperous" and "powerful" country while maintaining one-party rule under "socialism with Chinese characteristics." Xi has also promised that China will not strive towards international hegemony. This will be a hard sell with China's worried neighbors.

Indeed, with Beijing acting ever more assertively in international affairs, and Russia losing leverage vis-à-vis its resurgent neighbor, even Putin will find it increasingly difficult to maintain alignment between his own global ambitions and those of his Chinese counterpart. Like Mao did in his time, Putin may yet taste the bitter fruits of leaning to one side.

ALEXEY DRUZHININ/Getty Images

National Security

Can the Marines Survive?

If America's amphibious force doesn't adapt, it'll be dead in the water.

On one day in 1965, a large sortie of U.S. Air Force F-105s dropped over 600 750-pound bombs on the Thanh Hoa Bridge, just 70 kilometers south of Hanoi. The result was the loss of five U.S. aircraft and a complete failure to destroy the bridge. Amazingly, the bridge would withstand over 800 more sorties from U.S. aircraft in the next seven years and receive the moniker "The Dragon's Jaw" because of its seeming indestructability and the nearby air defenses that stymied U.S. forces. Finally, in 1972, a sortie of F-4Ds carrying the new Paveway laser-guided bomb destroyed the Thanh Hoa Bridge.

Although not obvious at the time, the advent of the Paveway marked the beginning of a dramatic transformation in U.S. military technology that would change warfare forever. The revolution in precision munitions that began then has so accelerated in recent years that enemy forces can no longer operate in formations and in mass. They simply present too big a target. That, in turn, means that the days of U.S. corps, divisions, and brigades maneuvering on a battlefield with tanks, artillery, and motorized/mechanized infantry are numbered. Our surveillance capabilities allow us to sense everything on the battlefield. Any sizable vehicle formation, or single vehicle for that matter, can be destroyed with the click of a button half a world away. On today's battlefield, movement means death.

A lively debate is taking place within the Pentagon these days over how to adapt to this new reality. The Air Force and the Navy have come up with a new concept called Air-Sea Battle, which focuses on integrating naval and air forces to defeat adversaries with precision weapons backed by robust intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets. Simply put, the Air Force and the Navy are embracing new technology and have come to understand that with an integrated approach they should be able to defeat an enemy that is hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles away.

By contrast, the Marines -- and the Army -- are still trained in infantry tactics that would be recognizable to a World War II vet, organized to fight big land battles with heavy tanks and armored personnel carriers. There's an elephant walking around the Pentagon these days and everyone is trying to ignore it. No one wants to talk about the fact that land forces, as currently organized, are becoming increasingly irrelevant. This is not to say that there is no use for ground troops. They are needed, but in future conflicts they will only play a secondary role. Land forces will no longer win wars. Computers, missiles, planes, and drones will. If the Marines want to survive, we're going to have to adapt -- and fast.

Struggling for Relevance

The Marines are a door-kicking service, designed to breach enemy territory and establish an entry point for the Army's strategic land capability. But the U.S. military's development of unmanned aircraft, combined with stealth technology and unmatched ISR capability, makes it almost impossible for an enemy today to significantly impede the landing of U.S. forces on a beach or at a port. Forcible entry no longer requires landing forces -- it takes precision strikes, coordinated by special operations forces as needed. But if the door is going to be kicked in by a cruise missile, an unmanned aircraft, or other platform delivering precision munitions, why does the Marine Corps insist on maintaining such a large amphibious forcible entry capability based around the same Marine who stormed ashore at Tarawa? Because to argue that the United States does not need a forcible-entry force would be to question the very necessity of having a Marine Corps. Unfortunately, that is the question the Corps must now answer.

The Marines could have pushed for change 10 years ago. Following the 9/11 attacks, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approached the Marine commandant and asked if the Marines could take on a special operations role within the Department of Defense. For the secretary, it seemed logical. The Marine Corps is designed to operate independently when necessary; it can sustain itself with a well-oiled logistics organization, and it even has its own air wings. At the time, most special operations forces resided in the Army and in Navy Special Warfare and there was an emerging shortage of operators. The Corps could have filled the gap in special forces that existed right after 9/11.

The Marine Corps leadership balked at this proposition. A compromise with Rumsfeld did lead to the creation of Marine Special Operations Command, which now operates under U.S. Special Operations Command, but it was slow to get off the ground and has had trouble establishing credibility within the special operations community. The Marine Corps then focused on fighting the Iraq and Afghanistan wars for the next 10 years. With Iraq over and Afghanistan drawing to a close, planners can now focus again on what the United States will need in a possible unlimited war. But the Marine Corps -- and the Army -- have been caught flat-footed, unable to truly grasp the superiority of U.S. technology and how ground forces must adapt to harness its potential.

So what should the Marine Corps do?

First, it needs to recognize that future wars will be very different. Firepower will be brought to bear by unmanned surveillance aircraft and by small, highly trained teams. These teams will be fast, exceptionally physically fit, able to operate independently, but also able to operate with larger forces when necessary. Teams will be inserted by parachute, landing zone, or over the horizon from the sea. They will be backed up by a robust logistics tail and continuous, round-the-clock air support that provides security to compensate for their small size. Air support will consist of fixed-wing assets at sea, national assets based around the world, and fleets of unmanned aircraft that constantly surveil each team and the area in which they operate. That means teams are unlikely to be surprised or ambushed, and when threats are identified, they can be quickly neutralized by precision munitions launched from drones, manned aircraft, and ships. The teams will be able to conduct precision operations and a variety of raids, or hundreds of operators can be employed in coordination with each other during high-intensity conflicts.

In short, the future of warfare is in special operations, and the Pentagon will need a lot more operators. The future of the Marine Corps is as a special operations force that functions in a sustained combat mode.

Second, the Marine Corps needs to start thinking in terms of what the military calls "jointness" -- the ability to operate with other services. The Department of Defense is now joint through and through, and yet the Marine Corps still prides itself as an expeditionary force, able to deploy with limited external support. That has been a strength of the Marine Corps, but today it may be a liability. One problem is that the Marine Corps does not own most of the precision weapons platforms that are needed to operate on future battlefields. It needs to accept that it will have to rely on its sister services (particularly the Air Force) for ISR and close-air support to ensure the viability of small teams. Yes, there is probably some benefit to having a Marine pilot supporting Marine ground forces, as we were always told at The Basic School. But is a Navy or Air Force pilot really unable to adequately support Marines on the ground? Just maintaining the command, control, communications, computers, combat systems, and intelligence structure that will eventually connect every Marine on the battlefield will require Air Force platforms. The Marine Corps will not be able to maintain the data connectivity needed to manage the future battlefield. Instead of fighting jointness, the Corps should articulate how it can be leveraged to make Marines even more lethal.

Third, the Corps will have to completely change its approaches to doctrine, training, and equipment. Organizing for land battles or amphibious forcible entry is outdated, because U.S. firepower can obliterate any enemy force that dares to occupy the battlespace. Quite simply, there will be nothing for tanks and large troop formations to fight. The future belongs to small teams who will not be supported by air power and precision munitions, but who will actually support air power and precision munitions. The doctrine of close-air support will be reversed, turning into "close-ground support" whereby Marines will be a supporting component in a much larger campaign of missiles and guided munitions.

To operate in small teams that can coordinate a massive precision-engagement campaign, Marines will have to change the way they fight and train. The ethos of "every Marine a rifleman" will shift to "every Marine a JTAC," or joint terminal air controller. A Marine or team that cannot communicate on the battlefield will die. Marines will manage and become experts on dozens of different communications platforms ensuring double and triple redundancy. The battlefield of the future will be wired with data pipes bigger than the Alaskan Pipeline. If commanders today worry about information overload, they haven't seen anything yet. Every warrior on the battlefield will have access to the common operating picture, able to call in dozens of precision strikes from multiple platforms at once. Graduation exercises at infantry school will be based around scenarios that test the ability of the individual and team to operate in austere environments under physically grueling conditions -- while maintaining continuous communications over several waveforms. The Crucible will look like a day at the fair.

Organizationally, the Marine rifle squad as we know it today will no longer exist. Each squad will have a signals intelligence specialist, data and communications specialists, demolitions experts, one or two corpsmen, a sniper, and two or three machine gun teams -- only one or two team members may be certified "JTACs" but all must know how to coordinate the use of precision munitions and air assets via multiple radio and data waveforms. From the lowest-ranking member of the team to the general officer leading the joint task force headquarters, live video feeds will stream continuously, giving every warfighter a clear, concise picture of the battlefield. Rarely will the Marine of the future use his personal weapon; "rifleman" will become an antiquated term.

Elite Again

Leadership organization and manpower management will all have to be addressed if the Marine Corps is to conduct a significant re-organization. Marines operating in small teams will probably require over a year of training, probably more. A normal four-year enlistment might not be cost effective. Force structure may have to be reduced in order to ensure there are enough recruits with the qualifications and physical abilities to make the cut as operatives in the new elite Marine teams. Suffice it to say, the changes will hit every area of the Corps from recruiting to training to organization to equipping. The Marine Corps has been historically infantry-centric; to remain so could mean its eventual irrelevancy.

We will never fight another war in the mud. However, special forces can currently operate only for short periods of time; they cannot operate in a sustained mode in the face of significant opposition. The Marine Corps is in a position to fill the gap that currently exists within the special forces community. The Marine Corps must recognize the change that is sweeping the U.S. military and be the trailblazers we have always been when it comes to innovating and providing the most bang for the nation's buck. Failure to act could mean increasing irrelevance for a force that has been one of the United States's most storied and effective fighting organizations.

Lance Cpl. Michael Petersheim/DVIDS