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Preemptive War and the Chinese Just War Tradition: The 1969 Sino-Soviet Border Conflicts on Zhenbao Island

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Air War College Air University Maxwell AFB United States

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This paper evaluates Chinese Just War traditions in the context of the 1969 Sino-Soviet border conflicts to draw conclusions about characteristics of Chinese thinking of military preemption. The thesis of this work states that Chinese Just War tradition differs from the traditions of Western societies, and provides more flexibility in justifying the initiation of military action. Broader concepts of surprise and justified preemption combine to allow initiation of military actions where Western cultures might view the action as preventive or aggressive vice preemptive or defensive.The paper first looks as the circumstances surrounding the buildup and eruption of hostilities along the Ussuri River on the northeastern border of China. Consensus among scholars shows the conflict as the result of a combination of factors including a history of tensions between the RussiansSoviets and the Chinese, Soviet and Chinese escalation along the border after a failed border negotiation in 1964, and Chinese philosophy regarding territorial integrity.Secondly, the paper evaluates the Chinese actions in light of Western Just War traditions, showing that the ambush of Soviet troops at Zhenbao Island on March 2, 1969 is most appropriately categorized as preventive military action. Such actions are generally condemned in Western scholarly traditions.Following the Western evaluation, the paper evaluates similar aspects of Chinese Just War tradition, targeting specifically how the Chinese culture perceives preemptive and preventive military actions. This discussion delves briefly into Chinese strategic culture, history, and the current military concept of active defense. Using this evaluation, the paper then compares the actions along the Ussuri River with Chinese traditions, confirming that Chinese military traditions provide a different perception of preventive and preemptive military action than do Western traditions.

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Technical Report

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DOI: 10.21236/AD1018873



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