How the Soviet Union and China almost started World War III

Discussion in 'History' started by Plazma Inferno!, Feb 12, 2016.

  1. Plazma Inferno! Ding Ding Ding Ding Administrator

    I always thought that the Cuban Missile Crisis was the most critical moment that could push world into another war. But apparently, it wasn't. Seven years later, in 1969, the incident on Zhenbao Island happened.
    In March that year, a contingent of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers raided a Soviet border outpost on Zhenbao Island, killing dozens and injuring scores. The incident brought Russia and China to the brink of war, a conflict that might have led to the use of nuclear weapons. But after two weeks of clashes, the conflict trailed off.

    I honestly had no idea about this. What would happen if this conflict had escalated?
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  3. mathman Valued Senior Member

    My guess is the U.S. and allies would have stayed out of it.

    If the combatants used nuclear weapons, the fallout would have had a world wide impact.
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  5. mmatt9876 Registered Senior Member

    Would the US and the Allies have gotten involved in such a war if they knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that such a war between the Soviet Union and China would escalate to the use of nuclear weapons? After all, use of nuclear weapons can have global climate and health consequences.
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  7. mathman Valued Senior Member

    This is pure speculation. I would assume that the US would try to mediate the conflict. If that didn't succeed, I doubt if the US would choose sides, so it would stay out.
  8. timojin Valued Senior Member

    Do you think military give a dam . They have protective gear, In the last several wars since WWi more civilian died then all combatant casualty.
  9. mmatt9876 Registered Senior Member

    I agree that the US would have probably chosen to mediate the situation between the Soviet Union and China instead of choosing sides in a war.

    I did not know more civilians have died due to war than soldiers since World War 1. Is this across the board, for all countries, or just concerning conflicts the US was involved in?
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2016
  10. sideshowbob Sorry, wrong number. Valued Senior Member

    How would the entry of the US make nuclear escalation less likely?
  11. billvon Valued Senior Member

    Correct. The closest we have come to nuclear war was in 1983, when the Soviet Union was minutes away from launching a retaliatory strike against the US after detecting five ICBM's inbound from the US. One man - Stanislav Petrov - stopped the attack. It turned out to be a warning system malfunction.
  12. billvon Valued Senior Member

  13. mmatt9876 Registered Senior Member

    I imagine that if the US chose a side in such a war maybe the combined forces of the US and the Soviet Union or China could bring the war to a conclusion sooner, before either side chose to use nuclear weapons. In the process we would also make an ally.

    However, if the Soviet Union or China decided to use nuclear weapons from the start of the war US entry into such a war would not be successful in preventing nuclear warfare from happening in the region because it would already be too late.
  14. sculptor Valued Senior Member

    It did. It was a long year with the pla testing the ussr all along their shared border. If memory serves, the ussr moved most of their tanks and army to the borders with china, and when the pla attacked at Kazakhstan the Russian generals wanted to bomb China's nuclear sites.
    I think we got involved then.
    Plazma Inferno! likes this.
  15. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    There was one man during the Cuban missile crisis - a Soviet nuclear armed sub commander - who refused to launch against the US at the last minute, amid confusion and under miserable circumstances, despite the situation meeting the criteria of his standing orders. I used to be able to recall his name, as well - to add to Petrov's. Maybe you know it?
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  16. sculptor Valued Senior Member

    Ain't sanity in others great!
  17. el es Registered Senior Member

  18. Retribution Banned Banned

    With regard to Arkhipov, it should be noted that he wasn't in command of that sub during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
    I've seen him described as a "junior officer" on more than one occasion as a result (not in this thread, though) - the use of the term "second in command" tends to present a slightly different picture to reality. However, even the linked wiki article makes it clear he was in fact the flotilla commander, which gave him far more authority than some would have you understand.
    A little like two captains being on board an American cruiser - One being the ship captain and the other the fleet commander, but equal in rank. While the ships captain may have nominal authority over his ship, the fleet commander would probably have the authority to gainsay him (not 100% sure of my ground on that one).
    That a political officer was present and siding with the ship captain probably only compounded the confusion.

    That particular story is not one of a sub captain disobeying orders and not launching a strike, its more one of a good and solid military commander actually following protocols.
    Specifically, he refused to authorise a launch in the absence of orders to do so. That's an extremely important distinction to understand.
    I very much doubt that soviet protocols at the time were to launch if you're uncertain of the situation, but that too would be speculation on my part. I don't happen to have copy of the 1962 Soviet submarine protocol manual with regard to nuclear launches at hand, I'm afraid.

    Had he received specific orders to launch, I'd doubt the story would have read in quite the same way. Instead, we'd all be arguing about whether world war three was really Kennedy's fault, Khrushchev's, or a Russian sub commanders.
    Assuming, of course, there would be anyone left with the luxury of being able to argue about it.

    The story goes that the American destroyers were dropping practice charges in order to force the sub to the surface. Aside from the evident prevarication of using the term "identification" with regard to motive, if they'd been actually been serious it seems that sub would be sitting on the bottom of the ocean right now. There doesn't seem to be much doubt the Americans knew exactly where it was, and they knew it wasn't one of their own.
    This tends to follow the stories you'll often see, even very recently, of fighter jets from nearly all nations "buzzing" other aircraft.
    They're basically saying "I'm watching you".
    A dangerous practice, to be sure. But not often a lethal one.

    These sorts of stories are generally meant to display two attitudes; the first being that "enemy" commanders are often substandard, not as good as ours, less predictable, not as well trained, etc - or alternatively that it is the Americans who are dangerous and unpredictable, and that these enemy officers are "heroes" for not being sucked in.
    Neither attitude shows much in the way of respect for the officers involved.

    The truth often lies somewhere in the middle. All military forces have good officers, well trained and intelligent enough to discern why protocols are in place to begin with, and follow them.
    All military forces have some bad ones, as well. In the case of the Soviet sub B-59, in this example, it was one bad officer, a political officer more or less demonstrating why you don't allow civilians to have too much authority with regard to military matters in the heat of combat, and one very good one who thankfully had the intelligence and training to make a sound judgement call, and both the confidence and the authority to back it up.

    The same thing applies to Petrov.
    He didn't "stop the attack". He simply made an intelligent and logically sound decision, made with regard to protocol, and didn't launch.
    Exactly as he was trained to do.
  19. Retribution Banned Banned

    I doubt it would have gone any further at all.

    History is replete with one nation or another "testing" each other, but in the case of major powers particularly, they have never led to full-scale conflict with each other. In many cases, it's quite possible they had multiple purposes; training in a live fire situation, a toe in the water regarding both the nature of the response and the efficiency with which it was carried out, etc. as well as testing the strength of the enemy's resolve.
    That this particular conflict faded away without it escalating into a major confrontation more or less bears out it wasn't a serious invasion. There might be many theories as to what the motivation actually was, but full scale war doesn't seem to be one of them... unless, of course, the response of one side or the other proved to be hopelessly inept, in which case it might have (an invasion of opportunity, in a manner of speaking). But it didn't.

    In later decades, the major powers used small nations as the battleground rather than their own. Cuba, Vietnam, Korea, and later still Afghanistan and Iraq. Similar sort of principle to the "Buffer States" of the Soviet Union after World War 2. You don't fight a war on your own ground anymore.
  20. Dinosaur Rational Skeptic Valued Senior Member

    The effects of nuclear war due to other countries is exaggerated.

    A nuclear war between Russia & China, or Russia & Europe would have hardly any effect on the USA or South America. It probably would or have little effect on Egypt or other African countries.
  21. mathman Valued Senior Member

    Maybe: The fallout could have serious consequences for the rest of the world if enough bombs are used.

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