As we saw in yesterday’s post on Soviet Efforts in the Third World, in the 1950s, superpower policy toward Third World nations was recast. The Soviet Union and the United States converted their nations into national security states and were in battle for the allegiance — and the resources — of the less industrialized nations.
The Soviets would challenge the West ideologically, economically, and through the allocation of military assistance. Still, though, they would not go so far as to risk actual confrontation with American forces. More importantly, they would avoid — at almost any cost — the danger of nuclear war.
Soviet policy, however, was complicated by an increasingly strained relationship with Mao Tse-tung’s Mainland China.
Gaddis says that “the Russians saw the Chinese as running unnecessary risks in challenging Washington’s hard line on Quemoy and Matsu.”
Soviet apprehensions became apparent in 1954 and 1955
when the Chinese communists threatened the offshore islands … which lay between the mainland and Taiwan …. As the communists shelled the islands and then announced the imminent ‘liberation’ of Taiwan, Eisenhower warned that such liberation forces would have to run over the American Seventh fleet stationed in the Formosa straits.
Tension over the islands escalated in 1958 when China began shelling the offshore islands.
The American Seventh Fleet provided artillery capable, at least in theory, of firing atomic shells.
Mao asked the Soviets for nuclear weapons. Khruschev ignored the request, saying, instead, that the Soviet Union would come to China’s support if the Americans actually mounted an attack.
China saw Khruschev’s response as a betrayal.
Krushchev, though, saw things differently.
We didn’t want to give them the idea we were their obedient slaves, who would give them whatever they wanted, no matter how much they insulted us.