The psychology of escalation: Sino-Soviet relations, 1958-1963

by Jack L. Snyder

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Discusses a number of theoretical and historical issues involved in the Sino-Soviet split, and uses a cognitive process model of decisionmaking to explain the Soviets' choice of a strategy for pursuing their interests. The author describes the escalation of the conflict in terms of the interaction of the Soviet and Chinese strategies of "compellence," and explains Soviet strategic choices as the result of Khrushchev's mis-estimates of probable Chinese reactions to coercive tactics. Two factors in the cognitive process model of Khrushchev's behavior are avoidance of psychological stress caused by value tradeoffs, and using simplifying stereotypes and analogies in structuring perception. These mis-perceptions developed into a self-fulfilling prophecy, reinforcing the initial misperceptions on which his strategy was based, and resulted in a dynamic escalation process leading to the split.

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