Peaceful coexistence

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Conflict and Peace

Peaceful coexistence was a theory developed during the Cold War among Communist states that they could peacefully coexist with capitalist states. This was in contrast to theories, such as those implied by some interpretations of antagonistic contradiction, that Communism and capitalism could never exist in peace. However it was interpreted differently by the USSR and the People's Republic of China, the two dominant states in the Communist world.

The Soviet Union applied it to relations between the industrialized world and in particular the United States and NATO countries and the nations of the Warsaw Pact.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, China applied it to relations between itself and non-socialist countries in the developing world while it argued that a belligerent attitude should be maintained towards imperialist countries. However, in the early 1980s, China extended the peaceful coexistence concept to include all nations.

Debates over differing interpretations of peaceful coexistence were one aspect of the Sino-Soviet split in the 1950s and 1960s.

More recently, the phrase has gained currency beyond its usage in Communist phraseology and has been adopted by the broader diplomatic world. For instance, in his 2004 Christmas address, Pope John Paul II called for "peaceful coexistence" in the Middle East.

Soviet policy

Khrushchev promoted the concept beginning in 1953 in an attempt to reduce hostility between the two superpowers particularly in light of the possibility of nuclear war. The theory of peaceful coexistence promoted by the Soviet Union asserted that the two superpowers (the USA and USSR) and their ideologies could co-exist together, without war (peacefully). Khrushchev tried to demonstrate his commitment to peaceful coexistence by attending international peace conferences, such as the Geneva Summit, and by travelling internationally, such as his trip to America's Camp David in 1959. The World Peace Council founded in 1949 and largely funded by the Soviet Union attempted to organize a peace movement in favour of the concept internationally.

The concept was meant to assuage western concerns that the Soviet Union was driven by the concept of world revolution which had been advocated by Lenin and the Bolsheviks. However while Lenin and the Bolsheviks advocated world revolution, they never advocated it's spread by violence and war. Lenin had talked about "peaceful cohabitation" with capitalist countries. Khrushchev argued that while socialism would eventually triumph over capitalism this would occur without war which was neither necessary nor inevitable.

It seems reasonable to assume that the concept was a reaction to the realisation that a nuclear war would ensure the destruction of the socialist system and the annihilation of the Soviet Union itself. It was also reflected in the USSR's strategic military disposition - the move away from large (and possibly offensive) military forces towards a force centred on a strategic nuclear missile force. Although disquiet over this shift helped bring Khrushchev down, his successors did not return to the Stalinist theories of an inevitable conflict between the imperialist and socialist systems.

Chinese policy

Premier Zhou Enlai of the People's Republic of China proposed the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence in 1953 during negotiations with India over Tibet and these were written into the Agreement Between the People's Republic of China and the Republic of India on Trade and Intercourse Between the Tibet Region of China and India signed in 1954 by Zhou and Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru. The priniciples were reiterated by Zhou at the Bandung Conference of Asian and African countries where they were incorporated into the conference declarations. One major consequence of this policy was that the PRC would not support Communist insurgencies in Southeast Asia, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia, and would distance itself from overseas Chinese in those nations.

However, Maoist doctrine continued to emphasise the survivability of any conflict between the imperialist and socialist world systems - the Chinese continued to advocated a stronger form of the campist theory of global politics than that approved in the USSR.

With Mao's death the Chinese softened their line, though would never endorse the views of their rivals. During the late 1970s and 1980s, the concept of peaceful coexistence was expanded as a framework for all sovereign nations. In 1982 the Five Principles were written into the Constitution of the People's Republic of China which claims to be bound by them in its international relations.

The Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence as promoted by China are:

  • mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity
  • mutual non-aggression
  • non-interference in each other's internal affairs
  • equality and mutual benefit
  • peaceful co-existence

There are three notable consequences of the Chinese concept of peaceful coexistence. First of all, in contrast with the Soviet concepts of the mid-1970s, the Chinese concepts include the encouragement of global free trade. Second, the Chinese concept of peaceful coexistence places a large emphasis on national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and thus moves by the United States to promote democracy and human rights are seen in this framework as hostile. Finally, as the PRC does not consider Taiwan to be sovereign, the concept of peaceful coexistence does not extend to Taiwan, and efforts by other nations, particularly the United States, to involve itself in PRC-Taiwan relations are seen as hostile actions in this framework.

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