- Editor’s Note
This issue begins with an article by Tao Wang, who reassesses the policy of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) at the landmark 1954 conference in Geneva. The multilateral gathering was convened to deal with unresolved matters left over from the Korean War and to discuss the status of Indochina, where an armed uprising by Communist Viet Minh guerrillas against the French occupation was reaching its climax. By the time the deliberations over Indochina began, France’s war effort had collapsed at Dien Bien Phu, and the Viet Minh were eager to continue fighting to seize the whole of Indochina. Wang argues that Chinese leaders worried that if the Viet Minh pressed further the United States would be far more likely to intervene to prevent a Communist takeover. Because Mao Zedong and other senior Chinese officials believed that U.S. intervention in the conflict would pose a grave threat to the PRC, they wanted to forestall such a step. They worked to forge a united front with their Communist allies (the USSR and North Vietnam), sought to exploit differences among the main Western countries (the United States, France, and Britain), and pushed the Viet Minh to halt the guerrilla war and accept a negotiated settlement at the Geneva Conference. The PRC’s efforts, according to Wang, played a key role in producing the peaceful (if unsatisfactory) outcome at Geneva.
The next article, by Richard Hanania, considers the attitude of President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the potential use of U.S. nuclear weapons in Cold War standoffs with North Korea, the PRC, and the Soviet Union. Scholars such as Nina Tannenwald have argued that a de facto taboo on the use of nuclear weapons had emerged by the 1960s, becoming a basic norm of international politics, but they see Eisenhower as having been more willing to contemplate the use of nuclear weapons. Hanania contests this view by reexamining the Eisenhower administration’s actions during four major crises in the 1950s: the wrangling that led to the settlement of the Korean War in July 1953, the crisis in Indochina during the siege of French garrisons at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the PRC’s shelling of Quemoy and Matsu in 1954–1955, and the renewed Chinese bombardment of the offshore islands in 1958. Hanania finds that although Eisenhower early on seemed relatively willing to contemplate the use of nuclear weapons, he became increasingly wary of nuclear warfare over time. A nuclear taboo, Hanania contends, had already become entrenched in the 1950s and was not simply a byproduct of the dangers posed by the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
The third article, by Sergey Radchenko, provides a spirited challenge to Western and Chinese historiography concerning Chinese politics in the mid-1940s. Over the past two decades, a near-consensus has emerged among Western and Chinese scholars that there was no genuine opportunity to avert the Chinese civil war and that debates about “missed opportunities” are therefore pointless. Using an array of declassified [End Page 1] materials from the PRC, Taiwan, Russia, and the United States, Radchenko reevaluates the only face-to-face negotiations held between Mao and his Nationalist Chinese rival, Chiang Kai-shek—at Chongqing in 1945. Radchenko maintains that Mao went to Chongqing ready to agree to divide China with Chiang, leaving the Nationalists in control of the north and the Communists in control of the south. Radchenko claims that if Chiang had accepted this compromise solution, it could have prevented China from being plunged into civil war. According to Radchenko, this suggests that a genuine opportunity was lost in 1945 and that the Nationalists might have ended up with a much larger share of Chinese territory than they ultimately did.
The next article, by William Burr, discusses U.S. efforts to curtail the international spread of gas centrifuge technology used in the process of uranium enrichment. U.S. officials worried that the technology, by its nature, could be exploited by countries seeking to enrich uranium to weapons grade so that they could build nuclear bombs. The U.S. government tried to persuade its major European allies, especially Great Britain, France, West Germany, and the Netherlands, to...