Monday, November 19, 2007

Reach Out And Touch Someone

It came as something as a shock to me when I learned a few months back that the US and China had never established a "hotline" to prevent the kinds of misunderstandings that lead to accidental nuclear armageddons. Fortunately, the news came in the context of an article reporting that the Chinese and American militaries were making progress on putting one in place. That agreement was finally sealed two weeks ago, and here's what the People's Daily Online has to say about it:

In a nutshell, it can be said that the China-US military hotline is sure to add more mutual military trust to the security cooperation of the two nations and in the Asia-Pacific region as a whole, and it will play a still more positive role in enhancing the high-level military exchanges and cooperation, further increasing their mutual trust, and dispelling any of their doubts or suspicions.

China is one area where the Bush administration doesn't get some credit it deserves. The amount of trust-building measures and joint exercises that have taken place is actually pretty surprising, if you think about where things started (the Hainan airmen) as well as some of the provocation China has engaged in since (the anti-satellite test).

Meanwhile, in case you thought that hotlines were all about nail-biting crisis management, think again. Take the Cold War-era hotline to the Kremlin, for instance, which continues to function to this day:

...It is tested hourly, with the Pentagon sending a message every even hour, and Moscow sending one back every odd hour. Both sides transmit in an agreed-upon code and avoid any political or controversial test messages.

Mostly, operators on either side of the hot line try to test each other's translation skills with selections from obscure texts. For example, the U.S. operators will send their Russian counterparts recipes for chili, or articles on the psychology of pets. The Russians might then respond with excerpts from their great novelists, or a treatise on the history of invention in the ancient world. But the battle of wits is cordial, and some hot line operators have even met face-to-face at government functions.

This is the sort of thing that's important to remember when considering the longterm evolution of all our strategic rivalries. Namely that a cordial battle of wits is as realistic an endgame scenario as a mushroom cloud.

Posted by Judah in:  China   Odds & Ends   Russia   

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