SOME AWFULLY PECULIAR things seem to be happening between China and the Soviet Union. They are so strange that "tough- minded" Americans may be tempted to ask, "Don't these people know how to behave in the real world?"
What is going on? China is embarking on sensitive negotiations with the Soviet Union about arms and security. But how can it do this? It is much weaker than the Soviet Union. Doesn't it know that there is a fundamental law that countries may negotiate only from strength?
China's nuclear capability is still primitive -- tiny compared to the Soviet Union's gigantic arsenal. So how come the Chinese aren't using all possible strategems to delay negotiations, to provide time for the necessary nuclear buildup? Don't they know that is is essential "to arm to parley?"
Don't they realize that they may be subject to nuclear blackmail?
Why aren't they afraid of being "Finlandized"?
What strategy could the Chinese conceivably have in mind? Are they imitating Gen. de Gaulle, who thought that it was adequate to be able "to tear an arm off the aggressor"? Could the Chinese have succumbed to the dangerously seductive idea that you can have nuclear security relatively cheaply, through some kind of "minimum deterrence"?
The Chinese need a crash program to build up a large cadre of civilian nuclear strategists. Their top government and military leaders obviously need instruction. These strategists could do as much good for China as they've done for the United States.
The Chinese leaders apparently don't know how to put first things first. They seem to be basing their actions on a political strategy instead of permitting the numerical nuclear balance to control events. Can't the Chinese leaders see that the world's leading nuclear power, the United States, has found that nuclear doctrines must dominate political strategies?
But, perhaps, this is the source of the Chinese heresy. Are they trying to apply common sense where it does not belong?
Do they think that the Soviet Union is not such a big threat because it already has its hands full trying to manage -- and not very successfully at that -- its own affairs? Are they deluding themselves that the Soviet leaders might have no stomach for trying to control a billion Chinese? Don't they understand that the appetite of the Soviet rulers is insatiable?
And what can explain the behavior of the Russians? They seem eager to negotiate with the Chinese. But isn't this strange also? Why should a country as strong as the Soviet Union deign to sit at the bargaining table with a country as weak as China?
Shouldn't the Russians be guided by the calculation that they could wage and win a nuclear war against China? Surely, if there were nuclear exchanges, hundreds of millions more Chinese would be "taken out" than Russians. Doesn't this mean there is no need for negotiations -- that the Chinese must simply accede to Soviet demands?
Perhaps the bosses in Moscow need to learn how to be genuinely hard-nosed from the Pentagon's Cap Weinberger. Only recently the American defense chief shared his philosophy with the American people, and with the world, when he commented that if the United States did not build the MX, there would be no reason for the Soviet Union to come to the negotiating table at Geneva.
But the Russians and Chinese are proceeding with their negotiations. And the Chinese seem to have set forth specific objectives -- about the Sino-Soviet border, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Mongolia.
Could it be that the Chinese know what they want from the Russians? If so, isn't that peculiar? Why haven't they learned from the United States that a great power is normally expected to present another great power with a laundry list of all possible demands, or to confuse it with constantly shifting priorities? That is the way to insure that negotiations, if they ever do begin, will be prolonged and unproductive.
And what can one say of some of the specific objectives of the Chinese? They apparently want the Russians to move armed forces and weapons back from the Chinese border. Don't the Chinese realize that the Russians, even if they should acquiesce, could quickly move their forces back? Are the Chinese tranquiliaing themselves with the notion that temporary relief from pressure is worthwhile even though it may not be permanent?
There could be serious consequences for the Soviet Union and China as a result of their strange behavior. Could they fail to appreciate what grave doubts will be raised about their competence in the eyes of the American superpower?
Doesn't the United States have a right to expect that other great powers will not indulge in erratic and unpredictable behavior?