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U.S.-Soviet-Chinese Relations: Routine, Reciprocity, or Rational Expectations?

  • Joshua S. Goldstein (a1) and John R. Freeman (a2)


International relations theorists disagree about whether great power behaviors reflect bureaucratic routine or reciprocity. Recently, some have suggested that these behaviors result from great powers' rational expectations rather than from simple routine or reciprocity. The debate is flawed in several respects. The quasi-experimental studies of great power behavior suffer from specification and measurement errors. Furthermore, most studies of great power behavior focus exclusively on the superpowers, without adequately appreciating China's role in world politics. We present an improved analysis that recognizes the potential effects of Chinese behavior and ameliorates the methodological flaws in existing work. The results indicate that the behaviors of the United States, the Soviet Union, and China are a relatively stable mix of bureaucratic routine and reciprocity. The results also indicate complex, asymmetrical connections among U.S.-Soviet, U.S.-Chinese, and Soviet-Chinese relations, consistent with the notion of a strategic triangle.



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