Peaceful Coexistence

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Peaceful Coexistence




During the cold war the Soviet Union and China developed the concept of peaceful coexistence as a mechanism for communist states to coexist with capitalist states and, in the case of China, with regional powers. It was in direct contrast with theories of mutual antagonistic aggression that supposed the two regimes could not live in peace. However it was applied differently by the Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China and debates over differing interpretations of peaceful coexistence contributed to one aspect of the Sino-Soviet split in the 1950s and 1960s. Since the end of the cold war, peaceful coexistence has been used to describe proposed solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East, Wall Streets view of regional instability following the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, relations between the West and Islam, relations between Jews and Christians and Muslims, and relations among the different Christian churches. The concept of peaceful coexistence has been adopted by many international documents and has become a widely accepted norm of international relations.


Vladimir Lenin, revolutionary leader, head of the Communist Party, and first premier of the Soviet Union, first put forth the concept of peaceful coexistence after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917. At that time he issued a Decree on Peace that called for World War I (19141918) participants to immediately open negotiations for peace. Leon Trotsky, the peoples commissar of foreign affairs, followed this decree by proclaiming an official doctrine of peaceful coexistence with all peoples. However, in the early years of the Soviet Union the doctrine of world revolution was also proclaimed, especially by Lenin. The two policies, peaceful coexistence and world revolution, would appear to conflict for several decades.

In 1943 Joseph Stalin dissolved the Comintern and disbanded the Communist International, a Moscowbased organization of communist parties around the world that promoted revolution. This action was an attempt to appease the Western allies during World War II (19391945) and secure a wartime pact, but was ultimately a precursor to the formal adoption of peaceful coexistence as a part of Soviet foreign policy. In 1949, still under Stalins leadership, the Soviet Union founded the World Peace Council to organize a global peace movement to promote the concept of peaceful coexistence internationally. This was meant to assuage Western concerns that the Soviet Union was driven by world revolution, as had been advocated by the Bolsheviks.

Nikita Khrushchev first fully enunciated peaceful coexistence following the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party when he denounced crimes committed by Stalin. As Soviet premier, beginning in 1953 Khrushchev promoted the concept of peaceful coexistence as a way to ease tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States in light of the possibility of nuclear war. Beginning in 1956 peaceful coexistence was proclaimed the cornerstone of Soviet foreign policy. For the Soviet Union peaceful coexistence had one main assertion: that the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective ideologies could co-exist together without war. It had three elements: socialism in one country (the total commitment of Soviet resources in the home country, first introduced by Stalin in 1924); the Iron Curtain (sealing off the people of the Communist world from the people of the capitalist world); and the arms race (with military might substituting for political struggle). Khrushchev argued that while socialism would eventually triumph over capitalism this would occur without war, which was neither necessary nor inevitable.

Khrushchev explained the doctrine of peaceful coexistence as early as 1957 in a speech at the Albanian Embassy. In 1960 in an address to the United Nations General Assembly, Khrushchev underlined the policy: The peoples of the Soviet Union and the Soviet Government are striving unremittingly to have the principles of peaceful coexistence firmly established in relations between States. The policy of peaceful coexistence assumes a readiness to solve all outstanding issues without resort to force, by means of negotiations and reasonable compromises. The reasoning behind the policy was Khrushchevs aim to catch up and overtake the West in economic development, and thereby prove the superiority of the Soviet system. In a speech to the Supreme Soviet on October 31, 1959, Krushchev explained that conflict between the two systems, communist and capitalist, must be resolved, and that peaceful coexistence was a real method to this end based on human society.

In a 1959 article in the prominent American journal Foreign Affairs Khrushchev offered American readers a detailed exposition of the Soviet viewpoint, and maintained that the Soviet Union professed a policy of peaceful coexistence since its creation following the revolution in 1917: From its very inception, Khrushchev argued, the Soviet state proclaimed peaceful coexistence as the basic principle of its foreign policy. It was no accident that the very first state act of the Soviet power was the decree on peace, the decree on the cessation of the bloody war (Khrushchev 1959, p. 1). Khrushchev tried to demonstrate his commitment to peaceful coexistence by participating in international peace conferences such as the Geneva Summit, and by traveling internationally, such as visiting Camp David in the United States in 1959.

The Soviet Union applied the concept of peaceful coexistence to its relations with industrialized countries, particularly its relations with the United States and relations between member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Warsaw Pact member countries (also termed the Communist Bloc in Eastern Europe).


During the 1960s and 1970s China applied the concept of peaceful coexistence to its relations with nonsocialist countries in the developing world while arguing that a belligerent attitude should be maintained toward imperialist capitalist countries. In the early 1980s China extended its interpretation of the concept of peaceful coexistence to include its relations with all countries, including capitalist countries.

In December 1953, during negotiations with India over Tibet, Chinese premier Zhou Enlai (18981976) proposed the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. These were written into the Agreement Between the Peoples Republic of China and the Republic of India on Trade and Intercourse Between the Tibet Region of China and India signed in April 1954 by Zhou Enlai and Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru following the Sino-Indian War in Tibet. The Five Principles were reiterated by Zhou in 1954 in joint declarations issued with the prime ministers of India and Myanmar during Zhous visit to the two countries in June 1954, and again at the Bandung Conference of 1955, the first conference of Asian and African countries, where they were incorporated into the conference declarations. In 1982 the Five Principles were written into the Constitution of the Peoples Republic of China as applied to all sovereign nations. The Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence as promoted by China are:

  • Mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity (government free from external control)
  • Mutual nonaggression
  • Noninterference in each others internal affairs
  • Equality
  • Mutual benefit

There are three notable consequences of the Chinese concept of peaceful coexistence, as differentiated from the Soviet concept of peaceful coexistence. First, the Chinese concept includes the expansion of free trade. Second, the Chinese concept emphasizes national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and noninterference in internal affairs; thus American moves to promote democracy and human rights are seen as hostile actions. Third, the concept precludes support of Communist insurgents in other countries. One major consequence of this policy was that China would not support Communist insurgencies in Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia, and would distance itself from overseas Chinese in those nations. The Chinese concept of peaceful coexistence does not extend to Taiwan, which is considered a part of China and thus an internal affair in which other nations, particularly the United States, should not interfere.

The concept of peaceful coexistence remains a part of Chinese foreign policy in the beginning of the twenty-first century. On September 3, 2005, Chinese president Hu Jintao called for promoting peaceful coexistence of different civilizations to draw upon each others strengths.



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Anastasia Xenias