As the 1970s turned into the 1980s, global politics were often characterized in terms of a strategic triangle. This metaphor provided a way to conceptualize the security relations between the United States, the Soviet Union and China. In the words of the former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger:

Triangular diplomacy, to be effective, must rely on the natural incentives and propensities of the players. It must avoid the impression that one is ‘using’ either of the contenders against the other; otherwise one becomes vulnerable to retaliation or blackmail. The hostility between China and the Soviet Union served our purposes best if we maintained closer relations with each side than they did with each other. The rest could be left to the dynamic of events.