No. 275
Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Robertson) to the Acting Secretary of State

top secret


  • Recommended Course of Action with Respect to Chinese Nationalist-held Off-shore Islands


To determine what, if any, action should be taken by U.S. armed forces in response to an attack by the Chinese Communists on any [Page 562] of the major off-shore islands held by the Government of the Republic of China (GRC).


The heavy Chinese Communist artillery attack on Quemoy on September 3, despite the 7th Fleet’s demonstration off the Ta Chen Islands and Secretary Dulles’ public warning that an attack on GRC-held off-shore islands might provoke U.S. military intervention,1 makes clear that threats of U.S. intervention cannot be relied upon to deter Communist attacks on these islands and that some more positive action by the U.S. is necessary if these islands are not to be swallowed up by the Communists one by one and if a significant defeat for U.S. policy in the area is to be avoided. It is FE’s belief, therefore, that any attempt by the Communists to assault one of the major off-shore islands should be met with a positive though limited U.S. military response. This response should be in such form as measurably to improve the prospects of successful defense of the islands, and at the same time a) minimize risks of expanding the conflict, b) emphasize the defensive character of the action, c) permit maximum utilization of GRC forces, and d) avoid a U.S. commitment to hold or retake any island. U.S. ground forces should not take part in such operations.

FE suggests that an effective means of responding to future Communist attacks on major off-shore islands would be through provision of logistic support of the GRC forces defending the islands, whenever the need arises. It would be the primary mission of U.S. naval (and if necessary, air) forces engaged in such an operation to maintain sea and air supply lines open between the island under attack and Formosa. This would enable U.S. naval and air forces to attack and destroy enemy naval and aircraft in the vicinity of the attacked island, to pursue them in engagements commenced in the area, and to reply to shore batteries if these were so located as to interdict supply lines. While permitting our forces to respond to a Communist attack and providing scope for inflicting such severe punishment on the enemy’s naval and air strength committed to the attack as to significantly impair his chances of success, such a [Page 563] mission for our forces would at the same time leave primary responsibility for the defense of the island with the GRC, not commit us explicitly to its defense, be obviously defensive in character, and tend to localize the conflict. Finally, it would bolster the morale and combat effectiveness of the islands’ defenders.

Recommended Action:

That the Department of State submit this proposal to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for an opinion as to its military feasibility and if considered feasible it be, as a matter of high priority, submitted to the President through the National Security Council. A proposed Presidential statement explaining and justifying this course of action is attached for consideration if this recommendation is approved. (Tab A)2

  1. Reference is to a statement made by Secretary Dulles at a press conference on Aug. 24 in response to a question as to whether the United States was obligated to defend the Nationalist-held offshore islands. According to an undated memorandum by Henry Suydam, Chief of the News Division, the Secretary stated that the defense of some of the islands in question “might from a military standpoint be so intimately connected with the defense of Formosa that the military would be justified in concluding that the defense of Formosa comprehended a defense of those islands. He stated that that would be primarily a military decision. He added that many of those islands, Pescadores and some of the others had, he believed, radar equipment and early-warning devices upon them which were related to the defense of Formosa.” (Conference files, lot 60 D 627, CF 360)
  2. Not printed.