115. Memorandum of Discussion at the 237th Meeting of the National Security Council, Washington, February 17, 19551

Present at this meeting of the Council were the President of the United States, presiding; the Secretary of State; the Secretary of Defense; [Page 280] the Director, Foreign Operations Administration; and the Director, Office of Defense Mobilization. Also present were the Secretary of the Treasury; the Attorney General (for Item 7); the Director, Bureau of the Budget; the Director, U.S. Information Agency; the Chairman, Interdepartmental Intelligence Conference (for Item 7); the Chairman, Interdepartmental Committee on Internal Security (for Item 7); the Deputy Secretary of Defense (for Items 6 and 7); the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Director of Central Intelligence; the Assistant to the President (for Items 6 and 7); Messrs. Cutler, Dodge and Rockefeller, Special Assistants to the President; the NSC Representative on Internal Security (for Item 7); the White House Staff Secretary; the Acting Executive Secretary, NSC; and the Senior Member, NSC Special Staff.

There follows a summary of the discussion at the meeting and the main points taken.

[Here follows discussion of agenda items 1–5: “A Net Evaluation Subcommittee,” “Program of United Nations Action to Stop Aggression,” “United States Objectives and Courses of Action With Respect to Latin America,” “United States Policy Toward Italy,” and “Antarctica.”]

6. Significant World Developments Affecting U.S. Security (SNIE 11–4–55)2

[Here follows a summary of Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles’ briefing of the Council and related discussion; the portion omitted concerned the Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia, and Laos.]

Mr. Dulles read a Special National Intelligence Estimate entitled “Review of Current Communist Attitudes Toward General War” (SNIE 11–4–55). He said this agreed estimate was one of the most important the intelligence community had written in some time.

After asking the President’s permission, Secretary Dulles reviewed the British Commonwealth reaction to the situation in Formosa. He said the State Department had received numerous reports of the London meeting of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers, but that the fullest report had been obtained from Mr. Pearson, who had come from Ottawa to lunch with him in New York yesterday.3 Secretary Dulles said the Commonwealth Prime Ministers were all worried about the situation in the offshore islands. He indicated there was tacit agreement among them to try to get the U.S. to persuade the Nationalists to withdraw from the offshore islands to Formosa. Secretary Dulles stated that there was apparently no realization among the Commonwealth Prime Ministers of the difficulty of doing [Page 281] this. He added that all of us agreed with them as to how fortunate it would be if these islands sank to the bottom of the sea; but, he added, they do not recognize what we have already done in an attempt to bring about peace in the area and reduce the possibility of conflict.

Secretary Dulles told the Council that he had given the British a draft of his New York speech.4 This draft had caused Eden to request him to change the text.5 In response to Eden’s concern, the Secretary replaced his wording with that taken from the President’s message to Congress, in an attempt to reassure the British that he did not intend to go beyond the commitments contained in the Congressional message. Secretary Dulles said that Mr. Dixon in New York had told him that the British Government appreciated the changes which he had made, and believed that both governments should seek to avoid differences on the Formosa policy. Mr. Pearson appeared to be more sympathetic to our position after Secretary Dulles had explained again to him the various actions the United States had taken to get the situation under control in the Formosa Straits, including the promise of Chiang to take no action against the mainland even from the offshore islands.

Admiral Radford briefed the Council on the military situation in the Formosa area. He began by saying that the Joint Chiefs were watching with great interest all developments at airports in Fukien Province. Three U.S. photo reconnaissance planes had been given Chiang in order to obtain current information about this area on the mainland. Admiral Radford added that if our commanders were unable to get information satisfactory to them by this means, they would put U.S. reconnaissance planes over this area.

Admiral Radford indicated that the Chinese Communists would reveal their intentions to attack Quemoy and the Matsus if they moved their air force to fields in Fukien. He estimated that the Communists might attack the islands separately, or attack all of them at once. He said he was faced with the serious problem of replacing aircraft lost in combat, especially jet planes, which had been given to [Page 282] the Chinese Nationalists for the defense of the offshore islands. He reported that the Chinese Nationalists were now holding the Matsus and the Quemoys and Nanchi, the latter being the most northern outpost now held by the Nationalists.

Secretary Dulles interrupted to state that Chiang had been told that the United States would not help to defend Nanchi.

Secretary Humphrey asked whether there was any military value in holding Nanchi. Admiral Radford responded that Nanchi did provide a radar location and it was now the most northern outpost of Formosa. He added that it was held by a small garrison, and that its loss would not be comparable to that of the Quemoys or the Matsus because there was very little U.S. equipment on the island. The Chinese Nationalists, he added, state that they cannot withdraw from Nanchi without serious loss of morale. Chiang has taken the position, he added, that he will not voluntarily withdraw from any other island he now holds.

Secretary Humphrey said that everyone agreed that the Chinese Nationalists cannot hold Nanchi against a Communist attack. If this is so, is it not dangerous to the U.S. to face such a defeat?

Secretary Dulles replied that it was necessary to balance the psychological disadvantage of losing Nanchi against the gain to the Nationalists if they put up a good fight. He added that the Chinese Nationalists believed that the demonstration of their willingness to fight for Nanchi was worth the possible loss of the island. He said that if the United States tried to persuade Chiang to withdraw from Nanchi, we would have to stiffen other commitments. He believed we should allow them to go their own way as regards Nanchi. Secretary Wilson said he agreed.

Governor Stassen noted that if the Nationalists fought and lost Nanchi, this would be bad for the United States.

The President admitted that the loss of Nanchi would be bad, but asked what was the alternative.

Governor Stassen asked when did Nanchi get separated out from the Tachen grouping. Admiral Radford replied that Nanchi had always been considered separate from the Tachens. He continued by calling attention to the inability of the military to stay within the programmed limitation on the replacement of U.S. equipment lost by the Nationalists in current fighting. He said adequate funds were available and that the real problem was to get airplanes into the theater quickly enough. (In response to a question asked by Dr. Flemming later in the discussion, Admiral Radford stated that his problem was not one of producing planes or parts, but of delivering the craft to the bases from which they were flown.)

Governor Stassen urged that the United States make known its position on Nanchi.

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The President stated that everyone knew the U.S. was committed to defend Formosa and the Pescadores. The question of the offshore islands created a terrible dilemma. If we announced that we would assist in the defense of the offshore islands, world opinion would not support us. On the other hand, if we announced that we would not assist in the defense of these islands, the Communists would immediately attack them and take them. The President stated his belief that there was nothing more that we could now do except to watch the situation as it develops and act on a day-to-day basis.

Admiral Radford said he was concerned about the possibility of an awkward situation developing in Formosa. If the Communists attacked Formosa, military action would have to be taken very fast. Because we do not know the Communist intentions, we face an uncertain situation.

Secretary Dulles replied that NSC policy was clear as to our intention to defend Formosa and the Pescadores, and that we had made a public announcement to that effect. He recalled that the President had decided to retain to himself the decision as to when U.S. forces would be used, rather than delegate this decision to anyone. He said he realized the difficult situation.

Secretary Humphrey again raised the question of Nanchi, and urged that this island could be considered separately—not the same as the Quemoys and the Matsus.

The President stated firmly that we must do our desperate best to avoid committing U.S. troops in this area. He added that we should build up Chiang in every possible way to defend the area. If the Chinese Communists attack Formosa, the President decides when U.S. units get into the fight. No more public statements will do any good now. In addition, the Nanchi decision isn’t ours to make.

Secretary Humphrey asked whether we should not guide the Nationalists’ decision.

Secretary Dulles said he was looking at his Far Eastern itinerary to see whether it would be possible for him to visit Formosa. If so, he would talk to Chiang about Nanchi. However, we assume great responsibility if Chiang withdraws from Nanchi in response to our coercion. We did not force the withdrawal from the Tachens, Secretary Dulles added, but merely gave counsel and advice when they raised the question of whether they should withdraw from the Tachens. He said it is one thing to give advice, but beyond that, bargaining for additional commitments begins.

Secretary Humphrey said that in his opinion it was not realistic to think of the loss of Nanchi as a defeat for Nationalist China. It is a defeat for the United States.

The President said he disagreed. He pointed out that we have disassociated ourselves from certain actions which Chiang may take.

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Secretary Dulles noted that Nanchi is not essential to the defense of Formosa, and that the same arguments apply to it as applied to the Tachens.

The President repeated his belief that the U.S. should increase Chiang’s ability to fight as much as we can, including the provision of logistic support.

Secretary Dulles recalled that in negotiations with Chiang the U.S. had asked him not to weaken Formosa by taking a disproportionate amount of U.S. equipment to the offshore islands.

The President smilingly commented on the difficulty of trying to carry out U.S. policy when we were in the hands of “a fellow who hasn’t anything to lose”.

Governor Stassen said the world assumes that Nationalist forces can be safely evacuated from Nanchi.

The President recalled that Chiang had said he would not retreat another foot. The President repeated that now was no time for any more talk, because we have stated all we can now state.

Secretary Wilson recalled that at the Denver Council meeting on the subject of the offshore islands, it had been stated that actions in the UN might help us out. He wanted to know whether any help from the UN was now possible. The President and Secretary Dulles replied that the UN could not help us in this current situation.

The President added that the world was solidly behind the United States as far as the defense of Formosa and the Pescadores was concerned. Secretary Wilson said the U.S. had to get the Chinese Nationalists off the offshore islands.

The President said we cannot get the Nationalists off these islands in a way which results in Formosa going Communist.

Admiral Radford stated that the Communists were not interested in the offshore islands, but they sought to destroy the strong Nationalist forces on the islands and on Formosa.

The President agreed, and added that if he were a Chinese Nationalist [Communist] he would build up airfields opposite Formosa on the mainland and attack Formosa at night. He would not waste men and equipment in trying to take the Quemoys and the Matsus.

The President was asked whether an attack by the Communists on Formosa meant that the U.S. was “at war” with the Communists. He replied yes, but this meant an attack, not one night’s foray and more than a casual bombing attack.

Secretary Dulles noted that even if the Nationalists gave up the Quemoys and the Matsus, the problem of Formosa would not be solved. He added that the Communists were worried by the Nationalist Army on Formosa, which was a threat to the middle of their coastal area. He said the Communists wanted to destroy a rival and to disband the present government on Formosa. He added that the [Page 285] British and the Canadians did not agree with this view of the Communist objective, but that they were wrong on this point.

The President pointed out that the surrender of the offshore islands would result in the collapse of Chiang’s government.

Secretary Humphrey again returned to the question of Nanchi, and repeated his request that this island not be included in policy covering the Quemoys and the Matsus. He said the situation in Nanchi was identical with that in the Tachens, and that to evacuate Nanchi would not give the impression of our running off and leaving an ally in trouble.

The President said he thought that he would send Secretary Humphrey to talk to Chiang, since practically everyone else had been to Formosa. Following the laughter, Secretary Humphrey said he would keep quiet under that kind of a threat.

Secretary Wilson said that when Chiang loses Nanchi he will be easier to deal with. The President doubted this, adding that we are always wrong when we believe that Orientals think logically as we do. He cited the mule who walked into the brick wall. He said that face was all-important, and that Orientals would rather lose everything than lose face. He added that he had learned that the only way to deal with Orientals was on an empirical day-to-day basis.

Secretary Wilson asked what had been our advice concerning Nanchi. Admiral Radford replied that we had told them we would not help defend Nanchi, and that it would be difficult for them to hold it.

Governor Stassen referred to Nanchi again, and said that this island presented us with a serious difficulty. It was a “tag end” which would rise up to plague us.

The National Security Council:6

Discussed the subject in the light of an oral briefing by the Director of Central Intelligence, with specific reference to (1) recent developments in the Soviet Union and the reaction thereto throughout the world; (2) the situation in Saudi Arabia, with special reference to the Onassis contract; (3) the situation in Laos; and (4) the views of the Intelligence Advisory Committee regarding “Current Communist Attitudes Toward General War”.
Noted and discussed an oral report by the Secretary of State on reactions of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries toward U.S. policy and action with respect to Formosa and the offshore islands, as indicated at the recent conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers in London.
Noted and discussed an oral briefing by the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the military situation in the Formosa area; especially [Page 286] with reference to the offshore islands still held by the Chinese Nationalists.

[Here follows discussion of agenda item 7, “Admission to the U.S. of Certain European Non-Official Temporary Visitors Excludable Under Existing Law.” This portion of the memorandum was prepared by J. Patrick Coyne, NSC Representative on Internal Security.]

Bromley Smith
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records. Top Secret. Dated February 18. The portion of the memorandum printed here was drafted by Bromley Smith, Senior Member of the NSC Special Staff.
  2. Document 111.
  3. Dulles’ memorandum of the conversation, dated February 18, is in Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 64 D 199.
  4. See the editorial note, supra. The draft under reference has not been found in Department of State files.
  5. On February 15, Makins left with Dulles a telegram of the same date from Eden, which expressed great concern over Dulles’ draft. Eden commented in the telegram that a statement by Dulles that in existing conditions the coastal islands could not be regarded as something apart from Formosa and that the United States could not be indifferent to their fate would, despite the preceding disclaimer, amount to a public commitment. Such a statement would force him to disassociate the British Government from the U.S. position. (Memorandum of conversation by Merchant, February 15, 1955; Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 64 D 199; and copy of telegram left with the Secretary on February 15; ibid., EA Files: Lot 66 D 225)
  6. The lettered subparagraphs constitute NSC Action No. 1335. (Ibid., S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95)