269. Editorial Note

At the 398th meeting of the National Security Council on March 5, 1959, Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles summarized and commented on three National Intelligence Estimates, including NIE 13–2-59 (Document 258). The relevant portion of the memorandum of discussion by S. Everett Gleason, March 5, reads as follows:

“The Estimates indicated that the achievement of Communist China in the course of the first year of the ‘Great Leap Forward’ had been remarkable. The Chinese Communists confidently expected to maintain a high growth rate for their economy although the commune program was still a great question mark.”

The Council then discussed a draft of NSC 5904, “U.S. Policy in the Event of War.” (Department of State, S/S–NSC Files: Lot 63 D 351) There was considerable discussion concerning paragraph 2, which set forth the U.S. objective in the event of general war. The Department of State proposed adding language to this paragraph to make it clear that U.S. efforts would be directed against Communist China and other Bloc countries [Page 544] only if they were “involved in the hostilities.” The President questioned this proposal, remarking, according to Gleason’s memorandum of discussion, that if the United States “got into a disastrous nuclear war with the Soviet Union and in the course of the war simply ignored Communist China, we would end up in a ‘hell of a fix.’” He commented later that “in the event of general war the U.S. would obviously attack its worst enemy first; that is, it would put all the weight of its attack on the U.S.S.R.”

Acting Secretary of State Herter noted that the issue appeared to be whether or not Communist China would participate in a war between the United States and the Soviet Union; he thought this was “not absolutely certain.” The President replied that if the United States defeated the Soviet Union in a general war in which China remained quiescent, “we would certainly take political measures to disarm and remove the threat of Communist China. We simply could not just ignore a Communist China which remained untouched and intact after a terrible war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. To do so would be unrealistic in the extreme.” Later he stated again, however, that “our military plans ought not to indicate that we must hit China in the very first hours and days of the war with the Soviet Union. We should concentrate our initial attacks on the U.S.S.R.” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Twining stated that there was “no military intention to strike Communist China at once and automatically in the event of general war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.”

A new proposal by Acting Secretary Herter inserted the words “as necessary” before the words “Communist China” in paragraphs 2 and 6, but after the meeting, a difference of interpretation arose as whether the President had approved this language for paragraph 2 or only for paragraph 6, and the issue was left for decision at the next NSC meeting (see Document 271). (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records) Further documentation on the NSC 5904 series is scheduled for publication in volume III.