271. Editorial Note

At the 399th meeting of the National Security Council on March 12, 1959, the Council resumed its discussion of the draft of NSC 5904, “U.S. Policy in the Event of War,” which had been under consideration at the March 5 meeting (see Document 269). The memorandum of discussion by S. Everett Gleason, March 12, reads in part as follows:

“The President commented that as he understood the previous Council guidance, the U.S. would attack Communist China in the event of general war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., only as necessary. The President said he agreed that the U.S. would have to be prepared to attack Communist China in the event of general war with the U.S.S.R. but would not automatically attack Communist China if that country could [Page 547] be isolated from the hostilities. As a historical precedent for this position, the President cited the fact of the long delay before the Soviet Union finally declared war and attacked Japan in World War II.”

The discussion then turned to other subjects before returning to China:

“Secretary Herter said that the State Department was prepared to accept the elimination of the words ‘as necessary’ from Paragraph 2 if it was made crystal clear elsewhere in the paper that in the event of general war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., the U.S. would not automatically attack Communist China.

“The President commented that our overall objective with respect to Communist China in the event of such a general war was to assure ourselves that we would not be in a situation of being attacked afresh by Communist China after we had defeated the Soviet Union in a general war. With respect to targets the President said he assumed that the targets we attacked would always be selected and not indiscriminate.

“Secretary Herter repeated again his concern that NSC 5904 should not seem to indicate that a U.S. attack on Communist China would be automatic. He said that he was willing to see the words ‘as necessary’ dropped from Paragraph 2 if Paragraph 7 [formerly paragraph 6], where it had been agreed that these two words should be inserted, also stated that it was to be the controlling Policy Guidance. Mr. Gray suggested the wording of a footnote which would make clear that Paragraph 7 was indeed the controlling Policy Guidance and Secretary McElroy suggested that this language be placed in a footnote to Paragraph 7. The President gave his approval to this solution.”

Paragraph 7 of NSC 5904, as approved by the Council and subsequently approved by the President as NSC 5904/1, reads as follows:

“The United States should utilize all requisite force against selected targets in the USSR—and as necessary in Communist China, European Bloc and non-European Bloc countries—to attain the above objectives.” (Department of State, S/S–NSC Files: Lot 63 D 351)

The Council subsequently discussed a March 4 paper prepared by the NSC Planning Board entitled “Problems Illustrated by Recent Developments in the Near East and the Taiwan Strait.” (Ibid.; see also Document 267) The account of the discussion in Gleason’s memorandum reads as follows:

“Mr. Gray then invited the Council’s attention to the first problem illustrated in the Discussion Paper in Paragraph 2 on Page 1. This problem was described as follows: ‘U.S. prestige has become closely identified with the maintenance of the Chinese Nationalists on the Offshore Islands. However, U.S. allies have not publicly supported the U.S. position with respect to these Islands.’ Pointing out that the Planning Board had scheduled a review of U.S. policy toward the Far East for the month of May, Mr. Gray suggested that the Council not discuss this problem in detail at this meeting.

“Secretary Herter commented that he had seen somewhere a statement that the Chinese Communists were now engaged in producing [Page 548] transport planes for the use of paratroopers. If true, would this indicate a Chinese Communist intention to attack Taiwan? In reply neither Mr. Allen Dulles nor General Twining thought they could perceive any direct relation between these newly designed Chinese Communist planes and an attack on Taiwan in the near future.” (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records)

Further documentation on this subject is scheduled for publication in volume III.