46. Telegram From the Commander in Chief, Pacific (Felt) to the Joint Chiefs of Staff0

260843Z. T13. JCS 947005 DTG 242047Z.1

My evaluation follows:
Outstanding feature is that both ChiNats and ChiComs are uncertain regarding actions US forces will take in event a major attack is made on offshore islands. This is good. I am in thorough agreement with JCS 947046 DTG 252148Z2 and particularly concerning withholding info contained Paras 1C, F and 2A thereof. Despite CTDC strong feeling that ChiNats will retaliate against coastal airfields without US consent if offshore islands are attacked by ChiComs, fact is that they have not done so. On other hand, reports available to me indicate that ChiComs are working up to making a major attack on one or both of the island groups.
There is great diversity of opinion concerning importance to GRC and free world of holding these islands. From a pure military point of view, they are not worth the risk of getting involved in a war even though it be possible to keep it limited. However, I agree with the view that these islands are symbolic in the eyes of neutral and weak friendly Asian nations. This part of the world is waiting to see whether the US will retreat in the face of armed aggression against one of its allies or whether she will take positive action to hold small pieces of territory which are being disputed by use of armed force. In this case. I believe that the psychological factors outweigh the pure military ones. However, universal favorable reaction to our intervention in saving the offshore positions is not at all guaranteed. We must recognize that some Asiatics feel that Quemoy and Matsu do not constitute clearcut GRC national territories justifying our direct intervention.
I suggest that the employment of progressive steps might be effective. Augmentation of the air defense of Taiwan and defense of the Taiwan Straits is the first step. Step two is the enhancement of ChiNat capability to defend the islands with their own forces. You are taking these steps. Associated with step one should be a clear understanding that US [Page 80] forces will not countenance ChiCom combatant actions against friendly forces in international waters. Step three should be to provide surface escort and air cover for ChiNat logistical support ships resupplying the forces on the islands. It is entirely possible that shoot down of ChiCom aircraft east of the mainland and by US air forces may effectively quench the Commies’ desire for further engagement. Step four would be offensive action against the mainland and should not be taken except as a last resort. I think we can anticipate a continuation of provocations to lead us into taking offensive moves and to be branded as aggressors.
All of my commanders are convinced that ChiComs have the air power to cut off garrison troops on the islands from their sources of supply. If the ChiComs decide to make an all out effort, CTDC estimates that the garrison could hold out for 5–7 days without US help. We are all agreed that air offensive action against ChiCom air fields is essential if the islands are to be held against major attack. (Step 4) It is questionable that success could be attained by use of non-nuclear weapons, but planning is being done on urgent basis to determine our capabilities and force requirements in the event that the use of nuclear weapons is not authorized. See CINCPAC ADMIN 250800Z.3
In summary, I believe that policy currently expressed by SecState in his letter to Congressman Morgan and by you in your 252148Z is sound and good. ChiComs are probing. They are trying to provoke US into taking actions which can be condemned in the world press and the UN. I believe they can be discouraged with action short of a full-scale war.
I recommend, therefore, that we continue to demonstrate forebearance and not be stampeded into precipitous action. I heartily concur with your policy that the US must keep her own counsel regarding eventual action if the other side forces the big issue.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 218, JCS Records, 381 Formosa (11–8–48), Section 37. Top Secret; Operational Immediate. Repeated to CNO, CINCPACAF, CINCUSARPAC, CINCPACFLT, and COMTAIWANDEFCOM(US). Received on August 26 at 2:25 p.m. A copy is in Department of State, Central Files, 793.5/8–2658.
  2. It requested CINCPACs evaluation of the offshore island situation and his recommendations. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 218, JCS Records, 381 Formosa (11–8–48), Section 37)
  3. Document 44.
  4. This telegram requested the component commanders of the Pacific Command to provide information needed for this purpose. (Department of State, ROC Files: Lot 71 D 517, Offshore Islands (Navy Tels.), Aug. 19–Sept. 3, 1958)