63. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Policy Planning (Smith) to Secretary of State Dulles0


  • Comments on Summary No. 2 re Quemoy and Matsu1

The summary does not include what is to my mind a very important factor in any consideration of this matter—the fact that there apparently would be no widespread support for US intervention, even from our closest allies and from two important Far East powers who should feel directly threatened if the main thesis of the summary is correct, Japan and the Philippines.

I think that whether or not nuclear weapons were used, American military intervention will probably not have the endorsement of our main allies and would severely strain our alliances.

There is, I believe, a real danger that US intervention may have consequences very similar to those of non-intervention set forth in paragraph 7 of your summary If we use nuclear weapons, our intervention may force Japan, the Philippines, and other Asian nations further in the direction of neutralism and eventual accommodation with Peiping.
You state in paragraph 6 that if the Offshore Islands are lost the present ChiNat government would probably be replaced by a government that would advocate union with Communist China. While it is certainly true that the loss of Quemoy would have a serious impact on Chiang’s government, it does not seem necessarily to follow that any successor government would advocate union with Communist China. It is my understanding that the Taiwanese have strong separatist tendencies and a government in which they predominated might well wish to maintain independence and might well seek our continued support to this end.

I think the summary should point out the likely military consequences of US use of nuclear weapons. The sentence on page 6 “It is not certain, however, that this would do the job and a risk of a possibility of extensive use of nuclear weapons and a risk of general war would have to be accepted” seems to be too light a treatment of this most serious aspect of the matter. NIE 100–7–58,2 which was especially commissioned by the President, concluded that “if the US used nuclear weapons in meeting Bloc local aggression in the Far East, there would be a grave risk that the Communists would retaliate in kind. Indeed any Far East Communist state, taking into account the possibility of such US action, would be unlikely to launch a local aggression without having received assurances of Soviet support.”

Although the Joint Chiefs spoke yesterday only of nuclear strikes against airfields along the coast opposite the Offshore Islands, it is our understanding that their contingency planning for the case of limited hostilities to defend Quemoy and Matsu include, if necessary, the striking of military targets within a 500-mile radius from the islands, including targets in the Shanghai, Nanking, and Canton areas, and on enemy strike bases wherever located in China. If such a bombing program is carried out, the National Intelligence Estimate [NIE 100–7–58]3 concluded that “Peiping and its Soviet ally would probably feel compelled to react with nuclear attacks at least on Taiwan and on the Seventh Fleet.” If this happened, we should very probably be faced with a choice between accepting defeat or launching SAC in large-scale nuclear attacks against Communist China. The latter would very probably lead to general war with the USSR.

It seems to me that the summary should treat somewhat more fully the most likely contingency, that is, continued Communist interdiction of the islands without direct assault. Paragraph 10 seems to be the key paragraph and directly related to paragraph 9 which speaks only of US intervention in the event of an assault on Quemoy. It might be well to have a new paragraph 11, indicating the likely situation if the US intervened to break the interdiction in the absence of an assault. [I think we should have a better idea from the JCS of the options available to us in this contingency]
It strikes me that the summary does not do justice to the Max Taylor thesis—that more can be done with conventional force—than some military leaders believe. I urge you to favor this thesis and if we do become militarily and directly involved to urge on the President the importance of the US first making its best effort with conventional forces and only resorting to local use of nuclear weapons as a last resort. In my judgment, extended nuclear strikes beyond the immediate locale of the hostilities cannot be justified in the defense of the Offshore Islands.
I think the summary would be improved by some recognition of the fact that the Offshore Islands are not intrinsically of any real military significance. GRC defense of the islands will use up manpower and material that could better be saved for defense of Taiwan.
The summary indicates that the ChiComs have put into operation a carefully prepared program to overthrow free world positions in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia. I have not yet seen any hard evidence to this effect and incline more to the belief that the ChiComs are hitting at the Offshore Islands as a target of opportunity in the backwash of the US–UK military action in the Middle East.
Gerard C. Smith
  1. Source: Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 67 D 548, China. Top Secret. A notation on the source text reads: “Sec saw.”
  2. Apparently the paper prepared by the Secretary and discussed and revised at the meeting recorded in Document 64.
  3. Document 19.
  4. All brackets are in the source text.