64. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Department of State
    • The Secretary
    • Mr. Reinhardt
    • Mr. Robertson
    • Mr. Cumming
    • Mr. Smith
    • Mr. Parsons
    • Mr. Greene
    • Mr. Calhoun
  • Department of Defense (after 4:30 p.m.)
    • Secretary McElroy
    • Deputy Secretary Quarles
    • General Twining, Chairman JCS
  • The White House (after 4:30 p.m.)
    • General Goodpaster


  • Taiwan Straits

The initial meeting among State officials was devoted entirely to redrafting of the summary paper prepared by the Secretary for his discussions with the President.1

After the Defense Department officials joined the meeting Mr. McElroy handed the Secretary a situation paper prepared by the JCS.2 He and General Twining emphasized that this was merely a summary of facts and ideas as seen by the Joint Chiefs which they Felt might be of help to the Secretary and the President. The Secretary perused this paper and commented that it was helpful. General Twining also handed to the Secretary a brief proposed statement of policy, also prepared by the JCS,3 commenting that this was only put forward as an informal suggestion. The Secretary observed that he did not anticipate decisions by the President [Page 126] tomorrow and thought that this might be left to a probable meeting with the President Saturday when he returns to Washington briefly.

The Secretary raised the question of how much advance warning of a Chinese Communist assault might be expected. General Twining estimated that it could be less than 24 hours. Mr. Quarles said that Admiral Smoot had reported that the Chicoms do not have sufficient forces for an assault in position now, but that the Navy authorities are of the opinion that such forces can be moved up rapidly. He said there are four field armies in the general area but this scarcely exceeds Chinat forces on the Islands. The Secretary concluded that the Chicom capability was such that we cannot preclude an assault within a three or four day period. General Twining and Mr. McElroy agreed that it would be advisable to play this question on the side of a very short advance warning.

There was brief discussion of the probable intentions of the Chicoms and of morale factors affecting the Chinats. The Secretary observed that it was essential that the Chicoms not be led to believe that we will not intervene, pointing out also the serious effect this would have on Chinat morale. General Twining expressed the opinion that the present type of artillery fire cannot break up the Island defenses. He said however that the Chinat Navy was by no means doing all that it should. Mr. Quarles said it was not established that the Chicoms could, by their present means, maintain interdiction indefinitely.

In this connection, the Secretary emphasized how vitally important it is to know the daily supply situation of the Offshore Islands. General Twining said instructions had been sent out requiring daily reports henceforth. The Secretary said this factor would be the determinant of whether the situation on the Islands could be maintained if open assault were deterred. He observed that the basis for US intervention, and the domestic and foreign support for US intervention, and the domestic and foreign support for such intervention, would be far less if our action were taken only to break the interdiction. Mr. Quarles stated that he agreed with the President’s comment at an earlier meeting that if the Islands could hold out for some weeks we would give non-combatant support to the Chinats. Mr. Quarles said that massive assault would justify our joining the battle. The Secretary said that our objective was to deter such assault and that a great danger in this respect lay in our position not being made sufficiently clear. He raised the question however, in relation to what should we make our position clear, [sic] Mr. Quarles Felt that we could not clarify the situation publicly without helping the Chicoms in doing so by revealing our intentions. The Secretary concluded this discussion by expressing the view that the major Chicom objective at present is internal development and that this present activity is essentially a probing operation, probably agreed upon at the recent meeting between Khrushchev and Mao.

[Page 127]

In discussing reactions of our Allies, the Secretary expressed the opinion that as a general rule they will go along with a course of action that we propose to take if they are reasonably sure that we are in fact going to proceed with that course. He mentioned in this connection the communication from the British,4 the meeting with the SEATO Ambassadors,5 and the discussion in NATO. He said that the Japanese position was less certain, however.

Mr. McElroy raised the question of a possible communication to the Chicoms through diplomatic or other private channels. The Secretary pointed out that an approach could be interpreted as a sign of weakness. He Felt that a private ultimatum might not necessarily be so interpreted, but then we must be sure of having both American and Allied opinion strongly behind our position. He suggested that the presentations to the NATO and SEATO countries might well lead to a few of them cautioning Peiping quietly. He said we should look into the use of intermediaries to put pressure on the Chicoms against war-like moves.

The Defense representatives indicated no objections from their point of view to the revised summary paper prepared at the earlier meeting by Department officials. The meeting then considered a draft public statement which might be used by the President following his meeting with the Secretary.6 There was general agreement that it was a good statement, and a number of drafting suggestions were made.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 793.00/9–358. Top Secret. Drafted in S/S. The conversation was held in Secretary Dulles’ office.
  2. Apparently the paper discussed in Document 63.
  3. Reference is to a draft on the Taiwan Straits Situation bearing the handwritten notation “JCS paper, 3 Sept. 58,” with an appendix dated September 1 and an annex. (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Miscellaneous) A copy is in JCS 2118/110, together with the final memorandum, addressed to the Secretary of Defense and dated September 6. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 218, JCS Records, 381 Formosa (11–8–48), Section 37)
  4. Headed “Draft Statement of United States Policy,” with the handwritten notation, “(by JCS at meeting with Sec 9/3).” It stated that the United States would not permit the loss of the principal offshore islands to Communist aggression and that if the islands were seriously endangered by major attacks, the United States would concur in Nationalist attacks on appropriate mainland bases, reinforce the Nationalists to the extent necessary to assure the security of the islands, and join in the attack if necessary with atomic weapons. It is attached to an unsigned document headed “Taiwan Straits: Issues Developed in Discussion with JCS”, September 2, which is another record of the meeting described in Document 62. (Department of State, Central Files, 793.00/9-258; see Supplement)
  5. A message from Prime Minister Macmillan to President Eisenhower, which had arrived that day, expressed concern that the United States and United Kingdom should not be divided or appear to be divided. (Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204; see Supplement)
  6. The Secretary met with the SEATO Chiefs of Mission to discuss the Taiwan Strait situation on the morning of September 3. (Memorandum of meeting, September 3; Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 64 D 199)
  7. Document 66.