67. Memorandum Prepared by Secretary of State Dulles 0

(This estimate of factors involved in the Taiwan Straits situation has been prepared by the Secretary of State on the basis of consultation with political and intelligence officers of the State Department and with the Chairman and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and is concurred in by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.)


Events in the Taiwan Straits indicate that the Chicoms, with Soviet backing, have begun tentatively to put into operation a program, which has been prepared for over the past 3 years, designed initially to liquidate the Chinat positions in Taiwan and the offshore islands, and with probably even more far-reaching purposes.

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The program has been begun by intense pressure on the weakest and most vulnerable of such positions, namely, the Chinat-held offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu. It seems that the operation is designed to produce a cumulating rollback effect, first on the offshore islands, and then on Taiwan, the “liberation” of which is the announced purpose of the present phase. The “liberation”, if it occurred, would have serious repercussions on the Philippines, Japan, and other friendly countries of the Far East and Southeast Asia.

The first phase of the operation—that involving Quemoy and/or Matsu—would be primarily military; for these initial obstacles cannot be overcome otherwise. The follow-up against Taiwan might be primarily subversive, taking advantage of the blow to the Republic of China involved in the loss of the offshore islands where it has virtually staked its future. However, armed Chicom attack against Taiwan is not to be excluded. This is, indeed, forecast by the current Chinese Communist broadcasts.

The taking over of Taiwan by the Communists would greatly enhance Communist influence and prestige throughout the free Asian world and depreciate that of the US.

The foregoing summary is based upon the following more specific estimates:

In the absence of US intervention, the Chicoms, by accepting heavy casualties, could take Quemoy by an amphibious assault supported by artillery and aerial bombardment. Such an assault could be staged with little advance notice. The operation once initiated might take from one to several days depending on the quality of the resistance.
If the Chicoms believe the US will not intervene, they can be expected to mount such an assault whenever they believe the defenders nave been sufficiently “softened up”.
If the Chicoms believe the US would actively intervene to throw back an assault, perhaps using nuclear weapons, it is probable there would be no attempt to take Quemoy by assault and the situation might quiet down, as in 1955.
It is, however, also possible that if the Chicoms Felt that the US would intervene only if there were a major assault, they might keep that assault as an overhanging menace but never an actuality, and meanwhile continue the type of pressures now being exerted, including bombardment and attempted blockade, on the theory that if this were prolonged, the defense would collapse due to deterioration of morale and lack of supply.
Under these conditions, and if interdiction were not broken, the morale and defense capability of the defenders would, in fact, deteriorate and might eventually collapse, particularly since the US would find it difficult to find new ways to support that morale. Indeed, the US would find it difficult to maintain in the area its present show of strength for any considerable period of time.
If Quemoy were lost either through assault or surrender, this would have serious impact upon the authority and military capability of [Page 133] the anti-Communist, pro-US, government on Formosa. It would be exposed to subversive and/or military action which would probably bring about a government which would eventually advocate union with Communist China and the elimination of US positions on the island.
If the foregoing occurred, it would seriously jeopardize the anti-Communist barrier consisting of the insular and peninsular positions in the Western Pacific; e.g., Japan, Republic of Korea, Republic of China, Republic of the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Other governments in Southeast Asia such as those of Indonesia, Malaya, Cambodia, Laos and Burma would probably come fully under Communist influence. US positions in this area, perhaps even Okinawa, would probably become untenable, or unusable, and Japan with its great industrial potential would probably fall within the Sino-Soviet orbit. These events would not happen all at once but would probably occur over a period of a few years, he consequences in the Far East would be even more far-reaching and catastrophic than those which followed when the United States allowed the Chinese mainland to be taken over by the Chinese Communists, aided and abetted by the Soviet Union.
The impact of these adverse developments in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia would undoubtedly have serious, world-wide effects.
If the Communists, acting on the supposition that we will not actively intervene, seek to take Quemoy by assault and become increasingly committed, and if we then do intervene, there might be a period between the beginning of assault and irrevocable commitment when prompt and substantial US intervention with conventional weapons might lead the Chicoms to withhold or reverse their assault effort. Otherwise, our intervention would probably not be effective if it were limited to the use of conventional weapons.
US destroyers are cooperating with the Chinat sea supply operations within the limits of international waters, i.e., up to within three miles of Quemoy. There is thus a possibility of a deliberate or accidental hit by the Chicoms, which would have potential and unplanned reactions which might involve at least limited retaliation.
Once we intervened to save the offshore islands, we could not abandon that result without unacceptable damage to the safety of the free world and our influence in it.

If accomplishment of this result required the use of nuclear weapons, there would be a strong popular revulsion against the US in most of the world. It would be particularly intense in Asia and particularly harmful to us in Japan.

If relatively small detonations were used with only air bursts, so that there would be no appreciable fallout or large civilian casualties, and if the matter were quickly closed, the revulsion might not be long-lived or entail consequences as far-reaching and permanent as though there had occurred the series of political reversals indicated in Point 7 above. It is not certain, however, that the operation could be thus limited in scope or time, and the risk of a more extensive use of nuclear weapons, and even a risk of general war, would have to be accepted.

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(References are here made to Quemoy as the most likely Communist target. If Matsu became the initial target, the situation would be substantially the same.)

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, DDE Diaries. Top Secret. The source text incorporates revisions made by the President at the meeting recorded in Document 66. A draft dated September 3 with the President’s handwritten revisions is in the Eisenhower Library, Miscellaneous Series, Formosa; see Supplement.