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177. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Nitze) to Secretary of Defense McNamara 0

The attached paper1 was prepared by my staff and has my full support. It does not, however, meet head on the considerations you and General Taylor advanced during Thursday’s N.S.C. meeting2 which related more to the general problem of dealing with the ChiCom military problem than to the specific Korean problem.

As I remember it, General Taylor said we should not permit ourselves to become engaged with the hordes of China, that any military contest with Communist China should be nuclear; your view was that our present strategy calls for the use of nuclears against the ChiComs and, therefore, conventional capabilities in the Far East, beyond counter-insurgency, have a low priority; and the President said that just as in Europe we would use nuclears if there were no other way of avoiding defeat, so would we in the Pacific.

To my mind, and as I understood the President to suggest, there is no substantial difference in the grounds for policy toward the East or [Page 368]toward the West, toward Russia or toward China. If a policy of giving the President maximum options in Europe makes sense, it would also seem to make sense in the Pacific. If a policy of giving the other side time to make the decision to back down makes sense in Cuba, I don’t see why it doesn’t make sense in Korea. If a policy of getting our allies to reduce, over time, the conventional imbalance in Europe makes sense, I don’t see why a similar policy doesn’t make sense in the Pacific. The ChiComs non-nuclear power, particularly her air power, is certainly vastly inferior to that of the Warsaw Pact. We can’t foretell the exact relationship between Peiping and Moscow that will emerge, but to my mind it is equally doubtful, or more doubtful, that the U.S.S.R. would stand aside while we defeated China with nuclear weapons, than if we did so with non-nuclear weapons. The more important point, however, is that the Soviets might have less reason to restrain the Chinese in aggressive action if our only possible response were a nuclear response which the circumstances might make politically difficult for us and thus of dubious credibility.

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, Records of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, McNamara Files: FRC 71 A 3470, Korea. Top Secret. The source text does not indicate the drafter. Marginal notations on the source text in McNamara’s handwriting are illegible.
  2. Document 303.
  3. Reference is to the May 9 NSC meeting. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, NSC Meetings)