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193. Memorandum From Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff to the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)0


The PG lunch1 on how to deal with a ChiCom nuclear capability was the usual disorderly affair.

The paper itself2 is far more interesting. As I read it, the essential conclusion is that ChiCom acquisition of a semi-nuclear capability will not have much more than a marginally significant impact and can probably be coped with by some marginal stepping up of existing programs. Its major emphasis is on a variety of reassurances which we can give our Asian friends; in no case do these involve radical departures from existing policy.

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The consensus was that the Chinese would remain basically cautious in the overt use of force even after they acquired a few nucs; first use by them would be highly unlikely—instead they would see their nucs as a deterrent to escalation by us.

There was much discussion on how to “strangle the baby in the cradle” before the Chinese developed a capability, but if my reading of the thrust of the paper (above) is correct, there would seem to be less incentive for us to do so.

Walt wants to move this paper forward for NSC review, once JCS comment on it.3 I entered usual demur that paper still far from being in a form productive of useful discussion. But Walt asked me to raise with you, though conceding that paper was probably better suited in present form for weekend reading.4

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, China. Secret.
  2. The Planning Group was an interdepartmental group of high-level officials who met regularly for informal discussions. Most of their discussions were apparently not recorded.
  3. Reference is to the October 15 draft paper cited in footnote 1, Document 191. The October 18 Rostow memorandum cited in that same footnote transmitted a copy of the paper, including the summary, for discussion at the Planning Group meeting. Both are filed with the source text.
  4. A copy of the October 15 paper was sent to the Joint Chiefs of Staff with a November 5 memorandum from William Bundy, requesting JCS comments. (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, Records of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 67 A 4564, 47/16 Communist China) A December 13 memorandum from Gilpatric to McCone enclosed a copy of a JCS paper, noting that it recommended establishing an interagency group “to consider ways and means for impeding the Chinese Communist nuclear development program.” Gilpatric stated that he and William Bundy thought the 5412 Group would be an appropriate forum for considering the proposal. (Ibid., OSD/ISA Files: FRC 69 A 926, 092 Communist China) The JCS comments have not been found, but a related JCS paper of December 14 (JCSM-986-63) is ibid.
  5. The paper was apparently not sent to Kennedy. An attached handwritten note from Bromley Smith to Bundy states, “This event is so far down the road I doubt JFK should be given this this year.”