Learn about the beta

25. Paper Prepared in the Policy Planning Council1


I. Conclusions

It is evident on the basis of analysis in this paper and the basic paper on the implications of a ChiCom nuclear capability2 that the significance of such a capability is not such as to justify the undertaking of actions which would involve great political costs or high military risks.
Direct action against the Chinese Communist nuclear facilities would, at best, put them out of operation for a few years (perhaps four to five).
A general threat of overt U.S. action to destroy the ChiCom nuclear production facilities in the event of major Chinese aggression would probably not be desirable. Threat of action in response to a specific instance of actual or threatened Chinese aggression would be preferable to a general threat, but would also have significant disadvantages. Whether it would be desirable would depend a good deal upon the circumstances surrounding a particular situation. If, for example, the ChiComs were threatening nuclear action, a threatened response limited initially to nuclear production facilities might be desirable.
Action against the ChiCom nuclear facilities which was incidental to other military actions taken against Communist China in response to Chinese aggression would generally be preferable to actions directed against nuclear facilities alone. Similarly, threats designed to deter ChiCom action should probably not be directed solely against nuclear facilities. (However, as stated in par. 3 there may be circumstances in which action limited to nuclear facilities may be preferred.)
It seems most unlikely that we can develop, through negotiations in the arms control field, a politically viable basis for action against [Page 40]the ChiCom nuclear facilities. The USSR is also most unlikely to agree explicitly or implicitly to U.S. action against ChiCom facilities or to cooperate in helping lay the political basis for such action. But arms control negotiations can further isolate the Chinese on this issue and can thus help prepare the way for possible action taken in other ways and on other grounds against the ChiCom facilities.
Covert action seems to offer the politically most feasible form of action. Such action would present least problems if undertaken as part of a reaction to Chinese Communist aggression. Political costs of action in the absence of ChiCom aggression are difficult to estimate. They could be considerable if Peiping reacts strongly; small, if it does not. [3 lines of source text not declassified] Technical feasibility continues to be a real question and requires continued analysis.
There are a number of technical and technical-related questions which would require an answer before a decision for any of the possible forms of action were made. These include the following:
It is doubtful whether, even with completion of initial photographic coverage of the mainland, we will have anything like complete assurance that we will have identified all significant nuclear installations. Thus, even “successful" action may not necessarily prevent the ChiComs from detonating a nuclear device in the next few years. If an attack should be made, some installations are missed and Communist China subsequently demonstrates that it is continuing to produce nuclear weapons, what is likely to be the reaction to the half-finished U.S. effort?
It seems to be the case that a relatively heavy non-nuclear air attack would be required to put installations “permanently" out of business (i.e., destroy them so completely that any rebuilding effort would have to start virtually from scratch). If complete destruction is unattainable without a large attack, how effective a job could be done with various alternative levels of attack?
Could the U.S. mount an effective counterforce operation, should that prove necessary, without employing nuclear weapons?

[Here follow 28 pages of discussion.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, China, Vol. I. Top Secret. Filed as an attachment to an April 22 covering memorandum from Rostow to Bundy. The source text does not indicate the drafter, but Rostow's memorandum states that it was prepared by Robert Johnson of the Policy Planning Council with the help of informal comments from State, CIA, and DOD and that it had been revised to reflect the consensus of an interdepartmental discussion in February. No record of the discussion has been found. Copies were sent to Rusk, McNamara, McCone, and ACDA Director William C. Foster.
  2. See Draft Policy Planning Statement on “A Chinese Communist Nuclear Detonation and Nuclear Capability”, October 15, 1963. [Footnote in the source text. The October 15 draft statement is cited in footnote 2, Document 14.]