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30. Paper Prepared in the Policy Planning Council1

THE IMPLICATIONS OF A CHINESE COMMUNIST NUCLEAR CAPABILITY

I. Summary and Key Issues

1.
Timing and Character. A first nuclear test could occur any time; it is likely to be in late 1964 or later. With their one known plutonium reactor, the ChiComs could produce only one or two crude weapons per year. A substantial program would require completion of a plant started with earlier Soviet assistance. While initial nuclear delivery means may be obsolescent aircraft, the Chinese are apparently concentrating on medium-range missiles.
2.
Military Effects. The ChiComs have demonstrated prudence in the use of military force. Their capability will be more important for its political-psychological than for its direct military effects—primarily because of the great disparity between U.S. and Chinese nuclear capabilities [Page 58]and vulnerabilities. The Chinese could eventually do significant, but not crippling, damage to U.S. forces in Asia, while the U.S. will have the ability to destroy Communist China. This makes Chinese first-use of nuclear weapons unlikely—unless the regime were already threatened with destruction—and greatly reduces the credibility of its nuclear capability as a deterrent. A limited ChiCom intercontinental capability would not eliminate this basic disparity.
3.
Political-Psychological Effects. The ChiComs will hope that their nuclear capability will weaken the will of countries resisting insurgency; inhibit requests for U.S. assistance; put political pressure on the U.S. military presence in Asia; and muster support for Chinese claims to great power status. They may hope that it will deter us in situations where our interests seem only marginally threatened.
4.
U.S Counter-Actions. No major policy changes are required. Specific action proposals are developed in another paper. Policy issues include the following:
a.
Military posture. Does the Sino-Soviet split deprive Communist China of the Soviet nuclear umbrella and make a lower U.S. nuclear threshold a desirable policy in Asia? Dependence upon nuclear weapons should not increase. Future emphasis should be upon dual-capable and seaborne forces.
b.
Pre-emptive Military Action. Would military action against ChiCom nuclear facilities be desirable? Would be undesirable except possibly as part of general action against the mainland in response to major ChiCom aggression. Study of covert action should continue.
c.
Nuclear Proliferation. What U.S. actions might reduce the likelihood of development of additional national nuclear capabilities (e.g., by India)? No combination of actions may be adequate; the following offer best prospects: (i) broad public declaration of willingness to provide nuclear defense; (ii) assurances to allies under existing security commitments; (iii) offers to neutrals of declaratory commitment to consult; (iv) offers to engage in bilateral planning for nuclear defense; (v) offers to deploy nuclear weapons in event of nuclear threats; (vi) exploration of possible forms of joint declarations with Soviets.
d.
Additional Assurances. If the ChiComs exploit both the sense of threat and the desire for peace, what other U.S. actions might provide relevant assurance to Asian states? Such actions as deployment of mobile air defense units to advance bases in Asia; stimulation of Asian military and non-military cooperation; selective token increases in military assistance; positive statement of U.S. interest in involving Communist China in disarmament negotiations; development of Asian components of our arms control plan; etc.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, China, Vol. I. Secret. Filed as an attachment to a memorandum of April 30 from Rostow to the President, which states that it summarized a “major planning exercise" conducted over the previous year on an interdepartmental basis by Robert Johnson of the Policy Planning Council and that issue 4-b was the subject of “further intensive staffing on a particularly secure basis.”